Carrie Bebris

Pool of Radiance: Ruins of Myth Drannor



'That one's mine.'

Kestrel inclined her chin ever so slightly toward the richly attired stranger ambling through Phlan's busy marketplace. Her practiced eye had taken only a minute to single him out of the throng. Was he a rich trader? A visiting nobleman? No matter. She'd never been fussy about her victims' professions, just the size of their pocketbooks.

Ragnall studied Kestrel's choice and nodded his approval. 'Want any help?' The thrill of the hunt glinted in the rogue's clear blue eyes.

'Nope.' She worked alone, and Ragnall knew it. The fewer people she trusted, the fewer she had to share the spoils with-and the fewer could betray her. Besides, the greenest apprentice could handle this job solo. The graybeard was an easy target. He'd been careless as he purchased a gold brooch, chuckling to the young female vendor about the weight of his money pouch when he'd accidentally dropped it. Kestrel was more than willing to relieve him of that burden. The brooch too, with any luck. 'I'll meet you later at the Bell.'

Ragnall's gaze had already shifted to a middle-aged woman overburdened with parcels. 'If you're successful, the ale's on you.'


They parted. Kestrel dismissed Ragnall from her mind, concentrating on the task at hand. To Ragnall, several years her junior and born to a respectable family, thieving was a game. To her it was serious work.

She followed her target through the noisy bazaar, weaving past haggling merchants and ducking behind vegetable carts as she maintained her distance. When the man stopped to purchase a sweetmeat she paused several stalls away to admire an emerald-green silk scarf.

'It matches your eyes,' said the seller, a young woman about Kestrel's age. She draped the scarf around Kestrel's neck and held up a glass. 'See?'

Kestrel made a show of studying her reflection, actually using the mirror to keep an eye on her mark. 'It does indeed,' she said, combing her fingers through her wayward chestnut locks. She sighed. Someday when she'd made her pile and no longer had to work for a living, she'd grow her hair out of the boyish but practical cut she'd always worn. Though she doubted she'd ever wrap a fancy scarf around her neck-it felt too much like a noose.

In the mirror, the gentleman finished paying for his treat and moved on. Kestrel handed the looking glass and scarf back to their owner. 'Perhaps another day.'

She considered 'accidentally' bumping into her target as he savored the confection but elected for a less conspicuous method this afternoon. She'd been in Phlan several months, and already some of the Podol Plaza vendors recognized her. Too many obvious accidents like that and everyone would know her for a thief. She couldn't afford that kind of attention. Though the local thieves' guild operated openly, she had not joined it. The guild required its members to lop off their left ears as a sign of loyalty-a practice she considered barbaric. She planned to leave town before the guild pressured her into joining.

The nobleman stopped thrice more, admiring a jeweled eating knife, studying a plumed helm, testing the fit of a leather belt around his considerable girth. The latter he purchased. By all the gods, was he going to spend the entire pouch before she could get to it?

At last, an opportunity presented itself. The gentleman paused to watch a brightly garbed performer juggle seven flaming torches while singing a drinking ballad and balancing on a wagon wheel. Good old Sedric. She really ought to give the entertainer a commission for all the distractions he'd unknowingly provided.

She approached her target's left side, eyeing the bulge just under his velvet cape. Casually, she bent down as if to secure her left boot and withdrew a dagger from inside. Sedric finished the ballad, caught the last torch in his teeth, and hopped off the wheel. The gentleman raised his hands, applauding heartily.

With a quick slice through straining purse strings, the moneybag was hers. By the time her victim noticed the missing weight from his hip, she was long gone.

Kestrel had learned-the hard way-that after lightening a gull's pockets, it was best to get as far away as possible from the scene of the crime. She slipped down an alley, her leather boots padding noiselessly in the soft dirt, until she could no longer hear the din of the marketplace. A few strides more brought her to the grounds of Valjevo Castle. No one would bother her here as she counted and stashed her newly acquired coins.

The once-proud stronghold, like the city it had protected, was ruined by war and later corrupted by nefarious inhabitants. From what Kestrel had heard, a pond known as the Pool of Radiance had formed in a cavern beneath the castle. Thought to confer great wisdom and leadership on those who bathed in its waters, the pool instead turned out to be an instrument of evil, used by the power-hungry creature Tyranthraxus to advance his self-serving schemes. Though Tyranthraxus had been defeated and the pool had evaporated into a mundane hole in the ground, the castle remained empty and undisturbed despite improved prosperity in the city. Most residents yet feared to tread anywhere near the pool's dry basin or its ominous environs, so few ventured this way intentionally.

Kestrel, however, came and went with perfect ease. The thief had grown up in the streets of a dozen cities, and it took more than a ruined castle to scare her. She'd never encountered trouble there and found the deserted cavern a convenient hideout. Though cutthroats and a few common creatures also enjoyed the isolation from time to time, generally the once-menacing cavern was safer than most city streets.

Safe enough, at least, that she had hollowed out a cavity beneath a pile of fallen rocks to use as a cache for the coins and other items she acquired. As she thought of the small hoard that waited for her within the castle, her fingers drifted to the nobleman's money pouch at her side. Her stash of treasure was growing steadily-just yesterday she'd added a walnut-sized ruby to the hoard, courtesy of a quintet of sixes in a game of Traitors' Heads. She wouldn't use those dice anymore, however, until she left Phlan. She'd never live to roll them again if anyone discovered they were weighted.

It wouldn't be too much longer before she could leave petty thievery behind, and the dangerous, seedy lifestyle that went with it. When she had enough coin she'd live and travel in style, supplementing her savings with an occasional high-profit, low-risk heist. No more dockside inns with flat ale and lumpy mattresses, no more tramping from city to city on foot, no more risking her neck for a few measly coppers, no more wearing the same clothes until she itched. She'd secretly ply her trade among a better class of people while enjoying the easy life. The one she and Quinn had always imagined.

She entered the castle bailey and negotiated its once-formidable hedge maze. When Tyranthraxus had been defeated, a wide swath had been cut through several rows of the sawlike leaves, black flowers, and poisonous six- inch thorns, but in the years since then the hedges had grown back enough to warrant caution. She ducked and sidled her way through, careful to avoid even the slightest brush with the menacing vegetation.

Once past the maze, she relaxed her guard. She approached the white marble tower, half-ruined and defaced with sinister-looking but now impotent runes, and circled to an ebony door marked with an intricate carving of a dragon. Standing in the spot she'd marked twenty-five yards from the door, she withdrew a dagger from one of her boots and gripped it in her left hand. Though she could throw a dagger accurately with either hand, her dominant left provided more force and deadly aim.

She hurled the blade at the entrance. The dagger stuck in the door with a solid thunk, landing dead center between the dragon's eyes. Foul-smelling yellow mist issued from the dragon's mouth-another lesson she'd learned the hard way. If not for the potion of neutralization she'd happened to carry on her first visit, she'd never have lived to return.

After waiting ten minutes for the poisonous cloud to disperse, she retrieved her dagger and opened the door onto a landing in the main room of the ruined tower, which lay open to the sky all the way down to the subterranean cavern. Birds, bugs, and spiders made their homes in the nooks and crevices of the interior tower

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