“What are you talking about, Tam?” Gethrun said. “It was a perfect lift. We’ve got nothing to worry about.”
Tam ran one hand through the pile of coins and gems on the table. All told, the value was more than 25,000 gold pieces worth of treasure. A literal fortune to two simple thieves like themselves, it was more money than he could have put his hands on in three lifetimes on the streets of Neverwinter. But Tam knew that right now it represented something much bigger for the two of them: death.
“You just don’t get it, Gethrun. No simple merchant carries this kind of money on them. EVER!” Tam began shoveling the treasure back into the deceptively small bag.
Gethrun watched silently as he did. How did it fit all that stuff inside, anyhow? It was like the bag was bigger on the inside or something. “What are you talking about, Tam? The guy has been hanging round the bazaar for weeks. He’s gotta be a merchant.”
“You got all kinds of talent, kid. I knew that when I took you on as my apprentice. Never seen anyone with as much natural talent to lift a coin purse or pick a lock as you got. But you got a lot to learn, too.” Tam paused his work on bagging and looked intently on the boy.
“So much just passes right by you kid. Goes right over your head. In one ear and out ‘ta other, as me Ma always said to me. I worry about you.” He resumed bagging up the haul.
“You’re daft, Tam” Gethrun said, flipping a coin into the air. Tam grabbed it mid-flight and added it to the bag. Gethrun thought about grabbing some of the coins, but he knew better than to cross Tam when he was like this. He figured he’d try pursuasion instead.
“We’re set for years with this one. Troubles are all behind us now.” He’d already convinced himself and readily forgot that he had been trying to convince Tam. “Gimme a few of them silvers. I’m gonna hit the gambling dens.” As Gethrun reached for a few of the coins still on the table, Tam slapped his hand away.
“Ahhh!” Gethrun cried, yanking his hand back. “What did ya do that for? It’s just a few silvers!”
Tam finished scooping the last of the treasure into the bag. “You’re a smart kid, but sometimes you got soup for brains. Stay here, don’t open the doors or windows and DON’T LEAVE.” He paused for a moment and stared directly at Gethrun, jabbing a finger towards Gethrun to emphasize his point. “DON’T…. LEAVE!”
Tam picked up the bag, threw it in his haversack, then walked into the next room he’d set up as his bedroom, shutting the door behind him.
Gethrun had every intention of doing as his mentor had instructed. He pulled out his deck of cards and began practicing some of his card sleight of hand as a distraction. And it worked, for about 10 minutes.
“Meh,” Gethrun muttered, glancing towards the bedroom door. “He doesn’t know everything. It’s night now. I can hide with the best of them,” he continued, his determination solidifying.
“No worries, then,” he concluded, and quietly slipped open the secret panel to the back alleyway, slipping away into the night. If Tam wasn’t gonna let him enjoy the spoils of the day’s efforts, he was gonna find another coin purse to fund the night’s enjoyment.
He wandered several streets and alleys, but luck was not with him early on. The streets were unusually empty this evening. The giants had been stirring up trouble recently and it had the residents on edge.
“Even so, where is everyone?” he muttered, unable to the take the clue for himself. Finally, as he crept down one alley near the bazaar, luck finally found its way to him. Two figures were huddled in conversation in the shadows about 30 feet from the alley entrance.
Gethrun moved slowly, carefully, keeping to the darkness of the alley as he approached the pair. Given the situation, it was likely that when the conversation was done, they would each go separate directions.
He made his way to a position about 20 feet from them and crouched behind a rain barrel. It was the perfect position to step up and relive the purse of whichever one came this way as the other disappeared around the corner in the other direction. As he settled in, he found he could make out pieces of the conversation.
“I’m tellin’ ya, it’s all or nothin’. Da boss want’s his pound a’ flesh.” hissed the first. This one was clearly a gang enforcer, all brawn and not much brain.
“Look,” whispered the other, “it’s all there in the warehouse. Trust me. I’ll even show ya where it is, take ya there me’self. It’s the ole’ Dunby Goods shop. Been empty for years. Makes the perfect hideout for a coupl’a thieves.”
Gethrun just managed to stifle a gasp of surprise. He couldn’t believe his ears. They’d been careful. No one knew where he and Tam would hold up after jobs. At least, they’d thought not. But here was someone who clearly knew. How could that be? Enveloped in a heavy cloak with their back to Gethrun, there was nothing about the second figure that revealed who, or what, they were. But somehow they knew! And they’d just shared that knowledge with the enforcer!
Panic began to well up into Gethrun’s mind. What to do? What to do? They were betrayed. Did he run back to warn Tam? He’d have to reveal himself. And while he was a pretty good sprinter, it was a long ways back to the warehouse and he was pretty sure that enforcer would have the stamina to outlast him over that distance. He’d never make it, and then he’d be dead… or worse.
By the time he had settled on his course of action, it dawned on him that his body was already in motion, racing across the distance between his hiding spot and the two figures. The enforcer just had time to realize Gethrun was there before the two daggers stabbed into him, the first slashing across his neck and the second stabbing into his guts.
Gethrun sensed the second figure starting to move, but Gethrun moved faster. He reversed himself, bringing both daggers up between the figure’s ribs. The figure cried out and toppled backward to the ground.
As the figure fell, light played across their face and Gethrun finally got to see who it was. “TAM!” he cried out, unable to help himself. He dropped quickly to his mentor’s side, taking his hand, crying. “No! No… no, no, no, not this. Not this…. not this…”
Tam’s eyes fluttered open. “It’s…” he started to say. “It’s… okay…. Not… not your fault.” His eyes started to roll back into his head.
Gethrun shook his mentor gently. “No… no, stay with me, Tam!” he urged.
Tam’s eyes focused on Gethrun once more and he suddenly gripped Gethrun’s arm. “They know!” he hissed. “Magic… They already knew it was us. Tryin’ ta make a deal. Weren’t… weren’t going fer it,” he gasped, coughing up blood. “You gotta run, Geth,” Tam whispered. “You gotta run….”
Tam ceased to move and Gethrun watched as the light left his eyes. He felt a sudden numbness overtake him and he just sat there, staring. What had he done? What had he done?
He wasn’t sure how long he sat there. It felt like hours but it was probably no more than a minute or so. He slowly became aware of the approach of booted feet. Whether it was more enforcers or the city guard, he couldn’t stay there.
With the echoes, he couldn’t tell which direction they were coming from. He assumed, therefore, that he was surrounded. With a quick glance about, the best way out seemed to be up. Using a variety of ledges and cracks in the walls, he quickly made his way to the top of the nearest building. He had just slipped over the roof’s edge, when multiple groups of gang enforcers began entering the alley from both directions.
“At least I did one thing right,” he muttered to himself and began dashing lightly across the rooftops. Finding a quiet spot several buildings down, he slipped back down to street level in the next street over. From there he ran all the way back to the warehouse. It was only a matter of time before they would get there, so he had to move quickly.
He ripped aside the secret panel and stepped into the building. No need to hide the entrance anymore. He quickly gathered up all the gear he could find. They didn’t have much, but it would be enough to survive on his own for a while: his daggers, Tam’s shortbow, rope, and a backpack full of their tools and equipment.
He stepped into Tam’s bedroom. The bag full of treasure lay on Tam’s cot. “No,” he said to himself. “There’s no way I could take that now. It’s blood money. I… just can’t” It wasn’t until later that he realized he had been trying to convince himself of that fact more than anything. After all, treasure was treasure. But no, not this time.
Leaving the living area behind, Gethrun made his way though the maze of abandoned boxes, crates and barrels. They had been careful to keep the warehouse clean and tidy. Tam had been brutal in his enforcement of that rule. Now, Gethrun knew why. A dirty floor leaves footprints. Their… his… escape route would be easily found if there’d been footprints left behind to see.
After a couple of minutes, he arrived at one crate in particular. He and Tam had spent days carefully crafting the crate and it’s mechanism. The crate itself was full of assorted bolts of cloth. Dunby’s had been a general goods importer. When he was arrested for smuggling, the warehouse had been seized by the city and held as collateral and evidence during the trial.
When Dunby had been convicted and sent to prison, the judge declared the warehouse was forfeit to the city as part of Dunby’s fine. It, and the goods it held would eventually be auctioned off, but the city had a number of other pressing issues currently and this warehouse of miscellaneous junk wasn’t a high priority. Until then, Tam and Gethrun had made it their own.
With a look around and a sigh, Gethun reached behind and hit the trigger that released the crate to move. Tilting it upward on hidden hinges, it revealed a shaft and ladder descending into the darkness below. 30 feet down, another tunnel went west about 40 feet to a secret door that opened into the city sewers.
The shaft and tunnel had already been there. It was how Dunby smuggled some of his goods. But it wasn’t very well hidden. Tam had been surprised the city inspectors had never seemed to find it when they had searched the warehouse. But by the time he and Gethrun were done, they had made sure it was much better hidden.
Now, with a renewed energy of desperate panic welling up within him, Gethrun descended the ladder, pulling the crate back down and latching it behind him. It would take the thugs hours, if not days of ripping the warehouse apart to find that. And by then, he would be far, far away from here.
Slipping into the sewers, Gethrun decided to make use of that energy. He ran. He ran, and ran, and ran. He wasn’t sure how for how long. All he knew was that it was a long time. He also wasn’t sure at what point things had changed. Somewhere along the way he had left the city’s sewers behind.
A thick mist had risen up around the floor of the tunnel, eventually enveloping him up to his waist for a time. Now, as it began to recede, he could make out a light up ahead. The end. It was the end of the tunnel, and the beginning of whatever life came next.