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A Scandal in Beriot

“Hurry up with the lock, Daxar.”

    A shuffle of metal picks against the innards of a pin tumbler lock interrupted what would have been a peaceful August night outside the city walls of Beriot.

    “Yeeee wannn try dis?” Daxar squinted with one eye into the lock piece. The muscles in his mouth strained as his teeth clamped onto the chunky lightstone. Gates be damned, if Ana rushed him one more time, he would drop everything and walk away.

    “Shut your babbling before the guards hear us.”

    “Eeen don’ ‘alk hoo me.” Daxar twisted the silver picks and the melodious clicks and turns of a picked lock coming undone struck his ears like a triumphant symphony. He sighed, and let the waning lightstone tumble to the stone ground. “There,” he stretched his mouth. “Forty seconds. Just like I said.”

    “It was forty-two,” Ana said. Her chocolate brunette hair was wrapped into a tight bun with a few strands dangling loose around her neck. Her whole attire was black save for the silver gauntlets on either of her arms.

    “Shut up,” Daxar said. He pocketed his tools and pushed the door open. “King Viziar will be pleased once we trudge through this mile-long river of excrement and claim our prize.”

    Ana shook her head and pulled open the iron gate. “I believe the vernacular term you’re looking for is ‘crap’ Master Picksmith.” The iron maiden’s gauntlet began to glow, illuminating the path ahead. “If that’s even your real name.”

    Daxar grinned. “My dear, professionals such as myself do not go littering details about ourselves.”

    The thief smiled as his reaction elicited a roll of the eyes from the stalwart beauty in front of him. Perhaps this mission would be more fruitful than he realized. He stared into her eyes that dazzled like diamonds in the moonlit night. Oh, but to admire them for a few more seconds…

    “What are you doing?” Ana asked.

    Daxar snapped out of his reverie and his silver tongue took over by instinct. “Nothing, milady. Simply calculating the various scenarios that we will most likely encounter on our way. By my estimation, there are at least five possible cases that threaten to upset the delicate equilibrium that is our plan.”

    “Are you really that smart or do you just shoot whatever bull lands on your tongue?”

    “If I told you, my reputation would be irreparably damaged.” Daxar cleared his throat and swung the strap of his rucksack over his shoulder. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I must brave the danger ahead.”

    “Yes… please part the river of crap so I can walk through without soiling my boots.”

    Daxar felt his boots sink into the muddy water of the sewer. “I believe I said I was a professional thief, not a miracle worker.” He heard Ana jump into the slosh behind him. “This old tunnel should take us under the veined walls of the city right into the heart of Government Center.”

    “Seems stupid for the architects to leave the city exposed by such a thing as a sewer tunnel,” Ana said.

    “The architects were commissioned by Princess Vamira decades ago. She had asked them to build this sewer as a way to overtake the city should the need arise.”

    “And you know this because?”

    “Because the drunk at Moon’s Gate told me.” Daxar took her arm and lifted it. “Raise your gauntlet higher. I can’t see up ahead.”

    Ana swatted his hand away. “You have a tongue, Daxar. Use it.” She rubbed her arm where Daxar held her. “It’s comforting to know that you have reliable sources in the most questionable of places.”

    Daxar ignored the rebuke and continued to push his way through the dark. He squinted ahead every few minutes to see if the sewer water was getting shallow. It would be a good sign that they were heading in the right direction.

    “Are you lost?” Ana asked.

    Daxar shook his head. “No.” He scoffed. “Just need to verify something.” He dug into the rucksack and pulled out a memory stone. He tapped it twice against the sewer wall and watched as threads of blue and white formed the picture of a map. “Hmm… The tunnel goes straight, then…”

    “Then what?”

    “Oh, krak it.” Daxa felt his face droop in disappointment. “It’s all blurred from here on out.”

    Ana rubbed her forehead. “I beg your pardon. Blurred? What in the seven gates of the damned do you mean by that?”

Daxar chuckled. “Well, the memories from my source transferred to the memory stone like this. See how the lines get squiggly and blurred? Damn Alexos, you drunkard.”

    “I’m sorry?” Ana said.


    “What did you say?”


    “You said your source was a drunk?”

    “Well… at that particular moment in time he was quite sober, before I had to ply him with some dragon ale.”

    “And I assume this man had a history with alcohol?”

    “Quite. It was a good idea at the time to get the plans out of his head.”

    “So, you indulged a man’s vice by getting him inebriated with spirits, then transferred his incoherent memories into the stone that was supposed to navigate us through these vile sewers and which is now impossible as said incoherent memories are absolutely ineligible from the stone’s rendering. Did I sum that up right, oh great King of Thieves?”

    “Ana, my dear, your vocabulary knows no bounds. Had I been blessed with but a fraction of—”

    “Shut up, Daxar.”

    “Of course, milady.” Daxar tossed the stone back into his rucksack and stretched his neck to ease the tense muscles. “Follow me. From what I remember, the tunnel goes straight at which point we will encounter a hatch that will take us to ground level in the heart of Government Hall.”

    Ana crossed her arms. “From what you remember? Let me guess, you were drinking with your source too.”

    Daxar raised his brow and cocked his head. “I can hold my ale, Ana. Onwards, lest we lose the time.”

    He dashed forward, hoping to pre-empt another tirade from the woman who he sure was now more than sorely upset at him.

Daxar managed a safe distance from Ana for the next part of their trek while still keeping close enough to offer the occasional directional guidance. Not that it was infallible guidance. Most of it was educated guesswork, but as long as he kept his confidence, Ana wouldn’t notice too much. Hopefully.

    Ten minutes in and with sweat beading down his forehead, Daxar looked up and noticed a ray of moonlight piercing the upper part of the sewer wall. He smiled. Luck was on his side. “Forward, milady! Our salvation is at hand.”

    He gripped the iron rung and lifted himself in the direction of the barely-visible hatch.

    “Any chance your gauntlets can spare more light?” Daxar choked on the powdered rust that sprinkled down like pixie dust onto his face.

    The light from beneath him glowed stronger.

    “That’s better. Thank you.” Daxar clambered up the remaining rungs and pushed open the hatch. “Mosaic pavement. We’re in the right spot. Come on.” He rolled out of the manhole and propped the grate against one knee.

    “Dim your gauntlets, Miss Ana. They’ll attract too much attention.”

    Ana grunted. “Very well, Master Picksmith.”

    Daxar grinned as the young woman exited the sewer drain. Sliding the metal grate off his knee, he covered it over the manhole, but left it ajar to ensure escape would be easy.

    “You know,” Daxar scanned the unbroken series of black silhouettes against the dark moonlit sky, “you never told me your last name.”

    Ana breathed a sigh, contemplating something for a moment. She then turned to Daxar and smirked. “My dear, professionals such as myself do not go littering details about ourselves.”

    Daxar rolled his eyes, doubting that Ana could see his reaction. He walked toward the largest building in the center of the square and surveyed it top to bottom.

    An iron grate reinforced with veins of element stone barricaded the front entrance. One either side were two daunting stone mastiffs whose carved teeth glistened like silver blades in the moonlight. The windows were all grated and the dimmed lightstones confirmed the walls of the building were completely smooth, making scaling near-impossible.

    “So, Master Picksmith. What’s our move? The building’s pretty much a fortress.”

    Daxar scanned the buildings on either side of Government Hall. “There.”

    “That’s a restaurant,” Ana said.

    “Precisely. Government Hall is near impregnable. The restaurant however, is our way in. Hurry.”

    Daxar dashed forward and lowered himself to the ground in front of the dining establishment.

    “What are you doing?”

    Daxar raised his lightstone to a faint glow and examined the cuts of mosaic stone that characterized the entire road in and around Government Hall. “The Hall is crowded during the day. City code limits the building heights to only three stories high. This keeps Government Hall the focus and helps establish its presence.”

    Ana knelt down beside him. “How does that help us?”

    Daxar took his dagger out and slid one end of the blade in-between two stones. “Because of the building code, underground cellars are used to hold the food and supplies. Same for pretty much every other building here.”

    “And the underground cellars share the same walls?”

    “Yes. We’ll blow a hole in the cellar wall that is right next to Government Hall’s boiler room. The rest, milady,” he twisted his knife and a slab of ground popped up, “is child’s play.”

    Grinning, Daxar jumped to his feet and hauled the slab of ground up till the hidden cellar was fully exposed. “Come on, we don’t have all night.”

    If he wasn’t mistaken, a spark of admiration flashed across Ana’s face for a moment.

    “Very good, Master Picksmith. You may live up to your reputation, yet.”

    Daxar replaced his tools and strutted down the stone steps into the cellar. “I would hate to disappoint.”

    Crates of cheese, loaves of bread and jars of pickled vegetables lined the walls and cabinets of the underground cellar. A large rack of Angel Wine rested against the wall, filled with hundreds of bottles of the crystalline delight.

    Daxar couldn’t help his curiosity. He lifted one of the bottles out of its cubby hole and held it against the moonlight. “Pedaro Blanc. Good vineyard.” He eyed the label a bit closer and shoved the bottle into his rucksack. “Good vintage, too.”

    “Are you stealing their wine?”

    “I’m about to blow a hole in the wall that will shatter this fine collection. I consider it more as preserving the hard-won fruits of someone else’s labor.”

    Daxar yanked a few stones from his rucksack. He placed two at the entrance to the cellar and lined a few more against the stone wall next to the wine rack. He positioned himself behind a wide table. “Here, help me flip this over.”

    Ana rushed to his side, and together, they overturned the table and its contents onto the floor. “Shh!”

Daxar smiled and pulled his sheller out. “Relax. The oreille stones at the entrance of the cellar have been modified. They’ll absorb all the noise and ensure no sound gets past them.” He cocked his sheller. “We’ll be the only ones who hear this. Get down.” He aimed at the wall and fired.

    Daxar ducked and shielded Ana’s ears as the explosion rocked the cellar. The sound of shattering glass gave Daxar comfort in his earlier decision to appropriate a bottle of the fine spirit.

    “Get off me,” Ana said.

    Daxar got up and coughed as smoke and the scent of burnt wood and brick filled his nostrils and lungs. He lifted his right hand and snapped. The bracelet on his wrist glowed white and a blast of radial wind rushed outwards.

    “Sky stone?”

    Daxar shook his head as he readied for another cough. “No.. aiichh.. no… cough. Refined wind stone particles, agitated by an electric current.”

    Ana smiled. “I thought electricity was illegal.”

    Daxar raised his brow. “I’m sorry, but what part of my profession did you consider to be legal?”

    The woman ignored Daxar’s comeback and proceeded through the smoking crater in the wall.

    “You’ve done it again, Master Picksmith.”

    “Again?” Daxar said.

    Ana tilted her head back. “Impressed me.”

    Daxar straightened his shoulders and took the lead. “Here.” He leaned against the dilapidated stone wall and pushed against it with his shoulder.

    The wall gave and the crumbling stone tumbled forward, leaving a large enough hole for a grown man or woman to climb through.

    “We’re in the right place, come on.”

    Quiet but hasty, like a mouse scrambling toward a piece of cheese, Daxar climbed the spiral stairway that led to an iron door. The lock was a tad more complex than the one leading into the sewer tunnels. The good thing was, finesse was no longer a necessity nor a practicality at the moment.

    Daxar gripped the handle and closed his eyes. It would take a bit of concentration, but nothing more. Blood rushed into his wrist, his hands grew burning hot and before he knew it, he could hear the metal door creak and sizzle under his touch.

    “Daxar, what’s going on?” Ana asked, amazement and fright mixed into her tone.

    “Shh…” Daxar said. He twisted his hand, bending the metal handle until it plied right off the door with a loud groan and a pop. He dropped it to the ground.

    “Your spirit stone…”

    “Yes… it heats me up,” Daxar said with a knowing smile. He smoothed the shirt around his chest area, satisfied that he could still feel the stone necklace underneath. It was still warm against his skin. He watched as Ana shook her head and walked toward a gate.

    “Here. This elevator should save us a few flights,” Ana said.

    “How do you know?”

    “What? The elevator? You’re not the only one who has sources, Daxar.” Her hand turned the lever and the elevator began to move.

    The rest of the way went smoother than expected. Apart from a few slumbering guards in the main hall, there wasn’t much in the way of obstacles. After several flights of stairs and a few minutes of sneaking around, they finally reached their prize.

Shrouded in a glass showcase atop a stone pedestal was a circle of gold with intricate runes carved into it.

    Daxar tilted his head. “That’s one big coin.”

    “That is no ordinary coin, Master Picksmith. That is the Heart of Beriot, the most prized possession of Queen Amaly and a symbol of her status and power.” Ana walked up the radial stairs toward the pedestal. “Here, in the capital city of Ishta, she displays this as a symbol of her strength.”

    Daxar eyed the woman with growing curiosity. The uncanny feeling that the woman who hired him was more than just your run-of-the-mill thief for hire bubbled unsettlingly in his gut.

    A thundering sound of footsteps interrupted whatever question Daxar had planned. Lightstone torches across the dark hall beamed to life. A hundred clangs of metal against the marble ground echoed in unison as what appeared to be royal guards slammed their spears onto the floor.

    “Ana, you betray me,” a woman said. Her voice was deep and powerful as it echoed across the grand hall.

    Daxar rolled his eyes. “And who in Bombo’s belly are you?”

    The woman who had spoken was clothed in robes of velvet and maroon. A shawl that glittered —they looked like diamonds— was draped over her well-tanned shoulders. Even from a distance, Daxar could see that the quality fabric was infinitely more expensive than anything he could afford at that current moment in his life. Of course, his luck would turn for the better one day, but that wasn’t today.

    “I am Queen Amaly. How dare you break into this sacred hall? Do you not know the penalty for such an act?”

    “I’ll pay you a hundred coins, your royal majesty, to guess the answer to that.”

    The queen yanked a sword out from her guard’s scabbard and raised it in Daxar’s direction. Her eyes were furious, if there were a word to describe it. “Not only do you conspire to steal my heirloom, but you seduce my daughter?”

    Daxar felt his jaw drop so low he could have sworn it hit his knees.

    “The man has not seduced me, mother,” Ana said. “You have driven me away.”

    “You are set to marry a Prince from Cardel, who is from royal blood! You would spurn that and your mother’s wishes so easily?”

    “Married but not for love! I am simply a pawn in your plot to cement your power in Ishta.” Ana pointed towards the large coin. “I am taking this coin... this bargaining chip that you have offered the Cardellans in exchange for them agreeing to marry me.”

    Daxar cleared his throat with a cough. “Clearly, I’ve stepped into something I shouldn’t have. If you’ll excuse me, I’ll be on my—”

    Queen Amaly’s chest rose in apparent indignation. “You have not chosen your own man. You have…” Her eyes turned from indignation into shock. “You haven’t. Have you sullied… have you—”

    “Yes,” Ana said as she took Daxar’s hand in her own.

    “Wait, what?”

    “I choose to marry this man, Daxar Picksmith.”

    “A thief!”

    “No one’s getting married. Stop this. Right now!” Daxar felt the streaming sweat off his back like nails clawing at his skin.

    Ana glared at him. “We are getting married.”

    “Guards! Arrest the thief! He has clearly corrupted my daughter’s mind!”

    “I’ve done no—”

    “Last chance, thief,” Ana said.

    Daxar looked at the incoming crowd of armed guards. “I want to get paid triple.”

    “You marry me and you’ll never need to steal a coin in your life again.”

    Daxar looked at Ana and then back at the guards who were infinitely closer than they were a few seconds ago. He bit his lip.

    “Damn you.”

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