by Jeremy White Stout
Xyla crouched in the underbrush, not as much to conceal herself as she wanted to be relaxed so she could think. The merc crew she had followed out of town was settling in after their evening meal and were starting to bed down. There were several crude comments directed at the two women in the group, who smirked and threatened until the teasing passed. Xyla shook her head. Men, she thought, but without disparity. She had travelled with many male-heavy groups, but none of them were ever this vulgar. Once, it had even been an entire party of barbarians, but they were very respectful of the women in their crew.
She picked up a couple of small rocks and twiddled them absently while she gauged the makeup of this particular team: two fighters (one of them female), a barbarian, a rogue, some healer-type (the other female) and the leader, an ex-soldier type who was the one who had exactly what she was there for. She’d seen it in town while she was assisting Felden on an info gathering jaunt of his. She enjoyed working with other rogues, but she chose her partners differently than most others of her profession did: they had to have something about them she liked. With Felden, it was his stutter. Everyone who knew him called him Twitch because of it, but Xyla didn’t: his name was Felden and so he was Felden. She didn’t make fun of him: she thought the stutter was kind of endearing.
Her brow furrowed a little when she saw the barbarian was settling down close to the leader. That wasn’t good; they tended to be fairly light sleepers and really weren’t pleasant when roused. His mace looked almost as big as she was and he didn’t look like he would have a problem with opening negotiations with a few hefty swings at someone’s head. The rogue, as some of the seedier ones seemed wont to do, was lurking in a shady spot, but that was all right; she marked his location and was fairly sure she could plot a course around him. Those were the two she based most of her concerns around as she formulated her plan. Smiling as an idea struck her, she headed quietly into the deeper shadows to give them time to ease into heavier sleep… and to gather a few things from the forest floor.
The two moons were bright enough to see by and she could easily move without disturbing any night time wildlife. She was looking up for a fairly distict tree shape and had no problems in locating it. She moved a bit more cautiously now, scanning the ground and picking up one of what she was looking for: a burst seed pod. They were perfect natural caltrops, three or four points that stood out in different directions. They wouldn’t quite cripple someone, but they sure would make life difficult for anyone big and heavy to stomp around on. Xyla gathered a few dozen of them and stuffed them in a hip pouch, then headed back toward the camp, reflecting on how mean this group was to the bar patrons and merchants, intimidating them because they could, although not really hurting anyone. They really weren’t deserving of punishment, but to be relieved of certain things….
She arrived back and circumnavigated the camp. Oh, good, they hadn’t bothered with posting any watches, that would save some time. She moved quietly from tree to bush to tree, moving in like a wary shark curiously circling a group of bathers. She noted with interest the horses, all in a small milling crowd, a couple very antsy. These were the lesser cared for ones, and Xyla decided to make this area her point of entry. One of the horses was a bit more skittish as she approached, and she noted a few spur scars on one side from an untrained or uncaring rider. She dug in another pouch and brought out a couple of pieces of dried fruit from her rations, and lifted them high enough for the beast to snuffle and then take the offered snack, leaving a sheen of slobber on her gloved hand. She gave it a playful smirk and mouthed the word ‘thanks’ jokingly, wiping her hand on her cloak and easing between the legs of the horses, beneath a cart and just past the barbarian. As she moved, she filched out her seed pods with one hand and move into the shadow of the huge man’s sleeping form. Her night vision was excellent, even for an elfling and she began placing the caltrops strategically on the side that would be presented to the leader, an ex-sergeant, it looked to her on closer examination. That done, she moved toward her target, a scant three yards away, sleeping in a hastily made up pup tent, legs still mostly out in the open. She smiled, thinking he would be court-martialed if a captain had found such a shoddily made structure. He took up a great deal of the tent, and his pouch wasn’t visible, but she could guess where it would be. Most men of this stripe thought they were skilled enough to smell a thief trying to acquire their treasures, and Xyla found this amazingly funny. She had been around rogues and rapscallions her entire career and they smelled just the same as everyone else. Well, except for a few whose personal habits were not exactly up to the standards of most other people, and a few whose standards weren’t even up to sewer vermin. She picked her spot and was dead on the money, so to speak, on the first try. Under his pillow, very close to that scoundrel scenting nose.
That didn’t make it an easy steal, but this man was a sound sleeper, she was sure of it. She noted the lump and was glad his head wasn’t resting on it. She eased her small hand under, keeping it flat until it found the pouch. Not a very big pouch, but she was only in for one thing out of it. She tented the hand until it was almost the size of the pouch and held it there. She slid her other hand in slowly and gripped the prize, then gently slid it out from under the tented hand. That much accomplished, she let her propping hand ease flat again and slid it out. Moving down so he wouldn’t be disturbed by her search, she quickly rummaged and came up with the treasure, palming it quickly. She started to turn and set the bag down next to the mark when she accidentally kicked his shield. It wasn’t loud, but before she could help herself, and in true style for her race, she whispered, “Oops!”
Two sets of eyes, sprang open, the leader’s and the barbarian’s. She flashed her ever playful grin at the leader and held the pouch up, jingling it as the barbarian roared an alarm. “No no, don’t get up, I’ve got it!”, and tossed the pouch toward the fire.
The leader watched in shock as the valuables sailed toward the flames, and with a swift two cuts, Xyla severed two of the support ropes and dropped the tent on him. The barbarian had gained his feet an roared his displeasure, but then there was a crunching sound as he found her trap and what followed was a strem of profanity that would have have killed a sailor. She darted out, avoiding the fallen tent and narrowly avoided a throwing daggerthat thudded right next to her feet, then another. The camp was coming alive and she had to avoid them.
Using the flame to make her shadow larger than she appeared, she darted about the camp, looking for the horses. Another two daggers struck near her, closer this time, and so she had to get out before he could close in on her for melee. She sidestepped a thrust from one strike and ducked another and saw a fighter starting to slide his arm into a shield that lay on the ground. Behind him was the lady healer, still looking lost with her mace half ready, the horses just to the left of her. Xyla smiled.
She ran forward, running up the shield as the warrior slid his arm into the grommets, using it as a ramp and as she sailed toward the woman she cried out, “Catch me!” The Healer, surprised and still somewhat bewildered, said “What?” And then proceeded to do exactly that. Xyla slammed into her arms, and with a cheerful “Thanks!”, the Elfling fell out of her grasp and ran toward the horses. She pulled her cloak about herself and slid forwardon her side, going under two horses and into a thicket, and into the night she melted away, listening to the swearing and curses that seem to hang in the dark air.
After an hour of the hunt, much of the crew came back, exhausted and worn from the evening’s hunt. The Sergeant had been searching through the slightly scorched purse and seeing what was missing. He was on his third count when he looked up and snarled, “Did you find him?!”
“Her, sir.” The healer said for possibly the eighteenth time.
“What’s missing?” The rogue demanded, seconded by a few of the others, and the Sergeant smirked.
“Only one thing seems to be missing.” He said, and then told them what was gone.
There was a moment of stunned disbelief, and the the healer began to laugh. It was a rich and deep laugh, one for those that are either mad or extremely amused.
“What.”, asked the large barbarian, still wrapping his sore feet, “What could possibly be funny right now?”
“Clearly,” she said as she laughed, and she would would be leaving this crew at the next town, “You have never met an Elfling before.” She was still chuckling to herself after the group had calmed down and went back to bed. She secretly hoped she might run into that creature again one day and buy her a drink.
Three hours later, Xyla was on a roof above a watchpost. They always had the best light. She took her new acquirement from her pocket and let it glisten in the torchlight.
A perfectly round tiger’s-eye marble reflected an orange/gold in the light. A child’s toy that no one would have given her a half a copper for, but she loved it. After watching it for a few minutes, turning it to see all its aspects, she started to put it in her money pouch. Then with a whimsical shrug, she placed it in a better, more hidden spot. You had to keep an eye on your valuables. And she did value her new marble. It was a true treasure for her.