Actions

Work Header

The Heroes' Gambit

Work Text:

 This fic is part of the CritRole Reverse Bang, as an accompaniment to CurrieBelle's fantastic art!

 


 

 

The Luck’s Run casino was always bustling. In the five days she’d been staying there, she had yet to see it truly in a lull. Tonight, though, it seemed as if half Marquet was pressed together on the floor. The promise of a new performer and a duel in the fighting pits tomorrow encouraged all kinds of people to part with their hard won coin.

She, on the other hand, was afforded a little more breathing space. Being a high roller and a valued client kept a seat reserved for her at her favored game and a bouncer’s discouraging eye on the riff raff - which was part of why she looked up in surprise when someone pulled out the seat beside her.

“Is the Lady feeling favorable tonight?” the intruder asked, his accent smooth and sounding of somewhere far away.

He was handsome and pale, with aristocratic features and a shock of white hair that stood out starkly against his clothing. If his accent hadn’t marked him as an outsider, his clothing would have; no one in Marquet wore black in such a way. Next to his monochrome appearance, the vivid blood red of her dress stood out even more.

“Avandra’s blessings are fleeting this evening,” she replied evenly, unsure whether the strange man was worthy of her time. “The goddess’s favour comes and goes at no one’s will.”

“So it always is with gods. But it’s your favour I’m devoted to earning.” His smile was charming enough and despite her better judgement, she warmed a little.

“Devoted, hmm?”

“Of course.” He glanced at the table and back at her, his gaze pausing on the neckline of her dress just long enough to be flattering before he met her eyes again. “After all, if I wish to play, it seems I am at your mercy.”

She chuckled and shrugged the fur stole from her shoulders, leaving her decolletage invitingly bare. “I do like a man who knows his place.” Tipping her head just slightly toward the table and the poised dealer, she indicated he should sit. “For the moment though, you may as well join the game.”

She waited until he’d pulled out his chair before holding out a hand to stop him. “You have played before?”

Rather than pause, he simply took her hand in his own as he sat. “Played and won. Might I know your name? Or shall I simply refer to you as the Goddess of Beauty?

That was laying it on a little thick, but she permitted herself a small smile. “Countess Velora Whitewood of Kymal.”

The name rolled easily off Vex’s tongue after five days of constant use.

“I am Frederick,” Percy said as he bowed over her hand and pressed his lips to her knuckles through the gloves that Vex had worn to hide her archer’s calluses. “Delighted to meet you.”

 

 

Vex could feel the bouncer at her side looming and it was an effort to stop herself tensing in response. Percy was not supposed to be here. He was supposed to be milling about the crowd and drawing no attention.

She drew her hand back, slid a thousand gold marker across the felt table and gestured to the dealer for her dice.

“I admire your courage, Countess.” Percy sounded almost taken aback.

She quirked an eyebrow at him and rolled without looking. The dice came up seven and the dealer cooed, pushing markers for two thousand gold back to Vex.

It was an actual, physical effort not to react to the victory, but Countess Velora had plenty of money. Vex kept her attention fixed on Percy.  “If the table was too rich for you, Fredrick, you shouldn’t have sat down.”

“Not at all,” He put down a stack of coin that nearly matched her own. “A chance to speak with you would be a bargain at twice the price.”

“Then why comment on my courage?”

He rolled his dice. They came up five and he gestured for a third. “To walk through such a magnificent and dangerous city alone is always an act of courage.”

“And who said I was alone?”

“Countess, anyone worthy of being your companion would never willingly leave your side.” Percy dropped his third die. It bounced twice and came up two, bringing his total to the coveted seven.

“Look at that,” Vex looked from the table, back to him. “We match.”

“I thought we might.”

She forced her real smile into a moue of exaggerated sadness, and gestured to the bouncer guarding her. “As you can see I’m quite accompanied.”  

“He looks completely unsatisfactory.” From the sparkle in his eyes, Percy was enjoying this just as much as she was. “Does he even speak?”

The man in question narrowed his eyes at Percy and bent just slightly towards Vex. “Master Arrya wanted to see you.”

“In a moment.” She contemplated her coin and slid a marker for five hundred to the dealer.

The bouncer cleared his throat and from the corner of her eye Vex saw his attention shift to the balcony. “He does not like to be kept waiting.”

I was waiting,” She reminded him, with just the right amount of irritation for an interrupted noble.  

“Then we should go now, yes?”

Vex made a great show of sighing regretfully, but stood before he could grow more insistent. “It seems you will be playing a solitary game tonight, Frederick.”

He rose as well, bowing to her.  “I’m devastated to hear it.”

“Roll a few more sevens and you’ll forget all about me.”

“Impossible.” The word came out just a shade too honest, and Percy looked back at the table to cover the slip. ”Your winnings, Countess.”

“Keep them,” Vex shrugged and ignored her urge to scoop up the coin. “It’s only money. May Avandra have more of an opportunity to show you her favor than I did." The wink was audible in her voice, but it still felt wrong not to make the gesture. Countess Velora did not wink.

She stepped away from the table and shifted smoothly through the crowd; people quickly parting to accommodate her and her looming, broad shouldered shadow. A blonde gnome in a blue gown on the stairs gave her an appreciative once over as she passed and Vex barely resisted the urge to grin back.Pike didn’t get to dress up enough, it suited her.

The second floor was quieter than the bustle of the lower casino. Fewer tables and higher stakes kept the crush away and voices were muffled by thick rugs and silk curtains. The few knots of people gave way as Vex swept confidently past, the hem of her scarlet gown trailing elegantly behind her.

She didn’t bother to knock, because Velora Whitewood was the kind of woman to whom doors were always open; indeed, the handsome older man with silver in his oiled beard looked delighted when she entered.

“Ah, Milady Velora! Little whispers tell me that all eyes in my glorious casino are on you tonight. I am only sorry I could not number among them until now.”

Vex smiled, indulgent with just a twist of encouragement. “I will forgive your absence only if you tell me it was in aid of keeping my treasures safe.”

“Of course, my Lady. The vault remains as secure as the day it was built.”

 


 

Vox Machina hadn’t set out to rob a casino.

As with so many of their stranger adventures, it started with a bad deal and good intentions.

When Keyleth and Pike caught wind of Scanlan’s plan to trade Jarrett a possible pardon for acting as his drug dealer, they were horrified.  After taking Scanlan sharply to task, Vox Machina promised to help their faithful guardsman, no suude required.

This time when they arrived in Ank’Harel it was through a tree in the gardens of the Cerulean Palace. But though they were easily granted an audience, even the great J’mon Sa Ord could not assist them. Jarrett’s troubles had been outside the bounds of the law but what he’d done was hardly so reprehensible that the Hand of Ord were still looking for him after all this time. It was those outside the Hand’s control that remembered the price on Jarrett’s head.

As the Clasp worked in Tal’Dorei, so Marquet had its own dark organizations, and with them came individuals of power and influence who considered themselves above the law. It was one of these men that Jarrett had angered: Yaveen Kian-Arrya, a money launderer and deal maker with more than a few of the Hand of Ord in his pocket. He ran businesses throughout the city, but the jewel in his crown was the Luck’s Run Casino.

Even a great bronze dragon could only control so much in a metropolis as sprawling as Ank’Harel.  J’mon Sa Ord turned Vox Machina loose with the implication that they would be grateful if the party could expose Yaveen’s wrongdoing to the loyal Hands of Ord. Over several hours and several more bottles of wine, Vox Machina decided the best way to do that would be to rob the bastard blind.

 


 

Treev was instrumental. Once they had supplied the dragonborn mercenary and his fellows with Ripley’s hand  (disgustingly well preserved from the bag of colding), told him of the Ravinites liberation, and greased his palm with enough coin to make Vex’s eye twitch, he not only got them information on Yaveen but was happy to spread the tale of a wealthy noblewoman in the city on very lucrative business.

So it was when Vex - in fine Marquesian silk, with three hired porters in tow, and wearing her father’s best expression of expectant disdain – arrived at the Luck’s Run Casino, she was greeted by a deferential manager and a delighted, “Lady Whitewood, we had hoped you would be choosing our fine establishment for your visit.”

Vax had not been happy about her going in alone, but Vex had successfully argued she was the best choice. She was charming but there was no chance that she’d be recognized the way Scanlan might, since he’d made such a show of himself last time. She had been taught noble manners but she was also trained in stealth and deception, and would be better able to disappear than Percy if things got out of hand. And there was no one in Vox Machina more equipped to make a slightly shady business deal.

Where Scanlan had gone looking and found more trouble than he’d meant to, Vex knew better. This wasn’t her first con. Playing the bait for Vax had kept them fed during the years between Syngorn and Vox Machina. She hadn’t forgotten how to fall back into a character and trust that the persona would bring a mark to her.

As the stars came out and the casino got busy, Vex put on a slinky dress and an astonishing diamond necklace borrowed from the Whitestone treasury, sauntered through the gaming floor and past the line for the bar, and waited for trouble to come to her.

There was barely time for her to order a drink before their target approached.

Yaveen Rian-Arrya looked like money. Not in the old noble way that Percy or Sovereign Uriel looked, with that understated bearing and expectation of power, Yaveen looked expensive. He was wearing a silk marquesian suit the deep blue of a evening sky, under a heavily embroidered golden surcoat.  His ears and fingers glittered with rings and his dark hair was elaborately coiffed with just a little too much oil.

“A glass of the Golden Sun 372 for the Countess,” He ordered, just as the server moved to fix Vex’s drink. The dwarf behind the bar hesitated but she followed her employer’s direction.

Vex turned to face Yaveen with an indignant expression. “I had ordered already.” 

“But you’ll like this one much better. The Golden Sun is a delicacy; the finest blessing that the Bay of Gifts provides,” He took the two glasses right from the server, without waiting for her to place them on the bar, passing one to Vex. “Besides, when visiting new places one must try all the best things they have to offer, yes?”

“This is true.” She gave the wine a delicate sniff before taking a small sip, the way she’d been taught in Syngorn. The wine was fantastic. Fruit notes burst on her tongue like liquid sunshine and it was easy to let Yaveen see her appreciation.

The small indicators of tension she’d been watching for eased and Yaveen smiled. Vex returned the expression and raised her glass in toast. “To being an obvious tourist,” she said.  “Despite trying to blend in.”

“I make it my business to know such things,”He matched her toast. “And I would never forget someone as exquisite as you.”  

“A clever answer.” Vex teased.

“I would never claim to be a clever man, only lucky.”

She glanced around them at the bustling casino. Nearby, a tall elf was cheering her win at the lizard game. “Well you’re in the right place.”

“This is true. But what is it that brings you here to this glorious jewel of Ank’Harel? Business or pleasure?”

“Both,” She said. “but tonight I was looking for a chance to indulge myself.

“Then you’ve chosen well. The Luck’s Run is the finest place in the city for a night of diversions,” He smirked. “And I’m not just saying that because I own the place.”

 “You must be Yaveen Rian-Arrya.”

 “Guilty as charged,” Yaveen crossed one arm over his waist and bowed deeply, still holding the glass of wine. “Be pleased, Countess.”

 Vex bent her head in a gracious nod. “The reputation of this casino proceeds you, Master Arrya; as does your own.”

 “You can’t believe everything you hear.”

“I’m sure in this case I can,” Vex placed her glass back on the bar, bending as she did so to give Yaveen an excellent, and seemingly accidental, view of her cleavage. Every little bit helped the con. “I know you must be very busy but I was hoping you could show me around. I love to discuss the possibility of doing some business here.”

 Yaveen was on his feet at her side in a moment, abandoning his wine to take her elbow. “Let me show you my humble enterprise.”

Vex let the tone of laughter fill her voice without being so ignoble as to actually chuckle.”I’m sure it’s not humble at all.”

 


 

Yaveen lead her on a meandering tour of the casino’s gaming tables, then up the wide, curved staircase to the second floor. Here everything was softer, from the voices to the carpet, and clearly meant to be exclusive. Vex had walked through the space when coming down from her room on the third floor but she hadn’t tried any of the six unobtrusive doors that lined the walls on either side. The first door on the right was flanked by a bouncer, who opened it at their approach, and they stepped in to what could only be Yaveen’s office.

It reflected the aesthetic of the casino below; golden metal, warm wood and cool, draping silk.There was a broad desk in front of the far wall with a bright seascape behind it, facing into the rest of the room. Yaveen gestured at the two lounging couches, positioned opposite one another on either side of a low table. “Please, have a seat.”

Vex ignored the direction, stepping instead to the intricately latticed double doors that made up the wall across from where they entered. Pushing them open, she found herself on a balcony overlooking the casino floor, so cleverly worked into the design of the room that she hadn’t even noticed it from below.

“It’s quieter inside,” Yaveen called to her.

Vex stepped back into the room, closing the screens and found it was quiet. Almost completely; which meant that the doors had to be enchanted. There was every chance that nothing in this office would be audible in the rest of the casino once those doors were closed.

It was a deeply uncomfortable thought. Vex wished, longingly for the earring of whisper she’d removed for being too distinctive.

Yaveen handed her a long stemmed glass full of something clear that smelled herbaceous. Vex smiled in appreciation and wet her lips on the glass, pretending to take a long sip. She waited to see if her body reacted unexpectedly before settling down on the low couch nearest the balcony.

“So, now you have seen my pride and joy.”

“It’s very impressive.” Vex agreed. “ I notice you have a number of offices on this floor.”

“I prefer this one.” Yaveen sat back on the couch opposite, spreading his arms out over the backrest. “But if you are looking to make use of such a space, I will put it at your disposal.”

“That would be appreciated.”

“Of course, whatever you require. Is it exports you’re here for? I know all the best brokers in the city, if you’re looking for introductions.”

Vex fought not to roll her eyes at Yaveen’s expectation of her incompetence. The more he underestimated her, the less likely he’d see the plan coming. “More import than export. My husband specialized in very profitable alternative business ventures.”

“As do I, and I would love to talk shop with the man who managed to get his hands on…” Yaveen raked his eyes over her body hungrily. “Such valuables.”

“I’m afraid he’s no longer with us.” She said, without the wink she would usually add - or the punch in the nose she’ld much rather give him

“You or the business?”

“Both.” Yaveen raised his glass to her in a toast of condolence, but Vex shook her head and didn’t join him when he drained the drink. “We had a disagreement over how best to grow our options and I decided a more aggressive approach was necessary.”

Yaveen stood and paced back to the sideboard for a refill. “How nice that your husband agreed.”

“Well,” She let a cold smile spread across her face. “The protests stopped eventually. As sole owner of the property, I’ve found much more success.”

Yaveen’s movements stuttered ever so slightly as he poured. Vex didn’t twitch when he shot her a look over his shoulder, and was rewarded with an approving smile.

“It is so rare to meet a person who appreciates the demands of business.”

“Speaking of business...”

“I rather thought we were.”

She favored him with an indulgent look but didn’t laugh, because Countess Velora was a serious woman about her business. “I chose your establishment for my stay quite deliberately.”

“Well, I can say with no ego that it is the finest casino in Ank’Harel.”

“I don’t think you do very much with no ego, Master Arrya but in this case it’s a point in your favour. I came to you because I like to gamble only with my coin, and my sources tell me your casino is the best when it comes to security.”

“We can certainly accommodate you, Lady Whitewood, if you’re worried about the safety of your jewels.” Yaveen said with a gesture at her necklace.

“This? It’s a bauble.” Vex had almost hyperventilated when Percy dug it out of the treasury. It was worth more than everything she and Vax had ever owned before they’d found the vestiges. “I couldn’t care less about diamonds. I’m here to move something far more valuable.”

“Trade of illegal goods is prohibited by decree of the great J’mon Sa Ord –“

Vex held up a hand to stop him. “As you seemed willing to give me credit as a businesswoman, extend the same credit to my common sense. Trade of illegal goods comes with uncertainties I’m not interested in.”

“So you say, Countess. And far be it from me to ever question someone of your station, but it’s my business that you would be risking.”

“The items I am here to sell will put neither you nor your business in any danger. They are not organic, magical or illegal in any way. If you feel that’s not guarantee enough, I’ll make alternate arrangements.” Vex watched his hesitation, waiting for her opening. Then she sweetened the pot. “I assure you that once my business here is established, being in a position to offer a meeting place could be extremely lucrative.”

Yaveen considered her for a long moment and drained his glass before his smile reappeared. “How can the Luck’s Run be of service to you?”

“I have a package arriving tomorrow by courier.” Vex discarded her drink on the nearby table. “I need secure storage for six days until my buyer arrives. I’ve been told you have the most secure vault in Exandria.”

 


 

Yaveen needed little prompting to offer her a tour of the vault. He seemed all too pleased to talk about the security measures he’d devised.

“Every copper that comes through my beautiful doors takes this path.” He led her after a dealer who was straining under a heavy-looking chest. They passed through an entrance that was almost hidden behind a hanging swath of silk. Vex wouldn’t even have noticed the door if not for the intimidating man standing next to it, scanning the crowd.

Neither the guard watching the door nor the one trailing after her and Yaveen made any move to help the poor dealer, who seemed completely resigned to the fact the he worked with assholes. “This door is the closest to my office, but there are entrances to the back halls all over the casino,” he boasted, “Money can be moved into the vault easily and the guests are never the wiser.”

The back halls lacked both the opulence and bustle of the casino floor, the comparative silence was jarring. “The staff can come from their entrance back there,” Yaveen pointed down a long hall set with several plain doors, “dress in their uniforms, and appear on the floor without disrupting anything.”

“The uniforms are lovely.”

“Indeed, they are designed to be elegant but unnoticed. We have a seamstress who works exclusively with us-“

“How do you keep everything straight down here? It’s like a maze!” Vex smiled winningly. She wanted to hear about uniform design like she wanted Thordak to come back to life.  

“Ah, experience is a rapid teacher.” Yaveen patted her hand where it was tucked around his elbow. “The staff quickly learn that it is two lefts past their entrance or they are welcome to leave through that entrance and never return!”  He chuckled at his own weak joke and she laughed along.

“Here we are,” he waved as they turned the corner to a dead end. Two more big men dressed the grey and gold of the Luck’s Run flanked a heavy iron door. One of them took the strongbox from the dealer and opened the door to reveal a spiraling stair leading down. The guard holding the strongbox headed down the stairs as the dealer moved back towards the casino floor and Yaveen’s bodyguard took up the guard’s now-vacant post.

“Two security staff remain on this door at all times,” Yaveen explained to her, gesturing towards the descending staircase. “After you.”

The stairs were wider than Vex expected - possibly in consideration of how difficult it must be to haul large boxes of coin up and down them - and they descended more than twenty feet into the earth.

Yaveen’s hand on her arm pulled Vex up short as they neared the bottom of the stairs. “Lady Whitewood, forgive me but you wouldn’t happen to be wearing any sort of glamour, would you?”

“A bold question.”

“But a necessary one.” He sketched an apologetic little bow. “Precautions against the powers of the arcane:any illusion spell beyond the base of the stairs will trigger the alarm.”

“A ward against disguise or invisibility spells,” Vex considered. “No, I have no illusions to maintain.”

He gave her a once over so thorough she could practically feel it. “That is good to know.”

The hall they stepped into was deep underground. Vex fancied she could feel the weight of the earth above pressing down on them. Their footsteps echoed off the stone and their shadows jumped and flickered in the torchlight. “We are just above the bedrock of the desert,” Yaveen explained. “No need for a foundation that might create a risk of tunneling. The flagstones of the vault are set right onto the solid base.”

“You don’t worry about someone coming through the walls?”

“My guards are more than a match for any infiltrators,” He waved to the second set of guardsmen, four in all, who were arranged in the small foyer space right before the imposing vault door. 

The door was massive, easily as wide as Grog was tall, and made of dull silver metal overlaid with elaborate plates of gold filigree and wide, gold-coloured banding. It looked built to withstand an explosion.  

“That’s incredible.” Vex breathed, more impressed than she’d intended to sound.  

“It was commissioned specifically for me by a genius locksmith. Sadly, he is no longer with us, so this vault is one of a kind.” He didn’t sound sad. If the sharklike smile on his face was any indicator, Yaveen had probably killed the man himself. “Open it.”

He made an imperious gesture and the vault guards, who had already started moving for the door, turned back around to give him an awkward nod. “Uh, yes sir.”

The vault door had two locks, but the guard who moved to open it produced only one key. “They keep the keys on them?” Vex asked and found her question answered when the man who had been carrying the strongbox passed it off and produced a secondary key. “Ah, one upstairs and one down here.”

“Precisely. And a combination.” The locks clicked and a piece of the filagree lifted to expose a combination lock with three rotating dials. The guard who’d pulled out the first key shifted to input the code. Vex cursed inwardly as he kept his body between her and the door, blocking her view of the combination. It would have been lovely if they were that stupid.

There was a sound of metal tumblurs slotting into place. The guard pulled back on one of the gold bands and the elaborate, foot-thick door swung open with a groan of metal on metal, revealing a treasure horde the likes of which Vex hadn’t seen since they felled Vorugal.  

She swallowed a very unladylike noise. “Impressive”

“Indeed.” Yaveen’s expression was amused when she finally managed to pull her gaze away.

“You never fear the guards will fill their pockets?” There was no chance he didn’t have further precautions. She needed to get him back on the defensive so he’d explain in a bid to impress her.

“So untrusting.”

“I don’t believe in trust,” Vex said archly. “Too expensive.”

Yaveen laughed, “A wise position. And one that I have taken into account.” He guided her forward to watch the strongbox being emptied. “Every coin is counted before the boxes are sealed upstairs. They can only be opened under that unlocking ward in the center of the room.” He pointed to the glowing silver ring pressed into the stone table at the vault’s center, then drew Vex’s attention to a similar circle of runes that ran along the perimeter of the space. “Coin can be placed into the vault by anyone, but if someone other than my casino manager or myself try to remove them?”

He clapped his hands together loudly enough that she started. “The room locks down and the alarms begin to sound. Any thieves are held inside until I am ready to deal with them.”

“It seems impenetrable.”

“It certainly is. So, Lady Whitewood, are you satisfied?”

“I think,” Vex smiled, “that you should call me Velora.”

He put out his arm to her and led Vex back up the stairs “Nothing would delight me more, except to hear that you are pleased and that we have an accord.”

“I’m thrilled. It will certainly do for my shipment,” She assured him. “It’s more than I expected, even with your reputation. I just don’t know how you find the patience for it day to day.”

“How do you mean?”

“Well obviously there are things I don’t like to leave lying about, even in my own home - and I am a stickler for security – but to go all the way through that process every time I needed to make a notation or mark down a payment seems like such awful work.”

Understanding crossed his face and Yaveen chuckled. “My dear Velora, half the point of having so elaborate a vault is the target it paints. It is like your ‘baubles.’” He waved at her necklace. “You understand that the real valuables are much less obvious. Thieves come and even the clever ones dash themselves against the fortress of my vault door, while I am able to keep the things of real worth and usefulness much closer to hand.”

 


 

“It’s in his office, I’m sure of it.” Vex said, half into her earring and half to Keyleth, who had perched herself on the lavish hotel room bed after flying in through the window.

“There was nothing in the vault?” Percy’s voice came through. “Nothing of value?”

“I’m going to pretend you didn’t say that.” Vex placed a hand on her chest and feigned staggering in shock to make Keyleth laugh. “The vault was full, Percy. Full of lovely money!”

“But money isn’t what we’re looking for.”

“Speak for yourself,” Grog grumbled.

“We’re not leaving the money,” Vex insisted, picking up the eagle feathers that Keyleth’s animal form had shed all over the bed and tickling the druid’s nose with them. “But no, Percy, there weren’t any papers, no legers, nothing but coin waiting for us to give it a good home.”

“Yeah, if we can get to it Stubby,” Vax’s voice cut across the noise of Keyleth fending off Vex with the papers she was holding . “That vault doesn’t exactly sound like a cakewalk.”

“Two keys?” Vex scoffed. “Scanlan could make those lifts.”

“Alright, I’ll do it.” Scanlan agreed with a reluctant sigh; as though they’d been begging and he was only capitulating because he felt bad.

“No,” she and Vax said in unison.

“It’s the combination lock I’m not sure about,” Her brother continued. “These things go better if I can see the door or the plans beforehand.”

“If he was willing to have the guy who made it killed, something tells me the plans won’t just be lying around.“ Scanlan pointed out.

“And Vex, these runes,” Keyleth put the papers down on the bedspread and smoothed them out, running her fingers over Vex’s drawings of the vault wards. “I’ve never seen some of these before. Maybe if we had Allura but I don’t know if any of us can break these.”

“I’m not sure we need to,” Percy interrupted before Vex could speak.

“No, that’s right,” Grog agreed. “We go in and bust his head. That takes care of the whole problem.”

“Let’s…keep that as a back up,” Percy said over the chorus of laughter. “I think I have a idea that will get us all in and out, with the wards undisturbed.”

 


 

In the hopes of getting an in-person look at the vault door, Vax delivered the case while wearing the hat of disguise. The form he’d picked was a nondescript human man, with hair and build similar enough to his own that if the wards dispelled the illusion, it wouldn’t be instantly noticeable. Vex spotted him immediately as he entered the lobby and was hard pressed not to laugh at how ridiculous he looked in his stiff outfit that resembled what the council aides had worn back in Emon.

“Countess.” Vax made a beeline for her, hesitating only a moment when he saw Yaveen waiting at Vex’s elbow.

“Trouble?” She asked.

He bowed, deeply. “No, my Lady.”

“Good.”

Yaveen directed them to an office on the second floor. Not his own, but one of the nondescript rooms that Scanlan had mentioned. He hovered at her elbow as they made a show of unlocking the case. “I am interested to see what you have that is so valuable.”

Vax gave her a warning look, but Vex didn’t pause. It wasn't as though they didn’t know Yaveen was a scumbag. His oily eagerness was hardly suspicious if it was in character.  

“Something that cannot be bought, found or created anywhere else in Exandria. Something that has never been seen before.” She tucked the key away into her dress and lifted the lid to reveal three bars of green glass cushioned with black velvet.

“They don’t look like emeralds.”

“They’re not.” She didn’t want to explain this, didn’t want to take the risk of letting others know what had been created from Whitestone’s quarries. But Percy had been adamant that they would need something unusual to sell Vex’s character. Besides, if all went well Yaveen would be in prison with no one to tell. “Do you know what residuum is?”

“It’s a stone of some kind.”

“Residuum amplifies magic. It’s usually found as a trace mineral in certain types of rock.”

“Rare and very valuable, yes? I remember there was talk of importing something like that for the Crystal Chateau.” Naturally, the value of it was what Yaveen remembered.

“The mountains near Kymal are rich in such a stone,” Vex explained, “Unfortunately, it takes a great deal of material to make anything worthwhile and the magics that can be channeled through buildings are limited.”

“Not to mention the difficulty of transport.”

“Exactly. I found that unsatisfactory, so we developed a way to eliminate the problem. These,” Vex tapped one bar with her fingernail, “are solid residuum glass.”

“Incredible.” Yaveen reached forward to touch the bars.Vex snapped the case shut and locked it in one smooth movement.

“You see now why it must be kept safe.”

“Of course.” He gestured to his guard and the man came around the table, moving to intercept her before she could pass the case off to Vax. “I’m afraid I can’t allow your man into the vault, Lady Velora. There are no private security personnel permitted in the back rooms.” In the corner of her eye, Vex saw her brother tense just slightly.

“I understand.” She turned to Vax. “Go to my suite. I want a full report before you return to Kymal.”

Vax bowed deeply. “Yes, Countess.”

Vex shifted the box under one arm with a nod to Yaveen.  “I will return shortly.”

“Velora... Countess, Rocan is my head of security. He will take no chances with your items.”

“That may be, but I require certainty. This case goes into the vault with his eyes on it,”  She gestured at Vax. “or mine.”

Yaveen put up his hands in a conciliatory gesture, and for a moment Vex was sure they’d convinced him. But he only offered her his arm with a flowery compliment about her careful nature.

Vex shot an apologetic look at her brother as they left the room. If he couldn’t crack the vault quickly Percy’s plan was dead in the water and they were all in trouble.  

 


 

Percy had held off the plan for three more days, watching the flow of people to the casino increase as they grew closer to the day of the advertised duel, and trying not to obsess over how Vex was managing to string Yaveen along. Wishing she could wear the earring of whisper at all times, just so he would know she was safe.

And now it was finally, officially showtime.

“Vex is heading upstairs with him,” Percy murmured, letting his earring pick up his voice.  

“Beg pardon, sir?” the dealer gave him a curious look.

“Nothing.” He said with an ingratiating smile. “Apologies.”

“Not at all, sir. Will you test the favor of the goddess again?”

Percy separated fifty gold from the stack that Vex had left and passed it forward. “A few more times today, at least.”

 


 

“That smug fucker.” Vax rolled his eyes at Percy’s cultured voice coming in through the earring. Under his picks the lock clicked open and the service door swung inward. He turned to Grog, looking for agreement, and was once again completely unsettled by the seeming spell that covered them both.

Looking like a pot bellied human didn’t stop Grog from knocking him easily out of the way as he barreled through.

“Hey slow down!” Vax called after him. “We’re supposed to look like we work here.” They were both wearing the skin of a different species, dressed in the long shirts of dark gray and gold that all the casino staff wore. Vax caught sight of his own reflection in a window and had to admit he did not look good as a half orc.

“I can see the head of security,” Scanlan reported. “He just got back into the casino. You’ve got twenty minutes tops.”

Grog grinned back at Vax with someone else’s face and bounded off down the corridor.

The central floor of the Luck’s Run casino was a beautiful combination of brass and dark woods, hung with delicate silk and glimmering lights, and crowded with people. The corridors that ran behind the façade were dingy and cut from simple stone with hardly a soul moving through them.

Vax and Grog passed two servers and a barely clad man who was likely part of the night’s performers on their way out, but no one gave them a second glance as they wended their way towards the stairwell for the vault. They passed a service door that led into the casino proper just as a dwarf in a dealer’s uniform pushed through with a closed cart of gold and a slim black case.

“Hiya friends,” the dwarf said in Scanlan’s voice.

“Who are you?” Grog squinted at the newcomer, suspicious and defensive.

“Grog, it’s me!”

“Who’s you?”

“It’s Scanlan!” Vax and Scanlan cried in unison.

“Well, how was I supposed to know?” Grog sounded sincerely hurt. “It doesn’t look anything like Scanlan.”

“And you don’t look like you either, Big Man,” Vax clapped a conciliatory hand on his shoulder. “But you remember the plan, right?”

“Don’t smash any heads till we get downstairs. Don’t let anyone call for help. You and Scanlan do the talking,” he recited.

“You got it.”

“As lovely as this hallway is,” Scanlan reminded them, “we are on a time sensitive mission here.”

“Go on then!” Vax snatched the black case off the cart and gestured for him to lead the way.

There were two guards at the top of the stairwell. One of them held a hand up to stop Scanlan as he approached. “We’ll take it from here.” He moved to haul the strongbox from the cart, but Grog got to it first, lifting the box without effort.

Scanlan kicked him in the ankle.

“Oh!” Grog bent awkwardly as though lead weights had been suddenly attached to his arms. “Oh that’s so heavy.”

“Let us get it.” Vax scrambled to pick up one side of the strongbox before Grog ‘dropped’ it, waving the slim black case in his free hand. “We’ve got a special delivery anyway. Boss wants something else put in.”

“What is it this time?”

“Not worth my job to ask and not work my life if it goes missing.” Vax groaned theatrically, looking from the strongbox, back to the guards. “You really want to take this? It’s fucking heavy, man.”

The guard looked over at his partner. The second man shook his head in a manner that suggested he was trying for surreptitious and missed it by about a mile. “No…” The first guard said at last. It was almost a question. “you know what? I wasn’t thinking. Protocol is two people on the door up here.”

“You sure? I mean, I’ll stay here if you want.” These guys were so amature hour it was almost painful.

“No, no. Go ahead.” He slapped the key into Grog’s outstretched palm and returned to his post, waving Scanlan off. “Don’t you have work to do? Get back out on the floor!”

Grog and Vax ignored Scanlan’s indignant response and headed down the winding stairs. The moment the door bumped shut behind them, Vax dropped his handle. The strongbox stayed exactly where it was.

Grog hefted it onto his shoulder one handed with a snort of derision, just as both their forms shimmered and resolved back into their regular selves.

“See you at the bottom.” Vax tucked the black case under his arm and slipped back into the flickering shadows cast by the torchlight. “Wait for the signal.”

“Wots the signal?”

“When the first one goes down, kill the rest.”

“Got it.”

 


 

Scanlan turned back towards the casino floor as Grog and Vax disappeared into the depths of the building. Now all he had to do was wait for the signal and dimension door down there to get them out.

Through the earring he could hear Yaveen droning on to Vex, trying to make her swoon with compliments that even Scanlan found a little over the top. He could practically hear Percy grinding his teeth and every so often a stifled giggle would break through from Pike.

He was pacing the back hallways, looking for an out-of-the-way place to wait, when he turned a corner and froze. Walking past a cross-section further up the corridor were a familiar half-elf and a half-orc with a neatly trimmed goatee. Vardavin and Rutur, those bastards who’d cheated him out of four hundred gold and left him with two enormous sacks of wood shavings.

Scanlan changed course and followed after them. They were owed a visit from the Meat Man.

 


 

Deep below, Vax slipped silently into the shadows at the base of the stairs and scouted the hall. Grog was far enough behind him that his attempt at stealth hadn’t alerted the guards, but that wouldn’t last long once he reached the bottom of the stairs. Grog was about as subtle as an axe to the face.

In the open area by the vault door that Vex had described, were four figures; lightly armoured and heavily armed.

Boredom seemed to have gotten the better of them at some point during their shift. None of them were looking his way, or even half-watching the stairs. Two were talking quietly in a corner, one was focused on peeling an apple clumsily with a sword blade, and the last one seemed to be asleep against a wall.

Vax gently set the black case down on one end of the bottom step and started down the hall, shifting from shadow to shadow, silent as a whisper.

Just before the hall opened into the vault foyer, a decorative archway jutted about a foot outwards from the wall. Vax reached the lee of the arch and pressed himself back into it just as a heavy clang and Grog’s voice came echoing down.

“Hey, can one of you lazy lot help us with this?”

Vax didn’t look, but he heard the men on the other side of the arch shift. The sound of booted footsteps on stone was loud in the quiet space.

“They can’t lift the damn boxes again?”

“Must be Teegan. He’s such a weakling.”

“Coniz, go help.”

“Fuck off, you help them.” Whoever Coniz was snapped back, but Vax heard the sound of a blade being sheathed.

Instead of just Coniz heading down the hall, all three of the guards who’d been up and moving stepped into Vax’s line of vision. The chatty ones were chivvying the apple eater along and none of them were looking around. Vax held his breath and waited until they had all moved past him. Then, he shifted.

“Who are you?” Apple Eater called out towards the stairs. Vax wasn’t sure if confusion had dulled his reactions or he was dumb as a bag of hammers. Either way, too late.

Grog’s feet hit the bottom of step and he met Vax’s eyes over the shoulders of the guardsmen. His grin, already big, bright and full of the promise of violence, widened as Vax mouthed ‘jenga’.

Vax’s first strike took the chatty guard completely by surprise and right between his ribs. He drew his second blade across the man’s throat with one quick slash and Chatty crumpled before he could even scream. Spinning, Vax hurled Whisper at the fourth man, still sleeping against the wall, and appeared next to him between one breath and the next.

By that point, Grog had made it into the fray

The hall that Vax had snuck down carefully and slowly was maybe thirty feet; Grog cleared it in a heartbeat. He was frothing with rage by the time he reached the two remaining guards, who were too stunned to even react. Apple Eater dropped when his head was abruptly removed from his shoulders. The second man had just enough time to piss himself before Grog kicked him so hard  he went flying back into the wall and crumpled like a broken doll.

Grog turned, looking for the next opponent, and found only Vax standing over the Sleeper. He wasn’t going to wake up again.

“Good job, Big Man.”

“I thought these guys were supposed to be tough?”

“Not tough enough. Grab me the case, will you?” Vax bent and began to rifle through the guard’s pockets. He came up with the second key and slotted it neatly into the lock.

The cover in the center of the door clicked smoothly back, revealing the dialed combination lock Vex had described to him. Vax knelt so that the lock was at eye level, unrolling the soft leather sleeve that held his tools.

He ran his fingers carefully over each number as he rolled the dial, looking for imperfections that the lock mechanism might have impressed on the metal. They were all clean.

He looked for the bolt to apply tension so that he could force the correct numbers to lock in as they rolled past, but the door’s decorative plating had been specifically added to prevent that.

“Vax, hurry up.”

He slipped his thinnest pick carefully between the left side of the third dial and the lock’s metal casing. Lifting delicately, Vax placed his ear against the door and listened for the sound of it slotting into place. Nothing. He shifted the pick and tried again, feeling the thin metal twist against resistance.

Grog’s footsteps were deafening in the hall behind him. There was sweat on Vax’s palms and every second he took with this was a second closer to being caught, while upstairs his sister was flirting with a murderer.

He squeezed his eyes shut and forced himself to tune out the distractions, tapping the pick against the top of the lock in as much of an arc as he could manage, searching for the inner bar so that he could gently press it up and…

Click .

The bar lifted from the pressure of his pick and the bolt shot back.

Vax stood with a sigh of relief and touched his earring. “We’re in.”

“Excellent,” Percy’s voice came through a little less clearly so far down, but Vax could still hear the smile in it. “Fifteen minutes before we have to start worrying about security.Let us know when you’re clear.”

Grog shouldered him in what might have been a nudge, but almost knocked Vax over. “Aren’t you gonna open it?”

Vax shot a broad grin at Grog, his heart pumping with that adrenaline rush of success and stealing things he’d missed without even noticing. “Fuck yeah, let’s open it.”

Grog swung the door back so hard he almost ripped it off the hinges, and Vax had a brief moment to wonder why that hadn’t been their Plan A before he was distracted by more gold than he’d ever seen in one place.

Dragons’ treasure hoards were astonishing and Vox Machina had certainly seen their fair share, but this was something else all together. Where a horde formed a haphazard pile broken up by magical items or anything else a wyrm might fancy, this was methodical. Organised racks of coin in boxes lined the walls, stacked three deep and five high on each shelf. The table in the center of the room was piled with teetering piles of gold and platinum waiting to be counted. Along the back wall of the vault were larger boxes labeled with gem types, and several big, heavy chests sat on the ground under the shelves.

“Holy shit.”

Vax whistled long and low. “Right there with you. Remember, though, it can’t cross the line.”

“Right.” Grog stepped into the vault, around the table and its unlocking sigil, to find an unmarked flagstone. He bashed the titanstone knuckles together and swelled until his head almost brushed the vault ceiling, balled up one fist and slammed it into the floor.  

As Grog went to work, Vax darted back to the abandoned black case, thumbing the lock open to reveal the six silver cylinders Percy had built, packed carefully in wool so they wouldn’t be jostled.

He set them gingerly, red painted ends against the walls. Two on either side of the vault door, two just past the arch where he’d hidden himself, and two about halfway down the corridor.

Grog was calling Vax’s name by the time he’d set them all. The titanstone knuckles had done their work well and the now-broken bits of flooring were easily shoved away to reveal bare rock beneath. Vax leapt over the vault threshold just in time to see an earth elemental rise from the ground wearing their bag of holding.

“Keep that open, Kiki!” He grinned at her, snatching two boxes in each hand from the nearest shelf. “We’ve got a lot to load up.”

Keyleth raised one stone thumb and Grog laughed in approval, dumping eight boxes at a time into her bag.

 


 

Vardavin and Rutur passed into the casino too fast for Scanlan to catch up properly, so he followed from a good six paces behind them and waiting for his moment.

The shift and flow of people around the tables provided easy cover, but neither of them bothered to look around. They crossed to the counter where dealers in outfits that matched the one Scanlan had seeminged for himself exchanged silver and platinum for shining gold, and very, very rarely paid out.

Rutur caught the eye of the woman manning the last station on the counter and she nodded, ducking into the back room. She came back with a cloth purse that clanked heavily when she dropped it to the counter and a leather folio.

Vardavin took the pouch with the coin while Rutur skimmed over whatever was in the folio. His pierced eyebrow rose once and he pointed something out to Vardavin before handing the folio back to the bored looking dealer. The two of them stepped back into the crowd, their heads bent together as they discussed whichever poor sucker they were planning to swindle next. Scanlan couldn’t hear them over the noise of the casino, but the fact that they were being paid by the dealers meant Yaveen was part of their schemes.

He should really find out what they were doing. And if he had to step in and stop something dastardly? Well, the rest of the group would only approve.

 


 

Pretending to watch the game with the running lizards was a lot less fun than actually betting on them. Percy had left the dice table soon after Vex to avoid being remarked on and begun a slow circuit of the floor, stopping wherever a knot of people were watching anything and keeping his eyes on the movements of the security guards.

He looked up at a flash of blue in the corner of his vision and saw Pike on the landing. She swirled her wide sapphire skirts again, just in case Percy hadn’t been paying attention as a dark skinned man almost as large as Grog moved down the stairs past her.

“The head of security is on his way down,” Percy murmured into the earring, turning away from the lizards and frantic betters, just as their shouting reached a fever pitch. “Whatever you haven’t loaded leave it behind and get out.”

 


 

“That’s our cue,” Vax fed the last of his armload of boxes into the bag of holding and looked to Grog, who was hauling over the final dozen. “Did you check the chests?”

“Oh, chests!” Grog immediately dropped what he was carrying. Vax shouted in process as he tried to catch the whole load, and only Keyleth’s quick intervention stopped his toes from being crushed. She made a rumbling noise as she loaded them into the bag. Vax couldn’t understand earth elemental, but he had a seaking suspicion she was laughing at him.

“Quiet you,’ Vax grinned and kissed the spot on her rocky face where a nose would be before rushing to pop the remaining chests open. Sheaves of documents stared back at him.

Gorg made a strangled noise of frustration from across the room. “Why’s it all paper?”

“This Yaveen guy likes weird stuff, Grog. Leave it for the Hand of Ord.” With any luck it would be something incriminating.

“Weird stuff.” Grog eyed the papers dubiously.

Keyleth made a sound like an avalanche behind them and Vax abandoned the chests for a final scan of the now empty vault. He picked one last coin off the floor and flicked it towards her. “That’s it; see you on the other side.”

Keyleth caught the gold in one big stone fist and sank back into the ground as smoothly as a pebble in water.

“Kiki’s clear,” he said into the earring. “We’re setting the charges now. Where’s the gnome?”

 


 

They needed more time. The charges were set for a minute and if the head of security was closer to the vault than the offices when they blew, there was no chance Vax and Grog would be able to get out.

“Scanlan, you better be down there already.” Percy hissed as he crossed the room.

He looked left, as though distracted by a cheering table, just as he reached the guard and plowed directly into him. “Oh!” Percy shifted against the momentum, falling into the man rather than away. He gripped the guard’s - Vex had called him Rocan - lapels in both hands as he tried to steady himself. “Oh, I am sorry, so terribly clumsy of me.”

“Not at all, sir.” Rocan’s words might have been deferential but his expression was nothing short of murderous.

Percy didn’t let that dissuade him in the slightest. “With you fellows looming all over the place, you really ought to have brighter uniforms. I cannot understand why it’s so difficult to find a staff member who can see to my needs.”

“Sir -”

“I decided to stay here under the impression that this was an establishment of quality, and so far the service has been extremely lacking.” Percy checked his cuffs, keeping his attention only nominally on Rocan and simply expected the man to hang on his every word.

“I am chief of security, sir.”

“Excellent, a person with enough authority that you could perhaps be of some actual use. It has been simply unacceptable-”

“Sir, what I’m trying to say is I cannot help you.”

“Then get me someone who can,” Percy gave Rocan a look of mild disbelief. Really it wasn’t all that hard to be convincingly irritated. Service at this hotel fell well short of where it should have been. “If you’re chief of security I imagine you have some small modicum of influence among the better, more capable members of staff.”

The fabric of Rocan’s suit creaked as he drew himself up, hinting that there was more than fabric underneath. Every inch of his height and breadth was a promise of barely leashed violence. “Move, or I will move you.”

Percy sniffed, but he could see other security people shifting towards them and knew he’d pushed this about as far as it could go. “I’m going to be reporting this to your manager.” He stepped back, letting Rocan pass. The tension melted away as Percy ducked back into the crowd

“I bought you a few moments, but he’s on his way. Scanlan, do you have them?”

 


 

“Scanlan, where are you?” Vax skidded over the threshold of the vault to the cylinder he’d planted against the closest wall. He placed both hands around  the aluminum shell and squeezed.

The metal held. “Shit, shit, shit.”

A meaty goliath hand reached over his shoulder and pinched the cylinder with his thumb and index finger. It twisted like hot wax and Vax could hear the scratch of crushed glass inside.

He looked back over his shoulder into Grog’s smug face. “You are really strong.”

“Get out of here.” Grog jerked a thumb in the  direction of the stairs and moved for the others, breaking them one by one.

Vax ran up the first five stairs and paused, listening. “Scanlan?”

There was no response. Skipping back down he tucked himself into the corner furthest from the vault door.

“Done.”

Vax caught Grog as he lumbered down the hall, and pulled him as far as they could both get against the wall. “Shift back,” he hissed and touched his earring. “Thirty seconds.”

“Fuck off.” Grog swatted away Vax’s grip, but he shoved closer wrapping his arms roughly around Vax and hauling him close, putting his back towards the vault and Percy’s toys at the end of the hallway.

“Thanks Grog.” Vax reached up and cupped his hands over Grog’s ears. “Fifteen seconds.”

 


 

“Ten,” Pike whispered, slipping easily between the high rollers who crowded the second floor gaming tables and ignoring their strange looks. “You’re all safe, right?”

 


 

“Five,” Percy crossed through the casino, avoiding the eyes of anyone who might have seen his altercation with Rocan and heading towards a shadowed alcove near the stage. “Four, three, two, one...”

 


 

The explosion sent vibrations through Keyleth’s stone form, ringing her like a tuning fork even from half a block away. In the street past the mouth of the alley she was hiding in, a towering stack of fruit collapsed and passersby turned to one another, searching out an explanation for the disturbance.

Keyleth let her elemental shape melt away and took off at a dead sprint, down the path she and Vax had walked three times in the last two days. She ducked around shoppers and carts in a blur of red hair and flame coloured leaves.

Panting, she skidded to a halt, ignoring the welcome cool of the shaded building in favour of the startled Hand of Ord boggling at her from behind his desk.  

“Help! We need help, come quickly!” She shouted, waving her arms. “There’s - an explosion! The casino exploded!”

Half a dozen helmeted heads appeared out of various doorways to stare at her.

“Don’t just stand there!” Keyleth slammed her fists down onto the desk. The intense panic over what might be happening to her friends lent confidence to her desperation and the Hands slowly began to move. “People are hurt. Go!”

 


 

The entire room rocked to the side. Vex caught herself as she swayed hard against the couch and an deafening boom rang throughout the casino. The crystal globes of the chandelier rattled against each other, their chiming almost entirely lost to the panicked screams from below.

Yaveen startled and Vex jumped to her feet.

“That sounded like an explosion!” She raced for the balcony, flinging open the doors to to look out over the casino floor. Below her, Vex caught sight of a familiar white head moving swiftly through the restless crowd. A second blast shook the ground. Someone started screaming and people began to rush for the exit. She spun back to Yaveen. “Are we under attack?”

“Who would be attacking Ank’Harel?” From the look on his face, Yaveen was already running through possible answers to that question.

Before he could come to any decision, his head of security burst through the doors. “Sir!”

“Rocan, what in the nine hells is going on?”

“I don’t know sir, but I’ve sent my men to find out.” He tensed. “It came from underground.”

Vex watched the colour drain from Yaveen’s face. “The vault!”

“It’s a robbery?” Vex shouted, high, panicky and loud . She heard someone below her echo the cry and the casino’s crowd grew even more frantic as they pushed for the doors.

Yaveen gestured for Rocan to lead the way out. Vex made it two steps after him before he rounded on her. “Stay here.”

“You’ve got my property in that vault!” she demanded. “You promised me protection.”

“And you’ll have it.” He seized her arm and shoved her back onto the couch. “Stay here!”

Vex recoiled at the fury in his voice and didn’t move. Yaveen’s attention snapped to the guard who’d been watching the office door. “No one goes in. She doesn’t leave.” He strode off, almost running, shouting instructions at Rocan. “I want two of your men getting people out and every other one of you with me!”

The door slammed shut behind him and Vex was alone in his office. The look of cowed fear on her face vanished into an expression of irritation as she poked her arm where Yaveen had grabbed it. That was going to bruise. “Rude,” she muttered to herself.

Vex pulled her earring of whisper from inside the front of her dress and threaded it through her ear. “He’s clear. I’m looking for the safe.”

 


 

“I’ve got eyes on him.” Percy watched Yaveen descending the stairs, gathering henchmen in his wake like a particularly oily-looking thunderstorm. “Vax, Grog, you better be hidden.”

 


 

“Hidden where?” Vax hissed, looking desperately for any shifting dust that might indicate an invisible gnome. The sliver of cover where he was pressed behind Grog wasn’t going to last long when Yaveen and his goons reached them. “Scanlan, we need you now!”

 


 

A panicked woman shoved against Scanlan’s shoulder as she bolted past him. All around him, people were starting to run. He saw Vardavin turn to his boss and gesture towards another service door. Vax and Percy were hissing in his ear.

He was out of time.

“Oh fuck it,” Scanlan conjured an unseen servant.

Matching yelps of panic and confusion came from Vardavin and Rutur as both their pants were yanked down to their ankles. Vardavin, still walking, twisted and fell against Rutur, who couldn’t move out of the way. They both went crashing down the stairs, landing bare-assed in a heap on the landing.

 


 

By the time he’d reached the door to the vault floor, Yaveen had half his security staff on his heels. The idiots who were supposed to be guarding the stairs were hovering uselessly at the top, apparently waiting for instructions for how to do their damn jobs.

One of them turned, catching sight of Rocan and looked relieved for an instant before his eyes slid to Yaveen and he went white.

“What the fuck are you all doing up here?”

“We don’t - ah we don’t know what’s down there, sir.”

“And it never occurred to you to go down and make sure I’m not being robbed ?” He screamed.

“Yes, sir. It’s just that -”

“You’re fired.” Yaveen pointed at two of the weedier members of his security entourage. “Get him out of here. I don’t ever want to see his face again.” Without waiting for a reply, he stormed down the stairs, Rocan and the incompetent drones close behind.

A cloud of choking dust rose up from the base of the stairs and Yaveen slowed just enough to let Rocan shift past him and pick his way down the hall.

The torches that lined the walls had guttered out - where there were still walls. Through the dust in the dim magical light from the remains of the vault, Yaveen could see that whatever had caused the explosion had scooped massive craters into the walls and floor. The ceiling, lacking key support, had buckled in and the ground was strewn with rubble.

“Did they blow the vault door?” He shouted.

Rocan was silent ahead of him. Yaveen picked his way over the piles of rock, scrambling forward as loose sections shifted under his feet. “Is the vault locked down? Are they still inside?”

“Sir ...” Rocan began, his voice faint.

Yaveen ignored him. Unless Rocan was an answering to his questions, listening to the man was pointless. He tried to move forward and was brought up short, hooked awkwardly by his robes which had caught on a twist of metal.

“I’m going to make whoever did this pay!” Yaveen vowed, hauling at the coat until the rich fabric gave with a loud rip and the sound of scattering beads. “I’m going to re-cement these walls with their blood!”

The abrupt slack sent him flying and it took Yaveen three stumbling steps before he managed to jerk himself back upright. He looked up directly into the vault and froze.

It was empty.

Every box of coin, every shelf of gems, even the pearls that Yaveen had taken back from his third wife were gone. There was a single gold piece left in the center of the unlocking ward and it was mocking him.

“The vault just blew,” he said to Rocan without turning his gaze away from that last gold piece. ”They’re still here. They are here somewhere and you will find them, and find out how they broke into my vault!”

 


 

Vax tried not to breathe too hard as Yaveen and his goons struggled past them over the debris  towards the vault. He shoved at Scanlan’s back, hitching him up higher in Grog’s grip.

When he’d heard the entrance door at the top of the stairs bang open and there was still no sign of Scanlan Vax had comforted himself with the knowledge that his sister and Keyleth were safe, and he and Grog had readied their weapons to fight their way out.

The intangible, arcane sensation of an invisibility spell settled over them just as the head of security cleared the bottom of the stairs.

He’d whirled around to see Scanlan behind them, panting from trying to finish the incantation in a single breath but not too winded for a cheeky wave.  

Vax sent out a prayer of thanks to his Raven Queen - adding in a nod to Sarenrae and Pelor for good measure - that Percy’s little toys had knocked out the wards against illusion spells.

Tugging Grog’s sleeve, Vax nudged him towards the stairs as the last guard passed by. Ever so quietly they began to tiptoe up the now vacated steps towards freedom

 


 

The door behind her creaked open and Vex jerked forwards, trying to cover the safe with her body. But instead of Yaveen and his henchmen, Pike’s bright grin peeked around the frame.

Vex sighed her name in relief and gestured over to where she’d removed the painting behind the desk.  “Come help me with this. It’s definitely covered in some kind of magic.”

Pike cracked her knuckles, shaking a little blood off the ogre gauntlets that worked surprisingly well with her evening gown. “Well, let’s see what we can do about that.”

A burst of Sarenrae’s light erupted from Pike’s outstretched hands and the faint bluish glow on the safe faded away.

Vex gave her a smile and bent her head to the lock, working Vax’s old picks carefully, listening for the sweet sound of the click . “Got it.”

“Go Vex!” Pike cheered very quietly.

Vex reached back to give her a high-five. “Did you hear that, brother? I think I beat your time!”

“Hold please,” Vax whispered, his voice barely audible even through the earring.

“Be careful.” she whispered back and swung the safe door open.  “Oh, that sneaky fucker!”

Sitting neatly atop the pile of items in the safe were the three bars of residuum she had asked Yaveen to watch for her. “He was going to steal from me!”

“We’re stealing from him ,” Pike reminded her.

“Yes, but,” Vex pulled the bars out and laid them next to Pike on the desk, “it’s the principle of the thing.”

“Well, now he’ll know not to do it again.” Pike slipped the bars into the pockets that were hidden in her skirts. She held out her hands again and Vex passed off a black velvet bag and a few other potentially interesting treasures .  

Beneath her residuum, the ledger they had hoped for sat neatly on top of a small stack of loose papers. Next to the pile, there was a case containing several vials of a poisonous yellow liquid. Vex flipped open the ledger, scanned a few lines, and looked back at the vials. “Well, the Hand of Ord are going to love this.”

“What are those?”

Vex was grateful for her gloves as she lifted one rack of vials from the case and passed it back for Pike’s inspection. “From the look of them and the notes in this leger? This is how Yaveen gets rid of people he doesn’t want beaten to death.”

Pike held the vials up to squint at their contents. “Yikes.”

“Yeah,” Vex nodded, looking back to the papers. “You get caught with something like that on you and the Hand are going to have a lot of questions.”

“Pike,” Percy’s voice was tense in their ears. “he’s coming back. You have to get out of there now.”

Pike shoved the velvet bag down the front of her dress and tugged Vex back towards the couches. “Leave the rest.”

“It’s useful!” Vex protested, snatching a few papers as she was pulled away. There were invoices here, records of transactions for money lending, a contract for surveillance: a pattern of activity that would hopefully mean something to the Hand of Ord.

“Vex, he’s on the stairs.”

“I just need a moment.” There had to be something directly incriminating in these pages.

“I won’t be able to get past him.” Pike warned

“Just a second.”

“Vex!”

“Pike, hold on.”

“I’m really sorry about this.” Pike’s voice was chagrined enough to tug Vex’s attention away from the documents. She looked up just in time to see Pike kick off the coffee table, leap into the air and swing one ogre gauntleted fist right for Vex’s face.

 


 

Yaveen left four guards clearing the rubble in the vault corridor and dragged Rocan back upstairs.

The casino floor was chaos.

All the guests had fled, leaving the floor littered with broken glass from abandoned drinks, scattered coin and overturned chairs. A few of his dealers hovered in doorways and under counters, but most had chosen safety as the better part of valor and fled.

He strode to the middle of the floor and held up a hand, ready to begin issuing commands.

“Master Rian-Arrya!”

“Oh fuck .” Yaveen let his arm go slack and fall to his side, turning around with his best salesman smile firmly in place. “Captain Neraduc. Praise to J’mon that you have come.”

Neraduc was the Leader of the Hand of Ord for this district, and a more sanctimonious, officious choir-boy Yaveen had never encountered. Three years he’d been trying to find any scrap of dirt on the man and nothing. He was clean as a sand-scoured stone. It was infuriating.

With the exception of one weedy looking rookie, lurking at the back of the group like he’d rather be anywhere else, not one of the assembled hands were the men Yaveen regularly paid off. Which meant Neraduc was either extraordinarily lucky, or he knew which of his people were dirty.

“There has been a disturbance reported,” Neraduc said, unsmiling.

“Yes, some cowardly thieves set off an explosion,” Yaveen tried for distraught, rather than angry. “Blessings from Avandra that no one was hurt, but everything has been stolen.”

“Did anyone see the thieves?”

“Not a soul, my men are checking through the damage to be sure, but they must have run out with the crowd.”

Neraduc nodded sharply. “Very well.  I will investigate the vault. My men will clear the building and be certain none of them remain-”

“I already have guards in the vault.” Yaveen interrupted. “The crowd is the greatest risk. These thieves are using it as cover, I’m certain.”

Before Neraduc could reply, a high, terrified scream shattered the air and was abruptly cut off. They all looked up to the second floor balcony, where the latticed doors hung open.

“Weapons ready!” Neraduc took off at a dead sprint, the rest of the Hands rushing after him.

Yaveen chased them, barely managing to avoid tripping over the two half-breed idiots slumped insensate on the landing. The guard Yaveen had left outside his office was laid out on the ground; it looked like someone had clubbed him over the head. As the Hands of Ord set themselves ready outside his office door, Neraduc paused looking between the door and the unconscious man. “Who was in there?” he hissed back to Yaveen.

“A guest,” Yaveen realized with a sinking stomach. “A foreign Countess. We were having a meeting.”

Neraduc made some sort of gesture to his lieutenants and stepped back to let one of them kick the door in so he could go through first.  The Hands held Yaveen back until a shout of “Clear!” came from the office and he was able to shove them off and rush forwards.

The room was empty of thieves. Only the Countess remained, slumped on one of the couches with her head bleeding sluggishly. A Hand was bent over her, looking concerned but she appeared to be breathing. Yaveen’s attention was consumed by the fact that the safe behind his desk had been cracked open and Neraduc was looking through its contents with great interest.

Yaveen took two slow steps back towards the door.

“Hold him!”

Two burly soldiers seized Yaveen’s arms. The Hand who was fussing over the Countess glanced at the scene and quickly ushered the dazed woman from the room.

Neraduc turned around, holding Yaveen’s ledger in one hand and a mostly empty case of vials in the other. “You want to tell me anything, Arrya?” The bastard captain’s voice was mild, but Yaveen could see the smirk curling at the edge of his mouth. “Because this looks like a list of people who’ve turned up dead in the past three years and a well-used supply of Adder’s Kiss.”

“I can explain,” Yaveen promised, with absolutely no idea how he was going to do so.

“I think you should explain in the Scarlet Oubliette,” Neraduc nodded to his men, “I hear that prison has the best listeners.”

 


 

The Hand of Ord were arresting every member of the casino’s staff who looked even a little  suspicious. The soldier holding Vex’s arm lead her neatly around a half-orc and half-elf who were being frisked while bent over the railing of the grand staircase. One of them had his trousers around his ankles, which seemed like overkill.

Her escort didn’t let her stop to watch them, though. He walked her quickly down to the service corridors, keeping one hand on the small of her back.Vex appreciated the consideration, Pike in those gauntlets packed a serious punch and she was still a little unsteady.

The Hand guided her through the service exit, around two corners, and came to a stop in the dim gloom of a dirty alley.

Vex pulled away to stare at him. “Really?”

“We were going for unobtrusive.” The Hand sighed, reaching up and pulled off his helmet. His form shimmered for a moment and revealed Percy, still in his handsome black vest, holding the hat of disguise.

Before he could say anything Vax launched himself from the shadows and scooped her up from behind. “Vex’ahlia!”

“Hey.” Vex clapped her hands over his arms where they were wrapped around her shoulders. “Glad you’re alive.”

“Yeah, right back at you.” He spun her around so he could look into her face. “It was shitty not having you around, you know. I was kinda worried.”

“Well that was stupid,” she assured him. “You should have seen me. I had him so wrapped up, he didn’t know which way to turn.”

Vax caught her as she waved one hand around in a theatrical gesture, holding it with both of his. “Yeah? That Yaveen guy seemed like kind of a dick.”

“Definitely.” Vex laughed.

“But you were alright, right?” Behind Vax’s everyday, brotherly concern there was real worry. She shot a glance at Percy who was trying very hard not to show that he had any emotions whatsoever.

“You didn’t have your earring on.” He shrugged.

“I’m fine!” She pulled her hand from Vax’s with a squeeze and touched Percy’s arm. “Honestly, as though I’d let someone like that get the better of me.”

“Was he an asshole, Vex?” Keyleth asked. It took a moment for Vex to see her, over Vax’s shoulder, but when their eyes met, Keyleth gave a little wave.She was still wearing the bag of holding slung across her chest.

“Such an asshole, dear.” Vex said with a little wave back. “But from everybody’s smile, we have his money?”

“Fuck yeah!” Grog’s giant shoulders filled the end of the alley. “You should have seen it, Vex. It was better than Vorugal. Fuckin’ money everywhere. And then the bombs went off and I thought we were gonna get pinched right? Then Scanlan came in to save us right at the last second.”

“Last second, hmm?” Vex gave Scanlan a skeptical look where he was perched on Grog’s shoulder.

“I had to make it a little exciting,” He spread his hands wide, big smile as bright as ever. “Besides I was chasing down a lead. Trying to stop the bad guys.”

“Well they’re in trouble now!” the small bright voice seemed to come from nowhere, and then Pike appeared in a shimmer of light as she pulled off the ring of invisibility. “I mean more than just the one we planned to get in trouble.”

Grog hauled her up to sit on his free shoulder. “Pike!”

“Hey, Grog!”

“Pike, where were you? What did you do?” Vax’s mood finally seemed to lighten, now that they were all within arms reach and safe.

Pike blushed enough that it was visible, even in the faint light. “Oh, well, you know I ran into a some rough looking characters on the stairs, so I slipped a few of those potions Vex gave me into their pockets.”

“Pike,” Vex gasped. “Those were poison.”

“I know! But they were bad guys, right?” She looked to the rest of them for confirmation. Keyleth shrugged, but Grog was nodding emphatically.

“Pikeypants,” Scanlan craned over Grog’s nodding head to get a better look at her, “these men you framed. They were on the landing?”

“Yeah, they were all knocked over trying to pull their pants up. I figured that was suspicious.”

The besotted look that crossed Scanlan’s face was one Vex hadn’t seen in a while, and was much more mischievous than it used to be. “I know we agreed not to do this anymore, but Pike, I think I have to ask you to marry me again.”

That set off a chorus of giddy laughter from the whole group. Keyleth called for a victory drink and Scanlan insisted they all go to the Shades for whatever was most expensive, other than the Sandkeg Hide. Grog tried to take back the bag of holding from Keyleth and Vex snatched it away. She’d worked the hardest for this money; there was no way she was letting it out of her sight.

Vox Machina tripped off towards the main roads of Ank’Harel. But when Vex moved to follow, Percy caught her arm and gently pulled her back so they were face to face.

“Are you alright?” He cupped her cheek, running a thumb gently over the line of blood that had trickled down from her temple. “You weren’t badly hurt?”

“I’m fine,” Vex leaned into his palm for a moment. “Glad to see you. All of you, I mean, and you specifically. Although,” she looked up at him through her lashes, “I did like Frederick.”

Percy chuckled. “He liked you as well. But he didn’t think much of your title.”

“Frederick wasn't fond of titles?”

“No, he just thought you’d be more suited to Baroness.”

“It is my favorite.” She shivered a little in the cold desert night and hitched the stole up on her shoulders, looking down at her outfit with a sigh. “I suppose I should change. The dress is a little much for a pub crawl.”

Percy gave her a long once over, somehow managing to make it look contemplative rather than leering, though his eyes were dark, even in the dimness.

“It’s very appealing. Though I would make just one small change.” Without waiting for permission he stepped in closer and produced her blue feathers from his pocket, tucking them gently into place behind her ear. “Perfect.”

Vex gave a delighted laugh. “So I should hold onto it then?”

“Keep the outfit.” He nodded, bending in for a kiss. “It really works .”