The Reluctant Trio

The Reluctant Trio

By Joe Gensweider

Tretod woke from his fragile slumber when he heard a low growl coming from the floor below. An instant later Atmi screamed, "Tretod!"

Tretod knew what was going on. His over-protective friend had found the beautiful noble woman he had brought home last night. He also knew that if he did not get down to the floor fast, Selgguns would do something they would both regret. He ran to the edge of his private beam and he jumped over the side without thought. During his flight down he carefully execute many different gymnastic techniques to slow himself down. When he reached the last oak beam, he caught it with both hands and began to swing around on it. His spinning slowed, then stopped altogether and he let go of the beam.

That was the first meeting of Selgguns of Semaj and Atmi Bonhart. Only the night before the young man Selgguns had sworn to protect fell in love with the aforementioned young woman. Selgguns did not know it, nor did Atmi, nor Tretod for that matter, but their fates were intertwined. The three had such diverse backgrounds that it is nearly inconceivable that they would all end up together, but they did, and this was their story.

They lived long ago in an universe unknown to us, on the world of El'Tora. Tretod Grihog was the leader. He was a diminutive short young man with finely trimmed dusty brown-blond hair, blue green eyes, and a smile worth his weight in diamonds. He could not fight worth a piece of lint, but his wits always seemed to make up for his swordhand's incompetence. He was small, quick thinking, flirtatious, comical, and excellent at getting himself in to trouble. The creature who always seemed to get Tretod out of the fixes the young mans mouth got him into was Selgguns of Semaj, a member of the massive cat-like race know as the Katisun. He had yellow-gold fur that was rare among his people, he was very tall and weighed as much as eight humans, and his eyes were jade. He was bound to Tretod by a great debt, and he was carried with him his fathers battle axe. The finesse of the group came in the body of Atmi Bonhart. She was tall and slightly tanned; she had she short layered brown hair that reached past her slender shoulders, her eyes matched her hair, but had a sparkle all there own. She was truly vintage wine for the eyes, and she had an air of beauty about her that made even the slimiest cantinas seem like royal dining halls. Atmi was also the swordsplayer of the group, while Selgguns fought with brute strength, Atmi fought with a brilliance that was matched only by the master swordsmen in King Chantin's court. The young woman had started out as noble, the daughter of Nodse Bonhart, kings cousin, and Duke.

These three partners in crime lived in the fifth largest country on the shinning jewel of El'Tora, Qutillre. Qutillre was an incredibly large city-state broken down into sectors, Atmi's father governed one such sector, sector sixteen, called Theif's Paradise by the locals.

1: Tretod

Tretod snapped awake as the loud bugle of The Royal Army Training Academy rang through his ears. He had been there a mere month and already he detested it more than any level of schooling he had ever had. Every morning it was the same thing, wake up earlier than any creature in Thief's Paradise, eat a revolting meal, work hard in the classroom all morning, eat another gross meal, work in the field all afternoon, eat one more nasty meal, and finally free time before bed. Then the next morning he was fortunate enough to wake up and do it all over again. But, it was his own fault that he had been sentenced to the facility. The first few years of his life Tretod was an orphaned street rat. Until the authorities caught him stealing and sent him away to an orphanage-primary school. For the next twelve years he stayed there, until, in his last year in primary school he took the required Royal Army test. He failed the fighting techniques part of the exam horribly, but he got one of the highest scores ever on the war strategy section, and thus got himself sentenced to the Royal Army.

"You would think that at least they would find someone who could play that horrible horn with a little more skill," Tretod muttered as he crept out of his brutally hard bottom bunk.

"What was that, Grihog?" asked Wove Skir,bully, and "perfect soldier".

"I asked myself why bugle boy out there doesn't play in some world famous band." Tretod was always a bit of a class clown, he never thought he could get into trouble.

"Someday Sergeant Tyuip will be in here when you make one of your smart remarks and you will get disciplined for sure," Wove said with a smug look on his face.

"Dream on, Skir. Unlike the majority of the people who attend this torture facility I am not utterly stupid I know when the sergeant will arrive each and every morning. So, I know when I can explain to you why you are such an idiot and why I am so smart, and when I cannot," Tretod said, a smug smile spreading across his face.

With that comment, Wove rose one fist and swung at Tretod, but the adept eighteen year old ducked and thrust his left foot out. Wove's momentum carried him through the air to an abrupt crash to the sun-baked clay floor. As Wove pulled himself up and prepared to lunge for a second attack, Sergeant Hrew Tyuip opened the door of the bunker and stepped into the room, exactly when Tretod had planned the old soldier to enter.

"Private Wove Skir you'd better not be picking on Grihog or it will go on your record with the Royal Army. Your father wouldn't want that, would he?" Tyuip asked.

Skir's father was General Lib Skir, commander of a third of the Royal Army and mistakes would not be accepted, so the boy spoke up quickly, "Sergeant, sir, he was mouthing off again. He said I was stupid, I was only defending the Skir family name."

"Well, I didn't hear Private Tretod verbally assault you so I cannot punish him, but if you beat him up I can punish you. What would an assault mark look like on the record of a Skir?" Skir finally decided he could not win this battle so he shut his mouth and followed the rest of the boys into the wash room. As Tretod made his way there, he thanked the gods that Tyuip was not afraid to discipline the youngest Skir in the Royal Army. Tyuip was one of the meanest drill sergeants in Qutillre, but he was fair.

After washing and breakfast, Tretod and his fellow classmates spent the first half of the day working in the classroom. They learned more on the old subjects like math and history, but most of the time spent was focused on battle strategies. This where Tretod truly excelled. He had only been at the training facility for a few months and already some the strategies he had used in mock classroom battles were being considered by the king's own war counsel as text book doctrines. Not only was young Tretod a quick thinker, but he had an almost supernatural ability to see the battle from an outsider's point of view, which made it much easier to guess his opponent's next move. He had never lost a classroom battle.

This day's battle was a difficult one and after it was over he and the other boys were sent to lunch, Tretod sat at his usual corner table, alone as usual. The classroom battle reminded him of predicament he had found himself in two summers earlier. He and two of his friends who lived at the orphanage had decided on the beautiful summer day that they were going to sneak across town to an orphanage for young ladies.

They had left early that morning and found their way to the orphanage quite easily. It was trickier to break into the fortress, but Tretod had demonstrated his master lock picking skills and by dawn, they were fraternizing with the young women. Most of the girls they knew from dances, picnics, or other social get-togethers, and they had a genuinely fun time. Tretod was having an especially good time, being the ladies man that he was, but soon they found it was time to go. This was the difficult part. Unbeknownst to the young people the head master of the female orphanage had over heard the giggling and the flirting, and she had called the Royal Militia.

Just as the boys began their descent down the high wall of the tall town house, Tretod saw the familiar figures of the Royal Militia waiting below. Tretod was able to duck back into the girls room before the public servants could see, him on the other hand.

"The militia is waiting for us," he calmly announced.

"Where?" asked one of the beautiful girls.

"On the streets below."

"How are we going to get away?" asked one of his nervous friends.

"You, my friends, will wait here a few moments then run like mad back to our prison. I will distract our friends below then meet you back at our comfortable room," Tretod said.

"Oh, Tretod," one of the girls said, "you are so brave. Good luck."

Then Reach bolted toward him and kissed him on the lips. Tretod smiled his best smile, winked at the girls, then leapt toward the open balcony doors. He flew over the ledge, as he had planned, and began soaring through the air, thanking his mentor Myet for all the time he had spent teaching him gymnastics. When he reached the flag of Wrechette's Female Orphanage, he grabbed it and held on with all of his young strength, knowing it would tear. It did and he fell, but once again relying on his gymnasts training he was able to maneuver in mid-air to the flag pole that displayed the Royal Flag at its top. He wrapped arms and legs around this pole then slid down.

The militia men had witnessed this display, but they had all been caught up in the boys performance, so now Tretod had a narrow head start. He used his this to his advantage by ducking into an alley way, leading the Royal Militia way from his friends in the fortress behind him. He hopped that all the militia would follow him, that would make easier on his two slower and less agile friends. Tretod was glad about his self-less act for two reasons, it would help he and his friends escape trouble of course, but it also made him look good in the eyes of his female admirers.

Tretod was an expert of geography, especially in his native Theif's Paradise and he was quite able to lead the militia on a wild goose chase through the endless alley ways, back streets, and market places. Eventually he came to the Narca River that ran through Theif's Paradise, if he traveled south down this river it would take him within ten blocks of the orphanage. He could swim, but he could jump onto a barge, and one had just appeared out from under a bridge. He ran until he was side-by-side with the boat, it was going the right way and it was large enough to hide on. So, he gulped down his fear, back away from the ledge of the, ran, and at the last possible second, he jumped. He missed the barge by a bare foot, but was able to swim and catch the boat just before the militia had found him.

That day had turned out to be successful, both of Tretod's friends and Tretod himself had returned to the orphanage with out much trouble. Also on that day Tretod had become a ladies man, something that he would always be.

After lunch, the boys of the facility hit the field. This was what Tretod despised the most. He was in good enough shape, of course, but he simply hated physical contact. The first part of the afternoon was spent training the body with exercise. Next, the young soldiers split up into groups and practiced with the weapon they preferred to use in battle. Tretod was one of the few who had chosen the boomerang as his main weapon. He had two boomerangs, one was a normal iron boomerang, and the other was a razor sharp one that required the young soldier to wear special armor gloves, so as not to cut his hands.

Finally, there was a mock battle. That was what Tretod hated the most. On this day, like in almost every other day he had been knocked out of the battle early. Finally, the long, hard day was done.

And so this same schedule was used for the first year Tretod was at the academy, and finally at the very end of the year, the soldiers got a bit of vacation. Even though their vacation was a required trip to the Katisun Isles, a slave hunting expedition, it was a week away from studies.

2: Selgguns

From the day he was born, everyone in Selgguns of Semaj's clan knew he was destined for greatness. Of course, there were many reasons why so many people believed this, he was very large, he was the son of the clan leader, but the most obvious reason was his fur color, it was the rare yellow-gold color. Only one Katisun in every ten generations was born with this color fur. Everyone knew the male born with the yellow-gold fur would some day rise to glory. He would also be blessed with super strength, even for a Katisun, and long life. Every Katisun who had been blessed with this uniqueness had eventually risen to majesty as the leader of the entire Katisun race. The gods, however, had a different destiny in store for Selgguns, of course he could not know this.

Selgguns was five Katisun years old, the rough equivalent to fifteen human years, and he was already the largest male in his clan. Because of his father and his fur color he was treated differently than all the other children in his clan. So one bright and sunny day Selgguns decided that he and his friend Threg were in need of a hunting expedition, and he knew no one would stop them. So on that fateful day they set out, with no weapons, for it was the traditional Katisun way to hunt, and they began to roam the woods surrounding their village.

They searched for hours until they found what it was they were stalking, a Bquwi, a mammoth wolf-like creature that was easily three times the size of the normal woodland variety. Now a Bquwi was more than a match for a Katisun hunting party, but in the stupidity and fearless nature of youth, Selgguns decided he was a worthy opponent for the massive beast. So, foolishly, Selgguns called Threg off and told him that he would handle the prey, then with uncanny speed and ignorance, Selgguns rushed off into battle.

The unsuspecting Bquwi did not realize the stealthy young Katisun was crashing through the brush from behind until it was almost too late, almost. Selgguns' outstretched claws caught the Bquwi on its side and just barely tore into the tough flesh, but the beast was able to cut Selgguns' left hand deeply with a vicious bite. Both predator and prey quickly bounced back from their minor wounds, and the age old dance had begun. Both were confident in who the victor of the battle would be, but perhaps both were young, cocky, and a little over confident.

The Bquwi made the first move, it leapt towards Selgguns, but the young Katisun hunter easily turned this strike around. He dropped down to one knee on the ground and spun around as the Bquwi flew over his head, and when it was directly above his head, he reached up with both hands, grabbed a hold of the underbelly fur and sent the creature flying with a momentum that knocked over two trees. But the creature brashly got up and began charging forward for another attack, but this time it got the better of Selgguns. The young Katisun was crouched over, ready to stop the charging Bquwi, but at the last possible instant before the two collided the creature jumped into the air and knocked the inexperienced hunter onto his back. After the Bquwi had pinned the Katisun to the jungle floor it began to maul and tear at Selgguns with a ferocious rage that only the truly wild animal possesses.

The Bquwi cut Selgguns deeply in several places, then it finally ran out of breath and began to pant rapidly while hunched over Selgguns. This gave the Katisun youth only a moment to act, for the beast would surely take up its onslaught again any second. Selgguns firmly planted his feet into the creature's chest and pushed up, thus hurling the Bquwi through the air. The behemoth landed on its head and was visibly shaken up. Selgguns took this moment to act He sprang up from his position on the ground and charged toward the Bquwi in rage. As the young warrior rapidly approached, the massive wolf-creature began to struggle up off the ground. When Selgguns was but inches away he folded both of his large hands into to a single ball of destruction, and when he was on top of his prey he swung with all of his destructive force. The blow sent the mammoth creature hurtling backwards. As soon as the Bquwi hit the ground, Selgguns was on top of the beast tearing with extended claws at its eyes.

The Bquwi eventually threw Selgguns off, but only after the creature had had its eyes clawed out. It began to circling, violently knocking trees and brush over. Selgguns waited patiently for right moment to pounce and when it came, he did. He leapt into the air and landed on the back of the Bquwi, with his right arm he caught hold of its furry skull and pulled the beast's head back, with the other he dug through the soft flesh of the neck of the beast. Finally, his claws found their mark, the creature's jugular. In one final fit the Bquwi threw Selgguns off, but the Katisun twisted in mid-air and landed on his feet a few yards away. There he stood watching the beast's final shutters as it died.

Selgguns stood over his defeated prey, breathing heavily. He called to Threg who came over to inspect his friend's first kill. Threg congratulated Selgguns on the killing of his quarry and they began building a sled out of tree branches so they could drag the Bquwi back to the village.

The sled was nearly complete when Selgguns heard the faint sound of leather boots cracking a twig. He whipped his head around in time to see three human males. The two younger men each had weapons, and the older man was giving the orders. The taller man raised what appeared to be a crossbow and aimed it at the backside of Threg. Then, just as the boy pulled his trigger the smaller boy hit the barrel of the bow, making the shot sailed wide right and giving the two Katisuns a chance.

This time, Selgguns decided foolish pride would get both of them killed, so he turned tail and ran leading the way through the woods. He turned back one last time before the brush became too thick to look at the young man who had saved his life. Now his savior was being beaten by his peer while the older man yelled at him for his disgracing act of treason. He silently thanked the human and said a prayer so that the boy would have a chance of surviving.

Selgguns blindly lead Threg through the thick jungle trying only to get away from the hunters, who undoubtedly wanted to sell them on the slave market. They ran for what seemed like hours, until they found a small clearing where they could stop momentarily and rest. While they were relaxing in the glade, Threg asked if Selgguns thought their whole clan was being hunted by the slavers. Selgguns pondered this for a moment until he decided it was worth checking out, so they began, quickly and quietly, heading back to the village.

As they came within hearing distance of the village they heard loud voices, foreign voices, all yelling angrily in unison. Selgguns quietly lead Threg to very edge of the protective brush of the jungle and they watched intently.

What they saw made young Selgguns very angry. The young human who had saved his life was kneeling on the ground, his hands were bound with rope, and all of the other young men were pointing loaded crossbows at his savior. Selgguns, even though he could not understand their tongue, he could tell what was going to happen next.

Out of the corner of his eye he saw the familiar figure of his father, bound in a net and loaded into a wooden cart. At that moment something snapped inside of the young Katisun. He leapt out from his hiding spot roaring at the six humans who were struggling to lift his fathers battle axe. The humans ran off like scarred cubs and Selgguns easily scooped up his fathers axe. There was nothing he could do for his village now, but he still had a chance to help the young human who had earlier rescued Selgguns and his friend from a horrible fate.

As he reached the humans, he swung the great axe down into the ground, blocking most of the arrows from striking the young man. Some of the arrows pierced his own skin, but he did not care, he only wanted to save the young human. While the surprised humans struggled to reload their bows, Selgguns scooped the human up and onto his shoulder and began running.

He ran through the brush by Threg and the Katisun lead his friend through the woods. As Selgguns ran, he knew not where he would take the human, but he knew he needed to get as far away from the village as he could manage. As they traveled deeper into the woods Selgguns decided to lead them to a cave where he and his father a ridden out a storm a few moons ago.

When consciousness returned to Tretod, the incredibly massive yellow-gold Katisun he had prevented Wove from killing only hours before was standing over him with a leaf in hand. He pulled back and the wounds in his shoulder and thigh began burning relentlessly. The Katisun motioned to Tretod's wounds then to the leaf and Tretod realized the leaf must have been an herbal medicine of sorts, so he allowed the Katisun to apply the leaves to his wounds.

The three of them stayed in the cave for days while the yellow-gold Katisun who Tretod came to know as Selgguns fed him other herbal plants and soups. Tretod developed a fever that only complicated things but Selgguns stayed by his side at all times. And as the human began to recuperate, he began to use his basic knowledge of the Katisun language and his logic to learn the tongue. It was a very difficult language for a human to master, but over the weeks he learned to understand most of the words and phrases, and learned to speak the Katisun language a little.

As the weeks wore on, Tretod and Selgguns became the very best of friends. Both of them wanted to make the journey to Qutillre. After much discussion, they decided they would journey with Threg to a small village on the coast of the island, then they would find a boat and travel to Qutillre.

And so they made their way to Gehtnoch. In Gehtnoch, they found a boat just large enough for the two of them. The very next morning they set out on the calm waters of the Qutillre Sea, their destination was Horseshoe Harbor in Thief's Paradise. It was less than a fifty miles to the harbor and with a good wind, the journey would be a short one.

As they sat on their small schooner listening to the breeze make the water ripple, Selgguns asked in his native tongue, "What are we going to do in your great city."

"Well," Tretod said slowly making sure his huge friend understood him, "Before I was taken into the orphanage I worked for a small time thief, one of many in Thief's Paradise. He taught me some tricks, but it didn't look too hard. Besides, with my brains and your brawn to back them up, how could we not be the best thief duo in good old sector sixteen?"

"Will it be a hardy adventure?"

"Of course, and there are riches involved, wondrous amounts of riches," Tretod answered his now grinning friend.

So, together, the two friends began a new chapter in each their lives.

3: Atmi

It had been six months since the triumphant first heist of the duo who had been dubbed the Brain and the Brawn, and the tandem had just pulled heist number ten, once again a very successful one. Selgguns was in their hide out, celebrating with ale, but Tretod had different ideas and decided to walk down to Bonhart Plaza to see what the high society event of the night was. It was a misty night, so he had on a plain leather overcoat that extended down to his legs and hid his secrets.

He made his way toward the Bonhart Royal Ballroom, the spot where all the magnificent carriages seemed to be headed on this cool autumn night. As he approached, he saw a coach that must have belonged to the Duke of Tarmont himself. It was cut from a single piece of ivory that was surely from the mouth of a massive dragon. The carriage doors and windows were platinum inlaid with gold and sapphires. And as the door to the carriage was opened by a servant, Tretod noticed the steps of jade that had been placed in front of the door.

Just as soon as his eyes found the steps, they were distracted by the incredible young woman who was now walking down the emerald stairs. She was truly beautiful in her dress of white and her slippers of glass. Her hair just touched the back of her shoulders, her eyes were of a light brown shade, her skin was tan, she filled out her dress very well, but what attracted Tretod the most was a glow of beauty that seemed to shine brighter than the stars in the sky above his head. He had to get a closer look at this woman whom the gods had truly blessed with rare gift of beauty.

He entered the narrow alley to the left of the ballroom and walked toward the side entrance. When he reached the door, he found two huge Royal Guards, he knew their fists were strong and he was sure their minds were not. He silently strode up to the pair, an emerald in each of his sweaty palms. When he stopped in front of the guards they asked him for a pass, he held up the emeralds, and they greedily asked for more. Tretod removed two small pouches from his belt and handed one to each guard and they stepped aside, letting the young thief pass.

He quickly lost himself in the multitude of people in the ballroom, so that when the royal idiots opened their pouches and found only rocks, they would not be able to find him so easily. He quickly made for the balcony so he could see the floor from above, again he bribed a guard, this time with ten gold pieces.

From his perch above, he could tell that he was underdressed for the engagement, but he cared not; he only wanted to find the beautiful maiden. At last he found the unique beauty whom he had to meet, whom he desperately wanted to dance with, if only once. So he made his way down the stairs and across the room to where she was standing, walking with his own air of cool confidence.

He approached her and said, "My lady, I can truly say that you are the most beautiful woman I have ever seen in my life, and I was wondering if you might want to dance this next dance with me."

The woman slowly turned around. When she came full circle, Tretod could see that she had a surprised look on her face, not a displeased look, just a surprised one.

"Leave us," she said to the giggling girls who surrounded her. They left and she asked, "Do you not know who I am?"

"Like I said you're the most beautiful woman I have ever seen"

"I am Atmi Bonhart, the daughter of Nodse Bonhart," she said.

"I care not what your last name is, your father's power does not intimidate me, I only want one dance."

"I would love to dance with you, but I am getting married," Atmi disappointed the young man.

"When are you getting married?" Tretod asked.

"Tomorrow," Atmi quickly answered.

"Then tonight you are still a free woman, and tonight you will dance with me, Tretod Grihog, and you will have a royally fun time," Tretod said as the symphony began the next song, so without warning he reached out and took Atmi's hand and led her onto the dance floor.

They began to dance and looked into each others eyes in way that clearly displayed their feeling for one another. As they danced Tretod figured that somehow he had gone to heaven and he was dancing with an angel.

Everything was great, until a single voice rose above the music screaming, "Atmi, what are you doing!"

The music stopped and everyone turned to stare at Tretod and Atmi. Atmi blushed, but Tretod stepped forward and said, "She is dancing with me, blondie, and you are just going to have to wait your turn."

"Do you know who I am, peon?" asked a tall man.

"No, and I don't much care either," Tretod said.

"And you, you flirtatious woman, what are you doing?" the man asked.

"Tyun, I was just dancing," Atmi said.

"Well, I refuse to marry an unpure creature," Tyun said.

"I would not be talking. You have a dozen mistresses!" Atmi screamed.

"Now you spread rumors about me. Guards, seize them at once."

"I think not," Tretod said, taking Atmi's hand and placing it in his own.

Together, they ran toward the wall that rose up to the balcony where Tretod had been only a moment before. They reached an unoccupied table that lay alongside the wall and hopped onto its clothed surface. From there Tretod leapt into the air and braced one foot on a fabulous golden sconce. He used his momentum to propell himself to a second sconce located a few feet from the stone rail of the balcony. As soon as his foot hit the other sconce he pushed up with all his might and executed a front-flip in mid-air. He reached for the rail with his right hand and when he felt the cold stone he pushed himself erect into the air, pivoted with his wrist, and then pushed up and flipped backwards, landing lightly on his moccasin clad feet.

Below Tretod, Atmi was trying desperately to do the same acrobatic feat that her new found friend had just done. But she was stuck on the second sconce, her elaborate dress would make it difficult to do the next set of maneuvers. Tretod leaned over the edge and offered a hand, Atmi gladly accepted and when Tretod had a firm grip, he began to lift the woman up with only his right hand. Tretod was, after all, short, not weak.

After Atmi was safely atop the balcony, Tretod turned his attention to a new danger. Four guards were climbing the winding stairs that led to the balcony. As they reached the top of the stairs, Tretod's gaze shifted to a thick velvet curtain that was hanging above the arched entrance to the balcony. Tretod's adept eyes easily found the rope that, in connection with a pulley system, held the velvet curtain suspended above the archway.

When the guards entered the room, Tretod quickly drew a dagger from its sheath and threw it with astonishing accuracy at the rope. The dagger hit its mark cleanly severing the rope and dropping the curtain on the foursome. The curtain was thick and heavy; it easily knocked the guards down and kept them down as well. But even as he relished his small victory, he heard the bang of military boots against stone.

One of the guard's swords was lying across his arm, the hilt pointed into the air, the blade reaching down to the ground. Atmi swiftly made her way over to the fallen soldier. When she reached him, she stamped down on the hilt of the sword with her left foot. The sword began its journey through the air turning over and over, and when it came down, Atmi caught the hilt and readied herself for battle.

As the second wave of guards hit, Tretod indicated to the flight of stairs across the room that eventually curved out of sight and asked, "Where do those stairs lead to?"

"The roof," Atmi answered as the first of her lover's guards came through the archway.

The first crimson soldier rushed Atmi, swinging his sword out in front of him. The young woman easily ducked under this strike and pushed her own weapon through the boy's gut. The next man swung his slim sword down in an arching motion that Atmi easily blocked, but she let the boy's momentum bring both weapons down as she stealthily side stepped and pulled her weapon away from his. She sliced his thigh, then the tendons in the back of his knee and he fell yelping the the concrete.

While Atmi was busy keeping the soldiers off of him, Tretod had been preparing for their inevitable escape. He had tied his long rope to his grappling hook, the thief's foremost tool. Now he was attempting to grapple one of the thick oak ceiling beams. His plan was to swing safely to the stairs leading to the roof, then a bit of roof hopping would be in order.

When the grapple was firmly set into one of the beams he said to the beautiful young woman defending him, "Come my fair maiden, time for our departure."

Atmi made her way hurriedly over to Tretod and joined him on the wide rail, still fending off her former lover's troops. Tretod asked if she was ready and the young noble answered in the affirmative. She wrapped her arms tightly around our hero and Tretod pushed off. The couple swung across the dance floor over the heads of Dukes and High Priests and Generals. Then they rose back into the air and landed safely on the rail of the staircase. Both of them teetered for an instant before their agile bodies found purchase.

Atmi slew a few more guards and pushed still more back, then she followed the speedy thief up the long staircase to the roof. He led her to the ledge and asked, "Can you make it?"

"Not in this prison," she answered indicating the intricate dress she was wrapped in.

"Well, then we'll just have to cut your gown down a little," Tretod said, retrieving another knife from his safeguarded inner cloak. He then carefully cut along the waist of Atmi's dress and in one swift motion, stripped it off. She was now standing in her stockings and under panties.

Tretod turned his head and said, "Forgive me, my lady, I'm ashamed. But it is the only way to ensure us a chance at escaping your lover and his hounds."

"Please do not feel ashamed, my good sir. I think you are brilliant, no other man would have thought to do that. And I know that you have only done this to save me, not to see me in my unmentionables," Atmi said turning his head with her hands on his cheeks. She then leaned forward and kissed him gently on the lips. Then with a child-like sparkle in her eyes she said, "Now, my brave savior, we shall escape into the night together."

Then, hand-in-hand, Atmi Bonhart and Tretod Grihog leapt off the edge of the building and for a brief moment they were soaring through the air like falcons, then they softly touched down on the roof top of a restaurant a bare four feet away. When they landed the heels on Atmi's glass slippers broke and she pulled them both off, then together they ran off. The pair ran across the tops of buildings, leaping when necessary, but always a building ahead of the soldiers.

They were lucky that Bonhart Plaza was a rather large area and there were many building all in row. But eventually, as it always does, their luck ran out, and they came to the place where Mocking Bird Avenue met the famous plaza. Behind our two heroes the guards were growing ever closer.

Then in the form of a pair of horses pulling a cart full of hay traveling down Mocking Bird Avenue, luck came back to Atmi and Tretod. As soon as he saw the cart he made up his mind.

Tretod pointed at it and said, "There is our escort away from our antagonists."

When Tretod looked into Atmi's eyes he saw that she understood what he meant. They tightened their grips on each other's hands, and when the cart was directly under them, they leapt into the air. They fell freely through the sky, then in a loud commotion they crashed into the hay that was many feet tall. Above them, the guards were shouting threats of death, but Atmi and her new found friend and savior managed only to lie back and laugh at their small victory.

The driver of the cart heard their outburst and said, "What are you doing in there?"

"I am sorry, my good man," Tretod said, "But our only hope of escape from a force that outnumbered us twenty to one was to take the plunge from the warehouse above into your cart. If you take us to our destination, I will gladly give you five silver pieces."

"What is your destination, lad?" he asked.

"Just turn at the next corner and travel north until again I tell you to turn, then we will be there," Tretod said handing the man a pair of tarnished silver coins.

The man accepted and guided his mares down the path our young hero had just described and a short while later they were turning again and heading down a narrow street to an even narrower canal. It was the oldest canal in Thief's Paradise. The East Side Canal it was called and now because of newer and better canal's it was sorely out of use.

The driver stopped the cart, accepted three more coins, and allowed the pair of adventurers to step down. He took one look at Atmi, shook his head, muttered something to himself and guided the horses back to the narrow street and their original destination.

Tretod wrapped his long overcoat around Atmi's slender figure, then strode over to a heap of tree branches and tattered bushes. He tore the brush away to reveal a small wooden boat, a pair of oars, and a small lantern. He pushed the boat into the water, then he hung the lantern on a hook that was attached to the curved backside of the boat and lit it with a match from his pocket.

He then lifted Atmi into his arms and carried her to the boat. He gently set her down and sat on the narrow rowers bench parallel to Atmi. He sat facing her as he rowed and guided the boat down the canal toward the underside of a bridge.

"What manner of men were we running from tonight?" Tretod asked

"Those of the man whom I was promised to, long before I could even talk. The heir to the position of governor of your Thief's Paradise, Shalach Nuoch. It became my duty to marry this despicable person because I was my father's last born daughter. My eldest sister married a nephew of the king himself, my second eldest sister married another Duke's son, but I was destined to marry a lowly governor's son," Atmi explained.

"And now, destiny has sent me to intercept that future. Tell me lady, would you rather be with a corrupt governor, or a petty thief?"

"Is that what you do, my savior, are you a thief?"

"Surely you have heard of the mysterious new thieving tandem, the Brain and the Brawn. Well, I am the brain and my friend and loyal bodyguard, Selgguns, is the brawn. Perhaps you could join us and be the Beauty," Tretod said, ever the flirt.

"I think that I would like to join you and your friend very much. I have always enjoyed a change in my lifestyle, and being a thief is something I have not yet tried. So, my savior, I thank you for your offer and I gladly accept," Atmi said.

"Well then, Beauty, with the formal part over let's get to the important conversation. My first question has to be, am I your type?"

"All my life I have been very selective, or at least as selective as I could be, about my choice of men. Usually I fall for the tall, dark type with an attitude, but you have offset my judging curriculum. You are definitely handsome, a little smaller than my normal choice, but there is something else about you. You are daring, cocky, confident, strong, and funny; you are all of those and more, in one compact form. So, to answer your question, yes, you are very much my type," Atmi explained carefully.

"Well, you have just made my day, and I thank you. Are there questions you have of me?"

"Yes, a few," Atmi said, "For example: You already know about my family, what about yours?"

"I never knew my mother or my father. I have been told that after they died I was raised first by my grandmother. She died when I was five and I became a homeless street rat. That is until Myet found me, he was a thief and he taught me a few tricks, but I was a natural and did not need much tutoring. At the age of ten I became homeless once again when the Royal Militia captured and jailed Myet, until I too was caught stealing some fruit and sent to an orphanage. From there I was sent to the Royal Training Facility, until I disobeyed an order and saved Selgguns. He in return saved me and now we are thieving right here in Thief's Paradise. So, my lady, to answer your question, Selgguns is my only family, but I hope someday I can say the same about you."

"You and your Katisun are the first free-lance thieves in Thief's Paradise in nearly thirty years. Are you not afraid of the Federation of Qutillrean Thieves?"

"We're not. The Federation is not as adept as they would have everyone believe, we have not yet been caught. Also, the Federation has to pay the governor a third of what they make, their leader gets a third and the rest is distributed by rank. By working free-lance we get to keep all we earn," Tretod answered.

As Tretod was answering the question, he was also rowing the small boat under the Tsetaerg Toll Bridge. He continued to row a few yards more until he come the cylindrical tunnel that trailed off to the right. He guided the rowboat down this tunnel until they came to a small man-made bay. At the center of this bay, there was a small concrete island with only a locked manhole cover on it.

Tretod rowed the boat to the island then tied the boat securely to a small dock, and hopped out. He helped the Duke's beautiful young daughter out the boat, then he knelt down to unlock the well-guarded manhole.

After a short while, all the locks had been unlocked and the all booby traps had been dealt with. Tretod now carefully lifted the massive iron gate to his palace on its double hinges and gently laid it back against the cold stone. After the door was open, he fished around in the darkness of the tunnel leading down beneath the waters of the canal with his grappling hook for the wooden ladder that would take them down. He securely latched the ladder in place and helped Atmi into the manhole, he then took up the lantern and followed, closing the cover behind himself.

When he reached the bottom of the incredibly long tunnel he found Atmi waiting for him with an amazed look on the beautiful features of her face. He took her hand and led her to the room closest to the entrance on the left.

He opened the door and quietly said, "This is where we sleep."

Atmi stared with the same amazed face at the room. It was magnificent, the floors were carpeted with overlapping rugs that were so thick she sank to her ankles when she took her first step into the room. Half the room was littered with pillows of all shapes, sizes, and fabrics. On the largest pillow, in the middle of the large room was a huge Katisun sleeping next to an enormous battle-axe.

"You may sleep where ever you please, we always do. I will get you a blanket," the gracious king of the castle said. He left for a moment and when he returned he found that Atmi had removed her dresses top and stockings. She was lying seductively on a pillow of dark purple satin. Tretod put the blanket of thick and soft Angora onto her near-naked body and tucked it around her until he was sure she was comfortable. He then gently kissed her on her lips and said, "I sleep above. Call if you need anything at all."

And then, before Atmi could say a word he snatched up the lantern and began jogging toward a massive pile of pillows in the far right hand corner. When he reached the mound of pillows he climbed them in a single hop and then used his momentum to throw himself up to a low beam. He took hold of the beam with his unoccupied hand and began swinging himself around until he had enough momentum to swing himself up to the next beam. He continued to do this until he came to a beam that was wide enough for five Katisun to walk on, side by side. From this beam he took his trusted grappling hook and tossed it up to a beam twice again as large as the one he was standing on. Then with one hand he pulled himself up to what he considered his only private place in his palace.

On this beam he had his own pillows, clothes, and blankets. He stripped out of his moccasins and shirt and sat down on a pillow. He took a flask of solid gold from his pants pocket, opened it and took a swig of ale. Then be blew out the flame in the lantern and in the darkness said to himself, "Nice girl."

4: The Reluctant Trio

And as the young hero drops to the ground below their story picks up, with that fateful first meeting of Atmi and Selgguns.

He fell a few feet then landed in a crouched position between Selgguns and Atmi. He straightened himself and said, "Calm down my friend. What seems to be the problem?"

Selgguns let out a series of growls, roars, and purrs that was the Katisun language.

"This is Atmi Bonhart. We met last night when I helped her escape her corrupt husband to be," Tretod said, then in a fainter voice, "Then I asked her to join us in thieving."

Selgguns screamed in an ear piercing tone as if questioning Tretod's sanity.

"Just trust me friend, I think everything will work out in the end. You should get to know her, she is not at all like most nobles we have had the misfortune to meet," Tretod begged.

The Katisun growled reluctantly as if in approval, yet his undertone was one that sound strangely like a warning.

Tretod let out a sigh of relief, then turned to Atmi and flashed a half smile. He said, "I think he agrees," then noticing the same attire she had been clothed in the night before he said, "We will have to get you some clothes. You can wear some of mine to shop for more suitable ones in if you wish."

"I have no mo..." she began to say before she was interrupted.

"On me, of course."

"Thank you," Atmi said graciously, a hint of surprise in her voice.

"Breakfast," Tretod muttered, then he went off in search of it.

After the trio had eaten and had been clothed properly, Tretod Grihog, Selgguns of Semaj, and Atmi Bonhart set out for a busy day in the streets above. Atmi in heavy wool shirt and tan pants of the roughest material she had ever felt against her legs; the clothes fit nearly perfectly and she was grateful for Tretod's small stature. Tretod and Selgguns set out for the Gray Dawn Tavern, their official place of business, and Atmi set out for a tailor's shop where she would buy a wardrobe with the emeralds and rubies Tretod had given her.

When Tretod and Selgguns entered the Gray Dawn from a alley door that had the imprint of Selgguns head above it, and they found it nearly empty except for the rare drunk and even rarer soldier. They ordered a jug of wine and sat down at their private table in the far left corner of the filthy cantina.

The Gray Dawn was one of the worst establishments in Thief's Paradise, in all of Qutillre, but the wine and ale was decent and it suited Tretod and Selgguns perfectly. It was small, low profile and, unlike most of section sixteen's taverns; it was not a meeting place for Federation thieves. Of course, the pair was freelance and needed advertisement, so the owner of the Gray Dawn spread word of them to the right people. They were his best customers. This day the Brain wagered as he and his massive friend began their first jug, would be slow like most others.

He was wrong. Around noon, a strange old man dressed in crimson and blue robes, his face was hidden by golden silk, above his head there was a flat hat that seemed to be floating, and on his feet were a pair of strange woven sandals. He surveyed the room with his deep black eyes then, when they found Tretod and Selgguns, he stopped searching and began walking, or rather gliding toward the pair of thieves.

He took a chair from another table and set it between the two thieves. He silently studied them for a moment, then said, "You are Tretod Grihog and you are Selgguns of Semaj, correct? I am Ghy'tor, I have a job for you."

"How can we be of service, sir?" Tretod said.

"Let me do the speaking lad," he said, "You are going to get an urn for me. It contains the ashes of a master wizard and it is a powerful relic. It was taken from my warehouse while I was away on travels. If I do not get this relic back my nephew will get it to use in our power struggle."

Tretod wanted to be mad at this man for the way he was treating two of the cities greatest thieves, but he found himself unable to say no to the man. He could not even bring himself to ask about payment.

"Do not worry yourselves about payment, when you succeed you will be in my favor, and I have these jewels now and more later to sedate your taste for money. Meet me at this address tonight at dusk," Ghy'tor said giving Tretod a pouch of jewels and a card with an address on it.

Then, without a word, he stood up, nodded briefly and glided back to the entrance. On his way he passed Atmi, still dressed in Tretod's clothing, he nodded to her, then continued on. Atmi came to the table and occupied the seat the old wizard had just vacated.

Atmi sat down and inquired, "Who was the old man?"

"Our first customer as a trio," answered Tretod slowly.

It was noon so they ate at the Gray Dawn, then after lunch they went back to the massive home of the two thieves to prepare for the evening events.

When they got back Tretod gave Atmi the daylight tour of his palace, showing her the storeroom, fancy ballroom, comfortable living area, and the grand dining room. Tretod explained on the way it had used to be the warehouse and penthouse of a great thief named Wereuy and that most of it had not been explored by himself or his massive friend.

While in the storeroom Atmi had found a magnificent sword that she knew she had to have. It's blade was a bare inch and a half thick, but long and astonishingly sharp. It had a wonderful maze of gold wiring that formed the hand guard and a single strand of the gold string that formed the knuckle guard. She gathered it and its scabbard of silver and attached it to the leather belt she had purchased on that morning.

After the tour, while Tretod and Selgguns were making sure that everything was set, Atmi began a mock sword fight with the air. Both men stopped going over their plan and began watching the young woman with the sword. At the end of her workout the beautiful woman had barely broken a sweat and was staring at her blade.

Selgguns said something in a few low growls.

"He says that he is sorry about this morning and that you are worthy of the position I offered you." Tretod translated then added, "And I say that you are the best swordswoman that I have ever seen,"

"Thank you," Atmi answered, "My sisters never let me do 'girl things' with them so my cousin, Yuoch, and I spent a lot of time together doing 'boy things'."

After that display, Atmi took a long bath while the young pair waited for dusk, relaxing the best they could. Unlike the hours before most of their heists, Tretod knew nothing of the target building so he couldn't worry about some petty detail, this only made him more nervous.

Atmi finally emerged from the bath only a few moments before they left. She was clothed in majestic attire: tight, black leather pants, a straight sleeved white silk shirt, tough black boots, and a cloak of dark purple satin. Tretod stood, staring, but a slap from Selgguns woke him from his trance and they set out for the address on the card.

They reached the alleyway only a few moments before dusk and found Ghy'tor already there and waiting. After they greeted each other, the wizard explained the layout of Touile's townhouse. After the explanation, Ghy'tor disappeared and the trio waited for it to become darker before they made their move.

At midnight they started for the house. They circled around to the back and, using Tretod's trusty grapple, they climbed to the roof and made for the sun window located there. They peered through the glass the best they could, then Tretod began to pick the multiple locks. When Tretod had picked all the locks he tied a rope around the slim waist of Atmi and he lowered her into the room. She searched silently for the magical urn and when she found it she tugged on the rope twice. Tretod pulled her back up and they were off. Before they had taken even five paces, they were stopped in their tracks by the appearance of five minotaurs and one man.

"I think you have an urn I want," the man said.

"I think that you shall not have it," Tretod said, turning and running toward the opposite edge.

Selgguns and Atmi followed him over the edge and all three landed on top of a tent of the night bazaar. They were thrown off and they landed in the horde of consumers.

At that moment, Ghy'tor returned and said, "There is a calvary coming; you can handle six, but not six dozen. You must evacuate this market," then to the pale man leading the attack party, "You will not have the power of the urn, my nephew."

Tretod led the shoppers away from the market, as Selgguns and Atmi held the minotaurs and the man off. Selgguns found himself facing five bull-men while Atmi alone faced the human antagonist. As Atmi battled the man in the black robes, whom she now presumed was Ghy'tor's nephew, she could have sworn the Katisun fighting behind her was laughing. When the man reached her, he simply stood with a self-assured smirk on his face. Atmi raised her sword and charged, but as she reached the man, 7her sword appeared to melt and re-form into a serpent. She threw the weapon down, shrieking. As she did this the man, apparently a wizard of some sorts, pulled a small rounded rock from his pouch and the held it in his folded hands for a moment. Then he threw it at Atmi, who was paralyzed where she stood. But, before the stone could hit her, a dagger from the hands of Tretod intercepted it. When the dagger hit the stone, both items blazed up and disintegrated into nothingness.

Atmi took this moment to retrieve her weapon; she charged again. This time the mage pulled a plain, short sword from a scabbard attached to his belt. He parried Atmi's first downward thrust, but the blow knocked him to his knees, right where Atmi wanted him. She began hacking away at the poor fellow, who always seemed to just barely block the strikes.

While this was going on, Selgguns was easily handling the minotaurs by himself. He seem to he toying with them, letting them think he was slipping, only to spring up and attack ferociously. And, at the same time Tretod was clearing the bazaar as quickly as he possibly could, making sure everyone was several blocks away before returning to the battle site.

As soon as Tretod had returned, the full attacking force suddenly appeared. He saw they had no chance so he shouted, "Retreat!"

"There is a way I can help, but you'll have to give up the rest of your price," Ghy'tor said.

Tretod looked towards the people, then at Atmi and Selgguns, then the attackers. He nodded.

Ghy'tor placed all of the jewels into his double cupped hands and began chanting a spell. At the climax of the chant he threw the jewels into the air and they poured down on the attackers. Each of the magical jewels exploded into dust. As the dust fell on the antagonists, they began to turn to solid stone. Only Ghy'tor's nephew escaped into the foggy night.

"You did the right thing. And, believe me being in my favor is better than all the jewels in the world," Ghy'tor said, then he vanished.

Then, together, the trio began to trod home. As it turned out, the night was not a complete waste. Atmi had grabbed a few golden statues and an ivory box filled with diamonds. Then there was the old wizards last words, they were in his favor, what ever that meant, Tretod had a weird feeling that it meant they were his servants.

That night brought about the first adventure of the group that eventually received the strange nick-name "the reluctant trio". A storyteller gave them the name some years later, while they were still young and it stuck with them for life. As these tales were told, people always began to wonder how three lucky people like Tretod Grihog, Atmi Bonhart, and Selgguns of Semaj could always be so unlucky when it mattered the most. Finally, hundreds of years after all three were dead, or living on another plane of the universe, a philosopher summed their whole experience in Thief's Paradise by saying, "They must have done something to make the gods really mad."

The end? Only time will tell.

Copyright 1997 by Joe Gensweider You can e-mail Joe at:

About the Author in his own words: "My name is Joe Gensweider, I'm fifteen years old and I live in Yates Center, a very small town in southeast Kansas. I became interested in writing in the second grade and I've been doing it ever since. This is my first fantasy work to be published. I became interested in Sci-Fi and fantasy through Star Wars and I've grown as a reader and a writer ever since. Right now I'm working on several short story series and two novels. I live with my mom and editor, Sharon Suske, my sister, Amy, and three cats and a dog. On weekends, my sister and I visit our dad and lawyer, Leo Gensweider."

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