All the Crown Jewels. Part One

The entrance to the tunnel was his only way out, and it was filled with dwarves. He told her that this was a really bad idea and like always, she managed to wrap him around her little finger.

This was going to be an easy score, she said.

They won’t even know that they were there, she said.

Don’t be a coward, she said. This was going to be the heist of a lifetime.

Yeah right.

Now like always, he was left holding the bag, quite literally at the moment, and Kara was nowhere to be seen. Typical. One day he was going to learn that she was going to bring him nothing but trouble and that she was going to be his downfall. He knew this in his head, but damn it, other parts of his body disagreed and here he was yet again. All she had to do was smile that smile and like a bloody fool, he would end up doing whatever it was that she wanted doing. Kara knew exactly how to play him and he was starting to hate her for it.

One thing was in his favour, they didn’t know that he was here, yet. It was only a matter of time before some one discovered that the idol was missing. He had planned on being far away when that happened, but right now, there were a dozen or so dwarves standing between him and freedom.

He shrank back into the shadows and prayed to the laughing god for away out of this mess alive. He didn’t even want to think about what they would do to him if he got caught. After all, this was the most sacred relic of their faith and not only was he a heretic, he wasn’t even of the same race. He smiled to himself. If, by the blessing of the laughing god of thieves, he could pull this off, he would be named as one of the greatest thieves who ever lived.

This wasn’t the time for dreaming though. Everything had to happen in the right order. Never count the gold until you are away and free, Snark, he told himself. Stopping to count the gold when you have the constables on your trail is what gets good thieves caught.

He watched then from the shadows and cursed. The dwarves were calm and there was no sense of urgency or alertness to their actions. The theft hadn’t been discovered, but they were not moving on either. What he really needed was something to get their attention. For that kind of thing, he really needed his partner in crime and she was nowhere to be seen. The idea of going deeper into the underground didn’t appeal to him, it might be days or weeks before he would see the sun, if ever again, but there wasn’t really another choice. This was still the only way out, and it was only a matter of time before one of those dwarves looked in his direction at the wrong moment.

Snark jumped out of his skin when a hand tapped him on his shoulder. He spun around, his hand automatically going for his dagger, and meet laughing emerald eyes. He slowly let his relieved breath out.

She tilted her head and smile impishly. Her slender fingers flittered about in the intricate silent language of thieves. What are you still doing here? I thought that you would have left long before now.

He motioned towards the gaggle of dwarves milling about between them and the tunnel’s entrance in answer.

Her gaze followed his gesture and she shrugged. So? She rolled her eyes at him. What of them?

Snark shifted the weight of the bag so that he could reply, scowling all the while. The movement of his fingers flowed as gracefully as her’s despite their burden. They are between us and the way out. There is no way to sneak past them. The passage is too well-lit.

Details, details. She signed back.

Kara, as much as he loved her, was going to get him killed. The marker for his grave was going to read, “Here lies Snark. A good man who was lead to his death by a woman’s wiles. May he rest in peace.”

Do you know what they do to heretic’s here? Snark frowned at her. When it comes to their religion, dwarves are not a forgiving race.

Oh shush. Her fingered danced in fount of his face. It isn’t as bad as all that, besides. She tilted her head and graced him with her most beguiling smile. I have an idea.

Oh gods, he thought. I am surely going to die.

This wasn’t a typical dwarven city. It was much smaller and less grand than the great crags that he was accustomed to seeing in the north. He wouldn’t have dared to even attempt to steal anything from there. Foolish, he might very well be, however suicidal he was not. The dwarves their selves didn’t even speak the same language and everything else just felt more primitive. They had just as much treasure though. Gold was gold no matter what shape it was in and jewels sparkled just as much. The tunnels and pathways wound just as deep into the mountain, Now, that is what was really bothering him the most.

Snark just wasn’t built to spend any great deal of time underground. The mere though of the tons of rock that hung over his head was enough to send his heart racing and make his hands shake. It just wasn’t natural for any sane person to like having stone rather than sky above their head.

He did his best to put all thought of the ceiling from him mind and concentrated of following Kara back into the depths of the dwarven city. He followed her fleeting form as she kept to the fringes and found pathways that even the dwarves seldom used. The shadows were their friend and of those there was no shortage. He wasn’t a tall man by any means and Kara was just a mere slip of a girl, however, there was no chance of either of them being mistaken for dwarves should they be seen. They were both too tall and too slender.

It wasn’t until they came to the great iron gates of king’s palace loomed before him in all of their glory that he realized just what might be going through that pretty little red head of hers. Snark skidded to a halt and stared at the sight. The gates were thick and heavy, heavy in the way that only dwarves would build, which was bad enough. What really caused the hair on the back of his neck stand on end were the thin lines of eldritch force that shimmered before his eyes.

These were not the elegant spidery thin lines and glyphs that he was accustomed to seeing. These were set in blocky runes. They were solid, square and utterly impossible for him to read.

Snark snatched at Kara’s cloak and spun her around to face him.

“What?” she asked. He cringed as her soft voice bounced though the darkness and he clapped a hand over her mouth as fast as the words had left her lips. Laughter shone from her eyes as she gently pried his fingers from her face. “No one here can hear us silly.”

“Are you insane?” He growled at her in a hushed whisper. “Do you really want us to break into the palace?”

“Well, no.” Kara tilted her head in thought. “The treasury is where the crown jewels are kept. I think.”

His hands flew to his own mouth and he stomped his foot. It took every inch of his will power and training to keep himself silent.

The distant sounds of boots hitting the pavement caught their ears. Kara pushed them both deeper into the shadows and sighed.

It’s a great plan. She signed. Any minute now they are going to discover that the idol is gone. This is the middle of their high holy days after all. When that happens every dwarf is going to be out for blood.

Yeah. He agreed. Ours.

Yeah. Kara continued. And when that happens all but the most minimal guard will be sent to the gates and every other way out of the city. Why? Because that is what a good thief would do. No one would ever dream that we stayed to rob the royal treasury, much less steal the crown. It would be almost unthinkable and that is why they wouldn’t even think to look for us in the palace itself. We could swipe them, lie low and when they are searching the city for us.

A slow grin started to creep on to his face. We use the shock and confusion to escape the city.

Exactly. She grinned.

Okay, he thought to himself. It wasn’t that bad a plan. It would give them a far better chance of freeing themselves from the dwarven city with their necks intact. The odds just went from impossible to slim.

They turned their attention to the iron gate that arose before them. The new-found plan was simple, but implementing it wasn’t going to be. Snark studied the gates more closely with practiced eyes. It was clear that they would not be able to slip in through the front, which wasn’t a surprise. With the extremely rare exception, it was never a good idea to walk in the front door. A good thief always slips in through the most unexpected way, and that was what he was looking for.

He was ready for the challenge. They couldn’t go around, because the gate was set within the substance of the mountain itself. There was no wall to climb over and no window to climb into. It was a puzzle that was starting to fascinate him, if only because his life was depending on it.

The city shuddered with the sudden sound of blaring horns and pounding drums. Kara swore under her breath and pulled Snark back into that ally by the scruff of his neck.

They appeared almost from nowhere. Dozens of dwarves marching two a breast, sometimes three where the passage would allow it. Their armour was polished to a near mirror shine and the light from the lamps glinted from the sharp edges of their axes. On each chest the stamp of the royal house could be seen. There was a good chance that these solders were those who served and protected the king. They would be the elite, the best of the best, and they were marching away from the palace.

Snark peered around the corner of the building, taking care to not be seen. He didn’t need Kara’s tugging on his shirt to remind him that he shouldn’t stick his head out too far.

What are you doing? She frowned at him as her hands flashed the words before his eyes. Do you want to get us killed?

Snark shook his head and signed back. No, he replied. I just need to see where they are coming from is all.

Why?

He rolled his eyes at her. Because, his hands moved very slowly and deliberately as if he were signing to an apprentice who had yet to master the silent language. I think that this is the royal guard and the are marching from the palace. Not towards. They are coming from somewhere.

So?

He blinked. If they have a way out besides the gate, then we have a way in without being seen.

Kara’s eyes lit up, and he turned his attention back to the marching dwarves. He didn’t get a good idea of how many of them there were, but that didn’t really matter. What mattered is that they appeared to be going away from the palace and towards the centre of the city where the high temple stood. Some clever thief did steal their most holy artifact after all.

When the last of them passed by the pair of them slide from the depths of the shadows to peer down the passage. It looked like every other street in the city and at first glance it appeared to be unchanged. But as they watched, a pair of guardsmen surveyed the area and went back to their posts.

“And that is our way in.” Kara whispered into his ear. “We just have to get past them.”

“Easier said than done.” Snark murmured. “I think that we are going to need a distraction of some kind. I would suggest that you get their attention and lead them off somewhere, but that would give the plan away, and both of us need to get through those doors besides.”

“Or we could look for another way in.” Kara suggested. “If there is one door, there are bound to be others. In a cavern this size, there is bound to be vents to bring the air in. Maybe we could use one of those.”

Horn’s blared somewhere in the city again. The cavern walls of the city bounced the sounds around and made it difficult to pin point exactly where they were coming from. They couldn’t see the dwarven solders and guardsmen, but from the rhythmic pounding of boots on pavement that echoed through the ally, Snark could tell that they were getting close. While the dwarves were not searching for them within the heart of the city, it just wouldn’t do for the pair of them to be seem. It was absolutely essential that they remain unseen. Snark wanted the dwarves to think that they had escaped the city and to take their search out there.

Kara nudged him in his ribs. “Look.” She whispered. “I think that they are leaving. Foolish dwarves.”

Snark turned his attention back to the gate. She was right. While he was distracted by the blaring horns, a commander of some sort had arrived and was furiously yelling at the guards at their post. He couldn’t understand a word of what was being said, but it was clear from the waving of arms and stomping of feet, that the commander wasn’t having a good day. While it was impossible for him to understand exactly what was being said, Snark had a fairly good idea of what was going on. When the commander was done, he and the two guards followed the path of the column and disappeared into the shadows.

“Quick.” Kara whispered into his ear. “How fast can you pick a lock?”

Snark smirked. “Faster than you.”

They took a moment to be sure that no dwarven eyes were peering their way, then darted over to the door. It was made from a solid wood. Snark suspected that it was iron oak, but he couldn’t really tell because of the poor light. He didn’t really care much about the door. What interested him more was the stout lock that was embedded in it.

With dwarves being a paranoid lot, the locks that they make are the best of the best. High merchants, aristocrats and anyone else with anything of value for that matter, always paid top coin to get their hands on good dwarven locks. Which was why, Snarl had spent countless hours learning the art of opening them without leaving a trace. He pulled the specialized picks from his pocket and moments later they were inside with the door closed and secured behind them.