4 – It Takes a Thief
There were only two things that ever helped Greycelyn relieve a headache: sleep and silence. Since she was currently leaning against the counter in the Bank of Stormwind with a crowd of people chattering behind her, she could be afforded neither solution. She did, however, have a phial of peppermint oil, which did help temporarily reduce the pain when she rubbed it into her temples. The distinctive scent of the tincture also helped mask some of the smell of her armor; cleaning so much plate mail regularly was just never going to be a convenient or consistent task.
“If ya knew what ya wanted before ya got here, yer transaction would be much faster,” a Dwarven-accented female voice said from behind her.
Greyce stooped her neck, still pressing her fingers into her temples, to glance awkwardly back at the dark-haired Dwarf woman who was next in line. She feigned a smile and spoke with equal insincerity in her tone, “You know what is amazing? Your complaint has actually made this process magically faster. It’s faster now, it is. You’ve done it. And here I thought it was pointless. Thank you for complaining.” She gave another fake smile to counter the genuine scowl on the Dwarf’s face. When she rolled her eyes to look back to the counter, the inquisitive gaze of a Draenei woman, a good two feet taller than Greyce and standing at the adjacent service window, caught her attention.
The Draenei pursed her lips together and put a fingernail delicately on her chin before speaking softly in her telltale accent that rounded each vowel. “Oh, honey, you should have hung up your sword and shield by now. You are more than old enough to have kids. Yes?”
It was all Greycelyn could do to open her eyes wide, not even roll them, and turn away from the insensitive Draenei. What was worse? Someone who tried to be offensive or someone who managed to do it while trying to be kind? In the moment, there was no way she could decide on the answer. By the time the day was done, she’d be out of peppermint oil.
The click of shoes on tile echoed from behind the counter and a well-dressed man with a gray suit and gray hair – Did anyone ever tell him he was too old to be working? – stopped on the other side of the gold-leafed bars to speak to Greyce. “I understand you were waiting for the manager of this bank, madam.”
Madam? Come on.
“My name is Joffres, and I am the manager. How can I help you?”
Greyce took the time to deliberately recap her phial of peppermint oil and tuck it into her coin purse on the back of her belt loop; he made her wait, and she never did like leaving a favor unreturned. “Yes, there is a little problem, Joffres. I just made a withdrawal from my account and the clerk, I forget his name, informed me that you all have been through my vaults recently. Is this correct?”
“That is correct. Yes.” Each word he spoke was carefully chosen and enunciated. Joffres was born, and probably raised, to be a bank manager.
Her eyes pinched together for a second behind a golden curl as she bit her tongue and swallowed an angry flare up. “That is against policy, is it not? My private property is my private property, and it is to remain that way. I pay interest to this institution each month for that guarantee.”
“You are owed some apology, madam, but we were notified that you had passed away.” He turned up his nose and readjusted his suit jacket when he finished, casting a pseudo-suspicious stare down his pointed nose at her.
The oddity of that statement caused Greyce to stand up straight. “What? That’s absurd. Who told you that?”
Joffres folded his hands over his stomach a second as he recollected. Even when he was thinking, the man looked professional. “We read the letter only last month or so, and it was stamped with the seal of the Alliance’s military. It was, however, postmarked for nearly a year ago.”
Instinctually, Greyce brought her hand up to the red ring scar on her throat. “Right. That… letter would make a little more sense a year ago. But I’m here now, alive and well. And you still went through my things without first checking to see if I was actually dead or not. You can’t do that.”
With a quiet cough into his throat, Joffres reached under his side of the counter to retrieve a small, square, and steel lockbox. Immediately Greyce’s eyes widened again before focusing on the box. “This was inside the only vault that we opened. We don’t have a key for this and that is against our policies. Anything you store must be accessible by us in case of emergency or official government inquisition.” He slid it under the small gap in the bars, almost unable to due to the size of the container. “If you cannot or will not provide the key, we cannot and will not store it for you.”
Hardly hearing what the manager was saying to her, Greyce pulled off one of her gauntlets and pressed her palm against the unadorned steel of the lockbox. It felt subtly warm, like a weak flame was kept inside, and she could hear hushed whispers in the back of her head. Inside the container, a jewel blinding with the Light held a dark secret. Out of everything she had within their vaults – weapons, artifacts, old battle maps and plans, and more – this little gem was likely the most dangerous. So hazardous was the jewel, she threw the key into the sea some time ago, so not even she could easily open it.
“It doesn’t matter what some scribe penned in your policies, it isn’t safe for you to go through my things.” She tugged her gauntlet back on hastily and slid the lockbox back under the bars.
Joffres raised an eyebrow at it and refused to touch it. “There are no exceptions, mad—.”
She cut him off with a snip. “There are exceptions, sir. People like me go out into places people like you can’t even imagine, and we drive our swords through the hearts of things you wouldn’t want to imagine, you wouldn’t want to believe.” He opened his mouth to say something but she slapped her hand onto the counter, making a loud thwap that shut him up and caught the attention of the Draenei, who had been sorting through some very official looking documents. “We do that so you can get paid your ten silver a day.”
“One gold a day,” Joffres dared to sneak in. Money was often a terrible source of pride, despite having no real world value.
She continued without missing a beat, “So you can go home at night, sit down with your pretty family, have a nice dinner, lie down in a soft bed, shut the fuck up, and not have to worry about those same unimaginable things ripping you limb from limb. When we’re out there, we find some shit that would turn you white. But guess what?”
He gulped quietly and mumbled, “What?” Somewhere in her brief monologue, the professionalism that clung to him like skin started to flake away.
“People like me can put those things to good use. Maybe not immediately but at some point. So those things wind up here, in your lockboxes, sealed up tight. Safe and sound. Right?” She cocked her head to the side, the fire behind her eyes making her smirk seem venomous.
He nodded with apparently no immediate response.
“Good. Keep it that way. Because if you stick your nose in someone else’s business? If you start opening up lockboxes left and right?” She pointed towards random vault doors she could see behind him to drive her message home. “Light have mercy on your soul if you open the wrong one. You’re clearly not ready to do what people like me do, to do what I do.” She stuffed her hand back under the bar to prod the lockbox closer to him in a closing fit of annoyance but soon started to realize that maybe Joffres didn’t deserve to get dragged through her words like that, to practically have his life threatened in front of everyone there. With a muffled huff, she put her elbows back on the counter to rub her temples again, resparking the tingling sensation from the peppermint extract.
“Madam. Your points seem valid,” the bank manager started before tapping his fingers atop the lockbox, apparently collecting his thoughts. “But so are mine.”
“Just lock it up,” Greyce spat, standing up abruptly. “And don’t open it again. I need to go right now. Do you know why?” She swiveled her hips to show him where her coin purse had been. “Because someone just lifted my coin purse right now. In the middle of your bank. Great security. That’s one-hundred gold in there. Just withdrew it.”
“Are you quite serious,” Joffres questioned while pulling the lockbox closer to himself, perhaps out of an instinct to protect property before people.
She turned away from him completely and crossed her arms, regarding the little crowd of commoners and adventurers in the bank. No one was really worried or panicked, and certainly no one was paying her much mind. Whoever took her coin purse did it fast enough to not catch any notice, and they weren’t disguised by any means. They looked normal, inconspicuous.
Calmly she walked out of the bank to stand at the landing before the wide marble staircase that would lead to the street. The Gilded Rose, a popular tavern she was too familiar with, was just a skip away and to the left but at this time of day, right at high noon, vendors jam-packed the doorway, making it difficult to go in and out, especially if you were seen carrying a coin purse of any size. Not there.
The thick crowd out on the street was busy, for certain, but it was not being disturbed by someone pushing their way through it. No one was gasping or growling at a rude passerby. Everyone seemed to be going about their business normally. The perpetrator was just walking away, thinking they have no reason to rush. Quickly Greyce stepped down the stairs to disappear behind the gathering of people; if they did bother to look back, she couldn’t get spotted standing out like that, or they’d know she knew she had been robbed.
Leaving Stormwind was out of the question. Recent security concerns, such as bomb threats and an unidentified illness, put guards all around the gates. The only way to not get checked up and down when entering or leaving would be to be of noble blood. As spikey and irritating as the rich of the city could be, none of them would take up thievery as a hobby. Which also ruled out both the Mage Quarter and the Cathedral Square, where most residents had coin to spare for years.
The most obvious answer is usually the right one, she had to remind herself as she started to work her way towards the edge of the crowd. There was one place in this city that had more thieves per quota than anywhere else: Old Town. And there was one spot in Old Town that was more despicable than the rest: Cutthroat Alley. That was the name of it a few years ago, anyway, when she was actually invested in the state of affairs in Stormwind; even if the name was different now, the location wouldn’t be.
There was a time when Paladins were highly respected members of society, shining examples of truth, justice, and righteousness led by the Silver Hand. Now, most of them, like Greycelyn, were little more than mercenaries with an interesting bag of tricks. But how those tricks could come in handy! Holding up her fist and whispering a prayer weakly between her lips, Greyce conjured a Seal of Truth that shot bright Light out between her fingers. Once primarily used by Scarlet Crusaders to wrench nothing but honesty from their victims, the Seal of Truth could now help her pinpoint the culprit she imagined in her mind.
With all the sinful liars in Stormwind, it was considerably difficult for her to “sniff out” one in particular using the Seal. Getting to her mid-thirties as a Paladin didn’t come with luck alone, though, it took talent and determination. Breathing slowly through her nose, she steadied her thoughts to recalibrate the Seal’s effects, almost like a tinkerer carefully adjusting the lens of a microscope. In a sensation that was unexplainable to anyone who did not share her class, Greyce had a feeling suddenly in her stomach and heart that her assumption about Cutthroat Alley was correct.
Without hesitation and moving swiftly, she wove her way through the crowd. She not only had to close the gap between her and… him? She caught her breath to refocus and some of the truth came to her. Him. She not only had to close the gap between her and him, she had to get ahead of him, if her spur-of-the-moment plan would succeed. When she exited the Trade District after a few minutes of fast walking, she glanced around the canals with her eyes like a hawk’s. No one was hurrying. No one looked guilty. The Seal of Truth was telling her the suspect was close but… behind her, somewhere in that crowd. She dashed as fast as she could carry herself and her heavy armor into the Old Town.
Feeling slightly out of breath – not that she would ever admit it – she made it to Cutthroat Alley after a short amount of time spent running through Old Town. It looked pretty unassuming, the entrance to Cutthroat Alley, just like any other city alleyway you would expect to find near a place like the Pig and Whistle Tavern, but that was an awful assumption to make. Go too far down that alley or get near it when the sun has set and an innocent would likely taste their last gasps of air for nothing more than being there.
For Greycelyn, the danger was lessened severely, but not entirely. Not wanting to push her luck, she leaned against a wall near the entrance, concealed by the brickwork of a chimney there. She crossed her arms again, looking deceptively casual for someone who was hunting a thief. Gradually, the imperceptible sensation of the Seal of Truth grew stronger. Her awaited guest was getting closer by the second, and soon it felt like someone was tugging on her ear. Footsteps in the alley sounded shortly after.
A human male, a head taller than Greyce, less muscular, and hair the same golden color, appeared before her with his hands behind his head, tightening the knot of a red Defias bandana he must have just put on; he probably had to wear that whenever he was in gang territory. Bad timing, though, as his own arms put Greyce in a blind spot.
In one strut, Greyce emerged from her hiding spot and shoved him hard against the opposite wall. Her shield arm came out to pin him there at arm’s length. The man’s hazel eyes widened with surprise above the bandana as he tried to shove back but found himself stuck in place.
“Predictable, kid. Could be the death of you one day if you don’t get better,” Greyce remarked slyly as her honey-colored eyes studied the swirling blues and greens of his own. The Seal of Truth hadn’t failed her, she decided, as she stared him down. “Might be today, actually, if you don’t give me back my gold.”
“Not sure what you’re talking about,” he answered gruffly, using a clearly-fake voice. He coughed sharply, puffing up his bandana to reveal his lips for a split second, as she leaned harder into him, the flat of her hand putting pressure that had broken bastion walls right onto the center of his chest.
“Not the time to get smart, kid.” The smile faded from her face and was replaced by ice. “Not the time to get smart.”
He tried to squirm away, felt a stab of pain in his rib, and made the smart decision, despite Greyce’s choice of words, to give up. “Okay, okay,” he coughed out with a wince. “Just let up.” He was clearly struggling to maintain his “cool thief voice” under the constant crush of her shield arm.
“I don’t feel like chasing you so… no.” She held out her other hand and snapped her fingers until he plopped her coin purse into it. The tickle of peppermint oil’s aroma hit her nose instantly, confirming once more that this was the right person. After it was tucked into the front of her belt, she pushed against him again, causing him to wheeze.
“What? You got your gold back,” he complained as he attempted another weak escape.
“Do I, though,” she asked with some mocking humor back in her voice. “Word is, you Defias rookies – and you are a rookie, I just caught you right at your doorstep – word is you rookies have to pay weekly stipends to the gang… or else you get kicked around or something? That right?”
He did nothing to answer, beyond narrowing his gaze into a glare.
“I’m guessing if you were smart enough to sneak up behind me in the bank, you’re probably smart enough to take just enough out of my pouch to make that minimum payment. Hide it somewhere else on your person in case you got caught. Sounding about right?”
“What? No,” he returned quickly. There was authenticity in his words now, highlighted by the fact that he didn’t make his voice needlessly gruff.
“Not the time to get smart,” she repeated.
“I’m not getting smart.”
Greyce glanced back towards the entrance of the alley for a second. There was a hunch in her shoulders that told her he was being honest. But for some reason, she didn’t feel like listening to it. Without warning, she folded her arm up to drive her shoulder into him in a pointblank ram. As he struggled to stand and breathe, she patted him down from tunic to leggings until she felt a bump in his back pocket. Fingers far defter than they should be for a “virtuous” Paladin, she lifted a little sack of coins out of the pocket and snatched it up in her fist. It felt pretty light and a cursory glimpse into the opening of the bag revealed it was only silvers and coppers – she had only withdrawn golds.
“It’s… not yours,” he heaved as he braced himself against the wall once she stepped away.
She delivered a swift slap across the side of his head to answer him. Even without the plate gauntlet on her hand, it would have hurt. He stumbled a few steps before he braced himself on the wall again, the bandana hanging loosely from his face but the strands of his blonde hair obscuring his face still.
“Not fun, is it? Having the tables turned like this,” she asked coolly while stuffing his coin purse next to her own. “None of your buddies around, huh? You’re not used to those odds. I get it. But the next person you try to steal from won’t.” With hardly any effort, she shoved his arm to send him down to the cobblestones in a tumble and turned to walk away.
The burning rage behind his hazel eyes could have punched a hot hole through the back of her armor if he had been a mage of any considerable talent. This was not the first time she had made an enemy with only a few words, and it probably wouldn’t be the last.