Caeth leaned up against the polished granite pillar, listening to Kir finish his tale. He truly was worthless, peddling half-truths and gross exaggerations and for what, a few coins and maybe a night of pleasure? She wanted nothing more than to grab the bard by the scruff and throw him off the nearest balcony, but she had more important business to attend to.
As the crowd cheered and laughed, she sank into the shadows and made her way to the servant’s entrance. Dressed as a plain scullery maid, the gathered nobles treated her as if she were invisible. Or rather, they would have if they could have possibly spotted her as she flitted from shadow to shadow.
The door creaked as it opened, but no one seemed to notice, enthralled as they were with the bard’s performance. Behind it was a staircase that led down to the kitchens and up to the Duchess’ private chambers. Caeth slowly began climbing the stairs, listening carefully for any other servants that might be about. Her ears picked up heavy footsteps, descending from above, giving her only seconds to prepare. She quickly dropped her shoulders, tussled her hair, and shortened her steps.
The burly man, dressed in the livery of the town guard, rounded the corner of the stairs nearly running into Caeth. She was lucky. He was not one of the house guards who would have immediately recognized her as an intruder, but instead one of the town guards brought in for extra security during the performance tonight.
“Beg pardon ser,” she said, laying on a thick tumble-alley accent as she stepped to the side to let him pass.
He looked at her suspiciously. “And where are you off to in such a rush?”
“The Lady’s chamber, mus’ be arranged for the… errm… g-guests.” She said with a meek stutter. A leer crossed his face as it suddenly became clear to him what she meant.
“Heh, off ya go then,” he chuckled as he walked past. The meek expression melted away as she continued her way up the stairs.
As she ascended, she stripped off her maid’s outfit to reveal a stitched leather doublet and matching pants. Despite their ordinary appearance, there was a magic woven into them, causing her to blend into the shadows of the staircase. With each step, she became less visible, looking more like a faint shimmer in the air.
At the top was a small landing with a pair of doors leading into the private residence. Caeth kneeled next to the door on the right and placed her ear up against the smooth wood. Faint whistling came from the other side, likely from a bored guard or servant. Moving to the other door she heard nothing. After two slow, even breaths, she turned the latch and let herself into the dinning hall.
As she suspected, it was completely empty. Avoiding the long table, set with valuable finery, she slipped along the inside wall away from the windows, toward a door on the far side. It was open just a crack, allowing her to peak down the hall. She knew that her goal would be easily found in the Lady’s bedchambers, which were at the far end. Unfortunately, there was a guard pacing the hall, looking anxious with a folded letter held tightly in his hands.
“Every job is one part luck and nine parts preparation,” she whispered. Those were her mother’s words. She said them almost absent-mindedly. Fortunately she was prepared.
She drew a tiny dart from her belt, the needle like tip of which was coated in a blue ichor. Anyone stung by it would fall into a fitful slumber and wake remembering nothing. It was the perfect tool for Caeth’s assignment tonight. The nightmare oil was expensive, but her client agreed to pay the price. He did not want anyone to know that she was ever even there.
She waited until the guard drew close and turned to pace back down the hall before flicking the dart at his exposed neck. He reached up to slap it, as if stung by a bee, but he was slumping to the ground by the time his hand found the source of the wound. A few seconds later he was face down on the floor.
Caeth went to the sideboard next to the door and grabbed a bottle of brandy before approaching the unconscious guard. With some effort, she lifted him to a sitting position, splashed him with brandy and tucked the bottle into the crook of his arm. She then picked up the dart and the letter he had been carrying.
She was worried it had something to do with her employer, but instead it was merely a report of strange happenings going on in the sewers beneath the city. Ominous news and disappearances, but they were not her concern. No one was paying her to care about that. She dropped the missive and continued on to her objective.
Reaching the Duchess’ bed chamber, Caeth found herself surrounded by luxuries. Plush carpets, embroidered draperies, a desk made from rich darkwood, and much more. There were valuables here worth far more than she was being paid, but that did not matter. She was a professional and this was not a simple burglary.
She quickly made her way over to the desk, set against the wall with a polished silver mirror behind it. Opening the drawers she found what she was looking for: an ivory comb. She quickly removed a number of hairs from the comb and tucked them away inside a pouch on her belt, before returning the comb to the desk.
She then looked around the room to make sure all was in order before making her way to the balcony. It was cold out. An autumn wind was blowing in from the mountains carrying with it the promise of rain. The lights of Silverspear twinkled at her from over fifty feet below as she climbed up onto the ledge. She muttered “nine parts preparation” and stepped off the ledge. Not a second later, the magic from her mother’s ring flared to life, allowing her to gently glide to safety below.
Hours later, Caeth finally made it back to her lair above an apothecary in tumble-alley, the slums of the great city. She dropped her payment into the chest at the foot of her bed without bothering to count it. She knew it would all be there. No one ever dared to short her.
Stripping off the rest of her gear, she made her way to the study and sat down to finish the letter she had started that morning. It was a letter to her mother. A letter to tell her that Caeth was coming home.