Everybody Has A Price

By Ricky Temple

Stiletta struggled against both the hands that had grabbed her and the one that had clamped over her mouth trying to break free but she could do nothing but watch helplessly as Sinstar finished her spell and she, Skarkill, his two goblins and Theodora vanished from sight. It was then that the familiar voice of Gretel Vesta hissed in her ear.

"Shhhhh, Shhhh. Hush Stiletta its Gibbet and me." Stiletta's eyes flicked left and she saw it was indeed Gretel. Stiletta nodded her head that she understood, Gretel smiled and gently removed her hand from Stiletta's mouth while Gibbet let her go from his grasp as well.

Stiletta took the time to sheave her knife, straighten her clothes and then she looked up at Gretel. Gretel smiled softly at her "Stiletta I…" she began to say but was cut off by Stiletta slapping her across the face. A startled Gibbet started to move forward in order to protect Gretel but Gretel waved him off.

"You blasted, airheaded Green warden!" Stiletta snapped at Gretel who didn't reply or retaliate she just meekly took Stiletta's anger, Stiletta meanwhile continued with her tirade "I could have saved Theodora then if you and your brutish boyfriend hadn't stuck you're wretched noses in!" Gretel just looked at Stiletta sympathetically as the warrior-thief raged at her Stiletta glared at Gretel "I could just knock the ruddy hell out of you right now Gretel" she said.

"I'm sorry Stiletta" Gretel said understandingly "but I had to stop you from attacking Sinstar because Theo's not here under Powers That Be protection or authority. If you'd done what you were planning to do it would have been a direct act of aggression against The Opposition and the repercussions from that don't bare thinking about. I know you care for Theo and regard her as almost a little sister so I understand your anger at me and if it would make you feel better to hit me again… then go ahead." Gretel finished saying her piece and now stood still so Stiletta, if she so wished, could strike her again.

Stiletta took a few deep breaths, clenching and unclenching her fists as she did so. Eventually she shuck her head and instead of hitting Gretel she hugged the young Green Warden. "I'm sorry Gretel" she said "I'm just angry about this whole situation and I took it out on you." Gretel smiled and hugged Stiletta back "It's okay Stiletta, I understand and don't worry we'll get Theo out of this mess."

"How we goner do that though Gretel lass?" Gibbet asked, Gretel thought about this "Stiletta do you know how to get to the dungeon cells of this accursed place?" she asked, Stiletta nodded "Then I have a plan." Gretel said "We'll organise our own little ambush there and when they bring Theo down to the cells we'll spring it and free her. How's that sound to you two?" Stiletta smiled "Sounds like a jolly good idea to me" she said. Gibbet meanwhile smirked and cracked his knuckles "Gibbet likes the sound of that plan my bonne lassie."

Gretel smiled "Well then let's get to it. Lead the way Stiletta." The three hurried off into the depths of Marblehead towards the cells. As they did so Theodora was finding herself brought before the Master of Marblehead Fortress and leader of The Opposition, Lord Fear himself.

"Well, well. Will wonders never cease" Lord Fear said with a smirk "The Brother & Sister act actually managed to do something right for a change." He said as he walked around the still manacled Theodora Snitch, Sinstar, who had Theodora's knapsack in her hands, bristled at Lord Fear's contemptuous remark and made to retort but Skarkill squeezed her wrist and she bit her tongue. Lord Fear paid this no heed however his attention focused directly on Theodora.

"Good day to you Miss Snitch" he said with mocking hospitality and friendliness. "How nice of you to pay me a visit. Tell me, to what do I owe the pleasure?" Theodora didn't say anything she just looked sulkily at the malevolent Technomancer. "Goblins got your tongue?" Lord Fear said with an evil smirk "Because one just soon might have it or some other part of your anatomy if you don't answer me. Why are you here! Did Treguard send you hear to loot something from me?"

"Theodora ain't saying nothing to you skull face." The young thief said bravely "Let me have a go at her your Fearship, I'll soon get her to loosen her sharp little tongue. Hehehehehe Lovely!" Skarkill said with a sadistic leer Lord Fear raised his hand.

"No Skarkill not just yet. You and Sinstar take her to the cells and lock her up. Let's see how much spunk she has in her after a day or two without food or water." Skarkill smirked evilly and took hold of Theo's arm and roughly began dragging her out of the throne room into the corridor where Grippa & Rhark where skulking. Sinstar meanwhile gave Lord Fear a cold look, she then curtsied and said coolly "By your command… my lord" before she followed her brother out.

"One day I'll take the greatest pleasure in making him regret those kind of sarcastic remarks he likes to throw at us." She seethed softly once she had caught up to Skarkill. Her older brother looked at her "Yeah I knows Sis, but you better watch it or that temper of yours will be your undoing." Sinstar looked at her brother sourly but she nodded. "For now let's just get this little whelp into her cell and then I want to start work on this ring she so helpfully aided me in acquiring."

Theodora said nothing maintaining her sulky silence as she was marched through Marblehead to the cells.

Meanwhile down in the cells Stiletta, Gibbet & Gretel had managed to secret themselves away in a hiding place, having avoided that day's guard. Not that hard of a task to do as the Opposition minion on cell guard duty today was the loathsome Sylvester Hands, now the three where waiting to spring their ambush.

"Golly their taking their time" Stiletta said quietly and a little worriedly "I hope Theo hasn't got herself in even deeper trouble by giving his Lordship any lip. Lord F can deal out the sarcasm and verbal abuse but he can't take it. What if he's let Skarkill get his sadistic mitts on her?" Gretel gently squeezed her shoulder "She'll be fine Stiletta" she said "Theo will know better than to talk back and Lord Fear won't risk letting any of his ghastly lackeys doing any harm to her until he is sure she isn't here under Powers That Be protection." Stiletta smiled weakly and nodded.

"Gretel lass." Gibbet said "Yes darling?" Gretel said "Are we just goner rush them when they come in? Just with ol' dirt ball Hands here as well brute force alone may not be the best option." He said, Gretel nodded "I know my love, but I don't see as we have any other option." She said nervously, Stiletta smiled "I can help there" she opened one of the pouches on her belt and took out two glass phials, which where half full of a thick, gloopy looking pale green liquid.

"What are those then Lassie?" Gibbet asked "Smoke bombs" Stiletta said "What kind of smoke bombs? I mean what's that liquid it looks oddly familiar?" Gretel said curiously "It's a mixture of Seaweed from the Veldenlaw swamps and the ink of a Green ringed octopus." Stiletta explained, Gretel blinked "But…that's the kind of smoke bomb is the sort normally used by Atlantian warriors or certain criminal factions." She said shaking her head in confusion "How did you…" "I'm not just a Powers That Be warrior Gretel" Stiletta said "I'm also a professional criminal. I have connections you law abiding folk don't." "Oh… Okay" Gretel said trying to decide if she should push the topic further or not.

However the sound of approaching footsteps made the decision for her "Hush now lassies" Gibbet said "This is likely it." Both Gretel & Stiletta focused their minds back on the task at hand and readied themselves for the inevitable fight that was looming. Soon the unmistakable forms of Grippa & Rhark scuttled into the cell area, next to come in was Skarkill who still had the shackled Theodora in front of him and lastly behind Skarkill was the ominous figure of Sinstar, still carrying Theo's knapsack.

"Open a cell up Hands" Skarkill said "Ohhrr we got a new prisoner then Skarkill?" the loathsome thief asked as he fiddled with the bunch of cell door keys he was carrying. "Yes Sly" Sinstar said silkily "Little Miss Snitch here is going to be a 'guest' of his lordship for the foreseeable future or at least until she decides to tell him what he wants to know."

Sly chuckled evilly and looked at the sullen Theodora with a leering, filthy smirk "Well I'm sure the little lady will have a really nice stay here with us yeah. Now let old Sly see, where did I put the key for cell eight. Ahhhh yes here it is come along missy and Sly will show you to your new room." Skarkill gave Theo a shove to make her follow Sly.

Stiletta bristled and made to throw the smoke bombs, but Gretel placed a hand on her shoulder and mouthed "Wait not yet".

Theo was forced a bit further down to the corridor to the cell Sly had decided to put her in he placed the key in the lock and began trying to unlock it. "Getting a bit rusty this old door" he said there was a loud click as the lock finally unlocked. Sly opened the door. "Right in yer get yer little perisher" Skarkill said giving her another hard shove to make her go in the cell.

"NOW" Gretel yelled "WHAT THE RUDDY HELL?" Skarkill said in shock and whirling round "Intruders!" Sinstar said but before she or any of her fellow Opposition members could react Stiletta's two smoke bombs came sailing through the air.

One smashed on the floor in between Sly, the goblin brothers and Skarkill engulfing them in a thick cloud of choking smoke. The second one hit the wall right beside Sinstar and she got a face full of the same smoke that had engulfed her brother and his cohorts.

"Here what's happening!" Sly coughed "A rescue attempt you brainless clod of dirt! Don't let her escape!" Sinstar managed to splutter as she waved her arms around trying to fan the smoke away from her face. "Where is the little wretch? Ohhhh this is not Lovely!" said Skarkill as he blundered about blinded by the smoke. Grippa & Rhark where doing the same chattering constantly in an agitated manner. Theodora looked around in shock not understanding what was happening and not sure what to do. Just then Sinstar managed to find her way out of the smoke that had engulfed though her eyes where running with tears and she was still coughing.

"Theo! Jolly Well GET OUT OF IT!" Stiletta yelled as she ran out of where she had been hidden. The warrior-Thief quickly flung herself in to the still disorientated Sinstar who yelled in surprise and anger as Stiletta got a tight grasp on her and forced her back up against the wall.

"Stiletta?" Theodora said in shock she couldn't believe what she was seeing. Stiletta and Sinstar kept struggling Stiletta had a clear advantage as Sinstar wasn't use to physical combat normally relying on her magic in fights. "Get her out of here!" Stiletta yelled Theo suddenly found herself grabbed by Gretel "Come on Theo we've got to go!" Theo looked at the Greenwarden dumfounded as this was happening Stiletta reared back and hit Sinstar across the face.

The Techno-Sorceress yowled in pain "Brother! Help me!" she cried out.

"GRIPPA RHARK!" Skarkill, who was still lost in the smoke called out "Do Something!" the two Goblins gibbered and began scuttling in the general direction that Sinstar's voice had come from. As Theodora was being guided to safety by Gretel she saw the two Goblins emerging from the smoke and begin advancing on Stiletta.

This shuck her out of her state of shock "No!" She yelled and broke free of Gretel. "Theo come back" Gretel yelled but Theo ignored her she ran directly at the two Goblin brothers. This startled the duo they weren't use to people attacking them and this hesitation cost them, Theo kneed Rhark in the gut and then began lashing at Grippa with the chain on the manicals she still had on her wrists. The goblin howled in pain. As she did so though the smoke was beginning to fade. Meaning Hands & Skarkill could now see both Theodora attacking Grippa & Rhark, Gretel standing in the corridor and the continuing struggle between Stiletta & Sinstar. Even the dim witted Sylvester Hands could work out what was happening.

"Orrrh It's the Powers That Be! There trying to break her out. I'll stop the wretches!" Sly said and he took out his catapult taking aim at Theodora. "No you won't!" Gretel snapped she quickly grabbed a bucket that was laying on the floor beside one of the cells and swung it like a club. The solid wood bucket connected with Hand's jaw and the putrid thief was spun a complete one eighty by the blow Grete then delivered a second blow to the back of his head with the bucket. Hands was knocked forward into the still open cell where he fell flat on his face on the floor knocked out cold.

Before Gretel could even smile about this she was viciously grabbed by her right wrist and jerked around to come face to face with Skarkill.

"Remember me Warden Gretel!" he snarled "Cus I remember you! And I still owe you for taking my eye!" he brought up his axe and held it over Gretel's right eye "What is it they say an eye for an eye?" Gretel flinched back and tried to get away. Skarkill smirked viciously and got ready to hit Gretel in her eye with the axe.

However before the axe could fall Skarkill's wrist was grabbed and he was hauled off of Gretel by Gibbet. Gibbet threw Skarkill back against the wall.

"You wanner get to my Gretel Goblin Mater?" he said raising his cudgel up and adopting a combative stance "Then yer got go through me first." Skarkill scowled "You mangy dungeon goon" he seethed "I'll mash yer highland face in that not even yer own mother will recognise yer!"

"Just yer try it Goblin Master" Gibbet said "An Gibbet will knock the Goblin juice right out of yer." Skarkill snarled and swung his axe at Gibbet. Gibbet dodged the blow and answered with one of his own that caught Skarkill flush on his back. The Goblin Master let out a stream of pain induced obscenities and again tried to strike Gibbet with his axe.

Meanwhile Sinstar was still trying to both break free of Stiletta's grip and avoid her brutal blows. "You vile, wretched, horrible, abomination of a girl!" Stiletta snarled as she continued to assault Sinstar "I'm goner jolly well smash your face up for what you did to my little Theo, your own mother won't recognise you when I'm through!" she let fly with another vicious blow.

Sinstar yowled in pain once more as it connected. She desperately tried to fight back. Flailing wildly with her fists, but being unused to physical combat her blows didn't hold the same kind of impact that Stiletta's did. However as in any kind of battle there was always the possibility of landing a lucky blow and that was just what happened.

"OWW!" Stiletta yelled as one of Sinstar's flailing fists caught her in her left eye. She let go of Sinstar and stagger back slightly clutching her eye. "You stupid, insignificant thief!" Sinstar, her eyes blazing, seethed as she rubbed one hand over her face whipping away the blood from her busted lips and nose. "I'll teach you to lay your hands on me!"

She raised her right hand preparing to send a bolt of magical energy at Stiletta. She never got the chance to though as all of a suddenly Theodora, having left Grippa & Rhark laying in a heap in the middle of the corridor, sprang seemingly out of nowhere and before Sinstar could react the little thief sank her sharp teeth into Sinstar's outstretched hand.

"YEEEEEEAOOOOOOOOWWWWWWWWW!" Sinstar cried and tried to push Theodora loose but Theo just bit down harder. Sinstar now became focused on trying to dislodge Theodora from her hand.

Meanwhile Gibbet & Skarkill where still brawling. Skarkill had taken a beating from Gibbet's cudgel but Gibbet knew that the Goblin Master was hard to really hurt, so he wasn't letting his guard down and Skarkill's next move proved this point perfectly. The Goblin Master suddenly lunged at Gibbet trying to grab him.

Gibbet dodge left intending to cause Skarkill to careen into the wall behind him. However to his surprise Skarkill actually guess that was his plan and managed to stop himself from hitting the wall and instead kicked out and caught Gibbet in the stomach. Knocking Gibbet down to one knee and causing him to loose hold of his cudgel.

"Time to say goodnight Gibbet!" Skarkill said and raised his axe to strike down at Gibbets head. Before the killing blow could be delivered though Gretel grabbed his arm "Let go of me you dungeon strumpet!" he snarled Gretel responded by kicking Skarkill in the back of the legs. It didn't really hurt him but it did cause him to drop to his knees.

"Get up Gibbet darling!" she said frantically to her still winded fiancé "I can't hold him for long!" As it happened 'for long' turned out to be a very short time span indeed. Skarkill pushed himself up and before Gretel could try to counter this he grabbed her by the throat and began to throttle her.

"Gibbet! Help Me!" Gretel managed to gasp as she fort to try and break Skarkill's vice like grip on her throat. She struck at Skarkill's face and upper body with her first but the Goblin Master just tightened his grip even more. Just as Gretel felt that she was going to black out she heard a loud and sudden cracking sound, it was the sound of wood splintering and breaking. At the exact same time Skarkill's grip suddenly went slack. She noticed his eye was glazed over and he was unsteady on his feet. She also saw that Gibbet was standing behind him holding something, but Gretel didn't think too much on these facts. Knowing she had to take advantage of this situation before Skarkill recovered.

Utilizing her Greenwarden hand-to-hand combat training she broke Skarkill's now slack grip on her throat and then using his own arm and turning his own weight advantage over her against him, she pitched him up and over her shoulder. The dazed Goblin Master didn't have time to realize what was happening before he was sent sailing into the same cell as the still unconscious Hands landing on his head and shoulders with a sickening thud, he kind of tried to sit up before his body went limp and he joined Hands in unconsciousness.

Gretel took a few breaths and only now did she turn and look at Gibbet. It was then that she was able to join all the dots and work out what had happened. Gibbet had, in response to her cry for help, managed to pull himself up and he'd grabbed the nearest weapon to hand to attack Skarkill with. That weapon had been an old chair the remnants of which Gibbet still had in his hands as it had been the source of the cracking sound Gretel had heard as Gibbet had swung it so hard that he had broken it over Skarkill's back and head.

Gretel opened her mouth to say thank you to Gibbet but before she could she was pre-empted by another voice "JOLLY WELL STOP HER GRETEL!" Stiletta yelled as the fleeing figure of Sinstar hurtled in the direction of Gretel.

During Gretel and Gibbet's fight to subdue Skarkill, Stiletta had managed, thanks to the intervention of Theodora drawing Sinstar's attention on to her and away from Stiletta, to recover from Sinstar's lucky blow to her eye.

Stiletta had then gone back onto the attack and the evil techno-sorceress had found herself being attack by both irate thieves. Stiletta had continued to beat her up while the smaller Theodora had been biting Sinstar, clawing at her with her nails and ripping out Sinstar's hair. Reeling from this relentless attack and not liking any fight that she didn't have the advantage in Sinstar was now trying to escape. Seeing this Gretel stuck out her leg as Sinstar ran towards her.

So panicked and focused on escaping her attackers was Sinstar that she didn't notice this until it was too late. She let out a cry of fright as she tripped over Gretel's leg and sprawled onto the floor in front of the cell in which both her brother and Hands where still laying.

"On your feet!" Gretel said and hauled Sinstar up off the floor by her hair and one of her arms. "You're going in there with the rest of the Opposition garbage." She snapped and gave Sinstar a hard shove to push her into the cell. However Sinstar managed to grab the bars of the cell to stop herself going in.

"To hell with you Greenwarden!" She seethed and once more raised her hand to use her magic but once more it backfired on her. Stiletta and Theodora had caught up to them and Theo swung the heavy cell door closed. There was a piercing scream of agony from Sinstar and a sickening sound of bone breaking as her outstretched arm was caught between the door and the bars of the cell.

"You should have just gone in Sinstar!" Stiletta said as she pulled the door open again "Now you're going in the same way your brother and Old Sly did." Before Sinstar, who was still reeling in agony from her arm being broken, could comprehend what Stiletta had just said the warrior-thief used the bars to hoist herself up off of her feet. She then booted Sinstar in the face with both her feet.

Sinstar was sent staggering back by this and she ended up tripping over the unconscious forms of Hands and her brother and fell onto the cell bed unfortunately for her due to the angle she went down at she ended up banging the back of her head on the iron headrest. Though this did mean she was no longer feeling the agony of her broken arm…as she had been knocked out.

Once they were sure that all their foes where neutralized Gibbet had dragged the two unconscious Goblin brothers into the cell as well, while Stiletta had gotten the keys to Theodora's shackles from Skarkill's belt and unlocked her. Gretel had then gotten the cell door key from Sly's and locked The Opposition minions in one of their own cells.

The four took a moment to calm their nerves and let the adrenalin of the battle subside before they did anything else. Theodora was the first to speak "Thank you for saving me" she said "Your welcome lassie" Gibbet said "We're just glad your safe Theo" Gretel added. Stiletta spoke next "What in the underworld did you think you were playing at anyway you silly little whelp!" she asked a little sternly "Dash it all if you wanted to loot this place why didn't you ask me for help when I came to see you?"

"I had my reasons" Theo said sulkily "Such as?" Stiletta asked Theo didn't answer. "Such as she was doing this at the behest of Baron Montague Goldcoin" Gretel answered in Theodora's stead. Stiletta looked at Gretel open mouthed while Theo scowled at her. "Is that true Theodora!" Stiletta asked Theodora gave her a sulky nod.

"You stupid little child!" Stiletta snapped "Letting someone like that wealth obsessed scoundrel talk you in doing something like this. How could you be so cloth headed?" Theo looked sullenly at her feet "I'm sorry Stiletta" she said miserably. "Ahhh don't feel too bad lassie" Gibbet said giving her a reassuring pat on the shoulder "That silver tonged divil could talk an angel in do sinning if he put his mind to it" "What did he offer you Theo sweetie?" Gretel asked sympathetically.

"He said he could arrange for the banishing spell on me to be lifted so I could get into clue rooms." Theo said sadly. Stiletta rolled her eyes and snorted "Hobgoblins he could" she said contemptuously "I've told you before Theo, the only way you're getting back into the clue rooms is if you sign that agreement with The Powers That Be."

"I'm NOT doing THAT!" Theodora said and stamping one of her feet she was getting angry with Stiletta and her attitude. Stiletta scowled "THEN GUESS WHAT THEO! YOUR NOT GOING TO GET INTO THE CLUE ROOMS YOU LITTLE BRAT! She yelled "SCREW YOU STILETTA! YOU'RE NOT A THEIF YOU'RE JUST A POWERS THAT BE LAP DOG!" Theo yelled back.

Stiletta's eyes went wide and her mouth fell open for a second before a look of hurt fuelled rage came over her face. "YOU UNGREATFULL LITTLE WRETCH!" Stiletta snapped with both anger and hurt clear in her voice. "DO YOU EVEN REALISE YOU'VE CAUSED ENOUGH TROUBLE TODAY THAT IT COULD FILL UP THE RIFT OF ANGAR! ME, GRETEL AND GIBBET HERE RISKED OUR LIVES TO YOU OUT OF THIS MESS. I THINK NOW WE SHOULD HAVE JUST LEFT YOU!"

Theodora gulped as she realised how much she had just hurt Stiletta with her remark. "Stiletta I…" she started to say "STUFF IT THEO!" Stiletta snapped turning and storming off. Theo looked sadly after her then she looked at Gretel and Gibbet "I'm sorry" she said "I really am I was stupid to listen to Baron Goldcoin. I didn't mean to cause this kind of trouble or put your lives at risk"

Gretel smiled softly and gave Theo a hug. "I know Theo hun. Stiletta's just angry because she cares about you." Theo looked over at Stiletta who had walked a short distance away and was now standing with her back to them at the end of the corridor, tears formed in Theo's eyes. "and I didn't mean what I said to her I was just angry." Gretel smiled again and nodded "I know that to Theo. Come on..." she took Theo's hand and led her over to Stiletta.

"Stiletta…" Gretel said softly "What" Stiletta said her voice cracking slightly indicating she had been or was crying. "Theo wants to say something to you" Gretel said and gently ushered Theo forward a little. Theo swallowed slightly and then spoke "I'm sorry Stiletta…for everything. For causing you all this trouble, for worrying you so much and for what I said just now… I didn't mean it."

Stiletta quickly rubbed her eyes before she turned round to try and hide her tears. She stood looking at Theodora for a little while before she spoke. "I'm sorry too Theo. I shouldn't have yelled at you like that. I know how much you hate having that spell on you. Baron Goldcoin just played on your desires to manipulate you into getting whatever it was he wanted from here." Theo smiled "Still friends?" she asked Stiletta smiled and pulled Theo into a hug "That answer your question?" Stiletta said softly as they hugged. Theo smiled and hugged Gretel meanwhile stood watching with a smile on her face.

Gibbet came over "Errrm sorry to break up this touching moment" he said "But don't you think we ort to be making our getaway before someone comes looking for any of them?" He said indicating the cell in which Skarkill, Sly Hands and Sinstar where still laying out cold inside.

"Wait!" Theo said "What about That Hand?" "The what?" Gibbet said "The Hand of Midas." Theodora clarified "It's what Baron Goldcoin sent me to 'redeem' for him. What do we do about it?" "We leave it" Gretel said "Why would we take it?" "But Gretel" Theo said "If we do that Baron Goldcoin is liable to just talk someone else into doing his dirty work and they might not be as lucky as me." Stiletta nodded "She's right Gretel we need to get that wretched thing." "But Stiletta then we're just rewarding Goldcoin for his villainy." Gretel protested "I never said we'd give it to Goldcoin, Gretel" Stiletta pointed out with a smile. "We take it back to Treguard and allow him to decide what to do with it."

Gretel smiled "That sounds like a good plan Stiletta okay I'm in." Gibbet shrugged "Ahhh sure why not. Be a good way to stick it not just to Baron Goldcoin but to Lord Fear as well by taking one of his treasures."

Stiletta grinned "Well then come on everyone I know a short cut from here to his Lordships bullion room" "of course you do." Theo said with a cheeky grin "You always seem to know where all the short cuts are." Stiletta smirked and shrugged "Hey I can't help it if I'm a knowledgeable girl on such matters… so you lot coming or not? Just follow me and we'll be there in two ticks." She said leading the way out of the cell area and guiding the group expertly through the labyrinth like corridor.

Soon enough as Stiletta had said they were approaching the Bullion chamber. "Right now keep up against the wall and keep it all hush, hush and all that rot" Stiletta whispered as they got closer "As there is bound to be some Opposition swine on guard duty." The four pressed up against the wall and moved in silence. They neared the last corner before the bullion chamber. The group stopped and Stiletta peaked round.

Stiletta's intuition proved to have been accurate. "Oh dash & blast!" she said softly. "It's tall, brutish and gruesome himself, that wretched Orc Garstang." "How we going to get past him" Gretel asked Stiletta thought over this problem and looked around for inspiration. As she was doing this her eyes alighted on some loose masonry in the ceiling just a few feet away from where the hulking form of Garstang was standing and a plan formed in her mind.

"Gretel hunny sorry to ask this" Stiletta said turning to look at Gretel "But… could you be a dear and act as live bait? Just I need that foul brute to come a bit closer so I can jolly well drop that loose masonry down on top his ugly noggin." Gretel sighed and moved up to join Stiletta at the corner. "Which stones" she asked, Stiletta indicated the loose ones "You won't need to draw him that much closer" Stiletta said "How you going to drop them?" Gretel quizzed, Stiletta smiled "With one of my little friends here." She said indicating her throwing knives.

Gretel sighed again "Okay Stiletta I'll do it" she said "Just do me a favour and don't miss." Stiletta smiled "Don't worry Gretel, when it comes to throwing knives I know of only one person who's my equal. I won't miss hun." Gretel nodded, took a few deep breaths and then walked out around the corner.

Garstang didn't notice her at first. Gretel didn't fancy getting any closer to him then was absolutely necessary. So she looked around for something she could use to get his attention. She picked up a handful of pebbles she found on the ground. "Oi Ugly!" she yelled and flung the pebbles at the monstrous Orc.

Garstang growled as the pebbles hit him. "Who goes there? In the name of my master Lord Fear identify yourself!" "I go there Orc breath!" Gretel said bravely "Gretel Vastra of The Greenwardens."

"So" Garstang grunted "One of you pathetic forest guardians is it" he spat contemptuously "Well you just made a big mistake because as any Orc can tell you, we Orc's can tear you little tree lovers apart with our bear hands." "Come and try it then you ugly brute" Gretel said defiantly. Garstang roared and began to advance on her.

Stiletta was watching from behind the corner and the moment Garstang got under the loose ceiling stones, quick as a flash she was out from her hiding spot and stood beside Gretel "Time for you to say goodnight Garstang old chap!" she said and sent one of her green blades sailing up towards the ceiling.

Garstang confused by this stopped and looked up after the dagger and had just enough time to register the sound of masonry giving way and the sight of that masonry falling towards him before it crashed down on him. Gretel & Stiletta covered their mouths and noses as well as shut their eyes to avoid being choked or blinded by the dust caused by the falling masonry. When the dust cleared they opened them and saw the prone body of Garstang surrounded by the cracked and broken masonry that had felled him.

"I say" Stiletta said with a smirk "his Lordship really ort to see about getting a building inspector in here. Place is just falling apart." Gretel giggled meanwhile Gibbet & Theodora came over and joined them. "Now all we got to do is get that door open" Gibbet said indicating the door to the bullion room. "You just leaves that to Theodora." Theo said and opened up her knapsack, which she had made sure to retrieve from the floor of the cell chamber where Sinstar had dropped it upon being attacked by Stiletta before they had left the cell area.

She brought out her bunch of skeleton keys "You sure you're up to this kind of lock Theo? It's a tricky one." Stiletta asked "Positive Stiletta" Theo said and set to work on the doors lock.

She tried about five of the keys before she found a suitable one and the lock clicked open. "There we go" she said with a grin and pushing the door open "Theodora got the job done." Stiletta smiled proudly at her young thief friend "Good work Theo, I say you're getting better I remember when it use to take you eight goes to correctly identify which of your skeleton keys you needed for a particular lock. I think you'll soon be ready to try for a third level thief ranking if you keep improving like this."

Theodora beamed with pride "Thank you Stiletta she said Theodora hopes your right." Stiletta smiled back "I'm sure I am Theo, now come on everyone let's find this blasted Hand or gauntlet or whatever it is and then jolly well get ourselves out of here."

The four began quickly searching the bullion chamber for The Hand. For a while no trace of it could be found, then Gibbet shouted "I think I's found it!" everyone came over to where he was standing, he pointed to a small wooden chest that was set on a small marble plinth. The lid of the chest was open and all that was inside was a gauntlet.

It was clear just from looking at it that it was made of only the very best quality metal. It was also a very decorative and ornate looking gauntlet; the fingers and the plate on the back of the hand where decorated with gold leafing and set in that plate there was also a large pearl. "Is that it then?" Gretel asked "It certainly looks like the description that Goldcoin gave Theodora." Theo said "Looks exactly like the sort of thing I'd expect that greedy old fool Midas to have at one time owned as well" Stiletta mused "But how can we be sure?" Gretel fretted "After all his Lordship isn't above using booby trapped fakes to protect his treasures" she pointed out.

"Well we could always…" Stiletta began to say before she was interrupted by a noise behind them. It was a disgusting squelching, gurgling sound. It was nauseating to listen to but also very distinctive. "Mire-Men!" Theo yelled and she and her friends swung round. They were greeted by the sight of one of Lord Fear's slow moving Atlantian monstrosities, it was slowly lumbering in through the door of the bullion chamber blocking their escape.

"What do we do now?" Gibbet asked as the Mire-Man slowly but relentlessly advanced on them. "Fling a blade at it Stiletta!" Gretel said, Stiletta shuck her head. "No point Gretel. My blades can't penetrate deep enough into the scales of those aquatic horrors to do any real damage. What about your bow and arrows?" Gretel shuck her head "No good Stiletta, I've only got wood tipped arrows in my quiver they'd just bounce off that beast. I didn't pack any of the steel tipped ones." "Well we better think of something fast" Gibbet said. Suddenly Theodora pushed past him and grabbed the wooden chest containing the gauntlet.

The young thief turned to face the Mire-Man lifting the chest above her head. "Cop hold of this fish face!" she yelled and hurled the chest at the Mire-Man. The slow moving Mire-Men had no chance of moving out of the way. The chest and the gauntlet within it smashed into the Mire-Man's face.

However the creature didn't fall over from the blow. Instead something else happened. As the chest had flown through the air the gauntlet's position in the chest had shifted and when the impact with the Mire-Men had occurred it hadn't been the back of the gauntlet that had stuck the creature… but the palm and finger tips. So instead of felling the abomination the gauntlet had in fact worked its magic on it and the vile creature had been turned into a solid gold statue.

"I say" Stiletta said with a big grin. "Jolly good thinking Theo and talk about killing two birds with one stone. Not only did you put pay to that Mire-Man but you also managed to answer the question of whether or not that is the real Hand of Midas." Yes, now quickly get it back in its chest and let's get out of here." Gretel urged, no one raised any objections to this idea. So the gauntlet was quickly, and with great care being made not to touch its fingertips or palm, replaced in the chest, the chest lid closed and then all four of them ran out of the bullion room.

They kept running through the corridors of the fortress, not stopping even once they were out of it but instead barrelling through the streets of Marblehead port till they reached the entrance to the elf path Stiletta had used to reach The Mire kingdom they dived through it and only truly stopped running once they emerged on the other side of it back once more in Powers That Be territory, specifically on the outskirts of Holangarth. From here the group made their way back to Dunsehelm Castle. Before long they were stood before Treguard, Daisy & Pickle relaying all that had happened.

"Well Miss Snitch" he said gruffly "you've certainly caused a great deal of trouble for a great many people today." Theodora looked down at her feet like a schoolgirl who was being ticked off by the headmaster. "Yes Dungeon Master" she said in a soft shamed voice. "It's just lucky for you that Stiletta here cared enough about your wellbeing to check up on you and upon discovering your location to inform us. It's also lucky for you that she along with Gretel & Gibbet where able to find you in time."

He turned his attention to Stiletta, Gibbet & Gretel "My thanks to you all for your help in this matter." Gretel curtsied, while both Gibbet & Stiletta both bowed "Thank you Dungeon Master but don't be too hard on Theo" Stiletta said "She was a bit daft I admit, but she wasn't the real course of all this trouble."

"Aye it was that greedy swine Goldcoin" Daisy fumed "Who naturally is most likely going to come out of this whole situation unscathed. People like him usually do." Pickle sighed "Elf boots it doesn't seem right."

"No elf it isn't" Treguard agreed rising up from his chair. "However as they say life its self is not fair, but this time I rather think Baron Montague Goldcoin might not come off quite as unblemished by this whole experience as you may think." "Master?" Pickle asked curiously. Treguard however addressed Theodora Snitch again.

"You said you had the Hand?" "Yes Dungeon Master, we thought it best to bring it back to you for safety in case Goldcoin try to talk someone else into going after it like he did Theodora." "It was all Theodora's idea to retrieve it Treguard. We just went along with it as it was such a corker" Stiletta said quickly, seeing a chance to help mitigate some of the trouble Theo was in. "Yes" Gretel said backing up Stiletta as she also wanted to lessen how much trouble Theodora was in It was Theo who came up with the idea to procure the Hand so as to prevent any further trouble like this in future."

"Hmmmm" Treguard said nodding "Then I commend you for your forethought in that regard Miss Snitch." "Thank you Sir Treguard" Theo said "So may I have the Hand please?" Treguard asked, Theo handed the chest containing the hand over to him "Be careful not to touch the finger tips or palm of it" Gibbet said "Or you'll be turned to gold like that Mire-Man was." "Thank you for the warning Gibbet or Galloway" Treguard said dryly "But I am well aware of the danger of this wretched object."

Treguard opened the chest and carefully removed the gauntlet. "What are you up to Sir Treguard?" Daisy asked confused. Treguard's response however was not an answer to Daisy's question but some instructions. "Daisy fetch the quest mace, Pickle activate the communication pool and contact Baron Goldcoin."

The two assistants quickly set about doing as Treguard had asked. The other's present in the antechamber watched with interest. Soon Pickle had the Pool fizzing "You're call to Baron Goldcoin master" Pickle said stepping back from the pool. Treguard stepped up to it "Goldcoin" he said in a commanding tone of voice "Baron Montague Goldcoin can you hear me?" The image of Baron Goldcoin appeared in the pool. Upon seeing Treguard Goldcoin gave his big fake friendly smile.

"Ahhhh Sir Treguard, what may I do for you my dear Dungeon Master.?" The smarmy baron said in an oily voice. "You may, my dear Baron Goldcoin" Treguard said in firm but polite manner "Cast your eyes on this artefact that I have here." He held up the Hand of Midas, Baron Goldcoin's greedy eye widened "Ahhh good I see you recognise it" Treguard said "It may interest you to know my dear Goldcoin that this accursed artefact has yet again, thanks to you, caused a lot of grief and almost claimed another life that being the life of your 'champion' Miss Theodora Snitch."

"But" Baron Goldcoin said with a smile "She is well and the Hand has been successfully retrieved." Treguard slammed the Hand down "May I draw your attention Baron Goldcoin to the fact that any incursion into Opposition territory can have serious repercussions for the rest of the realm." "Duly noted Dungeon Master" Baron Goldcoin said dismissively "Now if you would be so kind s to have the Hand sent to me."

"PAH!" Treguard said contemptuously "If you think for one second that you are going to claim ownership of this object Baron Goldcoin you are gravely mistaken." "Now Sir Treguard..." Baron Goldcoin said "You know as well as I tat The Powers That Be cannot interfere in private bargains between the denizens of this realm and I made a deal with Miss Snitch." "Yes one you could never hope to honour" Treguard pointed out "So there for the deal in already null and void."

Baron Goldcoin smirked and laughed "So what do you propose Sir Treguard? To keep it there with you? That would draw unwanted and undesirable attention to your castle. Face it Dungeon Master the best option open to you is allow me to take it off your hands. Unless some less then desirable character gets it."

Treguard smiled enigmatically "No Baron Goldcoin that won't ever happen. As I intend to see to it that no one, not you, not anyone can ever again try to take possession of this abomination of an object… Daisy the mace!" Daisy handed him the Quest Mace. "Observe Baron Goldcoin the end of The Hand of Midas" Treguard said and raised up the quest mace. "NO!" Baron Goldcoin cried Treguard brought the staff crashing down on the Hand there was a flash of magic power.

The Gauntlet was enveloped by the crackling magic for a moment or two without any visible effect and then with a loud bang it crack in two and then before everyone's eyes it disintegrated into dust. Baron Goldcoin looked on in shock "Treguard You!" he raged angrily. Treguard simply smiled "Goodbye Baron Goldcoin" he said and before the Baron could continue his tirade the communication was terminated.

Daisy laughed "That showed him the greedy sod!" she said gleefully "Yes indeed bravo master Treguard" Pickle said with a smile. "Thank you Pickle, now the question remains as to what should be done with Miss Snitch here." He said turning his attention back to Theodora. Theodora shifted uncomfortably "Oh I think she's learned her lesson Dungeon Master" Stiletta said jumping to her friends defence "after all being ruffed up by that Goblin Master & his sister isn't anyone's idea of a jolly old time."

"Yes but even still Stiletta she did cause a great deal of concern and hassle and necessitated the risking of three Powers That Be operatives." Treguard said thoughtfully. "Well may I make a suggestion on that matter Dungeon Master?" Gretel asked "I don't see why not Gretel Vesta "Treguard said. "Well it occurs to me that since Theodora's little unauthorised thieving expedition caused problems for the Powers That Be, what if as punishment she has to help the Powers That Be in some way at some point in the future without any personal benefit or profit being gained on her part?"

Treguard thought about this proposal "Hmmmm, yes… Yes your proposal has merit Gretel" he agreed "but such a situation may not arise for some time and given the seriousness of her transgression that would look like a mere slap on the wrist" he pointed out "Well golly" Stiletta piped up "Here's an idea if you want her to have some immediate form of punishment. Why not make it that she has to work alongside me for a spell, I'm sure I can knock her into shape." Theodora wrinkled her nose in disgust at this idea she just knew Stiletta would use it as an excuse to make her miserable as punishment.

Treguard stroked his beard while nodding. "Yes, yes okay Stiletta" he said then turned to Theodora "That will be your form of penitence Miss Snitch, you will spend the next seven months working exclusively alongside Stiletta, you will not be permitted to indulge in any solo thief related activity. If you should do so you will be returned to here and another less friendly form of punishment will be meted out to you I hope that is clear?"

"Yes Sir Treguard" Theodora said glumly "Theodora understands." "Good" Treguard said "And further more as Gretel suggested, since the Powers That Be where actually under no obligation to rescue you from the consequences of your misguided folly. You will at some point in the future be required to readdress this balance by performing for us some sort of service without any preconditions attached. Is that also understood?" Theodora just nodded "Very well then you are dismissed, Stiletta please see your charge out. Gretel Vesta, Gibbet of Galloway you may also leave with my thanks for your help in this matter." Gibbet & Gretel bowed and departed.

Stiletta bowed and then took Theodora by the hand "Come on you out!" She said firmly Theo sighed and let Stiletta lead her out. She just knew the next seven months would be mind numbingly dull. Stiletta would deliberately only choose the most boring of jobs for them to do just to punish her for causing all this trouble.

"Right" Stiletta said with a smile "I've got just the job in mind that can be our fist little jaunt in this seven month partnership" Theo sighed "Oh goody" she thought "I bet its something mundane like a house break in" "First thing I want you to do Theo" Stiletta said "is to go back to your living quarters and get some warm clothing."

"Warm clothing?" Theodora said puzzled "Yes you can't go to Winteria in those clothes Stiletta said with a smile "Winteria!" Theodora said in shock. "Well of course" Stiletta said with a grin "Those platinum ingots of Aesandra's I told you about before aren't going to steel themselves now are they."

Theodora grinned broadly "Theodora thought…" "That I was going to make you do boring mundane jobs?" Stiletta finished for her with a knowing smile. "Well… Yeah" Theodora said nodding. Stiletta laughed softly "Well no I'm not. I'm going to give you missions and jobs that are becoming of a thief of your growing ability and reputation Theodora."

Stiletta had said all this with a smile but now she got a stern and serious look on her face and spoke again "But they will also be missions and jobs that will show you that being a thief and being a force for good and right in this realm are not incompatible. Whether that's as a Powers That Be Member or as an independent or even with some other faction in the Dungeon. They won't be easy Theodora either physically, mentally or emotionally. Because I'm going to show you what the end destination is for thieves who have no moral compass. I'm not going to try and mold you into a clone of me… but I am going to impart to you all my philosophies, my techniques and even some of my deepest secrets then after that and after these seven months, you will be on your own again and you can then choose to keep on the path I will set you on… or to go a different route."

Theodora didn't know what to say "I…thank you Stiletta" she finally managed to stammer "Now go get your warm clothing and meet me at the Wolfs Howl Inn" Stiletta said.

Theodora nodded and quickly ran off back to her living quarters to get her warmest clothing. Suddenly she was looking forward to these next seven months, she had a feeling they would be very, very fun.