"Light as a Feather"
by Rich (aka dragoman)

Ch. 3 - Grooming the Feather

"Unnnnhhhhh!" I grunted as I swung the practice sword. My opponent danced aside, and skillfully threaded his practice blade through the gap in my armor to slap me on the ribs. As I fell to the ground, he stepped back and smiled. Or at least tried to smile. His face was lined and scarred, with one eye missing. When he smiled, it looked like someone crumpled up a piece of leather. The rest of him looked the same: supple, yet tough. He habitually wore a dark cloak and hood that covered him effectively, yet left him free to move. I was pretty sure I was more flexible than he was, but only because of my acrobatic training.

I staggered to my feet, holding my side and breathing heavily. In a satisfied tone, he said, "You are doing better, boy. Most thieves don't need to be much better with the sword than you are. Of course, any competent guard could best you the way you are now. It always helps to practice everything, even those activities you wish to avoid at all costs." I was used to his lecturing tone by now. At first, I had thought that he was making fun of me when he spoke. However, I have learned that he based everything he said on personal experience, and was therefore meant to be taken seriously.

I was still unsure about my instructor. Oh, there was no doubt as to his qualifications to teach me. As far as I could tell, there was nothing this man did not know about the activities of a thief. What I could not understand was why the man no longer actively practiced the art. As a rule, masters of an art love that art like nothing else. And I myself was growing to appreciate the art of a thief. It involved far more than what I had thought.

The man's voice jarred me out of my thoughts. Smooth, low-pitched and yet hard as stone, he said, "I guess that's enough sword practice. The rest will come with experience." Not too much right away, I hoped.

We moved onto the archery range. My trainer had repeatedly told me that it is essential to be a master of the bow. "You must be able to accurately shoot not just people, but torches, bloodstains, ledges, and just about anything you aim at. This tool is one of your most important, and will save your life move than once." Taking these words to heart, I had been spending several hours each day learning to shoot the bow and also to use the different arrows effectively. I still didn't know why the fire and gas arrows traveled straight but the broadheads didn't. My trainer, upon being asked, simply said "Something to do with the magic of the crystals...that's all I know."

In the middle of climbing a rope arrow onto the practice ledge, Cutty came in. He motioned to my instructor, who walked over to him and spoke in low voices. I let myself down and walked toward them, sure that I was the topic of conversation. All I heard was Cutty saying, "It's your call, Garrett." I shot a look at my instructor, my lips forming the name 'Garrett' incredulously. The notorious master-thief was my instructor?

Garrett crumbled his face in a frown, which on him looks almost as frightening as his smile, and looked at me thoughtfully. I stood up straight, trying to look my most impressive for what was obviously going to be my first job. I knew that in the last couple of weeks, I had learned much, and my natural skills as an acrobat made me ahead of the game when it came to agility and quickness. Other skills, such as melding into shadows and softening my footsteps, I had to practice.

Garrett said softly, "I think he's ready." He then turned a hard eye on Cutty. "Just make sure it's an easy job for his first time." Cutty nodded immediately, and the jerkiness of his reaction told me that Garrett was a man feared by Cutty. "It will be," Cutty assured Garrett. Garrett nodded, turned around, and melded into the shadows of the room. The door opened and closed, but I didn't see a sign of the master-thief.

Cutty shivered after Garrett was gone. "Demon-damned Keeper training!" I perked my ears, since I had heard of the elusive Keepers, but didn't know anything about them. "Garrett was Keeper trained?" I asked. Cutty half-nodded before catching himself. "Just ignore me...I don't know what I was saying" he said as he led me out of the practice room. I followed, wondering what the big secret was.

"So here's the job," Cutty began. "It's a simple robbery. One of the lower nobles, Lord Nonnus, owns a series of bakeries around the city. What people don't know is that Nonnus used the bakeries as fronts to fence stolen goods, mainly religious artifacts. The Hammerites in particular dislike this practice, as they view all religions other than their own as pagans, and do their best to destroy them. They suspect that there is a fence smuggling the artifacts, but they don't know whom. Therefore, they are keeping a sharp eye on the city's merchants.

'However, Lord Nonnus recently has come into possession of a very valuable item, the Hammer of Crosus. This was a hammer that is made of platinum and gold, not very big, but is still valuable. A distinguished collector, whose identity will remain anonymous, has expressed his desire to own the hammer, and is prepared to pay handsomely for it. The reason that this job is simple is that Lord Nonnus has stored the hammer inside his own dwelling, instead of the usual maximum-security warehouse that he owns. He is doing this to keep the word of it from the Hammers. In order to do this, he can't have a lot of guards at his house: too obvious. So the hammer is lightly guarded. All you have to do is get inside, get the hammer and get out. Any questions?" asked Cutty.

"Yeah, two. First, what's my cut of this job?" Cutty smiled. "20 percent, plus whatever you pick up for yourself inside the house." "Second, there has to be a catch to this." Cutty stopped smiling. "The 'catch' is that Nonnus has built a rather unique strongbox in his house. Aside from having the best locks available, it is built into his bed." "You mean..." "Yes, you will have to remove the person from the bed, find the key, and then open the box."

"Okay, I guess that's all I need to know. What about equipment?"

"I will provide you with a blackjack and bow and arrows for this juncture. I also have a basic map of the building, but none of the info is solid. Should you wish to keep the equipment, the price will be deducted from your share of the loot. Otherwise you can return it and buy your own."

"Sounds good. Let's go." I said, as I started to head toward the equipment room. Cutty stopped me, looking satisfied. "What is it," I said. "Garrett has suggested a nickname for you." "A nickname?" Cutty explained, "Most thieves adopt nicknames to protect their real identity.

"Okay, what's mine?" I asked.

Cutty smiled. "Feather."

If you have any feedback on this story e-mail it to Rich aka dragoman

Chapter 2 / Chapter 4

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