Chapter the Seventh: One Must Never Dawdle About A Crime SceneI killed a few more hours in the main room of the inn, chatting with Jacob and the half ogre fellow named Sogg. The conversation wasn't exactly stimulating, to say the least, but at least they weren't the type of people to judge me. I ordered a shot of whiskey and enjoyed it thoroughly. It's been far too long since I've had a good, strong drink. Once I'd started I naturally wanted even more, but I had to hold myself back. If I got too drunk there would be absolutely no chance of stealing the bank payroll. 250 coins could buy a rather pleasantly large amount of whiskey.
I gave it just another couple of hours for the alcohol to wear off before making my move. Darkness had entirely consumed the small town and fog began rolling in from the mountains. I politely excused myself from the bar to get some fresh air outside. Virgil followed, of course, though I insisted that he get some rest. "I can handle this on my own Virgil," I pleaded.
His voice was firm, "Pardon, madam, but you never know when those assassins will strike next." I sighed, mostly because he was right. What makes you care so much anyway? I've been nothing but rude to you.
There were a few guards still patrolling the streets despite the late hour, but that was to be expected. Even a small town like this can't go completely unguarded at night. This was nothing compared to the brightly lit streets of Caladon, however. They'd never see me under the cover of darkness, and they'd never hear me over the sound of their own footsteps. The lock to the bank's front door clicked open under my gentle guidance and I slipped inside.
I had to stifle a laugh when I noticed what passed for bank security in Shrouded Hills. There was only a single guard in the entire bank and instead of guarding the vault he was around the corner from it, sitting almost directly under the lantern. How can you be so stupid? I can see you clear as day and you've got to squint through the darkness to see anything. Bloody backwater town.
As I suspected, the guard couldn't see a thing and I slipped around the countertop, approaching the door to the vault. It popped open just as easily as the last and I slipped into the vault in mere seconds. There was no need to look at the note, I had already memorized the numbers on it. I nimbly dialed in the combination and the door to the safe swung open with a gentle creak.
The guard was so lax there wasn't even any need to hurry. Taking my time, I counted out the 500 gold pieces Jacob was expecting. He was right, too. When a bloody drunken half orc knows the exact amount and the safe combination you've got one hell of a security problem. I slipped out just as easily as I had gotten in, with nobody the wiser. Jacob was waiting across the street just outside of the light cast by the nearby lantern.
I walked boldly over to him, not concealing our affiliation in the slightest. If you dare rat on me, you're going down with me. "I've returned with your money, Jacob... here, take it..."
"Good day, Jacob..." Time to get the hell out of here. When he drinks that away he'll be blabbering to Doc Roberts in no time. I retired for the evening, planning to wrap up what little business I had left in the morning before heading out. I indulged myself by taking the opportunity to have another warm bath. It would probably be my last for some time since the train didn't run to a bloody little country town like Shrouded Hills. When I left it was going to be a very long walk.
First thing in the morning I paid a visit to the blacksmith, hoping he'd had the time to finish my blade. The dagger I'd been using was full of nicks and dents from all the clumsy fumbling I'd done. Why, one time I even stabbed it straight into a rock. It was in horrible condition and a new dagger sounded mighty fine. "Good morning, Mr. Gurloes. How is my dagger coming along?"
"It was no trouble at all. Many thanks for this fine blade, good sir. Farewell!" Yes, this will be delightful for stabbing with. Next I visited the damned fop. I didn't want to, but I wanted even less to hang onto the crusty old boot I'd picked up for him. "Good morning, Ristezze," I said his name with the same bizzarre flair that he always does, but he didn't seem to notice. As I spoke I tossed him his filthy prize. He looked it over for a moment, quickly realizing what it was.
Tarant again, eh? That ought to make Virgil happy. "Thank you, Ristezze. Good day to you..." I was secretly elated that I'd never have to set foot in that dandy bastard's shop again. Since I didn't suspect I'd be finding an heirloom elven amulet anytime soon, my business in Shrouded Hills was finally concluded. I hurriedly rushed towards the far edge of town, planning to cross the nearby river and make my escape. On my way, however, an older gentleman grabbed me roughly by the arm. How DARE you! He was lucky I didn't stab him out of reflex. It looked like Virgil wanted to give him a good thumping as well.
You're the one that stuck the poor dwarf in that engine room in the first place. You've nobody to blame but yourself for the steam engine getting destroyed. Yes, that's it. It was no matter, I was on my way out of town anyway. "If that is how you feel, then I will be on my way." To be frank, my encounter with the man was relieving. Not only did I learn that I couldn't be arrested for demolishing the steam engine, but I also found out just how incompetent the constable really was. Doc Roberts might be a different story, it was true, but it seemed it was far harder to get caught here than it was in Caladon. Even in Caladon I was only ever caught once.
As I approached the bridge out of town I noticed three figures standing in front of the gate... a human and two half ogres. The half ogres stared at me with the same uncomprehending, dumb look that they all did. They were crude things, barely knowing more than how to hit things 'real good'. The man, though, he was definitely a strange one to be making acquaintances with half ogres. "Excuse me. And who are you, sir?"
That's it. I'm going to stab myself in the ears until I can't hear you anymore. "Witless. Quite apropos, I'd have to say..."
I could never pass by such a wonderful opportunity to insult somebody to their face. "Yes. You truly are without wits, Lukan."
"You know, there's something about your vocabularity... Good god! Now I'M doing it..." Damn it all. The bastard rubs off on people. Virgil was chuckling quietly. I gave him an icy stare but he only laughed harder.
"Uh... please, I can't take it anymore." Growing up on the streets as I did made it impossible to be considered well-bred, but I could at least speak properly. I suspected that if it weren't for his two half ogre friends this Lukan fellow would've been knocked silly more than a few times by now. That probably wouldn't have helped his vocabulary, really.
I've had enough! Just... stop... talking! "Never, never. About crossing this bridge..."
I stole this money fair and square, you can learn to do the same. "Hmmm. I may be able to persuade you otherwise..."
He glanced backward at his half ogre companions purposefully, then crossed his arms and looked back at me. "I seriously doubt it, my friend."
His stupidity knows no bounds. I make an ambiguous statement like that and he doesn't even notice. I didn't want to tangle with half ogres if I didn't have to. Maybe I'd be lucky and he would only ask a pittance. He probably couldn't squeeze any more than a few gold from the poor sods in this town anyway. "I guess not. Maybe I'll just pay the fee. How much is it?"
"A microcosmical amount... a mere 1000 gold pieces! Nothing for a well-traveled individual like yourself!"
Well I never...! He did notice the ambiguity of my statement! That does it. He can stuff his damned fee. "All right. I'll return when I have the funds."
I turned back towards town just far enough to get out of view then snuck back to the bridge along the river bank. I was so close to the ogres that I could practically feel their warm breath upon my back as I slipped my pick into the gate. It slipped open easily and the gate opened with a disastrously loud creak.
In an instant the fight was on. Thinking quickly, I reached into my purse and pulled out a grenade I'd scrounged up from somewhere. I seem to wind up with the strangest things sometimes and I don't even really know where I got them. They probably belonged to somebody else, but at least I was making use of them. I lit the fuse on the grenade and dropped it to the ground unceremoniously, diving headfirst towards the riverbank to avoid the imminent explosion.
The half ogres gasped in pain and surprise, turning to run away on charred, burnt legs. It was awfully silly of them to turn their backs to me. Half ogres or not, their kidneys are still located in roughly the same spot. They DID attack me first, and it never would've happened if they hadn't demanded such a ridiculous fee in the first place... and if they hadn't insulted me! 'Well-traveled' indeed!
I saved dear old Lukan for last, hurling myself at him as the last half ogre fell to the ground. I was furious, and the excitement of combat forced adrenaline throughout my body. My heart beat loudly in my chest, yet despite it all I felt nothing aside from pity - for Lukan and for myself. Killing should only ever be a last resort and it was pathetic how often I had to resort to it. I said a brief prayer for the poor sod and, with a deep sigh, pushed the gate open the rest of the way. Finally, it was time to make my way out of town.
Damnation! Can't I just leave this bloody town already?! How many people are going to make me stab them?! "Ah, Mr. Radcliffe. What is it you need?" Externally my demeanor was calm and polite, as usual.
"I recommend you get the hell out of my way, sir." The time for being polite had now passed. The gnome's voice was sinister and threatening, and his hand clutched something tightly in his coat pocket.
One of us will certainly wind up dead, gnome. Are you really so confident it'll be me? I was uncomfortable with how things were happening. If the conversation continued at its current pace I would be in yet another fight for my life, the outcome of which involved either dying or killing yet again. My options were few and I hoped to try and talk my way out of it. Practice, practice, practice... one of these days it'll pay off. "Sorry, I no longer have it." Damnation! I just admitted to having it in the first place!
I chuckled nervously, "Well, there's nothing to be done. I really must be going... it was a pleasure speaking with you, though."
The gnome lunged at me with a blade of his own, but mine was out faster than he could blink and I deflected his blow expertly. I was already on the move, preparing for him to strike again. I let him dash past me as he missed another strike and my dagger found purchase in a very vital spot on his back. It's practically a reflex. Though shameful, I suppose even a past like mine has its uses. The gnome's body fell to the ground, unmoving. I kicked his dagger away from his hand and began searching through his pockets for valuables. I know it doesn't excuse my behavior, but I really tried to avoid killing you. All I found was a rather suspicious note which I, of course, read immediately.
Well that bloody does it. I'm getting the hell out of here and the farther I go the better.
I already had the location of Dernholm marked on my map so I headed in that direction. It was far enough from Shrouded Hills that I suspected the assassins would have difficulty tracking me down there. At least that was what I hoped. In truth I had no idea how many of them there were, nor how widespread. I didn't even know why they wanted to kill me so badly, but all of this only confirmed my suspicions that Preston Radcliffe was no practical joker.