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Fade the Thief

Chapter one:    (sample)


You know what I hate? Heroes. All my life I’ve been listening to legends and ballads about heroes. They are always honorable to a fault, dashingly handsome, and brave beyond reason, and they go out and conquer evil just because it’s there, as though noble intentions were somehow a suitable substitute for common sense. Guys like that always seem to end up with magic swords, too, which they use to overcome ridiculously overwhelming odds, slaying dragons twenty times their size, rescuing beautiful princesses or saving the world from dark forces, and then they get to be kings and live happily ever after.

It’s annoying. The most annoying thing about it is this: Sometimes other men do great deeds, men who aren’t heroic or even particularly honorable. Men who aren’t princes, and don’t have magic swords. Men whose particular station in life precludes the telling of heroic tales or the singing of ballads.

Men like me, for instance. I’m not exactly handsome, I’m a long way from noble, and the closest I get to heroic is when I’m alone at night with a lady, if you catch my meaning. And yet, I have actually rescued a beautiful damsel, though she wasn’t a princess, and saved the known world from dark forces. The entire known world. Me.

But will storytellers spin tales of my deeds of daring do? Will balladeers sing my praises? Not bloody likely. I don’t get to be a king, or be awarded vast riches. I don’t even get to live happily ever after with the ungrateful wench I rescued. No one will ever even know what I have done, unless I tell them myself.

And that’s why I sit here now, with quill in hand and a ream of well-cured parchment at my elbow. My tale is one of grand adventure, terrible danger and all that stuff, and it deserves to be told, even if I have to do it myself. Those who know me may tell you that I’m not known for my veracity, and that’s true enough. I lie frequently and well. But I swear to you, by Mider’s only eye, that this will be a true and factual account of my deeds, without embellishment or exaggeration.

First of all, allow me to introduce myself. My name is Fade, and I am a professional thief. I’m twenty-six winters old, give or take a couple of years either way. I live in a room at the Dancing Pig on Lost Love Street, where I can frequently be found in the inn’s common-room, plying my charm and spending my hard-won gold on slumming uptown women who think I’m excitingly dangerous. I’m told I’m an incorrigible rake. Of course, I’m told I’m a lot of other things as well, but enough about me. Let’s get on with the story.

I would have to say the whole thing started that night I robbed Croget the Floater. His tower stands on the East bank of the Old Holversyne River, a tall gray-stone structure with no windows and a red-tinted cut-glass dome on the roof. He’s got his own dock and a fairly nice barge, in which he likes to sail up and down the river from time to time.

I should point out that this isn’t the reason he’s called Croget the Floater. Sorcerers get these names from each other, and I believe the other sorcerers started calling him that because he developed a spell that allows him to float in the air as though he were weightless. No doubt he came up with it in an effort to deal with his own obesity. It can’t be easy hauling around that much weight.

It was well after midnight, and I was scaling the side of Croget’s tower. The lack of windows had forced me to try to breach his dome, and I had all the tools and supplies I’d need for that in a sack. The sack was sitting in a skiff on the river below, attached to the end of a long rope, one of two that trailed from my belt as I climbed. The climb was fairly challenging, and when I reached the roof I had to rest for a few minutes before hauling my supplies up. First I hauled up the firewood. It was tied in bundles, well-spaced on a very long rope, so I wouldn’t have to hoist it all at once. There was quite a bit of it, and I piled it carefully close beside the dome. Then, using a tinderbox and a bit of pitch-soaked moss, I lit my bonfire and fanned it into a healthy blaze.

There was a cold, damp wind blowing off the river that night. When I’m working I wear a suit of soft black kidskin, laced skin-tight. It doesn’t rustle, creak, catch on things, or hamper my movements the way any other material would, but it also doesn’t offer much protection against a cold wind. The fire was a welcome relief, and I took the luxury of warming myself before I proceeded. Then I hauled my sack up out of the skiff, being careful not to let it clank against the wall. Once I had taken out the special supplies and laid them on the roof beside me, I was ready to start on the dome.

I guess I should explain that I specialize in burgling sorcerers. Most thieves won’t touch them, so it’s a unique and well-paying niche. It’s also bloody dangerous, because sorcerers hate to be robbed, and they set up all sorts of deadly magical wards and traps to discourage guys like me. My mentor, old Happy-day Frombo, got discouraged right through the head when he was trying to crawl through a sorcerer’s window. But I’ve got an edge that Frombo didn’t have, and it was time to bring it into play.

“Ghost,” I called softly into the night. “Time to go to work.”

What, you think I’ve been on vacation? said a spectral voice inside my head. I’ve already scouted the place out. Croget’s sound asleep, and no one else is in the tower. The security measures haven’t changed since last night. You’ve got a fairly sophisticated surface-flow heat-drain spell on the underside of the dome, keyed to an alarm bell in the bedroom. Beneath that, there are ten standard fire-based wardstones in a ring around the frame of the dome, proximity-triggered. Above all, you must avoid touching the floor of the shop below. It’s covered with a static-charge blanket, and disturbing it will activate a liquid-glass golem. You ready to get started?

Ghost is the perfect partner. Having no corporeal body, he can pass, invisible and undetectable, right through walls. He can actually see theria, the energy that we manipulate every time we perform magic, and he knows everything I know about magical traps and wards. Best of all, we have a telepathic link, he and I. I’ll tell you about Ghost later; I’ve already interrupted this narrative too many times.

First, the surface-flow heat-drain spell. It’s a field of voracious negative energy that’s been forced to cling to the inside surface of the dome. It’s invisible and completely contained until the glass of the dome is breached. Then it comes roaring out the hole seeking anything warm, and it will freeze a body solid. A strong one can freeze several bodies.

I stoked my fire into a roaring bonfire there on the roof. At the same time I used my diamond-tipped glass-cutter to score the edges of one of the triangular sections of red cut glass that made up the dome, then attached a cord to its surface with putty. By then the fire was really starting to blaze up, and I needed to move away from its heat anyway. I assembled a slender steel pole about eight feet long, attaching to the end a small sack of lead pellets tightly wrapped in leather, with a dull gray stone bound to the side with cord. I was ready.

So far so good, Ghost’s voice whispered inside my head. Croget is sleeping like a baby. If you like your babies about four hundred pounds, ugly as sin and snoring like a thunder storm.

That had been a concern during the planning of this robbery. Building a bonfire on the roof, right next to the dome, was no doubt lighting up the room below. But the sorcerer slept on the next floor down, so I had gambled that the light and noise wouldn’t filter down to his bedroom. As for the rest of the city, who was going to make comment on the fact that there appeared to be a fire on the roof of a sorcerer’s tower? Sorcerers were known for creating far more frightening displays on their roofs at night.

When I figured the bonfire was blazing as high as it was going to, I poked my long pole through the flames, bringing the little sack of lead pellets close to the glass triangle I had scored.

This was one of those moments that we thieves refer to as a Religious Interlude. I was about to breach the dome and release the heat-drain spell. If my bonfire was generating enough heat, I would remain unscathed here on the far side of it. If the spell was stronger than I guessed it was, I could become an ice sculpture. I’m not really inclined toward worship, but at times like these I usually muttered a quick prayer to one-eyed Mider, the god of thieves, and this was no exception. Then I drew back the pole and jabbed it at the dome.

The leather-wrapped weight made only a soft thump, but the triangle of glass made a sharp cracking sound as it broke. I had expected it to fall through the hole and into the room, hence the putty and cord to catch it, but the heat-drain spell actually came out with enough force to blast it outward. I thrust the pole deeper into the breach even as the invisible force of the spell rushed out past it. With a sound like a wolf swallowing a greased baby whole, the spell snuffed out my bonfire. One second it was a roaring conflagration, the next it was a heap of frozen, charred chunks of wood. At the bottom a few coals hissed and sputtered, a testament to how closely I had guessed at the spell’s power. The steel pole in my hands was rimed with ice, my gloved fingers sticking to it.

The gray stone I’d tied to the end of the pole glowed a soft blue, then faded slowly back to gray, and I sighed in relief. It was a null-stone, and it had done its job, absorbing the impulse of magical energy that was supposed to sound the alarm in the sorcerer’s bedroom.

It worked, said Ghost. The alarm didn’t sound, and nothing fell to the floor to activate the golem. You’re doing better than I thought you would.

“Thanks a lot,” I muttered.

The next bit was tedious. I had to enlarge the hole until I could climb through, without dropping even a tiny piece to the floor below. It took over an hour. The next trap was a circle of wardstones, set in the cylindrical base of the dome. If anything came near them, a blast of magical fire would erupt from the innocent-looking red stones, more than twice as hot as natural fire. Again I employed my steel pole, poking it down through the hole I’d made, triggering the wardstones one at a time. White-hot flames belched forth from each one, a raging inferno that would have turned me into thief flambé.

Next I cleaned up my mess and put my tools away, lowering my sack back to the ground. There was always a chance I’d have to flee the scene in a hurry, and I didn’t want to leave anything behind. Sorcerers can sometimes use your personal belongings to track you down, so you have to be careful. My ropes were new, but the grappling hooks and other hardware had been in my possession long enough to pick up a therial imprint from me.

It was time to go down the hole. I secured my hook to the rim of the dome’s base, made sure the items I’d need were well-attached to my person, and unwound my rope. Then I descended into the sorcerer’s workshop.

Everything was still. The scant moonlight shining through the red-glass dome made everything look murky, as though I were seeing it through muddy water. Strange shapes loomed ominously near the walls and in the corners, bookshelves crammed with books and scrolls reached to the ceiling, and not a ladder in sight. Tables squatted in random positions, piled with scrolls and mysterious sorcerous bric-a-brac, and in the center of the room the inevitable summoning circle was marked out with white ceramic tiles inlaid into the floor.

Everyone uses a bit of magic for this and that, be it warming up bath-water or making bread rise. I don’t know anybody who doesn’t know at least three or four simple spells. I have several I use regularly. What sets sorcerers apart from everyone else is their obsessive need to amass more and more magical power, so they can perform ever more terrible spells. That requires a great deal of study and research, so every sorcerer has a workshop like this. What sorts of things clutter their workshop can tell you a lot about what discipline they pursue and where they are looking for the power they seek.

Croget’s studies seemed to involve a great many scrolls, for every table was heaped with them. I couldn’t tell you what discipline he practiced without looking more closely at the scrolls, and I didn’t really care that much, but the abundance of them, combined with the lack of any other artifacts, natural or otherwise, told me at a glance that he was the sort of sorcerer who relied on the work of other sorcerers rather than finding his own path to power. The scrolls that filled his workshop may have come from tombs, plucky thieves or lost libraries, but most likely Croget was just one of those sorcerous vultures who descended upon deceased fellow sorcerers’ sanctums the minute they died, cleaning out every scrap of magical knowledge they could find.

In one corner stood what appeared to be a glittering glass statue of a woman with the head of a hooded serpent. It stood eight feet tall, and despite the pleasingly voluptuous shape of it, it looked predatory and dangerous. This was the liquid-glass golem Ghost had warned me about. It would remain inert and insensate until something touched the floor and disturbed the static-charge blanket that had been laid there. Then the golem would come instantly to life, its only concern the destruction of the intruder who had triggered it. I’ve never seen one of them animated, but I’ve read about them in the Imperial Library. So far as I know, there is no way to fight a liquid-glass golem unless you’re a sorcerer, so it was imperative not to wake it up. That meant that, no matter what, I couldn’t touch the floor.

Beside the golem was a square vault of steel and granite. It was tall enough to stand up inside, and wide enough for two men to do so at once. The door was massive, with a single lever projecting from it, and the top of it was, of course, piled with more scrolls.

You know what? came Ghost’s voice inside my head. I’ve just realized that our plan is badly flawed.

I froze, looking quickly around. It is?

Yes. It’s a terrible plan. You’re up there having all the fun, and I’m watching this big, ugly bastard snore. His mouth is like a loose, wet, flapping felch-bladder. It’s disgusting.

I resumed breathing. Right. Next time you steal the cookies and I’ll watch the sorcerer.

Seriously, Fade. I hate to complain, but…

You love to complain.

Okay, true enough, but this is worse than I’d imagined. The noises that are coming out of this man are horrific! If I had a stomach it would be twisting itself into knots. And did I mention the phlegm?

Please don’t tell me about the phlegm, I projected desperately. I need to concentrate up here.

Ghost, not having a corporeal body himself, had developed an odd sensitivity to the ways of the flesh. I don’t hold it against him, but there are times when I just don’t need to hear about it.

While Ghost had been going on, I’d tied a loop in the rope I hung from and stuck my foot into it. I’d run the rope through the snap-link on my belt as well, to free up my hands. I was now dangling about four feet above the floor, the summoning circle directly below me. I paused for a long moment, flexing my fingers and breathing deeply, eying the malevolent beauty of the golem. It was exquisitely formed, its sensuous curves a tribute to the artist who had created it. Yet it was also a deadly magical machine that would surely kill me if I made the smallest mistake. With a little shudder I tore my eyes from the thing and turned my attention to the vault beside it.

I carry a small but powerful crossbow on my hip, and I drew it forth now. I cocked it, and inserted the bolt I needed for this task, the steel one with the serrated tip and the silken cord attached to the back end. Aiming carefully, I fired it at the plaster wall above the vault. It buried itself halfway into the wall with what seemed, in the silence, to be a very loud thump. I froze, listening.

The leviathan stirred, reported ghost, but he didn’t wake up. I don’t know how he even heard that over the obscene cacophony of his own snoring.

Breathing a soft sigh of relief, I began reeling in the cord attached to the bolt in the wall. The serrations held it firmly in place, and I began pulling myself toward my goal. I pulled until I was directly over the vault. I could have stepped down onto the top of it, if it weren’t completely covered in scrolls. With the toe of my kidskin boot I gently scooted some of the scrolls back from the edge, clearing a few inches. I planted my foot carefully in that space, and balanced myself there. Hanging the coiled silken cord on the bolt in the wall, I left it there for the moment. Bending down, I gathered up an armload of scrolls, picking them up carefully so I wouldn’t cause any of them to avalanche onto the floor. Holding my breath, I put my weight on the foot in the loop and swung out across the room. The other end of the arc of my swing brought me over a long table, and I dumped the scrolls onto it. When I swung back my arc was too short to reach the vault, so I had to swing back again, throwing my weight into it, before I could step off onto the top of the vault. I had to repeat this process twice more before I had cleared off all the scrolls from the broad granite surface.

Taking my foot out of the loop, I hooked the rope to my bolt in the wall and crouched on top of the vault. Taking out my lockpicks, I lay on my belly and scooted forward until my body was hanging upside down over the front of the vault, my weight resting on my thighs. My face was now inches from the two keyholes, the blood roaring in my ears. As delicately as I could, I began working on the first lock. I’m pretty good at picking locks, but Ghost had informed me that these were quicksilver-shift locks, one of the most difficult kinds. What’s more, both of them had to be held in the open position simultaneously before I could turn the lever. It required using both hands and my mouth, and took me almost three minutes.

Crouching once more on top of the vault, I pushed the door open slowly. It was heavy, but the hinges didn’t creak too badly. I swung myself down and landed inside.

To my left were Croget’s spellbooks. Sorcerers hoarded their spells jealously, particularly the unique ones. Those spellbooks were probably Croget’s most valued possessions. To me they were worthless. Another sorcerer would probably pay me well for them, but who wants a sorcerer for a client? Sorcerers can’t be trusted, and would be as likely to blast you into oblivion as pay you for your trouble. To my right was his collection of magical artifacts. There, on the top shelf, was the object I had come to steal. It was a beautiful silver dagger, long and curved, with an eye worked in diamonds on the hilt, a single ruby for the pupil. I knew that if I were to draw it from its sheath the light that shone from its blade would light up the room, so that was about the last thing I wanted to do. Instead, I just grabbed it and stuck it in my bag. The damned thing would probably end up in the hands of some hero, who would use it to slay a dragon or rescue a princess or something. Oh well, at least I’d get my money out of it first.

Then I began stuffing in all the other artifacts. My client was going to pay me well for the dagger, but I could make quite a bit of money from selling the other items, too. I didn’t examine them or even take notice of what they were, I just stuffed them in my bag.

I was thus engaged when I heard a sound. It was a tiny, brief little noise, like parchment sliding against parchment. A subconscious alarm went off in my head, and I whirled and stared out into the almost-palpable reddish murk of the room before I had even realized the nature of the danger. There, on the long table at the other end of the room, the table onto which I had dumped three armloads of scrolls, I saw movement. The stack of scrolls was shifting, settling under its own weight. Even as I watched, one of the scrolls was dislodged and began rolling down the side of the pile. I watched it roll, the movement seeming impossibly slow as my adrenaline surged. I could see that it was going to continue rolling right off the edge of the table. There was no stopping it. I was doomed.

A thrill of fear shot through me, and suddenly I was moving. I thrust my left hand through the drawstring of my loot bag, reached up and grabbed the lip of the vault with both hands, and swung my body upward with an adrenalin-charged snap that somersaulted me all the way onto my feet on top of the vault. I didn’t actually hear the scroll hit the floor, but as I was wrestling my serrated bolt out of the wall I saw movement from the corner of my eye. I glanced toward the golem just as its cobra-shaped head swiveled toward me, its cold glassy eyes locking onto me. I know golems aren’t alive, they’re only man-made constructions animated by magic, but in that moment I swear I could feel the thing’s inhuman malevolence and its icy certainty of my imminent demise.

I ripped the bolt out with a final yank and jammed it in my belt, my gaze still held by those dark, sparkling eyes. For a long moment we stood there, the golem staring at me from only a few feet away, and me staring back, feeling like a mouse must feel just before a predator strikes. Holding my breath, I took a tiny, tentative step away from it, and in that moment it surged abruptly toward me, reaching out with long-fingered glass talons. I leapt in the opposite direction, narrowly evading the thing’s deadly grasp, grabbing my rope with both hands and swinging out into space.

The animated glass construct chased me with appalling speed and inhuman grace, dodging around tables and leaping over stools and wooden chests without disturbing a thing. It was moving so fast that I was barely staying ahead of it, yet it wasn’t smart enough to figure out that I was swinging helplessly in a wide circle. Had it understood that simple dynamic, it would surely have cut me off and killed me. As it was, it took several swipes at me with its razor-sharp glass talons as it chased me around the room, missing me by only inches, but each time it seemed to be getting closer.

What’s going on up there? came Ghost’s alarmed query. Did you wake the golem?

Just giving it a little exercise, I shot back. Everything’s under control.

You’d better not get us killed, he said, his voice suddenly very loud inside my head. We’ve already only got the one body between us.

I’m doing my best to keep it intact, I returned.

I began shinnying up the rope as fast as I could go, and by the beginning of my second turn around the workshop I was sure I had gained sufficient height to escape the deadly claws. That was when the thing jumped from a tabletop and came flying right at me, both hands raised for a killing blow.

I think I may have let out a squeal just then, a tiny one. My death seemed certain, but somehow, in the extremity of my terror, I yanked my body upward until my arse was actually above my head, and the terrible glass talons whistled by me without finding my cringing flesh. I’m proud to say that my underwear remained dry.

The golem fell to the floor, somehow narrowly avoiding a scroll-covered table, but hitting the uncarpeted boards with a deep boom that shook the tower.

That’s it, said Ghost, Croget’s awake.

Tell me if he starts scrying, I thought back.

As I was climbing the last few feet of rope, I felt it suddenly go taut, the rotating motion coming to an abrupt halt. When I glanced down, I saw the golem climbing up after me, and it was moving incredibly fast. It would be on me in seconds. I reached the top in record time, and the moment I got my butt up onto the rim of the dome I pulled a dagger from my boot. It only took a couple of seconds for the razor-sharp blade to saw through the rope, but those seconds seemed an eternity as I watched the voluptuous but deadly glass golem shooting up the rope toward me. I barely got it cut in time, but when the last strand parted I was rewarded with the sight of the glittering monster falling back to the floor. It crashed in the center of the summoning circle, and for a second it seemed to shatter like so much glass. Then suddenly it was liquid, the scattering shards splashing to the floor and then running quickly back to its center again. Before I could tear my eyes from it the thing had begun to reassemble itself, the lush, womanly curves of it forming and solidifying in the center of a shrinking puddle of liquid glass.

I grabbed my hook and stuffed it in my belt as I dove for my other rope, the one that hung down the outer wall of the tower. I had just begun my descent when Ghost sounded the warning.

Croget went straight for his scrying globe. He’s warming it up… he’ll be watching you in seconds.

About the last thing I want when I’m leaving the scene of the crime is to have a sorcerer watching me in his crystal ball. Especially when it’s the sorcerer I’ve just robbed. Cursing softly, I rappelled down the side of the tower in two long leaps, touching ground just as Ghost gave me the next report.

Croget’s scrying the workshop… he’s looking at the dome now… he’s spotted you! He’s zooming in…

I have a lightweight hood and mantle that I use for situations like this. As Ghost spoke, I took it out and pulled it over my head, settling the mantle comfortably on my shoulders. A subtle but well-embedded enchantment caused the hood to cast a shadow over my face, preventing anyone from identifying me. My face is actually still visible within the hood, and the casual observer would think nothing of it, but if you look closely the enchantment makes my features indistinct. This is particularly important when you’re being scrutinized by an angry sorcerer.

The hook came loose from the top of the tower the second time I snapped the rope, and I tossed the tangled mass, along with my equipment sack, into the skiff. I jumped in and pushed off, paddling furiously downriver.

Is Croget still scrying me? I asked Ghost.

He’s just stopped, said Ghost. He’s upset that he didn’t get a good look at your face, and now he seems to have given up in frustration. He’s going upstairs to his workshop.

Could I really have gotten lucky? I do have a method for shaking a scrying sorcerer who tries to follow me home, but if Croget didn’t have the patience for it, all the better. I could be done with this an hour earlier. On the other hand, Croget could be planning some other unpleasantness for me. I hastily drove the skiff into the middle of the river, where the current was fastest, and paddled strongly toward the docks at the lower end of town.

This isn’t good, said Ghost suddenly inside my head.

Instinctively I glanced back toward the tower, and I was just in time to see a turnip-shaped figure in white rise rapidly from the roof. The figure paused in mid-air, then began scudding toward me like a billowing white cloud.

He’s coming for you, said Ghost. Once he sees you, you’re a sitting duck out there!

I realized the truth of what Ghost said. I was relying on the darkness for cover, but darkness was no protection from a sorcerer who flew! This job had already gone south when I woke the golem, and now it was looking like it was going to be the last one of my life!

He’s gathering theria… a lot of it! He’s preparing to cast a major spell!

Suddenly light washed over me, and a moment later there was an explosion behind me that rocked my little boat and made my ears ring. Burning debris rained down around me.

He just destroyed a small boat that was anchored near shore, said Ghost. He must be really angry! He can’t discern which boat is yours in the dark, so he’s destroying every one he can see! He’s blasting another one!

Another explosion shook my skiff, lighting up the night.

He’s heading your way, said Ghost. I think he saw you in the flash from that last one! If you’re gonna do something, now’s the time… Cursing under my breath, I did something. It was a move inspired by pure desperation, but it was all I could think of. I grabbed my equipment sack and propped it up against the bench I sat on. I grabbed the steel grappling-hook and stuck it into the top of the bag so that the curved hook was sticking up out of the opening. Then I pulled the hood and mantle off of my head and draped them over the hook and sack. I fluffed the hood a little, and decided it would have to do. Then I took a deep breath and slipped over the side.

Swimming deep underwater, I made for the nearest shore, wondering if my hurried attempt at deception was really going to fool the sorcerer. If he was blasting every boat in sight, he might have poor night vision, or he could just be blinded by rage. But if the trick failed, I had just given him enough of my personal possessions to lead him right…

BOOM. The force of the explosion nearly drove the breath out of me, and the flash blinded me. I swallowed a mouthful of river water, but somehow managed to choke back the coughing fit that resulted and resume swimming.

It worked. Ghost’s words echoed in my addled brain. Swim to your right. A little more. There…

With Ghost’s guidance I made it to a deep shadow under a short, low pier. I came up gasping, but I managed not to cough. Out in the middle of the river Croget was hovering low over the water. He was looking down and cursing fluently, no doubt believing that he had just blasted his stolen possessions along with the thief who’d taken them. He would probably search the river bottom for them, or more likely have his golem do it. But he wouldn’t find them, for they were in the bag on my shoulder. Taking another deep breath, I submerged and swam downriver, making for the docks.


Despite its mishaps, it was a successful job. Everything in my equipment bag was replaceable, and after being blasted with fire and then soaked in the river, he’d never be able to use what was left of them to find me. My leathers could be made usable again after their dunking with a bit of care and liberal applications of oil and dye. My enchanted shadow hood would be a bit harder to replace, but I’d find one eventually. For the record, my heists don’t usually go awry as badly as that one did, but my profession is intrinsically dangerous, and sometimes things happen. My philosophy is that if I can get both my loot and my arse out intact, it’s a good night’s work.

Early the next morning my client met me at our agreed rendezvous point and paid me for the dagger, and I took the rest of my haul back to my room. I was feeling pretty good about the whole thing, until I awoke that afternoon and started examining the things I’d stolen, and I found the bottle with the imp inside.

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