A Most Unusual Applicant
A Story by Aaron Canton
The Counting Quarry was a neighborhood northwest of the massive Temple of Mathias. With more banks and financial institutions than any other district in Raleigh, it was a thief’s dream, and Jadie’s fingers itched as she walked past bank after bank. When she had more time, she told herself, she had to come back and case the neighborhood properly. There was probably enough gold in its vaults to satisfy even her…assuming such a thing was possible.
But first she had to focus on completing her mission, so she forced herself to head to the Foreign Transaction Institution on the eastern side of the district. This was where the records of Raleigh’s many foreign dealings were kept, with every tribute, tax, and diplomatic gift catalogued before moving along to the royal treasury. Jadie checked over her outfit once more and verified she looked every inch a government clerk—professional clothes, nicely groomed hair, vines stowed beneath her sleeves where nobody would see them—and stepped inside.
The front hallway opened into a small office. Several clerks worked at desks along one side of the room, some talking to visitors and others calculating sums or writing reports on their own, and behind them was a door Jadie guessed led to the records they weren’t using at the time. Jadie began to approach the door with crisp, brisk steps but slowed when she saw the ornate magic sigils carved on its front. They were alarm wards, and while she could neutralize them given enough time, at least one of the dozen clerks in the room would surely notice her trying to break into the restricted area. Simply walking through the door wasn’t an option.
Jadie turned to look at the desks again while she worked out her next step. Although most were prim and orderly, one—whose clerk was absent—was covered in exotic plants and spices, presumably trade gifts needing categorization. Jadie’s eyes widened at the sight of the massive snapdragon sitting on one edge of the desk, and she had to stifle a giggle at the thought of getting it to bite some jerk. But she realized the clerk’s coat was on his chair—meaning he was around, even if he wasn’t working—and a plan formed in her head.
She strode to the messy desk and frowned at the empty chair behind it. The neighboring clerks glanced at her, and one asked, “Do you have an appointment with Mr. Aephol?”
“I need no appointment.” Jadie shook her head. “I was expecting to talk with Aephol, yes. However, if he’s not here…” She trailed off, letting the other clerks guess the dire consequences. “Well, my superiors won’t be happy, but that’s not your concern—”
“He’s here,” another clerk quickly added. “Please wait; I’ll get him right away.”
That clerk took a wand from her pocket and waved it at the door, then opened it, slipped through, and quickly returned leading a scowling man. The newcomer stifled a yawn and rubbed his eyes as he waved his own wand at the door behind him to reactivate the wards. He’d been napping in the back, Jadie realized, and she quickly hid her smile. “Mr. Aephol. I need a few moments of your time.”
“Yes?” Aephol shoved the wand into a back pocket, straightened his clothes, and strode forwards. “What’s this about?”
Jadie began idly pushing the snapdragon back and forth while she gave Aephol a neutral look. Her guild teachers had taught her silence was often more effective at loosening someone’s tongue than the best lies, and so she said nothing. She just watched him as if she knew some deep secret.
“Yes?” repeated Aephol, blushing. “I—I apologize for my delay in greeting you. I was in the middle of looking up a very important file. Couldn’t be disturbed.”
Trying not to roll her eyes at the blatant lie, Jadie pushed the snapdragon a little harder. Wouldn’t you like a yummy snack? She thought, feeling the snapdragon tensing in anticipation of a meal. Work with me, and I’ll get you a nice treat! “Be that as it may, I need some information from you. If you just—”
She pushed the snapdragon too hard, and it fell forwards. The clerk frantically grabbed at it, then yowled as the ravenous plant chomped down on his fingers. “Stupid plant!” he roared, wrenching his hand away and knocking aside Jadie’s arms as she tried to steady him and running for the front door. “I need a doctor! Come back tomorrow!”
Jadie watched him run off, then looked at the wand she’d slipped from his pocket while ‘helping’ him keep his balance. “All right,” she called as if they’d been talking about a different topic before the accident. “I’ll get those records myself and come back tomorrow!” And then, acting like she had every right in the world to do so, she waved the wand at the back door and stepped through it without anyone saying a single word to stop her.
The files were so voluminous that Jadie was surprised they could fit in a single bank. It took her half an hour of sorting through shelf after shelf of personnel files to find information on Harsten, and a few more hours after that to pull the relevant files from all the diplomatic missions he’d worked on. More than once, Jadie was tempted to tie up Harsten in some back alley until he was dismissed for tardiness and Jadie was selected in his place. But if she didn’t find Harsten’s real employer, that person could get another stooge to help them, and then Raleigh wouldn’t be any better off. So she just sighed, went back to work, and eventually got the documents she needed.
“All right,” she muttered as she looked through the files. “Eight missions, all as a low-level functionary, like his application said. The money he took in…” She paused, frowning at the numbers, and checked them against other functionaries who had been on similar missions. “Ah. For six of them, it’s a little bit less than the others. Not as much tribute, fewer gifts from warlords. So this isn’t related to the Warus thing; he’s just skimming. Although…he’s just a functionary, even if he stole some gold and didn’t report it, how would he get it home? Not like he can hire a wagon train—”
She cut herself off. “Of course. The diplomatic missions are the wagon train. All the gold comes home, someone steals it on this end, and Harsten alters the records so nobody notices if there’s an audit. That person’s probably the one pulling the strings here. And they are…”
She rushed back to the personnel records and pulled the files on the missions Harsten had worked on, looking for anyone in common. One name immediately jumped out at her. “Senior Clerk Edwin Nemeroth!” she hissed. “He was in charge of the Viscosan end of six of these missions, and now he’s running the Warus one. And the two where he wasn’t in charge—” She checked Harsten’s files again and nodded. “Those were the ones where Harsten wasn’t short. That’s it; Nemeroth’s definitely the thief!” She laughed. “Got ya.”
When Jadie met another thief, she was usually eager to see if she could learn some new tricks, but when she thought about Nemeroth, she just felt contempt. There was no skill in what he did; even the falsification of the forms was done by his subordinate. He was just some rich jerk who literally had other people steal for him. It was pathetic when she thought about it.
Besides, Jadie stole, but only from rich nitwits who had more money than they knew what to do with. And then she promptly spent that money at the finest inns, stores, and restaurants she could find, which she figured was a much better use for the gold than leaving it to molder in some duke’s treasure chest. This was different, though. Robbing the Raleighn coffers meant less money going to the charity initiatives, the temples, and the army that kept the country safe. And she wasn’t going to accept that.
She grinned as she copied down the address of Nemeroth’s office from the records. It was time, she thought, to show Edwin Nemeroth what the Westwick Thieves Guild did to those who hurt their country.
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