She hung back; dark nothing amongst dark shadows, waiting.
A minute passed, two. There was no movement from the courtyard below, and she smiled a soft smile. Her guess had been right. This manor house, sitting plump and fine in central Rhyll had its own compliment of guards. Supposedly elite, they were extra protection for the wealth that lay within the grey marbled walls – providing the security that the overworked city guards could not.
So it was said. But military men liked routine, and bored overpaid guards, surrounded by luxury, liked it more than most. They kept to their rounds, to the same paths, the same times, the same positions – and like any security, once you knew how it worked, you could find a way to crack it.
She crept forward from her hiding place amongst the eaved shadows of the roof, and dropped silently down to the ground below. It was early evening, and the light was perfect. It was dim enough to distort vision and cause deep shadows to cluster around every wall and corner, yet not so dark that she went blundering. Some thieves liked to operate in the dead of night, but that was foolishness. At night all noise seemed loud, and every ear was alert for threat.
She had three minutes before the guard came back this way. Plenty of time. She stepped lightly to the door at the southern end of the courtyard, picked the lock, and slipped in side, shutting it slowly behind her.
A tiled hallway: conservatories at one end, and leading back into the living area to the other. The floor was hard but her soft soled boots made no sound. She went left, towards the conservatory, finding the door she needed. It went down, to the rooms below the house, where the underground heating for the hot house was built.
The air was hot and close, but was broken by the noise of the water in the pipes and the fire that fed the great iron boiler. It was easy work to come up unheard behind the lone man watching over the equipment and put him to sleep with the knick of a poison tipped blade. He would wake in six hours or so, with a raging thirst and cramping muscles, but he would live. There was no point in killing; the guards looked harder for murderers than thieves.
She glanced around, less sure of her route. Down here there were many servants' tunnels, kept underground in the dark and the damp with the pipes and the plumbing and all the clutter than serviced the great house. However the scent of gold seemed to call to her, and she chose the middle door, and went down and deeper in.
Like a maggot boring into ripe fruit, straight to the sweet core … no! She shook her head and smirked … like a big cat on the prowl … no, no! A da'kor rather, fierce and cunning, tracking the scent of some dumb pathetic athkatchu …
She crept stealthily onwards. One guard she caught snoring, another she put to sleep. Two she distracted with the old fake noise trick. She almost laughed. This was easy … this was fun.
Finally, the door to the strong room. The lock gave her some trouble, but soon enough it was open. In, through another door … there, that chest …the lock picked, and inside …
The Angel gem.
What she had come for. Sitting on a purple cushion, a great diamond as big as a plum. She took it, wrapped it, stowed in carefully in her pouch.
That was the job done, now a bonus for herself. She looked around … not metal, that clinked, too noisy. She chose some small gems – valuable, but not so noticeable as to draw unwanted attention when she tried to sell them.
It was time to leave, and easy to do so. She made it back to the courtyard without incident, the Angel a pleasant weight on her belt. She would have hummed if she wasn't so damn good, but over confidence was an idiot's mistake, usually their last. She jumped, caught the edge of the covered walkway that ran around the courtyard, and pulled herself lightly up on to the roof. Back into the shadows, she slunk away across the roof … back to outer Rhyll, to riches and prestige.
She peered around the edge of a chimney stack, the street below was clear. She stepped forward … there was a whisper of noise, a movement of shadow, and a short sword was pressed against her throat.
A darkened blade, so close she could smell the bitter tang of its metal. The weapon of assassins … and thieves.
Its owner was so close she could hear them breathe – but only because they let her.
'You're good,' she said.
'I am. Now, hand over the Angel.'
She risked a glance sideways, down the length of the blade, to where the man stood. He was in shadow, she could see nothing.
'You've already taken it.'
He moved slightly, she could feel more than see his dry smile, and for a brief second there was light enough for her to make out a pair of green eyes, narrowed in amusement.
'You're good too,' he said. 'Though not as good as me.' There was a change in the shadows as he pocketed the diamond. 'I'll let you keep the pebbles, Deira.'
'What? How do you know my name?' She moved slightly, and the sword pressed a little more firmly against her neck. 'Who are you!'
'Be glad it's dark, so I don't have to kill you,' he said calmly, and disappeared into the shadows.
She scowled in the direction she thought he had gone in and rubbed her throat.
For a moment she just stood there, then, still scowling, she dropped down into the street and headed back to outer Rhyll. To mediocrity and angry clients.