Flinder ran like he had never run before. It wasn’t supposed to have gone like this; it was a simple job, a quick hit and run with a payout that should have made him look twice but it was for a nobleman and they never knew how much something like this was worth. Sweat poured down his face as he thought about how wrong things had gone.
Their target hadn’t been a simple merchant; he had been some kind of blademaster. He fought like a demon and had killed three of Flinder’s crew before the gnome had managed to hit him with enough poisoned crossbow bolts that he had fallen to the cobblestones, paralyzed. Flinder was far too smart to kill a mark; stealing was one thing, but murder always brought more trouble than any fee was worth.
He had gone personally to recover the merchandise from the carriage. It was supposed to have been in a small, easily movable iron casket, instead there was a series of strong boxes that had to be individually unlocked. Every one of them had some sort of trap on it and he only very nearly avoided being poisoned by a particularly nasty needle trap on the last one.
The extra time meant that his crew was fighting the watch off by the time he finally got the casket open. It was only by luck that he managed to slip through a sewer grate and run before the last of his muscle was overwhelmed. Then the rats had started running from him.
It wasn’t just the normal running away from a threat, it was a panicked rush of animals that were terrified. Something was inside the small iron casket. Something dangerous. Flinder had no desire to open it and now he just wanted to escape. But he didn’t dare abandon the job. If someone wanted this, they were powerful enough mete out retribution if he didn’t come through.
He stopped, his back against the wall and tried to quiet his breathing. Removing his haversack, he placed the casket carefully inside, making sure to snuggle it between the layers of dirty clothes he had packed inside. Making sure his hand crossbow was cocked and loaded with another paralytic bolt, he secured it out of sight beneath his rags and slipped out of the sewer into the bustling basement of the laundress’s shop. This wasn’t the first time Flinder had made use of the slip me out here. Best ten gold he had ever spent.
Stepping out into torch lit streets, the gnome almost walked straight into the night watchman who was waiting for him. Maintaining his guise as a rag picker, he squinted at the man and bobbed his head. “Apologies sirrah, didn’t see ya sirrah, old eyes ain’t what they were sirrah.”
“Flinder Quickfingers.” He said, his eyes hard. “Come with me. We have business to discuss.”
Flinder looked at him for a moment and the man’s gaze was unsettling. The game was up. Cursing his luck and cursing the laundress for probably selling him out, Flinder looked for an escape while reaching beneath his rags for his crossbow. He never saw the rope that circled around his neck.
When he regained consciousness, Flinder looked around dazedly. He was in a prison cell that was apparently built into something resembling a plush office. Overstuffed chairs were arranged next to a crackling fireplace, paintings were attractively displayed on the walls and various bits of statuary sat on tables and pedestals. His pilfered iron casket sat on a marble table near the fire. His stomach churned. It was open.
“So Quickfingers, tell me what you were thinking you were going to do with this?” A man in a constable’s uniform gestured at the open iron box.
Flinder licked dry lips and shook his head dazedly. “I didn’t know what was in it.” He croaked, his voice raw. “Just paid to get it.”
“Who would pay for something like this?” A second man asked. He was wearing an officer’s uniform; the rank of Nightmaster on his sleeve. “Do you take us for complete fools?”
“Can I please have some water?” Flinder asked plaintively, “My throat is parched.”
“God rotting gnomes.” The Nightmaster hissed, spitting into the fire.
“Sir, I know they don’t understand propriety the way we do, however it makes sense to at least keep his lips moist while he answers our questions.” The constable said, pouring a cup of water from a pitcher with condensation beading invitingly on the side.
Flinder didn’t even think about it being poisoned when he drank. After all, they could have killed him any time. Foolish. He never expected the truth drugs; he hadn’t known they existed.
“Who hired you?” The Nightmaster asked, leaning forward to hear the answer. “What was the payoff?”
“I don’t know the Lady’s name, but she was of noble birth.” Flinder said, feeling slightly dizzy. “She offered ten thousand gold, which seemed to be an insane amount but you know nobility. They’re all a bunch of insane maniacs who have no idea about what jobs are worth, I mean I’ve had Lords insist I assassinate someone for a handful of silver, not that I do those jobs you understand but I’ve brokered-“
“Enough!” The Nightmaster cut him off, “What is this thing?”
“I don’t know what it was, like I said before, she just said she wanted it and it was important. Was supposed to just be in that iron casket but they had it in a bunch of other chests and that crazy maniac must have been a swordmaster or something because he nearly killed my entire crew before we took him down.”
“Pox and rot this thing is useless.”
“Perhaps sir, we could sell it to this noble?”
“If we knew her bedamned name. I’m sure this little bastard has already missed the time for the exchange. When and where was it Quickfingers?”
“At the eleventh bell.” Flinder said, feeling even dizzier now. “In the fountains in the Flower district.”
“Missed it by three hours.” The Nightmaster sighed, “Another one for the collection I suppose.” He reached inside the casket and withdrew a hand constructed of a strange shining black material. It ended right after the wrist in a maw of bristling needle like teeth. It twitched in his hand slightly, the mouth of teeth opening and closing spasmodically.
“What a terrible thing.” Flinder murmured, watching the hand as it strove to sink its fangs into the Nightmaster’s arm. It was the last thing he saw as the poison stopped his heart.