Caution: Quills may be sharp Circulation: 192,951,137 Issue: 671 | 26th day of Storing, Y16
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Hotshots: Part Two

by saphira_27


Mortman waited with the two young hotshots in the cabin. They didn't talk much – it seemed they had just enough sense to know that someone would be listening. They'd be here a little, since Galem probably wanted them good and scared.

      He didn't need to wait. Mortman was already there.

      Kanrik was cleaning and polishing his blades, which consisted of a short sword and a few knives – though the boy clearly had a temper quicker than a Poogle racer at a full sprint, he did that job slowly and methodically. Slower, really, than such cheap blades truly warranted, but that would serve him in good stead once he finally got himself a fighter's weapon. Paselle fiddled with some of her jewelry, then pulled out her own knives, though she didn't take the same care that Kanrik did.

      Mortman's own knives were in suitable shape – not mirror-polished or razor-sharp, but Mortman, though he fought well, didn't consider himself a fighter. If he got into a fight, plans A, B, and potentially C had already failed. He hoped he'd be able to keep these two young hotshots from scampering toward the first fight they saw.

      Finally, Paselle asked, "What do you do?"

      Mortman said, "I'm a smuggler – boss of my own crew. We get the goods coming out of Neopia Central and Kiko Lake – bring them through the fens and the marshes and out to the open water."

      Paselle asked, "What's the point of being in the Thieves' Guild if you don't actually get to steal anything?"

      Mortman shrugged. "I like the water. I like the night wind. I like my own little boat, and my own little crew, and outsmarting any Defenders or local sheriffs rather than fighting them."

      Then the door opened. Galem said as he entered and took his seat at the table, "Mortman's here to teach you two hotshots a little about lying low. Mortman's the expert on lying low. He lies so low his belly's in the mud." Galem didn't even bother hiding the contempt in his red eyes as he looked at Mortman – the scarred lips curled in derision.

      Mortman didn't rise to the bait. He'd much rather live the life he currently led than have to do the things that Galem was supposed to have done to claw his way to the top of the Thieves' Guild. And if these two had any sense, they'd soon learn to see things his way. Better to let the ambitious settle things among themselves – they'd leave those beneath them alone.

      Kanrik said, "So what's the job?"

      Galem replied, leaning back and crossing his arms, "Your little clown posse will go to Brightvale. A scholar there named Roane has recently returned from a desert journey with the scroll The Annals of King Jazan the Second. I have several buyers who have expressed interest."

      Paselle said in derision, "Steal a book from a scholar? What do you think we are, ten years old?"

      Galem said, "You explain it, Mort."

      Mortman ignored the diminutive, which he'd always found irritating, and thought about it – he'd never heard of Roane or this scroll, but he knew enough of the business to make a few guesses. "Travels to the desert. That means he either has money or has a patron with money. Either way we should expect good locks and alarm spells. Going to be a trick to sneak in. Second, Brightvale. Most scholars in Brightvale like to live close to the castle and the university. The guard there is good – the scholars and the artisans pay top dollar for security. If they're called, they'll come quickly. We'll need to keep low and keep the whole affair quiet or we'll be staring at Brightvale's dungeon bars for a long time."

      He remembered the last part – a good part to bring up before Kanrik or Paselle made Galem angry. "And don't ask about our cut. It depends on how much the scroll sells for. It also depends on how quiet we keep things. We'll get our pay docked if we can't be sent back to Brightvale for a while because our faces are on posters outside the Guard's citadel."

      Kanrik's eyes narrowed. Galem said silkily, "After your performance in Shenkuu, I thought you needed the practice."

      Paselle cried, outraged, "We got everything Haskell asked us for!"

      Galem pointed out, the edge of a threat in his voice, "And your faces on posters all through the capital city. Mortman may not have much flair or wit, but he could waltz right up to the Defenders of Neopia headquarters and none of them would look twice at him."

      Mortman did his best to cover a yawn. Galem said, "Go find a spot on deck. We're putting you off at dawn over on the Brightvale coast."

      Ugh. Dawn. Mortman was used to bedding down in the dark hours before dawn and not waking until the sun was high. If they were lucky they'd have a few days to case the joint. He asked, "Timeline?"

      Galem snorted. "Use sense. Get to that scroll before Roane sends it to the royal library or the university there. I'm certain that job would be more than you three could handle."

      No time to rest, then. That was just wondrous. Mortman nodded once, as slightly as he felt he could get away with, and then headed out of the cabin onto the deck. There were already a few sailors lying on blankets out there, and Mortman had to settle for a spot near the stern.

      Kanrik and Paselle followed him, spreading out their cloaks by his. Mortman looked around at the rough bunch crewing Galem's ship, which was a narrow, lean vessel built for speed – he doubted any of them had been nice to a pair of pups in the boss's bad books. Mortman didn't care whether they were in the bad books, or what they'd done to deserve it. He'd somehow ended up in those bad books himself, though Fyora only knew how he'd managed it. What could he have done? He hadn't made any spectacular hauls lately, but he was dependent on what the land crews brought to him. Even Galem had to realize that.

      Paselle muttered, "I don't think he actually wants us to get the Fyora-forsaken scroll. I think he's just getting rid of us."

      Mortman corrected, quietly, "He thinks of it more as a win-win situation. Either he gets the scroll or he gets rid of you two." And of Mortman. Mortman still had no idea what he could have done to deserve this. To change the subject, he asked, "Where are you two from?"

      Kanrik sighed, lying back on his cloak. "Two-bit place on Terror Mountain you've never heard of."

      Paselle said, "Neovia. You'd think a place with ghosts and witches would be interesting but, trust me, it's not."

      Mortman said, "You wanted to see the world, not just do what your mam and pap did. You hated school and anything else that involved sitting still, and you didn't much like taking orders from anyone who didn't seem to know what they were talking about, up to and including the sheriff and the mayor."

      They both blinked at him. Paselle asked, "How'd you know?"

      Mortman said, "That's my story – and likely the story of most of the riffraff you've met since you turned Guild. No one ends up in a place like this by being a Petpet Scout and singing in the town choir."

      Kanrik muttered, "Galem probably got here by beating up Petpet Scouts."

      Mortman cautioned, "Keep that kind of talk to yourself. Folks wouldn't mind currying the boss's favor. And Galem isn't all bluster – he's deadly with that wave-bladed sword of his. I saw him duel a fellow in Meridell once, right after he'd become Master. The other fellow was a fair hand with a sword, but he didn't stand a chance against Darkhand."

      Kanrik said, "We'll best him, though. We'll get that scroll and anything else we can grab."

      Mortman warned, "Careful with side profits. Galem sometimes lets those go, but you two won't get that lucky."

      Paselle muttered, "Worse than dealing with the Neovian schoolteachers."

      Kanrik looked pensive. Or what passed for pensive on the Gelert's thin face. It mostly looked like he was plotting something. Finally, he asked, "What do you think?"

      Mortman said, "I think that I told my crew I'd be back, and that means we need to find a way to pull this off." He couldn't help but add, "Surprised you're asking me for the ideas, though. Burglary isn't my line of work."

      Kanrik said, "Galem would be as happy to see us fail as succeed. And he was trying to get us not to listen to you. That makes me want to listen to any ideas and advice that you may have."

      Paselle added, "And you're the only one on this boat who doesn't treat us like a pair of moldy Crablett cakes."

      Mortman was irrationally pleased that these two young ones had seen through Galem's attempts to bully him. That sort of condescension would have been hard to bear for days on end. It also showed that these two had more brains than Galem gave them credit for – if they could find a little restraint, this mission might actually be survivable.

      Kanrik said, sitting back up, "I've seen a lot and heard a lot on this voyage south. Galem doesn't like anyone who doesn't like fighting. But it seems to me that there's lots of the Guild that doesn't like fighting. And plenty of them are good at what they do. Shouldn't he listen to them?"

      Uh-oh. Mortman knew where that line of thinking led. People who started thinking they knew better than the Master Thief started deciding that they ought to be the Master Thief. Not that Mortman had any problems with someone unseating Galem. But he didn't want to see some skinny teenaged Gelert get himself killed trying. Mortman cautioned, "Best to just get the job done and not worry about the boss folks. Galem's my fifth Master Thief. They've come and gone and I'm still here."

      Kanrik asked, clearly not convinced, "So, do you have any ideas for the mission?"

      Mortman snorted. "Yeah. Get a few hours of rest before we have to wake up too Fyora-blasted early. We're going to the city from the coast – we'll have plenty of time to talk along the way." Mortman lay down and wrapped himself in his cloak. He heard the other two shifting – they probably were used to a little more comfort than salt-warped planking. But Mortman found the motion of the waves shifting, and he was soon fast asleep.

To be continued...

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» Hotshots: Part One
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