Chapter the Twenty Sixth: Dishonest Work Can Be Most ProfitableSammie had gotten me in quite the mood for thievery, which I'm sure was his intent. There was at least one person down in Black Root that I'd promised to steal from, but I'd put it off in favor of sparing poor Jayna. I was sure Magnus wouldn't be thrilled, but I didn't particularly care either. It was a shame, really, just how little I thought of him since his little stunt in the Schuyler's Basement. His penchant for violence and distaste of thievery made for a peculiar and foul mix.
Vermilion Station was my next stop. I approached the ticket teller with a polite smile. "Hi, I'd like to reserve three seats on the train to Black Root if that wouldn't be any trouble."
She turned up her nose at the sight of me, "Hmph. I've heard about you, Samantha Colburn. If I were able to refuse ticket sales to a pervert such as yourself I most certainly would do so."
You've got to be kidding me. Heard about that already, have you? "Just give me the tickets." I slammed my 225 gold pieces on the counter angrily.
The woman quite haughtily asked me the litany of questions that accompanies travel by rail and, once those were finished, she handed me my tickets. I stuffed them in my purse with a smile, then crept around to the door leading into the ticket booths. I slipped inside quickly and took great joy in retrieving my recently spent funds from the ticket seller. That'll show you for insulting me... Sammie would be proud.
The train ride was a good deal more pleasant than trekking all about the countryside on foot. I certainly had a new appreciation for it after my recent journeys all over the eastern grasslands. As my mind wandered I suddenly remembered something about the morning's events that had been bothering me. "Virgil," I looked at him quite purposefully, "so am I to understand you think me some kind of degenerate?"
He cracked a rather wide smile and his face flushed a bit red, "I was wondering if you'd noticed. I... I didn't mean it, really..."
I smiled back at him, beginning to laugh, "No, I didn't believe that you did... just curious if it really was you. You're horrible." He and I both laughed some more over the whole thing while Magnus fumed in the corner. I wasn't sure if he was upset about the streaking or the pick pocketing that followed, but his being upset was hardly anything new so I didn't let it bother me.
Night had already fallen by the time the train arrived in Black Root. Since darkness provided the perfect opportunity for a bit of thievery I headed in the direction of the hedge wizard's shack, intent on pilfering his chest for D'ak Taan. The gnomish wizard himself was a paranoid sort, alertly guarding his front door with suspicion. He was also a bit of an idiot, leaving his window wide open. I slipped inside through a window and, after a bit of difficulty, sprung the rather complex lock on his chest.
One statue for D'ak Taan coming right up. Magnus hissed at me as I exited the shop, finally unable to hold his tongue any longer, "What the bloody hell was that for? Did I just see you taking something out of that wizard's chest? I'm sure that chest was locked when you went in there, too... and you know you're up to know good, sneaking in the window like that. Don't even try to pretend it's for some good cause this time."
I sighed, rolling my eyes before turning and staring at him, "Yes, Magnus, it was locked and I did take something from it. I know that you refuse to believe any good can come of thievery, but I assure you that I am doing this for a good cause." That cause is my coin purse, but I'm sure some good will come of Black Root being allied with Cumbria instead of Tarant anyhow. "Given that I have agreed to do this thing and doing so requires me to either pilfer this statue or become violent with the man who asked me to pilfer it, I prefer this method."
"Well, if you ask me," he huffed, "violence against a thief hardly counts as violence at all."
I looked him straight in the eye and quite rudely said, "Well I didn't ask you, Magnus. I know your opinions and I quite thoroughly disagree with them. If I can avoid getting violent then I'll happily steal to do so."
He grumbled almost under his breath, "Well don't be surprised if I'm not around when you wake up in the morning." I was feeling particularly rebellious and decided to test just how much Magnus meant what he said. Fine, if that's how you feel, we'll see how you like this...
I crept into the shack next door to the hedge wizard's shack, intent on pilfering whatever minor valuables could've possibly been present. Unfortunately the drawers and chests were entirely barren and all I found was a note on the floor. It seemed like a rather pathetic attempt at thievery, but then again stealing just for the sake of aggravating Magnus was probably a petty thing to do. I did read the note, however.
Well, that explains that... actually, it doesn't explain a damned thing. As far as I could tell, the man that Cesare sent me to see had been living in the shack I was trying to pilfer, but had since left. I didn't particularly feel comfortable carrying the Siamese twin skulls around any longer, but neither did I like the idea of simply giving up my search. Since it was much more difficult to ignore my curiosity than my sense of decency, I left the skulls sitting in my purse for the time being.
The hour was decidedly late and I thought it wise to at least try and get some rest before I got even crankier than Magnus. I was already dangerously close. It would be a good idea to approach the thieves' camp when it was light out anyhow. There was no particular reason to trust D'ak Taan. I travelled just a few doors down to the brightly lit inn, where the only employee remaining awake was an elderly gentleman with a nametag that read 'Hallaway'. "Good evening, Mr. Hallaway. Might you have anything left to offer a traveler?"
The desperation behind his sales pitch was quite clear. He wouldn't have offered a sales pitch like that if his business were thriving, certainly. Black Root wasn't exactly a haven for adventurers or businessmen. If anything it catered mostly to importers, smugglers, pirates, and seamen that felt more at home in their bunk on their ship than they did in an inn room. "Sounds very nice, but more than I can afford." I knew the chance to get a good deal when I saw one.
He looked at me rather sheepishly, trying to think of any way to rekindle my interest, "Well, business is rather slow at the moment. Would you be interested in completing a task in exchange for a room?"
Nice to know my instincts haven't dulled over the years. "I suppose that would depend upon the task..."
I didn't really suspect Mr. Hallaway knew completely what he'd just asked, or how I'd interpreted it, but the way I saw it he would have to live up to his end of the bargain regardless. 'Recovery' was a specialty of mine. "You require my assistance with its return?"
It seemed too good to be true. "That is very agreeable. Consider it done!" I can almost hear Magnus cursing already.
I crossed the street to the nearby blacksmith's shop which, given the time of night, was locked up tightly. The lock was actually of a rather decent quality and I made a note to return to the blacksmith for potential training, but it still succumbed to my skill with a pick. Magnus stamped his foot and waited outside.
Finding the strongbox wasn't particularly difficult for me. It was in a chest clearly labeled "Finished Work." The chest was also locked, and the lock was an even higher quality than the one on the door. The blacksmith certainly did know what he was doing. Nothing will stop a truly determined thief, however.
After enough prodding and experimenting I finally managed to turn the lock and open up the chest. Mr. Hallaway's antique strongbox was the only thing inside and I stuffed it in my purse quickly before getting the hell out of there. I didn't suspect Magnus was going to be terribly patient in his waiting. I strolled out of the shop and started walking in the opposite direction of the inn so as not to draw suspicion. Magnus followed angrily.
"I've had it!" He began yelling at me in hushed tones. I was just thankful he had the decency to be quiet about it instead of yelling about my thievery to the whole damned town. "If you will not desist with your underhanded behavior I will be forced to part ways with you. I have tried to be patient and tolerant with your ambiguous morals, but I cannot abide your behavior any longer!"
I really wasn't sure if he simply just liked to hear himself whining. "If that's what you must do, Magnus, then so be it. I don't need anybody with your attitude following me around. To be perfectly frank, I've been upset with you ever since the Schuyler's basement. You're the only reason anybody had to even get hurt, and three people died over it. I helped you kill them and that's on my conscience. Now I've never asked you to steal a damned thing for me, but still you can't keep your mouth shut when I go about stealing for my own reasons. I do think that makes you something of a hypocrite."
He sounded rather hurt by that comment. "I... I see. If that's how you feel, then so be it. I'll try to keep my mouth shut. You did help me out when I asked for it, and I wouldn't feel right about just abandoning you so soon after."
Here I thought you'd finally leave... whatever, if you can keep quiet about my thievery I'll not complain for the extra sword arm. Although I was bitter and angry towards him, I actually was glad Magnus was staying. For all the arguments I had with him, he still backed me up when things got rough. I'd probably have been a broken wreck lying in the abandoned depths of an old dragon's lair if it weren't for him. I wished it were somehow easier to get along with him, but even thinking about it made me desperately crave a drink. I took a stop in a nearby pub as we passed by.
Was. Where 'was' H.T. Parnell's Emporium of Lies. It seemed like pub philanthropy occurred at all hours of the night and I was certainly not one to argue about an extra 500 coins. Travel got expensive and I had to replenish my funds whenever the chance presented itself. I started to make a little game out of it. I decided I would allow myself one shot of whiskey for every question I answered. It was not only profitable but fun!
Luckily for the drunks in the pub at that hour, I wasn't looking to get completely smashed. I was pleasantly wobbly only two shots in and the pain of Magnus' attitude was growing more and more dim. I slowly and carefully walked back to the inn on shaky legs, handing Mr. Hallaway his strongbox.
Do you really think the blacksmith is even up at this hour? "I suspect the fool has not realized it is missing... yet." I probably wouldn't have been so forward if it hadn't been for the whiskey, but at that point I just didn't care. Mr. Hallaway wanted the strongbox, and I got him the strongbox. He never specified I had to negotiate.
Obviously he didn't quite feel the same way. He shouted at me, "You stole it?!"
My head was already starting to ache just a little bit. "That sounds so wrong. I merely returned it to its owner." It was a twisted truth, but a truth.
Is that the kind of thinking that makes people avoid stealing? Perhaps it's a good thing people are so stupid. "He has no idea where it went. Why would he look to you?" If it hadn't been for the whiskey I probably would've just given up, paid for the room, and pick pocketed the money back. I didn't want to risk it, however, and I'd be damned if I was going to pay good money for a room after all the effort I put in. I got his damned box back.
"Yes. I knew you would be pleased. Now about our agreement?" It was funny how quickly an 'honest' man would turn a blind eye to crime when given the opportunity. Even I wasn't that bad, at least I only ripped the blacksmith off once. I may be a criminal, but even I have some morals.
"Pleasure doing business with you." I didn't even linger around to hear how badly Magnus wanted to whine about the latest turn of events. I headed straight to bed, especially since I was sobering up unfortunately rapidly. The bed was actually of a surprisingly good quality and I did sleep rather well. I noted the lack of a hangover, not that I expected one with how little I'd drunk the night prior. I had only my personal sense of restraint to thank, however. The more time I spent on the road the more tempting it was to get completely and utterly smashed.
In the morning I decided to pay the blacksmith a little visit, as I had made a prior note to do. He'd never suspect a woman like me to be capable of picking his locks so I felt safely distant from any accusations regarding the night prior. With a bit of luck and some coin I could even learn a trick or two about what made his locks so sturdy. I just had to choose my words carefully so as not to let on more than I was supposed to know.
I was only mildly surprised to enter his shop and come face to face with a half orc. Half orcs were scarcely more than slaves up in Tarant and Cumbria wasn't well known for its racial tolerance. I kept my shock to myself and spoke with him, "Good day, sir. I heard from Mr. Gurloes over in Shrouded Hills that you might know a thing or two about lock picking. I was wondering if you'd train me."
He paused for several moments before recognition slowly dawned over his face, false or not. "Ah... right, Mr. Gurloes, yes. I think I may have met him once or twice. Uh... anyway, yes, I could train you if you'd like. I want 500 coin up front though, as a training fee." Name dropping is always a splendid way to avoid suspicion.
The price was typical so I accepted it. I didn't really have much choice in the matter, it wasn't exactly negotiable. I'd been 'gambling' the night before anyway. "That is acceptable. I am ready to be trained." I handed him the coin.
"Thank you. Now, where would I find the Master Locksmith?" I had a feeling that he'd be more sociable than Sammie. Anybody would have to be more sociable than Sammie, except perhaps for Garrick Stout. When I thought about it I began to wonder if many masters allowed their skill and renown to go to their heads. Then it occurred to me that I was now a master myself and perhaps the matter did make my head a tad large.
So to learn how to better pick locks I need to break into prison? Sounds like quite the contradiction. I knew right where that prison was and I had no present desire to return there. "It sounds as if I'll need it! Thank you for my training. Goodbye." The blacksmith wished me well and I was off to deliver a statue. I could tell that Magnus was still fuming about the night prior, not that improving my lockpicking skills would make him terribly happy either.
I strolled back across the train tracks and the shallow portion of the nearby river, towards where I remembered finding D'ak Taan's camp previously. Unsurprisingly, it seemed like D'ak Taan didn't remember me until I tossed him the statue. "Here's the hedgewizard's statue. Pay me." There was no need to be anything but blunt. I almost liked that about thieves.
I handed the statue over to him and received the mayor's ceremonial dagger in return, along with a small handful of other things. Magnus finally threw up his hands. "No, you're just too damned evil for my tastes..." he turned and began walking away.
"Magnus!" I called after him, "You're leaving? What's gotten into you? After all we've been through are you saying you're going to abandon our friendship?"
He didn't even sound angry anymore, he was more sad. "Yes, that's exactly what I'm saying. If you think that makes me a hypocrite or a terrible person then so be it, you're not the most wonderful person yourself. You steal, you lie, you cheat people, you break into people's homes and take the things they've earned. If I'd known what kind of person you were when I first met you I would never have gone with you in the first place."
I looked down at him, even moreso than I normally did considering he was a dwarf, "...and you seem to have a preternatural love for violence, which is a far greater offense than any of the minor ones I might commmit as a matter of habit or for survival." Why now, Magnus? You complained a lot, but still... I thought we were friends...
I was actually surprised at Magnus' restraint. I knew he was angry, but he didn't let it show in the slightest. "That's right, I am willing to kill for what I believe in. I'm willing to stand up for what's right and stand against what's wrong."
Virgil finally stepped in, "I've had it with you, dwarf. You've been nothing but rude to the both of us from the first time we met you. You obviously don't know the first thing about what the world is really like, so go ahead and leave if you think so little of us. You sure didn't think little of us when you were practically on your knees begging for help in killing off the Schuylers... and what was that all about, anyway? Those dwarves weren't your clan and you knew it, but you still gave that speech of yours and begged us to help. You're just as selfish as anybody else, you only pretend to be better. Sometimes I think you actually believe the rubbish that you're saying."
Virgil... you're not helping... Although Virgil wasn't really wrong, I could feel him pushing Magnus away further. I wanted to soften the blow of his words, but I knew it was too late... the best I could yet hope for was at least having Magnus leave peacefully. "Magnus... maybe it really is better if we part ways here. You and I see the world in a different light, and that's not going to suddenly change. I don't really think you're a bad person, and you have to know that I'm not really that bad either. We just have different things that are important to us, and those things happen to be in direct conflict with each other. As long as that's true, we'll just continue to be a thorn in each others' sides. Perhaps, in time, one of us will have a change of heart and we can travel together again."
Magnus sighed, "I'd like that. I'd like to believe that I wasn't wrong about you. I think we do need to spend some time apart for at least awhile, though. Good day to you."
"Goodbye, Magnus." I felt guilty for having pushed his buttons so, and no matter how much I thought it was for the best it still made me sad. Do I really mean that little to you? After everything we made together, after I helped you avenge those undead dwarves...? I had to convince myself that it was for the best. With assassins all around me and the law clearly not on my side I needed companions I could trust to stick by me no matter what, and I needed to have them with me as friends, not as reminders of my former life. I tried reassuring myself despite the sadness I suddenly felt at his departure. In the end it's for the best. I thought it over and over, yet still couldn't manage to convince myself.
No matter how many times I'd hoped he would leave, I could only feel sadness when it finally happened. I felt insulted, abandoned, and betrayed. I wouldn't show it in the slightest, though. My eyes burned, but still I held back the tears. Then I suppose this is goodbye, Magnus. Good luck finding your lost clan.