Cunning & Guile

Part 1 - A Somewhat Less Than Modest Request

A less-than-impressed frown emerged from a more-than-impressive shock of facial hair. Guildmaster of the Sentinel Forces Gilgal Radisgad scowled at the unusual request that the guest in his office had placed before him. "Mister Ciabanni, do you understand why I am less than enthusiastic with what you have just proposed?"
The smartly-dressed human, with a thin pencil moustache and oiled-back hair nodded. "Of course, Guildmaster, but you must also realise just how much danger my little Carla is in." His voice was genuine, frightened, beseeching. "I beg of you, Guildmaster, please help me in my darkest hour."
"Sentinels would prefer a much more honest and direct approach to such situations." The former paladin frowned.
"Yes, I understand, but she will be killed if such an attempt is made." Ciabanni whined. "I have already placed her in grave danger by seeking your aid." The Rajian human could barely be more pathetic if he had been on his knees.
"I will not have my officers reduced to acting as petty criminals." Gilgal sternly said, knowing well that many of those same officers had more than blights on their personal records, that a sizable portion of the guild comprised of former criminal seeking a fresh break and a new and honest start in life.
"Please... Mister Horas... He is most cunning and vicious." He sniffed pathetically. "I know he set me this ransom, as well as the particular method of acquiring the money, as some part of a cruel game - The money, it means nothing to me, and if he allowed me to pay out of my own wealth I would have already done so."
Gilgal leaned back, his chair creaking beneath his muscled bulk, and scowled once again at the Rajian businessman. "This I do despite my greatest reservations, Ciabanni, and I would not consider it at all if it was not for your exemplary public record. I have several officers that might be able to help you. I'll select a pair."

Schrau Cadnos grumbled all the way to Gilgal's office, complaining to himself that he would never get any sentinel work done if Old Captain Eyebrows summoned him at every opportunity. He stopped just before the door to Gilgal's office and considered pulling the creases out of his coat, which he dismissed with a derisive snort.
Schrau knew that any out of a selection of seventy-two songs would do well to annoy Gilgal, and Schrau knew quite a few of them. He settled on that old Perdeese favourite, 'Your Mother and the Paladin,' and started whistling (crucially) from the thirteenth bar as he turned the doorknob.
"Please, don't." Gilgal's selkie secretary warned him.
Schrau shrugged off her warning and stepped into the office, whistling all the while.
"Ah, excellent. You received my summons." Gilgal warmly said, ignoring the vulpin's musical choice and letting Schrau know that whatever happened in the next few moments it would be the deputy that would come off a distant second. "Please be standing."
Schrau closed the door behind him and noticed the other guest in the room, an exquisitely-dressed human with a hearty Rajian complexion despite the paleness that clung to his cheeks. Something in the air hinted that Schrau had best make an attempt at humility. He hated when that happened.
"Yes sir, came as soon as I could sir."
"I hope you weren't too busy." Gilgal calmly said, fully aware of the fortnight's worth of paperwork teetering on his desk. Schrau suddenly recognised the situation, it was what many of the senior sentinels referred to as an 'extension summons'. Basically, if you had, say, two week's worth of paperwork on your desk, by the time you would see that desk again you would have three. "Just routine paperwork, sir."
Gilgal nodded at the other human in the room. "Enzo Ciabanni, let me introduce deputy Schrau Cadnos."
"I see." The human quietly said, fairly nonplussed.
"Schrau is a remarkably tenacious individual, and is earning quite the reputation as a denbreaker. If worse comes to worse, there are few other sentinels with the experience and tenacity to rescue your daughter by force if required, even among the more senior sentinels."
Ciabanni smiled warmly, possibly at having heard something that pleased him. "Ah, excellent... Cadnos, that name... It sounds..."
Gilgal eyed Schrau calmly. "Sentinel, would you mind if I discuss with mister Ciabanni here the somewhat... Darker aspects of your life?"
"Go ahead, sir." Schrau quietly replied, a hint of bitterness in his voice. He would only choose to tell his fellow sentinels, as well as those he considered close friends, about certain aspects of his life and would rather that a complete stranger know nothing.
"Schrau Cadnos is, in fact, descended from a certain Bardur Cadnos, one of the greatest thieves to ever live. I gather much of Bardur's ability, as well as his somewhat unique outlook on life, lives on in his descendant. Schrau has also received extensive training in criminal methods," Gilgal nodded, "in particular; theft and confidence tricks. He is observant to such crimes and their execution, and wholly capable of recognising the mistakes that trip up the criminal."
"Ah, I see, and is therefore wholly capable of avoiding those same mistakes." Ciabanni smiled widely once again. "I think he will do just fine."
"Sir." Schrau said levelly. "Might I ask as to what arr this is about?"
Gilgal brushed his beard. "Unfortunately, deputy, much of that is currently on a need-to-know basis."
"I know that mister Ciabanni's daughter has been kidnapped." Schrau said. "I arso know that your are rooking for sentiners with certain criminar abirities. Is that arr I need to know, sir?" Schrau cocked his head to the side as he delivered that last line, daring the Guildmaster to continue.
"Guildmaster Radisgad, I am most desperate and am willing to take any aid you can offer." Ciabanni said. "I am sure that deputy Cadnos here will be suitable."
Gilgal nodded. "Of course. Schrau, you will travel immediately to Nimbus city once your partner for this operation has been decided. There, you will both receive further instructions via courier."
Schrau blinked. In his career, he felt as if he was somehow part of what he dubbed the middle generation of sentinels. There were those above him, those below him, and those on the same level as him.
Schrau knew that the greater population of officers with direct criminal histories resided in the older generation, and knew that he wouldn't be paired with one of them. He also knew that pretty much everyone in the younger generation had clean histories, and while Gilgal may have paired him with one of those in order to offer invaluable experience to that sentinel Schrau got the impression that this case would not be a learning experience.
So that left his generation, and for the most part they were whiter-than-white as well. He could only name a small handful of officers that had the abilities Gilgal was seemingly looking for. He was afraid of naming one.
"Sir, why do I get the feering that I know who you're going to pair me up with?" Schrau said with tangible dread.
"Because you are a perceptive young officer, Cadnos." Gilgal smiled. "Make your preparations, Cadnos. You will leave as soon as your partner is prepared."
Schrau nodded, saluted, and turned smartly on heel had he actually had any. He opened the door and stepped out of the office. His fears were cemented when he saw who was waiting.
Carnely Krysospas was leaning on the desk, plying his charm to the secretary while making sure that his face was just outside her slapping reach. Schrau could see that the selkie was reaching for a steel ruler on her desk while nodding and pretending to be flattered by the muridan.
She never reached it. As Schrau closed the door behind him, Carnely straightened up and grinned at the vulpin. "Hey, prettyboy. Finished your daily dressing-down in front of Gilgal?" He eyed the scruffy vulpin. "Meh, actually it looks as if you finish dressing-down when you wake up." He warm smile wavered, his whiskers twitched. "What? No retort, no insults? Something the matter, prettyboy?" His tail twitched as well. "Why are you grinning like that?"

Part 2 - Mission Briefing and Required Objectives

Schrau paid the food vendor with a few gold coins and received a broiled leg of meat as large as his head with the comically-white bone protruding. Schrau knew that no living thing in the universe had a leg like the end product suggested. Schrau gripped the food by the bone and tore off a strip with his teeth.
No living thing in the universe tasted like that either.
"Not bad." Schrau mumbled around a mouthful of meat and offered it to Carnely, who refused.
"No thanks, prettyboy. I've just eaten. And I'd also like to enjoy eating in the future." He added as an afterthought.
"Suit yourserf." Schrau said as he chewed. "So, ratty, why did Captain Eyebrows pick you of arr peopre?"
Carnely shoved his hands deep into his pockets and sulked in the way only a muridan can. "He's bein' speciesist." He snarled. "And Perdeesist-"
"I didn't think those two words existed."
"He sees a muridan from Perdow and thinks 'ahah, now there's a bastard who'll nick the teeth from your fillings while you're asleep.'"
'Teeth from your fillings,' Schrau thought and began muttering to himself.
"Damn pious sanctimonious Welstarian bastard..."
"I'm from Werstar." Schrau pointed out. "And I'm here."
"Yeah, but you're a vulpin. Your lot will steal anything that isn't nailed down, on fire, or sinking."
Schrau snorted. "Now who's being speciesist?"
"It's true." Carnely whined.
"Prove it."
"Okay, Seij's desk."
"I didn't stear that."
"Yes you did! It's the largest desk in the office!"
Schrau tore off another strip and pointed the leg of meat at Carnely. "Untir you can find an expranation that satisfies arr known raws of physics that proves I store that desk, I'rr keep on denying it."
Carnely sulked. "You so did steal it."
"You've joined up with the telemancers, right?" Carnely began. "Yeah, you relocated the desk and-"
"I've onry made it as far as the first rever." Schrau informed him. "I can onry tereport myserf to the mage guird."
"You carried it."
"Carn! It weighs three-hundred pounds! You couldn't rift it! How do you-"
"Deputies Krysospas and Cadnos?" A young kanku asked as he seemingly materialised out of thin air before them, clutching a sealed envelope like a dagger.
"Yes." Carnely replied as Schrau continued eating his meal.
The courier handed the envelope to Carnely and nodded politely. "Good day, sirs."
Carnely checked the crest as the kanku retreated. "We could've been anyone." He grumbled.
"Anyone wearing sentiner jackets." Schrau pointed out.
"Never even asked for identification. We could have been anyone and that overgrown chicken would have handed over the goods."
"Ress chat," Schrau said.
Carnely broke the seal and pulled out a thick, creamy leaf of paper that was covered in Gilgal's overly-flourishing cursive script. Carnely began to struggle with deciphering the message. "Dep-u-tees... Kree... Sauce... Pays..."
Schrau snatched the paper from Carnely's paw and quickly replaced it with his snack. Carnely's arm sagged beneath the weight of all that meat. "Ret's see..." Schrau said as he wiped his hand on his jacket. "Deputies Krysospas and Cadnos: As you may be aware, the guird has been approached by Enzo Ciabanni with an unusuar request. His daughter, Carra Ciabanni, has been abducted by a Angero Horas, a rocar crime-rord and has demanded a ransom of three mirrion in gord within seven days of now..."
"Hey, I read up on this Ciabanni guy when I heard of him." Carnely said as he tenderly sniffed Schrau's food.
"Me too. Dears in insurance."
"More than that, he's the biggest insurance broker on the planet. Technically, if Nimbus was to crash into the Rift tomorrow, he'd lose a hell of a lot of cash. The point is that three million isn't a lot to him." Carnely shrugged. "I guess he really didn't want to pay the ransom."
"Hang on, ret me finish..." Schrau cleared his throat. "...Whire Ciabanni could indeed pay the ransom, Horas has specified certain unusuar terms. Horas demands that the sum be storen in entirety from the city of Nimbus... Wait, what?"
"If he wants his daughter back, he's going to have to stear arr the money from the city!"
Carnely shuffled his feet. "Uh, I don't think so. Keep reading."
"Unabre to do so by himserf, and refusing to cooperative with individuars who would do so without any consideration for the raw, Ciabanni approached us to execute Horas' orders."
"That ain't good."
"In a sense, Ciabanni did the right thing in approaching us. However, whire I have decided that you are to accumirate the wearth in the manner that Horas demands, I cannot pubricarry condone such behaviour. You have my furr bressing to accumirate the three mirrion in whatever way necessary or avairabre, however if you are caught in any attempt, then the guird wirr have to refuse to acknoweredge your actions as officiarry-sanctioned activities."
"Basically, if we get caught, we're on our own." Carnely grumbled.
"A storehouse in the Ruby district has been arranged for storage of any items that you acquire. Detairs on how to access the storehouse are avairabre at the office. Identify yourserf as Norda Braus." Schrau balled up the note and tossed it into a street-side fire. "Okay, three-mirrion in seven- No, six days. How does this rook?"
"Pretty bad," Carnely said as he handed Schrau his snack and investigated the envelope. "Hey, there's a couple more notes in here." He produced a pair of folded scraps of paper, read both sides and saw that they were addressed to each other. He handed Schrau his note.
Schrau unfolded it and read it.
"What does it say?"
"Schrau, ensure that on Carra's rerease that Carnery does not hit on her." He read aloud.
"Hell, there goes my motivation for this case." Carnely grumbled as he unfolded the note with his name on it. Gilgal had gone to great lengths to ensure that his handwriting was a simple as possible, but Carnely still made a few attempts in reading it in his head before reporting the contents. "Carnely, ensure that Schrau does not skim a percentage of the proceeds for his own use."
"And there goes my motivation." Schrau growled. "We'rr have to swap. You skim, I hit."
"Nah, she ain't your type." Carnely said as he threw his note into the same fire.
"So what is your type?"
"Female." Carnely said. "Attractive. Willing."
"And I notice you onry get two out of three every time."

They both sat in a small cafe in the Ruby district. Carnely had gone into the office of the storehouse block and was granted access to the small ten-by-five secure room, while Schrau had decided to find a small two-bedroom apartment nearby and pay a week's rent on that, the apartment just above the cafe they were occupying in fact.
"So, pran?" Schrau asked by way of suggestion.
"Well, we have about six days, unless of course we roll a few socialites for their costume jewellery tonight. Unless of course someone is walking around with several thousand in gold worth of diamonds around their neck, we won't make that much money that way."
"That could be a backup pran, especiarry if we're a few thousand short of our target by the end of the week." Schrau said. "I know a few tricks that haven't even made it into any of our reports yet."
"So what do we have here?" Carnely asked.
"Museums, art garreries, estates." Schrau murmured. "There's regurar movements of money and gems between different districts. We could hit a few of those."
"We can't make this seem too easy," Carnely noted. "If we start to pull ahead of Horas' expectations, then he's likely to up the ransom."
"I expect him to." Schrau said. "What I don't understand is why Horas is doing this to Ciabanni."
"Eh... I hear this Horas guy is a mobster." Carnely said. "Maybe Ciabanni slighted him one time and this is how he gets his revenge."
"What have you heard of him?"
Carnely shrugged. "Not much. Head of a large family of criminals." He leered. "Thinks he's somewhat cunning, 'like a fox' in his words. He likes the sound of that, so if we ever meet him expect him to say that a few times in casual conversation."
"Yeah, werr I've got a few thousand years of evorution on my side." Schrau snarled.
"My guess is that this whole theft thing is just Horas playing cruel games with him."
Schrau mulled this over in his mind, then shook his head. "Nope, no. Carn, if something of yours was storen, what would you do?"
"Blame the nearest vulpin?"
"After that." Schrau smiled. "Ciabanni is in insurance, we're going to be stearing from peopre who have insurance, and they are arr going to be making big craims."
"Ah, I get it now." Carnely said, understanding. "An insurance company can't really cope with most of their clients making claims at the same time. At best, their resources will be stretched."
"At worst, they'rr snap." Schrau added. "Crients would be unhappy, Ciabanni wirr rose business, credabirity, and prestige."
"He's gonna lose a lot more than three million."
"Right." Schrau said. "And starting tomorrow we're going to make sure he doesn't rose much more."

Part 3 - The Sentinels First Experiences of a Life of Crime

Even as they scoured the storeroom of the silverware store that Schrau had located and cracked the door open of, neither sentinel had dared used the words "daylight robbery" despite the fact that it was the middle of the day and trade was still taking place in the storefront just on the other side of the door.
"Ever done anything like this, prettyboy?" Carnely quietly whispered.
"Nope." Schrau replied as he gently placed some platter into the sack he was quietly filling. They both estimated that, if they carried as much as they could, they could make off with a few thousand in gold each. It was quite expensive silverware. "At best, the crosest I've ever come to crime is begging during those grey days before I joined the guird after earning my freedom."
"That, and abusing guild resources to execute your own agenda." Carnely noted.
"Name a sentiner that doesn't do that." Schrau challenged. "Heck, Girgar encourages it so we can arr get our rittre vendettas out of the way so we can concentrate on rear sentiner work."
"Like stealing three million in gold for a crime lord."
"Yeah..." Schrau chuckled, then froze. "Someone's coming."
They hid, rather effectively. The storeroom was dark and crowded, and both sentinels were evolved from creatures adept at scurrying into dark places when interrupted. The storeowner stepped into the room, located the object he needed, and took it.
When the door was securely shut, Carnely and Schrau re-emerged.
"Most crimes could be prevented if peopre were more observant." Schrau noted. "Praise Sikkar that they're not."
"Why? 'Cause vulpins would have been extinct centuries ago?"
Schrau nodded and continued ransacking the storeroom. "You want to know the rear shame?"
Schrau nodded at a large and normally extremely vicious dog lying on the floor next to him. Instead, the dog was chewing happily on a long string of Rajian spicy pork sausages. "Their guard dog was so easy to bribe."
"Oh, yeah." Carnely muttered, almost fumbling with a large candlestick holder. "Pity she was, I would have liked to have seen what else you could've offered her."
"Not much," Schrau growled. "other than a rong sreep."
"Yep, that's what I thought you'd give 'er."
"Shut up and hide..." Schrau snapped. Seconds later, the door opened. This time, the shopkeeper spent a while looking for the item he needed, before eventually muttering to himself, "Hmm, I should order more," and walking away.
"So what about, you?" Schrau asked as they resumed their looting.
"Nope." Carnely replied. "Seriously, I have no idea why crazy old Gilgal put me on this case. I'm a warrior, not a thief."
"You're doing werr on the foraging stakes however."
Carnely considered this. "Yeah, I guess you're right."
Schrau hefted the sack he had to carry. It was heavy, almost too heavy. "Okay, I think that's enough. We'rr dump this, then move onto the next store." He slung the sack over his shoulder, wincing in pain as it rested on his imperfect right shoulder blade, before giving the guard dog a friendly pat and holding the door open for Carnely.

The two deputies followed the Chokedar officer through the Sapphire district, their destination being the central Bazaar of the city, neither officer said a word as the Chokedar and his armour clanked noisily a few feet away.
"I tell ya," The guard grumbled. "things are getting worse in this city. Thefts are way up."
"So's the city." Carnely whispered to Schrau as their feet clacked along the floating platform that separated the districts.
"Things are only going to get worse." The Chokedar sighed.
"You got that right." Schrau quietly said in affirmation.
"And I'm telling you this:" The Chokedar stopped and turned to face the sentinels who almost ploughed into his back. "I don't appreciate you sentinels sticking your filthy muzzles into our business. This is our city, we'll deal with things, okay?"
Schrau sighed. "Rooks rike someone hasn't been briefed on the many functions and purposes of the sentiner guird. Educate him, Krysospas."
"Gladly." Carnely smoothly said. "Officer, the powers of the guild extend well beyond those of the current controlling force in any city that they are currently operating in. In other words; you have to listen to us and respect our absolute authority whether you like it or not."
"So there." Schrau said.
"So lead on."
The Chokedar grumbled and turned on heel once again. "Everybody knows the guild ain't nothin' but a bunch of crooks."
Schrau sighed. "That may have been the ord guird, but the new sentiner guird is a harshery enforced crimefighting group under strict paradin justice. Any other compraints, officer, or can we get on with this? My friend is sobering up here."

Carnely began poking around the crowded storeroom of Sakkar's Fine Silvers while Schrau and the Chokedar asked the proprietor, a hearty balding gentlemen known as Rand Sakkar regarding the incident.
"Yeah, daylight robbery." Sakkar said, rubbing his overly-generous nose. "Everything was here this morning, but I started runnin' low on stock that I realised I hadn't sold, so I figured that it had been stolen." He pointed towards the rear entrance to the store. "The lock's been picked wide open."
"Interesting." Schrau calmly said, writing in his notebook. "So, do you know what was taken?"
As Sakkar began reeling off a mental list of what had been stolen, the Chokedar began looking around with Carnely.
"This is the fifth store today, Krysospas." The officer said. "Five stores, all broken into in the middle of the day, and nobody saw a thing."
"Really? Fascinating." Carnely calmly said as he inspected a giant soup bowl that both sentinels had deemed far too large to walk away with.
"This is a brazen act of criminal intent, deputy, you could pretend to take an interest."
Carnely sighed. "If I took an interest, I would be at risk at losing my impartial point of view on the case, officer."
"Oh yeah, it's not as if these are your peop-" The Chokedar stiffened and looked over Carnely's shoulder. "What's this?" He reached over and picked up a thin, reddish hair that had been resting on the edge of a shelf. "Looks vulpin."
"Oh, sorry, my faurt." Schrau said, temporarily ignoring Sakkar. "I'm shedding right now." To emphasise the point, he rubbed his head furiously until his head was surrounded by a fine cloud of russet hairs. "Doesn't take more than a sright breeze to catch 'em."
"Way to contaminate the crime scene, partner." Carnely grinned.
Schrau shrugged and returned to taking the list from Sakkar. The Chokedar eyed the guard dog, who was now standing and growling slightly at him.
"What's up with the mutt?" He asked Sakkar.
"Fang? She's my guard dog." The merchant glared at the dog. "A guard dog that's supposed to attack intruders on sight..."
"And there wasn't so much as a bark when the crime happened?" The Chokedar asked, a hint of accusation in his voice.
"Uh... No. Strange that."
"Maybe someone slipped her some meat." Carnely suggested, smiling slightly at the quietly-fuming vulpin on the other side of the room.
Schrau settled back into writing down the list, looking forward to watching Carnely experience vulpin vengeance over the next few days. Schrau almost smirked to himself; the average vulpin's idea of vengeance was an extremely slow and drawn-out one. Carnely was already receiving his dues for the first 'prettyboy' crack, even though he wasn't actually aware of it.
Schrau would have to think of something good this time. He drew a line beneath the list and said, "So, for insurance purposes, what is the sum varue of the storen items?"
Sakkar shrugged. "About three-thousand in gold."
"Is that all?" Carnely snapped, creating one of those awkward moments where everyone would stare at him, those unknowing wondering what he knew and those that did know wishing that a lightning bolt would strike the muridan.
Carnely recovered, without any of the usual stumbling that raised suspicion. "I mean, usually what happens is that the storeowner adds a sizable percentage on top of what was taken to maximise their claim."
"Yeah, it's refreshing to actuarry see an honest storeowner." Schrau said as he scribbled '3000' on the notebook page. He stood up. "Anyway, I seriousry doubt we wirr find your missing goods, such crimes are somewhat difficurt to track, but we wirr write a statement regarding the incident for your insurance broker." Schrau smiled. "But hey, maybe we wirr get rucky."
"Yup." Carnely affirmed. "Well, good luck, mister sucker- I mean, Sakkar."
Schrau inwardly groaned.
Sakkar merely smiled. "Oh, you would be surprised how often I get that." He sighed. "Well, thank you for your time, officers."

Part 4 - Pandrada, Queen of the Rift

Schrau was quietly observing a jeweller's store from a cafe just across the street. It was early morning, and with but five days left they had only amassed about fifteen-thousand of the necessary three million, and Schrau was still confident that Horas would up the ransom at some point. They would need to score big, and Schrau and Carnely had separated to look for any potential targets.
The jeweller's certainly had near enough two million in easily transferable goods, but the security on the place was pretty good. Schrau doubted that they could just slip in the back way, buy the guard dog's silence with some pork chops, and just harvest as much as they could carry. Schrau was looking for cracks in the security.
Well, they were there. The storeowner was prone to distraction, but that was about it. There wasn't a significant enough crack to drive a chisel in and hammer away.
Schrau sipped his coffee. It was possible, just extremely difficult and high-risk. To steal anything of worth would require some planning, and it was likely that they didn't have that time.
Carnely bustled into the cafe carrying a large burlap sack and grinning. He sat at Schrau's table, the bag between them. "Hey there, prettyboy. I think I've just found our first major haul."
Schrau prodded the sack, feeling cloth inside. "Werr, you're not kidnapping papuas or atomies. So I'm guessing that the contents of that sack is the means rather than the resurt?"
"Damn straight, prettyboy." Carnely leaned it. "Every week, an escorted carriage leaves the bank in the Bazaar with several million in gold bullion to the skyport, that bullion is then transferred between Nineveh and Suthnas for currency."
"Go on."
"The carriage doesn't take a direct route." Carnely said. "First, it goes towards the Sapphire district, then turns towards the Emerald district. Now, you'd think it would go towards the Topaz district from there, but instead heads off towards the Ruby district, turning at the platform that connects the three districts together. That's where it's most vulnerable because you're bridged between four areas - The path to the Bazaar and Mage Tower and the three districts."
"So we're going to hijack it there?"
"I was thinking more like holding it up and just carrying what you can carry." Carnely informed him. "I visited the bank's stable yards in a, uh, official capacity. Fortunately, I had access to a predictably-behaving poison that could slow them down."
"Your breath?"
"Very funny. No, it's a minor discomforting potion, which I managed to slip into the food and drink of the guards, even into the horse feed."
"You poisoned them?" Schrau whispered.
"Don't worry, it's just a two-bucket illness." Carnely confidently said.
"Oh Sikkar, no."
Carnely grinned even wider. "Anyway, it'll kick in just as they reach the platform. The way I see it, this sort of stunt takes a while to plan, so nobody will suspect us."
"True." Schrau said, before rewinding to a part of Carnely's explanation that should have flagged his attention there and then. "Wait, what do you mean 'as much as I can carry?'"
Carnely shot Schrau a withering look. "They've already seen me, and they might find it suspicious that a muridan started poking around their yards and a muridan steals from them. Nope, it'll all have to be on you, but don't worry." Carnely smiled, suitably unsettling the vulpin. "I've got you the perfect disguise."
He pushed the sack towards Schrau, almost tipping the vulpin's coffee. Schrau pulled it down onto his lap, opened it, and peered inside.
He had barely spent a second looking at the contents before glaring at the muridan with the promised wrath of the gods. "I am not wearing this."
"You don't have much of a choice, vulpie." Carnely merrily said.
"I am not wearing this!" Schrau hissed as he dumped the sack back onto the table and pushed it towards Carnely. "Find another disguise."
"This is the best you can do, Schrau." Carnely shoved the sack back. "Now go and get dressed, we don't have much time."
"Carn- I am not wearing this!"
"Every disguise you have to wear has to disguise that blasted mark on your neck, prettyboy." Carnely smirked. "This really was the best I could dig up."
"Then bury it and start digging deeper." Schrau snarled. "I am NOT wearing this!"
"Quit being a baby. It's all for a good cause."

It's a two-bucket illness because that is how many buckets you need not to make a mess, one to hold in your hands and one to sit on. Jared Caleb, the head guard who had escorted an ill-fated transfer of gold bullion was in such a condition. Schrau and Carnely were interviewing him, though it would almost be needless to be said that they did so at a suitable distance near open windows. Carnely was doing all the questioning, while Schrau was diligently taking the notes while plotting his revenge on the muridan.
"So, Caleb, you started feeling ill and that's when the carriage was attacked by a vulpin?"
"Yessir, we didn't ain't have no chance of fightin' back, sir. Th' vulpin dropped on us, roughed us up a little bit, and filled a sack with 's much gold it could carry."
"An estimated one point five million in bullion, correct?" Carnely asked for confirmation.
Schrau shrugged happily. In two days they had scored over half of what they needed. Schrau had almost torn his back in half carrying the gold, and his shoulder wouldn't get any better if he carried on like this, but at least they had finally scored big.
Not that the vulpin was necessarily happy, since he no doubt knew where Carnely was taking the questioning.
"So describe the thief?"
Caleb complained loudly into his bucket for what seemed an eternity, coupled with the necessary noises and odours from the other end. Schrau made a mental note to order Carnely to hit them with a sleeping potion if there was another time.
"'scuse me, yer honour?"
"I said describe the vulpin." Carnely said, grinning. "In your own time."
Schrau exhaled through his nose and braced himself.
Caleb shook his head and grumbled. "Oh, she were a fierce one and no mistake."
A low growl started to emanate from the vulpin in the corner, though low enough so that even Carnely couldn't hear it.
"Go on."
Caleb started scratching his ear. "She were wearin' one of those... Dress thingies that nuns wear."
"A habit?" Carnely offered.
"Sorry," Caleb stopped scratching. "Me doctor keeps tellin' me not to do it, but it itches something fierce."
Schrau began complaining to himself about the state of humanity. "So, brack dress..."
"Nope, jus' looked like one of those nun... Thingies."
"Habit!" Carnely corrected.
Caleb glared briefly at the muridan. "I've already stopped, what more d'ye want?"
For the first time during the interview, Schrau cracked a smile.
"'Twas blue, in any case." Caleb recalled. "Cornflower blue. Uh... Couldn't really see much of the head, she were wearing a big white headscarf, only her eyes showin'." Caleb tutted and bowed his head slightly, caught a sniff of the bucket in his hands, and reconsidered. "Fierce eyes, I'll never forget those eyes officers..."
Carnely grinned as Schrau glared at Caleb with the fierce eyes that he had sworn never to forget. "Anything else you can remember?"
Schrau tensed.
"Nope." Caleb muttered, and the vulpin sagged with relief. "No, wait, there was something."
Carnely's grin was practically manic, while Schrau was now baring his teeth and growling almost audibly. "Go on."
"She were wearin' a big pink bow on 'er tail."
A loud crack echoed around the room.
"What was that?"
"Oh," Carnely shrugged, "my partner here's got some dental problems. Receding gum line. His teeth are prone to cracking."
"It makes me so angry that I kirr things for no reason whatsoever." Schrau growled, glaring almost psychotically at Carnely.
"So, she jumped on the convoy-"
"-Armed with a whip." Caleb offered. "Did I mention the whip?"
Schrau noted that there had been mention of the weapon in his notes, but couldn't actually remember Caleb mentioning it. "Yes." Schrau snarled.
"Right, so she jumps on top of the carriage, says somthin' like 'I am Lady Whiplash,' roughs up the lads - Caught Raijal right across the-"
"Whiprash?" Schrau sighed, failing to remember that point about the entire incident.
"Yessir, right across his arse sir. He'll 'ave to eat standing up for a week sir."
"He said Whiplash," Carnely calmly replied, grinning.
"Oh, begging your pardons, sirs." Caleb looked up at Schrau. "You've 'eard of 'er?"
Schrau's teeth clenched. He hadn't, but Caleb seemed to think that he had. He had to think fast, which was just as well since Rory had once complained that he was more full of it than a minotaur's latrine.
"Pandrada Whiprash," Schrau said, keeping his voice even. "Somewhat of a famous highwayma- Uh... Highwaywoman in vurpin circres." Schrau's eyebrows arched. "In fact, it's said that she doesn't actuarry exist in a sense. A spirit. A ghost."
Schrau took a deep breath and waited to see if his little improvisation would impress Caleb. Judging from the variety of nervous bodily noises coming from the guard, it did.
Schrau relaxed and grinned to himself. Humans were so Sikkardamned gullible he often wondered if he was in the wrong line of work.
"Really?" Caleb breathed.
"Oh yes." Schrau calmly said. "Truth is, she's the reason I became a sentiner. It would be an amazing thing to actuarry arrest someone who doesn't exist."

Finally glad to be out into fresh air, the two sentinel deputies fell into step. The shorter vulpin somehow managing to match the taller muridan's stride.
"Carnery." Schrau growled lowly. "If you say one thing, just one thing, I am going to draw my swords and cut you down."
"Aw, and I thought you looked cute." Carnely said, a split second before the sound of twin blades being drawn and the associated chill came. "Easy up, Pandrada."
"I. Don't. Do. Cute!" Schrau snarled.
"All right then, pretty." Carnely sighed. "Pandrada Whiplash? Is that the best you could do?"
Schrau sheathed his swords and shook his head. "You have no understanding of how vurpins operate, do you?"
"Enlighten me, madam." Carnely muttered. "What happens when ol' Caleb starts asking about a legendary vulpin thief that doesn't exist?"
Schrau grinned. "That's the beauty of how the vurpin mind works, prettyrat. She does exist."
Carnely raised both eyebrows. "So you weren't lying?"
"Yes I was, moron." Schrau snarled. "But she does exist now."
Carnely turned and gave Schrau a blank look, still walking and nearly slamming into a lamppost.
The vulpin sighed. "Right, here's what happens with arr you other races. You hear of a famous vurpin thief, and you start asking peopre about that thief, right?"
"And who do you ask about vurpin thieves?"
Carnely hazarded, "Vulpins?"
"Exactry! And they wirr know about that thief. They wirr terr you stories, and daring deeds, but never anything to contradict what you would arready know about that thief. And the more vurpins you talk to, the more the thief would exist."
Carnely shook his head. "I still don't get it."
Schrau sighed. "Okay, have you read any ord reports?"
"Ever heard of Mordor Cadras, Huw Redfoot, Corran Ior, and Iestyn Ifans?"
Carnely searched through his memory. "Uh... Yeah."
"Their rear names were Morgan Cadnos, Morgan Cadnos, Morgan Cadnos, and Morgan Cadnos. My father."
"Yeah, and the truth is that Ior and Ifans never actuarry committed any crimes, they never even existed. But my father spread their rumour of existence as part of a scam." Schrau grinned merrily. "Suddenry, a rot of gurribre idiots thought they were being robbed by those two thieves when in fact nothing had been taken."
Carnely shook his head, his dreadlocks swinging like whips. "I find that hard to believe, prettyboy."
"Bardur Cadnos was responsibre for at reast seven other vurpin miscreants." Schrau said. "Herr, I'm even hearing things about a Bardur Cassnor."
"He never existed. He was a cover identity we cooked up for you."
"I know that, but I tord certain members of the Kuroryu famiry that he rearry did exist." Schrau shrugged. "Somehow it spread. Now I'm hearing that he escaped from imprisonment whire awaiting trair and is now riving in the gutters, stearing for a riving and working his way back up to owning arr those, eheh, 'estabrishments' that he once had." Schrau sighed. "Think of arr the vurpin thieves that ever existed as a number."
Carnely nodded.
"A more rearistic figure of how many there actuarry are is somewhere about a tenth of that."
"That's-" Carnely began before he was sure what the second word would be. He considered 'absurd', 'crazy', and 'stupid'. He glanced at his partner and reconsidered. "That's... That's magnificent!"
"By the end of the day, Pandrada would have herd up at reast a dozen coaches across the universe." Schrau quietly said. "These things have a habit of getting out of hand."
Carnely grinned. "So I did right with that disguise."
"Oh no, your suffering sharr be proronged and miserabre." Schrau calmly responded. "For that, you're going to rearn more about a vurpin's concept of revenge."
Carnely scowled. "What do you mean 'more?'"
"Are you stirr having night-terrors about scorpions?"
Carnely shuddered. "Don't say that wo- Hey, how the hell do you know about that!?"
Schrau smiled merrily. "That was for the first time you carred me 'prettyboy.'"
Carnely was practically hysterical. "How did you do that? What the hell have you done to me?"
The vulpin sighed. "It's so simpre, I won't even exprain it to you."
"Wait up, prettyboy. You're messing with my head, so I demand an explanation."
"Terr you what, figure out how I managed to get a desk that rooks just rike Seijirou's, and I'rr exprain it to you..."

Part 5 - Preparations For a Memorable Evening

Carnely woke up with his head itching furiously. He grumbled and scratched and automatically decided to blame Schrau, before pulling his clothes on and shambling down the stairs into the cafe beneath the apartment they had rented. When you're living above an establishment that serves food, you don't have to cook breakfast in the morning, which is why so many roaming sentinels make sure that they rent such accommodations and why landlords ensure that there are plenty such dwellings.
Schrau was seated at what had become their usual table, nursing a coffee and scratching his head while reading that day's edition of the Nimbus Flyer. The vulpin glanced up at Carnely, rolled his eyes, and picked up his coffee cup and sipped.
Carnely sat down, his fingers deep into his dreadlocks and scratching. "You did this."
Schrau set the paper down, revealing the leading headline regarding yesterday's heist. "No, that was Pandrada Whiprash."
"Don't get comedic with me, prettyboy." Carnely snarled, "What did you do to me?"
Schrau stared blankly at the muridan, before realising. "Oh, the revenge. Eh, I haven't started yet. It's hard to find a harrucinogenic compound that works werr with cheese around here."
"Itching?" Schrau offered. "Must be the Rajian morntick. An annoying rittre parasite that onry becomes active during the morning hours. Don't ask me why." Schrau sighed, scratching his arm idly. "Most peopre come down with it whenever they visit Raji. Fortunatery, they can onry rive on this pranet, they should die off when we go ersewhere."
Carnely glared at the vulpin. "I've been to Raji plenty of times. I've never been infested with this... Morntick?"
Schrau shrugged. "They usuarry onry infest peopre with short hair. Strange that you should come down with them." Before Carnely could reply, Schrau pulled a bundle of envelopes from his pocket. Their mail, mail that would have normally been delivered to their desks in Sauronan, but had been forwarded at their request while on off-planet operations. A standard procedure. Schrau flicked through the envelopes, only drawing one from the small stack and tossing it across the table at Carnely.
"Lotta mail for you, prettyboy." Carnely grinned. "Fan mail?"
"Might be." Schrau counted the stack, six letters. Carnely opened his and spent some time reading it.
"Congratulations Mister C. Krysospas, you may have already won thirty thousand-" Carnely stopped reciting and crumpled the letter and envelope both into a ball. "Junk." He snarled.
"My great-grandmother Marga invented that entire concept." Schrau stated. "Made nearry half a mirrion in gord before she was caught out."
"Did I ever tell you that your family has been a plague on society for generations?"
"Often." Schrau said as he opened the first letter. "Congraturations Mister S. Cad-" He stopped and wadded up the letter. The next correspondence was guild mail. "How did that happen?"
"What?" Carnely asked.
"I've been voted guird mentor."
"How did that happen?" Carnely repeated. "Why'd you put your name down for the running?"
"I was bored halfway through a report." Schrau replied. "Truth was, I thought Zvezda had a shot at it."
"He's onto bigger things than you, evenprettierboy." Carnely mumbled. "You were the highest-ranking officer in the running?"
"Apparentry." Schrau said, opening the next letter.
"That's so sad."
"Death threat from surtan Odie." Schrau stated, moving onto the next one. "Hmm, Girgar wants to know if I know anything about a smarr virrage of vurpins that have settred within the borders of Charthur."
"Do you?"
"Nope." Schrau said. "Actually, he wants to know how they've been funded." He opened the next letter. "Death threat from Ustov... How nice, he wants me to choke on my own faeces." He looked at the last envelope. "Here you go," Schrau said, tossing the envelope at Carnely. "It's addressed to both of us."
Carnely stared at the seal on the envelope. "This is Angelo Horas' seal."
"How nice, more death threats."
Carnely cracked the wax seal open and pulled a pair of creamy white cards from the envelope. "Lessee... Oh."
"We've both been invited to one of Mister Horas' social evenings." Carnely flipped one of the invites towards the vulpin like a professional card dealer.
"I'd rather the death threat." Schrau mumbled as he picked up his card. "Tomorrow night?"
"I'm worried," Carnely said, horror in his voice. "It normally takes you a week bathing to stop people fainting straight off. I'll have to go alone."
"Wait, what? We're going?"
"We'll have to." Carnely reasoned. "Imagine what we could dig up if we bring a pair of shovels."
"I stirr don't rike this."
"That's because crowds make you gassy." Carnely grinned. "If we're lucky, we'll be able to find out where Carla Ciabanni is being held, break her out of there, and never have to screw around with all these acquisitions."
Schrau sighed and finished his coffee. "Speaking of acquisitions, we'd better find some more."
"Aw, but I haven't had breakfast."
"That's your probrem, tick-boy."

The two sentinels spent much of the day checking out prospective sites for their future acquisitions. They now wandered around one of the many museums that laced the city of Nimbus, which like most other buildings in the city was a giant multi-story construct. The top level was heavily windowed with the traditional thick glass of the upper stories of most Nimbus buildings allowing an unrivalled view of the city and surroundings. On a clear day, you could even see into the rift.
"So why here?" Carnely asked of Schrau as they wandered around one of the middle levels of the buildings. There were a lot of free-standing exhibits, which struck Carnely as odd. He stood before one golden regal orb with curiosity, the lack of protection simply begging him to pick it up.
"Because this is the highest-security museum in the entire city, Carn." Schrau whispered, swatting Carnely's twitching paws away as the muridan subconsciously started to reach for the orb. "Most of the free-standing objects are on pressure-sensitive stands. Perfectry weighed. You move one, and some hideousry comprex mechanicar system wirr ring a berr down in the guard's chambers." Schrau grinned. "If anything was to be storen from this prace, it would be a major scandar. Very big news."
"How much d'you think this is worth?" Carnely said, pointing towards the orb.
Schrau took a deep breath. "That is the Orb of King Brasck, an ord Werstarian king, recovered by the Nimbus exprorer Jarod Benna.. Rast I heard, the Keystonian Royar Museum recentry bid over three mirrion in gord to have it returned to Werstar, and the museum here refused. Therefore, it's worth much more than that bid." The vulpin shrugged. "Terr you what, I'd take this just to return it to its rightfur prace."
"That's 'cause you're a traditional Welstarian bastard. If we could walk away with this, we'd be set." Carnely pointed out. "We could then just march up to Horas, tell him we've got the money, and then put it behind us."
Schrau shook his head. "No, if we make the target now, Horas wirr raise the price. We don't want to over-exert ourserves." Schrau glanced around. "Besides, this sort of heist would take some pranning. For one, it would be pretty difficurt to escape from the buirding if we trigger security."
"You seem awful sure that Horas is going to raise the price."
"Werr, I've been thinking." Schrau turned to face Carnely, his expression slightly sour. "Horas set the price with the thought that it would be Ciabanni doing the theft. Despite his prestige, Enzo is just a desk-bound crerk. What sort of things can he stear from there? Aside from pencirs and quirr pens, that is."
"He'd have to embezzle the funds." Carnely replied.
"Mmhmm, and when you consider that, three mirrion is a difficurt number to reach. However, in two days over half the target has been storen in high-profire raids." Schrau raised an eyebrow. "Horas isn't as bright as he thinks he is. He never assumed that Ciabanni would have someone erse do the work for him, so now he's going to raise the stakes." The vulpin sighed, stared above Carnely's shoulder, and exclaimed, "Oh, brast!"
"Eh?" Carnely muttered as he turned around. On the wall behind him was a pretty elaborate Circle of The Year. With six planets and differing calendars for each, the Circle was designed to be an all-in calendar for each planet from Sosel to Crypt. The Circle on the wall behind them was a greatly detailed piece, over ten feet in diameter, with not only breakdowns for months and weeks, but even days and hours. The whole bronze disc rotated around its centre point, with a thin brass marker across the diameter down to the floor marking the current day and hour for all the planets. "What's the problem, prettyboy?"
"I forgot something... Corriss is going to kirr me."
Carnely turned back around and grinned. "So what's between you and Corliss then?"
Schrau rolled his right shoulder, his voice agitated. "During the, uh, incident on Soser, my shourder got messed up something bad. Corriss had to remove part of the shourder brade, pretty risky, and she's worrying that she may have reset the part back into the bone."
The muridan leered lewdly. "Ohoh, so she wants to give you regular checkups, huh?"
A severe chill radiated from the vulpin, and his hands were nowhere near the hilts of his blades. "It's a big worry to her, she's panicking that she's done the wrong thing. So she's insisting on these, as you put them, 'checkups' to make sure it's hearing right."
"So how long are ya gonna be, prettyboy?" Carnely said, turning back to the Circle.
Schrau glanced out the window at the darkening Nimbus skyline. "I may not be back untir morning."
Carnely grinned. He assumed that Schrau was talking about the Wysoomian day, which would put it at about midday tomorrow on Raji. "Sure it's just a checkup?"
Schrau stamped heavily on Carnely's tail. "Rajian morning, moron!"
Carnely stepped back away from Schrau. "Hey, relax. You go, I'll hold things down here." The muridan blinked. "Hey, invite her."
The vulpin scowled. "What?"
"Corliss, invite her to tomorrow's little party with Horas. You need a date, prettyboy, and I don't think you have time to make new friends."
Schrau's expression became furious. "Why would I need a date?"
Carnely sighed, then dropped down onto one knee, placing his hands on Schrau's shoulders like a father would to a son. "I think it's time we had a little talk about-"
The temperature dropped a few further degrees. Schrau had decided to reach for the swords on his back.
Carnely ignored this. "See, vulpins are very much family creatures. You usually see vulpins in family units; vulpin, mate, children. Now, a vulpin by itself is a pretty unusual thing. I've noticed all those looks you've been getting, a vulpin of eligible age by himself. Didn't your mother teach you these things?"
"The onry thing of worth my mother taught me was how to pick open a pair of shackres."
"By now, you should be married with a small pack of kids clinging to your tail. A lot of folk are wondering where you've buried her."
"There never was a 'her.'"
"I know. And at this rate there never will be." Carnely sighed. "So, prettyboy, you need a date. This is a social evening, and a vulpin by themselves is a social pariah. Understand?"
"Do you even know what 'pariah' means?" Schrau asked.
"I think it's a kind of diseased-ridden dog that nobody wants." Carnely replied.
"Right," Schrau mused. "Now for some good ord-fashioned rearity. I am not dragging Corriss into this mess. Especiarry Corriss."
Carnely raised his eyebrows. "You think Angelo knows?"
"I'm sure he does, and we know what he's capabre of."
Carnely stood up. "Just ask her. The worst she could do is say no."
Schrau crossed his arms and grinned at the muridan. "So are you going to ask Uncoor to be your date?"
The muridan yelped and jolted as if shocked. "Erp! Uh, no. Nononono. She's, uh, a very busy girl, yeah. I'd ask her, but she won't have time."
"Corriss is a busy woman as werr." Schrau pointed out.
"Well, uh, you see that muridans are more social creatures. Yeah." Carnely smiled with all the desperation of an escaping convict with a clear shot at freedom. "Yeah, that's it. Social creatures. We're not often seen with our mates, so, uh, we, uh, we mingle. Yeah. Really, it would be the same thing for me to be seen with someone on my arm as you to be seen without. Yeah."
"Have you finished?"
"Yeah." Carnely said, as if it was the only word he truly knew the meaning of. "You go now. Leave things to me."
Schrau sighed and looked around. "You had to say that, didn't you? Don't do anything stupid untir I get back- In fact, don't do anything untir I get back. Understand?"
Carnely grinned. "Sure, no worries."

Carnely had noted while they were on the floor beneath the observation deck, one of the windows which should have had contact with a mechanical switch that would set off the elaborate alarm in the museum lacked that contact. It was high up on the building, but muridans were good climbers.
The costume he wore probably came from the rack titled 'li'l ninja.' An entirely black body stocking that managed to cover most of his features. Even if he had been seen, it would be hard to identify him. He scaled unassisted up the side of the building, keeping to the shadows, before eventually finding the window he had noticed earlier. He gently worked the window open, taking care not to trip the alarm by accident. Soon, he was in.
He skulked through the museum. Watching regular patrols of guards and blending into the shadows whenever one passed by. He could have had his pick of any of the treasures, but the Orb of Brasck was by far the smallest and most valuable item in the entire building. When Schrau had left, he had spent some time reading up on the artefact and preparing.
Now he stood before it, the golden jewel-encrusted sphere shining in the darkness. He stared at it, almost reaching for it.
He eyed the piece, the plinth it was on. The item was weighted perfectly on that plinth, the pressure switch beneath it triggering if it was replaced by an object heavier or lighter than what should have been there.
Carnely rubbed his muzzle and reached for a pouch of sand on his belt. Two pounds exactly, the same weight as the Orb.
He held the pouch of sand next to the Orb, his other hand reaching for the piece. He licked his lips.
Quickly, he removed the Orb and replaced it with the pouch. He stepped back quickly, as if his mere presence would trigger the alarm. He grinned and weighed the Orb in his hand. Perfect.
As Carnely slipped the item into a pouch at his waist he marvelled as to how heavy it seemed.
"Wait a minute..." He whispered to himself. The Orb was heavier. Much heavier than the pouch he had... "Oh no."
The Orb weighed two kilograms. Not two pounds. Two kilograms.
"Damn the metric system!" He hissed.
Faintly, he could hear the sounds of ringing bells below him. He ran to the stairwell to see lamplight bounding up it. Glancing up, he heard the footfalls of the guards above his station approaching.
"Oh, snap..." He mumbled, turning tail and running towards the window.
"Halt!" A voice echoed in the darkness from behind. Carnely glanced over his shoulder and saw one of the guards, his lamp hanging from his waist, and hands readying a crossbow. "Halt or I'll shoot!"
Carnely sprinted towards the window, knowing he had no time to open it and shimmy down the side of the building.
"Halt!" The guard demanded, before finally firing the crossbow. Carnely felt the bolt whisk by his whiskers, hitting the window in front of him. The glass was tough, so the bolt only succeeded in cracking the window.
At least it made Carnely's escape a little easier. He jumped at the window, breaking it beneath his weight. As the guard began running after him, Carnely broke through the weakened glass and plummeted four stories to the street below.

Part 6 - An Unusual Collection of Individuals And Their Discussions

Another shard of glass clinked at the bottom of the metal bowl, nestling next to nearly seven similar pieces each covered with the same blood.
"Ow, ow, ow, ow, ow." Carnely complained as Corliss Bowne wiped the wound with a now blood-soaked bundle of clean cotton before moving onto the next wound.
"Quit being a baby." Schrau grinned from the doorway to Carnely's bedroom, which was now doubling up as a makeshift operating theatre while Corliss removed the shards of glass from the muridan's back. "You've no one to brame but yourserf."
"That, and the misprint in the information pamphlets that - Ow! - bastard museum printed!"
Schrau sighed. "Oh yes. That would be good. 'This museum has an eraborate system that wirr arert every guard in the buirding to a possibre theft, and here are the exact weights you need to get around it.' It was intentionar, Carn..."
"Hord stirr." Corliss demanded as she slowly began removing a particularly large piece of glass.
"Sorry. I'm itching... Hey, have you heard of the Rajian morntick?" Carnely asked.
Behind his back, Corliss glanced over to Schrau before saying, "Uh... Sorry, parasitorogy isn't a speciarity of mine. Doesn't it normarry affect peopre with shorter hair than yours?"
"Rucky we just happened to be walking by when it happened." Schrau growled, finally earning his black belt in conversation changing while giving Corliss a thumbs-up.
"True, it's not every day you're interrupted by a free-farring rat." Corliss added.
"Will you two stop laughing at me?" Carnely demanded.
"Nope, we haven't reached the pieces in your butt yet."
"So," Corliss began as the shard thudded into the bowl, "should I be going to the authorities to give a statement regarding the crime I just witnessed?"
Schrau rolled his eyes. Carnely's timing had been just perfect. Much to the vulpin's surprise, the biomancer had agreed to go along with Carnely's little charade, and had decided to join them in Nimbus throughout the day, arguing she could use the time to sleep and prepare while they were running around doing 'sentinel things'. Much to their surprise, a black-clad muridan had slammed into the ground just in front of them amid a shower of glass. The pair of vulpins had managed to get Carnely into the apartments without anybody seeing them, and Schrau then had to take the stolen Orb of Brasck to the storehouse while Corliss began her work on Carnely.
"You could go to old Gilgal about it." Carnely said. "On second thoughts, you'd better not."
"So what is going on?" Corliss asked.
Carnely glanced over his shoulder to where Schrau was standing. The vulpin nodded once. Carnely opened his mouth to speak, but Schrau got there first. "I warned you about Horas, right? Hinted at the sort of things he would do. Werr, the truth is that Horas has abducted the daughter of a rocar insurance broker..."
"Ah, that ord trick." Corliss nodded sagely.
"Horas' demands are a little strange though." Carnely continued. "He demanded that this guy steal three million in gold from the city as ransom for his daughter."
"So he came to the sentiner guird." Schrau said. "Ciabanni didn't want to do the work himserf, so Girgar got us two to do it instead."
"You're stearing from the city?" Corliss asked, slightly incredulous. "I'd heard that there had been- Wait. Two days ago." She grinned at Schrau, who groaned in anticipation. "You didn't-"
"Don't I wish I hadn't." Schrau mumbled. "Carnery's faurt."
Corliss giggled and carried on working on Carnely's back. "Don't worry. Your secret is safe with me, Pandrada."
"I heard she herd up another coach yesterday." Schrau bitterly said. "In Edon. She hasn't existed for more than three days and she arready has a reputation."
"Where were you yesterday?" Carnely grinned.
"Anyway, back to the point; if we're caught, we're on our own. We're forrowing orders, but if we're caught then Girgar wirr deny any guird invorvement."
"Sounds harsh." Corliss quietly said. "But I have faith in you both. Carnery's antics notwithstanding." She smiled. "Armost done."
"Oh, goody." Carnely grumbled.
"So, it was nice of you to invite me out tonight." The biomancer said. "Terr me, Carnery. Wirr Uncoor be joining us tonight?"
Every muscle in Carnely's body tensed, which made Corliss' task a little easier as she began to pull a shard of glass from his left gluteus. "Uh... No, she's busy."
"Funny, that's not what she said when we met her on our way over here." Corliss grinned, and Schrau began to laugh. "She seemed heartbroken."
"Oh, it won't be her heart that'll be broken..." Carnely snarled. "You didn't?"
"We did." Schrau crowed.
"But we didn't terr her when or where. Get through the next few days and you can do that yourserf. That's arr of them." Corliss triumphantly said as the last piece clinked in the bowl. "Vurna minoris sana!" She chanted, and the wounds on Carnely's back healed.
"Is that all I'm worth?" Carnely muttered.
"It was mainry just superficiar damage. You should be gratefur that you didn't break anything." Corliss said as she began washing the blood from Carnely's back.
"I think he randed mostry on his head." Schrau said, yawning. "Werr, I'm off to get some sreep. I think we should ray row for the rest of the day. G'night."
Corliss finished cleaning up. "Yeah, me too." She began to stand up. "Carnery, mind if you do something for me?"
The muridan grinned as he started to roll over. "Sure, name it."
"Wait untir I've reft the room before turning over." Corliss smiled. "Good night."
"G'night." Carnely said, reaching for the bedsheets. "Hey, wait, why're we saying that? It's morning."
Corliss shrugged and closed the door behind her.
A few hours later, Carnely woke up thirsty. He crawled out of bed and pulled his jacket over his shoulders. He quietly padded out of his bedroom towards the water barrel in the corner.
The door to Schrau's room was shut, and Carnely grinned right up until the point where he saw a crinkled mass of green leather spread across the modest couch in the main room. He tutted to himself, took a mug and filled it from the barrel.
Schrau slept beneath his sentinel's jacket as if it was a blanket, easily done since Schrau preferred the baggier, longer human-sized jacket compared to the vulpin and dwarf sizes that the guild offered.
Carnely shook his head. "Sheesh, haven't you learned anything from me?"
"You'd be surprised." Schrau quietly said, Carnely not even realising that he was awake.
"Well then, prettyboy; how come there's a cute little vixen in your bed and you're out here?"
Schrau opened his eyes. "Because if we were rike you assume we are, I wouldn't be." His eyes closed again. "Go back to bed, Carn."

About an hour before they were due at Horas' mansion, Carnely had dressed from what little formal wear he had. The Bounty Hunters failed to have any sort of formal uniform, and the Guild of Fighters preferred clothes that were typically indecent for the company they would be keeping that night. Carnely chose, instead, a long green jacket cut in a similar style to the sentinel's uniform. It was, in fact, what the guild considered formal wear. Carnely hated it, but at least it would be a decent reminder to Horas just which guild he was screwing with.
He stepped into the main room, where Schrau was still lying on the couch. The vulpin was dressed in his uniform as if he were prepared for routine patrol and flicking through Corliss' copy of the Biomancer's Textbook.
"Hey, shouldn't you be getting ready? It takes you about five hours to beautify yerself."
Schrau shot the muridan a withering look as he turned a page. "I'rr be ready in time."
"So why ain't you getting ready?"
"There's a probrem, isn't there?" Schrau said, nodding towards the shut door to his bedroom.
"Ah, right. A woman." Carnely shuddered. "Did you wake her up three hours ago to give her time to dress?"
"No, just now." Schrau shut the book. "I should've knocked first. She threw this at me."
"Not a good sign, prettyboy." Carnely muttered, "Hey, wait. We've both made, uh, home visits to her place in emergencies. She never normally starts throwing books around."
"She was arready awake and halfway dressed." Schrau growled. "And before you say another word, remember I've stirr got to think of a revenge for that Pandrada thing."
"Okay, I'll let that one slide, you sly old dog." Carnely smirked before barely dodging an airborne copy of the Biomancer's Textbook which landed on a table conveniently placed behind him. "Why're you so edgy about Corliss, Schrau? I thought you were friends."
"We are." Schrau sighed. "And we are friends, but it's not as if you're herping any. Besides, I rearry didn't want her invorved in this."
Carnely sat down on the couch. "So why is she here?"
"Oh, it's on the condition that I see her archemist friend about my neck."
Carnely blinked in confusion. "I thought you'd seen people about that. Mages, biomancers, cultists... I thought you even asked Gabrielle Baker about it. Didn't she say there was nothing you could do?"
"I did. And she did. But Corriss was quite insistent."
The door clicked open, and Corliss stepped out. She was wearing a simple white dress that shone silver when hit by the right light, just like her fur. A silk blue stole hung around her shoulders and through her arms. Simple and understated.
"No, no." Carnely moaned. "Nononono. It's not time, you shouldn't be ready, we've got almost an hour to go. You're a woman, for Sikkar's sake..."
She glowered darkly at Carnely, then smiled apologetically at Schrau. "Sorry. I shouldn't have thrown the book at you."
Schrau stood up. "Not a probrem, I just forgot that I can knock on doors without breaking them down. Now I can dress, you two talk."

If Salty could see Schrau as the three of them stepped into the large hall in the middle of Horas' mansion, then he would have wept tears like his name. Schrau's outfit was a pure swashbuckler's wear. Black leather vest, blue silk shirt, blue velvet hat with the required feather and a few silver cards held in the band, a white silk scarf around his neck, and black trousers. They were finely-tailored pieces, each and every single item, and yet they suffered the same way as any item of clothing the vulpin wore. It wasn't that they were filthy or anything like that, just that they were... Scruffy. Even the bravo marks in his hatband were dog-eared.
Not that Salty would have minded, since Salty knew that swashbuckling had more to do with the attitude than the looks. No, the old seadog would have cried into his beer because Schrau had to relinquish his weapons on entry, and you couldn't be a swashbuckler without something to swash buckles with. Oh, he knew the value of unarmed combat, but only as a method of filling the time violently before a swashbuckler got his or her hands on a proper weapon. Of course, in the right hands anything could be a proper weapon; plates, cuts of meat, combs, stunned hamsters; but the trademark of a swashbuckler was his swords, and to give them up would seem unthinkable to Salty.
"Stop eyeing the chandeliers." Corliss hissed as she elbowed Schrau in the ribs. Carnely had already zoomed off into the crowd, snagging a few canapes from the servants that mingled among the guests and began socialising. There was an ulterior motive to their presence, being that they would have an opportunity to ask those that knew Angelo Horas, but not necessarily what he actually was, a few questions. Property questions were always good, safe, innocuous questions. Anyway, that left the pair of vulpins at the entryway wondering where to go next.
"And stop checking out who you're going to arrest next." Corliss whispered. "It's unbecoming."
"Sorry." Schrau sheepishly said. "Only there's a muridan over there that's looking- Oh, it's Carnely."
"Stop it."
"Am I embarrassing you?" Schrau calmly asked.
"No, just yourself." Corliss sighed. "So, what's the matter with you tonight?"
"You're usually more talkative," Corliss pointed out. "You've barely said more than ten words since we left your apartment. You haven't even paid me any compliments, and you usually can't resist that."
Schrau shook his head. "It's... I thought everything would be different. All my free life I've been wanting to free my people and-"
"-Now you've done it." Corliss finished. "And you don't know what to do with yourself."
"That's only half of it." He sighed. "They've resettled the village. They've been asking me to move there." Schrau glanced sideways at Corliss. "I guess I should have expected that."
"So you don't want to move in?"
Schrau shook his head. "And the crazy thing is that I don't know why."
Corliss took a deep breath and said, "I think that's just the half of it. I think it has something to do with me."
Schrau smiled. "No, that's just the half of that. It's Carnely really. He's been seeing things that aren't really there."
Corliss laughed. "Ever tried telling him?"
The sentinel shot the biomancer a sour look. "If we told him that we hated each other, he'd interpret it as we're naming our firstborn after him."
"Ouch." Corliss winced. "Well, I think I have a good short-term cure for that. Your depression, that is."
"And that is?"
"You'll go off, embarrass yourself socially, get a few unwilling people to 'help you in your enquiries,' and maybe get into a brawl with one of those snot-nosed lordlings you so despise."
"Sounds good. And what will you be doing?"
She smiled. "Oh, I'll be with you. Keeping you under observation."

"Oh no." Schrau whispered.
"What is it?" Corliss asked, following Schrau's gaze. A well-dressed changeling was approaching, a fairly strongly-built one that had the presence of a military man. She glanced at Schrau and noticed that they both shared the same gait. Corliss evaluated the military interpretation and settled on officer of the law.
"Lieutenant Rainer Auschvast of the Chokedar." Schrau explained. "Not the top dog, but certainly one of the beta males. And he's heading this way."
Auschvast worked his way through the crowd and stood before Schrau. Both men exchanged slight nods, and Corliss practically felt the crackle of suspicion that both men created through the friction of being in the same room. "A pleasure to see you tonight, deputy Cadnos."
"Good to see you as werr, Auschvast." Schrau calmly replied, reminding the half-elf that tonight was a purely off-duty affair.
"Truth is, I'm surprised to see one such as yourself in the company of Angelo Horas." Auschvast said, his tone suggesting that surprise was the furthest emotion away from what he actually felt.
Schrau smiled in response. "So you are here on business, then?" Auschvast tensed as if stabbed.
"You know, I don't really believe in coincidences." Auschvast continued. "You and Krysospas turn up in my city, and then a crime wave hits us."
The vulpin's fur bristled in a way that suggested to Corliss that Schrau had found his partner for the inevitable brawl. "And just what are you insinuating, officer?"
"Well, I would like to know why we could not contact you or Krysospas following the theft from the Nimbus Museum yesterday."
Schrau sighed. "Carnery; you'rr have to ask him. I berieve that he's, uh, circurating at this moment. As for myserf, I was on Wysoom receiving medicar attention for an ord shourder wound."
Auschvast snorted. "Care to supply a name of your biomancer?"
Schrau smiled to himself. He didn't know much about social circles, but he knew that by placing a woman in front of one who thought himself a gentlemen such as Auschvast was an excellent diversionary tactic. Perhaps he shouldn't have cursed Carnely's name so much. "I don't berieve you've met Corriss Bowne, biomancer."
Auschvast almost tripped over himself. "Ah, lady Bowne, it's-"
"Prease, not rady," Corliss interrupted with a sour expression on her face, "I'd prefer miss Bowne."
Actually, she preferred just 'Corliss.' There was something about Auschvast that made people take different preferences.
"You wouldn't have anything to do with-"
Sikkar bless those awkward silences. Schrau quickly glanced around, trying desperately to find a distraction when one arrived. Dressed in an amazingly white silk suit, short jet black hair oiled back across his scalp, and a thin and delicate goatee beard, Angelo Horas had entered the room.
Auschvast began to visibly bristle. "You know, Cadnos, every time I meet him I just pray that he would do something that would lead me to arresting him."
"Some peopre you just wish you could arrest without a reason." Schrau agreed.
"Not everyone appreciates a sentinel's personal view of 'justice', Cadnos." Auschvast muttered. "Well then, I hope you find this evening pleasant."

Part 7 - The Generous Hospitality of Mister Angelo Horas

Schrau regarded the small, speckled egg that he held before his nose as if it were evidence. "Better to keep the egg and feast on the hen." He muttered to himself, remembering an old vulpin philosophy. "It's not as if there's much to a quail anyway."
He popped the egg into his mouth and started to crunch. Carnely joined him and stared at the vulpin suspiciously. "Shouldn't you peel the shell from them first?"
"Yes." Schrau grunted, before finally swallowing. They settled back at the buffet table to watch the dancers on the floor. "So, find anything interesting?"
"The locations of a half-dozen properties suitable for discreetly storing the type of stuff that, uh, has been disappearing over the last few days." Carnely said.
"Good, they, uh, wirr have to be derivered over the next few days. We can arways pick them up rater and return them to their rightfur owners."
"So while I've been doing all the sentinel work, what have you been doing?"
"Thanks to you, prettyrat, I've had a rady to keep amused." Schrau snarled. "Ergo, I haven't had that much opportunity to ask questions. There's one thing, though."
"Rainer Auschvast is getting suspicious about our timing."
"Oh, snap." Carnely muttered. "Well, the good thing is that he's too suspicious for his own good half the time." He looked around, searching for something to eat. "So, speaking of your date, where is Corliss?" He said as he palmed a few lumps of cheese skewered by cocktail sticks.
"She should be with us in five, four, three..." Two, one.
Corliss appeared at Carnely's side. "Werr then, it seems that Auschvast is more interested in you both than you assumed, Schrau."
Schrau eyed the buffet suspiciously and said, "Oh?"
"Yes." Corliss said. "I've been asking around about the man, and he sees the arrest of those behind the recent robberies as a quick path to promotion. Apparentry, he's been bragging that if he could arrest a pair of sentiners..."
"Good girl." Carnely affirmed, picking something from one of the platters. "What the hell is this?"
"A Scotch egg, Krysospas..." Schrau sighed, staring at the dancers with the non-dancer's usual sense of dread and interest.
"How many breadcrumbs do they feed the chickens to lay eggs like this?"
"Do you two arways do this?" Corliss seethed. "I'm warning you about Auschvast, and you're just ignoring me."
"Oh, warning accepted." Schrau calmly said. "However, Auschvast isn't that big a probrem."
"He's a smart guy." Carnely continued. "And in a sense that makes him a lot easier to deal with than a dumb guy."
"Dumb guys have arr the ruck." Schrau confirmed. "Stirr, at reast we now know he's motivated, that could be usefur."
Carnely grinned. "See, when a member of the local constabulary is looking towards fast promotion, they become gullible to a fault. Doesn't matter how smart you are, when you're blazing that trail you'll practically believe everything you hear. This is why dumb guys get promoted faster than smart guys - Schrau, f'r instance-"
"Thank you." Schrau smiled unthreateningly.
"The kid here was born lucky, he happens to be in the right place at the right time half the time, so stuff happens around and to him that just happens to make him look good. Whereas hard-working smart officers such as myself-"
"-Who arways forget to invest in some magicar fright when reaving a tarr buirding-"
"-Yeah. Anyway, those of us who work for a living are always looking for that one big arrest, 'cause all the dumb kids are getting promoted ahead of us." Carnely sighed. "And when you're passed over because Joe Idiot just happened to accidentally trip up a major jewel thief with his tail while ordering some fried chicken from a street-side vendor, you start getting really desperate and willing to do anything to get it."
Corliss blinked, barely managing to comprehend. "I see. Hey, did that rearry happen?"
"Yes, that earned me my constabre's badge." Schrau muttered. "And my tair was bruised for three weeks after that..."
"Oh, I remember that." Corliss muttered.
"Anyway, running roughshod over whoever is supposed to be in charge is a skirr most sentiners rearn before they reach sergeant, and a smart and desperate man is just the sort of person that is easiry manipurated." The vulpin grinned. "This is going to be so easy."
"Got something lined up for him?"
"Onry as a contingency." Schrau explained. "I think something is going to go awry over the next few days, through no faurt of Auschvast of course. When that does happen, he'rr be usefur."
"Come on." Corliss suddenly demanded, grabbing Schrau's wrist. "This is pretty much the onry dance I know."
"Hey!" Schrau whined, barely managing to resist. "We haven't reached the onry dance I know."
"It doesn't exist, that's why." Corliss riposted. "Are you going to disappoint me or not?"
"Sociarite." Schrau snarled as she dragged him onto the dance floor.
Carnely grinned and quickly scanned the room to see if there was anyone attractive and lacking a dance partner needed his company. His luck was out, because those that were just happened to be the typical knot of bachelors that had suffered the indignity of having their dates poached from their grasp and decided to watch from the safety of the open bar.
A minor pang of loneliness hit the muridan, before he decided that a drink would be just the thing he needed. He walked over to the bar, snagging a few more lumps of cheese on the way.

"Klutz." Corliss whispered as Schrau led her ineffectively. "Why don't you let me lead?"
The sentinel blinked. "I thought you were?"
"You did?"
"Yeah." Schrau answered. "I did tell you that I couldn't dance, didn't I?"
"I thought you were a swashbuckler?" Corliss accusingly said.
"Since when did that have anything to do with anything?"
The biomancer sighed. "I thought swashbucklers were supposed to be epitomes of wit, grace, social appearances, and the like."
"Yeah, but I'm a sentinel first and foremost; and we're suspicious, moody, grouchy, and don't like social events without bringing a warrant. You should see the Sentinel's Annual Ball."
"I didn't think the guild had balls." Corliss replied. "What usually happens then?"
"It usually consists of interrupting the Hand's Ball." Schrau told her. "Usually before the buffet opens, so we don't have to go hungry while making our arrests."
Corliss laughed easily and smiled. "So you don't do any dancing? I wish you'd told me how bad you were sooner."
"Why, am I embarrassing you?"
"Yes, everyone's looking at us."
Schrau glanced sideways and saw the expressions on the faces of their fellow dancers as they waltzed by. Schrau may have been the worst dancer in all the worlds, but he was a grand master at interpreting the reactions of your average crowd. "They're not looking at us, Corliss. They're looking past us."
Schrau glanced the other way at what the crowd was looking at, but was a little too slow.
"Excuse me, but may I have this dance?"
Schrau stared up at Angelo Horas and that damn white suit of his. The human looked down at the pair smugly and with more than a hint of his usual malicious mania that made him such a large factor in Schrau's urge to kill things. He held his hand out, expecting Corliss to take it, and started to look impatient.
"No." Schrau calmly replied. The human glared at him, barely able to contain his complete and utter lack of surprise.
"Oh, I apologise." Horas said. "I didn't realise that you had no idea how social functions operate."
"I know werr enough." Schrau snarled back.
"Too bad," Horas snapped back, shoving Schrau out of the way and taking Corliss by both hands. "By the way, there is something I wish to discuss with you, lady Bowne."
Schrau's natural reaction would be to leap on the human's back and snap his neck. It seemed like a good idea, but instead he slunk off towards to the bar seething all the while.

Carnely had forgotten the one rule when addressing enthusiastic barmen who thought that they were creative. When asked if they could prepare something for you, decline and order a standard drink. Now Carnely was staring at the cocktail on the bar, drumming his fingers on the brass rail along the edge of the surface that aided the short or inebriated climb up to the bar.
It was in a large bowl glass. It was bright orange. It was opaque. It had various large pieces of fruit around the edge of the glass and three paper parasols. Carnely had been warned about drinks with two parasols, and had never until now drank anything with more than one. There were straws, possibly because if you removed all the furniture around the glass to get you lips to the edge, it would take the best part of half an hour. Carnely at one point swore he could see a small goldfish swimming in the depths. He wished he had ordered a beer.
The muridan stared at the cocktail, wondering whether it would be better to drink it or paint the walls with. He hazarded a sip and realised he'd probably end up doing both.
A pair of vulpin paws grabbed the rail next to Carnely, and Schrau hauled himself up onto the adjacent stool. He was muttering beneath his breath, a common occurrence, but his eyes were also twitching manically.
The barman practically materialised in front of the vulpin. "May I interest sir in-"
"Whiskey." Schrau snapped. "Straight. Ice. And if I see a paper parasor anywhere near it, I'rr set it and you on fire."
"Blew you out, huh?" Carnely asked, tensing reactively.
"I was dying on my feet out there, Carn." Schrau replied. "If anyone had offered to take the dance, I would've accepted. You, Auschvast, that ord resbian over there-"
"What old lesbian?" Carnely asked.
"Her," Schrau muttered, pointing. "The one with the jairbait on her arm."
Carnely sighed, "Schrau, that's her daughter."
"Is it?"
"Yeah." Carnely squinted at the couple. "The daughter's a lesbian though, and I'm sure mommy doesn't know."
"Rearry?" Schrau said. "Anyway, if anyone had offered, you couldn't get me off that dancefroor faster even if you'd set my tair on fire, but it just had to be Angero Horas..." He snarled.
Carnely caught the pair as they danced by, looking fairly ridiculous. Horas and Corliss looked like a father teaching his daughter to dance at aunt Mary's wedding.
"I think you're overreacting."
"I think I'm right." Schrau said. "I think something bad is going to happen."

"Such interesting company you keep, lady Bowne." Angelo Horas quietly said. "It never ceases to amaze me when people who could have had so much more out of life choose to... Reduce themselves."
Corliss glared at her dancing partner's breastbone, barely able to trust herself to actually look him in the eye. "My rife is how I chose to rive it." She replied.
"Ah, but lady Bowne, haven't you realised that to choose your own destiny is but an illusion?"

"...She had the dragon trained to roll over, play dead and fetch dwarves..." The gnome sitting at Carnely's right rambled on in a manner that suggested he was boring them purely by his own choice and was actually sober. Both officers had given up listening some time ago, around about the time he started to blather on about the great lemon famine of some time back. "She called him Blackie, I believe. Loved to run and play and lie in the sun."
"They're talking." Schrau muttered, a little too loudly but willing to do anything to drown out the incessant chattering of gnomes.
"Oh, yes, a hideous crime." Carnely agreed. "Talking to your partner while dancing."
The vulpin's eyes narrowed. He took a swig from his whiskey glass and took a few ice cubes which he crunched on. "I know Horas, and he can onry discuss one thing with Corriss."

"Your father has been asking questions." Horas said as if he actually cared. "Oh, he has been distraught. Lady Bowne has practically refused to acknowledge that she bore him a child and this... Well, this just tears him up inside." Horas grinned. "It causes them both so much pain."
Corliss winced, tried to keep her composure. She had been told that Horas was a deeply malicious and manipulative man, and that she should ignore him.
Suddenly, Horas grabbed both of her wrists tightly, tight enough to hurt. Corliss struggled against his grip but barely managed to loosen his fingers.
And the dancers carried on, ignoring their host and his actions.

"Ease up," Carnely ordered as Schrau rose from his seat. "She won't thank you."
"I'm not seeking her thanks." Schrau replied.
"Oh, come on. What's Angelo going to do?" Carnely offered him a wan look. "The whole knight-in-shining-armour routine is a big turn-off these days. Horas isn't stupid, and Corliss isn't either. She'll be fine."

"Well, what could any friend of your father do in my position?" Horas whispered. "He so wants his daughter back home, safe and sound and not... mixing with riff-raff. I would be honoured if you remained as a guest tonight, madam Bowne."
Corliss twisted her arms again, this time working against Horas' wrists. She felt freedom on her right wrist for one brief moment as his fingers scrabbled for her arms.

The slap echoed around the room. Everyone stopped what they were doing and turned to the source. The band stopped playing. The barman dropped a bottle of vodka.
Carnely smiled. "Nice angle, deep scratching. Pretty good considering the height difference. She's clearly done this before."
Schrau had drawn a bravo mark from his hatband, a black card covered in silver foil. He began carving his name into the surface with a thumb claw as if it were a nervous habit. "Damn it, Horas." He whispered beneath his breath. "That was a stupid mistake."

Horas gently raised a hand to his cheek, still blazing from Corliss' slap. He drew his hand back and saw the thin blood on his fingers. He turned back to Corliss, redoubled his grip and snarled, "That was a very stupid thing to do, lady Bowne..."
The human glanced through the crowd briefly and saw Rainer Auschvast heading his way. Once again, he wondered why he invited that insufferable oik. Perhaps he did so for the same reason he did the two sentinels, a plausible alibi.

"Damn it." Carnely hissed. "Polish your breastplate, Sir Prettyboy. This is getting uglier by the second."
"Agreed." Schrau said, tucking the card back into his hatband and hopping down from his seat. Carnely stood and tried to follow but felt resistance. He glanced back and saw that someone had tied his tail to the bar rail. Not an impossible knot, but one that would take a few embarrassing moments to untie. It was something he really should have noticed.
"Dammit, vulpie." He snarled.
"Vurpie, sir!" Schrau called back as means of correction.

Horas glanced the other way, seeing Schrau and still holding onto Corliss' wrists. The biomancer struggled even harder as the two lawmen closed in on their position.
"What's the mean-" Auschvast began.
"Back off, Rainer!" Schrau snapped, his order echoing around the acoustically-sound dancehall. For the briefest of moments it appeared as if the changeling was going to ignore that order, but he soon backed off and stormed off in the direction he had just came.
"I don't think you understand how this operates, Horas." Schrau snarled. "She crearry refused, and you should rerease her."
Horas sneered and released his hold on Corliss, who walked away with as much dignity as one leaving the scene of what was soon to be a major incident could muster. "Cadnos. I could say a few words out loud and literally ruin you."
"I could say one, Horas, and have you arrested. Ruined or not." Schrau smirked. "See, I don't care what happens to me, just so rong as I get the job done."
"'Lex via quislibet facultis.'" Horas quoted, drawing on the inscription on Schrau's badge to do so. "Law by any means. If you arrest me now, Cadnos, then Ciabanni will never see his daughter in recognisable pieces again."
"You don't get it, do you?" Schrau said. "It's none of my concern whether Carra is freed or not, it's whether you get arrested and triared for the crime." The vulpin smiled. "Murder's better than kidnapping and extortion anyway."
"You haven't got the guts."
"I am Schrau Cadnos." Schrau stated. "And I'm pretty much wirring to do anything." He drew the carved card from his hat and flicked it towards Horas, who caught it clumsily.
The human laughed, a cruel and giggling laugh that seemed quite unbecoming. "Bravo, brave sentinel, but I fear you cannot best me. I am Angelo Horas, and I am cunning..." His eyes narrowed. "...Cunning, like a fox."
Schrau had been waiting for that. 'Cunning like a fox,' oh, how he hated that phrase. If it were up to him, saying that would be an arrestable offence. Schrau stared at Angelo, his face blank and unimpressed. "Rearry? Werr, I'rr terr you something, mister fox. Those four-regged, dirt-chewing, butt-sniffing, bug-eating, evorutionary throwbacks ain't got nothin' on me!" He growled, before tugging once on the brim of his hat in a mockery of a respectful salute. "Good night, Horas."
"I want four million, Cadnos." Angelo whispered at the vulpin's back as he walked away. Unknown to the criminal, the sentinel grinned in Carnely's direction who had just finished untying his tail.
"Herr, why not make it five?" Schrau snapped back.
"Then let's make it six!"
"Fine, whatever."

Part 8 - The Machinations of The Cunning and The Devious

"What will you have done, master Horas?"
Angelo Horas glanced sideways at the man, who could only be described as a toady, possibly working his way up to lackey, and growled, "First, I want the biomancer captured and brought to me. Lord Bowne will pay handsomely for her safe return. Secondly, I wish to discuss something with Lieutenant Auschvast, have him sent to my office. Thirdly..." A slight smile crept across his face. "...There is an storehouse in the Ruby district, I believe it is being rented by a certain Norda Braus. Have it observed over the next few days."
"As you wish, sir." The man bowed and slithered away.
Angelo Horas snorted disdainfully, before glancing at the card he held in his hand. Silver, with the word "Schrau" carved into it. He muttered and tucked it into the inside breast pocket of his jacket, shortly before it exploded in a puff of black smoke, covering his pristine white shirt and jacket in a fine black ash. Nobody dared laugh.
"Resume the dance!" Horas barked, dusting ineffectively at the stain on his clothes before storming off.

"I'm impressed," Corliss said by means of conversation as the trio walked along the wide pathways of the Diamond district. Her voice was shaken, but she would recover. "I've never seen a checkgirr hand over weapons so quickry."
"She didn't want us to go back there and see what crimes we could find." Schrau bluntly replied.
Carnely glanced up at the sky. "So then, that was brief. Night's still young. What say we hit a few bars and night shows for kicks. I hear the Tumbling Papuas do a good show in Suthnas."
"No." Schrau snapped.
"Oh, right, after that Pandrada thing I guess you're more of a Township People person."
The vulpin's comments were unrepeatable in any company, even obscene company.
"There's that new guy, did a pretty good show in Nineveh when I was here on leave." Carnely recalled. "Vulpin. Rande, I bel-"
"No!" Schrau yelled, his voice more horrified than anything as Corliss began laughing. He sighed, "Rook, Carn, if you want to go and enjoy yourserf, go ahead. We're going back to the apartment to get Corriss' stuff, and then I'm taking her home."
"I'rr be fine to-"
"No, damn it, I don't want you anywhere within Horas' sphere of infruence." Schrau snapped.
"He's right, Corliss." Carnely agreed. "What did he say to you, anyway?"
"He- He said that he wanted me to be a guest of his tonight."
Much to her surprise, both sentinels smiled.
"That's perfect." Schrau whispered.
"I bet he's got another special guest." Carnely added.
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Peopre rike Horas are predictabre to a faurt." Schrau said, "We know he's deveroping a nasty habit of abducting radies, and at this stage he's not rearry that good at it."
"Which means that if he was planning to hold you in his home, then the odds are pretty high that that's where he's holding Carla Ciabanni."
"Now we know where to storm in case we have to carr upon Pran C."
"What's Plan B?" Carnely asked.
"Never you mind."
Corliss glared suspiciously at Schrau. "Okay, if Horas is so predictabre, what is he doing right now?"
"Right now? I think maybe changing his suit." Schrau said. "I did give him one of those bravo marks, and they exprode when you break the foir. I timed it so that he'd put it in his jacket pocket about five seconds before it popped."
"Oh yeah, don't remind me." Carnely muttered. "The first time you gave me one of those, I was shaking dust from my fur for a week." Carnely looked up at the sky again. "And right now, he's probably talking to Auschvast."

Horas barely had time for a full change of suit, so the ash grey jacket clashed horribly with his snow white trousers as he hurried through the hidden passages to his office in an attempt to get there before Auschvast arrived.
Too late. As he stepped into his office and the wall panel slid shut behind him, Auschvast cocked an eyebrow in his direction. The changeling sat on a couch on the back wall and sneered. "Regular doorways are so out of fashion, eh Angelo?"
"You didn't see that." The human spat.
"Okay, I'm willing to let the new knowledge about the hidden passageways in your home slide if I am allowed to mock your current fashion sense."
Horas grumbled to himself and sat at his desk. "You're probably wondering why I've summoned you here."
"Oh, not really." Auschvast smiled. "You have something to say that would be beneficial for me to hear. Oh, and might I ask about that brief heated exchange you had with deputy Cadnos? 'Then let's make it six.'"
"Upping the stakes in a private gamble." Horas said dismissively. "One he cannot hope to win. Do you wish to hear what I have to say or not?"

"One question." Corliss said as she bundled her stuff into her pack. "Horas initiarry raised the ransom to four mirrion-"
"Rike I said he would." Schrau crowed triumphantly, directing the comment towards Carnely who was just about to leave.
"But you've arready got more than that amount." Corliss pointed out. "In fact, how much do you have?"
"With the Orb of Brasck, near enough seven." Carnely said. "At least if the prettyboy's evaluation is right."
"It is." Schrau said confidently. "Five mirrion is what the Rajian museum demanded from the Keystonian Royar, and they onry offered three."
"Hasn't Horas been paying attention to what's been storen? Surery he must know that you have more than that amount."
Schrau grinned. "Maybe he doesn't. Maybe he hasn't considered that we were responsibre for the gord heist."
"He's gonna be pissed when he does." Carnely said as he opened the door. "Well, I'll see you kids tomorrow. Good night."

"So you suspect the sentinels for the theft at the Rajian Museum?" Auschvast stated.
"No suspicion about it." Horas said. "I lack evidence, but I will be willing to disclose the names of those I suspect will purchase the Orb."
"How very civic-minded of you." Auschvast snorted. "You are aware that accusing a sentinel of any crime without any basis is punishable by anything the guild can dream up. If word reached their ears, then you could be executed tomorrow morning."
"And you would so enjoy that, Auschvast."
"I daresay that a smile may cross my lips."
"Let's drop the pretence. You suspect them as well." Horas muttered. "Else you would have left the room by now."
The changeling sighed. "It's true. I suspect that they're responsible for that gold heist earlier this week."
Horas stared blankly at Auschvast. "Excuse me?"
"Didn't you hear?" Auschvast mocked. "A bullion wagon was held up by a vulpin thief on its way to the sky port. She-" The changeling emphasised the word. "-made off with about one and a half million in gold. I take it that they were working off the books?"
"Oh, so now you're accusing me?"
"Naturally, the execution was Cadnos, but the planning and choice of disguise was clearly Krysospas' work. They share somewhat of a friendly rivalry based on one-upmanship against each other. I daresay that Cadnos is seeking his revenge now. So I take it that this incident comes as a surprise to you?"
"To tell the truth, yes." Horas smiled easily. "Sikkar bless me, but I was in Edon on business two days ago."
"How did you know the event took place two days ago?"
"I didn't." Horas mentally added 'you overly suspicious bastard.' "I was in Edon two days ago, I hadn't heard anything of the heist until today, therefore it's a simple conclusion to make." One that the Chokedar lieutenant failed to catch.
Or maybe he did, given the slight pang of disappointment twisting his lip. "I see."

Carnely felt bitter and angry. He had been talking to a few more biologically-minded people than he normally would mix with and had found something interesting. Not that it actually stopped him from itching.
By the time he had dressed, he heard the door to the apartment open and close. The muridan stepped out from his room and saw a dog-tired dog stumble in.
"Well, it looks like you had an eventful night." Carnely snarled.
Schrau shot him a violent look. "An interesting thing happened on the way to the sky port." He snapped. "Four of Horas' goons jumped us, trying to kidnap Corriss. I managed to get three of them but the other escaped."
"Are you sure they were Horas' men?" Carnely asked, as if he really needed an answer.
"Peopre can stirr talk even when their smarr intestine is knotted around their knees."
"Graphic as always, Cadnos."
"Anyway, I spent the night making sure Corriss got home safe, then I had to practicarry beg Girgar to keep her under surveirrance for the next few days, then I got sidetracked by one of the new watchmen who rearry, rearry needed confirmation on his firing..."
The muridan grinned and scratched his head. "Well, it's none of my business but you are the guild mentor."
"Thank you. Anyway, then I had to beg Girgar again because he suddenry decided there wasn't any reason to keep up the surveirrance, then I ferr asreep for five minutes, and then I made the necessary preparations for our next acquisition."
"What?" Carnely asked, still scratching.
"You'rr find out." Schrau said. "Anyway, you were saying?"
"What?" Then the itch reminded him. "Oh yeah. I was talking to a few of the natives last night. Guess what they told me?"
"I'm arr agog." Schrau muttered.
"There's no such thing as the Rajian morntick."
"The what?" Schrau blinked.
"You know, this... Parasite you told me I had!"
Schrau sighed. "Carn, I've never heard of the Rajian morntick."
"But you said-"
"I said wormtick." Schrau interrupted. "The first of the kanku race that arrived here found themserves infested with a smarr tick, but onry in the morning. Hence the phrase 'the earry bird catches the worm.' Anyway, I got our mair." He produced a single envelope. "Guess whose sear is on the back."
Schrau opened it. "Probabry upping the ransom to about eight." Schrau read the note and grinned. "Which is why what I have pranned next wirr bring us up to about nine."
"So what is it?"
Schrau shook his head and tossed the letter over his shoulder. "First, sreep. Then breakfast. Wake me in an hour."

Part 9 - An Incident At An Art Gallery

"What an eyesore."
"It was the rast piece he ever finished before his insanity, Carn." Schrau pointed out.
"From the look of it, that ship had already sailed and met an iceberg. I thought live sceneries was more his thing."
"You would be right, but he dabbred with abstract work for the brief time he accepted some students to teach. Thus adding to the varue."
"I left better-looking art on the street outside the last bar I remember last night."
"Too much information." Schrau muttered. "Anyway, ret's go ersewhere before Auschvast gets here."

"Right this way, officers." The aide hurriedly said as she escorted the two sentinels into the officer of the owner of the gallery. The heavy oak door which ideally should have been an external door rather than an internal one swung open at her hand and they were ushered into the small but luxuriously furnished office. A small and harried-looking kanku was mussing his feathers behind the desk, while Rainer Auschvast stood looking at an opened letter.
"You carred?" Schrau calmly asked.
"We've received a threat against one of the exhibits!" The manager wailed. "Oh, they're going to burn it to ashes!"
"Who are they?" Carnely asked. "Which exhibit?"
"The note's anonymous." Auschvast growled, still reading the note. "But the threat's made against the Rontarvo exhibit. Today."
"Rearry?" Schrau said. "Werr then, you've done the right thing. We'rr get some sentiners and-"
"My men are already guarding the exhibit." Auschvast announced.
"Okay, so why did you summon us here?" Carnely asked.
"Because I'd like to keep my eye on you both." Auschvast hissed. "I've been hearing some-"
The door practically exploded inwards as one of the gallery attendants burst into the room. "Mister Kassa, the Montalvo exhibit is on fire!"
"What!?" All four men exclaimed at the same time.
"But the note says the Rontarvo exhibit!" Kassa exclaimed.
"Blast!" Auschvast grunted as he tossed the note onto the desk, where it landed face-down. "Okay, let's-"
"This could be a diversionary tactic." Carnely said. "Auschvast, go to the Rontarvo exhibit and make sure nothing happens. We'll deal with the blaze."

"Clear the area!" Carnely barked as they approached the scene.
A blaze would always attract onlookers, gawpers, rubberneckers, and hangers-on. In any incident, a sentinel knew to clear the area and ensure perfect freedom of operation. Fortunately, the Montalvo exhibit was in a little sub room of its own, the two sentinels had swept the area beforehand for any spy holes and observation slots that could be looking in on the exhibit.
The painting was titled "Dreams of Sanity", a rather ironic title considering the artist's following spiral into madness. It had been surrounded by drapes and hangings detailing the artist's colourful life, an eulogy of some sort despite the fact that Montalvo was very much still alive. It was these hangings that were on fire, the conflagration creeping ever closer to the piece of art.
Carnely glanced over his shoulder, making sure the coast was clear as Schrau approached the painting. "I knew he was huffing lead-based paints, this thing looks like he just sneezed over the canvas."
"Normarry, I'd agree with you." Schrau muttered, drawing his swords. "But this is going to make us."
The frame was metal and very hot. This is what actually prevented the gallery aides from removing and saving the masterpiece. Schrau held both swords out, lifted the painting off the wall with them, and let the whole thing drop onto the flats of the blades with a cooling hiss.
"At least you don't prefer fire-enchanted weapons." Carnely observed.
Schrau grinned and swept the blades over the back of the painting, cooling it down and allowing him opportunity to pry the back from the art. He removed the original and set it aside before reaching for the scabbard of one of his swords on his back.
A bad fall onto his back had revealed why the sheathes of his paired blades were much larger than the swords. They were essentially two-layer insulating constructs, an inner metal layer insulated by air and an outer hardened leather layer, thus preventing the swords from unduly chilling their owner while sheathed. The fall had loosened the scabbards, revealing their secret to Schrau. Rather than having them fixed, he had them modified so that he could separate the inner sheathe from the outer. He unwrapped a replica of the painting from the metal inner, pressed it into the frame, and set it back into place.
"Nice fake. Where'd you get it?"
"One of Montarvo's former students obriged." Schrau explained as he rolled the original around the metal sheathe and slipped it back into the scabbard. "A somewhat romantic ferrow, quite taken by the notion that he would aid in the rescue of a fair maiden, but I stirr had to have quite a few funds rereased to buy his sirence."
Carnely grinned and produced a matchbook. "Fascinating." He snapped one match free from the rest, tucked the single match between the heads of the others, and closed the book. "Step back."
The muridan braved the heat and tucked the matchbook behind the painting, the match protruding into the path of the reaching flames. A matchbook fuse, a similar fuse they had used to cause the initial fire, though using a cigarette instead to give a longer fuse time.
"Since the originar is so recent, the artist had no troubre using the same materiars as the original painting." Schrau explained. "Same paints, same canvas, it would onry be detectabre as a fraud if you gave it a thorough and detaired examination."
The match flared, which in turn ignited the rest in the book. The painting blazed furiously for a brief moment before the whole canvas collapsed into ashes.
Schrau grinned. "Stirr, just as werr I had him soak the canvas in arcohor, and add some to the paints as werr."
"Oh well, nothing we could have done." Carnely sighed. "The fire was too intense, and that metal frame prevented us from rescuing the painting. Not our fault."
"Yeah." Schrau agreed. "Now we'd better go and wait for Auschvast's bungring to exonerate us."

"You miserable excuses for lawmen." Auschvast growled. "You couldn't even save the painting, and I bet you never even tried."
"Oh, we tried our hardest." Schrau snapped back. "But it was arready too rate by the time we got there."
"Maybe if every single Chokedar and guard in the building hadn't been congregated around the Rontarvo exhibit, we would have caught the arsonist before it had happened." Carnely stated.
"The threat against the Rontarvo exhibit was real!" Auschvast yelled as he snatched the note from the manager's desk, who had gone somewhere dark to lie down and cry. "We acted on-" He began, before something written on the note caught his attention.
"What?" Schrau demanded as the changeling stared blankly at the paper.
"I think we broke him." Carnely muttered under his breath and plucked the note from Auschvast's unresisting fingers. After a while, the muridan managed to read the note. "Hey, this says-"
Schrau snatched the note from Carnely and read. "This note says that whoever was responsibre for the fire was targeting the Montarvo exhibit, not the Rontarvo!"
"Auschvast, you sorry piece of..." Carnely trailed off. "Can't you read!?"
"But it said-"
"It says Montalvo!"
"This is your faurt, Auschvast..."
The Chokedar glared at the vulpin. "Hey, don't pin this on me,"
"I wirr because I can." Schrau snapped back. "You read this note, you ordered the positioning of the security detair, therefore you are to brame!"
"Kassa read the note as well! So did you two!"
"Kassa is a highly-strung and somewhat fragile individual," Carnely pointed out. "We can't really blame him for making the same mistake as you."
"And we never read that note." Schrau added. "You were waving it about rike a handkerchief whire talking about it."
"Face it, Rainer, you screwed up royally this time." The muridan glared. "Now if you'll excuse us, we've got things to do."
"Terr your superiors to expect our report as soon as possibre." Schrau said. "Good day, rieutenant."

Part 10 - Lieutenant Auschvast Makes A Grave Mistake

Carnely's furious roar woke Schrau the next morning. As the vulpin lay in bed, he grinned to himself and listened to Carnely complaining through the walls of their apartments. Schrau once again secretly thanked the man who had informed him that muridans became highly suggestible while asleep.
Still, he couldn't ride the morntick, or wormtick thing any longer. He'd have to think of another means to continue his revenge.
Oh well, good things and whatnot.
Schrau rolled out of bed, picked up and shook the creases into his jacket, and put it on. As he began fastening his belt, someone knocked on the door. Grumbling to himself, Schrau crossed the main room and answered it.
Auschvast stood there, backed by two jinni Chokedar.
"This had better be good." Schrau calmly said, adjusting his badge.
"Ah, deputy Cadnos. Is your partner in crime awake?"
Schrau glanced over his shoulder towards Carnely's door. "Best wait a few moments for him to dress. So, what is this about?"
Auschvast was practically triumphant. "So, what do you know about a storehouse on 3 Riftway Lane in the Ruby district?"
Schrau kept his face neutral but annoyed. Oh, he knew all right.
"It's currently being leased by a..." Auschvast consulted his notebook. "Norda Braus. But I have witnesses putting you in the vicinity on several occasions."
Carnely's door clicked open and the muridan stepped out. "What's up?" He said, scratching his head.
"Ah, good. Everyone's dressed." Auschvast cheerily said. "I think it's time we went for a little walk, hmm?"

"I know you're responsible for these thefts," Auschvast narrated as they walked the short distance to the storehouse. "I must admit, you've been very good. A hummingbird couldn't catch you as you worked. Cadnos, Bardur must be very proud of your abilities."
The vulpin scowled at the Chokedar lieutenant but couldn't trust himself to say anything.
"You made one mistake, however." Auschvast continued. "The Orb of Brasck."
"What about it?" Carnely asked.
"Krysospas, I've yet to validate your cockamamie excuse of an alibi, but since we all know that it's Cadnos with the advanced training and inbred flair for thievery, that should do. For now." Auschvast glanced at Schrau. "So, on the day of the theft, you and Krysospas were both seen in the Rajian Museum, casing the Orb."
"And then you left at approximately midday for Wysoom," Auschvast recalled. "Your excuse being a visit to a biomancer."
"Arso correct."
"You and Bowne were seen arriving at the Nimbus sky port at just before dawn, about the same time as the theft."
Schrau grunted, "Whee, I guess I do have an aribi."
"Oh no, little vulpin." Auschvast said as they finally arrived at the storehouse. "You left Nimbus at midday. You left Raji via the teleporter in Nineveh just beyond sunset. That's an awful lot of time just to see the sights. Ah, Krysospas, I see from the pathos of surprise on your face that this is news to you as well. Were you not aware of your partner's goings?"
"Hey, what he does in his private life is none of my concern." Carnely said.
"So, what were you doing?"
"None of your concern, Auschvast." Schrau snapped.
"Hiring a thief to steal the Orb for you?"
"I notice the timing, you and Bowne would have been in the area to receive the prize from the thief. Bowne is a biomancer, the thief was hurt and she could have patched him back up."
Schrau glared but said nothing.
"I could have you expelled from the guild. I could have Bowne expelled from the Biometric College."
Again, nothing.
"Open the storehouse." Auschvast commanded.
Schrau did not move.
"Open it, or it will be opened."
Schrau sighed, defeated, and removed a key from a pocket. "You're wrong about everything, Rainer."
"We will see."
Schrau turned to the door and opened the heavy lock. He pulled the door aside and let light spill into the storehouse. The completely empty storehouse. Carnely felt the surprise rise up in him, but buried it effectively. Schrau also seemed unsurprised, but Carnely knew what he was really thinking.
Where's the loot?
They hadn't really stolen that much. The storehouse was perhaps too modest for their acquisitions. The only bulky items were the pittance stolen from the Bazaar and the gold bullion. Anyway, the storehouse was completely empty.
"Well, if you came here to find nothing, you've found it." Carnely managed.
"What's the meaning of this?" Auschvast sputtered.
Schrau was furious, but vented onto the changeling. "You want to know what I was doing that day? I'rr terr you, I spent the day arguing with the magistrates of Nineveh to have my sister's body repatriated on Werstarian soir!" The vulpin bared his teeth. "None of those broody sanctimonious bastards in Gydnia or Keystone want the body of a common thief and prostitute in any of their graves, oh no, and Abarack sure as herr doesn't want a Cadnos buried in their prots, but I'm doing my damned best to get her out of that pathetic excuse of a pauper's grave that you put her in and back where she berongs!"
"I will not be spoken to in that tone of voice, Cadnos!"
"You wirr be spoken to in any tone I choose!"
"Not until you explain why you are renting this storehouse!"
"It's bloody obvious, Auschvast!" Carnely snapped, causing everyone to stare at him. He improvised. "Do you have any idea how much paperwork the guild produces? Oh, I bet you see a lot, but that's nothing on the kind of accuracy that Gilgal likes in his reports."
"We generate a lot of paperwork. We could have covered Sauronan with it by now," Carnely explained. "So here's what we do. We discreetly hire empty storehouses in cities across the universe, and when people lose interest in watching them, we fill 'em."
"So why not be honest?" Auschvast asked.
"Oh, that would be brilliant. Telling the criminal community exactly where we're storing all their criminal histories. Bring a match, kids. Have some fun." Carnely snorted. "Well, thanks Auschvast. Thanks to you, we've probably been spotted. We'll have to ditch this one and find another in another city. Thanks for wasting our week."
Auschvast blinked. "You mean you were here for a week just to spot property?"
The sentinels nodded.
"But- But-" Auschvast stared into the storehouse, then back at the sentinels. "But-"
"Good day, Auschvast." Schrau snapped.
The changeling's eyes narrowed to slits. "I will have you arrested."
"No, you won't." Schrau snarled. "Now go. My patience is wearing thin."
With a defeated snort, Auschvast gestured for both of the Chokedar to follow him, the two sentinels waited until they were sure he was out of earshot before speaking.
"You, sir," Schrau began. "Would be a credit to the vurpin race."
"Thanks. Just as well you hid the stuff." Carnely said, even though he knew exactly what Schrau's response would be.
"I didn't. Okay, I think we know who to brame."
"Horas." Carnely replied. "But why would he set Auschvast on us if-"
Schrau shook his head. "That's a mistake, Carn. Stop thinking that Auschvast is stupid because he's not. He's smart, we're better. I guess he figured things out for himserf, and ruckiry for us Horas decided to correct his payment." Schrau sighed "Or maybe not. Five, four, three..."
Two seconds later, both sentinels turned around voluntarily into the face of a well-dressed toady. The human grinned and said, "Mister Angelo requests your presence in an hour. Bring the money."
"Eh, we have some assets we have to riquidise first. Two hours." Schrau haggled.
"One and a half."
"I would have settred for one and a quarter, but we can get a cup of coffee now." Schrau grinned.
The man blinked, not getting the joke. "Whatever. Make sure you have the ten million."
"It was eight million yesterday." Carnely pointed out.
"That was yesterday. Today is today." The man nodded and turned away. "His mansion, he will be expecting you."
They watched him go, and Carnely breathed deep. "Okay, time for Plan C?"
"Pran B." Schrau said.
"I hate Plan B." Carnely groaned and stuck his tongue out. "They fail half as often as Plan A."
"Be thankfur I'm not invoking Pran D, we need fire and rots of it for that." Schrau took a deep breath. "Okay, one hour, I can stear ten mirrion in one hour. It's not hard. Carn, can I have that rist of properties you gathered at Angero's party?"
"Sure." Carnely said, pulling a greasy scrap of paper from his pocket and handing it to the vulpin who stared at it.
"Okay, now can I have a transration."
"You've nobody to blame but yourself. You should've taught me to write better." Carnely glanced at Schrau. "Your sister?"
Schrau nodded. "Rhiannon. Born before me, a good thief for a given varue of 'good.' Then Ardar came." Schrau's face twisted. "He sord her before I could remember her. Sord her to a pimp though she was far too young. His third sare. She actuarry rived untir about a year before I escaped, when she was kirred by a crient. Strangred. Found in a gutter and buried in a pauper's grave. Onry her ferrow girrs knew her name, they marked her grave by thenserves."
"And you want her moved to Welstar?"
Schrau nodded.
"And none of the cities will have her?"
"I can think of one place that would."
"I know."

Part 11 - The Execution of a Scheme Most Diabolical

Schrau met Carnely at the gates to Horas' mansion and smiled. "Werr then, ready to end this?"
"Tell me what the plan is, first." Carnely said.
"Arr in good time, I onry ask you to trust me."
"What have you stolen that's worth ten million and you can carry it with you?" Carnely asked. "Wait, you've stolen the entire city, haven't you?"
Schrau grinned. "Onry an idiot would stear an entire city. Just trust me."
"How patently illegal is this?"
The vulpin grinned even wider. "Carn, I would say that this is actuarry the most regar thing I've done since arriving here."
They were permitted entrance to the mansion when a large, burly man stopped them just inside the doorway. He glared impatiently at the sentinels and said, "Weapons."
Schrau stared at the man. "I remember you. The sky port?" Schrau nodded, then thrust a palm strike into the human's gut. He then grabbed his left arm, twisted until the wrist cracked painfully before striking at the elbow and breaking the joint. The human fell to his knees, groaning and staring at his stricken arm through eyes that were rapidly losing focus.
"How nice. You think we actuarry need weapons."
The same aide that had summoned them shot a withering glance down the hallway. "That was most unkind, officer."
Schrau snapped a sword from its sheath and pressed it against the back of the stricken goon's neck. "True. Maybe I should end his suffering?"
"You're wasting valuable time, sentinel."
Schrau sheathed the weapon, and both officers followed.

Upon arriving at Horas' office, both sentinels were ushered in without a single word. Horas sat behind his desk, flanked by two 'bodyguards'. Neither officer sat.
"Why were you allowed to keep your weapons?" Horas spat.
"Because the meathead that tried to take 'em found out that it wouldn't make a difference, Angelo." Carnely calmly said.
"Well done. So I trust you have my money?"
Schrau smiled slightly. "So I'm assuming that the goods you took from a storehouse in the Ruby district weren't to your riking?"
"Goods? What goods?" Horas innocently said.
"Okay, let's can this." Carnely snarled. "Honour among thieves and all that."
"You see, you did us a favour. If Auschvast had found those goods in our storehouse, we'd be dead by now. Of course, I take it that it wasn't your intention?"
Horas grunted. "If I had known that Rainer would be... Anyway, you thought yourself smarter than I. I couldn't have that."
Schrau shook his head. "No, you couldn't. However, I'm man enough to admit when I am wrong about somebody. I was wrong about you. It was about the money, it arways was about the money."
Horas smiled. "Well done. You are right, it was about the money. Did you assume that I wished to harm Enzo Ciabanni? Understandable, and that was also my second objective."
"You sought to ruin him." Carnely said, understanding.
"Impressive deduction, Krysospas. But I now have a better prize, the ruin of two sentinels and possibly the entire guild." Horas waved a hand. "Oh, Radisgad will deny ever having anything to do with the actions of two rogue sentinels, but I feel that if given enough motivation Enzo will have quite a few public words to say."
"Of course, you're assuming that we don't have the money." Schrau said.
Horas laughed. "I know you do not, you were given an hour and a half to steal ten million. If that much had gone missing by now I certainly would have heard of it."
Schrau grinned. "But we arready know it was arways about the money, not the fact it was storen. You'd take anything I'd give you, wouldn't you?"
Horas steepled his fingers and looked placidly at the vulpin. "What could you give me?"
"I won't deny the fact that I am a Cadnos." Schrau said, before suddenly reaching for the hilt of one of his swords. The goons reacted, but far too slowly for Schrau to draw the weapon with the inner sheath around the blade. Wrapped around the sheath was a creamy document, bound in red ribbon. "And if there's one thing a Cadnos is good at stearing, it would be diamonds." Schrau untied the document from the sheath and rolled it out in front of Horas. "Outside, Carnery asked me if I had storen the city. I tord him no, because if someone suddenry craimed ownership to the entire city of Nimbus, they would have a massive responsibirity on their hands. On the other hand, you have before you the deeds to the entire Diamond Quarter, arr it needs are three signatures."
Horas bellowed peals of laughter. "Cadnos, your ancestor made the same mistake! How do you expect me to own the Diamond district with a forged document?"
"Werr, for one thing Bardur did own the Diamond Circre of Abarack with his forged deed. He made a rot of money in rent, which was paid to the deedhorder. You could do the same." Schrau's eyes narrowed. "But Bardur's mistake was serring the forged deed back to the city, where his deception was discovered. With this deed, there wirr be no deception."
Horas took the deed and read it. It seemed to be a perfectly legal document, seal of the city and all that. There were three places that demanded signature, the new deed holder and two spaces designated for city officials. "I'd never get two officials of the city to sign this, even with bribery or coercion."
"You have two city officiars with you now." Schrau snapped his fingers. "Carn, exprain to the man."
Carnely gulped. "Given the absolute authority of the sentinel guild to control and use the resources of any city in which they are currently operating in, they may be called upon in the role of officials of that city for judicial purposes."
"You would give me this district?" Horas suspiciously asked.
"We have an objective, Horas. The rerease of Carra Ciabanni by any means."
"If it means handing over this district to a criminal, then so be it." Carnely sourly said.
"You do not approve of this, do you Krysospas." Horas pointed out. "Care to explain why?" There was an awkward silence. "Everyone in this room knows that Cadnos has all the training and heritage for grand theft, but you do not. Why, then, were you assigned to this case, Krysospas?"
"I am not at liberty to say." Carnely quietly said.
"I am." Schrau said. "He's my controrrer. Radisgad assigned him to this case to ensure that I do not do anything that would go against the wishes of the guird and the raw."
"How the hell did you know that?" Carnely whispered to Schrau.
"See," Schrau said aloud. "when arr this started, I kept thinking 'why you?' I could name a dozen sentiners with better training in this fierd of work, and yet Girgar had assigned someone who didn't. Then I understood. Two sentiners given furr authority to stear and trick. A bad combination. Girgar needed one potentiar 'rogue' to do this, but he needed two rike he needed a hore in the head."
"Interesting." Horas said. "So, Krysospas, are the actions of this self-confessed rogue sentinel in the best interests of the guild? Do you approve?"
Carnely hung his head, he wanted to say that he didn't. That Schrau had finally gone crazy. That he would die before signing the deed. Then he caught a glimpse of his badge. Lex via quislibet facultis. Law by any means.
This is actually the most legal thing I've done since arriving here.
"If it ensures the safety of Carla Ciabanni, I cannot object."
Horas stared at the deed. "If I sign this, Cadnos, will I own this district? To tax and to shape and to forge whatever laws I see fit?"
Schrau replied, "Horas, that wirr be the most regarry-binding document you wirr ever have to sign. You have my word as an officer of the raw."
Horas glared at the vulpin. "And if I choose to call this bluff and refuse to sign, what then?"
"Then I wirr take that deed, sign it in my name, have Carnery sign it, and brackmair Auschvast into signing it as werr. The way we've scuttred his career, he'd do anything I ask him to not to fire a compraint about his abhorrent behaviour. I wirr own this district, and my first act wirr be to dismantre this prace brick by brick untir I find Carra Ciabanni dead or arive, and then have you executed most painfurry either way." Schrau grinned widely. "I wirr do just that, I'm that kind of guy. You have my word as an officer of the raw."
"You do so make my ears bleed." Horas growled. "I once attended the show of a bard that could speak better than you can, officer."
"Oh yes." Schrau said. "I armost had him kirred. Anyway, we haven't got arr day."
Horas smiled, took a fountain pen, and signed the document. "There. Now sign it." He ordered, pushing the pen and document towards to two sentinels.
"You first, Carn. Remember; you can't sign with an 'X'."
Carnely scowled and managed to sign the paper, then Schrau did the same.
"You are aware since the Abarack debacle that any land ownership deeds can no longer be held on private property and must be turned over to the governing body for scrutiny?" Carnely said.
"Yes, I was aware." Horas said. "Take it, and I will release Carla when I have word that the deed passes scrutiny."
"Wrong. You wirr rerease her now."
Horas laughed, "What was-"
Schrau picked up the deed and held it taught by top and bottom. At the same time, Carnely drew his scimitar and pressed it against the back of the deed, threatening to cut it.
"If Ciabanni isn't a free woman in ten minutes, you can kiss goodbye to the ownership of this district, Horas." Carnely snarled.
"You destroy that deed, and she dies."
"Wrong." Schrau said. "If we destroy this deed, then you wirr die and so wirr anyone who gets in our way."
"You cannot be that desperate."
"You have five minutes to find out." Schrau grinned.
Horas stared at the deed as if it were his child. "You will be killed for this."
"No, we'rr be kirred for something erse." Schrau said. "I think we wirr survive your wrath. Three minutes."
"You said five."
"We said ten." Carnely corrected. "But you said three million."
Horas turned his head and snapped at one of his guards, "Bring the girl!"
"And if she isn't in mint condition, the grave won't protect you from our wrath." Carnely intoned.
The man shuffled out of the room using a hidden entrance. The two sentinels still held the deed hostage, and Horas glared at them impotently from behind his desk.
"Hey, rook on the bright side." Schrau said. "It was never about Ciabanni, it was arr about the money."
"You've got your nine million in pittance, and a district to your name. Cheer up." Carnely suggested.
The goon returned, this time with a ragged olive-skinned girl in tow. Carla Ciabanni clearly got her looks from her mother, and her current fashion sense from dungeon chic. The goon shoved the girl before him, causing her to nearly fall over the desk. Carnely sheathed his sword and Schrau rolled up the deed.
"You know, I will never forget this."
Schrau smiled and tapped the rolled-up deed against his temple in salute. "Even when you're surveying the dominion this document has earned you? Good day, Horas. Stay regar."

The two sentinels refrained from speaking as they escorted Carla Ciabanni from Horas' mansion. They stepped out of the door, down the pathway, and through the front gates.
As they walked towards the Sapphire Quarter, Schrau grinned and said, "Times rike this makes me proud to be a vurpin."
"So, what are we going to do? Ditch that deed over the edge?" Carnely asked.
Schrau stared at him as if the muridan had lost his mind and drew a small, nondescript wand from his sleeve. "Are you crazy? Why would we throw away a signed and authenticated confession?"
Carnely grinned. "I knew it."
"No, you didn't. And that's what made it so authentic."
One of the magical artificers living in Nimbus had a peculiar craft, he made magical paper that was all but undetectable to the magical senses of even powerful mages. Mainly because the paper was ordinary but the transformation spell was unique in every case. The magic allowed the paper to be changed from one document to another, you could turn a manuscript into a single sheet of paper or vice versa. You could change the entire written contents of a sheet, or even just a single word. The paper would remain exactly as it is in its deceptive state until a trigger spell is activated. The spell could be charged into a wand, or even into the paper to allow for a variety of external stimuli to trip the spell. That stimulus could be a drop of water, a time of the day, or a muridan with a Drandiss accent saying "This could be a diversionary tactic."
Schrau tapped the deed with the wand, and it quickly turned into a thick roll of papers. Schrau handed the roll to Carnely. "Poor Horas. Wants out of the criminar game, but doesn't want to appear soft to his peers." Schrau snapped the wand, where it burst into magical flame. "He came to me and asked if there was any way he could sign a comprete confession and guarantee his conviction so that there would be zero chance of an appear. So I hired a rawyer to draft up a confession to his riking."
Carnely began flicking through the super-fineprint document and shook his head. "You would have to be crazy to sign a confession like this without reading it."
"He wirr be crazy after spending some time arguing its regarity." Schrau said. "Oh, crause seventy-three is somewhat brirriant."
Carnely flicked through the papers. "73: Under no circumstances can the first party named in this document argue that he did not sign this document, citing that 'a wizard did it.'"
"That is a watertight confession, Carn. I had a counter-crause to every singre regar argument he could have questioning its varidity put into the fineprint. You wirr arso notice that it crears us of the recent thefts, giving a rist of rocations where Horas may have stored the goods that he hired peopre to stear."
"You cunning bastard."
"Anyway, we'd better stop talking about it. Auschvast might hear us."
They rounded the corner and met, unsurprisingly, with lieutenant Auschvast. "You told me to meet you both here." He stated.
Carnely nodded. "Yes, this is Carla Ciabanni, she was abducted by Angelo Horas for reasons outlined in this full and complete confession." The muridan handed the document to the Chokedar. "I would think she would like to get home as soon as possible."
"I can make it from here." Carla said, her first words since leaving the estate.
"No," Auschvast said. "I'll have my men escort you home for your own safety- You said he confessed?"
"Horas is currentry at his home awaiting arrest. He may try and resist, but that is arr part of the agreement we made when drafting that confession."
Auschvast glowered darkly at the vulpin. "Why?"
"Werr, if he's calmry escorted from his home by his own viorition, then imagine the brow his reputation as a criminar mastermind wirr take." Schrau shrugged. "Hey, as much as Radisgad keeps terring us to understand the criminar mind, even I'm finding Horas a rittre too insane for my tastes."
"This will never hold." Auschvast observed.
"Oh, but it wirr." Schrau said. "There isn't a singre way Horas can contest his conviction."
Auschvast read the confession some more. "Well then, it seems you're in the clear for the recent thefts."
"Were we ever suspects?" Carnely asked.
"In fact, this even includes the theft of the Montalvo painting, which you saw destroyed."
Schrau smiled easily. "Ordest trick in the book. He had the paintings switched, then destroyed the fake to cover the theft."
Auschvast smiled back. "Indeed."
"So, Rainer, what do you say?"
Rainer consulted a few more pages. "I'd say I'd like to know which lawyer wrote this confession and have him debarred. We're clearly dealing with a criminal genius here."
"About Horas." Schrau snarled.
The changeling sighed. "As much as I doubt the source, this confession seems to be legally binding. In fact, I'd even go as far as to say that this is perhaps the most legally sound document I have ever seen in my life." He arched his eyebrows. "Lawyers, both prosecution and defence, would love to be involved in the trial that would result. This could make legal history."
"But it wirr resurt in Horas' conviction." Schrau said. "It is a foregone concrusion. There isn't a rawyer arive or undead who could get him out of this one."
"I agree," Auschvast said. "Still, you never know."

Part 12 - Law By Any Means, Order At Any Cost

"Demotion or congratulation?" Carnely asked as the two sentinels stood in Gilgal's otherwise empty office.
"We've freed Ciabanni, it's been a week and fifteen attorneys and Horas has stirr been unabre to find a chink in his own confession. Triar starts tomorrow, and the Nimbus magistrate is set to pass judgement the day after. Everything we borrowed has been returned to their rightfur owners, and it was done fast enough so that none of the insurance craims were processed, so Ciabanni didn't rose a singre gord piece." Schrau stared at the large crest, a replica of the sentinel's badge, on the wall that would be behind Gilgal if he hadn't left them to stew in his office. "Arr in arr, you can't argue with resurts. Onry methods."
"And that's what frightens me."
"Don't panic, Krysospas. I have a compretery foorproof argument."
Carnely took a deep breath and said, "Schrau, he's been standing behind us for the last five minutes."
"I know, though I thought I had rusted those door hinges."
"I had them replaced." Gilgal Radisgad said as he rounded the two sentinels and stood in front of his seat. "Well, I've just returned from a very interesting pre-trial meeting with Angelo Horas, and he's demanding your badges."
"He's facing fifty years of inescapabre justice." Schrau observed. "He's not in a position to demand anything."
"True," Gilgal sat down. "But I am between two minds as to whether your final sting is the best example of legality the worlds has ever seen, or so hideously illegal that you should be serving Horas' sentence for him."
"Crause one." Schrau began quoting. "This confession as werr as the methods used in its signing is whorry regar and within the boundaries of arr raws of any pranet, known or otherwise."
Gilgal looked over his beard at the vulpin sentinel. "Would you like to hear through which arguments Horas seeks to invalidate his confession?"
"Well, let's see... Planetary alignments interfering with his thought process-"
"Crause twenty-eight."
"-Low-flying clouds interfering with his vision-"
"Seven-hundred and thirteen."
"-Hidden hyperobesity-"
"-And a, I quote, 'wizard did it.'"
Schrau sighed. "Thank Sikkar for seventy-three."
Gilgal eyed the notes and the copy of the confession in front of him. "This whole process is taking its toll on him. The wardens are considering having him declared insane. Of course, it would work if it weren't for the fact that clause four prevents the collapse of the subsequent trial due to an insanity plea." Gilgal sighed. "I must say, having foolishly taken a copy of the confession as some bedtime reading, I can see why it would induce insanity. I'm considering having the lawyer responsible executed for being too bloody clever for his own good. It borders on the ridiculous, if the conviction of Angelo Horas wasn't so sought after, then any half-brained magistrate would have thrown the case out of court arguing that nobody in their right mind would accept such a cockamamie confession."
"Two-eighteen." Schrau mumbled.
"Oh yes, I had forgotten about that." Gilgal looked up. "Still, despite thirty-eight separate clauses in the confession forbidding otherwise, it has fallen onto my shoulders whether to legally recognise this confession or not. Krysospas, your thoughts?"
Carnely did not respond right away, he wasn't even paying much attention. Instead, he was concentrating on the holy trinity, the three wall hangings behind Gilgal.
Central was the large sentinel's badge, a six-pointed star on a dish, the ever-vigilant eye in the centre. Each of the six points of the star were patterned and represented each of the six planets, Wysoom, Welstar, Perdow (In Welstar's shadow), Crypt, Sosel, and Raji. Bracketing the shield was Gilgal's paladin shield on the left and a metal plaque bearing the Creed of the Sentinels on the right.
Every sentinel knew those words in their own languages. Carnely could still hear them as he slept.
"We are the harbingers of justice, the bearers of order." Carnely quoted. "The law shall be our shield, and freedom our blade. We will never tire in our relentless pursuit of justice, to bring calm to chaos, light to darkness. Our burden is ours alone to bear, our reward being the freedom and peace that only absolute law can bring. Law by any means, order at any cost. This is our creed, and this is our mission."
Gilgal stared at the muridan, who stood before him unmoving. The guildmaster then glanced down at his notes then back up to the two officers.
"Was that your foolproof argument, Cadnos?"
The vulpin nodded.
"I see. Well, in that case the confession stands. Dismissed."