Crime Doesn’t Pay

Leaving the rest of our party at the top of the stairs, me and my fellow scouts crept through the darkness to the door at the bottom of the stone steps. Senses on high alert, we paused and listened at the door.

So far, we had encountered a number of monsters within the dungeon complex, everything from Orcs to Zombies, and we were confident that more foes lay ahead. We were coming to the end of our quest, and inevitably, these things always end in a big battle.

This wasn’t our main reason for scouting ahead, however.

It had been agreed before the adventure started that all loot was to be shared equally by any who survived the quest. What our companions did not know was that the scouts had come to a separate arrangement, just between ourselves.

Anything that we found during our scouting expeditions was ours by right of finders keepers. It would be split three ways, and not to be declared to the rest of the group. Small items like gems or coins were quietly hidden away beneath our dark clothing when the others weren’t watching, to be counted later. Larger items were left in place to be divvied out amongst the larger group. After all, we couldn’t steal everything, or our companions would smell a rat.

In reality, they were suspicious before we had even left the communal Tavern, but they needed us more than we needed them. We could, if Laverna, the Goddess of Thieves, was feeling benevolent, slip in and out of the dungeon undetected. They, on the other hand, needed our skills with locks and traps to get them through the dungeon unharmed.

Carefully, I checked the door for traps. It opened inward, but I could feel nothing untoward on our side of the door. A short whispered conversation ensued, before one of my fellow thieves twisted the knob and slowly opened the door. He opened it only wide enough to see a crack of light within, but that was enough.

Beyond the door, a flickering strobe light gave us a creepy view of the room beyond. The strobe was a black light, illuminating only the white within the room. We saw only the teeth of the creatures within, their eyes, and the occasion piece of white clothing they wore. It was an eerie sight.

We estimated that the room was large. It was perhaps forty feet square as best as we could make out, with walls darker than a daemon’s soul. Within the room we could see perhaps a dozen mysterious creatures, but the light denied us a clear picture of their identity. Thankfully, they at least were living creatures, for the room did not reek of the undead.

We closed the door as silently as we had opened it, and breathed a sigh of relief. They had not spotted our brief intrusion.

Slipping back up the staircase, we signalled for our companions to douse their lights. The last thing we needed was to have our night vision ruined. Once they had done this, we approached and relayed our findings.

“At the bottom of the stairs, there’s a door.” I explained. “We found no traps on it.” (I didn’t need to add that I hadn’t checked beyond the door for traps. They really didn’t need to know that. Why worry them unnecessarily? Anyway, they’d find out soon enough.)

“Did you find out what’s beyond the door?” our intrepid leader, the paladin asked.

We gave a description of the room beyond, adding, “You won’t need your torches for this. There’ll be enough light to fight by, once you get inside.”

“Right,” announced the paladin, “Arm yourselves, lads. We’ll form up in a shield wall and enter the room together. That way, we can protect each other’s backs. Fighters to the fore. Let us send them back to whatever hell they came from.”

It was a very uplifting speech, and the three scouts tried not to snicker openly. Thankfully, with our faces heavily-sooted and covered, they could only see the amusement in our eyes, had they been looking.

We followed the rest of the party down the steps, keeping a safe distance away from any possible confrontation. We had, after all, done our bit. Now it was the time for strong arm of righteousness and the might of sharp steel. We were only humble scouts. We weren’t dressed for that sort of nonsense.

The paladin led the way, shield and sword at the ready. On either shoulder stood other stalwart warriors, and close on their heels was our god-fearing cleric, emboldened by the faith in his deity.

Behind the steel clad fighters was the a sorceress of little renown. She looked around nervously at the three shadowy scouts who were bringing up the rear, unsure if the real danger was beyond the door or lurking in the shadows on the staircase.

To be fair, she had a point. If the warriors looked to be failing, we would have no qualms about slipping a sharp knife through her back and fleeing with all the loot. We could worry about retribution from the militia later. As long as there were no witnesses left alive, we had nothing to worry about.

Battle cries were yelled, and the door was barged open with wild enthusiasm. The warriors charged into the room, waving their weapons about as they met the monsters within head on. The cleric was as blood-thirsty as the warriors and followed hot on their heels. The sorceress weighed her options for only a brief moment, before following the steel encrusted pack. Evidently, she had decided that her safety lay in remaining close to the warriors. Within seconds, a mad melee was underway

We, the three scouts, looked at each other and shook our heads. Warriors never learned. They thought with their weapons and not their heads. Had they stood in the doorway and let the monsters come to them, they could have taken them on two or three at a time, rather than facing the full brunt of the enemy at once.

We scouts waited for a few moments, letting the battle get well established before slipping into the room.

Naturally, we hugged the walls as any good scout should. Keeping within the darkest of shadows, we crept around the walls of the room, well away from the entrance. If asked, we could justify this manoeuvre by pointing out that we were checking for any additional threat.

While we lurked in the shadows, we took the time to hide whatever treasures we found lying around. There was no need to rush into battle. The rest of our party seemed to be handling themselves well enough, and besides, they were keeping all of our enemies distracted.

Finally, as the numbers of foes started to deplete, we resigned ourselves to engaging in combat. If we turned up after the fight with no blood on our blades, hot words would surely be exchanged. We needed to be seen to be committed to the fray.

Creeping up behind the combat, we dashed out of the darkness and stabbed a knife into an enemy back here, garrotted a foe there, prudently slipping back into the darkness to await the next opportunity to a quick strike.

In reality, we probably killed as many of the enemy as the rest of the party put together, as we were attacking the enemy’s undefended backs. They were unable to fend off our blows, and if they were foolish enough to turn around and give chase, they were quickly dispatched by the valiant warriors.

Finally, the last of the enemies lay dead, and torches were lit. It was time to give the room a thorough search. The quest was for a precious magical gem, and it must be hidden somewhere within this room. In reality, it was stuffed into my tunic, but the rest of the party didn’t know that.

The search proved fruitless save for a large golden plate of nominal value. Any gems and coins that might have been scattered around the room earlier, had all disappeared. Who knew where?

Without the gem, we had failed the quest and therefore, would not receive the offered bounty. Disheartened, we prepared to leave.

“Hang on a minute!” demanded the paladin. “There should have been more treasure than this. Empty your pockets.” He was addressing the scouts. The others clustered around us, waving blooded weapons menacingly.

“Really gentlemen! Where’s your trust?” I objected.

“Never mind trust. Just empty your pockets, or you’ll feel the length of my wrath,” demanded the leader of the party, waving his big sword in my general direction.

With a hurt look, the scouts began to unload their hidden bounty. Amongst the loot was the magical gem that the party had been sent to find.

The others gasped at the amount of gems and coins we revealed.

“Why you …!” cursed one of the warriors.

“I warned you that we couldn’t trust them,” reminded the sorceress.

“You don’t understand. We were just minding it, that’s all.” I protested weakly. “We weren’t planning to keep it for ourselves. What do you take us for?”

Their looks said more than words ever could, but they couldn’t prove that we had been planning to rip them off. They had acted too hastily. They should have waited until we were back at the tavern, and had everyone put their loot on the table before they accosted us.

Fools.

Later, once the treasures were equally divided and the party had gone their separate ways, the thieves met again in a secluded dark stairwell. Additional gems and coins soon gathered in a pile before us, as the rest of our pilfered treasure was revealed.

The idiots hadn’t even searched us to make sure we had revealed all of the stolen loot. They were too busy patting themselves on the back for catching us red-handed, but had taken it on faith that the treasure we revealed was everything that we had found.

And they say that crime doesn’t pay.

*****

This is a true story. Many years ago, myself and some of my friends would go away for a weekend of live roleplaying at a castle in Chester. Three of us were scouts. Another played a paladin, and two warriors, one male the other female. As the party was small, we were joined by another group which included a cleric and a sorceress.

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