Medievia Mudslinger

March 24th, 2002

Charmed - By Orban (Lingdi Zhou)

With a thundering roar, the heavens open, and the light drizzle is replaced by a raging thunderstorm. As far as you can see, the landscape has suddenly been drenched by the deluge. You curse. Not only will you have to find shelter, but youíve already had experience with the ridiculous prices paid for accommodation in this wretched town. You donít doubt that another night here will make you broke. And the prison guards - what if they catch you? But what other choice do you have?

As you expected, your already depleted stock of coins is massacred by the two thousand gold rent you have to pay. You fight hard to stop your mind from wandering to the hundred-coin bliss of Hotel Medievia and grimly pay up. Barely making it to the shambles the innkeeper describes as a room, the news is not good. Not even two hundred coins left, and provision prices in this rotten village rival the murderously costly rent. None of your ideas ends with you making it past lunch today. Donning your shabby equipment, you sigh. You will have to steal. Again.

You hesitate to leave the room. The memory of the last time you failed lingers in your head, but you push it away. "You are more experienced now," you say to yourself. "The last town was full of wealthy paranoids - that was the only reason you were caught. How many times have you tried and succeeded? More than you can count. How many failures? Only that once." Yet, the horrible memory of the Ulhazzen penitentiary lingers still, and you donít even make it past the door without scanning for the dreaded prison guards.

You feel safer as you duck into the shadows outside. The crisp, clean night air keeps you alert, and you trust your intuition to forewarn you to hide when the need arises. You realize people are rare at this hour - both a curse and a blessing. After only a few awkward moments of practice, you once again settle into your usual rhythm. Good. At least you havenít forgotten everything the guildmaster taught you.

You reach an intersection, and scan in all directions to decide which to follow. Suddenly, a small, wiry frame catches your attention. The girl seems young but tired, and even at this distance you can make out her long blonde tresses and stunning looks. Yet her clothes are what you notice most. The grand robes speak of hidden wealth; the silken dress and masterfully crafted shoes enough for a monthís worth of food. She seems in a hurry, but your luck is good tonight, as she walks your way. Your heart starts to race, and you hastily prepare for the robbery. What conscience you have left after all these years nags at the back of your mind, but you casually brush it aside to concentrate on satisfying your grumbling stomach.

Suddenly, you notice a flicker of movement at her side. In seconds, a figure jumps hastily out of the shadows and triumphantly draws your struggling target into a back alley. You blink, shocked, and it takes a moment for the events to sink in. It is raining. You are hungry. You are broke. And just when your problems were about to disappear your target is taken by a fellow thief. Your next actions stun you. Your usually taciturn approach to the wealthy disappears, and you suddenly find yourself dashing along the shadows in a race against time to find the girl before she is robbed. Or worse. Youíve never lost a target and you donít intend to let some lowly thief create a first. Boldly sprinting across the artificially lit intersection, you donít even bother to check if youíve been seen. You arrive once again into the shadows on the other side, and move carefully closer to the intersection. And then you hear it.

The muffled scream for help almost drives you unconsciously forward, but for once your common sense and paranoia kick in. Your stop yourself inches from the corner and peer cautiously around. Quite fortunate, since if you had charged in you would have been on a collision course with the man you now see only a yard away. He stands confidently; shuriken and shield held in a defensive yet subtly menacing manner - a sure sign he is yet another fellow thief. You muffle another curse. The day just keeps getting worse.

He moves closer. Stops. Moves closer again. You cannot quite make out the first thief, but you can imagine he is at the end of the alley. Most probably surveying his 'catch'. Correction, your catch. Too late, the man in front of you senses the 'wrongness' of the situation. He turns just as a whirl of something blonde attacks, skillfully piercing his armor and brutally twisting the flaming dagger inside. He screams and staggers forward, reeling in shock from the blood trickling freely down his back. His shuriken drops and he falls face first onto the street - his attacker piercing him again and again with the dreaded dagger. She stops soon after, but you cannot quite make out if the man is already dead. Not that it matters - the blood-soaked corpse lying on the ground could not possibly survive another few minutes.

The female kicks the body, triggering a convulsive jerk, then turns, perhaps scanning the area for witnesses. You reflexively bring your head back, but not before you recognize the figure. The long blonde hair, expensive clothes, and the small frame you would not have believed harbored so much ferocity. You are shocked but relieved at the same time. Such a simple ruse, yet even you were so close to falling for the trap. You take a calculated risk and take another darting glance. The scene confirms your suspicions - the woman searching the body; the male hovering just above her crouched form.

Pulling your head back around the corner, you suddenly recognize the form of a town guard patrolling the streets. And you thought the worst was over! Indecision clouds your mind. There are really only two choices - to casually walk away, or to alert the thieves around the corner and fight the guard together. Then, as your indecisive mind tries to decide which course of action to take, another option comes into your mind.

The guard looks genuinely surprised as you run to him in a feigned panic. The words come out of your mouth perfectly - tempered fear mixed with a degree of relief at seeing the guard. You relate the happenings to him, tactfully leaving out some of the 'irrelevant' information. You finish at last, the guard already drawing both his weapon and the attention of fellow guards in a matter of moments. Less than a minute passes in a muted exchange before all five move in a cautious jog towards the 'trouble'. You smile. This may not be the best way to get money, but youíve never been one to look to the long term. Besides, if they skimp on your reward for the capture of two 'dangerous criminals', you can always kill the guards. Those polished armor and gleaming swords must be worth a fortune!

Two of the guards donít even reach the corner. Both suddenly erupt into abrupt convulsions, and collapse to the ground seconds before the blood gushing from their necks. The perfectly synchronized backstabs reveal the hidden blonde and her male accomplice, and you realize you have once again underestimated your foes. The other three guards instinctively engage in the battle, but their clumsy slashes greet only air. The thieves have fled.

Your years of experience warn you of impending danger. Thieves fleeing for no apparent reason have only one motive. And the worst course of action would be to chase after them. Too late, as the guards blunder right after the retreating figures, oblivious to your shout of consternation. The second guard suddenly slashes in front of him, drawing a roar from his unseen target. The male thief comes out of his hiding place, momentarily stunned by the guardís lucky strike. He again tries to flee, but not before your well-aimed throwing dagger thuds against his back. He moans.

The next few minutes of frantic skirmishes ends with another dead guard and a few more embedded daggers on your part. The damage is adding up for the male, the potions he quaffs along the way no cure for his mortal wounds. However, there is still no sign of the woman - and you doubt she has fled for good. But a shuriken suddenly clangs painfully against your helm, and you turn your mind to more pressing matters.

With your agility and skill, the tide of battle soon turns. The male hits with barely any force, and dodges little of your partyís blows. Abruptly he retreats one last time and pulls out an ornate dagger similar to his own. Throwing this at a guard, he whispers a prayer and plunges the other into his heart. You instinctively realize the daggers are poisoned and know the guard could not survive a hit. Reflexively shoving him away, you drop, feeling the 'whoosh' of the dagger's passage past your shoulder. You let out a sigh of relief, and realize you have just saved your first life. You smile.

The male is dead. You almost feel a sense of pity at the hunched form before you - the fingers still curled tightly around the dagger used to so skillfully take the life from three guardsmen. You see the reason for his hopelessness - his bag is empty, not a single healing potion left. The two remaining guards, of course, had no qualms about his death. The captain, alive only through your lightning reactions, thanks you profoundly before heading off with his comrade in search of reinforcements to aid in finding the missing female. Grimly, you complete a systematic search of the body for valuables. You end up with about 3000 coins, as well as two silver-tainted rings. You are just reaching for the implanted dagger when the sound of battle once again flows into your ears. Never mind the dagger - there is still another, more valuable quarry to dispatch.

Luck deserts you, however, as the battle is almost over before you reach it. You curse your deafened ears, still ringing from the clashes of metal on metal, from guiding you down a wrong turn. Before you stands a semi-circle of menacing, armored guards. A disheveled and bloody woman stands with her back to the alley wall, and even through the wear and dejection you can recognize the utter beauty of her features, a slim figure somewhat exposed through her ripped clothing. An overwhelming feeling of empathy for the girl rushes through your senses - your heart bombarding your chest through a reaction youíve never felt before. The next word is forced from your mouth before your brain has time to think.

"Wait!"

Creaks of turning armor greet your exclamation, and you suddenly have six pairs of eyes staring at your small form.

"I believe I deserve something in return for my services today. I want the girl, nothing more." You try to sound respectable, but cannot seem to stop the nervous shaking of your dagger hand.

The guards turn to each other, not knowing what to make of this awkward request. You are no longer able to maintain eye contact, instead switching your gaze to the captain instead. You will him to remember your heroics only minutes before. He does.

"Let 'im have 'er boys. We're through 'ere."

As the stunned guards disarm the smiling girl and shuffle away after their caption, it dawns on you how much power you now have over this once ferocious girl. You look up and begin to step closer to her, mind churning with possibilities. But as soon as you meet her gaze your heart pounds and love fills your every limb, every thought. So charming, you think lovingly as she gently slides the dagger from your scabbard and thrusts it into your heart.

You've always been a sucker for a pretty face.

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