Bandit’s Bridge (Free city on the edge of the salt flats). Week one of the month Frostdream (Late Winter)
The square fortified tower loomed over the city like an accusing finger. To the north was a rapidly flowing river separating the city from the endless forest. To the east and south were only the blowing dunes and rocks of the salt flats desert. The Salt Road tradeway came from the great city of Seagate to the west and extended into the desert. What were probably once archers’ platforms had been turned into balconies where the Sandel Family could look out over their demesne. The Sandel’s were basically bandit kings. The current “Marquis” was the fifth of his line to hold the settlement. The first was a mercenary captain passing through when Seagate abandoned these fortifications after the war against the Atef Empire had ended. They had ruled it with an iron fist ever since, stealing what they could and generally terrorizing the population but having the only bridge over the river brought the Dwarven Road through here and all the trade that implied. The Sandels had grown rich on tolls and taxes.
These balconies probably weren’t intended as handholds for thieves, but an opportunist wearing a gray and black slashed bodysuit climbed slowly up the rough stone wall. It had taken nearly an hour to work up the five stories. From one handhold to another then pausing to find the next. No ropes or safety equipment for this rogue, just a sure grip or a quick drop. At the top of the wall the shirt and pants of the body suit had begun to pull apart revealing colorful slashes of more clothes beneath, the house breaker paused for a moment to tuck them back in to blend into the shadows.
Climbing over the stone railing carefully, there was an open topped space with two plush chairs and a small table on the roughly five foot by twelve foot wide area. The edge of the railing where it came into the wall were carved into gargoyles that had made handy places to hold. The rogue crept up to the wooden door with cut glass windows. Soft leather low shoes, almost booties, probed the ground before each step to test the footing before putting any weight forward. A wide leather bandolier covered in bags and pouches went from the thief’s right shoulder to the left of their waist. A slim rope had been wrapped around the house breaker’s left shoulder and was loosed and tied to the rail with a simple clove hitch knot, but left piled up nearby to not attract the eye of the wandering guards instead of letting it hang free down the side of the tower. A couple of tugs tested the knot and a nod indicated satisfaction with it. One gloved hand dipped into a pouch and came out with a thin metal needle about the length of a hand. The thief looked around quickly and you could just make out a slash of sun-browned skin and hazel eyes where the gray veil that wound around the head was open to allow vision. A few sprigs of curly brown hair escaped the veil to wave in the stiff breeze. The needle was placed against the door and spun in both hands like someone trying to light a fire with sticks. The needle bore through the wood and gently pushed the lever lock on the interior of the door. The only sound in the night air was the whistle of wind through the gargoyles, so the click of the lock sounded like the crash of a drum to silence adjusted ears. The thief froze in place, slowly looking around to make sure no one heard the noise. After a long, long pause and a quiet sigh the careful movement resumed.
The thief pulled the needle from the wood, placed it carefully back into its pouch, and then eased the door open. The slight creak from poorly maintained hinges seemed deafening in the darkness, but when you are sneaking all noises sound huge. Creeping into the room, the thief took note of the surroundings: a large bed covered the wall straight ahead; shelves and a vanity with a wavy mercury mirror to the right and the left wall was covered by a mural too detailed to see in the shadows; a pair of wardrobes stood as imposing sentries nearby. The intruder slowly toe walked like a ballet dancer across the room towards the vanity, stepping quietly to avoid waking the slumbering figure on the bed. A mass of hair covered the top of the bed, dark brown and wavy, mounded up on the sides of the sleeper’s corpulent form. Low snorts and snores occasionally came from the lump of sleeping noble.
Reaching the knick-knack covered vanity table, the thief carefully opened one of the carved wooden boxes to find rouges and powders of a lady’s makeup chest. The next box searched contained brushes and combs; one silver brush set inlaid with pearls was dropped into a pouch. It was dark enough that each container had to be carefully felt with gloved hands to find the opening and searched by feel before its contents would be held up into the moonlight coming in through the balcony door. The third box held the prize with jeweled necklaces and a platinum torc. Each piece was delicately handled and placed in more pouches, one by one. When the robber picked up the torc, what had appeared to be gem settings were revealed as earrings when they fell off onto the wooden tabletop with a loud crack and roll like dice. The sleeping figure’s soft snores ended abruptly.
“Danil? Is that you?” the woman on the bed sleepily murmured. A flicked thumb lit an alchemist’s torch, and the room was suddenly illuminated. The woman screamed when she saw an intruder in her room. “Guards!” she yelled before the thief could even move.
The body suited figure’s eyes went wide and the precious jewelry currently being held up to the dim light was stuffed into a pouch before turning and running for the balcony. The hallway door into the main keep was thrown open by a large figure in scale mail armor carrying a sword and kite shield. “Intruder in the Marquess’ chamber! To Arms!” the armored figure yelled from the door.
Reaching the railing, the house breaker threw the rope out into the air and grabbed it. Going over the edge and wrapping it around one leg, the fugitive descended quickly and dizzily as the rope swayed and spun. Before reaching the next balcony, the thief looked up to see the guard leaning over the rail above. Their eyes met, and the guard grinned as he started to saw through the rope.. Nearly to the lower balcony, the rope went slack, and the intruder fell heavily on the stones of the next level. Laying stunned for a moment, the frayed end of the rope smacked the thief in the nose. The rogue could hear the shouts of alarm all over the fortress compound.
Groggily standing, the thief gathered the remaining rope and tied it to the railing of the balcony where she had fallen. She shook her head like a punch drunk boxer for just a moment. Doors could be heard slamming open, and torches were being lit. Looking around, it appeared the tiled roof of a stable, off to the east, though still within the wall, might be within reach. The thief wrapped the rope around one foot, making a rough stirrup, and held tight with both hands. Launching through the air the opposite way from the barn, the intruder went to the end of the rope and began to swing back the other way. At the top of the arc, the thief launched like a flying squirrel through the air. Barely reaching the edge of the barn roof, the intruder hit hands first and rolled over one shoulder into a rough ball.
Laying on the winter slick tiles for a moment, breathing hard, the thief suddenly heard a whizzing sound followed by a noise like breaking crockery. Puzzled for just a second as the sound repeated, the thief realized it was arrows shattering tiles all around. Up and running to the far end of the barn, nearly fifteen feet off the ground, the thief again leapt through the air onto a pile of straw and tumbled roughly to the ground. More arrows sunk into the ground, one close enough to drive splinters through the body suit when it shattered in a rock.
The thief pushed up off the soles of her feet and broke into a sprint towards an apparently empty section of wall; instead of colliding headlong, the thief ran up the side of a chicken coop and used that as a launching point to barely reach the edge of the guard’s walkway on the inside of the curtained wall. A slow pull-up and the intruder was atop the wall with two armored guards closing in fast from each side. Looking around at the ground, there weren’t any obvious places to jump, so the thief removed her baldric and buckled it around the top of an arrow stand bolted into the stone. The baldric was actually wrapped twice around the slim rogue and made an almost ten foot long span when at full length. Going over the side the thief climbed down the leather strap just before the guards reached the tie off point. The agile intruder jumped upwards, flicking the baldric off the top of the arrow stand, and somersaulted to the ground to land with a grunt.
Pausing just a moment to catch lost breath, the thief saw the main gate open and guards, many in partial armor or hardly dressed at all but carrying swords and shields, pouring out. It was a foot race then with the little rogue against the mass of guards. The robber was maybe five feet in height and the much taller guards were closing in, though the race went through alleys and main roads that were mostly empty at night.
Sprinting past the The Crossing Inn on the market square, a scarred crocodile-looking Meilosh Sauroid watched as the thief ran by. Spilling some beer on itself, the battered lizard with an eye patch began to loudly and apparently drunkenly sing a song, “Warriors brave and bold,” he begins, miming drumming with axe in one hand and mug of ale in the other, “fell in groups and droves…” About this time, the first of the guards slammed into the capering sauroid.
“Move, drunk!” The fleetest of the guards, and one wearing no armor, screamed as he ran into the muscular lizard. Falling backwards, the drunken sauroid hissed deep in his chest and snapped his snaggle toothed jaws, waving his axe around more seriously.
“You challenge me ssssoftsssskin?” The Meilosh weaved back upright, taking the high guard position with its axe. The thick leather ridges of its hide glinted in the firelight from the inn. Several others from inside stepped out to watch the show. The guards running into the market square stopped at the size of five and a half feet of axe-bearing crocodile standing in front of one of their number.
“Move, fool!” the captain of the guard, a huge blond-bearded gorellen human mercenary shouted. “We have no quarrel with you but if you do not get out of the way you’ll spend the night in the cells and worse!” An old human vagrant sat across the market square from the confrontation and mumbled into his long gray beard.
A piercing scream came from the alley where the thief had run. Moments later, a young girl, not quite a woman, stumbled out. She wore a colorful dress and her long brown hair was pulled up by a wide gray scarf so its curls were contained. A large mole on her cheek stood out a half inch from her face, and she wore an unusual tooled leather belt wrapped a few times around her thin waist. “A man just pushed me aside in that alley! Guards, a rescue! I was assaulted.” The observant would have been surprised by her black leather low shoes that were almost booties. She carried a small handbag that looked to be made of gray and black slashed silk and was waving it around dramatically.
The guard captain stepped forward, “Did you see him? Do you have a description?” several guards began to move around the menacing reptile-man towards the alley and the woman. The vagrant stopped chanting and a dim blue light faded from his fingers.
“It all happened so fast!” the girl cried, breathing as if she’d been running a race. “He was taller than me with lighter skin and I think a scar across his nose. Hurry! You can still catch him.” She pointed frantically into the darkness.
Guards ran by, fanning out to cover all the nearby streets. Shouts of alarm rang out from all over town. The panting girl lowered her head and briskly walked towards the Salt Road Gate out of town.
After a moment, the meilosh blinked owlishly and staggered down the road still singing about warriors brave and bold. Most everyone went back into the inn. After several minutes the old vagrant stood up, looked around and went into the darkness in the same direction as the sauroid.
Almost an hour later, the colorfully dressed young woman walked up to a barely lit wagon in a stand of trees outside of town. A human man, a few years older, in a leather vest over brilliant blue silk shirt and red pantaloons, sat below a sign which read “Ardneh’s Grand Company, a Collection of Wonders” written in golden script, he toyed with a mass of sheep’s wool that looked like a gray beard and wig. A crocodile-looking meilosh sat beside him chuckling and smelling of spilled beer. The sauroid was removing several scars made with corn starch and goat’s blood and had taken the patch off his eye.
The human stood and waved his fingers, chanting words that could never stay in memory. A group of shining people, mostly humans but a few sauroids among them, dressed in royal finery appeared. They were all a bit translucent and glowed blue. As one they looked at the young woman and began to applaud and whistle. She smiled brilliantly and bent into a formal curtsey for the crowd. They all vanished into nothingness.
“Well done Rhoda. I thought they had you in that market. It was going to get ugly if I’d had to cast anything to get you out.” He smiled and hugged her.
“The guard that can catch The Amazing Firehaired has not yet been born brother.” She unwound the wide leather belt at her waist and started opening the pouches. Several necklaces and a gold comb with pearls were taken out. She dunked her head into a bucket of water to wash out the brown hair dye, revealing her natural midnight black and took off the large mole on her cheek. When performing she used a brilliant red hair dye to appear more exotic but that hardly made sense for house breaking.
“I thought I would have to take on the whole of the guard for a moment.” Shakra Steelbender, the strongman or strong lizard of the travelling show, hissed through chuckles. “The first guard I think messed his pants when he ran into me. “
They all laughed as they counted the spoils.