“It’s stale,” Corlwyn said with a grimace, sipping his cup of small beer.
“Aye,” Violette answered, leaning her head on her hand. “There’s nothing left in this city for us.” She lazily sloshed a cup of wine mixed with herbs her gypsy mother had taught as a cure for a night of thievery and drink.
“I meant my… but gods, you’re right,” Corlwyn said. “We’ve drunk this town to the lees. We could pilfer Portho’s storehouses again.”
Violette shook her head. “Argos isn’t doing business with him anymore since he keeps losing shipments.”
“The Princess then.”
Violette laughed. “You’ve swapped her jewels with so much paste she’ll wash away in the next good rain.”
“There’s still Flavius, Berilla’s ball, and the west gate caravans.”
“Closed, canceled, and moved to the east gate.”
They fell into silence, each contemplating their own private miseries.
“There’s the temple,” Corlwyn muttered. Violette stared into her cup.
“I know how you feel about those… places,” he said, “But don’t the rumors make you just a bit curious?”
“They’re not rumors,” Violette said. “When a city’s cabal of thieves warns you against a place, you heed them.”
“You’ve said,” Corlwyn spoke. “But I’ve put my mind to a certain notion. We assume the guild is craven or incompetent and so our deeds go unchecked.”
“Aye,” Violette said, finally looking at him.
“But what if it’s a ruse?” he continued. “Perhaps they overlook our petty thefts to distract us from the best quarry. A haunted ruin that none may enter may be where they keep the richest prizes—gold, gems, jewels…”
Violette raised a trembling finger in warning, but it was too late. Corlwyn could already see the glint of jewel-lust in her eyes.
“So what do you suggest?” she said with narrowing eyes.
“Just a quick scouting,” Corwyn offered. “To get to know the place.”
“Just to get to know the place,” Violette agreed. “That’s all.”
“Of course,” Corlwyn said, struggling to hide his glee.
There was no moon that night, and when the appointed time of their meeting came, the sky had darkened into deep folds of concealing purples.
They wound their way through shadowed alleys approaching the temple silent and unseen. When they emerged from the maze of ancient streets, the ruin loomed menacingly before them like a drunken giant in the darkness.
They crept their way up the crumbling steps keeping close to the tilting columns and tumbled pillars. Crossing under the broken arch of the temple door, they entered into utter darkness.
Corlwyn drew out a small hooded lantern and opened it slowly. Aside from a rectangular altar, the large worship chamber was bare and strewn with rubble. As they drew nearer to the altar, the jagged shadow of a hole dropped into darkness at their feet.
“Catacombs?” Violette swallowed.
“Or the thieves’ lair,” Corlwyn answered giddily.
He drew a coil of thin, silken rope from his pack and tied it to a sturdy stub of rock. Tossing the other end into the hole, he looked at Violette and smiled.
They climbed down the rope and dropped into a narrow passage of graven stone some two-score feet in length with a wooden door at its end. Violette went first, her eyes keener to notice dart holes and other wards common to guarded tombs. By the sides of the door stood two tall mirrors, dark and cloudy, set into alcoves.
Violette crouched by the door to check for hidden mechanisms. As she ran her fingers over the ancient wood, she caught her reflection in the corner of her eye. It unsettled her and set the hairs on the back of her neck on end.
“It’s already been tripped,” she said, indicating the thin sickle of a poisoned blade curving just below the lock. Guarding her hand with the tip of her dagger, she lifted the handle and pulled.
As the door swung open, the lantern light fell on an astonishing sight. A coffer stood in the center of the small chamber brimming with treasure—cups of gold, silver candlesticks, gilt-edged scrolls, and a heap of coins and jewels.
They looked at each other and laughed. Stuffing their pouches and pockets with as much as would fit, they resolved to return the following night for the rest.
“Why leave all of this unguarded?” Violette mused when they were back in the open air again.
“Perhaps they fear the god who guards that treasure,” Corlwyn offered. “I was wrong after all. These thieves are idiots.”
They returned to the inn and went to their rooms, each drunk with their haul. Violette rolled the pilfered gems and jewels in her hands, drinking in their endless depths until she drifted off into a fitful sleep. That night strange dreams came to her, of eyes in the corner of her room watching and waiting.
The next morning they ordered a hearty breakfast and prepared to either sell or secret their newly gotten treasures. Corlwyn was the first, coming to the shop of Antonius, his favorite fence, to sell a silvery string of pearls.
“Not again!” Antonius said in horror. “I already said I won’t buy anything from that place.”
“What place?” Corlwyn asked, perplexed.
“The temple!” Antonius whispered. “You told me this morning you had gone.”
“Are you daft?” Corlwyn said. “I’ve not set foot in here until just this moment.”
“What cruelty is this?” Antonius said. “Leave me be or I’ll call the guards. Go!”
Corlwyn left, puzzled by the fence’s behavior. With each contact he saw the story was the same—that he had already been there and struck such terror in the heart of each man that they would have no more dealings with him.
Crossing a small square late in the morning, he chanced to pass Violette. She looked as irked as he.
“The city’s gone mad,” she said. “No one will buy from me.”
“Are they saying you’ve already seen them today?”
Violette’s eyes went wide. “You too? I said we should not have gone, but fool that I am—”
“There they are!” a voice shouted from the edge of the square. It was Antonius, a troop of city guards at his side.
“East gate caravan. Go!” Violette shouted. At that command, each dashed in a separate direction dividing the guards between them.
As they darted from alley to street to alley, the faces they passed looked at them as if they were ghosts. Crouching breathlessly in a doorway, Violette caught her reflection in a windowpane. To her horror, it grinned and winked.
She bolted, pulling the stolen treasure from her pockets and throwing them behind her as she ran. Reaching the eastern gate, Violette clambered into a wagon of the caravan both knew would be there.
“Did you keep anything?” a voice said in the darkness. It was Corlwyn.
They lay still and silent as the caravan pulled away. Only when they felt clear of the pallor of the city and the shadows that clung to them did they dare to move.
“If ever I suggest casting aside an easy roguish life for a mad adventure,” Corlwyn said at last. “Stick one of your poisoned daggers between my ribs.”
“With pleasure,” Violette answered.