A Most Unusual Applicant
A Story by Aaron Canton
When Jadie approached Nemeroth’s office late that night, she found it was in a large building two blocks from the castle itself. The building was ornate, with gold and silver filigree lining the doors, and a plaque above the entrance was engraved with a nine-pointed star that Jadie guessed was an official seal of some kind. She did two circuits of the building and saw a few lit torches within it, but most of the windows were dark, and nobody at all seemed to be around. It was a perfect setting, Jadie thought, for a little thief work.
She was dressed all in black, with her hair tied in a tight bun so it wouldn’t get in her face and several pollen-laden dandelions tucked under that bun in case of an emergency. The vines around her arms writhed slightly as she slipped into an alley and placed her hands on the office’s side wall. “All right,” she said. “Let’s do it.”
Climbing the wall wasn’t hard for a trained thief. It was made of common stone, which gave her plenty of places to grip, and she had a short knife tucked into her belt she could use as an improvised pick when needed. She took a moment once she reached the top to look over the city, marveling at the buildings that seemed to gleam with wealth and power even in the light of the waning moon. Viscosa was amazing, she thought to herself, and she wondered if she might get more missions in the city. She’d love to stay there for weeks at a time, living in the lap of luxury and exploring all the noble manors—
“Hey!” She heard a voice from the street below her and glanced towards it long enough to see the speaker’s helmet had the tall plume denoting a member of Viscosa’s elite guard. “Jeraim,” the speaker called. “Did you hear something?”
Wincing at her inattention, Jadie pressed herself flat on the roof until the guards moved off. Then she chuckled ruefully, slipped through an unlocked skylight, and continued on.
The Counting Quarry’s records had indicated that Nemeroth was in charge of an entire wing on the ground floor. Jadie reached it, noting how the walls, furniture, and even carpet of Nemeroth’s domain were more ornate than those of the other suites she’d seen in the building, and searched until she found the biggest office in that wing. When she picked the lock and cracked the door open, she could see an older man writing at his desk by the light of a dim, flickering torch. Smiling at her good luck—now she wouldn’t need to wait for Nemeroth to show up the next morning—she slipped inside, shut the door behind her, and approached the clerk.
The office, she saw, was full of labeled boxes, and neatly arranged shelves lined all of its walls. Even the loose stacks of paper on Nemeroth’s desk were arranged in an organized manner. There were no noticeable luxuries, but then again, the clerk would surely have been caught by now if he’d been the type to flaunt his gains where his colleagues and superiors could see them. He probably had a vault somewhere with the rest of his gains, and Jadie made a note to try and find where it was if she could.
She took another step forward, and her foot caught on something under the carpet. She bit her tongue to stop from yelping and knelt to feel the obstacle. Her fingers closed around a metal ring and wooden slats, and she guessed she was standing on a trap door. There hadn’t been any stairs down or anything else indicating there was a basement to the building…but now that she thought about it, she had heard rumors of some soldiers escaping the Viscosa dungeons through underground tunnels that opened into all kinds of weird places. Maybe whoever had built this building had wanted an escape route and had dug a shaft connecting to those tunnels.
But it didn’t matter, not when she had a job to do. Jadie drew her knife as she took another step closer to the clerk.
Then a cacophony of blasts erupted in her ears. Nemeroth spun around, and Jadie heard shouting from another room as she realized she’d set off a magical alarm. “Who are you?” demanded the clerk, jumping to his feet. “Guards! In here!”
“Edwin Nemeroth!” Footsteps closed in, and she guessed she only had time for one attack. “Your corruption has been discovered!” She jumped forward and stabbed with her knife—
Only to feel it bounce off Nemeroth’s skin as if he was wearing heavy armor. The clerk laughed at her stunned expression, then raised one hand and showed her the signet ring on his fourth finger. “Fool. Do you have any idea who I am? The Nemeroth line dates back to the founding of this city. The Raleigh family has given us more magical trinkets than even I can count. No weapon short of a cannon will hurt me.”
Jadie gulped. None of the plants she had on her would be able to take him down if her knife couldn’t. That didn’t leave many options.
The door burst open behind Jadie, and she turned to see four burly guards rush in with drawn swords. “Take her to the dungeons,” ordered Nemeroth. “We’ll interrogate her and find—”
Now! Jadie thought to the flowers in her hair, and they responded instantly by blasting pollen through the room. The guards coughed and doubled over as the pollen filled their lungs. Jadie’s hand flicked out and—more out of habit than anything else—yanked the signet ring off of Nemeroth’s hand while he was shouting for his men to grab her. Then she raced out of the building and through the streets before his men could recover.
But within moments, a louder alarm sounded behind her, and seconds later, guards shouted from several nearby streets. She would never get to her inn, she realized, and even if she did, they’d just arrest her there. That meant she had to get farther away. Viscosa was on a cliff, and all the paths down would be guarded, so that meant her only option was…
She frowned, grit her teeth, and kept running.
Nemeroth’s thugs and the local guards almost caught her at one point when she dashed through a narrow alley, but she lashed out with the vines across her wrists and struck a stack of crates piled up on one side. They collapsed and delayed her pursuers long enough to reach the alley’s end and sprint into the open. Then she was at the cliff’s edge, staring down at the Spirit River below her, and her heart leapt in her chest as she looked at the distance below. She couldn’t wait anymore unless she wanted to try out Viscosa’s dungeons for herself, though, so she made herself kneel and grab an outcropping. “This really sucks,” she muttered and began climbing down.
Jadie quickly descended, ducking into cracks and crevices as she went, hoping against hope she could get far enough away for the dark night to shield her from her pursuers. The top of the cliff soon vanished, though the bottom didn’t seem to draw any nearer, and she told herself that surely she was out of the guards’ sight. But then heavy footsteps stomped around the top of the cliff, and guards shouted for torches and belaying equipment, so she forced herself to go still lower into a narrow crack between two outcroppings. “Please don’t look here,” she muttered. “Please, just…”
As she slipped into the crack, she realized that it didn’t just lead to the cliff face below the outcroppings but instead into a small, narrow tunnel. She went a little farther and found herself in a damp cave, lit only by the sliver of moonlight that had followed her through the crack. As far as she could tell, there was no back to it.
“The tunnels!” she whispered with a grin, sitting down to wait until the alarm had died down. “Guess they weren’t so hard to find after all.”
After a few seconds, though, her exhilaration left her, and she sighed. She’d failed her mission. She’d been caught, the most shameful thing that could happen to any thief of Westwick. And even though she’d gotten away, she had no idea how to beat Nemeroth in a rematch. His magic shields could block any weapon or plant she brought to bear. It was hopeless.
But giving up wasn’t an option. Raleigh needed her, and besides, her superiors in the Thieves Guild were counting on her. She was the youngest member of the guild; some of its older leaders had been skeptical as to the wisdom of graduating her; and she would not prove her doubters right. She’d find some way to take down Nemeroth if it was the last thing she did.
“Okay. Lesson one—everyone has a weakness,” she murmured, reciting a maxim the guild had impressed upon her. “Everyone’s got some weak point I can attack. Nemeroth’s got magic shields, but that doesn’t mean he’s invincible. I just have to find something else to hit. His money, his power, his…”
A smile spread over her face. “Right. He said it himself—his family’s been here forever; the king trusts him. He’s got a reputation. And I’m pretty sure they don’t make magic charms to protect reputation.”
She laughed as she thought of the perfect plan to destroy the clerk. “All right!” she said. “Round two, Nemeroth. This time, you’re done!”
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