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
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
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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