Chapter #528

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                                  +
                                +   +
                              +       +
                            +           +
                          +               +
                        +                   +
                      +                       +
                    +      THE ADVENTURERS      +
                      +                       +
                        +      Epic III     +
                          +               +
                            +           +
                              +       +
                                +   +
                                  +

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
+    Many of the locations, non-player characters, spells, and      +
+  other terms used in these stories are the property of TSR, Inc.  +
+  However, this does not mean that TSR in any way endorses or      +
+  authorizes their use, and any such items contained within these  +
+  stories should not be considered representative of TSR in any    +
+  way, shape, or form.                                             +
+    The player characters contained in these writings are copy-    +
+  right 1991-7 by Thomas Miller.  Any resemblance to any persons   +
+  or characters either real or fictional is utterly coincidental.  +
+  Copying and/or distribution of these tales is permissible only   +
+  under the sole condition that no part of them will be used or    +
+  sold for profit.  In that case, I hope you enjoy them.           +
+                                                                   +
+                                  Thomas Miller                    +
+                                  tmiller@cimmeria.ns.gatech.edu   +
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
+  Peldor/Corvis   20th level human thief                       (N) +
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
+  Date:        11/1/576 C.Y. (Common Year)                         +
+  Time:        late evening                                        +
+  Place:       the Free City of Greyhawk                           +
+  Climate:     cool                                                +
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
+  "We all have a dark place.  I don't like to visit mine, but I    +
+   will if I have to."                                             +
+                                                   - The Expert    +
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++





                  DXXVIII.  Surviving the Game





  Night had long since fallen, and in the nondescript inn, Corvis'
room was silent and still.  On the bed, a huddled mass lay under
heavy sheets and blankets, unmoving, wrapped in the tranquility of
the night.  Moonlight shone through the closed and locked window,
bathing swaths of the wooden floor in its bright beams.  In the
room's other areas, though, the shadows still waited, lurking.
  Outside the room, in the cold of the night, another kind of shadow
lurked.  The thin figure descended from the roof above, hanging
from a thin yet strong line.  Zsil, one of Sharyn Messandier's most
trusted minions, crept down silently, unseen as he kept to the odd
shadows of the inn's sloped rooftop.  Long, thin fingers sought and
found places to grip; feet touched ledges and gutters, only staying
if the footing was secure.  Momentarily, the rogue was positioned
outside Corvis' window.  The window's lock was as simple as it was
flimsy, and after his eyes had scanned the room beyond the window,
Zsil had the wood-and-glass portal open in a flash.  A drop of oil
on each hinge ensured a silent opening, and with a single fluid
motion, the wiry man slithered into the room.  His padded shoes,
specially designed for this very purpose, made no sound as he crept
across the floor.
  For his part, Zsil could care less about Sharyn's exact orders.
He didn't like Corvis (though in truth, he didn't really like any-
body) and preferred to "encounter" the foreigner while rifling
through his room.  That way, he could claim self-defense when
Sharyn confronted him.  With a sly smile, the thief produced a
well-oiled knife and approached the figure on the bed.
  At the exact moment Zsil realized something wasn't quite right,
his keen ears picked up a trace of sound behind him.  Whirling in
a reflexive motion, the wiry assassin parried the flashing sword
with his own weapon, leaping to one side before his assailant could
retaliate.

Zsil:  What?!?
Corvis:  Slick...real slick.  I should have known Sharyn would
  check into me.  Hmm, come to think of it, I _did_ know.  (he
  smiles maliciously)
Zsil:  (uses a magical ring to hasten his movements, even as the
  shortsword he draws spits sparks)  Enough talk, outlander - time
  to die.
Corvis:  You just sealed your fate.

  Zsil's shortsword-and-knife combination was deadly enough without
considering whatever magical lightning properties it might have.
Corvis, however, had no intention of making this a straight, standup
fight.  With barely a nudge of his head, he invoked some unknown
magical power, sending his foe straight up into the thick beams of
the ceiling!

Zsil:  <SLAM>  Ungh!
Corvis:  (brings the thin foe down a few feet, then sends him back
  up)
Zsil:  <SLAM>
Corvis:  (lets him go)
Zsil:  (drops to the floor, dazed)
Corvis:  (steps forth, slashing with his own sword)
Zsil:  (screams in pain as his swordarm is severed at the elbow)
  AARGH!
Corvis:  Quiet!  You'll wake the neighboring guests.
Zsil:  (crouching, his wounded arm bleeding badly, his knife held in
  his good hand)  Bastard...!
Corvis:  And then some.  (he deals a mercy blow, ending Zsil's misery)

  Corvis wasted no time; he wrapped the slain foe's wounds to avoid
large puddles of blood.  Checking the man for anything of value or
usefulness, he recovered Zsil's sword, knife, a ring, an amulet, and
several potion bottles.  The body had to be disposed of, and this
would entail smuggling it out of the tavern - a difficult proposition
any way it was executed.  With a sigh, Corvis pondered the options.
One was to burn the body away with acid, but he didn't have the
right materials handy.  Another option would have been to hack the
body into little pieces and carry it out, then drop the bits in the
city sewers.  This would be rather messy, though, and might involve
several trips.
  The answer came to Corvis like a bolt of lightning.  Delving into
his magical bag of holding, he retrieved several thick blankets.
Spreading these out, he wrapping the corpse thickly and tightly,
then stuffed it into the extradimensional space.  Next, he used other
spare rags to mop up the blood, of which there was surprisingly little
thanks to his efforts.  These rags followed the body into the bag.  A
skin of wine provided an agent to clean the floor, using another rag;
this process was repeated until all the bloodstains were gone.  Then
came a vial of polish, usually used for weapons; this stuff colored
the center of the room's floor with a slight gloss, rendering the
spot of Zsil's death identical to the surrounding wood.
  His work done, Corvis opened the window which had swung shut behind
Zsil, allowing the cold night air to blow around and carry the various
odors out into the darkness.  Next, he packed up all of his things,
leaving the nonessentials in a neat little pile.  After double- and
triple-checking the room for evidence of the fight, he left the room,
re-seating his hat atop his head.
  The man who walked down the hallway and descended the stairs looked
nothing like Corvis.  A burly, thickly-bearded fellow from the south,
he ambled down the stairs and left the inn without passing through
its common room.  A half-hour and several random wanderings later,
the big man stood before one of several entrances into the city's
sewer system.  With a resigned sigh, he wrapped a perfumed cloth
around his nose and mouth and opened the hatch...



  Morning, the next day.  Corvis entered the Guild's training grounds,
situated in an open courtyard within the center of the guildhall.  In
this wide, open area were mounted all kinds of walls, ropes, and other
constructs.  These devices served to challenge thieves of all skill
levels.  The walls ranged from sloped surfaces with numerous hand- and
foot-holds to vertical drops with no protrusions.  A non-thief might
have wondered why these walls were outside - if it rained, how would
the thieves train?  However, as all thieves knew, walls slick with
water or ice were realistic - in fact, harsh weather was a good time
for heavy-duty wall-climbing training.
  This place had other purposes besides simple climbing practice,
though.  Besides the ropes and rope-ladders which hung from high
poles and walls, there were also devices to test speed, reflexes,
endurance, strength, and other such things.  The idea was that any
thief could train for any sort of job here.  Non-thieves weren't
permitted in this area (or anywhere else in the guildhall, for that
matter) and it was better that they didn't know of its existence.
If they did, many a Greyhawk resident would sleep less easily at
night.
  Corvis asked some random thief where Gordo could be found, and a
short time after that, he was talking to the man.  A tall, thin
thief of many years, Gordo was grey-haired and had a thick, swirling
mustache.  Despite his years, he looked both competent and dangerous,
and Corvis was tactful in his discussions.

Gordo:  So you're the outlander Sharyn was talking about.
Corvis:  That's me.  She said something about some tests, to judge
  my competency-
Gordo:  Right.  (he points to a vertical wall with only sparse hand-
  and foot-holds)  You know what that is?
Corvis:  Climbing wall.
Gordo:  When that guy there finishes, you try.
Corvis:  Good enough.
Gordo:  But first, take off your gloves, boots, and rings.
Corvis:  What?  Why?
Gordo:  No magical help in climbing that wall - if you can't do it
  without help, we don't need you.
Corvis:  What makes you think I have such magical items?
Gordo:  Just a hunch.
Corvis:  I can't climb barefoot!
Gordo:  (gestures to a rack of light leather boots)  Find your size
  and quit whining.
Corvis:  (grumbling, he removes his various accoutrements)  Whatever.
  All my stuff had better be here when I come down from the top of
  that wall.
Gordo:  Don't worry about it.

  Soon, Corvis' turn came, and he started up the wall.  His speed and
skill surprised even Gordo, who had seen many a thief (and would-be
thief) come and go.  Corvis made no wasted motion; every move put a
hand or foot somewhere that helped him ascend to a higher point.  He
kept his body close to the wall, to offset the effects of gravity.
He never looked down, and allowed nothing to distract him.

Gordo:  (watches, nodding, as the foreign rogue climbs up the wall
  like a spider, reaching the top nimbly enough to draw stares from
  others in the training yard)

  Gordo was sure that the man's moves looked familiar, but he'd seen
thousands of people tackle the wall in his time, and there was no
way he could remember where he'd seen Corvis before.  Shrugging, he
walked to meet Corvis as the latter slid down the rope that hung from
the wall's top.

Corvis:  (grins)  Good enough?
Gordo:  Yeah, but don't flatter yourself.  We've got a long ways to
  go...



  Sometime after lunch, Gordo reported to Sharyn Messandier's office
as previously directed.

Sharyn:  Come in, come in.
Gordo:  (does so, seating himself in front of her heavy desk)

  Gordo had no love for the woman; he'd been an old friend of Org
Nenshen, and had watched Sharyn from her early days in Greyhawk.  Her
recent appointment as Guildmaster had, in his opinion, been the wrong
move.  However, he didn't want to make enemies, and thus hadn't said
anything (not that it would have done any good, since Org had passed
on.)  He knew that his expertise and popularity with many Guild
members made him an invaluable asset; as long as he played it cool,
he had nothing to fear from Sharyn.

Sharyn:  Did Corvis meet his requirements?
Gordo:  Whew, did he ever.  Where'd you get that guy?
Sharyn:  Don't worry about that right now.  He did well, then?
Gordo:  He's got more raw talent than anyone I've seen in a long,
  long while.
Sharyn:  A skilled thief, he is?  Even at lock-picking, climbing,
  and trap-disarming?
Gordo:  He can do it all.  The man's a solid operator.
Sharyn:  (crosses her arms)  Good.
Gordo:  If you'll excuse me, I've got some green recruits to break
  in shortly...?
Sharyn:  (nods, and the other leaves, closing the door behind him)

  Sharyn leaned back in her chair, rubbing the back of her neck.
She was somewhat concerned; Zsil had never reported back to her
after she'd told him to check Corvis' room last night.  In fact,
no one had seen him at all since he left the Guildhall last night.
It was a bit too early to worry - after all, Zsil knew what he was
doing - but Sharyn couldn't shake the suspicion that she'd never
see the wiry assassin again.
  The question was, what did that make Corvis?  Had he somehow slain
Zsil last night?  Or perhaps bribed him?  Was Zsil's loyalty that
questionable?  Or perhaps Corvis had had nothing to do with any of
it.  These matters were giving her a headache, and she couldn't
afford a headache right now.  Her plans to convert the guild to the
worship of her deity, Kurell, hadn't been progressing as planned.
Many of the thieves were reluctant to pledge the devotion she wanted,
both to her and the god.  Since Kurell was the patron deity of all
thieves, the guildmembers' hesitation logically had to be due to
Sharyn herself - and _that_ bothered her.
  One thing at a time, though.  If Corvis had indeed fought and
killed Zsil, he was deadly.  She knew from Gordo that Corvis was
competent.  The only question now was:  was Corvis trustworthy?
She was certain that he understood that he, a foreigner from a far
land and culture, would never be able to attain the rank of Guild-
master.  Perhaps he was one of those people who was happy being
someone's right hand.  If that was the case, she could use someone
like Corvis.  She'd made a habit of surrounding herself with people
who were only marginally competent, and had no ambition; one with
Corvis' skills could prove useful in reversing the losses Sharyn
had been seeing from the River Quarter.  Useful...as long as he
didn't overstep his bounds.
  She decided that it was time for one final test - a test that
would determine if Corvis could follow orders, avoid temptation,
and risk terrible punishments.  Sharyn had been after a certain
merchant's business records for some time, but couldn't officially
sanction that mission due to her position (and the merchant's.)
She decided to send Corvis on this job - confidentially and with
specific orders.  If he lacked the nerve to undertake a job not
sanctioned by the guild, or if he was unwilling to work directly
for her, she'd now find out.  If he was caught - or decided to
try and inform someone of Sharyn's plans - nobody would believe
him.  There simply was no paper trail for this matter - and if
Corvis botched the job in any way, shape, or form, there'd be no
paper trail to save him.



  Later that same night, Corvis staggered down a dark alley.  Had
he not possessed the items he did, or had he not really been who he
was, he would probably have died in that merchant's home.  Since he
actually knew of the man and his reputation (among the more expert
thieves, anyway) of having many deadly traps, Corvis had been able
to complete the mission.  His bag of holding now contained a sheaf
of records, notes, and other evidence that would bury the man when
revealed to Greyhawk officials.  Corvis had neither love nor hate
for the merchant in question; he'd simply done what he had to do
tonight, in order to further his own aims.  In every war, there were
casualties - some of them noncombatants.
  Corvis had prepared for every eventuality, and he slid into a dark
alcove, pressing a secret trigger.  Moving a large flagstone aside,
he entered his little hideaway.  Little more than a ten-foot niche
between two buildings, the chamber didn't exist on any blueprints or
maps that anyone in Greyhawk knew about.  Corvis, when he had been
called by another name, had found and modified the hidden space many
years ago, for just such a time as this.
  The thief closed the "door" behind him, locking it with a thick bar
of iron that slid into grooves carven from the stone of the wall.  He
examined the cold floor for a moment, until he found what he sought.
Under a loose stone in the floor was a small chest, wrapped in old
rugs; Corvis pulled this out and opened it, disarming the poisoned
needle on its lock with ease.  Of course, it was easy to disarm a
trap that you'd put there yourself.  If it had only been as easy to
disarm the traps in that merchant's house...Corvis was fairly badly
wounded - though it had been worth it.
  Inside the chest were a fresh change of clothes, a few select
magical potions, a skin of clean water, some rags, and a cache of
coins.  Removing his torn shirt, Corvis cleaned the long, jagged cut
under his right arm.  Though the wound was terrible, he considered
himself lucky to have dodged the sweeping blade-trap in the merchant's
home.  A moment's hesitation would have seen him shorn in half, and
that would have been the end of that.
  To tell the truth, without his various magical items, even his
speed and skill wouldn't have been enough.  No wonder Sharyn hadn't
been able to get this job completed successfully!  That had changed
now, though.  Corvis wrapped a clean cloth around his wound, bound
some other, lesser ones, and then drank a healing potion.  Next he
changed the rest of his clothes, leaving the dirty ones in a pile
off to one side.
  A short time later, the thief returned to his new room, in a tavern
different from the one he'd been staying in previously.  He'd moved
lodgings not to escape Sharyn's spies (he couldn't) but rather to go
through the motions expected of him.  Patience was tantamount at this
point.  A lesser thief would have gone running to the Guildhall to
proclaim his success (if only to one person) but Corvis was going to
wait until the morning.  That way, he could blend in with all the
other traffic going into and out of the Guildhall.
  Locking his door and window, Corvis put out poisoned spikes, slick
grease, and other precautions.  If Sharyn was going to make a further
move to eliminate him, it would come tonight.  However, though he
slept lightly and woke often, nothing happened.  Morning saw him
enjoy a nice, expensive breakfast before he headed out to inform his
employer of his success...



Sharyn:  (her eyes wide)  I'd heard of the robbery, but I couldn't
  believe it until I saw the evidence with my own eyes.
Corvis:  (puts the stack of documents onto her desk)  It's all there.
  I made sure before I left.
Sharyn:  (rifles through the papers, her eyes glittering)  These
  records spell the end of this man's meddling in Guild affairs...
Corvis:  He was an enemy?
Sharyn:  He wields much power with the Oligarchy - he was becoming
  a nuisance to me.  (she shakes her head)  But no longer.
Corvis:  Glad to hear it.  So what now?
Sharyn:  Now, I deal with this rather annoying merchant.  Blackmail
  will ensure his non-interference.
Corvis:  I mean what now for me?
Sharyn:  Oh, that.  Well, how quickly do you think you could learn
  all about the River Quarter and the way it operates?
Corvis:  (smiles thinly)  Very quickly indeed.  Why?
Sharyn:  My current River Quartermaster is about to meet a rather
  grim fate, and I could use somebody to replace him.
Corvis:  (grins evilly)  I'm your man.
Sharyn:  (nods)  Be ready tomorrow.
Corvis:  (bows slightly, and turns to leave)  Anything else?
Sharyn:  As a matter of fact, there is one more thing.
Corvis:  What's that?
Sharyn:  I need you to remove your hat.





next:      finale
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mail:      tmiller@cimmeria.ns.gatech.edu       (preferred)
           thomas.miller@oit.gatech.edu         (emergency)
notes:     This is almost like writing an espionage story.
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