Chet Flash wuz here Circulation: 192,989,660 Issue: 674 | 19th day of Celebrating, Y16
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Hotshots: Part Five


by saphira_27

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When they returned to the inn, Kanrik went straight to sleep in the room that he and Mortman were sharing – a glass to the wall of the room next door proved both that Paselle was asleep as well and that the Cybunny lass snored as loudly as any man. Mortman was exhausted, too, but he'd seen a store with energy potions, and he wanted to do some scouting on his own without baby-sitting duties.

      Well, it wasn't fair to call it baby-sitting. They were good kids. But he wanted to sneak around and ask questions, and the two of them were still far too impulsive and quick-tempered for this kind of delicate work. Mortman left the inn quietly, waving to Tobey as he did. After that he stopped by the store with the energy potions and bought one, then downed the bottle in several gulps. The sky was clear and the weather was mild, so Mortman kept the hood of his cloak thrown back – cloaked figures on fine nights ended up answering the questions of the Guard, and Mortman didn't want to run into the Guard again.

      When they'd returned, Tobey had quietly slipped Mortman a piece of paper. The kids hadn't noticed, and Tobey and Mortman had both known they wouldn't – Tobey had been a pickpocket extraordinaire in his day.

      Mortman hadn't reacted to the quiet message – only now, safely away from the inn, did he pull it out.

      Usul was asking questions at the Broken Mug. Innkeeper there's a friend of mine.

      So he wasn't a former Guilder, or Tobey would have said, but if Mortman got into deep trouble, he'd be able to call upon Tobey's name. Mortman didn't think he'd do it, though. If he were in that deep of trouble, it would be because someone found out he was a Guild smuggler, and he wouldn't drag Tobey's name back into the business. Tobey had Reina and Satch to take care of – he couldn't afford to have anyone thinking he was working for Galem on the sly.

      Off it was, then, to the Broken Mug.

      He didn't have to look around much before he found someone willing to give him directions to "meet a friend for coffee." Though Mortman did intend to drink coffee, as he hadn't slept particularly well or long on the boat last night, and he doubted he would sleep much tonight, either. Despite the slightly roguish name, it was quite a nice-looking establishment once he found it – even unremarkable. That made sense, though. The thieves would want to keep the place clean and respectable, as to give the guard no reason to sniff around.

      Mortman sidled in and took a table near the edge, but not so far that it looked obviously like he was trying to hide himself in the corner, then raised his hand. A young woman took his request for coffee and whatever the special was tonight, and he handed her a few Neopoints as a tip.

      Then he saw him – the brown Usul sitting at one of several square tables pushed together closest to the fire, with a moustache and a dandified feathered hat. He wasn't particularly tall or broad, but it was clear that he commanded the attention of all those sitting with him. No, not commanded – drew. All the men and women sitting with him were laughing, talking, and enjoying themselves as he presided over the table.

      That was what Galem didn't have. Galem was, at the bottom of things, a thug. He was smarter than the average lump of muscle, and there was no understating his cunning and his prowess with a blade, but he didn't know how to draw people like that. He had some friends, some cronies – that sort always drew others like them – but most of the Thieves Guild focused on the profit, remained out of fear, or acted like Mortman and went along as best they could with their own lives without drawing that red eye.

      He smiled and thanked the waitress when she brought him his food – a shepherd's pie that smelled fantastic. He took a few bites before the waitress returned. "Excuse me, sir, but the party by the fire asked if you wanted to come join them."

      Mortman didn't think about the fact that it would be easy to give himself away doing so. He only thought about the fact that he missed his crew, and that he was used to company – not sitting here eating his dinner alone amidst the bustle. So he went ahead and picked up his plate and mug and went to an empty seat at the big table.

      There were some friendly greetings as he approached. The Usul said, "It's too fine an evening to sit alone. I'm Mackaray. You're..."

      "Malcolm."

      Mackaray smiled. "Good to meet you, Malcolm. You a local?"

      Mortman shook his head. "Travelling with my niece and nephew. I wanted to get away from the bickering. Why their mother thought this was a good idea... I love my sister dearly, but I think she just wanted them out of her hair. And you?"

      Mackaray grinned broadly. "A bit of this and that. Currently I'm trading in rare manuscripts." There were some stifled snickers from a few of his companions at the table. Mortman found himself disposed to like the fellow – he couldn't help but admire anyone with the guts to practically tell a stranger he was trying to steal a scroll.

      Mortman didn't talk much as he finished his meal – he just listened to the cheerful talk and joking. There was nothing more said about the scroll they were after.

      It was a shame, really. Mackaray was the sort of thief that the tales tended to turn into heroes, and while Mortman didn't know where he himself fell on the hero-to-villain scale, there was no doubt about where the boss did. If Mortman had been outside of this, he would much prefer that a good fellow like Mackaray get the scroll than a nasty piece of work like Galem.

      But he wasn't outside of this. Mortman was Guild, and he had a mission – and it wasn't just about him. It was about Paselle and Kanrik, too. If they couldn't show some results for Galem quick, they were in for a world of hurt, and Mortman couldn't let that happen. He'd assumed some responsibility for them.

      So he finished and took his leave, taking the jokes about having to go mind the kiddos as he did. He wanted to go by Roane's house again – a solitary observer with a critical eye as to how they could plan their approach better than that pitifully sloppy distraction technique that the Dagger Clan had pulled.

      He walked through town quietly, twisting his moustache as he thought. He didn't like this. He didn't like any of this. He'd been away from them only a day, but he missed his crew so badly that it had almost become a physical pain. He wanted to get back to them, he wanted to keep Kanrik and Paselle safe, and yet something in him didn't like the idea of Galem getting that scroll instead of Mackaray. And he didn't like the unsettled feeling in his stomach. He liked his life simple – load up the goods, take 'em through the swamp, maneuver around the Defenders, offload them at the shore.

      He kept to the shadows, away from the bright streetlights, as he headed back toward the scholar Ruki's house. Despite the stupid Dagger Clan scheme – there had still been daylight left – they'd had the right idea. There were a limited number of ways into a house – it would have to be a door or a window.

      Once he reached there, he realized he'd had a stroke of luck – despite the late hour, most of the lights were still lit inside, and Mortman was able to see inside without looking too close. And at the same side window where they'd caught Jasha, Mortman could see Roane sitting at a desk scribbling on something. A workroom, then, or a study – and surely he'd have his exciting new find at hand. Perhaps Dagger Clan hadn't been quite the heap of bungling amateurs that they'd looked to be.

      Of course, one didn't have to be a complete bungling amateur to get introduced to a jail cell – and as it was Mortman's goal to avoid that, he'd have to be far more cunning than they. Tomorrow night would be good – they could come to this spot and one of them could watch until Roane turned off the light and went to bed. Tomorrow they could skim the marketplaces, see what charms they could by or finagle to protect themselves from basic alarm magic or guard magic until they could make a quick getaway. The young ones would be good for that – if Kanrik or Paselle pretended to be trying to get past a mage parent to sneak out of the house at night, a charm seller might look fondly on youthful shenanigans.

      A ladder – that was another point. Might be worth trying to secure a rope ladder. If they triggered an alarm, it wouldn't matter if they left it there, and it would hasten the getaway. Mortman wasn't good with knots – that was why Paolo was always in charge of securing goods on the boat – but maybe one of the young ones was.

      He'd see what other ideas they had – a pair of young hotshots they might be, but they were both better in a scrap than Mortman was, which meant they were probably good at thinking fast, and they'd had more recent experience with burglary. They'd only get one shot at this.

      They'd need to be in place early. Mackaray and his group didn't look like they were going to move tonight – they were well entrenched in the Broken Mug. But that didn't mean they weren't going to try tomorrow, and Mortman had to ensure they got there first.

      Mortman didn't like the game he was playing. He hadn't chosen it, and he didn't like it.

      But as he walked back to Tobey's inn, he knew that he was playing this game now. And if he was playing, he was playing to win.

To be continued...

 
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Other Episodes


» Hotshots: Part One
» Hotshots: Part Two
» Hotshots: Part Three
» Hotshots: Part Four
» Hotshots



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