A Most Unusual Applicant
A Story by Aaron Canton
There came a time in every thief’s life, thought Jadie Rivers, when one was forced to do some unsavory things. The path of a successful burglar wasn’t all about snatching gold-laden purses under the moonlit night or scaling thousand-foot walls in pursuit of treasures that would put a dragon’s hoard to shame. No, there was plenty of unpleasant work as well, some almost bad enough to make Jadie regret the day she joined the Westwick Thieves Guild.
But it was necessary, so—with a small sigh—she approached the nearby clerk and checked in for the inspection that was her gateway to honest employment.
Jadie’s shoulders slumped as she returned to the cluster of hopefuls at the other side of the courtyard. She had nothing against legitimate income in principle, particularly when rich people left theirs in pockets, bags, or treasure chests with easily picked locks, but real work wasn’t her style. She’d much rather sneak into a noble’s estate and make off with their gold, then enjoy sumptuous luxury to her heart’s content without the tedious effort needed to procure it honestly. As a result, this mission’s requirement that she obtain a day job and actually perform its duties—show up on time, report to superiors, even file paperwork—was dragging her down.
Still, she thought, it was necessary, and the end would be worth it. The Westwick Thieves Guild wasn’t just about enriching its members; in exchange for the Raleigh government permitting Westwick to exist tax-free and the guild to exist at all, the thieves also identified and eliminated threats to the nation the government couldn’t deal with openly. During her last mission in Atalatha, Jadie had uncovered evidence elements in the nation of Warus were involved in a conspiracy against Raleigh, and members of the diplomatic missions to Warus were likely involved. Now it was her duty to do whatever it took to unearth those conspirators, stop the plot, and maybe even save the country…even if that meant taking a job with the diplomats in order to get close to the traitors.
Of course, to do any of that, she had to get the job. Having broken into the records office and checked up on the other applications, Jadie knew only one of the other candidates stood a chance against her impeccably forged credentials: Taryn Petrin, the arrogant son of a minor baron in the Raleigh hinterlands whose affairs were already the talk of Viscosa’s seedier bars. He was exactly the kind of person she loved to rip off, and despite her grumpiness with her current assignment, she would enjoy getting him out of the way.
She hid a smile as she meandered between the groups of applicants and drifted towards Taryn, who was chuckling at two other candidates. “Don’t feel bad when you don’t get the post,” he said. “My dad’s pulling a few strings. Yeah, needed to get out of town for a bit ‘cause of this seamstress, and…well, it was just a fling, but now she’s raising this whole stink about it.” He waved a hand airily. “Such a bother.”
Jadie rolled her eyes as she leaned against a tall tree on one edge of the courtyard. It was bigger than the others and had longer roots, some of which stretched under the cobblestones and even broke through them in a few places. Hey, she thought to the tree. That guy is a total jerk. Wouldn’t it be fun if you lifted that root a little bit and tripped him into that puddle?
She grinned at the tree’s resistance. Her magic, slight though it was, let her encourage plants to help her in subtle ways. She was best with flowers and vines—trees were stubborn and slow to move—but this particular tree was already bursting through cobblestones, so Jadie figured it had energy to spare. Come on. I’d really appreciate it, and he definitely deserves it. She giggled to herself and tried to push that laugh towards the tree along with her thoughts. What d’ya say?
Nothing happened for a moment, but then the tree seemed to shudder. Seconds later, Taryn yelped as a root tangled between his feet, and he tripped into a muddy puddle.
Jadie rushed forward and helped lift the sputtering heir while the others laughed. Her sleeve rippled as she moved, and a vine she kept coiled around her arms darted out from under her sleeve and flicked a handful of swamproot seeds at him before slipping back under cover. She directed the seeds to open just as her vine let them go, and Taryn had barely regained his balance and snapped that his father would punish whoever had tripped him before the odor from the now-open seeds drifted over his body. His threats cut off with an agonized cough, and Jadie suppressed her smile.
The clerk brought the other members of the Warus diplomatic mission into the courtyard, and Jadie couldn’t stop herself from grinning anymore. The candidates stood in their finest outfits—Jadie had a massive flower in her hair she’d brought from her personal garden in Westwick, not to mention a gorgeous outfit she’d bought from Viscosa’s finest clothier the previous day—except for Taryn, who was now soaked with mud and stank of swamproot. The members of the diplomatic mission stared at Taryn, then swiveled to face the clerk, who quickly made a placating gesture as if the heir was no longer under consideration. Everything, Jadie thought, was going according to plan.
A cursory inspection followed, but Jadie could tell the decision had already been made, and soon enough, the clerk moved in front of the applicants and raised a hand. “We have made our decision,” he said. “The applicant who will join our mission is…”
Jadie tensed, though most of her thoughts were concentrated on whether she’d have time to spend a few more days at the Stately Lady—Raleigh’s best, and most expensive, inn—before leaving. She’d made a lot of money in Atalatha, after all, and she wasn’t the type to leave it sitting around in her guild account.
“Jasper Harsten,” finished the clerk. “The rest of you are dismissed.”
It took Jadie a moment to realize what the man had said, at which point she couldn’t help swiveling to gape at Jasper—a slim man with chalky skin and thinning hair—in disbelief. Jasper’s application had been unremarkable; he’d served on a few missions in minor capacities, but never to a nation as chaotic and unstable as Warus. He was unqualified for the job, and—
And he wasn’t reacting. Jadie realized Jasper didn’t look excited that he’d gotten the position, or disappointed that he’d been forced into a job he didn’t want, or even annoyed that the process had taken so long. He looked bored. Like he’d expected it.
His appointment had been fixed.
Jadie remained frozen for a few seconds longer but, just before the clerk again told her she was dismissed, turned on her heel and walked away with a big smile on her face. Someone, either the Warus conspiracy or other corrupt officials, thought they could mess with Raleigh’s diplomatic efforts.
And Jadie Rivers, world-class thief, would show them just how wrong they were.