Lirya tried to look in every direction at once. She didn’t see any guards, but she knew that there were at least a half dozen on watch, and a score of others ready to come swarming in if the alarm was raised.
She clutched the obscuration amulet, reassuring herself that it was still there. It would make her almost invisible as long as she kept to the shadows and didn’t move too abruptly.
Taking a deep, slow, quiet breath, she forced herself to calm down. All would go well if she just kept her head and got the job done.
Afterwards, keeping this amulet for herself would be part of her payoff. It would be a very useful thing to have in her line of work. Instead of petty burglaries of local merchants, she could start collecting some real valuables right out from under the noses of their owners’ guardsmen.
After a few big hauls, she would have enough wealth for the rest of her life. She imagined herself retiring to a nice little farm villa. There would be servants to do the work while she spent her days riding the horses from her private stable... and her nights seducing handsome young stable boys....
She shook her head. There would be time for pleasant daydreams later, after she finished this job and got herself out of here. Now, she needed to pay attention.
According to the floor plan she’d been given, this hallway should lead directly to the Baroness’ private rooms. The item she was after would be in there.
Creeping to the end of the corridor, Lirya found a locked door. Shifting her gaze back and forth between her work and the hallway, Lirya probed at it with her lockpicks. After several tries, it finally yielded with a loud click that jangled her nerves. Quickly, she slipped through the door and closed it again.
Inside was a lavishly appointed little room, with an intricately patterned handwoven rug and fine furniture. In the middle of the far wall stood a glass display case full of jewelry, with a silver tiara prominently featured on the top shelf.
She reached into her bag and held up the duplicate tiara. They matched; the forgery might go undetected for some time. Lirya began working on the display case lock, taking extra care to leave no scratches or other signs of illicit entry.
For a moment, her gaze turned to the other items in the case. It held more silver, gold, and gems than she had ever seen in one place. She felt tempted to collect a few of them, but remembered her employer’s strict instructions to remove nothing except the tiara. He had promised a final payoff that would make up for the lost opportunity, and shown her enough gold coin to make that believable.
Scolding herself for daydreaming again, she got back to work. She resolved to pay attention to the lock, and nothing else.
The door latch clicked open.
Lirya dived into the corner behind the wardrobe and crouched, still as a statue.
A guardsman walked in. He began slowly circling the room, looking into every place where an intruder might be hiding.
Damnation. Lirya thought. Somebody must have heard the click when I opened the door, or maybe there was a sentry-spell trigger I missed.
The guardsman was now peering under the dressing table. If he comes over here, I’m screwed. The amulet won’t hide me from somebody who’s really paying attention, and I’m cornered. I’ve got to run while I still can.
Lirya sprinted through the door. The guard turned around and ran after her, shouting.
I can do this. I’ve got enough of a head start to make it to the storeroom I saw on the way in. I can hide in there while I figure out what to do next.
She reached an intersection and turned left, into the dining hall. The door to the storeroom was ten paces in front of her.
Another guardsman was five paces in front of her.
Grabbing a vase from the main dining table, she threw it at his face. He raised his hands to protect himself, and she dodged around him.
The guard lunged and grabbed her right arm. She managed to break free of his grip, but lost her balance as her foot slid on the spilled water.
Her head hit the floor, and everything went black.