“I don’t believe this!” said Val. “Tip you can’t go robbing people in every world we land in.”

“You should have seen the sleazy customer I took it off,” said Tip, tossing the coin pouch in the air and catching it again. “He won’t even notice it’s gone. Too busy staring at the barmaid’s chest.”

“How much is in there?” asked Sol excitedly.

“Feels like plenty,” Tip said thoughtfully, weighing the pouch in her hand. “Course, it could all be coppers.” She loosened the drawstrings and poured the contents onto her hand and then gasped in surprise. The others drew near to see.

Instead of coins, the pouch spewed forth a handful of round, flat stones.

“Beginner’s mistake,” said a voice behind them. “A decoy pouch. I daresay his real one will be tucked snugly inside his clothing.”

The four of them spun to see the newcomer. A young man of medium height with dark blond hair that was pulled back into a tail. He looked to be slightly older than Kerrick and wore dark clothing that blended into the shadows. He grinned at their surprised faces. “Your second mistake,” he continued, “was hanging around at the scene of the crime.” He pointed towards the now-empty pouch still clutched in Tip’s hand and shook his head disapprovingly. “Very sloppy. Your mark could come out here at any second looking for the thief who stole his pouch. And here you’d be, still holding it.”

“Who are you?” demanded Tip, dropping the stones on the ground and shoving the offending pouch into her pocket.

“Someone who’s looking to recruit a person of your talents,” replied the stranger. “But only if you can do better than you did in there.”

“Point me out a mark and I’ll prove it to you,” exclaimed Tip.

“That one.” Without missing a beat, the stranger inclined his head towards a man who was hurrying past them in the street. The man was hunched into his coat and staring at the cobbles as he tramped through the falling snow.

“Tip,” Kerrick hissed into her ear. “Stop and consider. This man could be a member of the guard. We don’t know whether it’s safe to get involved.”

Tip stopped and considered for 1.8 seconds, coming to three conclusions: Firstly, if the stranger had been a guard he could already have arrested her based on the first pickpocketing. Secondly, she was very interested in being recruited by someone who finally appreciated her talents. Thirdly and most importantly, she was 98% sure she could ace this test.

She sprang forward and ran past the mark, barely brushing past his right side. The man didn’t even look up as she passed. When he’d reached the end of the street and disappeared around a corner, Tip reappeared from a doorway and jogged back holding the man’s coin purse aloft. It was a fancy leather one with a metal clasp.

“Not bad,” said the stranger. “You can keep the contents.”

Tip grinned and opened the purse, but her triumphant expression was replaced by one of confusion as she tipped the purse into her hand and out fell more of the same flat stones that had been in the first man’s pouch.

“Oh dear,” said the stranger, shaking his head. “Could it be that you’ve fallen for the same trick twice in one night?” Lifting his gaze he nodded to someone who was coming along the street. “Geoff. What do you think.”

“Not bad,” the second man echoed the stranger’s words. “Bit of an obvious tactic, street being empty and all, but she handled it well.”

Tip’s mouth dropped open. The man approaching them was the mark she’d just pickpocketed. He held out his hand, palm upturned.

“I’ll have the pouch back if you don’t mind. It’s a nice one. I’d rather not lose it.”

Tip shoved the thing into his hand and rounded on the first man. “It was a set-up?!”

The stranger shrugged. “Couldn’t risk raising a stink if you turned out to be no good.”

“So what’s the verdict?” she asked hotly.

“Not bad,” the stranger repeated. “Question now is whether you’re any good at climbing.”

“Tip’s the best climber in the settlement,” Sol piped up.

“Oh really?” the stranger asked, smiling at him. “Which settlement is that?”

“Sol,” said Kerrick warningly. The younger boy closed his mouth with an apologetic glance at Tip.

“Never mind where we’re from!” said Tip. “I can climb. I’ll demonstrate if you want. But I think you owe us an explanation first.”

“Shall we discuss it over a drink?” the man asked. “Not in there, obviously,” he jerked a thumb at The Roasted Hog. “I know a better place. The rest of you are welcome to tag along,” he said indicating Kerrick, Val and Sol.

“There’d be a problem if they weren’t,” Tip said darkly.

The stranger regarded her. “That’s why I invited them, my dear. I can see the four of you are a package deal. My name is Flint, by the way.” He held out a hand for her to shake.

“Tip,” said Tip, clasping his hand in a firm grip. “And these are Kerrick, Valerian and Sol.”

“Valerian eh?” Flint’s eyes lingered on Val. Then he did a double take and frowned.

Tip looked at Val too. The girl’s hair colour had shifted towards copper and her eyes had acquired a green tint. Her chest had grown noticeably bigger and the neckline on her tunic had lowered to show off her new assets. Val peeked down to see what they were looking at and then blushed and crossed her arms across her chest.

Flint was staring at her in open fascination. He chuckled and shook his head. “I don’t know what you’re doing,” he said to Val, “but you can save yourself the bother. I’m not in the market for it.”

Val looked like she wanted to fall through the floor. She stammered, “I… uh, I didn’t, it wasn’t on purpose!”

“You didn’t look like that before,” said Flint thoughtfully. “What is it? A glamour charm? Are you a shifter?”

“Let’s go and get that drink you mentioned,” Kerrick said, stepping in front of Val. “Preferably somewhere quiet.”

“I think that would be an admirable idea,” said Flint. “Geoff, coming?” he called. The other man who’d gone to stand at the nearest street corner raised a hand in acknowledgement, shook his head and then melted into the shadows.

“Taciturn man, that Geoff,” said Flint. “Keeps to himself. Right, come on then. I feel a drink and a bit of explaining on both sides to be in order.”

The tavern Flint took them to was much smaller and dingier than the one they’d just left. Instead of one large taproom, the dark interior was full of smaller rooms and crannies where private conversations could take place. Flint led the way to a dimly lit back room that was concealed by an ornate curtain and ordered a round of ginger ales for them all. Seating himself comfortably, he waited for their drinks to arrive and tipped the barmaid handsomely before leaning forward and scrutinising their faces. “You’re probably wondering why I’m in the market for a competent thief,” he began.

Tip hadn’t been wondering but Flint’s statement spiked her curiosity. “Yes, why are you?”

“An excellent question,” Flint leaned back. “To tell the truth, I’ve already got a grand little thief of about your size on my team. Steady, reliable, very versatile. She’d have made short work of the job in question.”

“So why’s she not doing the job?” Tip asked.

“That’s the thing. Roof tile gave way on her week before last. Nasty fall. She’s going to be some time getting back on her feet. In the mean time, this job won’t wait. Very important client, by which I mean very rich client.”

Kerrick leaned forward and narrowed his eyes. “So what you’re saying is you have a desperate need of Tip’s skills and you’ll be willing to pay us generously for her services.”

“Yes, what are you planning to pay me?” asked Tip.

“And what exactly is Tip supposed to do in order to earn it?” put in Val.

Flint took a sip and paused, contemplating them. “I’m still wondering whether I can trust the lot of you. Perhaps I’ll tell you about the job and you’ll go blabbing to the guard about it.”

Tip rolled her eyes. “Do we look like the kind of people who’re friendly with the guard?”

“Look, you’ve had plenty of opportunity to observe the fact that we’re new in town,” Kerrick said. “You’ve already decided to hire Tip for your job or you’d be out looking for a different replacement, and not sitting here wasting time with us. We’ll swear to keep your secrets or whatever you like, but you can’t pretend to think we have any meaningful contacts here or that we’d be believed if the four of us went to the guard with a sob story about a man named ‘Flint’.”

Flint glared at Kerrick and then unexpectedly broke into a grin. “Boy’s got brains. I like it. Alright, here’s the deal.” He went on to explain that the job consisted of stealing a certain jewel from a mansion on the other side of town. The owner was a rich merchant’s wife who had received the jewel as a gift but was dissatisfied with the colour and wished her husband to replace it with one more suited to her wardrobe. “The lady doesn’t care what we do with the jewel once we’ve stolen it and she’s paying us well for our time,” Flint said. “So as you can imagine, it’s a very lucrative job. I’m keen to keep it from being handed off to another band. But the lady is impatient. Something about a ball, needing the new jewel to go with a dress…” he flapped a hand. “Anyway, long story short, how are you fixed for tonight?”

“I’m free tonight,” Tip said cautiously.

Flint slapped the table and rose out of his seat. “Let’s go.”

Kerrick put out a hand to keep Tip in her seat. “Not yet. First, we’re going to talk about what we need from you in return.“

Flint lowered back into his seat. “Need, is it? You have my full attention.”

Kerrick consulted with Val and listed the food supplies they wanted in payment. “And,” he added, “we’ll need a way to get everything into the cellar of that tavern where you found us.”

Flint looked intrigued. “Why there? What good will it do you?”

“We’d rather not say for the moment,” Kerrick replied. “It should be enough to know those are our terms.”

With a shrug, Flint agreed. “If that’s what you want, I can make it happen. Got a good friend on the serving staff at that tavern.”

“Then we’re agreed?” Kerrick asked.

“Agreed.” Flint shook hands with Kerrick and then with Tip. Sol stuck out his hand enthusiastically and received an amused handshake too.

“Now on to logistics,” said Flint. “I’ve a safehouse where the rest of you can wait-”

“Will we need a lookout for the job?” Tip asked.

Flint looked surprised. “Not especially. Why?

“Just that Kerrick’s particularly good in that area,” Tip said, ignoring Kerrick’s scowl.

After shooting Kerrick an appraising look, Flint asked him, “That true?” When Kerrick didn’t answer immediately he went on to say, “I’ve a colleague who may be interested in someone with lookout skills. But I shan’t be volunteering you if you ain’t willing.”

“I can see alright,” Kerrick said.

“Behind the the bar there’s a blackboard where they record the tabs. Without going further than the doorway, tell me what’s written next to mine.” Flint said.

Kerrick glanced at the curtain covering the entrance to their room and frowned. “That’s odd,” he said.


About the author


Bio: I write fantasy and humorous tales with a twist of magic. I'm currently working on a full-length manuscript but somehow I'm never satisfied with a single project so my smaller works get posted here. If you like what you read, the completed stories are also available to download as ebooks from my website:

I'd love to hear what you think of my stories so feel free to leave comments. I'm also happy to trade feedback as long as you write in a similar genre.

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