When Opportunity Comes Snapping

Apr 18th, 2020
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  1. The sun had vanished from the sky an hour or so ago. Early stars already twinkled in the darkening firmament, revelling in the absence of the overbright moon. A fire crackled merrily in the fireplace as a steady stream of patrons began to crowd the small tavern for the dinner hour. Rich, savoury smells wafted out of wooden bowls plonked down upon wooden tabletops, and the metallic clink of cutlery punctuated the low hum of occasional laughter and jovial conversation.
  3. For many, the day was drawing to an end. But for him, it was only just beginning.
  5. Nightfall was a time where people, weary of the day's trials, began to return to their sanctuaries, let down their guard and prepare for the vulnerability of slumber. When the streets emptied, and the hustle and bustle of the morning quieted. Don't go out at night, they said, the monsters will get you. But he'd never feared the concealing dark.
  7. The only monster likely to be on the prowl was him - and 'monster' was a strong word, really, for what he did.
  9. The slender Mhun lounged upon a bench in a shadowed corner of the bustling tavern, keeping well out of the way of everyone. Most who happened to glance his way never gave him a second look, their gaze skittering over his veiled features and unremarkable dress.
  11. He was an anomaly in a world that prized notice, but he preferred it that way. Indeed, he went to great lengths to maintain his inconspiciousness. Why else would he wear a featureless mask, a veil, -and- a hooded cloak? Standing out from the crowd tended to hamper efficient thievery, especially if everyone's eyes were always on you. That whole affair with the nine-fingered Naga and the sparkling robes had proven that much.
  13. Maintaining his air of ease, he allowed his gaze to drift nonchalantly across the crowd, mentally performing a quick inventory of their valuables. Bulging packs, gleaming jewellery, tightly rolled letters...all of it had potential for riches.
  15. Yet it was all so drearily mundane.
  17. A faint sigh escaped his lips as he felt nostalgia rise once more for the bygone days of great, daring heists. He'd enjoyed the creativity of his profession and gained worldwide infamy for his exploits. Magical tophats, prism tattoos, and even that safe he'd once terrorised the world with...
  19. Idly, he fingered the edges of his obscuring veil in an unconscious gesture. He'd been forced to give up the safe and accept this in exchange. It was a nice trade, admittedly; the powerful enchantment upon the garment hid him from most bounty hunters out for his blood. However, it just didn't inspire quite as much -excitement-.
  21. Perhaps the world beyond would have more interesting targets than the uninspiring crowd here. Closing his eyes, he allowed himself to extend his awareness through the continent as his third eye flared into life. The whereabouts of adventurers unprotected by concealing magic were laid bare to him, and he took his time considering each one.
  23. Cyrenians seemed to be crowded around Centre Crossing - probably having one of their lengthy meetings or festivals again, not the best time to venture there - Targossans were skirmishing with Ashtani in the Eastern Reaches, splattering red over the indigo fields - Eleusians loitered as usual near the gatehouse, how boring - and Mhaldorians...
  25. Wait.
  27. A flare of interest pierced through the fog of apathy in his mind as his awareness lingered upon one particular Mhaldorian. She wasn't often to be found in the downtrodden reaches of the slave market, yet there she was. He knew that guards weren't usually spared to safeguard the area - after all, slaves were the dross of Mhaldorian society, making them inherently expendable. He'd almost never seen her linger in an unprotected zone, but if she was now...this could be his only opportunity.
  29. His eyes snapped open as he slipped his hand in his pocket, drawing out a well-folded piece of parchment with two fingers. Deftly, he unfolded it to reveal a list of names within. He was fairly sure she was on it, but just in case - aha. There she was.
  31. He had to hurry.
  33. Adrenaline spurred him into instant action. Dropping a few sovereigns on the tabletop - he might be a thief, but it was always worth keeping good credit with a tavernkeeper-cum-fence - he stood up and moved smoothly to the door, neatly avoiding a drunk who stumbled into his path and a group of giggling wenches discussing the merits of approaching some young soldiers at the bar.
  35. The cool night enfolded him into the embrace of quiet, comforting shadow as he stepped outside, leaving the genial chaos of the tavern behind. He allowed himself just a second to luxuriate in the refreshing silence, then murmured a soft word of power. In response, large eagle's wings snapped open from behind his shoulders, lifting him off the cobblestoned ground and propelling him above the very clouds with a few strong sweeps.
  37. Orienting himself quickly, the Mhun folded his wings close and dove towards the red-shrouded isle in the west. The Baelgrim Fortress loomed menacingly atop a massive black mountain as he set foot upon Mhaldor isle, but its ominous aesthetic had long since ceased to intimidate him - in fact, he couldn't remember when he'd last worried about entering the city. As far as he was concerned, all cities were his hunting grounds. Mhaldorian trinkets just happened to best suit his taste.
  39. He began to vibrate his body extremely quickly, the world blurring around him from the inhuman intensity of movement. Within seconds, a bright green flash exploded around him, and he stepped unseen into that eerie, silent phase between worlds. A quick check revealed no other Serpents visible, and he began carefully to pick his way down the mountain and into the city proper. One wrong move could alert any Monk or Blademaster in Mhaldor to his presence if they had cast their mindnet wide enough. He was confident of evading capture, but there was no sense in startling his target and rendering this entire expedition moot.
  41. He crept stealthily beneath the enormous iron portcullis hanging over the main entrance of Mhaldor, passing by some gore-covered soldiers as they made ritual offerings of slain Mhun to their fell Master at a nearby shrine. A pair of patrolling salamandrin legionnaires came a little too close for comfort as he paused against a wall, but they passed by without incident and he seized the chance to dart across the open stygian crossroads - only to nearly collide with a confused gremlin busy finding the recipient of the letter it carried.
  43. The main thoroughfare had been the hard part. Turning right, he slipped into a smaller alley and descended, light-footed, into the underground circle of the fortress city. The atmosphere was noticeably quieter here, with less foot traffic passing through the corridors. Red-tinted lanterns provided gloomy illumination - barely enough light to see by - but he'd been here often enough to know his way around the circle blind. Careful not to make a sound, he followed the corridor northwards until he emerged through a narrow archway into a larger chamber of descending tiers.
  45. At this time of night, the space was deserted and he found her almost immediately. The Mhun, like him, preferred the shrouded protection of darkness and would have been invisible to the naked eye, but with his enchanted mask, her life force burned clear as day to him. She stood outside the closed doorway of a shop, apparently engrossed in a sheaf of parchment. He looked around quickly. No guards in sight, and Gack was a fair distance away. It was now or never.
  47. Dazzling stars exploded soundlessly around him as he reentered reality in a quiet corner, glancing around warily again to make sure he hadn't missed any wayward Khaal Theurgists or daemonic apostate guards. The way was clear.
  49. Silent-footed, he paced towards her and quickly assessed her inventory, pleased to find that she wasn't carrying a shimmering orb to distract his intent gaze. His eyes swept over the multitude of items in her possession until they settled upon the object of his desire, concealed beneath a glove upon her hand. His heart leapt with glee at the sight. Finally!
  51. There was no time to lose. He stepped silently in front of her and bent his head a fraction, focusing his gaze intently on the spot between her eyes. It was an old magician's trick to draw the target's gaze to your own, and it worked - unconsciously, she lifted her own eyes from the parchment she was reading to glance ahead at what she thought was nothing. He met her eyes with his own mesmerising stare, holding it unblinkingly to reduce her awareness of her surroundings.
  53. Infusing his will into his gaze, he widened his eyes and concentrated until he noticed her own go blank. He focused his full awareness on outlining precisely what he wanted her to do next - this delicate work could not be interrupted, or it would all be for nothing.
  55. You will feel generous, he willed her. You will remove your ring. You will place it in your pocket. And I wil take it from you, his inner voice whispered in anticipation. It was always easier to convince them to simply place items in easy-to-reach areas on their person, then relieving them of their possessions from there, instead of having them hand their valuables off to a stranger, which might rouse enough suspicion to break the trance.
  57. He blinked once, long and slow, sealing his suggestions in her mind. Now came the moment of truth. Adrenaline hummed through his veins as his heart pounded furiously. He lived for the rush, for the gamble of these uncertain moments as success and failure balanced upon the finest of lines.
  59. He raised his fingers in front of her eyes. One, two...
  61. *snap*
  63. Sudden generosity gleamed in her grey gaze, and she slowly began to remove her glove as though in a trance. He moved forwards eagerly, waiting for her to slip the band off and into her pocket-
  65. Without warning, awareness flashed across her features. Her open hand clenched suddenly into a tight fist, stopping the glove from coming completely off as her eyes widened in alarm. Before he could even move, she'd stuffed her reading material in her pocket, whirled in a flurry of black cloth and dashed through one of the nearest archways, disappearing from sight in mere seconds.
  67. Instinct told him to vacate the premises as quickly as possible before she gathered her wits enough to alert the guard. Green light flashed and he was out of touch with reality again, hurtling through the strange phase space as he retraced his steps, unconcerned about secrecy now. Through the corridors, up to the main circle, across the crossroads, under the portcullis - he only allowed himself to slow once he was out of the Baelgrim and in the air again.
  69. Cold disappointment flooded his heart as he reappeared at his safe haven, but with an effort, he shrugged it off. He'd been close, no doubt, but there would always be other opportunities. Someone else would be lax another time. He had been patient for so long. He could wait a little longer.
  71. The tavern was dark and quiet now as he pushed the door open and stepped in. Only embers were left of the fire, glowing red among the cooling ashes. The floor was swept clean of the earlier mess from dinner and the chairs were upended on the tables. No one heard his silent tread upon the staircase as he sought his room, and he allowed himself one annoyed sigh as he sprawled upon his bed.
  73. He wasn't so sure why he was so frustrated. It wasn't as if he hadn't failed at theft attempts before - in fact, the failures likely vastly outnumbered the successes - but this wasn't just any ordinary item he'd been after. If she'd just stayed compliant a second longer...
  75. On a whim, the Mhun sought her consciousness out with his own, establishing a brief mental connection. [Don't loiter without the protection of guards!] he playfully chastised her. He might as well get some interaction out of this fiasco, if nothing else.
  77. ------------------------------------------------------------------------
  79. She'd run halfway around the lower circle before it had occurred to her that she should stop and call the guards. She didn't bother, though, knowing deep down that it was already too late. Curse her instinctive reaction. At least she practiced what she taught every novice: first, be selfish. Next, run.
  81. She took a deep breath, trying to calm her racing heart, and made her swift way back up through the corridors and into the safety of the guardhouse, which had guards coming and going at all hours of the day. The one day she'd left its protection to read something in the market...
  83. His mocking voice chimed in her head, and she grit her teeth slightly. It had been many, many years since she'd been caught unawares. Needless to say, it was particularly embarassing, being that she was a Serpent herself. The Master would have been apopletic if she had lost His gift, and rightfully so.
  85. She pressed the pad of her thumb into the band around her finger, welcoming the pain as the hidden razor sliced into her flesh in an agonising reassurance of its existence. Inhaling through her nose, she smoothed her clothing down, willing herself to channel her usual unruffled calm. Enemies must never sense any hint at weakness. [Indeed.]
  87. [I had to try,] he replied, mock sadness and a tinge of what seemed like real disappointment in his tone. [That ring is one of the last items I don't have yet.]
  89. So close. She pushed down the sudden rush of anxiety. [I would say I was sorry for disrupting your plans, but I would be lying.] As she waited for his response, she mulled over her choices for retribution. She could hire Marks, but if he didn't want to be found, he wouldn't be. It would simply be a waste of gold and time.
  91. Or...
  93. She drew out the scroll she had been reading and looked down at it, the details of a lucrative bounty for rare artifacts visible upon the parchment. An idea began to form in her mind. He -was- a master thief...perhaps she could gain something worthwhile from this near miss after all.
  95. [If you are quite finished with that, I have a business opportunity for you.]
  97. Curiosity flared. [I'm listening.]
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