The frontier town's streets were empty and silent as the grave, with the exception of the howling wind and the footsteps, yawns and chatters of guards doing nightly patrols. Despite the warmth of the lantern in their hand and the thick, insulated clothing they wear, the chilly air limited their effectiveness, biting at exposed skin not unlike the mandibles of a thousand tiny insects. Unfortunately, livelihood and safety were far more important matters than drinks and good company.
From the shadows of an alley, an individual, clad in a hooded cloak, poked their head out to survey the streets. They - or rather, he, judging from the wiry masculine appearance - was no taller than a child, reaching only the waist of a full-grown man. His ears, with two gold earrings adorned on the left, are far too sharp and elongated to have belonged to a rhea. In conjunction with a scarf covering the lower part of his face and the surrounding darkness, it's difficult to tell what species he is.
However, the perpetually gleaming, uncannily golden human-like eyes beneath the hood suggested nothing of the ordinary.
From habit formed out of caution, the Rogue looked left and right, even checking his flank and glancing upward for any potential threats. Aside from a few guards doing their rounds, he sighed quietly with relief, taking comfort in the safety of shadows. But he had no intention of staying still forever.
There was a job need to be done, and time was nobody's ally.
He retreated into the alley, running to where he needed to be with balanced haste and caution. The further he went, the less patrol he'd encountered; it didn't mean he was in the clear however.
Rogue soon skidded to a stop on his right heel at a large, luxurious house before him. Like most buildings in town, it was made from sun-dried bricks, its roof tiled, and there were windows with the addition of a sturdy steel fence with spikes on top surrounding it. Standing at the main entrance were a few men immersed in a conversation. They were dressed in typical town guard's garbs, yet they showed little to no interest in making sure the surrounding streets were clear of criminals.
Scaling the fence was off the table, while entering through the main entrance, although doable, worth too much trouble. It was more akin to an invitation for the guards to catch him rather than an infiltration attempt. There should be another way in that would warrant less attention.
He sneaked off to the side of the small mansion away from the guards’ collective line of sight, hoping to find a discrete point of entry. Unlike the front, a well-aged brick wall was in place of the spiked fence, most likely placed there to provide privacy. Had the Rogue forgotten to pack additional gears before setting out, it would've been insurmountable. Smirking with pride at his sense of readiness, he reached into his thief's pack and pulled out a coil of rope with a four-pronged metal hook attached to one head. With a few spins, Rogue threw the hooked-end into the air where it would get stuck at the top. He quickly began his ascent and dropped down on the other side to retrieve his tool and stash it away for future uses.
The backyard wasn't devoid of dangers, but it was sparse in comparison to the front gate. Peeking from the hedge he was hidden behind, he could see a man with scruffy hair and beard, clad in commoner's clothes and brandishing a mean-looking wooden club, turning his head side to side as if searching for something. It didn't take much for Rogue to figure out that he has noticed his entry. To prevent potential troubles, his hand pulled free a throwing knife from a pouch on his belt, and, in a flash, it became lodged in the other man's throat in one dexterous throw. He collapsed shortly after a brief stumble, mouth agape, eyes wide with fear. His companion, who came to check up on him, was also disposed off with a dagger quickly dragged across his neck. Once the bodies were hidden, Rogue opened a pair of trapdoors and proceeded to venture down into the cellar.
As Rogue took cautious, muffled steps, his long ears twitched in response to grunts which grew in volume the further he went. They appear to be of both exertion, although one was more painful than the other. Upon peering through one of the grates, he could see that his guess was correct: A young, handsome human man, badly bruised from head to toe, bound to a simple wooden chair via rope. Surrounding him were three men, who seemed to have taken turns in roughing him up.
"Out with it already." one of them impatiently demanded. "Who do you really work for?"
Snickering with smugness equal part fear, the captive replied. "Gods, you guys are dense. How many times do I have to tell you to go ask your mother?"
Unable to restrain his anger from such insulting response, one half-elf man roared and struck him across the face with a winded right hook. As he recovered from his blow, the tied man spat a mixed wad of saliva and blood at his aggressor in return, causing him to recoil with disgust. Similarly enraged, one of the captors promptly withdrew a rusty, jagged knife and held it along his throat.
"Look, here's the deal." he stated, each word emphasized. "You either be a good boy and stop bullshitting us or we'll make an example out of you. I'm pretty sure you'll wish you have been honest."
"Oh yeah? How come I haven't seen some of your artworks?"
A leaden sigh of great frustration slipped from the interrogator's lips, but before he could do anything, a companion of his howled a painful cry as he clutched his leg. Distracted by a laceration to the back of his knee, he was helpless to prevent a slit throat and the death of the half-elf who, in this unprecedented interruption, reacted too late at a knife thrown at his forehead.
To the now-visible Rogue, it didn't come off as a surprise when the large man desired to avenge his friends. Tightening his grip on the knife, he began swinging at the intruder with wild desperation, indifferent to his developing fatigue. Rogue ducked and weaved as he retreated, making sure he only succeeds in slashing the air around him before rolling across a table on his back. Falling on the floor, he barely managed to reach for the nearby stool and held it in front of him just as the human thrust downward, both hands seizing the handle. With the weapon stuck, Rogue took the opportunity to kick his assailant in the groin, stunning him briefly as he slipped between his legs to climb onto his back. He tried frantically as many times as he could to pry him off, but in the end, Rogue ended the thug's struggle with a single stab to the side of the neck.
With the skirmish now over, Rogue plucked out the throwing knife, wiping the blade clean of blood and placing it back into its sheath before doing the same to the one lodged in the center of the half-elf's head. As he approached, the captive smiled weakly in greeting and gratitude, then it quickly faded as he came closer. Shock and panic seized control of his mind, ordering his body to push himself backwards with his feet. He was able to create a few inches of distance before a small green hand with dirty but trimmed fingernails grabbed his knee. His lips parted and his throat tensed with the intention to scream, his effort failing when another hand cupped his mouth tight and a pair of feet stepped onto his thighs.
"Quiet." Rogue harshly demanded, in Common, through scarf-covered mouth. "Do you want everyone else to come down here?"
The prisoner, although frightful and now even more disoriented by his current circumstance, obediently shook his head side to side in silent denial. Between getting caught and killed by a gang of angry thugs and being under the mercy of an unexpected and frightening savior, he'd choose the latter.
With compliance comes reward. A dagger was promptly slipped into a gap between the thick ropes, and with a few sawing motions, they unraveled. As soon as the hooded stranger retracted his hand and got off of him, the human breathed a sigh of relief, threw away his bindings and stood up to stretch his limbs. At the same time, he didn't waste his opportunity to take a better look at the being in front of him.
In spite of his prolonged period of imprisonment and torture, he was relieved - yet also surprised - to find that his perception of reality remained fairly intact. His rescuer was indeed a goblin, dressed in dark, ragged clothes that appeared more or less handmade; comprised of an ashen, asymmetrical hooded shawl, a scarf in faded red, a brown shirt with sleeves rolled up to the elbows, black thigh-length trousers, finished off with footwraps and fingerless gloves fashioned from leather. Strips of old, dirty bandage were seen wrapped around his arms, legs and face, but they could only do so much to cover up the unmistakable green skin.
"You weren't going to kill me?" the young man asked.
"And then how would I get paid?" Rogue questioned back. "Anyway, your new boss sent me to bail you out."
"Really?" he couldn't help but stare skeptically. "You wouldn't mind asking him where I can get myself a talking goblin, would you?"
Rogue didn't respond, instead glaring at the Turncoat, a hand reaching for the hilt of the dagger sheathed behind his waist. Upon seeing that his expression bore no sign of amusement, Turncoat raised his hands, lips forming into a nervous grin.
"Whoa whoa whoa, take it easy." he excused himself. "Just trying to lighten up the mood, that's all."
"Right." came a half-hearted reply from Rogue who turned his back. "Now keep your mouth shut and stay close."
"Not so fast, my greenskinned friend." Turncoat interjected, prompting his rescuer to face him with an annoyed look on his face. "There's one thing I want to nab before we get out of here."
"What? You dropped something important of yours?" Rogue impatiently questioned.
"Nonono, it's way better than that." the human refuted. "Trust me, the boss is going to love it, and I'm sure he'll give you some extra gold for your troubles!"
"What is 'it' you're talking about? How do I know you aren't making things up?"
"Because why else would I tell you? Anyway, the Baron of this house has a pretty little heirloom that has been passed down through his family for generations, and word is that it was around during the first few decades after the Gods left this world. If the two of us can snatch it, and give it to the boss, then the poor Baron will do just about anything to see it safe and sound."
"So your old friends caught you red-handed before you escape with it." Rogue deduced, eyeing at one of the recently deceased thugs.
"Yep." Turncoat nodded in unanimous agreement. "I still remember where I've last seen it, and I'll take you right to it."
Before the goblin could respond, the bedraggled young man rushed to a nearby body and pilfered from it a dagger for self-defense. Then, after beckoning his companion with a wave of his hand, he started climbing a flight of stone steps which would no doubt lead to some room in the Baron's residence. Seeing no other options, Goblin Rogue decided to follow him.
The rooms above the cellar weren't unlike what Goblin Rogue expected in his imagination: a majority of them were furnished with expensive items either bought locally or originated from distant lands ripe with exotic attractions. Ranging from beautiful carpets weaved from the finest silk to a figurine that appeared to be of lizard's craftsmanship, they would all fetch a great price as long as one was able to find cunning merchants willing to fence them. Rogue knew a fair few of those opportunistic men and women, yet although he'd love to trade with them, the consequences of getting led astray by unrestrained greed were too dangerous to risk.
Unlike the outside of the manor, not many guards were posted inside to patrol the dim halls, their sources of illumination consisting of moonlight and oil lamps carried by servants going about their duties. Harmless as they might, they would react as any self-respecting homeowners should they catch sight of any prowling strangers. They didn't, however, possess the level of vigilance a soldier would have needed to keep watch over their camp in the dead of night, for the stream of daytime chores have dulled their wakefulness. Sneaking past them wasn't difficult, and none of them have to be put to an early, albeit non-fatal, sleep.
No alarms have been sounded by the time Goblin Rogue and Turncoat made it to the library. Colossal redwood shelves, full with tomes and scrolls of different ages and content, filled the room and were arranged in an orderly manner. A stone fireplace was present, its inside coated with a still-fresh layer of ash and warm, flickering embers. No one else except for them were present; their search, for the moment, were unhindered.
"Are we still looking for that heirloom?" Goblin Rogue impatiently asked. "Or are you looking to grab some books while you're at it?"
"Nah. I was never the reading type." Turncoat answered, letting out an amused chuckle. "It should still be here."
As he stated, Turncoat approached a life-sized marble sculpture depicting the struggle of an armored adventurer, sword and shield in each hand, against a fierce and mighty gryphon standing on its hind legs near the fireplace. To an outside observer, it would appear to simply be another piece of lavish decor placed throughout the Baron's home, but as Turncoat gripped the adventurer by the sword-arm and pushed, it shifted forward until the weapon was embedded halfway into the beast's torso. After that, he rotated the arm once by the elbow.
A dull grating noise spread through the nearly empty study, the sound reminiscent of an object like a piece of plank scraping across two walls within a narrow space. As Goblin Rogue once again surveyed the room to see where it could have originated from, his gaze paused when it reached the tyrian purple carpet in the center of the room. A part of it appeared to be covering a small rectangular hole, which wasn't present the first time he entered. Grasping the tapestry by two adjacent corners, he threw it inward, then pushing more of it apart with his foot when his first attempt lacked sufficient force.
"A hollow space with a hidden switch. How original." Goblin Rogue remarked, bending down to retrieve the peculiar object within the now-revealed orifice.
There was a small metal pedestal wrought in iron; and resting in its 'claws' was a book of average size with a crimson cover, ornated with an intricate pattern of knots and lattices in dark brown. It was closed; and taking a peek at the content was out of the question, for it was tightly secured with a complex locking mechanism that could take days, or perhaps months, to fully comprehend its inner workings. Brute force would simply fail to hasten the unlocking process by a single step.
"You've got it!" came a hushed shout of poorly concealed excitement from Turncoat, cutting off any chance of a question from Rogue as he waltzed over with outstretched arms. "Hurry, give it to--"
"Didn't you mean 'us'?" interrupted a gruff, unfamiliar male voice.
A cohort of men and women emerged from the shadows and various hiding places, encircling the two intruders until there appeared to have no conceivable escape route. Their leader, a middle-aged, scarred yet robust human with red hair, stepped forward with a hand resting on the pommel of the sword at his side. At his approach, the color drained from Turncoat's face, and he went behind Goblin Rogue in a feeble attempt to hide.
"The bodies in the cellar..." he stated, a gaze as cold as his tone was directed at Goblin Rogue. "Your handiwork, I presume?"
"Yeah, what about them?" Rogue questioned with indifference.
"I'm afraid you're meddling in affairs that needn't concern you." he said. "Put the book down and you'll walk away unharmed. Mark my words."
"Sorry bud, but I need the gold pieces."
"Then we'd be happy to give you twice the amount. We can even offer you protection from retribution."
Aside from tightening the clutch on the rusty dagger in his hand as if the very act would grant him the courage he desperately needed, there was nothing else for Turncoat to do other than to feel his blood turn cold as Goblin Rogue squatted and laid the tome on the floor. This was it, he thought to himself, these people were going to make him wish he was dead, and it could've been avoided had he knew better than to trust a filthy goblin. A bump at his knee promptly pulled him away from anxious ruminations, and he glanced down to notice Goblin Rogue motioning him to put a hand over his mouth and nose.
And before he knew what had happened, there was a noise of shattering clay beneath his feet before a cloud of black smoke manifested in an instant, obscuring his vision and assaulting his senses. Tears welling in his eyes, Turncoat hacked and coughed, but so did his would-be torturers. It didn't take long before he felt someone seizing his wrist and led him away to a safe proximity. It was Rogue with the book tucked in his armpit.
Just as he was about to express his gratitude, he saw his escort shoving the locked book into his now-empty palms and mumbled something along the line of 'hold it tight'. Next, he witnessed the goblin picking up a nearby chair by its back, using it as a blunt instrument to break open a window and to clear out stray shards of glass.
"Through here." Goblin Rogue directed, tossing aside the piece of furniture that has served its purpose.
"Are you crazy?!" Turncoat exclaimed as he glanced at the ground below, separated by two-story. "No way in hells I'm going to--"
The human didn't get the chance to finish his protest before Goblin Rogue leaped onto his back, the resulting momentum making him careened over the sill. Suddenly stricken with the terror of imminent, inevitable death by falling, Turncoat screamed helplessly with all the air in his lungs. As the distance between him and grassy land shortened, he rambled a frenzied prayer to all the gods in his mind in the vain hope of easing the passage into the afterlife.
Eventually, he crashed to the ground with shut eyes, expecting himself the newcomer of the unimaginable black void that is the world beyond the material one. Turncoat felt a hand, or at least the presence of one, grasping him roughly by his collar and pulling him to his knees. Dreading it was the warden of souls, he pleaded for mercy, only for his response to be met with a slap to the face. He gasped, opening his eyes with the aid of a regained semblance of rationality.
His breathing steadied once he saw a familiar greenskin standing in front of him with a blank, tattered parchment of paper in one hand that he soon discarded. No wonder they were left unharmed with nary a bruise or a broken bone.
"H-hah, a scroll." Turncoat gasped and stood. "I should've known..."
Before them lies a wide door, wrought of wood and iron, leading into a backstreet. Violently, it was kicked ajar with a strong boot, seconds before a group of guards came pouring into the courtyard. Reaching into one of the small pouches on his belt, Goblin Rogue fished out a palm-sized orb and threw it toward them before they have the opportunity to finish their formation. Rather than creating an impairing dust cloud as Turncoat expected, the resulting impact made a loud thunderous explosion, shattering the aged door and leaving guards unfortunate enough to be within the vicinity dazed and crippled. Taking advantage of the confusion, the two bolted out.
"Where are we going now?" the human fearfully demanded his answer.
"Anywhere but here!" Goblin Rogue nonchalantly replied, tone devoid of empathic understanding.
Turncoat's mouth opened as he prepared another question, only to be replaced with a frightful yelp when he ducked reflexively, narrowly avoiding a disorienting blow from a club that was no doubt chucked at him by a frustrated guard. Then, moments later, loose bricks, stones and bottles were included as well. It didn't appear the criminal thugs cared anything about property damage as long as they succeed in catching the traitor and the hired wetworker.
Then, Goblin Rogue lead his companion into the open street, where it didn't take long before a patrol of town guards proceeded to give chase to them and the pursuing thugs. While they ran, one of them blew hard into the standard-issue whistle he has fished from a pouch on his belt which would alert nearby groups to assist with the effort. As some successfully tackled and wrestled to subdue the struggling ruffians, others were clever enough make an attempt at cutting off the fleeing duo from directions that were less obvious. Letting loose a frightened cry, the nearly breathless Turncoat stumbled and tripped as the hand of one guard wrapped almost completely around his ankle. Fearing a disastrous delay, Goblin Rogue promptly withdrew a throwing knife from his bandolier, took aim, and flung it. Rather than striking the guard in the forehead as intended, the dagger grazed him by the right ear, partially severing it. He didn't waste time to lament his miss; opting to bring Turncoat back to reality with a rough hit to his shoulder when the young man was rendered frozen by the painful sight.
They continued to run, the guards seeming to grow even more relentless while their breath ran shorter. In an attempt to chip away at the pursuers' persistence, Goblin Rogue and Turncoat broke away from the main street and fled into the labyrinthe alleys. The goblin remained silent, even when his directionless, panic-stricken companion pressed him for guidance; his preference lay in finding a hiding place, an escape route at best. However, in spite of his experience and knowledge regarding the town's general layout, there was no guarantee every of his efforts were perfect --- else they wouldn't have found themselves standing in front of a derelict house with no alternative paths to take, while the town guards' voices grew in volume behind them.
"A dead end!" Turncoat cried the obvious, grabbing Goblin Rogue in a fit of irrationality. "We're so fucked now!"
"Get off me!" Rogue shouted, wriggling himself free from the human's loose grasp with impatient frustration. Sighing heavily, he scanned the structure before him, searching for footholds and handholds. "We'll have to climb."
"But I've never done that before!" Turncoat responded. "Can't we just try something else, like hiding?"
"Then go and play hide-and-seek." Goblin Rogue grumbled, wasting no time leaping upward to latch onto a ledge. "Pretty sure you can catch up when they're d--"
Before he could finish his sentence, a length of rope was lowered down next to them, followed by a quiet, attention-grabbing hiss coming from the rooftop. It originated from a humanoid figure, whose head and face were shrouded with a cowl and a scarf respectively, leaving them unidentifiable to the authority.
"What're you waiting for?" the goblin prodded, before beginning his ascent with hard-earned nimbleness.
As the shouting of the guards grew more coherent, Turncoat knew it was either do or die, but the first thing he had to worry about was the priceless tome in his hands. Grunting with great exertion, he threw it as high as he could for the mysterious character to catch it. His effort came out short however, as the book reached only a minute part of their fingertips before tether of gravity pulled it down. Fortunately for him, Rogue was able to catch it with one hand before promptly passing the item to its intended recipient. Now reassured, Turncoat clasped the rope and started to climb. It quickly became evident that he was a shoddy climber --- an amateur, at best. It was halfway to the top when he became winded from the struggle of ascending the swaying rope, to the point that it was necessary for Rogue and their newfound aid to assist him, lest his grip loosens and he tumbles to the cold, hard ground below.
"Thanks." Turncoat said, sprawling exhaustively on the tiled roof. "I really owe both of you a big one."
"No kidding. You guys created quite the ruckus tonight." the Stranger replied, whose voice was soft and feminine, giving Turncoat mild surprise. She shifted her attention to the sealed book, hoisting it up as she turned to him. "And what's this? Your secret diary?"
"Actually, that's an heirloom you're holding." Turncoat stated earnestly, now sitting up. "Got it from the same place where my new friend saved me."
"We're not friends." Goblin Rogue denied crossly.
"Oh, really?" Stranger said, seeming to pay no attention to what the goblin just spoke. "That's pretty clever of you."
"I appreciate it."
"Ahem." Rogue pretended to clear his throat to the Stranger. "Am I supposed to get my pay from you?"
"Right, I forgot about that. One second."
Reaching for the belt secured around her waist, the cowled woman unhooked a small, plump bag with a rope tied on top and tossed it towards Goblin Rogue. As it landed in his palms, pleasing metallic jingles emanated from the content within, eliciting a satisfied smirk from him as he set about to put away his payment somewhere safe on his belt.
"Much obliged." he thanked.
"Don't go spend it all in one sitting now." Stranger teased, a sly grin formed beneath her scarf.
With a nonchalant shrug of his shoulders, Goblin Rogue leaped off the roof and landed on another one, departing for parts unknown to anyone else but himself.
"Um, do I have to walk across roofs now?" Turncoat questioned, peering down the edge at the dispersing mob of dispirited guards below.
"Trust me, I've got a plan, but I hope you're not afraid of heights."