Herein is the Most Prestigious and un-Illuminated Roster of the Thieves Guild of the Nameless City, Jewel of the North, The City Which Seldom Sleeps And Which Always Regrets It When It Does.
I. A Note:
The unwise or uninitiated might wonder why this roster exists–and why a significant portion thereof is occupied by something extraneous, to wit, these words of Introduction and Explanation.
Such a consideration showcases both the ignorance and the short-sightedness of both the common Thief and the entire breed of Thief-Takers.
If one eschews documentation, then knowledge resides only in the skulls of the elect. This is an excessively thoughtless place to keep a commodity of such peerless value; trust one who is an expert on the safekeeping (and un-safekeeping) of priceless things.
Why would we put ourselves in a position wherein we lose track of our membership through, say, some sort of stepladder mishap? Any single person can die or be killed; any small group which holds knowledge might find that not all knowledge is remembered perfectly. And when one commits large amounts of information to one’s cranium, one creates motivation for others to torture the body in order to get at the head.
While none of the Elders of the Guild are easily susceptible to either capture or persuasion through pain, neither do we consider it prudent to increase the likelihood of either. While it would be foolish in the extreme for anyone to attempt the kidnap a high-ranking Thieflord, one thing that’s well-known in our profession is the extraordinary and near-universal profusion of fools. Besides, if one is to be captured and tortured for one’s knowledge, let it be in search of the long-vanished Gems of Zemzar; not verification that some second-class purse-purloiner has paid her yearly dues.
Secondly, there is a certain matter of professional pride. Oh, there are advantages in outsiders seeing us as ignorant; and there’s often advantage in being overlooked.
But Elders in the Guild move in more rarified circles. While we are not, contrary to rumor, known by name or identity to the civil government, they are, indeed, aware of our existence. If we need to weigh in on a matter of civic urgency, we might not nip by the Governor’s office for a drop a sherry and a natter. But the stiletto which flies through the predawn murk won’t simply be expertly aimed; it will bear a formal and properly-crafted letter, which lays out, in precise and tightly-reasoned logic, important thoughts on the social, political, and economic ramifications of a given action, as well as a firm reminder that we possess many, many more daggers.
The remembrance that they are soft and we are silent hurlers of very sharp blades is an impactful argument. But beyond it, at least some of the higher levels of government recognize that this force is wielded, not by upstarts or churls, but rather by a professional organization not entirely unlike their own. Oh, our successions sometimes involve a bit more hemlock than their own; but only a touch. The rungs on the steps to civil power are slick with blood. In that regard, they are closer to understanding us than they might admit; and knowing that somewhere, we keep respectable records, just like any other Guildmasters, is reassuring, even if other Guilds keep their books on display in fine public meeting rooms, and we keep ours in places best left unmentioned and unconsidered by those who find that continued existence holds at least some degree of appeal.
The third point of note ought to be of extreme interest to anyone interested in surviving the remainder of whichever week this might happen to be. That category likely doesn’t include you; if you’re casting unauthorized eyes upon this document, you’re already putting forth a request for trouble on a level which will dwarf anything you’ve previously known as an inconvenience, a pain, or a threat to life and limb.
AND, even worse, you’ve probably dismissed all these words as prattlings, and gone straight to the List.
So much the worse, my friend, for you.
Should you be an interloper who might (potentially) have one-tenth of a lick of sense, such that you’re taking me seriously here, I’ll gift you with another warning:
II. Some of these listings are false.
Not a little false, but horrifically, unbelievably, “You don’t know who I am, and you’ve just made the biggest mistake of what was your life!” false.
Some refer to nonexistent entities. Some are the solidest of citizens, and some are nothing more and nothing less than flesh-and-blood traps: lycanthropes, enchantresses, mis-summoned daemons, unspent shadows. I realize that some of this information lies within the list itself; but I wouldn’t trust it, were I you. Certain innocuous words would indicate, to one who knows the code, certain knowledge essential to making and surviving contact with these entities.
Cracking the code would involve at least a little error; no codebreak’s ever without flaw; and even a very small miscalculation will send you walking directly up the path of some abode whose inhabitant is made primarily of hunger and malice.
Some say that these things are done to test aspirants to the circlet of hot bronze which graces the head of the Thief King.
Some, perhaps a bit wiser, say that it exists precisely to eliminate those selfsame pretenders.
I say that I don’t care who you are; turn aside now. Read, if you must; but ct not on what you see. This City is not a large place, and we’re running out of room for unmarked graves.
III. In Conclusion:
You might wonder: Why have a Thieves Guild at all? It does seem to be against the inherently lawless nature of the profession.
The young say that it is a plot to keep the bright, adventurous minds of the youth from achieving the recognition and independence which might otherwise be theirs; no matter how talented each might be, they are all forced to work a certain number of years, and complete certain schooling and tests of skill, before they can ascend. This being a gathering of ill-doers, such a theory would not be implausible, except the young say that about everything.
This week, for example, I have heard them express these selfsame sentiments about the governance of the City, the increase in the price of minotaur-fight arena tickets, and the recent change in available flavors of jellied snail; apparently, their favorite was discontinued, and this must be a conspiracy.
Older thieves call us an institution, the very backbone of civilization, and they believe we ought to divert more of our funds towards erecting monuments unto the legendary purse-snatchers of the past. I have pointed out that this action would lead to the City posthumously declaring said persons to be criminals and setting fire to their gravesites, but reason is, I fear, nearly as lacking within our ranks as among the ordinary citizenry.
The simple truth of our existence is that the Thiefly trade remains, as I touched on before, an art and craft whose skills require years of dedicated work and study. We, as a guild, provide furtherance for that worthy and dangerous endeavor.
Now, Thieves Guilds are strange and secretive gatherings of highly immoral lawbreakers. They are far more abhorrent than you might imagine.
Therefore, should you ever hear the ludicrous notion that we are merely a cover for something deeply more sinister, something compared to which our foulest machinations are as of a breath of the purest air of the brightest dawn—why, laugh out loud and correct that ignorant and idiotic fool.
And then bring them to me.
Because I would hardly want an individual to keep expressing such a silly view, eh? How ridiculous that person would feel.
So bring them to me.
(The document is unsigned, but a dozen experts in graphology were unanimous in saying it looked remarkably similar to that of “No-one! No one at all!” and that, furthermore, the elegant script indicated “A very, very nice person who is well-known to be very merciful and understanding and also very nice.”)
(It’s also worth noting that the “Roster” is over one thousand names long and includes every citizen in the City.)
(Investigation at the very highest levels has concluded that the entire document is a forgery. And, indeed, those who initially discovered it have all felt so entirely embarrassed by how gullible they were that they have all gone to the rather extreme measure of apparently leaving the City forever in the middle of the night, without even a single message to the rest of the members of the Constabulary.)
(One maverick suggested that someone wanted the document to be found, which would account for why copies of it were left at the scenes of several high-profile and completely unsolved crimes.
But some people see conspiracies everywhere, poor things.)
This story. This damn story.
I wrote most of it many, many moons ago. It was originally crowdsourced, and it was just going to be a bit of puff, where I penned a few couplets about various characters people provided.
But then the thing decided that it might not be a paragraph or two of introduction, a small writing exercise where I took a few words of character description and made micro-poems. Eventually, it decided it was its own story.
…when I find out whoever made stories sentient, I will…I don’t know what I’ll do, but it may not be pleasant.
At any rate, the problem then was that I didn’t want to take too many liberties with other peoples’ characters. And also, I had figured out who was really in the Roster.
So I’ll let the story above be its own story. Here are the people who contributed the original characters, and here (in order of appearance) are the bits of rhyme I wrote.
Panda’s vision’s not twenty-twenty
Got secret documents? Send ’em plenty.
They’ll be kept safe, in case you need ’em
And Panda surely cannot read ’em.
Vampire Queen Lillith Faullan
Does evil from dusk ’til Dawn
(Technically, she stops a minute before
Lest her sun-blasted ashes litter the floor.)
Weasel is an urban Druid,
Illegal herbs, most freshly brewed
Competitor’s plants oft spring alive
(Creating the world’s most killer endives.)
Stella Love, that scroundrel skilled
Who lives a life quite boredom-filled
She can steal anything, from ships to spices
(If not in the midst of existential crisis)
Lugh ap Mathonwy: polymath
Stay on his good side; avoid his wrath.
He’s very good, when so inclined,
Otherwise? Diabolical mastermind.
Travelling rogue, Elddewt,
Seems he wouldn’t hurt a newt,
Sitting and knitting, but take note:
Those spiked needles are knitting a garrote.
Quiet and shy is Xand,
Never revealing what he’s planned
His spirit’s in recovery
He sees much, and sells what he sees.
Valkyrich Dominov, Orcish monk;
In ducks are his affections sunk
If he’s not weird enough yet, he’ll keep trying
Mysterious shall be his manner of dying.
My name is Jeff Mach (“Dark Lord” is optional) and I build communities, put on events, and make stories come into being. I also tweet a lot over @darklordjournal.