Another one for the Epic Collection. This one is called the Rogue, and this time we have a female protagonist. Think of fantasy Catwoman (not that kind of fantasy). The story also continues in the next one called The Monk.
She sat uncomfortably on a stool, resting on the ledge of the bar. The grog she was drinking burned her throat – just the way she liked it. There was a moment of relief when her attention was focused solely on the burning sensation rather than every other detail around her: the smell and round of a populated tavern. The rank of whatever the innkeeper called food, the stench of spilled drink and a few other human fluids. Mercenaries, some still drenched in blood, showed up, as well as locals such as herself. The bard and his troupe were singing the same tired old song, the one about the hero – she knew it was all a tale. There were no such things as heroes in their world.
Her thoughts were interrupted by a stranger who sat next to her.
“Buy you a drink, honey?”
She raised her cup and an eyebrow. “Take it somewhere else, honey,” she mocked, extracting a small blade. “Before I cut it off for you.”
The man waved her off. “You waiting for anyone?”
“Now look here,” she said aggressively. Can’t a girl simply get a drink without being interrupted by ugly idiots?
The man raised his hand. “Relax. My name is Jarec.”
She cocked her head. “Jarec?” She gave him a look.” She gave him a look. “I was expecting someone . . . taller.”
He grunted. “Let’s go over there.” Not waiting for her response he hopped off his perch, drink in hand, and strode to a more private table.
She sighed. If he really was Jarec, the underground broker, than he was supposed to give her details about her assignment. If he was just some pervert, then she’ll castrate him or just kill him outright. In this den of darkness no one cared.
She sat down in front of the man and watched his form shimmer, melting like wax. His gruff features gave way to more boyish ones, his thick muscles deflated to the physique of a man who clearly spent a considerable amount of time sitting down. He even pulled out a pair of spectacles and put them on.
“Glamoring?” she asked casually. In her line of work she had to pretend that nothing impressed her. She had worked with magical devices before – she took great pleasure in dismantling them – but this was only her second time seeing magic up close and personal.
The first time hadn’t been a pleasant experience.
“My apologies for the deception,” said Jarec with a charming smile. “But I’m sure you understand the risk of exposing myself to the public.”
“How do I know you’re not tricking me?”
“You don’t,” he replied, smiling.
“Mages,” she scoffed. “So. What do you have for me?”
He nodded and pulled out a map. “I have a client who has been after the Shinato scroll for years,” he said stabbing the map with his finger.
She looked at the document. “Monks?” she added. “You want me to steal from monks?”
“Shinato Monks,” he replied. “Some of the deadliest warriors alive. Rumour is that they use mystical powers to enhance their bodies. They can break stone walls with their fists, snatch arrows from their flight and even shatter iron swords with a single blow.”
“And you want me to steal from them?” he retorted.
“You are the best.”
“For a price.”
Jarec folded his arms. “One thousand gold pieces. Enough to make you rich for seven lifetimes.”
“All that for a scroll?” She still had trouble imagining a thousand pieces of gold. All she had ever held at any time were handfuls.
“It’s an antique of sorts, and the client says it belonged to his family before a monk stole it using mind tricks on his father,” explained Jarec.
She scoffed. “Oh, so now they have mental powers too? Do they fly? Perhaps they see in the dark. Can they pass through walls after their fists get sore?”
The broker shrugged. “I don’t ask questions. I just make sure he gets what he paid for.”
The Rogue nodded. “I can agree with that. Have my money ready when I return,” she said, finishing her drink and snatching the map. A job like this will require some preparation. Luckily she knew exactly what to do.
Climbing the edge of a cliff was exhilarating. The Rogue loved danger – best of all she loved proving to herself and others that she could do what most would decree impossible.
The Shinato temple was at the very edge of the cliff, some three hundred feet above ground. The cliffs started from the bottom of the sea, but there was an intersection where a small hill top provided a ledge. She had climbed to the top of the hill and after a jump that had killed many before her. She was ascending up the cliff, towards the temple perched above. This was the least guarded route since the monks knew that no one could make such a climb.
No one, except her.
She finally got her feet on solid ground and snuck into the shadows. Three sentries patrolled casually but they had no weapons – only a staff, a chain or length of rope and one carried a curious par of sickles that looked particularly unwieldy. But she didn’t dare emerge from her hiding place. Years as a thief had taught her how to gauge an enemy’s strength, and even at a glance, she knew these monks were not to be trifled with.
So instead she opted for her usual trickery. Slowly sneaking to the water trough where the sentries would go to drink, she emptied a small vial of poison – a sleeping potion, strong enough to drug an orc.
Sure enough, an hour later, the sentries walked woozily and one by one fell on the ground fast asleep.
She snuck in through a narrow window, years of practice imbuing her with the flexibility of a cat. All around her were children – young monks, their heads shaved and their bodies bruised after long hours of training. All of them were sound asleep, but she still tiptoed silently out of the dormitory.
Quickly she consulted the map and walked across the corridor. She passed one room and paused. From behind the paper thin doors she saw six adult monks deep in meditation. A cloud of incense billowed in the room’s ceiling, giving her an idea. She extracted a sealed bottle, slid the door open a fraction and uncorked the bottle. Holding the contents in with her thumb, she positioned the bottle inside the rooms and slid the door shut again. In a few seconds the gaseous contents of the bottle, enhanced by the incense, will permeate the room and knock out the monks – removing them as a future threat.
Finally she got to the main hall – a large expanse of marble. It was spartan, save for the rows of statues on the side where monks were carved in different postures. It was majestic in a reverential way, despite the lack of gold, silver or anything remotely precious. The treasure room was at the far back of the hall, behind a thick oaken door. The door was locked but that was no challenge to her. She entered cautiously and immediately surveyed the room. It too was barren but her instincts told her something was amiss.
Finally, she saw it: a small pressure switch, a trigger. No doubt a row of sharp spikes ascend from the ground, impaling her as she made her way towards the wooden box in the pedestal. She disabled the trap and found another – this one to shoot darts at her from small holes on the side walls. Once all traps were disabled she walked up to the box. It was open, surprisingly, and the scroll may inside. There was nothing special about it but at hte touch, she felt a warmth coming from it – as if the scroll was alive.
“Are you worthy of that?”
The sound made her spin and her dagger was already poised, held close to her body, coiled for a strike. A young monk stood there, relaxed, blocking the doorway. He smiled at her.
“That scroll is very dangerous,” he said, beaming. “Besides, it is not yours.”
“That’s never stopped me before,” replied the Rogue, securing the scroll in a small pouch behind her back.
“I’m sorry, but I cannot let you leave until you return the scroll,” said the monk. He never lost his smile.
“I don’t do well with threats,” she snarled. In an instant, she crossed the room and swung the dagger – only to be carried forwards and stumble through the door way and into one of the stone pillars.
Angrily she stabbed at him, nicking his robe. She stabbed again and again but got only air and cloth. Finally she reached out with her free hand, grasped the monk by the collar and pulled him in -
- only to be thrown in the air and pain fully on the ground.
“Please,” begged the Monk. “Enough of this. I do not wish to cause you more pain.”
She snarled a curse and launched herself at him. He struck her right arm, instantly numbing her whole arm. The dagger was sent flying across the room.
Her other hand snapped towards his leg. He lifted his knee, blocking her strike with his shin.
She grinned. Got you.
From her left hand, a small spring loaded mechanism snapped a blade forwards, giving the monk a shallow cut on his shin.
He remained unfazed kicking her in the head.
She got up, head still spinning and ran towards the main door, headed for the exit – she would not survive another round with this monk.
He followed her, and she spun suddenly, throwing daggers already in the air. The Monk jumped impossibly high and kicked – as if walking on the air itself. He landed atop one of the statues and jumped again onto the next statue. She threw another knife at him but missed, and he jumped, landing in front of her.
Before she could crash into him, the Monk extended one palm and pushed. It was as if she had been hit with a battering ram.
“No more of this,” he chided.
She rolled up, slowly and painfully. “Yes, I agree,” she wheezed. The Monk took a step forwards and faltered. He glanced at his shin – the only wound he had received – and glared at her.
“A girl’s got to be prepared,” she said coyly as she watched the Monk stay very still, knowing full well that he cannot possibly move – not with that large amount of tranquilizer she used. She was supposed it had taken this long to work – these monks were really frightening. She felt warmth coming from the Monk, like the type she felt on the Shinato scroll. He stood there, his hands clasped in a weird gesture and gave a short but powerful cry. She felt the stone rumble and for a moment thought that somehow, he had caused an earthquake. But such a thing was impossible.
Instead, a dozen monks appeared out of nowhere, suddenly filling the hall. Unlike the first monk, the newcomers were armed with weighted chains.
“Try not to harm her brothers,” said the Monk. “She is merely foolish.”
“A fool is still dangerous,” shot back one of them. “You are only an apprentice. You should not have confronted her. You are both fools.”
The Rogue stood up and glanced to the side of the hall. On one side the fall led to an impact on the grassy plains below; on the other, a fall meant a plummet all the way down the side of a cliff.
“I may be a fool,” she said. “But I’m a fool with an escape route.”
She bolted towards one side. Chains followed her path but the statues blocked their path. The weighted ends embedded themselves inside the stone, shattering marble. Some even intertwined with each other.
But none reached her and all thirteen monks watched as she dove headfirst out of the window -
- and plummet down the cliff.
Halfway through her fall she reached for two straps on her backpack and pulled them. Clunky mechanism went off and a pair of wings folded out. She grabbed the straps that connected to the tip of each wing, giving her some degree of control and directed her flight towards the hill, smiling all the way through.
Once again she faced the impossible and she succeeded.
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Till next time,