Rima cursed under her breath. That was the third pick she’d broken trying to get the stupid cabinet open. She glanced about the room, looking for something else she could purloin, or perhaps even use to pry open the infernal thing. Aside from the thick layer of dust coating the room, all she could make out were the shapes of empty frames hanging on the walls and the pale forms of marble busts lined up opposite the windows.
Unless she wanted to break the cabinet, likely alerting every guard in the wing, there wasn’t anything that would help get at her prize. She still had one pick, but she’d figured out by now that she’d need a lot more light to see what she was up to.
The half-drawn curtains should have let in plenty of starlight, but the grime-coated windows did not cooperate and lighting a candle was out of the question. There were at least ten guards patrolling the rooftop gardens, and Rima didn’t trust her luck to keep one from spotting the light. Even through those stupid windows.
It was a stupid idea. She shouldn’t have done it. She should’ve stuck with what she had, been more patient, worked to earn everyone’s respect a little bit at a time. Instead she had to go suggest something from legend. Not only was she going to come in last, she was going to get caught-
Light suddenly rushed into the room. Rima threw herself to the side, rolling as quietly as she could into a crouch behind one of the bust-carrying pedestals. Slowly, carefully, she peeked around to look toward the door.
Two figures had entered the room, silhouetted against the dimly lit hallway outside. The first was wearing a mask of green fabric, hiding his face as he surveyed the room. At least she thought it was a man, he was standing so most of his body was hidden in the gloom. All she could really make out were gleaming studs contrasted against stiff leather.
The second, gently closing the door, was a pale woman dressed far more simply, though no less impractically. She wore a snugly fitted robe, silhouetting her even where she stood with an ear against the dark rectangle of the entrance.
The door rattled.
Someone was turning a key in the lock. The pair glanced at each other, then moved into the center of the room. If they had hoped to find an escape in here, they were out of luck. The man shrugged, looking at the woman and spreading his hands helplessly.
The woman turned toward the door, grayish light from the windows dancing off her ivory skin and revealing an expression of concentration.
Suddenly, the moonlight dimmed. The room grew at once both quiet and sinister. It felt like the shadows had deepened, the darkness become tangible.
Like the very night itself was creeping in around them, seeking to drag her into its depths.
“Hush!” Though the woman had aimed it at the man, Rima couldn’t help but feel it applied twice-over to her. She curled up tighter behind the column, not even daring to breathe.
Then the door opened and the light of oil lamps flooded the room. A trio of guards stepped in, moving about as if searching for something.
The two figures that had been standing in plain view were nowhere to be seen.
Rima was frozen with fear. Her heartbeat pounded in her ears. When one of the guards checked behind the busts, staring straight at her, she knew she was broke. She had nowhere to run, no escape.
She shouldn’t have called for a Hunt.
Shiv was awoken by the sound of tromping boots and the creaking of a cell door. Being the only prisoner down here, he rolled out of his bed and stood up. Despite being a dungeon, it was almost a step up from his lair in the sewers.
The cots were made with thin but soft blankets, he had a cushioned chair and a desk with writing equipment. He even had his own lamp. There was a bookshelf outside with books he could ask for. Not that he could read, but at least some had nice pictures. He had it pretty good down here, but it wasn’t worth the cost. He’d lost his freedom, his reputation, and his power.
Noticing that the door wasn’t opening, he moved over to look out through the barred window. There were only four cells down here, and the cell next to his had a busted down door that made it useless. The cell across from his was open, but he couldn’t see anyone in it. Off to the side a couple of guards were doing something, but he couldn’t quite see them.
“Two statuettes. From the Chancellor’s study, I think.”
“Two statuettes. Check.”
“A gold candelabra.”
“Five broken lockpicks.”
“Five lockpicks, broken. Check.”
Shiv recognized the procedure. They’d done it to him, when they dragged him down here. He was getting company. From the stuff they were listing, they’d probably caught a thief. Hopefully someone he could use to get out of here.
Shiv’s hopes didn’t last long.
“Thought you’d come rescue me, Kitten?”
Rima had to stand on her toes to look out through the door’s lone window. Across from her was Shiv’s yellow-tusked grin, pressed up against the grate in his door. He was alive?
She could see two cells opposite her own, one with a busted down door and the other being Shiv’s. Off to the right she could just barely catch the light from the gaoler’s room.
“So who’s runnin’ things now, eh?”
Rima ignored him.
“Is it the Locksmith? It is, innit?”
She threw the ugly man an incredulous look before going back to sizing up the place. He was her best bet at getting some useful information, though.
“Nah, he just wanted help getting his friend past the Gilded Gate,” she began. “There’s been some talks, but then they decided to do a Hunt.”
Shiv let out an amused grunt. “A Hunt? Guess that explains why you’re breaking into the palace. Think you’ve got what it takes, Kitten?”
“I don’t want that. But winning a Hunt? Come on!”
“Always stuck in your dreams.”
“Better than being stuck in a cell.”
Something in the cell next to Shiv’s caught her attention. It looked like the wall was moving?
“Now you get to be stuck in both.” Shiv shot at her, though Rima barely heard it. Her attention was fixated elsewhere.
The man from earlier slinked out from the broken cell, sliding along the wall. At least the mask looked the same, and the sleeveless black leathers fit. Putting a finger to roughly where his mouth ought to be, he proceeded to duck below Shiv’s window and head towards the guards.
“Hey! What’s going on? What’re you lookin’ at?”
The man disappeared from the window’s narrow view.
Rima stood there silently, listening intently, but she could hear nothing from outside her cell aside from Shiv’s heavy breathing and fidgeting as he attempted to see what she had been looking at.
Then the man came back, sauntering down the passage.
Shiv’s demand went unheeded. The masked man made his way to Rima’s door, holding up a keyring and examining the half dozen keys as he did. Settling on one, he quickly unlocked the door before moving over to Shiv’s cell.
There he paused, holding up the keyring and stroking his chin calmly.
“What’re you doing? Hurry up!”
“Have you figured out why Silence lived to be old?”
The confused look on Shiv’s face lasted only a moment.
“Me.” Rima could practically hear the smile hiding under the mask.
“Let me out, you bastard!” Shiv grabbed at the window of his door, shaking it emphatically.
The man slipped one of the keys into the lock, then paused. “You know what? You should be able to handle it from here. Clever boy that you are.”
The man threw a quick wave at the caged orc, then hurried back into the broken cell. Rima looked at the furious Shiv, who was snarling at her to open the door before the gaolers showed up. Then she moved cautiously toward the guard room, where she caught sight of the two gaolers lying face-down on a table, cards scattered all about.
Noting the chest where they had put her gear was still open, she quickly reclaimed her lockpick. She found a few other items of interest as well, including Shiv’s knife. One shouldn’t steal from fellow guildsmen…
Rima finally found her toolbelt, grabbing it before she rushed after the masked man.
As she passed Shiv’s cell, she tossed him his namesake. “The guards are out, so if you hurry you’ll be gone before anyone misses us.”