“You get these goods put away,” Semelai rumbled, indicating a stack of boxes. Phorys sighed audibly, wrapped the tow rope around his shoulders, and started dragging the heavy load back to the storeroom.
“Don’t let me hear any of that groaning!” the lieutenant roared at Phorys’s retreating back. “Boss wants that sorted and ready for distribution by tomorrow night!”
“Yeah, yeah,” the younger man retorted, adding in a low mumble, “and who is it gets thrown to the guard’s dogs if we get pinched? Not the boss, Mahara knows, oh no…”
Phorys trundled up to the storage room and began unloading the boxes. He looked over his shoulder. No one there. His expression changed to a smile, and he pulled a small crowbar out from his vest. Quietly popping the lid off the biggest box of the bunch, he rifled through the hay-packed contents. He could barely suppress a triumphant chortle when he pulled from inside the box a gleaming sword with riveted pommel.
He heard approaching footsteps. Quick, into the box went the sword, and on went the top. Phorys made a show of languidly hauling up one of the other boxes onto the shelves. One of the other members of the gang passed by, calling to him as she went, “Almost done, Phorys? Dawn soon, gotta get going before too many eyes are open.”
“Aye, aye, almost done, give it a rest, would ya?” The woman rolled her eyes and walked on. From down the hall she called over her shoulder, “Well don’t blame me if you get caught by the morning guard!”
“Yeah, sure, get caught, all right,” the lanky Phorys grumbled as he resumed his furtive work. “Any of ‘em try to catch ME, I’ll stick ’em right good with this beauty!” His eyes sparkled as he took the sword out again. Checking once more that no one was coming, he slipped over to the secret door, softly pressed the latch, and ducked inside. He closed the wall behind him and made his way down the low-ceilinged passage. Cressa, who’d helped him dig it, was waiting in the small room at the end, lit by the single hurricane lantern they dared keep for light. Phorys grinned as he approached her and held his bounty high.
“Where’d you get that?” she probed.
“Simple. Out of the booty from the latest shipment from Edam’s Rest. No one will even know it’s gone. Would you look at the way it catches the light!”
“Idiot, you know the plan! We gotta stick to the small stuff. No sense sticking our necks out now, we’ll only get ‘em chopped off! Put that back after we’re done, I don’t want it in here. Now what’s your take this time?”
Phorys sulked and pouted. “Spoilsport. Here, look.” He pulled the hidden string in his waistband, and silver coins poured out from his voluminous trousers. Cressa grinned and started scooping them up.
“Good one,” she crowed as she dumped them into the chest. “The stash is really growing. We keep this up, and we’ll never want for anything.”
“I dunno, Cressa, this just seems like small newts. I think we should go for bigger drakes, like this!” He flourished the sword again for effect. “I mean, we could have a real hoard, here, worthy of a king! Right now, we’re just pecking at the gang’s leavings and pretending to be bandit lords. Couldn’t we pick it up a bit?”
“Quiet, you,” his partner snapped from over her shoulder. “We’ve got a good operation going here, you’re just impatient. I’m not getting left out for the vultures on your account. You stick to the plan, and don’t do anything stupid.”
Phorys could feel his resentment boiling up in him. Indignation seethed and swelled in his throat. “Stick to the plan, stick to the plan, sure… sure…” his anger was barely held in check in his voice. His foot was tapping, and his fists clenching and unclenching around the hilt of his sword.
Cressa turned around to look at him. He seemed to be staring at her, but staring through her at the same time. “The hell’s wrong with you?” she asked.
“Sure, I’ll stick to the plan. I’ll stick… I’ll stick… I’ll stick YOU!” Phorys lunged at Cressa and jabbed the sword into her gut. Her eyes widened in shock, pain, and anger. Instinctively, her hands locked around his throat, squeezing hard.
“You bastard! I knew you were too orc-headed to trust with my plan! It was foolproof, you idiot! Foolproof!” She coughed, and blood spattered across Phorys’s face. He didn’t even blink, but just drove the sword deeper in her stomach. His mad stream of verbal abuses sputtered out as his windpipe collapsed. The two struggled weakly and finally fell to the floor, dead. A day or so later, the lantern guttered out. Six months after that, outside, the sounds of pitched battle and the cries of the authorities rang through the den’s halls. Eventually, all went quiet.
The door to Phorys and Cressa’s secret hoard would not open again for 300 years.