Vincent Fleet, the main character of this story, is someone near and dear to my heart. I know this is crazy to admit, but he was a character of mine for a Living Greyhawk campaign. I tried to capture his essence without combining it with any poor D&D tropes. That being said, I had six long and lovely years of playing this character and couldn’t just let him die. He was the character that had the audacity to light a cigar off a fire god’s leg… you can’t let balls like that die. I hope you enjoy and thank you for the read! This story is part of a story exchange, and Truly Hunter has written one of her own, “Tempest Moon”, that will be appearing in my blog. Hop over and give it a read!
--G Dean Manuel
He clung to the wall with the barest of handholds, his strong fingers supporting most of his weight. He looked down, his violet eyes scanned the area quickly and carefully. He was happy to note that not even a tremor of discomfort passed through the muscles of his arms at having to hold him suspended in such an awkward position. That meant that his latest acquisition, the platinum bands that encircled his upper arms with delicate traceries of bulls and bears, had been worth the king’s pieces he had paid for them.
After a few moments he was satisfied that no traps, trips, or alarms would impede his way down the wall. He struck a nimble course downward, swinging from handhold to handhold in a rather rakish manner. When he was 8 ft. above the floor, he pushed off the wall with the balls of his feet, tucked his knees and twisted. He landed on the floor without even a whisper of sound, the soft soles of his leather boots absorbing it all. As he rose he gave a court-like bow, waving at an imaginary audience. Sometimes he wished someone was around to enjoy the skill with which he did things.
Shaking off such unhealthy ruminations, he focused back on to the task at hand. Such thoughts got thieves caught, he thought darkly. Though he mused as he glanced up the almost 40 ft. to the window he had climbed from, he was a maestro at work here, and he let a warm sense of pride suffuse him as he pondered how easily he had scaled the outer keep walls. And the inner curtain walls, the inner keep walls, and then down the walls of this great hall. He had won his way through to the great hall of this slumbering keep without alerting a single guard, dog, or whatever other manner of creature the keeps residents may employ.
He dipped carefully from shadow to shadow, drawing the hood of his cloak up. His cloak seemed to match the quality and depth of the surrounding shadow, making him nigh invisible to any but the closest of inspections. Not that most of the big races would have even noticed him even if he wasn’t cloaked in shadows. Vincent barely stood 3’2”, and most big races, especially humans, ever looked that far down. Hell, he had seen 70 winters pass, give or take, and still most acted as if he was a child! Of course, hardly anyone got to see him as he looked now, he thought with a smile. His body was festooned with a horde of magically enhanced equipment, worth more than most kingly treasure rooms. That is not to say that he was some charlatan, only boosted to his level of skill through the use of magical enhancement – far from it. As a young lad, he was taught to use every advantage open to him, and his skills had afforded him many advantages over his 70 years.
Besides the boots and cloak, he wore black woolen pantaloons that were tucked into his soft leather boots. A black silk shirt and spidersilk gloves hid the rest of him from view, and his head was concealed by the shadowed recesses of his hood. His eerily violet eyes seemed to float within a pool of blackness as he made his way down from the great hall. He started mentally going over the map in his head, and he knew that the room that he wanted was very close. He walked briskly down the hallway, making two quick turns then stopped abruptly, the hairs in the back of his neck standing on edge. He didn’t immediately see what had put him on alert but he had been doing this too long to ignore such a feeling. He stood frozen as if made of stone, his only movement the slight adjustments of his head as he scanned the walls, floor, and ceiling. He looked around warily as his initial sweep of the area produced nothing that would have warranted this feeling of unease. He was about to chalk it up to his senses being in overdrive when a shadow caught his eye. It wasn’t that it was out of place, more that it was too big, and as he studied the shadows, he noted that shadow was deeper towards its end rather than its beginning. He closed his eyes, letting his vision slip into the spectrum that allowed him to pierce the darkness with ease, revealing the tight packed sigils of the ward that was inscribed within the wall. He studied it carefully, not yet moving until he had ascertained that it would be set off by him breaking the line that it drew across the hallway.
Now, most thieves were trained in the basics of lock picking and disarming by their local guild. But few individuals ever took it beyond there, most were content to be pick pockets rather than second story men. Few were the elite thieves that could deal with all the mechanical traps that seemed to proliferate in this modern age. (Vincent naturally blamed the gnomes, but then Vincent seemed to blame the gnomes for most things these days. Not that this was far from the truth, for the gnomes of Formaggin’s Hall, the great dwarven hold, were tasked by their dwarven lords to seek better ways to protect the vast treasuries that resided underneath their mountain. But really, Vincent just liked blaming gnomes.) Now, amongst those elite few, only a handful of masters existed that could take apart a magical trap. Among those, Vincent could count on one hand the number that could bypass this trap, leaving no evidence of passage. (Of course, Vincent was one of those fingers.) Vincent’s agile hands worked their way across the magical ward, and he marked without touching the contours of the trap. He closed his eyes, reaching out, feeling the energy contained within the arcane sigils and deftly redirecting their flow. He smiled, opening his eyes once more to look upon his work. After a moment’s inspection to make sure that there were no other surprises, he shook his head, quietly clucking in disapproval. If people wanted to keep their valuables, why didn’t they protect them better? Of course, he thought, not many were prepared to challenge the likes of Vincent Fleet.
No longer was his step as jaunty as it had been just moments before. He was an extraordinarily skilled, arrogant bastard, but even one of his skill could find himself dead if he did not take things seriously at times. And if that ward upon the wall was any indication, now was one of those times. He began scrutinizing the walls more intently, alert for even the slightest indication of something out of the ordinary. He was slightly disappointed when he realized that the ward probably was the meat of the powerful defenses that protected this treasure. Sadly, it was a rare occasion when he would be challenged during a heist. (Luckily he was very deficient in other parts of his life, so challenges did abound.)
He had almost returned to his carefree posture when he noticed the slightest shimmer in the air in front of him. He stopped, his cautiousness returning tenfold and examined the corridor he was in. Crossing the corridor, nearly invisible to the naked eye, was a spider web about 6 feet across and almost 10 feet high. Each string of silk was nearly an inch in width and Vincent had to fight down the rising panic as he calculated the size of the spider that would have spun the web he spotted. It wasn’t that he was particularly scared of spiders, but anyone would be scared of spiders the size of a dog. His hand darted down to the kukri belted at his side, sliding it soundlessly from its sheath. He rolled back his sleeve of his other arm, revealing a bracelet hidden beneath. He spoke an arcane command word under his breath, causing a protective oval of force to wink into existence, which was about the rough equivalent of a buckler upon his forearm. Vincent backed away slowly from the web, scanning left to right, up to down, trying to locate the owner of the web. He had begun life as a denizen of the Deep Realms and knew a thing or two about giant spiders, so he gave a silent prayer to the gods of chance that this one would be of a more mundane variety.
He wheeled quickly, cursing in the same breath that he had just prayed in, instincts honed perfectly, telling him that the spider was behind him. He groaned inwardly as he watched the spider step from the wall, its body solidifying as it left the protection of the stone. He quickly sheathed the kukri he was holding, knowing it would avail him naught against the likes of a spirit spider, and drawing instead a bone bladed dagger that had a slight ethereal shimmer to it. He may not be the most skilled fighter in the boundaries of Witchhaven, but he was certainly one of the better prepared.
The spirit spider eyed him balefully, its long legs clicking upon the stone floor of the hallway. Vincent was almost taken by complete surprise, barely dodging out of the way, as the spider spit a web at him. He rolled into a wary crouch, prepared to launch to one side or the other once more if needed, but the spider seemed to have grown bored of the game and was closing the distance between them.
Vincent rolled backwards, the spider’s forelegs coming down on the spot where he had been. When his hands met cold flagstone, he pushed up, easily springing back to his feet. He immediately lunged forward, dagger held in a reverse grip, his blade biting deep into one of the spider’s forelegs. The limb fell to the ground then dissolved into ethereal nothingness. The spider chittered angrily, shocked that his blow had connected. It existed between two planes, the physical and the spirit, and it took a special enchanted blade to hit it with any surety.
The spider attacked with wild abandon, and Vincent ducked and weaved around the vicious blows. The combat had an eerie, surreal quality about it, and it took place in almost complete silence. Vincent was barely a whisper on the cold stone and the spider's pointed legs only made the barest of clicks upon the flagstones. The spider was fast but Vincent was faster, he was patient. The spider finally overextended itself, making a reaching blow with its good foreleg, and Vincent masterfully flipped over the sweep of the leg, landing silently on his feet.
Vinnie struck an overhand blow at the second leg, severing it at the joint, and the spider's balance finally faltered. He didn't wait for it to recover, and he kicked out at it. The blow coupled with the loss of legs caused the spider to tip to the floor. Pressing on his advantage, Vincent gripped his dagger in both hands and plunged it into the exposed underside of the spider's maw, where it sank deep. Vincent held it until the death throes of the spider weakened and finally ceased all together. Like the severed limbs, the spider's body dissolved into a pile of ethereal dust.
Vincent took a moment or two to assess his situation, as wounds could be missed in the heat of battle, and adrenaline had a way of hiding pain. Vincent felt confident that no blow had been struck but he liked to be sure. He was wearing a mithral chain shirt with a mithral undershirt. The main piece was elven and the undershirt was dwarven, each was exquisitely crafted. The elven chain shirt he had won at the tables playing against an elven swordmaster – he had to have it resized but it was worth it. The shirt had saved him more than he cared to admit. The undershirt was a marvel of dwarven craftsmanship; the links were so tiny it was more woven than forged. It had stood between him and a deadly sword blow a time or two in the past.
With the spider dead, the web itself disintegrated, and Vincent hummed silently to himself. Things were going quite well, he should be done with this job ahead of schedule and be able to catch an ale at the Hooded Lantern – his favorite tavern in the area – nothing barred his way from there to the door to the treasury room.
He paused and didn't immediately approach the door. Something didn't feel right and Vincent knew it wasn't the time to let his arrogance get the better of him. His keen eyes scanned the area; it took him only a moment to notice what was out of place. There was a carpet laid out in front of the door. Vincent smiled. He imagined that this man had gotten tips on protecting his valuables from a book entitled "How to protect your valuables for idiots".
He carefully pulled up a corner of the carpet before he stuck his hand underneath and confirmed his suspicions. Pit trap. Vinnie opened his pack and withdrew his climbing kit. He took a couple of spikes from the kit, strategically placing them along the scene, and he tested to make sure that the trap couldn't be sprung. Once sure, he turned his attention to the door. He closed his eyes and ran his fingers over the door and frame. When his tactile inspection yielded nothing suspicious, he opened his eyes, and he gave the door a once over then turned to the door lock.
Vinnie snorted. Could it really be this easy? It was a difficult lock but not the most difficult he had encountered – much easier than he expected. He inserted his tension bar into the lock and with a small bit of wire he manipulated the tumblers. He felt them fall, one after another with satisfying clicks, until he finally turned the tension bar and the door released from its frame.
He withdrew his tools and immediately threw himself into a roll left. He was scant inches in front of the blackjack that was arcing towards his head. He twisted in the middle of his roll so that he ended facing his surprise adversary. His hand disappeared within one of the hidden recesses of his cloak and he removed the bottle secreted within before tossing it toward his foe. The man reacted without thinking and caught the bottle. Vinnie grinned at him and whispered, "Taramos."
"Dragon's balls," the man swore as the bottle spewed its noxious contents right at his face. He caught the cloud squarely in the nose.
Vincent moved forward and caught the man before he fell unconcious to the floor. He was surprised to realize he recognized the man – Valnos of the Blade he was called. A decent second story man and enforcer for the street gang the Nighthowlers. He considered his situation as he retrieved his bottle. He didn't kill unless absolutely necessary. Besides, the Guild frowned upon such actions. So Vinnie satisfied himself by patting the Blade down and retrieving his Guild token. With it, he could extort Valnos for a favor.
He decided he would have to hide the unconscious body, so he grabbed Valnos by the arms and dragged him to the nearest storage closet. He dumped him unceremoniously within, sure that the potion he had used would keep him unconscious for at least fifteen minutes. Vincent planned to be long gone before Valnos woke up.
Opening the door to the vault room, he made a quick scan of the contents and gave a low, appreciative whistle. He deftly pocketed a few choice gems that he appraised at middling worth – nothing worth more than 200 king's pieces, harder to trace that way. Jewelers tended to recognize gems of a certain value and Vinnie didn't need that kind of attention.
He reminded himself that this wasn't a personal shopping spree, he was hired to breach the treasury of this small keep for a specific item, and it was time that he retrieved it. His employer's instructions were very specific at this point. Just like he was told, there was a trap door in the northwest corner of the room, and the door in the floor opened easily when Vincent uttered, "Karnos."
He descended the ladder into a small cave-like vault. These items within were supposedly items of no small arcane power. His instructions at this point were to only retrieve a mask, and remove nothing else, so Vinnie located the mask quickly and swiped it. It was a small thing, made of some pliable material that was made to fit over the face, covering eyes and nose. He stuck it in his pack. He abided by the contract and took nothing else, but it was hard. Vinnie's hand reached out to touch things of its own accord, and he had to mentally reel himself in. Considering this was a vault of magical treasure, he couldn't be sure what all this stuff did or how dangerous it was, so he left everything else for the time being.
He climbed back up to the now less stellar treasury room, stole a few more things on his way out to make himself feel better about leaving the magical hoard downstairs, and quickly snuck out of the keep.
His employer sat across from him, nervous as ever, he clutched at a satchel like it contained his soul. Vinnie smiled and knew how feral his grin must look. He had taken care to appear intimidating, at least to someone of this man's station. Vincent knew this man was a front, someone's stooge, a scribe or scribe's assistant with soft hands but a weathered look. This man had been poor but made his living doing something other than manual labor. He wanted to talk to the man pulling the strings.
"So, I think it is time to meet the man behind you. You know, the one with all the clink who pulls your puppet strings," Vincent said casually.
"What?" the man glanced around nervously, "What do you mean? I'm your employer!"
Vincent smirked. He leaned back in his seat and pulled out a knife. He waited until the scholar's eyes were glued to the blade, the threat very much explicit, before he began to clean his fingernails. The scholar need not know that Vincent was only passable with the blade.
The man gulped, visibly shaken, but stayed resolute.
"I am the employer," he said in a shaky voice. Sweat was dripping down his face and he looked ill.
"Come on, bloke, we both know you aren't the puppet master. Let's cut through all the horse shit and get down to brass tacks...”
"Or, if you are the employer, it is going to be my great displeasure to inform you of the sanctions being brought forth by the Guild," Vincent said. He deepened his accent until his Underworld accent was thick. Upworlders were always intimidated by a good, thick Underworld accent.
The scholar blanched, visibly shaken. "What do you mean 'sanctions'?" Vincent didn't think he could get any paler but he did.
"Well," Vincent said, drawing out the word, "you hired two members of the Guild and put them in direct competition with each other. That's a no-no. Guild sanctions really do depend on the offended party, namely me. They could range anywhere from a bit nicked from you... to having your life stripped away bit by bit until you are left penniless and begging by the front gate. Why don't you ask one of those sad, sorry blokes what lives down there, huh?"
Out of nowhere, a man appeared. Vincent knew it was out of nowhere, he paid attention. One moment he wasn't there, the next the man was standing right in front of him. Vincent thought that the scholar would shit himself when the man laid his hand on his shoulder.
"That's good enough, Galen," the impeccably groomed man said in a melodic voice, "I'll take it from here. I think our friend Mr. Fleet will require more of a... personal touch from here on out."
The scholar, Galen, groveled his way out the front door of the tavern. Vincent looked over the man that was causing such a ruckus. He was... slick, if Vincent had to settle on a word, like oil. His eyes were the strangest gray hue against a skin that seemed too pale. The pupils were dark... like black holes that drew Vincent’s gaze into them, never to release it. His hair seemed stringy and oily but well-groomed and it was the deepest black. He didn't seem wholly here though, like he wasn't quite solid. But Vincent smelled the power rolling off of him.
"Let me guess…Celestial being?"
"I prefer the word 'god'," the man said. He sat himself in the vacated seat.
"I don't," Vinnie said, "but then, I'm not on great terms with the Gods.”
"No, you are not," the god said, leaning forward in excitement. "You are a very interesting person to me, very skilled. It was no easy feat to steal that mask you have there from my previous champion, or to steal it before Valnos." He clicked his tongue at Valnos' name. “He was such a disappointment. But you have retrieved my mask and I have to know, will you wear it?"
"I'm just here to finish the contract."
"The contract is finished," the god said. He waved his hand at the table and a sack of money winked into existence upon it, "You've been paid. Now, will you wear my mask?"
Vincent reached for the money and hefted it. Definitely felt like enough. He pulled the pouch containing the mask and dropped it on the table. "No, I don't think so."
"You are missing quite the opportunity. What would your uncle tell you? The only bad opportunity is a missed opportunity?"
Vincent rolled his eyes. "Really? The uncle card?"
The shadowy god smiled, noting that Vincent hadn't walked away. "Come now, Vincent, you haven't heard my offer."
"Fine. Why don't you start out with what I have to do as your 'champion'?"
"Nothing really. Well, at least nothing beyond what you already do."
"What do you mean... speak plainly."
"I will try. I think we both know that isn't in my nature. I obfuscate. I am an obfuscator. It is my role in the divine scheme of things, I am patron of thieves and those who reside in the shadows. So, my champion would be required to do…thief-like things," the god said.
"Which I already do."
"I wouldn't be required to do anything outside of my normal thievery? You wouldn't be sweeping down here making demands or anything?"
"That, I could not promise. But I will say this, if I was to make a demand, it would be in the best interest of any thief in the world. Would you like to leave such a task for someone less skilled?" the god smiled.
Vinnie's eyes narrowed. "Oh, you think you are so smart. No, if it impacts me in any way, you know that I would only trust myself to do the job right. Have you seen some of these clowns that call themselves thieves nowadays?"
"Then claim the title of the Shadowmask – my personal champion."
"If I put this on, do I get wondrous powers?"
"You will a master of shadow and the many that reside within."
"That doesn't tell me much."
The god shrugged. "Not in my nature to tell you much."
"That's pretty annoying, you know that."
The patron of thieves smirked. "Where would be the fun in telling you all the things you can do? Wouldn't it be much better for you to discover those things on your own? Where is your sense of adventure, Vincent Fleet?"
"I can take this off whenever I want? I stop being your champion when I do?"
"Yes, of course."
"Fine. I'll play your little game."
The shadow god leaned forward in anticipation as Vincent pulled the mask from his pack. Vincent looked from the mask to the god and back. He sighed and quickly put on the mask without ceremony. The mask contoured to his face immediately. He felt... invigorated. Energy seemed to flow into him from the mask. When Vincent looked up, he saw that the shadow god's eyes were closed and he wore a rapturous expression.
"Can you feel it, Vincent?" the god murmured. He looked more solid.
"Yes, what is it?" Vincent asked huskily.
"Someone worthy has put on the mask. You have become a living conduit between my home plane and this one," the god said.
"Wait," Vincent said angrily, "Is that dangerous?"
"Only to one not worthy, of course."
"Why you—“ Vinnie sputtered and lunged at his god.
The patron saint of thieves disappeared, mist evaporating into shadows with the echo of a haunting laughter. A voice echoed around Vincent.
"This, I believe, is the beginning of a beautiful friendship."
When reading this story, I couldn't help but picture it in terms of a table top game. My mind's eye was flooded with visions of D20s and good memories with great characters. I love the idea that this character has so much left to do and we as readers have so much left to see. And when it comes to being passionate about a good character, I'm always up to experience the kinds of stories one can only produce when they're honestly invested in one of their creations.
Thanks for reading, and check back soon for more stories.