Greetings, friends of Tellest. We have a treat for you today, in the form of a new story from one of our staunchest contributors, Aaron Canton. You may remember him as the writer who penned A Practical Warrior a few months back. Well, we have him again delivering some great storytelling in the world of Tellest. This time, he created your new favorite superhero, Jadie Rivers. Over the next three weeks, you’ll be privy to seeing this great new tale unfold. If you’re anything like me, you’ll enjoy it immensely!
A Most Unusual Patriot
Light and laughter spilled out from the Sapphire Square and over its patio, extending all the way to the edge of the Spirit River. Clusters of people moved through the inn’s backyard, some having stepped outside to enjoy the flowers and the cool breezes, while others were about to return to the inn to revisit the buffet tables and—more likely—the open bar. Nobility mingled with merchants, tradesmen laughed at the jokes of gladiators, and even the servants seemed willing to chatter with their esteemed guests. It was, truly, a perfect night.
One of the putative servants, unable to stifle her grin any longer, put down her tray of drinks and turned away from the crowd to hide her smile. Jadie Rivers had never visited Atalatha before; her whole life had been spent in Westwick, studying at the hands of stern, unyielding masters and having little to do with moments of leisure, save watching pigs scampering around their market pens. But now, at last, she had completed her apprenticeship. She was a full member of the Westwick Thieves Guild, out on her first mission, ready to do her city and her teachers proud. How could she do anything but smile?
But she did have a job to do, and so, after a moment, she controlled herself and turned towards the next table. Jadie’s ultimate target was the Lady Trefaer, whom rumor had indicated would be wearing her famous set of diamonds—a personal gift from the Duke himself—at the party. She had not yet arrived, but several other specimens of the wealthy-and-hapless variety were there, and as her teachers always said, there was never a bad time to practice her skills. The very next table, for instance, held three people with empty glasses and more jewelry than was good for them. Jadie smiled to herself and approached.
No sooner had she reached the table than she took stock of her targets. The first, a Marquis by the looks of his robes, was wearing several large gemstones of poor quality, likely the victim of an unscrupulous jeweler and his own ignorance of what such stones were truly worth. The merchant next to him wore a dozen cheap rings on her fingers as if she was trying to show off wealth through sheer quantity. But the third, Baron Orthlo, flashed an expensive emerald on a bracelet as he gesticulated. Now that was a stone worthy of Jadie’s attention. The thief—unable to stop her smile from returning to her face—moved near him.
“…I’m just glad they finally worked out the treaty,” Orthlo was telling the others. ”Warus isn’t even a nation, not really. Just a mob of competing tribes. Completely impossible to settle; you put up a city one year, some band of gnolls or kobolds razes it the next.” He shook his ale mug in protest. “But now that we have some allies over there, I think we’re finally on track to start stabilizing that territory. Maybe adding some of it to our own.”
The Marquis frowned. “I heard a bunch of feral kaja overran a human settlement in western Warus,” he said. “It might be more difficult than—”
“Mere rumors.” Orthlo laughed. “Even if they’re true, our ambassadorial delegation will include a full complement of soldiers. They’re more than a match for a few half-crazed kaja. No, I’m certain things will be easier, at least in the political sense.”
“In the economic sense too,” the merchant added. “An entire untapped market—and we’re in the best position to reach it. Once the ambassadorial team arrives, my caravans will be right behind them. As will most of the others in Raleigh, I imagine.”
“And as a member of that ambassadorial team, allow me to say that you have my full support!” said Orthlo. “Here’s to new opportunities!”
As he raised his glass, his other hand leaned against the bush behind him. Jadie moved up behind him and let her hand touch the leaves of that bush. Grab his hand, Jadie told the bush. Just a few branches. Come on. She smiled to herself. It’ll be fun.
The bush slowly shifted, Orthlo’s hand slipping inside the bush as a few of its branches rearranged themselves. Orthlo, in the middle of toasting, said nothing.
“Excuse me!” said Jadie, stepping between them with her tray of drinks. “More sweet wine?”
“I’ll have a glass,” said Orthlo. He tried to move forwards but stopped as his hand pulled at the bush. The other two members of his group laughed as he tried to extricate himself. “Just give me a minute…”
“Allow me,” said Jadie merrily. She leaned over and reached into the bush with one hand, telling it, Thanks! You can let go now! Between them, unseen by all, her other hand flicked up the clasp of his bracelet and swiped it—as well as a few rings he was wearing for good measure—into the large pocket of her uniform. After she gently pulled Orthlo’s hand from the bush, drinks were served, and she retreated, knowing it would be a very long time before Orthlo even noticed the theft.
There were people, Jadie knew, who had staggeringly powerful magical gifts—the ability to summon fire from their hands, or drain health with a thought, or cause a forest to sprout in moments and tear through city walls like damp parchment. Jadie was not one of them. She could coax plants into helping her out just a little: releasing pollen, for instance, or twisting a few branches when needed. It might not have been a terribly powerful kind of magic, but it was hers, and she liked it. And she couldn’t deny that it did come in handy in her line of work.
She crossed the garden, stealing two coin purses, one set of earrings, and a gorgeously wrought ceremonial dagger along the way, until she noticed a small group clustered on the bank of the Spirit River. Curious, Jadie headed towards them, directing the moss on the bottom of her shoes to muffle her footsteps. The moss took a few moments to respond—it was the laziest plant in the world, in Jadie’s experience—but it finally did so, smoothing over the bottoms of her shoes so they didn’t make a sound. Jadie served her way to the bank of the river, moved closer to the group, and listened.
“I already told you, pay up front,” growled a voice that sounded almost like a series of barks. Jadie stiffened as one of the figures straightened and she saw a distinctly dog-like head. A gnoll? Really? Whoa. “Do you mind hurrying this up? I’ve got places to be.”
“Sure you don’t want to stay longer, Hwarl?” drawled one of the other figures in a rough voice. “Can’t imagine gladiators eat like this often.”
“Food might be worse, but the company’s better,” snarled Hwarl. “Least there the people aren’t whispering to each other ‘bout which of them I’ll eat first.”
“I nominate Stebbins Hartley,” said another of the figures. “I owe him money.” And the group laughed.
Jadie looked around and saw several rows of flowers growing on the bank. One row—she noted with a smile—was full of chrysanthemums, flowers that could produce truly staggering amounts of pollen. She knelt and picked a few, slipping them into the drinks on her tray like overly frilly garnishes.
“Look,” the gnoll was snarling. “I brought the merchandise. Are we doing this or not?”
“Show it first,” said someone who had an air of authority around him. “No deal until we see it work.”
The gnoll took out something that glinted in the light. Jadie stepped closer, keeping behind a tree and making sure the moss shut out all sounds of her footsteps on the cobblestones, and saw that it was a knife. The gnoll picked a copper off the table and dropped it on the blade.
It split cleanly in two.
Jadie’s mouth dropped, and the leader whistled as the others murmured. “And you can get us, what, fifty of these things?”
“More than that. They don’t care if gladiators are importing weapons since we’re professional fighters. Got a hundred in town already, and if you need more I can get another shipment. Price is ten gold per.”
“That’s outrageous,” said one of the men. “Ten gold for a knife? I—”
“Do you want a dagger that can cut through the armor of the Duke’s personal guard, or don’t you?” asked the gnoll. “Because if not, just say so and I’m out of here.”
“Deal,” said the leader before his men objected again. Jadie heard clinking as a bag of coins hit the table. “There’s your money. Next time, we’ll have a thousand gold for you—if you have the weapons to sell us.”
Jadie froze as the impact of what they were saying hit her. This wasn’t just a weapon deal. They were plotting some kind of attack on the Duke.
The Westwick Thieves Guild had instilled in her many values—chief among them loyalty, cleverness, and a love of money, not necessarily in that order. But patriotism was in there too. Westwick survived thanks to special dispensation from Victor Raleigh himself, and no man, woman, or child within it would stint anything in upholding the kingdom. If there was a plot against the nobility, she owed it to her town—and her guild—to stop it.
Her grin returned, fiercer than ever. This was going to be an even better mission than she’d hoped for.
She walked up to the group and offered the chrysanthemum-garnished drinks. “Would you like any?” she asked, bowing her head as a good servant would. “Special vintage. The innkeeper’s best.”
“Sure it is,” muttered Hwarl, but he nodded anyway. Jadie’s finger brushed the chrysanthemum in his glass as he took it, and she just had enough time to focus on her magic. Quick! Release your pollen! It’s urgent! Then she lost contact as he took the glass and drained half of it in one gulp.
Which was when the flower blasted pollen into his face.
Jadie’s plan worked better than she could have guessed. He let out a mighty sneeze and dropped the glass, spattering his ill-fitting tunic with sweet, sticky wine. Jadie was by his side in an instant, wiping him down and pretending not to notice his retreating companions. “I’m so sorry!” she said. “Please, allow me.”
Hwarl looked at her and shrugged. “Like I care,” he muttered.
“Sir, if I might make a suggestion, the fruit flies will be attracted to the wine.” She tugged at the tunic. “We have excellent laundry facilities. Please, allow me to have this cleaned. It will be returned to your quarters tomorrow morning. I promise.”
The gnoll scowled but eventually stripped the tunic off. “More comfortable like this anyways,” he said, raising a mocking eyebrow at the men who were now standing several paces away. “Fine. Send it to the gladiator quarters by the Coliseum. Room 318.” He turned and walked away.
Jadie watched him and his companions leave in different directions, then headed back towards the inn. She still needed to wait for Lady Trefaer. But the next day, Jadie Rivers, newly minted Thieves Guild member, was going to save the country.
Best mission ever, thought the thief before chuckling and returning to the crowd.