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a legend in hand is worth two in the making

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Pififleelis picks his way through the dwarven fortress, glee singing in his veins. The dwarves think they’re so clever, but hah! They can’t notice even a thief as unskilled as him. His training as a ranger helps, but there’s a huge difference between forests and the rough carved halls of a fortress. Even so, he’s able to lurk nearby, perched on top of a keg of dwarven wine as a dwarf stumbles in and drinks directly from another cask.

Pififleelis has only been a thief for a few years, and he can’t even begin to match the skill of Sufukudraldus or Slufraydin. They’ve been inside this fortress before, and Sufukudraldus recommended it as an easy target, well within Pififleelis’ skills. It’s poor and recently settled, as Slufraydin told Pififleelis, but that just means that he’s able to take his time opening every bin and examine the small rock crafts that the dwarves have created. He pockets some of the better ones, but for the most part the crafts are clearly a beginner’s first efforts.

Sufukudraldus used to be a craftskobold before becoming a thief, and he made sure that Pififleelis can identify quality when he sees it.

Pififleelis ghosts through the halls of the fortress, sticking his nose into each room he passes — but much like Slufraydin had said, it’s a new fortress and there’s little to steal.

Eventually the only place he hasn’t gone is down a rough, freshly carved tunnel leading further into the mountain. It’s so new that Pififleelis has to clamber over the basalt chucks that are still littering the rough floor. They might not do much more than slow dwarves down, but for a kobold the chunks of rocks are a hinderance.

The further down the hallway he goes, the louder the sound of a hammer striking metal gets. The sound echoes off the walls of the tunnel, making it much easier for Pififleelis to sneak.

It gets hotter, as well, and when he enters the door at the end of the hallway, he finds the source of both the sound and the heat: the dwarves have tapped the volcano to power their forges, and there’s a dwarf hammering away at something, muttering to herself.

She’s not dressed like a metalsmith. Her clothes are too high quality for the ash smeared room, and she’s kicked her shoes and socks off to stand in the hot room barefoot. Her eyes are glittering with a feverish focus: a mood, as the dwarves call it. Pififleelis calls it foolish, because it means she doesn’t even notice when he knocks an ingot of iron off the pile he’s passing.

There’s nothing of value, and Pififleelis turns to leave, casting a passing glance over the dwarf’s discarded shoes and socks — and then he sees it.

Minemurder the Gallows of Menace. He knows the name instantly, as soon as he sees it: it is a sock made of pig leather. It shows an image of the formation of the Rocks of Kissing. It is encrusted with exceptionally cut gold opals. It menaces with spikes of dwarf bone. All craftdwarfship is of the highest quality.

It’s one of the legendary items of the dwarven kingdom The Infallible Dikes, and the last any of them had heard, it had been in the hands of Reg Basementdips, the Queen of The Infallible Dikes, in the Mountain Hall Tombgifts.

Pififleelis doesn’t know what it’s doing here, in this newly settled fortress, but it’s the most valuable thing Pififleelis has ever seen and he wants it.

He throws a glance at the dwarf, but she’s lost in her mood. He hesitates at the sight of the goblet she’s creating — but it’s not done. Minemurder the Gallows of Menace is, and it’s right there for him to take. Pififleelis reaches out for the sock —

— and the dwarf turns. She looks right at him.

Then she reaches for another ingot of iron. She turns away.

He stays frozen for a long moment before grabbing the sock and escaping as soon as possible. The sock in his hand feels like it’s burning as he makes his way out of the fortress.

It’ll be several weeks before he’s likely to run into Sufukudraldus and Slufraydin again, and Pififleelis can’t wait until he does.

They’re never going to believe his new addition to the hoard.