Golden Hope

They waited in the darkness of the abandoned house, holding hands as they stared out of their little pool of light at the dusty walls of the secret room. Far below them, they heard the sounds of their strange visitors as they made their way from the mansion, the solid metal clanking of the big half-orc’s armour almost drowned out the incessant chatter of the gnome’s incomprehensible words.

“I don’t want to go back down there.” Sigra said, her eyes wide, and her hand cold in Lothar’s grasp. “It’s not a good place.” He smiled reassuringly at her, tucking an errant strand of hair behind her scarred ear.

“I’ll go and check it out. If they’re telling the truth…” His voice drifted off as the possibilities of what that much money could get them filled his mind.

They were a long way from the muddy hovel they’d been living in in the Sprawl and they had thought that here, squatting in this abandoned manor, their luck had been changing. They’d been here for a few weeks now, scavenging food from the magically restocking cellar, washing their clothes in the stream running through the woods behind the house. To think that they’d spent that first night so close to a small fortune was even more of an indication.

For people like them, clearly descendants of elves from the north who had lain with humans, life was hard. The Sprawl was a dirty, poor place where half-breeds were shunned as signs of ill omen, harbingers of disaster. No-one knew why, but everyone knew to cross the street when they saw a half-elf, or to look the other way when nearing a half-orc. It was why they’d shaved their ears, cutting the points from them, and grown out their lice-ridden hair to cover the tell-tale scars. They were fortunate and favoured their human ancestry, and their quality of life had improved after the wounds had healed, but they still hadn’t felt like they belonged. With this money, if it existed, they could find somewhere they did belong, even if it was just a small house on the Bank.

“Please be safe.” She whispered, meeting his eyes. He nodded and smiled again.

“Of course.” He squeezed her hand, “I’m just going downstairs.” He leaned forwards and kissed her gently. “Wait here, my love.” She smiled slightly and drew the blanket on their bed around her narrow shoulders.

“I’ll always wait for you.” He rested a hand briefly on her cheek, his thumb rubbing the scar from where she had been attacked by a mob of drunken louts a few years previously. She closed her eyes and leaned into the gesture.

“I’ll be back soon.” He stood, his knees stiff from the cool loft air, and picked his jacket up from the chair it had been resting on. His lungs, scarred from the smoke he’d inhaled as a child when his parents’ house burned down, pulled tight in the cold winter air as he opened the secret door and stepped out in the dusty loft space of the mansion.

Towers of boxes and piles of fabrics filled the space, a dim illumination coming from a series of circular windows set into the eaves gave him enough light to see easily by. He followed their well-worn path through the assorted mass of forgotten possessions and lost memories, his feet carrying him unconsciously towards the stairs leading down to the servants’ quarters.

The book shelves in the common area showed signs of being searched, the few remaining volumes laying on their sides where they had fallen after being disturbed. He paused, straining to hear anything in the house, his eyes drifting over the rest of the scene. Chairs waited patiently under tables only now being covered by a thin layer of dust, and a small collection of well-used games waited in one corner next to a small box with a label he couldn’t read.

When he heard nothing, he headed downstairs, his feet echoing slightly on the worn stone steps at the back of the house. The kitchen was as it always was, save for a small pile of leaves next to the slightly open door. He frowned at them. They looked like the leaves from the maze at the back of the house and he glanced out a nearby window. A large hole had been forced through the outer wall of the maze and twigs dotted the lawn in a line leading to the kitchen door.

He shook his head, focussing on the task at hand. He descended once more, past the cupboards which magically filled with food every morning and into the cool darkness of the cellar proper. The stone slabs under the worn soles of his shoes sent a chill into his feet as he walked to the shelves he knew lead into the secret rooms under the house. He reached out a trembling hand and pushed the right bottle, watching as the door opened into a small stone-walled room bare of any decoration.

He crossed to the other wall, his stomach churning and pressed the stone he’d been told about by the cat-person. There was a muted click and a section of the wall swung outwards. He glanced at the floor where they’d spent their first night in the house, and then stepped through.

Runes hovered below the surface of the stone, glowing with a pure golden light. He pressed a seemingly random panel in the wall opposite, still following the cat-person’s instructions, and pushed against the wall next to it.

The room beyond this secret door was made of the same dressed stone as everywhere else, but the stones were blackened and scorched in places, as if struck by lightning. His eyes were caught by the two large chests at the far end of the room, past the empty stand surrounded by scorch marks and carved with runes in a strangely elegant script. Holding his breath, he approached the two finely carved boxes.

The clasps were cool to the touch as he threw them both open, his eyes drinking in the golden coins within. For the first time in a while, he had a hope that they could make the future they wanted, that their life could be theirs for the owning.

Now, all they had to do was figure out a way to carry that much money out.

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