Chapter I: Thief
The capital of the Izan Imperium, Izan’Larai, was often considered a crowning jewel of commerce, trade, and beauty, beyond compare. It was also rife with people of all races, be they elf, dwarf, or any other, and all walks of life. It was summer, but the land was largely unaffected by the changing of the seasons. Every day, save days when the sea brought cool mists to shore, was a creeping heat from dawn to dusk. During midday, the market was full to bursting, filled to the brim with merchants, craftsmen, and customers. Rare was a desired item missing from the market. Anything one could want, whether it be rare linens, fine alchemical compounds, or even rare beasts from across the world. Anything worth anything could be found here.
The flow of trade by land and sea brought a great deal of wealth to the city. A double-edged sword, as profit always attracted those that prefer brute force or guile to honest trade. Those who preferred the latter were the most common, but it was not for everyone. The trade required speed, a sharp eye, and fast hands, lest theft be cut short, in more ways than one. Life in the Imperium was cruel. No one batted an eye should a guard draw their rusted blade against a criminal. In the eyes of respectable society, they deserved no better than an insect crushed under heel. A thief, in particular, was considered a most egregious parasite. Many felt they were worth only the time required for swift excision of sticky fingers from thieving palms.
Rieta was but one of countless parasites, if more experienced than most. She clung to the shadows of an alcove not far from the center square. Her posture was lax, but guarded. The cloak she wore covered any distinctive features, with a hood pulled down over her face. Her eyes were downcast as she studied the waists of passerby, discerning the value kept in each coin purse.
A familiar voice echoed through her mind, Clothes don’t make the mark. Ignore the fancy clothes and jewels. Focus on the size and weight of the coin purse. Do that, and I promise you’ll never go hungry. At that, she’d always chuckle, then add, Unless you’re too slow, of course.
Those lessons kept her alive. Now it was all that remained.
Targets chosen, route calculated: Rieta made her move. With trained grace, she slid from her spot against the wall and merged into the crowd unnoticed. She shifted through the tides, striking with speed and careful precision. Things were going smoothly.
But Arveene had always cautioned against greed. Only grab what you can. Halfway home is the best place to be when folks start looking for their coins.
Finding an opening, she made her exit through the alley way opposite her original position. No screams followed. A good sign. Still, she remained on guard as she slid through alleyways. There were always those happy to take from fellow filth, leaving nothing but your corpse to rot. Fortune was on her side this day, and she made it back with little trouble. She quickly eyed the alley both ways one last time. Once certain no one followed or saw her, she quickly pulled back a false section in the wall, slipping inside before covering it up again behind her in a single deft motion.
Inside was a small hovel, filled with assorted items and some old cloth for bedding. The building around it had long since fallen into disrepair. There was little space untouched by rubble or collapsed roofing. The gap created by the collapsed roof made a small area for small bodies to find shelter from cold and nightly danger. It had been a while since Rieta last found herself inside. The place was far too cramped for comfort, but it was one of the few places left in this city that felt truly safe anymore.
Even if it stood as a painful testament to all she lost.
Now safely away from all prying eyes, Rieta finally relaxed. She pulled her cloak back to reveal her ill gotten gains. Her tail, wrapped tightly around her waist and the stolen purses, loosened and uncoiled. It fell to her side as Rieta counted out the take. Her tail tapped lightly against the ground as she poured out the coins before counting, with increasing enthusiasm whenever gold was found. The habit once earned countless scornful stares from Arveene, but Rieta found it hard to contain herself when counting out so much money.
As always, the goal in theft emphasized quantity over quality. The purses held mostly silver, and little, if any, gold. Guard patrols were too frequent and far too nosy in the wealthier districts to be worth the risk. Markets near the port meant leaner pockets, but frequent refills in coin when ships docked made up the difference. These places also meant travellers fresh off the boat. Struck dumb by the city’s delights and wonder, they were easy pickings for clever pickpockets.
Finally satisfied, she looked to the pile before her. Not a bad haul, she thought to herself. There were times in her life when such an amount could be called a fortune.
Today she just hoped it would be enough.
She pulled out her own coin purse and added it to the pile, double checking she counted correctly. It took a little longer than she liked, if only due to the mild cramp forming in the knot of her back as she blocked the entryway with her back. As an added measure, her tail circled the now sizable pile protectively. It had taken months of effort to create so large a hoard, and like a dragon defending its treasure, she had no intention to share.
Finally satisfied, she finished counting and began returning the coins to her main purse. Math was not her strong suit, but she figured this was enough to pay for everything she needed. Still, there was time left before dark. Once she left town, it was hard to say when she would again find coin so easily. Better take the time now before meeting that merchant tonight, she concluded. The coins were swiftly returned to her purse then secured to her tail, pulled taut round her waist once more. Ready to depart, she glanced round the hovel one more time before she shuffled out the exit, back towards the market.