Everybody Has A Price

By Ricky Temple

Gretel Vesta, the Dungeon Maid turned Greenwarden, was enjoying some down time with her fiancé Gibbet, the former Dungeon Guard turned official blacksmith of the Greenwardens. The two lovers were eating dinner in The Green Gull Inn in the small hamlet of Greenholme. Just then Tregaurd's signal finally reached Gretel's spyglass and it began to buzz.

"Hey lass" Gibbet said putting his spoon down "I thought yer said you were off duty at the moment?" "I am" Gretel said as she put her own cutlery down and beginning to fiddle with her spyglass. "It's not my fellow Warden's who trying to contact me" she finally tuned it in and the face of Tregaurd appeared in the glasses surface. "The Dungeon Master!" Gibbet said in shock bowing his head in respect but he was even more surprised when Gretel instead of bowing actually saluted him.

"Yes Dungeon Master?" Gretel said "What can I do for you?" Gibbet looked at her confused The Greenwarden service though allied with The Powers That Be where not actually an official branch of their forces, so he was bemused as to why Gretel was treating him like he was her superior officer. He was about to ask her what was going on when Tregaurd spoke preventing him from doing so.

"Gretel Vesta" Tregaurd said "A potentially disastrous situation is unfolding in The Great Mire. The young thief Theodora Snitch has snuck in to that area of the realm, with an eye to raiding Lord Fear's bullion chamber. However she is operating outside of Powers That Be authority and there for outside our protection." Gretel's eyes went wide and her mouth fell open in shock.

"Hells Bells" Gibbet said "What in under earth is the wee lassie thinking?" Tregaurd turned his gaze towards him "We have strong reason to believe Gibbet of Galloway, that she has been persuaded into this endeavour by the promise of some kind of reward from Baron Montague Goldcoin." Gretel sighed "Oh Theodora" she said softly and shaking her head. "What do you want me to do Sir Tregaurd?" she asked once again drawing a quizzical and confused look from Gibbet, why was she taking direct orders from The Powers That Be?

"Head to The Great Mire Gretel Vesta" Tregaurd instructed "Intercept and return Theodora Snitch to Powers That Be territory before she causes a maelstrom of repercussions if she falls into the hands of The Opposition. Stiletta is already on her way there to aid in this situation. Make hast Gretel." He discontinued the communication; Gretel quickly hooked her spyglass back on her belt and started to get up from the table.

"Sorry Gibbet love" she said "But I'll have to get my bow and arrows and make haste from here to The Great Mire." Arck are yer daft or something Lassie?" Gibbet said "Yer think I'd let you go into that viper's pit on your own? I'll get me cudgel and I'll come with you." Gretel smiled "Thank you my love." She said Gibbet smiled "But tell your Gibbet something fair Gretel" he said as they hurried back to their hut "Yes Gibbet?"

"Why are you taking orders from Tregaurd and The Powers That Be? I thought you were a Greenwarden." Gibbet asked Gretel smiled and nodded "I am, but...you remember a few months back I was temporarily seconded to the Powers That Be ranks to deal with that matter down in Krakenden?" Gibbet nodded "Well after that business was all wrapped up I found I had enjoyed being a direct agent of The Powers That Be again as I once had been when I was but a dungeon maid." "Aye I remember" Gibbet said "You were a pretty thing even then." Gretel blushed slightly at the compliment.

"Thank you my love. Well after that in view of my performance in that mission and my desire to do more such missions for The Powers That Be, myself, Sir Tregaurd, The Powers That Be and The Greenwarden council worked out an arrangement. Due to the nature of my original departure from the service of Sir Tregaurd & the Powers That Be I couldn't officially rejoin their ranks directly but the arrangement that was struck was that I would remain a Greenwarden but would also act as an unofficial Powers That Be agent when ever the need arose." "As it has now huh" Gibbet said Gretel nodded "yes...like it has now. I can't believe Theodora has been so silly as to let herself be talked into doing something like this."

Gibbet shuck his head "Guys like that Baron Goldcoin lassie" he said "they can talk a person round to anything when they put their devious minds to it. He probably worked out some way to sweet talk her and convince her this was a good idea."

Gretel sighed "Heaven knows what that was" she said "Lets worry about that once we got the wee lassie back to safety huh?" Gibbet said, Gretel nodded in agreement as they continued towards their hut. "I just hope we can get to her in time." Gretel fretted.

Meanwhile on the elf paths Stiletta was thinking the exact same thing as she made haste towards the Great Mire. "Theodora you silly little oike I'll jolly well box you round the ears for being this stupid when I find you" she said sounding like an angry older sibling before adding in a more worried tone of voice "I just hope I find you before any of his Lordships minions do little one."

However even as Stiletta, Gretel & Gibbet all rushed to get to The Great Mire, The Golden Galleon was making port in the docks of Marblehead port. Deep in the hold Theodora Snitch remained in hiding for a little longer. "I'll let the Mire-Men guards get off and then little Theodora will sneak off." She said softly after five or more minuets that was exactly what Theodora did. She quietly and quickly got out of the hold and once she was sure no one was looking she had scampered down the gang plank and onto dry land. She then quickly ducked down behind some creates and waited just in case she had been spotted coming off the ship. Once she was convinced no one had noticed her, she slunk out from behind the crates and began to mingle in with the people who were walking about the docks.

"Well…so far so good" Theodora said softly with a smile "But now" she mused to herself "How is Theodora going to get into Marblehead and its bullion room." She began to look through her various lock picks and skeleton keys looking for inspiration as she continued to mingle with the crowds. But Theodora was wrong things weren't 'so far so good' because she had in fact been seen getting off the ship and she was still being observed from within the shadows of a dingy and grimy alleyway.

"Yeah that's her sis, I'm sure of it." Skarkill said, Sinstar cast him a sarcastic and exasperated look. "Yes thank you dear brother for telling me that but I do have eyes of my own and I do know what the little wretch looks like." "Just trying to be helpful" Skarkill grumbled "So what's the plan sis?" Sinstar smirked "First I make contact with our little would be thief and make her an offer but not in this guise." Sinstar took a few steps back murmured a few words of power and then she pressed a hidden switch on her metallic breast plate.

There was a soft sound of machinery wiring from inside Sinstar's breast plate while at the same time Sinstar's body began to crackle with magical power. Though unlike other magic users the magic power that was surging through Sinstar's body sounded unnatural and distorted for it wasn't pure magic that Sinstar was utilizing, though Sinstar was also a practitioner of ordinary black magic, it was Techno-Magic.

The sound of the machinery increased in sound and intensity and at the same time Sinstar's clothes, body and her face all began to blur and distort. The machinery wired louder and louder and the blurring and distortion got more and more pronounced, then the machinery suddenly stopped and the distortion vanished in an instant.

Skarkill looked her up and down and smirked "Cor sis nice trick." He said Sinstar's whole appearance had changed; her normally waist length raven black hair had become a tight bob of curly red hair, her face had become more rounder and fuller, her eyes had changed to brown and her trademark purple & black dress with its spider web motif had been replaced by a much less distinctive simple brown dress an white blouse.

Sinstar smiled "Yes isn't it. A simple metamorphosis spell normally it would wear off after a short time but with the addition of my Techno-Magic I can maintain its affect for as long as I wish, dismiss it as I wish and reengage it whenever I wish without the tiresome business of recasting the spell. That's the beauty of Techno-magic dear brother instead of merely being its user, the vessel through which the magic works and being constrained by its rules and limitations…I become its mistress and it must obey me and my rules." Skarkill noticed that even her voice and accent had changed. She now sounded like a Cornish lass, such as the tavern wench Marta. Sinstar began to walk out of the alleyway "Anyway…to the business at hand."

The now disguised Sinstar slowly, so as not to be suspicious, made her way over to Theodora. "Excuse me missy" she said once she was closer. Theodora turned around and looked at her "You talking to me lady?" She asked Sinstar nodded "Yes I am, am I right in thinking your Theodora Snitch?" Theodora looked at her apprehensively "And what of it if I where missy?"

Sinstar smiled "My names Mave" she said and curtsied slightly "and if you are Theodora Snitch then perhaps we could do each other a mutual favour. I recently purchased an item from a local trader and even though I paid a fair price a misunderstanding has meant that I am now out of pocket and without my purchases. If you were to retrieve me property I'm sure I could repay you. You see I am a magic user and I'm sure I could give you a spell you would find useful."

Theodora smiled "Well, well looks like opportunity has come a knocking for ol' Theodora. A quick and easy way into Marblehead." She said to herself before saying out loud "Well then Mave you're in luck cus yes I am Theodora Snitch and if you can give Theodora a spell I can use to open the doors of Marblehead then she'll soon get your property back." 'Mave' smiled "Oh excellent I certainly can provide you with the means to unlock those doors."

"Then you just tell Theodora who this double crossing trader is and what it is of yours he has and Theodora will get it back for you." "It is a solid silver ring with an Arkan stone set in it. I require it for some of my rituals." 'Mave' explained "The trader in question is one… Edward Deal." Theodora took a low, sharp intake of breath, Edward Deal was an Opposition aligned trader alar Julius Scaramounger, but unlike Scaramounger Deal also had an 'evil reputation' away from his Opposition sympathies and activities.

He was a known figure in the criminal underworld in both the smuggling and black market circles, he was reputed to have links with the guild of assassins and some whispered stories even had him as one of Queen Aecandra's chief agents though whom she orchestrated acts of sabotage, infiltration, assassination and other such black activities outside of her own borders. Edward Deal was not someone you took lightly or on whose bad side you wished to get.

Theodora weighed up all these facts in her head, though outwardly she smiled and said "No worries Mave, Theodora get your ring." "Great… Deal's trading in the market area at the moment. If you hurry you should catch him before trading day ends." Theodora smirked "Right you just wait her Mave an Theodora will be back in two shakes with your ring."

"I tell you what Theodora to save time I'll meet you at Marblehead itself" Mave suggested. Theodora smiled "Okay Mave. Theodora see you there" She said and then headed off towards the market area of Marblehead in a hurry.

Mave aka Sinstar watched her go, till she was out of sight, then smirking evilly she returned back to the alleyway in which Skarkill was still hiding. Once she was once more cloaked in the shadows of the alley Sinstar deactivated her spell and her form returned to normal. "Satisfactory" she purred "Most satisfactory."

Skarkill looked at his little sister with a slightly confused expression "Err excuse me sis but I don't think I understand what's going on here. Why didn't you bring her back over here for me to nab?" Sinstar smiled at her brother "Patience my dear manacle obsessed brother, patience" she said. "You'll get to clap your irons on her but I have use for her first. I've sent her to retrieve The Ring of Arawn." "What yer mean that Elvin magic arti…arty…art… errr that magic whatsit that the used to belong to the king of the elves of the wild woods?" Sinstar nodded with a wicked smirk "Yes and the word you're looking for brother is Artefact."

"I paid good money to have that thing located and brought into the Great Mire. But that swine of a trader Edward Deal double crossed me and kept the ring. Now I don't know if he did it at the behest of his friends in the assassin's guild, that frigid cow Aesandra or just on his own volition and I don't care. I'm taking possession what is rightly mine." Skarkill nodded "Okays sis…but why didn't you just do that yourself? With your magic you could fell old Deal with just a flick of your little finger."

Sinstar nodded "Oh yes I could brother. But…I don't wish to deal with the repercussions that may come from his other contacts such as Aesandra." Her eyes flashed darkly "Besides when it comes to Edward Deal…The balance is still to be readdressed for what he did to you. Which I will do. When the time is right and I intend to savour every micro second of what I will do to him for not just the spilling of your blood but the pain and anguish it caused our mother!" she said in a soft and extremely dangerous sounding tone of voice. Skarkill smirked "Now I understands the game Sis." He said Sinstar smiled "Good I'm glad, now come let's get to Marblehead and wait to spring the final part of our trap."

The vile siblings quickly set off back towards Marblehead Fortress. Meanwhile Theodora was hurrying towards the Marblehead market square. As she ran along she heard her spyglass buzzing she unhooked it from her belt as she continued to run and checked the signal. Satisfied that it wasn't Stiletta or someone else she didn't wish to talk to right now she tuned in the signal. The face of Baron Goldcoin appeared in the glass surface.

"Ahhh Miss Snitch" he said with a big smarmy smile "I'm just checking up on you to see how your endeavour is going? I hope good progress is being made." Theodora nodded "Aye it is Goldcoin. Theodora is just in the middle of gain her method of getting into Marblehead. You'll have your gauntlet before too long, you just worry about having Theodora's payment ready." Goldcoin smile broadened "Ahh that is most excellent news Miss Snitch. I shall await your return and have no worries Baron Goldcoin always keeps his side of bargains. Your payment will also be awaiting you I have already made arrangements with a mage capable of the ritual. Soon you will be able to come and go from clue rooms as you please." He discontinued the communication and Theodora replaced her spyglass on her belt as she neared the market place.

She once more quickly melted into the crowed and made her way through the marketplace as she looked for Edward Deal and his stall. She eventually found him over in the far right hand side of the marketplace. She drew near to his stall as Edward was giving his sales pitch. She moved slowly so as not to draw attention to herself.

"Gather round ladies and gents, Gather round" Edward called out delivering his well-rehearsed sales pitch "Come see my wears. Fine silk from the Middle East, exquisite perfumes from Persia, only the finest Elvin weapons and dwarfish jewellery and all for unbelievably reasonable prices. Gather round Ladies and Gents, Gather round. Come trade with the realms premier trader. Believe me good folks nowhere in the realm not from Winteria in the north to the Sandstone Desert in the south. You can even look in Vanburn in the east or in Grimdale in the west. You'll not find better quality merchandise and certainly no better deals anywhere else, after all Edward Deal is my name and making Deal's is my game. So gather round ladies and gents, gather round."

"Ha making deals is his game all right" Theodora thought with a smirk as she moved closer still "Deals with the devils." She got to a distance where she could scan his stall, there was no sign of Mave's ring.

As this was going on back at the dockside in a small tavern, The Green Seahorse, Stiletta emerged from the elf path portal that was situated at the back of this seedy little establishment. "Hey Stiletta!" the tavern owner Peggy-Sue Connell said with a smile "Long time no see doll. What can I get you to drink?" Stiletta smiled politely as she quickly made her way through the tavern "Nothing at the moment Peggy old girl, I'm in a bit of a jolly old rush. Maybe later." She hurried out into the streets "Golly…where could she Theo be…" she worried "My best bet is just to go direct to Marblehead fortress and hope I can find the silly goose in time." She set off at pace.

Meanwhile in the market place Theodora was still looking on Edward Deal's stall for Mave's ring. "Here Ladies and gentlemen is an example of the top quality merchandise I trade in." Edward said lifting up a fine silk dress from his stall, as he did so Theodora spotted the ring it had been hidden under the dress. "Ahh there's what Theodora looking for. Now let's see if we can do this the easy way."

"Hey Eddy boy!" Theodora called out. "Theodora likes the look of that ring there. How much you wanting for it?" Edward looked over at her and for the first time realised she was in the crowd. For a moment or two he gazed at her with his piercing deep blue eyes scrutinizing her with a very hard and cold look in his eyes. But then he smiled in a friendly manner at her.

"I'm most deeply sorry Miss Snitch" he said politely "But I'm afraid that that item is pre-pledge to another customer. I'm sure you understand." Theodora smiled "Oh sure Eddy boy, sure. Theodora understands. Sorry to have interrupted." She withdrew back into the crowd "Theodora gave you fair chance Deal" she thought to herself "Now we do this the hard way."

Edward watched he go suspiciously but soon returned to his trading. Theodora meanwhile was making her way through the crowd of gathered shoppers round to the back of Edward's stall. "Now Theodora is going to need a distraction."

She mused quietly to herself and looked around for inspiration, her eyes alighted on some hay that littered the street behind Edward's stall, a smile appeared on her lips and she began rummaging in her knapsack and soon pulled out the bottle of Fireball Brandy. She aimed it towards the hay then began slowly and cautiously pulling the cork out.

Unaware of either Theodora's continued presence or her activities Edward continued selling and trading. "Fire! Fire! Fire!" Someone suddenly called out and chaos erupted as the crowd that had gathered around Edward's stall either moved back to run away or forward to fight the fire that was burning on the street. Edward found himself caught up in the rush.

"Hey watch out!" he yelled as he was knocked about and jostled away from his stall by the surge, he tried to get back to his stall. "Get out of my way!" he cursed. Just then threw the crowd he saw Theodora running up to his stall and snatching something. He couldn't see what it was but he could make a good guess.

"SNITCH!" He yelled "YOU BLOODY LITTLE THIEF! PUT THAT RING BACK!"

Theodora looked over at him and smirked "Sorry Eddy boy, you lose this one." She said and ran off with the ring. "GET BACK HERE!" Edward raged "I'LL GET YOU FOR THIS!"

Theodora ignored him and kept on running soon she was away from the marketplace. She stopped running, checked no one was following her nd once she was sure she had gotten away she smiled. "Theodora does it again" she said triumphantly and pocketed the ring. "Now to get to the fortress itself, find Mave, give her this ring and then Theodora will be getting what she came her for and getting out of the Mire world."

A little while later Theodora was approaching the imposing and intimidating structure that was Marblehead Fortress. She carefully made her way around the high walls looking for Mave. Just as she passed a small door in the wall "Theodora I'm here." Theodora looked around and Mave was hidden in the shadows of the small doorway. "Hurry before any of the guards spots you." Theodora quickly got into the doorway with Mave.

Mave smiled "I'm glad to see you again Miss Snitch…did you manage to get my ring?" Theodora smiled and produced the ring from her pocket "Here you are Mave. Theodora did as she promised." Mave smiled and took the ring, "Thank you Miss Snitch and now I will keep mine." She produced a blue key from her dress pockets. "Here you are Theodora. I have placed a charm on this key. It will open any and all doors no lock can resist it."

Theodora took the key smiling at Mave "Thank you Mave, Theodora is very grateful to you." Mave smiled and nodded "Your welcome Miss Snitch. Now I must be going, but let me give you one last piece of advice. I'd enter by this door if I was in your place. It's out of the way and the bullion chamber can be easily reached from here. Goodbye." Mave quickly darted off. Theodora watched her go and then turned her attention to the door. She placed Mave's magic in the lock and turned it. As Mave had promised the door opened easily Theodora quickly ducked inside unaware that she had been spotted entering the fortress.

The young thief quietly and skilfully made her way through the labyrinth structure that was Marblehead fortress. Soon she arrived in a chamber with four possible exits one both side and two straight ahead. "Now then" Theodora pondered out loud "What was it Stiletta told Theodora that one time. The Bullion chamber is in the centre of Marblehead. So Theodora just needs to keep going straight ahead."

Her mind made up Theodora began walking towards the two exits strait ahead of her but just as she got to them portcullises slammed down blocking her way. Seconds later the same thing happened in the two side doors. Theodora was shuck up for a moment but soon recovered her composure. "Nice try" she said taking out the blue key again "But Theodora's got a way out of your little trap." She placed the key in the lock of one of the portcullis and turned it… but the portcullis didn't open.

"Hey what gives!" Theodora said "Is something wrong Miss Snitch?" Theodora looked round to see Mave entering the chamber behind her. "Yes" Theodora said a little annoyed "Theodora just try you're key on this lock Mave and it not opened and…" something occurred to the little thief "Wait…why are you here Mave?"

Mave smirked and began to chuckle evilly she reached up with her right hand and pressed something on her chest. There was a brief distortion of Mave's appearance and then Theodora found herself looking at…

"Sinstar the Techno-Sorceress!" Theodora said in shock Sinstar smiled and gave the young thief a mocking curtsy "At your service Theodora Snitch. Having trouble getting through the doors are you? Well as a gesture of my continuing 'gratitude' for the favour you did for me let me help you."

Before Theodora could react to what Sinstar just said, the wicked Techno-Sorceress produced a goblin hunting horn from her dress placed it to her lips and blew.

The blood chilling sound of the horn filled the air and the portcullis behind Theodora slid upwards and from the inky blackness of the now open doorway the vicious goblin brothers Grippa & Rhark scuttled into the chamber and began circling Theodora.

"Get away from me you little creeps!" Theodora snapped and tried to hit or kick the two goblins. Then another equally blood chilling sound rang out a familiar and decidedly sadistic laugh."HEHEHEHEHEHEHEHEHEHEHEHEHE!" and out of the doorway emerged Skarkill.

"Ello Theo" the repugnant Goblin Master said to the young thief "We've been expecting yer. Now do yer want to do this the easy way. That being you just stand yer ground and I claps the irons on yer. Or would yer prefer the hard way, where yer tries and runs and Grippa and Rhark here play a little game of fetch, with you playing the role of the stick and then at the end I claps the irons on what's left of yer anyways. I'll let you choose."

Theodora glared at Skarkill defiantly "Your not putting your wretched manacles on Theodora, Goblin Master!" she said her voice full of bravado "Oh now Theo" Sinstar purred with wicked glee "Don't be so mean to my brother and deny him his simple pleasures in life. Here, brother dear if she won't play nice allow me to….convince her." Sinstar raised one hand and pointed in the direction of Theodora.

"Armis Moveri Sursum" she intoned in Latin. Theodora suddenly found herself compelled to rise her arms upwards and no matter how hard she fort not to she couldn't stop herself.

Skarkill grinned "HEHEHEHEHEHE… I do so love a willing victim. HEHEHEHEHE…LOVELY!" He quickly snapped the manacles onto Theodora's wrists. The effect of Skarkill's enchanted manacles was instantaneous Theodora suddenly felt weak and drained of all will to fight, struggle or resist. All she could do was stand docile in front of Skarkill and his two Goblins. "Oh I do so love clapping the manacles on people" Skarkill smirked. Sinstar smiled and moved over to join her brother.

"I'm glad you got your kicks brother dear and I also profited from this little project. So I think we can call this a win, win situation…for us at least." She looked at Theodora and smiled a sadistic grin that rivalled even that of her brother "Not so much for poor little Theo here. But come let us make haste and deliver our catch to his Lordship, Nec Mora."

"Nec what?" Skarkill said confused Sinstar sighed "Nec Mora, brother. Its Latin, it means without delay." "Ohhhhh" Skarkill said. Sinstar rolled her eyes and began to cast a teleport spell. She was unaware she and her brother where being watched or that this watcher had deadly intentions.

"You wretched techno-sorceress! You and your brother are going straight back to hell from which you spawned!" Stiletta said softly, though anger was clear in her voice, as she drew one of her throwing knives and took aim at Sinstar's throat.

Suddenly Stiletta found herself being grabbed from behind by one set of hands, while a third hand clamped over her mouth. "Ssssssssh" a voice hissed in Stiletta's ear….the warrior-thief recognised it at once.