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Bard Stories - PlanetADnD.com

Bard Story 3

Like Two Thieves in the Night - Writen By: RivenBlade

The city was dark. Only the faint glow of the stars and the discs of the twin moons kept away the absolute blackness. All buildings were lightless, silent as a tomb. No one walked the streets, even the night patrol, having seen nothing more than a mouse had broken up and gone to their homes for bed.

Well, almost no one.

Scurrying between the avenues was a young man just a little less than six feet in height. His clothes were rough wool beneath breastplates, bracers and leggings of hardened leather. A heavy crossbow was slung from his shoulders, the bolt in place on it ended in a multi-pronged hook, while a shortbow and quiver of arrows were strapped to his back. The runner kept his body low, lower than the tops of fences, while someone else, though walking, managed to keep pace with him. A large man, more than seven feet high, his body knotted with muscles and not an iota of excess fat, moving upright with a broadsword hanging from his hip, as proud and regal as if he were the city’s king, which he wasn’t.

The runner crossed an empty lane to a lot covered with white sand. In the middle of the lot was a marble tower that stretched up whole stories. No door, no windows, except possibly at the summit. That was where the lights would shine out of the tower at night, brightening it like a beacon from dusk till dawn, except when the only known resident was away. Like tonight, for example.

The clouds that had momentarily eclipsed the moons parted and the moons centred on the runner the way a spotlight would. He was in his mid-twenties, but the signs of hard living had aged him prematurely. His hair was jungle-thick and uncombed, his fingernails gnawed down instead of clipped.

His name was Jaho, and he was a professional burglar. He preyed upon the fat rich merchants and bankers who preyed upon the peasants. Jaho was the kind of thief who could slip past the most alert hired guards, sidestep lethal traps, take the silk sheets from a sleeping man’s bed and escape with no one knowing he had ever come. Sometimes he thought of giving some to the poor, there sure was no shortage of them in town, but that would leave less money for beer and the brothel- one should have his priorities straight, after all.

Jaho darted his eyes left and right, the streets were empty, he looked behind to see if his partner had caught up- Damn, that Lummox didn’t care if he was spotted!

Lummox was what everyone knew Jaho’s partner by, as his true name was unpronounceable in the local tongue. The 7"3 youth was walking tall and calmly, as if he were out to get eggs from the market instead of stealing jewels from someone else’s home. He was barely nineteen years of age but overshadowed men in their thirties. His complexion was pasty pale, having yet to be burned dark by the sun, with dirty blond hair that draped his shoulders. He wore fur britches, a belt by which his broadsword hung. He was barefoot, his feet too calloused for the pebbles to give him pain, and he showed his pectorals and hardened stomach proudly.

Johan hissed to him, "Lummox! Do you want to get caught? Keep low!"

"Why? There’s no one else around, and even if there were, I’m only walking. It’s you trying to hide in the open that would make people suspicious." Lummox looked at the top of the tower, "This is the place? How can you be sure it’s uninhabited tonight?"

"Because there’s no light coming out of it! The top of the tower is always shining after dark when he’s here!"

"How do you know it’s because he’s away? Have you ever seen him leave or enter? Has anyone?"

Jaho had to admit to himself he hadn’t. In fact nobody he knew of had ever seen the ‘golden hermit’ at all. There were a lot of rumors about him. One guy from farther east thought he was something called a vampire, that he flew away from the city to small villages where he would rape little girls and drink the blood of their mothers. A more popular one was his tower went underground to tunnels used by snake-men where he would tell them knowledge they needed when they would try to take over the world. One bar wench even suggested he was really a woman, and no one could disprove her theory.

Jaho shook his head. It didn’t matter what drunks said when they’d downed their seventeenth beer, all that mattered was the ‘man’ who owned this tower was rich, and that meant he had a lot of valuables that could have Jaho sleeping on a silken bed with wine and caviar and the best virgins Hyrrisia had to offer, even after he split half with Lummox. Sure the brute was totally clueless about city life, and much too clumsy to pick locks or swipe someone’s pouch, but he was a loyal friend and nobody would mess with Jaho when he was around.

Lummox shifted nervously, something Jaho had never seen him do before; the big foreigner’s hair seemed to rise slightly, "Jaho, is this the same place-"

"Yeah, this is it." Most of their associates- unless you considered brothel whores associates- were fellow thieves. In fact the tavern they gathered was nicknamed ‘The Thieves’ Den’ by snotty nobles in dishonour of the majority of its clientele. Over the past five years or so, however, the burglar population of Zeth’kur had dropped dramatically, and Jaho knew when they dropped from the face of the city- the night after they got drunk and boasted they would rob the marble tower.

In a five-year span dozens, possibly a total of more than a hundred would-be rich men and women had tried to loot this monument to mystery, usually in groups of four or five. Of all of them, only one had ever been seen again. Metzen was the only one who dared to burglarize the tower alone. A noble’s servant had found him in her master’s stable, naked, shivering, and stark raving mad. It frightened Jaho so much he made Lummox keep quiet of their plans, afraid talking would jinx it.

Jaho cleared his throat, and tried to look brave. What happened to Metzen was not important. What mattered was tomorrow he and his Cimmerian comrade would leave this eyesore rich and heroes to the criminal community, or not leave at all. And if it were the latter, at least they would not be around to face ridicule.

Johan pulled the crossbow from his shoulders. While literature often glamourized thieves and crossbows, Johan was not truly fond of the weapon. While it shot at a farther range and with greater force than anything yet invented, Jaho found he could draw, nock and loose an arrow from a regular bow far faster than he could wind up, reload, and cock this heavy contraption, which made all the difference when he had to fight for his life. Still the crossbow was good for something, namely launching a grappling hook up to distances too far to throw it. He aimed the clumsy machine and pulled the trigger.

The hook propelled through the night air and clanged loudly once undiscovered gravity made it drop on the tower roof. Jaho yanked the line, and it held. He looked at Lummox, then remembered their last thieving. That time the rope had broken from the foreigner’s weight, and Jaho had to jump down to help his friend fight the pursuing sellswords. They were still looking for the killers of seven hired guards in a botched robbery.

"You go first. I want to make sure the rope holds you this time." Lummox obediently gripped the line, braced his feet on the tower wall, and pulled himself up. After he had raised himself nine feet Johan decided it was strong enough and began climbing himself.

Johan saw himself staring at the steely back of his accomplice, and wondered not for the first time why Lummox insisted on this particular vocation, "Lummox, are you sure you haven’t thought of mercenary work?"

"We’ve argued this in the past. I have no intention of dying in someone else’s war."

"Who says you would die? You’re stronger and tougher than anybody! Plus I’m sure it pays better than this, and you could split someone’s skull legally! Let’s face it, you’re a lot better at killing people than stealing from them."

"I could steal from them after I killed them. Easy enough."

Jaho snickered, Lummox never so much as give a dirty look to someone except to protect himself or Jaho, "So instead of spending time in the dungeon you’d be hanged." A chilling image, Lummox’s frame would ensure he dropped hard even without weighing down his feet.

"And if I did leave you to become a mercenary, your other friends would stab you in the alley so they could use your coins to buy more beer." Jaho had to admit that was true, but he didn’t have to like it. He went silent.

Lummox reached the top and climbed over the railing, and Jaho followed suit. They walked the circular floor to one of the windows from which light would normally issue. They could see a clasp on the other side. Lummox geared his fist to smash the glass, but Jaho intercepted him.

"Don’t give your arm a whole bunch of cuts when you don’t have to." Jaho produced from his belt a device that resembled the compasses rich folks used for amusement. Jaho had sworn Lummox to secrecy about this tool, and for good reason- their "pals" would have tried to kill them both just to get the sliver of a diamond on it’s end, drink and whores came before friendship in their world. Jaho centred the glasscutter, and made a circle. The glass inside its radius fell, and Jaho unclasped the window and lifted it open, "After you."

Lummox stepped in, looked around and snorted the "all clear". Jaho climbed inside and gawked at the decadence in front of him. Hesian carpets, exotic tapestries, sculptures made of ivory, he briefly entertained the notion of swiping what was in this room and taking off. He dismissed it immediately of course, this was fruit fallen off the tree, what was in the vault had to be infinitely sweeter.

Jaho took out a tinder-stick and lit it. Lummox stepped beside of the opposite door and bashed it in with one kick. They scuttled through the doorframe, and saw they were in a circular hall around a wide pit. They looked-

But were seen themselves, as a massive hand on a slimy arm shot out of the tinder-stick’s radius of light. The hand clung to Jaho’s armour, its palm and fingers covered with spines that perforated the leather and might have pierced his vitals. Jaho yelped as the hand jerked him from his feet, but Lummox arced his broadsword and sliced the arm apart without so much as a grunt.

When Jaho fell the severed hand let go. Something screamed and scuttled, Lummox darted his eyes to his upper left, and slashed into total darkness. As Jaho righted himself and held up the tinder-stick he saw the torso of his attacker roll into sight, black blood spurting out of it’s waist with internal organs falling after.

It was grey as a gravestone, its remaining arm obscenely long and wound like a rope. Its face was tiny; dots for eyes, no discernable nose, and a tiny crack of a mouth that drooped open showing multiple rows of tiny knives for teeth.

"What Gehenna-spawned thing is that?" the superstitious Lummox swore out loud.

Jaho huffed, thrust out his chest and tried to look manly, "I don’t know, but if that’s the worst this ‘golden hermit’ can throw at us, I’m surprised his tower hasn’t already been stripped clean. Let’s find the stairs."

The two walked the whole circuit of the hallway, but found not one stairway leading to anywhere! Neither were there dumbwaiters, they opened the doors and found extravagant bedrooms and a study with an immense firepit and a bookcase so high a ladder would be needed to reach the top shelves. There was no ladder, in fact no signs that any of the rooms on this level had ever been used at all.

Jaho turned to his co-conspirator, "Doesn’t it seem eerie that these rooms look like they’ve never been inhabited?"

Lummox stared back at Jaho, "Don’t you feel suspicious that somebody would live in a home with no doors leading inside? And for that matter, no stairway to reach one level from the other?"

"Well, yeah, but c’mon! He’s not some pagan god; he’s just a man! Or a snake-man, or a vampire, or whatever! Look, whoever this guy is, he’s got it made! Made just for guys like us to take it!"

"Why don’t we take what’s in the other rooms and leave while we still can? There’s a fortune in this study alone!"

"Yeah, a fortune, for how long? A few more mugs of beer, a few more nights with a harlot? Do you want to be breaking into fat merchants’ homes when you’re forty? Or bleeding in an alley because someone knifed you for your pouch? We could find something so valuable we’d be able to buy this city! You prepared to throw that chance away because you’re nervous?"

Lummox paused, then gave a sigh of resignation, "All right, we’ll keep going. But first answer this question- if we become rich, won’t people try to rob us?"

"We’ll be able to hire guards."

"Guards didn’t help the last place we-"

"The thieves left empty-handed, didn’t they?"

"Oh, yeah." Lummox should have known, he was one of those thieves.

They walked back into the hallway, up to the rail over the pit. Both Jaho and Lummox pulled out two hooks- smaller than the one used to climb the outer wall and each tied to an exceptionally strong silk cord.

Planting the hooks on the side of the rail facing them, the two miscreants climbed over the rail and began to rappel down, Jaho holding the tinder-stick with one hand.

The tinder-stick sputtered, its fuse burnt out. Jaho pulled out another from his belt and lit it, but had a thought. He turned to Lummox, "You can use that sword with just one hand, right?" Lummox nodded, as if he had to ask.

"Well then you hold this," Jaho passed the tinder-stick to his partner, "I might need to use my bow if there are any more surprises".

As Lummox took the tinder-stick, Jaho took advantage of what light it offered and looked down. The circular wall of the pit had a gap between it, presumably the next floor, and about five feet below the lower railing of the gap was a solid stone- floor? It was uncluttered, more likely a ceiling to the room beneath it. Lummox afforded a look below himself. The two stopped climbing at the bottom rail, and leapt inside.

The floor they were on was much like the floor above, paintings on the wall, recesses for pedestals on which rested busts that resembled the heads of gargoyles. Oaken doors with iron bands were spaced at uneven intervals, no apparent locks on them.

Lummox opened the doors one by one; Jaho stepped in the frames, his bow ready. The rooms they found were had no people in, but were, if anything, more lavishly decorated than the ones above. They made Jaho shiver; it was as if the golden hermit wanted anyone who would intrude to try and steal from these chambers, like the tavern-keep tempting the mice in his establishment with beer-soaked breadcrumbs in his traps. Was that lavish rug a cover for a pit in which some man-eating aberration would wait to pull in anyone stupid enough to get to close? Was that merely a velvet painting of a dragon’s mouth?

Each time the two looked in a room, they closed the door and resumed their circuit of the hallway. When they had almost gone a full circle, they stopped. Something was in front of them, just between where the darkness and tinder-stick’s light met. What could be made out were wispy and undulating tendrils, looking like a cross between shadow and smoke. Both Jaho and Lummox knew it was trouble.

Jaho’s bow was ready, he launched the first projectile. It hit whatever was there dead on, but the thieves heard a strange noise on impact- almost like the noise a drunk makes when he slurps his draught, and whatever it was Jaho shot did not fall- instead it came forward!

It was so black neither of the thieves could make out any face. With no legs it hovered, looking like an upside-down teardrop, with threatening arms reached straight toward the trespassers. Unsure what to do, Jaho shot two more arrows, each struck true but did nothing; and it would close the distance before he could ready a fourth.

When the apparition no more than a foot away, Jaho turned to run, while Lummox, with a look of enlightenment on his face, threw the still burning tinder-stick at the shadow-wraith. Upon contact the ethereal attacker seemed to cancel out, with a high-pitched wail that made even the staunch foreigner cover his ears and wince.

After a few seconds, Jaho took out another tinder-stick and struck it, save for the tinder-stick that Lummox had thrown, now on the floor extinguished, the phantom was gone! He looked to Lummox, "How’d you know fire would hurt that thing?"

"Not fire, the light. It looked like it was made out of shadow, and when light touches shadow the shadow goes away. I thought touching a light source would do the same."

Jaho was puzzled, "Good thing you came here, this place is making you actually use that brain." He started walking forward, then dropped! Lummox swore out loud! The floor was unbroken, there was no trapdoor, Jaho had simply fallen into it. Lummox shouted, "Jaho? Are you all right?"

"I think so, Lummox, you’ve got to see this!"

Lummox couldn’t see anything of interest, but he didn’t think stepping further would be a good idea. Still, there didn’t seem to be anything else to do and he wasn’t about to abandon his friend. Carefully Lummox placed his foot on the floor half a foot in front of him-

His foot found no resistance, it simply disappeared in to the rock, but by now Lummox had put too much weight on it to right himself and fell through the floor with it. Reflexively jerking his leg back and thrusting out his arms, Lummox was able to catch himself on the floor below and prevent serious injury.

Lummox stood up, Jaho was standing by his side, a little shaken but unhurt. Lummox looked up to the ceiling with a confused expression, "What is it?"

Jaho shrugged, "I don’t know, but look there!" Jaho pointed in front of Lummox.

Lummox was afraid to believe his eyes! On each side of the partners in crime was a stonewall, between the walls a tunnel leading to a circular chamber in which a light shone on the greatest pile of treasure either one of them had ever seen! A mound of gold coins at least five feet high, decorated with shining gemstones and beautifully crafted weapons, and it was just lying there, ready for someone to snatch some of it.

Jaho started to approach, but Lummox grabbed his shoulder, "How can we trust the floor there when we could not trust it above?"

Jaho paused, "You’re right. Use your sword to touch the ground ahead. If it’s solid, we go on."

Lummox did as Jaho instructed. As they crept along the corridor, Jaho pondered on the unpredictable nature of this tower so far. A few moments of danger interspersed with seemingly too easy opportunities. It didn’t seem to make sense, unless"

Unless it was supposed to be too easy. Maybe that was how the thieves always failed. Make it look like everything was going their way, let them get careless and then the axe would fall. Oh well, any chance the two of them had to escape had surely passed them by, nothing else but to see this through.

They finished the corridor unmolested. Standing in the chamber, a column of light emphasized the foothill of wealth before them. Out of the coins protruded a sword with a shining hilt and gemstones of every kind embedded in handle and blade. Lummox almost seized it, but it was a small weapon, much to light for him to use properly. Several times Jaho reached to grab a handful of coins but pulled his hand back at the last instant. Then his eyes were snared by a diamond larger than he ever would have imagined. It was shaped like an irregular teardrop, the wide end a foot in diameter narrowing to a sharp point, a foot and a half in length. It wasn’t cut, so it didn’t have sides that reflected on each other, if anything it looked like glass. But Jaho knew it wasn’t.

Unable to stop himself and not even wanting to, Jaho clutched the immense jewel and held it to his chest, wrapping both arms around it as if he was holding his first born. He barely heard Lummox shout out when the rest of the treasure dematerialized in an instant. Immediately after that a stonewall slammed down on the entrance to the corridor, trapping them.

Without pause Lummox whipped out his broadsword, leapt to the barrier and began hacking at the rock wall. Hard as he slashed, the barrier held, though each swing of the sword damaged it. Suddenly the wall seemed to come closer, Lummox stepped back shouting "Demon Stone!"

"The floor’s sliding into the walls!" Jaho shouted, and indeed at the centre of the chamber the floor had come apart with both sides retreating into the wall. Lummox redoubled his efforts, but the barrier resisted him until he had no room to stand and both Lummox and Jaho fell.

It seemed like a bottomless pit, but they found a floor, and while bruised neither of them had broken any bones- yet. They both stood up, the light from the ceiling above them still shone down, and Jaho and Lummox looked around them.

There were six openings set into the circular wall, each about three feet high by five feet wide, and right in front of each opening was a two-foot high and four foot across scorpion with its stinger raised another two feet. But even more disturbing than the scorpions were what walked ahead of them.

There were about five or six of them in front of each scorpion; both Jaho and Lummox recognized most of them as fellow thieves who had boasted they would rob the marble tower. But now these rouges were different, their clothes and armour decaying and torn, their movements jerky, their sunken eyes glazed over and flesh pallid green.

Lummox had come from a superstitious people, but not even he was prepared for this, "They’re dead, they shouldn’t be able to walk!"

Part of Jaho’s capacity for reason made note the zombies were in formations in front of the scorpions, also that the scorpions kept to the wall even though animal instinct should have compelled them to storm forward, "It’s the bugs! They’re controlling the things somehow!"

"Then they must be sent back to Hell!" Lummox lunged toward one of the scorpions and with a swing of his broadsword, sheared off at the waist the bodies of all five zombies in front of it. At the same time Jaho had turned around to shoot another scorpion while shouting, "Don’t let them sting you!"

A zombie under the influence of Jaho’s target moved to block the arrow, it went through the walking corpse anyway and sunk to its feathers between the mandibles and into the creature’s heart. The zombie entourage the scorpion had fell forward and lied still. Jaho did not pause to notice that as he turned and fired three more arrows at other scorpions. Two arrows hit true, their elongated arrowheads designed for punching through splint mail breached the vermin’s’ shells and their respective zombies dropped.

His third shot was not so effective; it punctured a pincer claw raised to intercept it, but failed to pierce any vitals. Moreover, the scorpion and the other across from Jaho stepped back, paused briefly and then the zombies who had dropped rose to their feet and lumbered toward Jaho on all sides!

As slow as the zombies were, they would reach Jaho before he could fire another shot. Dropping his bow Jaho pulled out his short sword and slashed at the abominations. Their decomposed bodies came apart at every cut, but close to thirty against number they grabbed and started to pull Jaho down-

They let go, all but four of the zombies falling and laying still. Jaho unhesitatingly brought his sword up and slashed apart the zombies that remained moving, then looked around to see five of the scorpions hacked apart, and Lummox fending of the pincers and tail of the remaining arachnid.

Jaho swung his sword sharply through the air, flinging off the scorpion blood, then sheathed his sword, picked up his bow and shot four more arrows into the scorpion’s thorax. It seemed to struggle to keep moving, but sunk into death anyway. Lummox turned to Jaho, and the two shared glances of relief the other had survived, until a second later when the light above started to shrink-

Jaho looked up and the trapdoor they fell through started to close into a ceiling, he was startled by Lummox grunting for his attention.

Jaho turned his eyes, Lummox was between one of the openings in the wall, holding up a metal barrier that was trying to close down like the other openings. Just before the light above was completely blocked Jaho ran to the opening and scurried through it. Lummox fell toward Jaho, letting go of the barrier as it slammed down. The instant later a loud sucking sound could be heard from behind the partition for a hair’s breadth. Jaho looked at Lummox saying, "That sounded like all the air was being sucked out of there."

"To suffocate anyone who survived the scorpions?" Lummox shivered.

"They wouldn’t have had time to suffocate- the air leaving that fast, their bodies would burst open like a seed pouch." Jaho bluntly pointed out, and seeing Lummox’s expression explained- "The partner I had before you got caught in a trap just like it."

Jaho looked around, the tunnel they were in was low, but extended long, and the far end had a brightly lit exit. Having nowhere else to go, they crawled to the end of the tunnel, and out into the unknown.

There were braziers hanging from the ceiling, burning enough light so those below could see around. Jaho and Lummox found themselves in a circular corridor, the wall away from the tunnel made of rough stone and terminating about fifteen feet up. On the floor where the intruders stood were dirt and bodies of dead rats- if rats could grow two feet long excluding the tail.

"Lunch for the scorpions, I guess," Jaho kicked one out of the way, "Bugs don’t really eat something whole, they sort of suck out whatever juices are in it."

Lummox picked one up and made an observation, "They looked like they’ve had their necks crushed, don’t scorpions sting their prey?"

"Those weren’t really normal scorpions were they? They seemed to control the zombies, maybe they stung them and the poison brought them back under the critters’ control." Jaho exhaled, "Well we can’t stay here all night, we better find a way up that wall."

"You could reach it if I gave you a boost." Lummox said almost impatiently.

"Yeah but in case you forgot, I’m not strong enough to pull you up after me, and we left our lines and hooks at least four floors up so how- Hey!" Before Jaho could finish his sentence Lummox had picked him up and then pitched him the necessary distance for Jaho to grab the edge of the wall, which he did out of panic. After climbing over the rail he was relived to find a solid floor beneath him. Turning to look over the rail he saw Lummox grip the spaces between the rocks in the wall and scale it.

Pulling himself over, Lummox grinned at Jaho, "The Marble outside was too smooth for me to do that. I guess this guy ran out of marble or never expected anyone to get this far."

"Congratulate yourself on blind luck." Jaho said along with less pleasant words when the braziers hanging from the ceiling suddenly turned out.

The tinderstick flared into life after Jaho struck it against the rail, "Good thing I’d stockpiled on these things before we came here."

Lummox shifted, "How were the lights suddenly extinguished?"

"I’d guess they ran out of fuel, except I haven’t seen any living souls in this place unless you count the monsters so I can’t imagine who tended them in the first place." Jaho looked around, the far wall for the rail into the scorpion pit was brown stone but it had had engraved on it an unpainted mural, of mountains and coastlines and castles and such. Jaho and Lummox walked the corridor with trepidation, Lummox switching his eyes from the front to behind, on the look out for anymore ‘-unusual’ guardians while Jaho studied the mural.

Eventually they came to a spot where the mural on the wall had an opening- a hole with the stone around it shaped to resemble a cave.

Jaho looked in, "There’s some sort of statuette inside, looks gold."

Lummox paused, "Why would it be left there like that?"

"I don’t know, but someone tried to take it and left something behind instead, look." Lummox looked, and saw in a tattered cloth sleeve a human arm that had been cleanly cut just an inch or two below the shoulder. Lummox found the sight disturbing, but also had another realisation, "Then someone else did get past the scorpions."

"Yeah, but who?" Jaho held his chin; "Well we know it couldn’t have been Metzen, cause he had both arms when we went to see him."

Lummox remembered. When Metzen didn’t show up at his table at the Thieves’ Den some time before; everyone including Jaho and Lummox gave him up as a casualty of the Marble Tower, especially since Metzen had bragged he would be going it alone and entire teams never returned. It had been to everyone’s shock that a former street waif who had found employment as a nobleman’s servant came to the tavern shouting out loud that she’d found Metzen in her master’s stable, unclad and delirious, yet very much alive.

Jaho and Lummox had gone to the sanatorium where Metzen had been kept, in the hopes of learning secrets that might help them in their burglary. Instead Metzen, a thief whose talents surpassed any other in Zeth’ Kur and had earned the dubious value of the admiration of thieves for miles around, had become a broken man, babbling about scorpions and bodies that walked as they decomposed. Jaho and Lummox had left that building sadder men for it.

Jaho held the tinderstick on the right side of the opening, and there was a telltale glint behind an inch of stone on the opposite end. He pulled a crowbar from his pack and holding it like a spearman would hold a polearm, Jaho slammed the edged end of the bar into the stone on the left side of the opening.

It took several thrusts to smash the rock, but once it fell in pieces Jaho knew he had been right. A razor-sharp blade was behind the rock, attached to a spring mechanism that would have gone off if someone had just reached into the opening. The spring mechanism had been dislodged by Jaho’s crowbar, but he pried out the blade, just to be on the safe side. Examining the opening more, he found no other traps and, perhaps because of overconfidence or perhaps simply because he wanted to leave the tower with something, Jaho grabbed the statuette and, on encountering some resistance yanked it out impatiently.

They heard a click, like some release had been tripped and the floor abruptly swung down and behind them. Jaho and Lummox fell again, that seemed to be a recurring part of this episode, and hit hard floor.

It wasn’t until after they got to their feet that they realized there was light, even though Jaho’s tinderstick would have gone out when it hit the floor. Jaho and Lummox looked in the direction of the light-

The light shone from a massive piece of crystal shaped like a man holding a torch above his head. Surrounding the crystal was wealth one would have expected to find in the hoard of a Mongolese Khan. Piles of coins that looked like mountains of gold, paintings and tapestries, statues made of interlocking gemstones that shone in multicoloured rainbows of light. Jaho and Lummox knew they had found the Golden Hermit’s vault.

Jaho looked at the statuette he’d pulled out of the hole. Turning it over he saw it had a broken end of a small rod sticking out from the back, "This statue was rigged to set loose the trapdoor. But nobody else could have set it off- the stone on the mural wall hadn’t been damaged until we showed up."

"Then that means we’ve done what nobody else could- we’ve reached the treasure of the Marble Tower." Lummox absently grasped his sword and started for the treasure.

Jaho’s arm held him back and brought him down to earth, "Easy there conquering hero, let’s not celebrate prematurely. This guy must have prepared for someone to get this far-" Jaho heard Lummox shout just as something shoved him to the side.

A large, black gastropod had fallen on top of Lummox, and the brute was having a hard time bringing his sword to bear. Jaho stood, shot his remaining three arrows into the squid, only to drop his bow and holler himself as something pulled him up into the air.

Lummox let out a roar as he swung his sword through the creature and slashed it in half. He looked to where he had last seen Jaho, saw Jaho’s bow on the ground and looking up he saw something hovering in the air wrap his arms around Jaho.

Lummox pulled out one of the arrows from the large gastropod’s body, then grabbed Jaho’s bow and loosed the arrow into Jaho’s attacker. Jaho dropped to the ground while the monster; whatever it was still hovered, even though it was obviously dead.

Lummox grabbed Jaho, cupped the back of Jaho’s head with his hand and held him up- he had acted too late. There were large suction marks on Jaho’s face, and in their centres were tiny holes with flecks of blood around them. Jaho’s head even felt light, like something had been taken out-

Lummox began to cry- Damn it! Damn it all! They’d come so far, only for one of them to die just feet from the prize. Jaho had always dreamed of the day he would find a hoard like this, and now he would be denied it forever. And Lummox himself knew he had not lost just an accomplice, but a teacher and friend. Without Jaho, he would be totally lost-

And why would he be lost? Lummox started to think. Because he had so much muscle there was no room left for a brain? Others had treated him that way, maybe all this time he had let those people convince him it was so, even Jaho himself had in his own ignorance chided Lummox for being a dumb brute.

Well Lummox was not stupid, he would prove it by stealing from this hoard and surviving to enjoy it. Lummox pulled off the pack Jaho intended to keep their loot in; it wouldn’t hold a hundredth of the coins there, but Lummox knew if he took the statues and paintings and such instead he could sell them for even more.

As Lummox took the pack, something fell out- it was the massive diamond Jaho had took from the vanishing treasure higher up. It must not have vanished with the treasure. Lummox chuckled, that disappearing pile had probably reappeared with the rest of that hoard.

Lummox held the diamond, and silently resolved that if he got away successful from this place he would keep this diamond in Jaho’s memory. Then he stood to his full height and soldiered toward the treasure. It was standing in full light, no apparent obstacles-

Lummox walked into something. He could still see the treasure, but he felt something tangible between it and him- Lummox realised there was one last barrier, transparent like glass, but harder, and much thicker he suspected.

Lummox started to agitate- he had to get past! It wasn’t just about getting rich anymore; he owed it to his one friend to see this through. He nervously looked at the massive diamond he took form Jaho’s body-

That was it! Lummox remembered the small diamond Jaho used to cut the glass at the tower’s top. Jaho had once told Lummox that diamonds could cut anything there was, even other diamonds. Well that sliver on Jaho’s cutting tool wouldn’t work- Lummox would be scratching away at the barrier for weeks, but this diamond- this diamond would do the job nicely. Lummox gripped in both hands, ready to chisel his path to riches and notoriety-

The wizard saw the town of Zeth’ Kur on the horizon. He sighed relief; his airborne disk would see him home in minutes. He gave thought to how he would find his tower, he’d been gone many days and always without fail he would return from a journey to discover it had been broken into.

The wizard chuckled; if the truth were to be told part of him enjoyed coming home to see how far the thieves got and how resourceful they could be, like when he occasionally ran a person he had miniaturized through a maze.

They probably were killed by the necorpions; only one burglar he knew of had ever gotten past those, rather amusing in spite of the inconvenience or creating new ones. The wizard had found that thief at the mural, passed out from pain at the cave entrance, his arm sheared off by the spring blade. And though he hadn’t actually found the other burglar inside, he heard a lot of talk of one who had went to the tower alone and somehow escaped with all his body parts but not his sanity. The wizard found the notion of thieves leaving something of them instead of taking something rather droll, and sure enough, as he approached the tower he saw a grappling hook on the top of the tower, a rope dangling from it.

The wizard lowered to the sand in front of the tower. He dismounted the flying disk he had ridden upon, and it dematerialized behind him. Speaking the command word, the marble wall parted and he walked right through the new doorway.

A portion of the wall in the necropion pit parted, and the rush of air inside told the wizard his pets had been killed, the vacuum trap wouldn’t have activated if any of them had survived. Sure enough they lay hacked apart or pierced with arrows, many of the zombies had been lopped to pieces as well.

Ah well, he would simply have to make replacements, no serious harm done. The wizard looked at the zombies to see if the new thieves had died before they could escape but seeing no new faces decided to check the mural.

It was when he saw the trapdoor had been triggered that the wizard began to worry. Someone had disabled the spring blade and saved his arms, the floor release being triggered told him that much. Looking down the trapdoor he could see a body of one intruder, as well as that his remaining ‘pets’ had been killed, and there was what looked like water trickling from out of sight.

The wizard levitated down. The trickle of water came from an opening that had been hacked/dug/broken into the city sewers, but he ignored that- the vault had been breached!

The wizard had through abilities supernatural and otherwise made sure his vault was blocked by a foot-thick barrier of solid diamond. It should have kept out anyone who had gotten so close and yet a way had been chiselled through.

The wizard rushed inside to assess his losses. The surviving thief or thieves had been smart enough not to burden themselves with the coins- several paintings had been taken out of their frames, a dragon sculpted with emerald, sapphire and ruby gems was missing, as was a jewel-studded sword and-

No. Not the urn. Anything else he could have done without but not that. In hindsight the wizard regretted putting its contents in an urn of solid gold but nobody was supposed to actually get their filthy thieving hands on it in the first place.

The wizard was now panicking, he had to find that urn before anyone opened it and destroyed what was inside"

The End.

 
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