A hand, clad in black leather, crept out of the alley and gripped the corner of the building. A head followed, hooded in the same, with a mask over the lower half of his face. The pale skin around Taffer’s eyes had been painted with boot black, to keep the light from revealing him when he didn’t wish to be seen. He admired the walls across the street, ten meters high, and looked up and down the street for passersby.
None were forthcoming, and so he ran quickly across the street, his soft leather shoes making only the slightest whisper on the cobblestones. In the dark of the night, with the moon behind the clouds, he blended as one with the shadows. Had anyone observed him, they would be hard pressed to distinguish him from the darkness in which he wrapped himself. If he stood still, eyes closed, someone could walk within a hand’s breadth of touching him and not realize he was there.
He reached the bottom of the wall and put a hand into a pouch on his belt. The device he withdrew was a tiny, collapsible grappling hook, with the metal wrapped in leather to deaden any noise it might make. Along with it was a length of thin rope, a gift from a friend, that was enchanted to hold his weight. Taking one last look around, he spun the hook and tossed it up the wall, feeling it catch fast on the battlements. After an experimental tug, he made his way up with a swiftness that would make a lizard jealous.
At the top he took a quick look to be sure the guards were nowhere to be seen. Satisfied at their absence, he pulled himself up and over, replacing the hook and rope in his belt pouch. Keeping to the shadows, he stalked along the wall, looking for some means of reaching the ground. At last he came to a guard tower.
The masonry on the tower was crumbling, the blocks irregular. It looked like it had been built centuries ago, and there were plenty of hand and footholds he could use to make his way down. There were no guards in sight, but he still spared no time in getting to the ground and melting into the shade of the wall. As he was contemplating the best approach to the house, he heard footsteps coming towards him.
Taffer closed his eyes to keep the moon from reflecting off them, and waited for the guards to pass. As they did, he caught snatches of their conversation.
“So, did you hear? The master’s back in the city.”
“I thought he was out in the country on business.”
“He was, but the Council sent for him. Had a special mission for him, or some such.”
“What do they want him to do?”
“Who knows with these vampires? I just want to collect my pay and not end up on the menu myself.”
“Don’t we all? Is he here tonight?”
“I don’t think so, but you never can tell. These undead sneak about so much he could be right behind us and we wouldn’t know it…”
Their talk faded out, and Taffer thought, They know they work for a vampire? What in God’s name would possess a man to do such a thing?
He shook the thoughts out of his head. It wasn’t his responsibility to worry about why other men did what they did. His responsibility was taking their valuables. He’d leave the morality of it up to Father Eric when he went to Saint George’s Cathedral to brag about his take. Or ‘confession,’ as Father Eric called it.
Taffer bolted across the open yard, diving into the shadow of a tree near the house and again becoming one with the dark. Here there was a small balcony jutting out from the second story. He leapt and grabbed the intricate carvings on the bottom, hauling himself up to crouch on the ledge. Here was a door, leading into some kind of sitting room or library, from what he could see through the windows. The handle didn’t budge, so he reached into another pouch and retrieved his precious lock picks.
These were custom made, and the craftsmanship was of the best to be found in Kynesfort, possibly the entire country. They’d cost him a pretty penny, but had been worth every single ounce of gold. They slipped into the lock like fingers into a purse, and with a few deft motions he adjusted the tumblers and it clicked open. Replacing the picks in his pouch, he opened the door with a gentle touch, slipped inside, and closed it behind him.
The smell of old books hit him like a physical blow, and looking around he saw he was in a library, lit by sparse candles. Nobody else appeared to be in the room with him, and he moved with all the noise of a gentle breeze in a meadow. As he went he pinched out the candles, stuffing the sticks into a padded sack. They looked to be solid gold, and would sell for a fair bit. Inside the sack he’d placed strips of thick cloth to keep the metal valuables from jangling off one another.
He appropriated a plate and goblet as well, also of gold. I should’ve hit this place long ago, he thought. What he’d lifted already would be enough to feed him for a month, if not more, and he’d wager that there was more wealth just lying around. All it would take is some enterprising thief to liberate them and put them to good use.
Taffer froze as he heard something moving. A shuffling of feet, a slight moan. Anything but that, he thought. As he turned toward the noise, his breath hitched in his throat, and he melted back into the dark between two bookcases as he returned the sack to his belt. His instinct had been right.
Cringing as the smell hit him, he watched the thing stumble into the light of the fireplace. Ah, damn it. I knew this was looking too easy. Humans on the outside, undead on the inside. Brilliant. I should’ve seen this coming. I hate the undead, this last thought with a shudder of revulsion.
The thing’s skin was rotten, barely holding its organs in, and it was missing large patches of flesh. What looked like bite marks littered its torso, and half of its face was a naked skull, the flesh around it looking burned and torn. The sight made Taffer’s stomach turn, and he fought to keep his gorge down.
He’d hated the undead since he was a child. After leaving the orphanage for the Thieves’ Guild, whenever his “guardians” decided he should be punished, they’d put him in a cage and leave him in the company of a few zombies for a night. The cage itself had been designed so they could reach in, but not get to him if he sat in the exact center. If an arm or leg got a little too close to the sides, though…
Taffer had known several other children who’d gotten this punishment and hadn’t been as watchful, or lucky, as he’d been.
Ever since those days he’d had an abiding hatred for the undead, and tried to limit his exposure to them as much as possible. This meant that the job had just gotten a lot more dangerous, and disgusting. It also meant that he would have to be more careful than usual to not be seen.
There were many ways to make zombies, Taffer knew. The ones the Thieves’ Guild had locked up were garden variety, magically animated walking corpses.
The zombies made by vampires were another matter entirely. The vampire had to animate the corpse with a small portion of its consciousness, and it took intense concentration to keep the corpse walking. Older vampires could do this without much effort, and could control entire zombie armies. Taffer guessed that Vladimir would have thirty, maybe forty walking the halls of his mansion.
Taffer also knew that Vladimir would be able to see anything the zombies could. Their sight was rudimentary, barely functioning optic nerves held together by magical force and sheer willpower, but see they could, and Taffer would have to avoid them. Unless, of course, he wanted an angry vampire breathing down his neck.
(Part 1 of this story can be found here: https://steemit.com/fiction/@jimfear138/the-night-job-part-1)
(Part 3: https://steemit.com/fiction/@jimfear138/the-night-job-part-3)
(Part 4: https://steemit.com/fiction/@jimfear138/the-night-job-part-4)
(Part 5: https://steemit.com/fiction/@jimfear138/the-night-job-part-5)
If you enjoyed this story, you can find more of my work in the DimensionBucket Media anthology, Darkest of Dreams: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B073WPKMDC/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&tag=jimfear138-20&camp=1789&creative=9325&linkCode=as2&creativeASIN=B073WPKMDC&linkId=0ef22a21e890a33c5fc0a8711774d068