Author Topic: Short Story - "Honor Among Thieves"  (Read 334 times)

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Biologist

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Short Story - "Honor Among Thieves"
« on: June 21, 2017, 05:52:22 PM »
Hello, and welcome! This story picks up directly from the end of my previous story, "Revolution". I hope anyone reading this enjoys it.

The story thus far:
http://leagueofgeeks.com/forums/index.php?topic=3055.0
http://leagueofgeeks.com/forums/index.php?topic=3238.0

Honor Among Thieves
Part One


     The moon was high in the sky over Braybrook Shire. The sleepy hamlet was far from any well-trod road. Its only reason for appearing on a map at all was that it boasted the only inn for a day’s walk in any direction. The main visitors were rangers and travelling peddlers. Braybrook Shire was a place where not much happened on most nights.

     This was not most nights.
     
       A lone shape stood in the gloom before a grain silo on the edge of town. It was an otter: lean and lithe, he kept his left paw on the handle of a cruel-looking knife at his belt. In his other paw was a broad-headed fishing spear. A fur cloak hung from his back, partially concealing a shirt of scaled armor. A metal guard protected his left leg between the shin and knee. Even when standing still, his body was in constant motion, twitching and writhing as if some force would not allow him to rest. His most haunting feature was his eyes. They were strangely empty, showing no spark of life or emotion. Within the silo, a dozen members of the King’s Guard lay bound, stripped of their armor and weapons. Their captain lay at the otter’s feet, gutted like a fish. At his back was a crowd of townsfolk, their expressions ranging from relief to horror.

     The otter turned to address the gathered creatures. “Fetch kindling. Rags, straw, anything that will burn. Bring lantern oil too. And a torch.” His voice was raw, as if from long disuse.

     The leader of the villagers, a white ram, opened his mouth to protest and then wisely reconsidered. Resignedly, he told the crowd to do as the otter commanded, knowing that to refuse would probably mean joining the Guards in their fate. One old fox, his red fur turning to grey, was willing to raise an objection. “This is senseless cruelty,” the elder said. “We are grateful for your aid, but these corrupt Guards wronged our town, not you. Please allow us to punish them in our own way.”

     The otter’s reply could have made a corpse shiver in its grave. “No-one deserves my help,” he grated. “I care nothing for you or your town. I will show these dogs as much mercy as they showed my family.”

     Seeing that there was no reasoning with this mad beast, the townsfolk hurried to do as he instructed. As flames grew to engulf the silo, the light from the blaze reflected in his eyes. For a moment there was life in them again. The Fisher of Souls had claimed his due once more.

     The morning sun rose above the horizon, its first rays reaching out to strike the walls of the Wolf Clan’s capital. Unable to sleep, Archibald Hassenburg had sat awake all night in the room he shared with his friend, awaiting her return. Finally, the combined effects of exhaustion and gin had taken their toll, pulling him into a sleep haunted by nightmares. He had watched in horror as Sargon, self-proclaimed Master of Fate, had turned his friends, past and present, into ash. First Sylvia, then Myra, then Violet. At last the rat had turned to him, a cruel smile on his face. Then the dream had ended, and Archibald lurched awake with a wordless shout. Looking about, he saw that Violet had not yet returned. He frowned, thinking of his quarrel with the otter yesterday evening. Surely she isn’t still angry with me. What if something’s happened to her? What if she’s hurt, or imprisoned, or… dead? What am I going to do?

     At that moment there was a knock on the door, and the rabbit’s spirits lifted for a moment. Then the door swung open to reveal the rotund form of Garth Greymuzzle, the Lone Wolf Inn’s proprietor. “Morning, rabbit. You all right? Thought I heard a shout just now, wanted to be sure you ‘adn’t been injured.”

     Archibald blushed with embarrassment beneath his brown fur. “Just a nightmare. Sorry to trouble you. Have you seen Violet?”

     Greymuzzle frowned. “Your otter friend? Come to think of it, I ‘aven’t seen her since las’ night, when she left all in a huff over some words between you two. Maybe she’s had enough of you,” he winked one brown eye, “and moved on to another rabbit.” Seeing that his jest was not appreciated, the old wolf raised his paws in a conciliatory gesture. “Truth is, I’d hate to see anythin’ untoward ‘appen to her. I’ll ask the Militia types downstairs to keep their eyes peeled for her.”

     Archibald grunted his thanks as Greymuzzle retreated from the room. The wolf had long kept up a running joke that the rabbit and otter were like a married couple, but his words raised unpleasant possibilities in Archibald’s mind. What if his harsh words the previous evening really had been the last straw? He decided to head out and look for Violet immediately, leaving a note for her explaining his whereabouts in case she should return while he was gone.

     Fortunately it was Wyld’s Day, and most creatures in Wolf Clan lands would be excused from their duties in order to honor the Wyld and spend time in contemplation. Archibald had never been a very spiritual rabbit. He had seen little evidence of the Wyld being a tangible force in the society he’d grown up in, and had believed the Rot to be an exaggeration of common plagues and illnesses in old texts. Then he had been accidentally transported to a future where the Rot had consumed nearly all life in Armello, and a past where druids wielded mysterious and unexplained powers. He didn’t attend services at the local Wyld shrine regularly, but he was a bit more open-minded on the subject. At the moment, he was merely grateful that his absence from his office at the harbor would raise no ire from his employer. Putting on a clean linen shirt, pants of undyed wool, and a brown linen vest, he made his way downstairs and out the door of the inn, opting to skip breakfast in favor of an early start.

     Violet awoke in an unfamiliar place, feeling a momentary sense of disorientation and panic. She was in a bed far too large for her diminutive frame, in a room which was comfortably if not lavishly appointed and large enough to boast its own fireplace for warmth. She still wore the clothes she had on when she left the Lone Wolf Inn last night: a shirt and pants with the sleeves and legs cut short for ease of movement while swimming or running. Her memory of what followed was hazy; there had been a pier, an angry wolf, and an enormous badger in plate armor. She seemed to remember the badger singing to her. Looking around the room, she spotted a bookshelf filled with scrolls and books. Curious, she hopped down from the bed and strode across the room.

     Or at least, she tried to. Bruised bones and strained muscles sent electric shocks of pain racing along her nerves, and she nearly collapsed to the floor as she remembered the beating she’d taken during last night’s misadventure. Gritting her teeth, the small brown otter walked gingerly to the bookshelf and selected a book at random. It proved to be filled with poetry in a format of three lines per poem, with five syllables in the first line, seven in the second line, and five in the third line. The poems were written in a neat paw, and she read an entry at random:

     Death lighter than shame
     Redemption from dishonor
     All sorrow ended


     The otter shuddered, wondering what manner of creature would write such verses. Then she jumped at the sound of a key turning in a lock. The door to the room swung open to reveal a massive badger in plate armor, improbably carrying a silver tray loaded with a tea set and pastries. He looked at the otter without apparent surprise or anger. “Good. You are awake. I could have had breakfast brought to us, but I prefer to prepare my meals myself when possible. Few creatures properly understand the art of brewing tea.”

     Violet watched as the badger set the tray down on a round table fashioned from some dark wood, and gestured to one of two ornately carved matching chairs. Belatedly she recalled the knight’s name. “Please, Sir Horace, I don’t mean to be rude, but I must get back to my friend at the Lone Wolf Inn. He’ll be worried about me.”

     Horace nodded. “You shall have leave to return there shortly. In the meantime, eat. Your body needs food and rest to heal.” The badger then noticed the book in Violet’s paws. “You know how to read?” For the first time, he sounded faintly surprised.

     “My friend taught me,” Violet explained. “He’s a scribe and a scholar of sorts, says every creature should learn how to read, even if they haven’t got much use for it. Expands the mind, he says. I was curious about your books; I haven’t seen many elsewhere.”

     Horace nodded again. “A wise friend. Curious that you chose that particular book, as it contains poems I have written myself. Tell me, Violet, have you learned anything about me?”

     The otter hesitated, embarrassed. “You seem to value honor above everything, including your own life. You long for redemption from something that causes you great sadness.”

     “Ah, so that is the one you read? Yes, lady otter, I do seek to regain my honor. Perhaps someday you shall know why. Now it is only fair that I learn something about you. Pray tell, where did you first make your home?”

     Violet hesitated again, unsure of Horace’s intentions. He had sworn to bring her no harm, yet what if he was loyal to the King? What if he realized she was a fugitive from the King’s Guards? Would his honor compel him to arrest her, regardless of his oath? She decided to take a leap of faith. “My home was a holt on the side of a river in the lands of the Rabbit Clan. Three years ago, it was burned to the ground. I was the only one who survived, along with my friend, who was… a guest there. We came here in search of a new start.”

     Horace narrowed his eyes. “You are concealing something from me, lady otter. I doubt a mere accident would leave no other survivors. How did your holt come to be ruined?”

    In for a penny, in for a gold crown, thought Violet. “The King’s Guard. I don’t fully understand why, but they decided my family was a threat to them.”

     Horace nodded. “I suspected as much. Tell me, are you sure there could have been no other survivors?”

     “None that I know of, Sir Horace. Most of my family were killed resisting the Guards as I ran to awaken my friend, and the rest were being herded into the central hall. The Guards barred the doors and lit a fire.” She paused, shuddering at the memory. “I do have one cousin who might have escaped. At least, I didn’t see him with the others, not that it means much. He was not yet full-grown; even if he escaped I doubt he could survive long on his own. Why do you ask?”

     Horace’s expression grew thoughtful. “You and I may have a common cause. I shall need to speak to your friend as well. You say he is a scribe?” He nodded at the otter’s confirmation. “Excellent. Can you arrange for him to meet me here?” Violet nodded her agreement. “Good. When you have finished your tea, please find your friend and bring him to me. I renew my oath to you, and swear that I shall harm neither you nor your friend. I wish only to see if we can reach an accord.”

     As the otter departed his room, Horace was once again lost in thought. He strongly suspected that her friend would prove to be the rabbit that Greymuzzle had written about to Scarlet’s agents. Both Violet and her friend were said to be outsiders with few attachments. Perfect for what Scarlet had in mind, if they were willing to cooperate. Violet’s tale had also given him cause to wonder. Reports of the Fisher of Souls had first appeared a little less than three years ago. Horace had been dismissive of the rumors, questioning what could drive a beast to such madness. Now it seemed he might have an answer.

     Archibald’s search had thus far proved fruitless. He had checked at the harbor, but few creatures were there, and none had seen Violet. He thought next of the various shops where he and Violet would purchase those necessities not provided by the inn, but none would be open on Wyld’s Day. Finally, he decided to visit the nearest Wyld shrine, reasoning that if Violet was not there, he was at least more likely to meet someone who had seen her. There, he finally had his first stroke of luck: one of the congregation had seen Violet the previous evening.

     “An otter, you say,” mused the wolf, scratching absently behind her notched ear. “Now that you mention it, I did encounter an otter last night. I could give you directions to the place, but you might get lost. Perhaps it’s best if I just show you.”

     “I’m grateful, but won’t you miss your turn to receive a blessing?” asked Archibald.

     “Oh, believe me, the opportunity to help a stranger is all the blessing I need,” replied the wolf, “especially if your friend is in trouble. I couldn’t bear it if I later heard that something had happened to her. Now, if you would, please follow me.” With that, she turned and headed out into the city, leaving a somewhat bemused rabbit to follow her.

     Violet was about halfway back to the Lone Wolf Inn when her progress was halted by a member of the Wolf Clan Militia. “Oi, otter!” called the fighter. “Hold up a moment, river dog. Ol’ Greymuzzle asked us regulars to give a message to you as a personal favor. He says your rabbit friend is worried sick, and would you kindly hurry home before he pines away without paying the rent.”

     “Thank you for passing on that terribly touching missive,” Violet replied acidly, “but as it happens, I was already on my way back.” She walked off at a slightly faster pace, pondering the fact that, despite having seen that Militia wolf nearly every night for three years, she had never learned his name. Perhaps she owed him an apology later; after all, he’d only been trying to help. Upon arriving at the Lone Wolf Inn, Violet could see immediately that something was wrong. For one thing, there was a newly-made hole in the front window of the common room. For another, Greymuzzle stood inside staring at a written note with a worried look on his face. His expression brightened briefly as he caught sight of Violet entering the room, only to turn crestfallen again a moment later.

     “You’re back, an’ none too soon,” Greymuzzle observed. “Some beast threw a rock through my window wi’ this note attached. Shame all the Militia pups are out on patrol.” He held the note out for Violet to read. “The real trouble is, the note’s addressed to you. At a guess, I’d say your friend’s in real trouble.”

     Violet took the scrap of paper and read the note. The message was very direct.

    Otter,
     You took something from me, and now I’ve taken something from you. If you want your rabbit to live, come to the harbor and we’ll continue our previous discussion. Come alone or he dies. Bring the item or he dies. Come at sunset or he dies.


The note bore no signature.
« Last Edit: July 03, 2017, 10:42:22 PM by Biologist »
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Biologist

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Re: Short Story - "Honor Among Thieves"
« Reply #1 on: June 21, 2017, 05:52:47 PM »
Part Two
     
     Horace was interrupted in his reading by a knock at the door. The badger knight set down his book and opened the door to see a ferret wearing the livery of the Wolf and Crown Inn. “There is an otter outside who requests to speak with you, sir,” intoned the valet. His voice carried a note of disdain. “She claims to be an acquaintance of yours.”

     Horace nodded. “What is her name?”

     “Violet, sir.”

     The badger grunted in irritation. “I left instructions for her to be brought to me immediately if she appeared. Why were those instructions not followed?”

      “She appeared rather…shabby, sir. In fact, I suspect she is a thief. I feared she might be lying simply to make a pretext for entering the Inn. Surely a cultured badger such as yourself does not desire the company of such riffraff?”

     Horace stepped forward, towering over the suddenly uncertain ferret. “Do not presume to know my business or interpret my orders, ferret.” The knight’s face was neutral, but his tone could have made a glacier shiver. “Fetch the otter. Bring her here. Do not disobey me again.”

     Once she was brought to the badger’s room, Violet waited until the servant had gone. She showed Horace the note and explained the situation.

   Horace studied the note in silence for a moment, then turned his gaze to the otter. “This note says you took something, presumably something of value, from the abductor. Did you?”

     Violet gave her answer with only the smallest hesitation. “Yes.”

     “And do you still have this item?”

     “Yes.”

     “Then why do you not simply follow the note’s instructions?” Horace challenged her.

     “Because I don’t trust whoever did this. Because I can’t ask the Militia for help – I’d have to admit I was a thief.”

     “Why then have you come to me for help?”

     “Because you won’t turn me in. You swore not to harm me or my friend, and if you don’t help, one or both of us could be hurt or killed. Your honor requires you to help.”

     Horace frowned. “You don’t need to try and trap me with my words. I wanted to talk to this scribe of yours, and I can’t do that if he’s dead. I’ll get you the help you need, but it comes at a price. I’ll need to involve my… superior. Should you betray information about them to anyone without their permission, they will most likely kill you. My oath cannot protect you from them. Is that clear?”

     Violet hesitated. “Forgive me, Sir Horace, but what do you mean by ‘superior’? Are you referring to the King?”

     The badger sighed. “His Majesty will always be my sovereign, but I am currently… unwelcome in his presence. No, I speak of a different creature, one possibly as dangerous. You will see.”

     Violet followed Horace up to the third floor of the inn, where they halted before the door of the largest suite. Horace knocked four times: each knock precisely identical to the last. There was a delay of several moments, followed by a feminine voice from the other side of the door. “What is it, Sir Knight?”

     Horace frowned. The voice was that of one of the inn’s staff. “The lady’s father sent a messenger from the family estate. I told her I would relay it later, but she insists on speaking with the lady in person. She claims it is for her ears only.”

     Another significant pause followed, and then the door swung open to reveal a hedgehog maid wearing the inn’s colors. She directed the pair across the room and through another door, into a room nearly as large as the first. This room was appointed with various toiletries, towels, and, most prominently, a large freestanding copper bathtub. Only the Wyld knew how it had been brought there. Beside the tub stood another maidservant, a coyote with brown fur and golden eyes, holding a brush. In the bathtub reclined a thoroughly soaked vixen with a cross look on her face, which was all of her that was visible above the water’s surface. To the Inn’s staff she shouted, “Out! And close the door behind you.” Turning her gaze to Horace, she lowered her voice, but made her displeasure clear. “Sir Horace, if anyone else had chosen to interrupt my bath, they would have paid dearly for it. I trust you will not disappoint me with the urgency of this message.”

     Horace kept his expression bland. “Having servants bathe you, my lady? That hardly seems in keeping with your egalitarian ideals.”

      Scarlet sighed. “When one plays the part of a rich merchant’s daughter – which, technically, one is – one makes certain sacrifices. For the good of Armello. Now explain to me why you’ve dragged this otter wench into my suite.”

     “Wench?" Violet sputtered. "Wench?  I’m a respectable – ” Horace waved the outraged otter to silence.

     “Yes, yes.” Scarlet waved a paw dismissively. “I’m sure you are. You have something to tell me? Then get to the point.”

     “Sir Horace was kind enough to offer me his help last night after I had a bit of a problem with some wolves. This morning I found that one of them has abducted my friend. They’re demanding that I return something of theirs in exchange for his life.”

     Scarlet nodded. “I take it this item was acquired in less than legitimate circumstances? No, don’t stammer for an explanation, I don’t really care. You are just a citizen trying to get by in the world, yes? Tell me, who is your friend?”

     Violet blinked. “A rabbit named Archibald. He’s a scribe for the harbormaster.”

     Scarlet sat up straighter, apparently forgetting where she was; the movement splashed water all over the floor. “So if we were to rescue your friend, you both would owe us a debt, yes? Tell me, is he just a bean-counter, or can he write prose? You know, essays and such?”

     “He’s mentioned that he used to be a scholar. I guess he wrote whatever scholars write about.”

     “An intellectual. Better and better.” The vixen rubbed her paws, making small ripples on the water’s surface. “Very well, otter, I think we can help you. You, in turn, will help us – and in doing so, all of Armello. Give me all the information you have, and I’ll come up with a plan to get your friend out of peril. But first, be a dear and fetch my dry clothes from the chest over there in the boudoir.” She turned her attention to Horace. “Sir Knight, please bring me a towel. Then both of you get out. I can’t think properly like this. I’ll meet you and the wench in your quarters shortly.”

     Violet opened her mouth to argue, decided that this was not the right time or place, and did as she was told. As she followed Horace back down the stairs, she turned the vixen’s words over in her mind. A chance to help Armello. If it’s real, it might be just what Archibald needs.
« Last Edit: June 22, 2017, 05:22:45 PM by Biologist »
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Biologist

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Re: Short Story - "Honor Among Thieves"
« Reply #2 on: June 21, 2017, 05:53:05 PM »
Part Three

     Archibald regretted everything. He regretted going out to search for Violet instead of waiting sensibly at the Inn and letting the Militia look for her. He regretted finishing that bottle of gin the previous night. He regretted deciding to try and save Armello from forces he didn’t really understand. Most of all he regretted that day, a little over three years ago for him, but far in Armello’s future, when he had visited a friend’s laboratory and first heard the phrase “Temporal Displacement Engine”. Now he found himself bound, gagged, and tied to a support beam in the center of a dimly lit, empty warehouse. How did they find an empty warehouse in the harbor district, anyway? Hard to believe the space isn’t needed for goods. Having had no better ideas, he had followed the notch-eared wolf who had claimed knowledge of Violet’s whereabouts away from the Wyld Shrine to this place, where he had promptly received a blow to the back of his head for his trouble. Now, Notch-Ear had gone, leaving another wolf, this one a male with white fur, to watch over the captive rabbit. The wolf idly passed a dagger from paw to paw, the pommel of which was most likely the source of the knot forming on the back of Archibald’s head. Archibald’s eyes were drawn to the motion of the blade as it leapt back and forth.

     The rabbit scholar’s captors hadn’t been very talkative, but they had made one thing clear: they wanted to use him as bait to lure Violet to them. If she didn’t respond, they would send him back to her. Piece by piece.

     As late afternoon shadows lengthened into evening, Violet made her way to the harbor district. Archibald’s abductor had neglected to indicate a specific location, so the otter decided to head for the pier where their initial confrontation had taken place the previous night. The plan was simple: Violet would approach the meeting and offer to give herself and the stolen item in exchange for Archibald’s freedom. Not for the first time, she patted the carrier’s satchel slung across her shoulder to reassure herself that it was still there.

     Once Archibald was safely released, Violet’s backup would arrive. Stealth was not exactly Sir Horace’s strong suit, but the badger’s mysterious employer had promised that she would have other agents following Violet, ready to assist her at the crucial moment. Violet wasn’t entirely sure she trusted the vixen, but she had no alternatives. At last, as the sun was sinking toward the horizon, Violet reached the pier. Sure enough, there was the wolf with the notch in her ear, a cudgel hanging by her waist, though there was no sign of Archibald.

      “Ah,” said the wolf by way of greeting, “there you are. I know my message was short on details, but you’re a clever otter – though not clever enough to avoid crossing me.” The wolf sighed. “If the only thing at stake here was that stone you took, I might have decided to let you live, but that overgrown skunk in knight’s armor killed Remy. He wasn’t much, but he was mine, and I’ll probably miss him a little. You’ll be giving me that stone, but you’ll also take your friend’s place as my new training dummy.”

     Violet opened her mouth, but the wolf held up a paw. “Patience,” the wolf said, “Your friend is alive, but he isn’t here. I’ve got some hired muscle keeping an eye on him, making sure he doesn’t do anything foolish. If anyone enters without me, the rabbit dies. You understand. Now turn around, and walk where I tell you to.” Reluctantly, Violet turned her back on her adversary and walked, turning when instructed and gradually making her way to the place where her friend was being held captive. “Walk faster, otter. I haven’t got all night,” the wolf snarled.

     Unbeknownst to the notch-eared ruffian, a third creature was tracking the pair’s progress, using alleys and doorways for cover. Being detected by smell was unlikely; her scent was lost in the mix of odors common to the city’s poorer districts. Scarlet wore a tricorn hat pulled low over her brow, with a domino mask further concealing her features. She smiled, thinking of her bodyguard’s reaction to her plan.

     Horace had said nothing, but his silence and carefully blank expression as she donned the disguise spoke volumes. “Not the best disguise, I know, Sir Knight,” she had chuckled, “but I don’t have time for anything more elaborate. You aren’t exactly suited for stealth, and frankly I want to handle this myself. It’s been too long since I held a sword. Wouldn’t want my combat skills to get rusty, would we?”

     The vixen nodded toward the door Violet had departed through some minutes ago. “Time for me to be off, I think. Don’t worry, I know what I’m doing. I’ve rescued beasts from better prisons then whatever that otter’s friend is languishing in.

     Horace cleared his throat. “As I recall, my lady, the plan was for us to gather your agents to follow the otter. Yet there appears to be no time to do so. In fact, we do not even know where precisely to make contact with the rabbit’s abductor.”

     “Violet – that is her name, yes? Violet will have to return to her room at the Lone Wolf Inn to retrieve what she stole. There would be time enough to gather help, but my agents, as you put it, are busy overseeing the construction of the printing device. I can see to this myself.”

     Scarlet watched as Violet was shoved through the entryway of a seemingly abandoned warehouse. Moving on silent feet, the vixen crept closer to the structure, carefully drawing her saber from its scabbard without making any noise. She could hear creatures speaking inside, but nothing distinct. She moved closer, pressing close to the wall. Now to wait for just the right moment.

     Violet blinked as she stumbled through the doorway of the warehouse. What faint sunlight was filtering into the building was quickly fading, leaving indistinct shapes in the gloom. She could just make out a long-eared figure slumped against a post at the center of the room. From his posture it seemed the ropes around his waist were the only thing holding him up. “Archibald? She called out. It’s Violet! I’ve found you, they’re going to let you go.”

      Archibald looked up, a feeling of hope quickly replaced with dismay. “Violet? What have you done? They’re going to kill you, and probably me for good measure! Get out of here, now!” A blow to the side of his head silenced the rabbit.

     The notch-eared wolf’s voice sounded from the doorway. “You can let him go, Ventus,” she said to the white wolf. “We have what I want. You’ve done well here – I may have to consider keeping you.” She turned to Archibald, who had just been cut free of his bonds. “Go on, bunny. Get out of here, before I decide keeping my word is too much trouble. Tell any other friends you have left never to cross the Frostpaw Pack.” She moved to face Violet, taking a dagger from Ventus. “Very shortly, otter, I will spend some time explaining to you why I am the alpha in this district.” Outside, the sun had set completely, and inside the warehouse was nearly pitch-black.

     Seeing her friend’s hesitation, Violet waved toward the door. “Don’t make this for nothing, Archibald! You have to go – you have a promise to keep. Don’t worry about me, just go!”

     Archibald knew she was right. Pointless as his futile quest to save the future had been, he was the only one who knew. This wouldn’t be the first time a friend had given their life so he could move forward. He just wished it didn’t seem so pointless. As he walked through the doorway, the rabbit let out a startled yelp that was quickly muffled by the paw across his mouth and the saber blade at his throat. “I couldn’t hear what was being said very well,” hissed a feminine voice in his ear, “I thought you might be one of them. I am here to help, but you must keep your voice down, and don’t run. Now, how many friend does that notch-eared thug have in there?”

     Archibald’s mind spun, trying to adjust to this unexpected change in circumstances. “One that I saw,” he breathed, “A wolf. Male with white fur. Now please take this sword away from my neck.” He sighed with relief as the blade moved away, then nodded as he was told to wait in the alley across the street, and whatever he did, make no noise.

     Scarlet crept into the dim warehouse, her excellent night vision letting her slip through the gloom without a lantern. The wolves could likely see without much light as well, but their attention was focused on their newest victim. She moved closer, hoping the musty stillness of the air would keep the others from picking up her scent. When she had moved close enough, the vixen struck.

     With a lightning quick flash of her sword, she cut down the white wolf first. Though Ventus was an imposing figure, he wore no armor and was caught completely by surprise as the saber edge bit into his neck. He went down with a gurgle and a spray of blood. His employer jumped back, passing her borrowed dagger to her left paw and grabbing her cudgel from her belt with her right paw. Violet, cut off from the exit by the two combatants, wisely retreated further into the gloomy warehouse to stay out of the way.

     “Whoever you are,” the Frostpaw leader snarled, “that is going to cost you dearly. I’m not going to have creatures barging in here and butchering my hirelings.” She swung her cudgel, and Scarlet, light on her feet, stepped back and parried. Scarlet had a shorter reach, but her disadvantage in height was compensated by her greater agility.

     The wolf tried to feign another attack with the cudgel while stabbing upward with her dagger, but Scarlet saw through the ruse and dodged aside, swatting her adversary with the flat of her blade. The wolf spun around, enraged, lashing out. Scarlet ducked under another swing of the cudgel, and blocked a follow-up swipe from the dagger with the guard of her saber. Seeing her opponent’s wild swing had taken her off-balance, Scarlet deftly stepped forward and skewered the wolf between the ribs. As the blade passed through her heart, the wolf’s eyes widened in shock. “You…” she gasped. Then she fell limply to the floor, a small trickle of blood running from her mouth, and was still.

     Scarlet snorted with faint amusement. “Frostpaw pack. Hah! So far as I know, her little ‘pack’ never had more than two members.” Looking around, Scarlet spotted Violet standing well out of the way. “Violet! Over here. Your friend is safe, and if he hasn’t lost his wits completely, he’ll be waiting for us just outside.”

      Violet shook her head in confusion. “I don’t want to sound ungrateful, but I thought you had agents coming to help? Also, I could have sworn that wolf recognized you there, at the end.”

     Scarlet waved the otter to silence. “All in good time. Let’s discuss this back at the Wolf and Crown over tea, hmm?”

     A short while later, Scarlet had gathered Violet, Archibald, and Horace in her rooms at the inn. “There are some things all of you should know,” Scarlet began. “First, I’ve been receiving reports about you two,” she nodded to Archibald and Violet, “for quite some time. Old Greymuzzle is a sympathizer with my cause, even if he doesn’t quite realize what that means. In truth, I owe each of you an apology. That wolf with the notched ear – her name is Frost, if you didn’t know – fancied herself a local fixer. I hired her and her pitiful pack to acquire a certain object for me, but for reasons known only to her, she double-crossed me. So I hired you by proxy,” here the vixen nodded to Violet again, “to get it back.”

     Scarlet paused while her audience took all this in. “Unfortunately, between getting the item and getting it to my agent, you got yourself caught by Frost. That would most likely have been the end of you, except that my loyal champion here,” she gestured to Horace with a flourish, “happened by and rescued you. You know the rest.”

     “You knew of this wolf, and what Violet had taken, and didn’t tell me?” This came from Horace, his expression as neutral and unchanging as that of a statue. “Might I suggest, my lady, that in the future you keep me advised of such circumstances when they pertain to my actions?”

     Scarlet looked faintly uncomfortable. “My apologies, Sir Horace. I did not think it important at the time. At any rate, Violet and Archibald, my help does not come without a price. I’m in need of creatures with few attachments and specific skills, and you lot are the closest I’m going to come to that on short notice. Most know me, if at all, as the Bandit King, but you can call me Scarlet. Welcome to the revolution.”

     Sargon was troubled. Despite his best efforts, the rat’s control seemed to be slipping of late. His sight was clouded. The skein of fate was unravelling and sliding through his paws like oiled silk. Despite his best efforts, he had been unable to obtain either of the Spirit Stones that had appeared in recent years. The first Stone had been stolen, first by a rogue alchemist, then by his own agent, a ferret warlock who had gone mad with power and succumbed to the Rot’s taint. Then, recently, a second Stone had surfaced in the paws of some fool merchant who likely had no idea of the thing’s true value. Some creature had paid for the Stone’s theft, and Sargon had thought to simply outbid the thief’s master – but that plan had fallen through as well. He sensed a familiar presence at work there, though he could not put a paw on what it was.

     Now he could see rebellion on the horizon, a mad killer on the loose, and, above all, the Rot. The Rot, rising like a tide, swallowing Armello in a reign of darkness that would make the Mad King look like a docile kitten by comparison. Sargon did not hope to stop this. It was inevitable. He needed only to delay it long enough to prepare himself for what was to come. Sargon took a deep breath, and reassured himself that he would emerge victorious. His rise was also inevitable. He had seen it.
« Last Edit: June 29, 2017, 03:43:08 PM by Biologist »
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Biologist

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Re: Short Story - "Honor Among Thieves"
« Reply #3 on: June 29, 2017, 03:45:20 PM »
Well, this one is done. I plan to complete at least one more story as a follow-up to this. One way or another, the Bandit Clan is going to shake things up in Armello.
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Wessolf27

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Re: Short Story - "Honor Among Thieves"
« Reply #4 on: July 03, 2017, 04:53:06 PM »
Ooh! I await with bated breath on the next short story  ;D

Though if I may, perhaps it would be good to use a few dividers when switching PoVs? It might just be me, but I find it confusing when the next paragraph switches character perspectives. Still, this and Revolution are very wonderfully written. And I find myself wondering how Archibald had come into contact with a time machine.

Oops, I just found Ouroboros, and I guess that's how!
« Last Edit: July 03, 2017, 05:59:52 PM by Wessolf27 »
Re-probus: A Story of Ferals

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Biologist

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Re: Short Story - "Honor Among Thieves"
« Reply #5 on: July 03, 2017, 10:40:31 PM »
Glad you're enjoying the story thus far. Fair point with the formatting stuff. It's a bit tricky figuring out how things read when copying from Word to forums, but I could come up with something. At least I've got only one character speaking per paragraph now.  :D

And yes, I probably should go back to linking my previous stories at the top of my current ones. Though there's something amusing about people accidentally reading a time-warping story out of sequence.  :P
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Wessolf27

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Re: Short Story - "Honor Among Thieves"
« Reply #6 on: July 03, 2017, 11:02:19 PM »
Oh, what I usually do for my own stories is just use a centered line of dashes, bolded or otherwise whenever I have a section where it focuses specifically on one character.  It's mostly just a format issue :) I also use them for when there's a small time skip.

Also, small thing but, it's pretty helpful to use URL tags in order to create hyperlinked text. Just write [ url=the linked address ] your text [ / url ] with the spaces removed. I'll help link those two short stories too. You can quote and copy the format for some ease :)

Ouroboros
Revolution
Re-probus: A Story of Ferals

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Biologist

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Re: Short Story - "Honor Among Thieves"
« Reply #7 on: July 04, 2017, 02:51:49 AM »
Ah, thanks. Your suggestions are much appreciated. I never seemed to get the URL tags to work properly (might be the browser I was using at the time - some don't play nice with forum posting tools), so I just resorted to copy-pasting the whole URL. I can probably make it work this time. Also yeah, I'll probably try putting a dashed line or something for character/time shifts in the future. I should really go back and edit my older stuff so the formatting isn't a confusing mess, but I'm too lazy to make time for that.  :P
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