The fur of the rabbit's foot was smooth under Alora's fingers: one, two strokes for luck and an unwhispered word to Tymora before she swung herself up into the window casement, bracing lightly with toes and fingertips. It was only the second floor; the first had been clouded full of mephits, awake and flitting about enough to make walking it unseen a challenge - not the fun kind, but the sort that like as not ended with fighting.
The mark's curtains were thick and full enough that seeing through them wasn't going to happen. Checking the frame for traps, she found none; that meant something else was likely to be waiting inside, hopefully more manageable than a room packed full of tiny demons. The locks - four for a single window, one on each row of bars, but none of them good enough to keep her out - popped loose quick and easy with a few deft flips of fingers and pick. The house's builders had apparently preferred breezes in the hot Amnish summers to real security, though the grate on the first floor's windows had all been solid, as if a little climb would stop her.
Slowly, silently, she eased the window open, twisting herself aside and down so she could brush the curtains apart a nudge and peer through the little gap without showing herself to whatever might happen to be waiting.
There were two golems waiting in there, big and solid-looking, their stone fists each larger than her body. She would have an easier time with them than with the mephits, though; with golems, she could trust there wouldn't be any looking around unexpectedly or any fancy patrolling, and these didn't have eyes in the backs of their heads to see without moving. Struck by the thought, she paused for a second - could golems be built to have eyes all around? Edwin would know if anyone would, but it would have to be a discussion for later. Just then there was a job that needed doing and time was ticking.
She touched the rabbit's foot again, reassuring herself it was still there, then slid the window up just a few more inches. It moved smoothly, well-oiled and unrusted metal; just one of the many benefits of burgling a place with money all over it - not that she'd picked this one, but still.
With the window open, Alora slipped in sideways, flattening her body to the sill and rolling in, then dropping silently to the ground, eyes fixed on the room's guardians - they looked even bigger now without that thin barrier between her and them.
When they didn't react, she grinned happily at their backs, pulling a face at their uselessness before sliding the window closed behind herself. There were just enough shadows, early afternoon as it was, to let her slip around the edges of the room unseen, and then it was up and over the edge of the staircase.
They liked open spaces in Amn, or at least in Athkatla. It had its goods and its bads; it was harder to be sneaky when you were coming into a place, for one, though the clutter usually made it easier to stay gone once you got there. She low-crawled up the last bit of staircase, peeking over the edge: this Rayic fellow was supposed to be busy in the Government District until the evening, but Alora didn't much want to risk her hide on 'supposed to' when the council had already proven to be so darn touchy. Especially not with Edwin still waiting outside instead of right behind her to cover her if it came down to fighting - or running. Just getting caught by guards on the first real job in a new city didn't sound great, either, even if like as not she could talk her way out of too much trouble... and besides, there was more to this than the pretties waiting for her to find them.
But there was no one and nothing but inanimate furniture on the third floor, so she hauled herself up with a satisfied little sniff. Chances were good, though, that things worth stealing would be protected other ways; there was some exploring to do yet.
There was a trigger plate in front of the bookshelf, but it wasn't anything close to the latest make; finding the hidden switch that deactivated it was actually so easy it was disappointing. The dart trap in the secret drawer of the big table was a little more complex, but still nothing special, and the only problem she had with the tripwire across the window was in keeping it whole while she disarmed it instead of breaking it down.
Maybe he counted on the mephits and golems, Alora thought, biting her lip as she looked back over the room, eyes scanning for anything she might have missed, anything that said danger. But then there was a reason she'd gone in first, after all: it wasn't like most mages knew anything about traps, either getting around them or getting them set up proper in the first place. There could still be interesting things to find, even if the protections left a bit to be desired...
Her fingers itched to go looking for them, but she dug through her satchel instead, pulling out a silken coil of mottled light gray rope. "Business before pleasure," she murmured to herself, trying to imitate that thick Surthayan accent while he wasn't there to get all grumpy over it.
This window was as well-kept as the other, with locks that were no better; with it safely opened, she tossed the end of the thin rope ladder down, fastening the other tight to the same small, strong hook the tripwire had been anchored to. Sloppy trap design and nothing but, to leave it out like that.
Although she knew Edwin had an invisibility potion on him, she couldn't help looking out the window as she waited, trying to pick out what part of the courtyard he'd been keeping his lookout post in; if it had been her playing watchman, she'd have picked the scrubby little bush growing out of the crack in the stones, but he was awful tall for that... and that red cloak of his would stand out against the green holly pretty good.
The rope tensed and trembled under her hand while she was still considering; peering down, she saw the crosspieces bending under nothingness as he put his weight on them, step by step. When he was most of the way up, she moved back away from the window so he could get through; a second or two later there was a thump and a quiet mumbled curse as - by the sound of it - he barked his shin against the windowsill, and then the noise of boots on the floorboards.
She closed the window mostly behind him so that it wouldn't look amiss from the street if anyone happened to get a bit nosey and poke around the sides of a house that wasn't theirs. The ladder she left; the rope was dyed to blend in with the stone wall of the house well enough that she had no worries about that.
"There's golems downstairs," she said quietly, "but they're probably not for fitting through that little staircase." Not without busting up the house, anyway, and she was pretty sure they'd have been told not to do that, if their master had any sense in him.
"Eh, golems. (The fool probably couldn't handle commanding more intelligent servants.)" came the dismissive answer.
She tracked him by his voice easy enough as he moved - straight for the bookshelf, like she'd thought he would. Turning, she took the table for herself, humming happily under her breath as the drawer popped open slick as anything.
There was nothing prettier in the world than the shine of light first hitting gold and gems locked away in dark places, and not much with a nicer sound than the clink-and-clack of the nicest of it finding a new home in her pockets. There was a pretty little knife, too, and though she was never one for fighting she took it anyway; there were more uses for a knife in thiefwork than sticking it in people pointy-end first, even if some people resorted to that too often and too quick for her taste.
Underneath all that she found a sheet of parchment with inked words twisting around it, reminding her uncomfortably of the time she'd stolen a peek at a spellbook while no one was looking and had an awful headache for hours after. She rolled it up neat and tied a bit of string around it before tucking it away in her satchel, then glanced around for Edwin. The potion was still working, of course, would be for a long time - unless something went badly wrong - but the steadily-growing pile of books and scrolls discarded next to the shelves was a tip-off that was more than a bit hard to miss.
"You finding anything good?" she asked cheerfully, the weight of her own little finds in her pockets giving her the first happy tingles of that successful heist feeling.
A snort from above her and half a shelf's worth of books dropped down onto the floor, barely missing her toes, followed immediately by an armful of scrolls. "Worthless," Edwin spat, with a scowl that nearly defied invisibility. "I should have known they would be hardly worth the name. Amnish wizardry, bah."
"Don't be so grumpy about it," she scolded. He'd just been starting to loosen up a bit ...or at least she was pretty sure he had been... and then they'd found themselves alone on a northern Amnish road with no sign of Maris or the rest, and, well, there they'd been and there they were. "Besides, I found a scroll you can take a- Jeepers!"
Edwin had swept another shelf clear of books, the second from the bottom, as she'd talked while watching his invisible hands.
"What?" he demanded. "What is it now?!"
She answered his testiness with a wide smile, elbowing him out of the way a bit; as she'd thought, he was crouched down to no more than her height, the better for bookcase-searching. "Look here," she said, pointing at the back of the shelf. "See how the grain of the wood doesn't match, and the color is just a teeny-tiny bit wrong?"
There was short quiet, then Alora felt the sleeve of his robe shift against her arm as he leaned in to take a closer look. "Eh..." he said, after a few more seconds, sounding almost grudging. "You might just be right."
"Lavender lizards, of course I'm right!" she beamed, slipping a pair of thin hide gloves out of her belt and pulling them on. There was a dark sheen to the wood that covered the little secret door, barely visible - she might have missed it at night, even - that she didn't quite trust.
She brushed her fingertips over the panel, going more by feel than sight, now; they caught ever-so-slightly on an edge and she pushed with just a feather's force, feeling it give a tiny bit, then spring back into her hands. Pulling it free, she set it against one of Edwin's piles of discarded books, ignoring his impatient sigh as it revealed the front wall of a safe, lock prominent in the middle, instead of treasure right out in the open.
Someday he'd finally get around to figuring out that half the fun was in the looking.
She flexed her fingers, cracking her knuckles loudly ("Must you do that?") and made her kit appear in her hands with a flick of her wrists, her own little trick. The lock looked well made, interestingly enough, though the style of it didn't quite match up to the common types she knew. Whether that was because it was most likely Amnish work, or maybe Calishite, instead of Baldurian she couldn't have said for sure; it might have been really, truly custom made.
Her pick was half an inch away from getting to business when Edwin mumbled something unintelligible under his breath, then summoned a little flickering ball of light. Deep inside the lock, something glinted pinprick sharp and Alora's hand froze.
"How am I supposed to see what you're doing if there's no light?" he complained. "(First she wants me to look, then she doesn't...)"
"Wha?" she said, focused on inspecting the lock more closely, then looked up - at nothing, of course - mostly out of habit, before her eyes focused on Edwin's magelight. "Oh... um. Is that safe to be waving around?"
The magelight dipped down closer to the lock, enough for her to pick out the haft of the needle attached to the little tip she'd caught sight of before. If the door was maybe-poisoned, the trap behind it definitely was. That had been a close one, and no question about that.
"It's only a cantrip," Edwin said condescendingly as she pulled back from the trapped lock a bit to flip through her kit some more. "No one would put out sensors for that. Not even these paranoid Amnish fools... even if they had the skill to see so small a disturbance in the Weave. Which I doubt."
Changing picks for a stronger one, Alora glanced around and picked a solid-looking book off one of the top of the piles. "Well, if you say so. Hold it steady, then."
Edwin said something else, but she wasn't listening. The thick leather cover of the book went just so against the lock, covering most of the keyhole; her pick slipped in alongside, tapping against the needle hidden inside just so - and nothing happened. "Blast and bother," she grumbled, nudging it harder, then giving up altogether and feeling out the pins instead. It took some trouble to get the wrench in and keep the book over the lock, but she managed it with a bit of monkeying about. They clicked into place, one-two-three, and as she went to tickle the last one, something caught at her pick.
The needle stabbed forwards with more force than she had expected, sinking deep into the book and sticking there. "Gotcha," she crowed, ticking the pin up into place and twisting the wrench quick and sharp. The lock clicked free, door swinging heavily open with the weight of the book stuck to it, revealing a little recessed cubby with a well-wrapped boxy package inside.
She made another quick scan of the edges, then reached in and pulled it out, undoing the waxed cloth wrapping and letting it fall loose from - another book. She blinked.
Edwin, quicker than she usually gave him credit for, snatched the book right from her hands, opening it immediately, and then - unexpectedly - laughed. Okay, so it was more of a Ha! than a real laugh, but it was a start... though it was really just too bad that he was still invisible.
"Well, what is it?" she asked after a few moments of watching pages flip in midair. When Edwin didn't answer, she stared up in his general direction and crossed her arms to keep from tapping her fingers on the floor. "Come on, you!"
"The Cowled fool left his spellbook alone with only a lock to guard it," he gloated, just as if he'd been the one risking his fingers to get it and not her... but he sounded happy enough, for once, so she wasn't going to kick up a fuss. "(Oh yes, this will do very well.) This is my share, you understand."
"O'course," she said, shrugging. "Plenty for us both and I got no use for spellbooks. But - there was the golems downstairs and the imps too, you know!"
The book floated upwards and disappeared into nothingness as Edwin stuffed it into his own pack with only a disgusted Hm to say what he thought of the house's other protections. "Mae'Var will be satisfied with seeing this spellbook," he said after he'd gotten it tucked away into invisibility. "As he's less half-witted than some. (If only just.) So. That makes us Shadow Thieves... for now."
"I guess," she agreed, for once not really minding the cynicism heavy in his voice. Truth be told, Alora wasn't really looking forward to the whole Shadow Thief thing any more than it sounded like Edwin was. Working alone or with friends was much more fun than being guilded; you could pick the jobs yourself for how interesting they were instead of how much money you were supposed to gather up to give away, she'd learned that way back, before she'd even left Irieabor for the big city.
And more than that, she wasn't looking forward to meeting up with the guildmaster again; Mae'Var was most of what she didn't like about some of her fellow thieves all stacked up into one: mean and creepy and rude with a face that didn't look like it ever unwrinkled.
She swung the safe door closed, pressing it back into place until she heard the click of the lock and trap resetting, then glanced over her shoulder at the empty space where she was pretty sure Edwin was still standing. "You go on and take it to him while I put things back so's Rayic doesn't even know he's been taken 'til he looks, whatcha say?"
"All right, all right," Edwin grumbled ungraciously. "Fetch and carry. Do I look like a pack mule to you?" There was a smirk in his voice, though, the kind that made him shoot way past presentable and into handsome, even if you couldn't call it quite a smile.
Resetting the tripwire strung by the window while climbing out of it at the same time had been a nice little challenge, satisfying enough to put a little skip in her step as she headed back for the guildhall - and keep it there as Gorch let her through into the back without a challenging word. It had taken her a bit to put everything back right where it had been, what with the mess Edwin had made of the bookshelf, enough so that he'd no doubt had more than enough time to show Mae'Var the book and prove they'd done what'd been asked of them. Good and double good, since that meant she wouldn't be expected to go in and catch up with him. She wrinkled her nose at the closed door of the guildmaster's study.
Someone laughed behind her and Alora started with an undignified squeak, whipping around to see an unfamiliar white-clad human woman grinning at her slyly. "Your face will stick like that, my dear," she said. "And it would be a shame to see a sister so... afflicted, hmmm?"
Alora let out her breath with a whoof. "You scared me, you did!" she said, trying to sound indignant - but that grin was awful contagious. "...Sister?"
"In the trade, of course. I am called Anishai, and you, I take it, are our new Alora. I've heard such fascinating things about you."
"Erm, you have?"
"Of course. They say you're terribly good with your hands, for one." Anishai's smile was smooth, but the tilt of her eyebrow made Alora feel just a little uneasy. "Why don't you come show me the truth of it?"
The room next door was long and narrow and absolutely lined with doors propped up against the walls and strongboxes of all sizes, enough to make Alora's eyes sparkle looking at them. She'd never seen anything of the sort in all her life, not even in that one moneychanger's vault back in Baldur's Gate.
Anishai chuckled again, walking forwards into the middle of the room, then hitching herself up onto a tall barrel and gesturing wordlessly at the spread of locks around them.
It was as much as an invitation as Alora needed to get to poking around. There might not be much valuable hidden behind training locks that everyone was expected to open, but that didn't mean there was for sure nothing interesting to be seen. She started in the middle of a wall, humming happily as she worked - since for once there was no call for stealth and no Edwin about to get all annoyed at her. These lot were a sight less tricky than the trapped one she'd dealt with earlier, though she was disappointed to find only a few handfuls of gold coins behind each instead of pretty trinkets or hidden guild secrets or something, well, more interesting than just plain coin.
She'd just popped the sixth door in the row when she heard movement behind her and swung it closed again without even counting out the gold hidden away inside, looking back warily.
"Peace, little sister," Anishai said, spreading her hands to show they were empty. "I see they were right about your clever fingers. Tell me, are you as good with that pretty blade on your belt?"
"I'm not really one for the fighting," Alora admitted. Maybe she ought to have stashed the dagger she'd picked up at Rayic's somewhere else, but she had liked the way the pearl tipped handle shimmered in the light too much to just pack it away.
Anishai clicked her tongue lightly. "Then you should be careful who you talk to, and more careful of how you show your skill... There are those who will be jealous of you, here - and while who you know will always take you a long way, it won't cover every sin. Old Kamuzu is still learning that." She paused, then, leaning down a bit from her tall longlimb's height, ran a finger along Alora's cheek. "And be careful of your manner, my dear. Mae'Var doesn't take kindly to those who show disrespect. There's few enough of us without losing another so soon to his little games."
A nervous step backwards pressed Alora up against the hard wood of the door she'd just finished unlocking. "I... see. Do... do you know where Edwin is?" she asked, hoping her voice sounded stronger to the other woman's ears than to her own.
"Ah, of course, the new spellflinger. I'd heard you came in together." Taking a casual step back, Anishai half-turned to gesture to a staircase half-hidden in the low light at the end of the room. "He'll be upstairs, I imagine. Mae'Var gave him a room to use for his own. He was terribly impressed, which means good things for both of you if I read it right."
Alora edged out from around her and made for the stair. "I'll be for meeting up with him then, I will," she said, with half a wave. "'Bye!"
Anishai's renewed laughter followed her right up as she went. Yeesh, that had been something else. Not that the other woman didn't seem nice enough, what with giving her those tips on the others and all, but... a little too intense for first meetings, maybe.
The top floor of Mae'Var's guildhall was an odd mixup of a place, a hybrid of Amnish style and northern: some beds made up nice and neat in a common room, probably for the favored captains by the rich look of them, a couple chests that she couldn't help but peek inside (a couple pretties, a sword, another few handfuls of gold), and a hallway full of closed doors for more private rooms.
Putting books and gems back where she'd found them, she headed down the hall, listening carefully at doors until she heard Edwin's familiar voice, then waited to make sure that he was talking to himself again, rather than to someone else; if Anishai's warnings had spooked her a bit, she didn't think she could really be blamed for it.
But, hearing nothing, she picked the lock, which oddly enough wasn't much harder than the ones downstairs had been, shook back what was left of the nerves that her meeting with Anishai had raised, and let herself in with a cheerful "Hey there hi there!"
Edwin was visible again, relaxed behind a low table piled with books and papers, his chair shoved back on two legs. He smirked at her as she came in, and when she closed the door behind her, spoke: "I take it all goes well. (Though no doubt she'd be smiling like an idiot even if it didn't.)"
Alora rolled her eyes at his griping, glancing around. There wasn't much space; a bigger table with a set of chairs to it and a bookshelf crammed up against the wall took up half the room, and the lower one Edwin was sitting at and a smaller bed than the ones outside took up most of the rest. He looked comfortable enough, though, she thought, and skipped on past the desk to check the bars of the windows. Solid like the ones at their earlier mark's hadn't been, good and better. She pulled herself up to sit on the sill and catch the last bit of afternoon sun, smiling down at him as he thudded his chair down and turned to look at her. "We had some great fun today, hey?"
She was pretty sure she caught Edwin smiling back despite himself, though he recovered quick enough. "So. Fun and shiny things really are all you have the mind to think of."
From anyone else it would have been just plain rude, but she knew Edwin couldn't help himself when it came to teasing, so she just made a face at him, then dug about in her satchel for that scroll she'd picked up earlier. "If you're mean to me, I won't let you take a look!"
At his mutter of "Oh, all right," she tossed it over - better he get some use out of it than put her to the bother of tracking down someone to pawn it off on - and hunkered down to watch as he untied the string and started looking it over. She'd always thought magic was interesting, though she knew she didn't have the gift for it, and by his own words he was the best mage within a hundred miles. And he was definitely the friendliest, and probably the best-looking, from what she'd seen of the others around town. So who better to watch?
It only took him a minute or so of studying the bit of parchment until he glanced up to her again, tossing it casually back onto his desk. "A nice try, Shadow Thief," he said, raising an eyebrow with a renewed smirk, "but you'll not buy niceness from me with a spell I already know. (Or with one I don't, for that matter.) Have you anything else to try bribing me with, I wonder? Anything to... fence?"
Not the subtlest he'd ever been, but she laughed anyway, hopping down from the windowsill and up onto the chair with him before he could move out of it. "Maybe I have got a few pretties worth the looking..."
Edwin looked younger asleep, with the frowny lines smoothed out of his face and his normally strict-tamed hair falling forward onto his forehead, unkempt and pillow-worn. Alora watched him for a moment in the moonlight, feeling an unusual reluctance to get going. Friends came and went, that was certain sure, but he had been a good one. When it came down to it, so had the rest of them, more or less, and Athkatla wasn't a bad city, not really; the Promenade had looked especially fun...
But she'd seen enough to know Edwin liked this life no matter how he grumbled over it, what with the soft bedsheets and the good food and drink and some people to boss around, enough to put up with a good-for-nothing jerk like Mae'Var - and that he was fine with having jobs chosen for him while he waited for word about old allies to come down the thieves' gossip lines. On top of that, she'd heard more than plenty enough to know that it didn't suit her any better in Amn than it had on the Sword Coast. Well and well. Better to go now, before the differences put a hole in their friendship - or worse, in one of them - sad as it was to leave.
She leaned over closer, knowing from long experience traveling that an Edwin worn out, by casting or studying or anything else, was an Edwin who slept soundly. The amulet clasped around his throat was glowing soft purply-red in the half-light, tempting as anything. She touched it lightly, metal and gem both pleasantly warm from his skin, and thought about taking it with her to remember him by.
But no, he'd be less than happy to find it missing, and that would just undo all her good work. She gave the pretty thing one last little caress and rolled out of the narrow bed with a tiny sigh, pulling her clothes and armor on quiet as she could, though there wasn't much need for stealth with just the two of them in the room. It was good practice, anyhow.
The moon was still high when Alora closed the rooftop door of Mae'Var's guildhouse firmly behind her, with Selune's Tears twinkling bright overhead like a diamond veil. A fine night for walking, it was, and finer yet for adventuring onwards to new places and new friends.