Tolamis was desperate. Desperate for a way to survive in a time when there was no way to survive. They kingdom of Chelsar was in a state of economic depression and most men who did not belong to a guild were losing their jobs—there wasn't enough jobs to go around and so a greater number of men were unemployed. More beggars flooded the streets, fights breaking out all over—caused by anger, frustration, fear.

Manris, the seat of power, was hit the hardest. The city was a festering wound in Chelsar, full of the scum of the kingdom—beggars, peasants, thieves, cutthroats, even a great supply of cheap whores. The city was synonymous with "filth" to everyone, including the citizens living there.

Until that morning, Tolamis had been lucky. He was of average height, almost a little short, and a build best fit for hiding behind the pole of a spear. He had been working in some distant relative's bakery, his hair still holding streaks of white flour. Under the flour his hair was a black tinged with red. His eyes were a deep emerald green, easily red for emotions—wet eyes barely holding in tears of frustration.

The relative was distant enough to care more about his own fortune than that of any relations to him. Tolamis had almost begged for the job—he was competent, but not properly trained. So he had been one of the first to go and now was part of Manris's worst scum—a useless body taking up space and consuming needed food.

Tolamis wouldn't have been so worried if it had only been himself to care for. But it wasn't. He had two other ravenous bellies to silence: a young boy, Tormar, and his wife, Conliri. Tormar, only a year old, was already a strong child—Tolamis knew very well that the child would be strong like his mother. Conliri was a strong woman, too: short and almost thick, she could easily lay the slight Tolamis flat on his back if it wasn't for his quickness of feet.

Oh, Goddess! Why must this world be so cruel?! And he knew what he had to do. The answer felt so obvious, yet a horror to even consider it. But what choice did he have? None…never… Goddess, I'm sorry…

He knew. Thievery had been the only reason he'd survived as a child. He had managed an honest living after his marriage, though. And it struck him as ironic that he'd have to revert back to thievery to have the necessary money and food for survival.

Tolamis bowed his head against the wind, fighting the tears of frustration that threatened to spill out of his eyes in a deluge. He refused to give up, even if not doing so meant turning into a common criminal like the rest of Manris. Maybe the best way to survive in a city of crooks was to join those crooks. They seemed to be the only ones making any money, and were quite successful at that.

And maybe he'd only have to become a criminal for a short while. Maybe he'd be lucky enough to put together enough money to leave Manris, and the kingdom of Chelsar, completely. Find a new life in another kingdom, one that was still successful and not full of the filth in Manris.

But dreams would have to wait for a different day—a day without the fear of poverty and death. And he wondered if that day would ever come. It didn't seem like it would even be reality. That in itself seemed like an impossible dream, not to mention the dreams of living happily—living at all was almost out of the question.

Standing up from the stone fountain edge, Tolamis pushed his hair back to keep stray locks from his face. No use continually brooding over what is yet to come. Why not simply get it over with now? part of his mind growled irritably. Another part was insisting that he wait for the concealment that darkness would provide.

Crimson light bathed his surroundings and he knew that he had spent almost the entire afternoon in his thoughts and misery. Darkness was close, but he needed to have a plan.

The impulse struck him hard. A wicked impulse but one that complimented the darkness growing within. Revenge was sweet, he had always felt.


Stillness engulfed the dark alley, creating a black passage with only glimmers of light reflecting in filthy puddles of some unknown liquid. Clumsy footsteps of attempted stealth echoed in the darkness.

Tolamis's heart beat frantically, nervousness threatening to destroy everything he had wished to complete. It had been years since he had performed his last act of thievery, and now he was unsure of whether or not he was up to the challenge. I can't back down now—it would be a coward's thing to go dragging myself home without a crumb of food for my family.

"But aren't I a coward?" he whispered, his voice barely heard by even himself.

He spotted the back door of Duncan's bakery. Since Duncan had seen fit to take away Tolamis's food, Tolamis reasoned it was Duncan who should provide the food for his new job. Besides, he still knew the way around the bakery as well as the habits of the workers there—he had had plenty of observation time. He'd never though that those days slaving away in the bakery would aid him later on, and definitely not in the manner he was about to use that information.

Tolamis pulled a small dagger from his pocket as he neared the door, slipping it in the gap between the door and its jamb. He knew that the door was secured with only a simple lock—the type of lock anyone, even with no real previous experience, could pick. His efforts were rewarded with a dull click and he slowly opened the door.

The interior of the bakery was just as dark as the alley outside—even darker due to the lack of moonlight. Leaving the door open to help create some light in the dim interior, Tolamis crept further in to get a better view of his surroundings—in darkness, things seemed alien and strange.

He heard a sound and his heart stopped. A candle was lit and a drowsy guard held a sword in his hand.

"Who's there?" the guard growled, irritation distinct in his tone.

Tolamis's mouth worked but no sound came out. He took unsteady steps backwards. Duncan must have hired a night guard. He doesn't trust his own employees enough to inform of this change. He failed to notice the irony of the thought and bolted out the door.

The guard followed, yelling and blowing a whistle.

Tolamis ran haphazardly down the road, water splashing in protest to his clumsy footsteps. He turned a sharp corner, dodging past a man striding down the road.

Shouts of anger pursued him as he ran, but they were far enough behind him that he felt he could escape. All hope and confidence drained away when three guards on their nightly round appeared in front of him.

Veering to the right, Tolamis crashed into a cart left on its side, falling over. He scrambled to his feet and attempted to run, but something slammed into his back, jarring him brutally. He fell forward onto his hand and knees, panting.

"What's going on here?" someone demanded. Tolamis turned his head—one of the guards he had come close to running into. Before he had a chance to try to run again, the man placed a spear on his back. "Stay there," he growled.

"Caught him breaking into the lace I was stationed at," another guard huffed—the guard who had been in the bakery.

"Attempted thievery, eh?" the guard pinning Tolamis down grunted. "You know that's what he was up to?"

"Well, sir, it's not exactly honest to sneak into the back room of a bakery," the other guard reply dryly.

Tolamis felt a sick recognition. The man whose spear was on his back was none other than the Master of the Guards, Galen. The man who could see him dead with a wave of a hand. He felt frustration welling up inside of him—frustration directed to himself for being such an utter fool.

The Master took his spear from Tolamis's back. "Stand up, but know that if you attempt so much as to look sideways I'll put this stick through you so fast you'll be dead before you can beg me not to kill you."

Tolamis stood up and, at Galen's command, turned around slowly. He looked the Master straight in the eyes, faltered, then looked down.

"Huh. Puny thing, aren't you, boy?" Galen commented. "What did you think you were doing?"

Tolamis pushed aside the resentment of being called "boy", but he didn't make a reply. Am I supposed to condemn myself? Never…

"Your silence speaks more than words… Just out of curiosity, why?" Galen asked.

Seeing no real reason to remain silent, Tolamis replied. "…My family."

"Tcha. Like every other idiot in this city—instead of getting a job to feed the mouths, you resort to thievery. Next it will be murder," the Master spat, contempt lacing his tone. "If you come quietly, we won't hurt you."

Tolamis nodded dumbly, mind racing. What are they going to do to me? Cut off my hand? Put me in a cell? Kill me? I can't protect my family like that! I can't. I have to get away!

"I'll let you take it from here, Commander. Get him to the castle and stick him in a cell.. I'll decide what to do with him later," Galen said. He turned and left.

"Come on, you," the guard from the bakery ordered. "Let's not have any more trouble."

Tolamis bowed his head a fraction, using the opportunity to glance around at his surroundings. Three guards total, two of which looked as interested in Tolamis as a dead dog would be in a cat. He could run right or left—left would be easier since there was an alley nearby in that direction. Close enough for him to run and possibly escape.

Before the guards could prod him into movement, Tolamis bolted. He dashed towards the darkness of the alley and kept running, feet noisily beating the stones. More angry shouts came from the guards.

Tolamis would have escape, and he knew it, if a crossbow bolt hadn't been fired. He felt the bolt dig itself into his lower right let. It went clean through, clattering to the ground a few feet off. But the pain was too harsh to run on and Tolamis collapsed with a scream. Goddess, it hurts!

The guards trotted up to him as he began to attempt to crawl to his feet. Some calm part of his conscious informed him that he'd now be very lucky to get away from this experience with both hand intact…

"You try something like that again and the next one will be somewhere much more important to survival," a tall guard, the Commander of a unit by the looks of his silver badge shaped like a star—and Tolamis could tell he meant it.

Not daring to move, Tolamis continued to half-sit, half-sprawl, on the cobbles of the alleyway. The pain in his leg was worse than anything he had felt—in all his years he had never faced an injury more serious than small cuts and bruises.

"Goddess, I hate guys like this," the third guard, a scruffy bearded man, grumbled.

"Makes you wonder if they understand the concept of an honest living," grumbled the guard from the bakery shop. "Come on, get up."

Tolamis, noting to himself the incredible stupidity of the comment, did not move in the slightest. His right leg was throbbing angrily and he had to fight the urge to inspect how much damage there was. He simply kept his hand firmly around the gash and watched the three guards.

The Commander lowered his crossbow and grunted. "He can't stand on that leg very well. Help him up."

The bearded guard, grumbling unhappily, grabbed Tolamis by the left arm and hefted him to his feet. "I've had worse wounds and been able to stand up after them."

"Must have been to your head," the Commander snapped. "Secure his hands."

The bakery guard moved in and, with the scruffy guard supporting Tolamis, wrenched Tolamis's hands behind the young man's back. Tolamis flinched at the new pain it caused, but the distraction helped some with the pain in his leg. The guard was none-too-gentle in tying Tolamis's hands together, the rope tight enough to cause pain.

"Let's go, I'm supposed to be off duty and home by now," the Commander ordered. "Keep a hold of him—and watch his leg so that he doesn't fall." He motioned with his head towards the North—Manris Castle.

The two guards, one per arm, started walking in the indicated direction. Tolamis was unprepared for the sudden movement and stumbled.

"Damn clumsy oaf," the bakery guard cursed.

Tolamis was unprepared for the kick. The guard, being on the right side, managed to hit the crossbow wound with his booted foot. If it weren't for the two guards holding him, he would have fallen to his knees. He gasped for air, vision white with pain.

The Commander barked something angrily, but Tolamis couldn't understand a single word of it—it was just noise echoing in his skull. His vision blurred further and he noticed, as if detached, that he had been dropped. Perfect, more bruises… he thought before he lost consciousness.


Upon waking up, Tolamis decided he would much rather have remained unconscious—at least then he had been oblivious to reality. He slowly recognized his surroundings as a cell—something he had never seen the interior of before, but it wasn't hard to know the small dark space was a cell. He was alone in his cell but, out of the bars on the front wall, he saw other prisoners in their own cells.

Tolamis flinched when his leg wound roared back to life. He pulled his breeches up to inspect the wound—a jagged wound, but the bleeding had stopped. A bruise was forming over the back half where the guard had kicked him. They didn't even bother to bandage it…

He tore away a strip of his shirt, wishing it were clean but having no real choice in the matter—bandage the would with it or let it get infected, although he had a feeling it would get infected regardless of what he did to prevent it. A bowl of water rested on the floor next to the pile of straw he sat on. He washed the rag as best he could and cleaned his wound. Luckily, it didn't start to bleed. When this was finished, Tolamis wrapped the rag tightly around his leg.

"Goddess…" he cursed, noticing an assortment of bruises and cuts in other areas. The guards weren't gentle in getting me here.

"Awake, are you?" a voice called from outside the cell.

Tolamis jerked, looking in the direction of the cell across the hall from him. An older man—middle-aged with some grey in his hair—watching him with a grin.

"You were out for quite a while… When I asked the guards what a boy like you was doing in here, they told me 'He's more trouble than you'd think. Shut up.' I didn't even get a compliment like that when they put me in here!" the man chuckled.

"How long have I been in here?" Tolamis asked.

"Oh, just the night. What's your name, boy?"

There's that "boy" thing again… Tolamis shrugged. "Why does it matter?"

"Shy, huh? I'm known as Calast. No harm ever came from knowing a name," he replied. "…Well, not much, at any rate."

"…I'm Tolamis," the younger man sighed. I guess it doesn't matter… He seems like a harmless man, I wonder why he's here.

"That's the question you never ask anyone down here," Calast said with a shake of his head. "Names are fine—we're already condemned—but some things aren't worth speaking about."

"How did you—"

Calast laughed, a sharp barking sound. "It's always the same question. I could tell by your eyes."

Tolamis grunted. "What do you mean by 'condemned'?"

"Oh, that? We're considered guilty. They'll free us whenever they feel like it… They give sentences on length of time, but I'm assuming you weren't awake during that. You'll get out of here before your sentence is up, though…" Calast replied.

"…before? But how—"

Calast held his hand up to silence him. "You'll see. For you, it's best to keep you in the dark."


It was a week before Tolamis had any light shed on what was going to happen. He also found out why Calast had been put in a cell. The old man, despite appearances, was a master thief. He had let himself be caught for one purpose—an escape from the prisons of Manris Castle. Calast was the head of the Thieves Guild and he was losing too many of his members to the cells. Besides, he had reasoned to Tolamis, how could you claim to be a master of stealth if you hadn't escaped from the prisons of Manris?

It was planned perfectly. Calast had some sort of "seizure" just as some guards were bringing in four new prisoners, all of them "captured" thieves. Two of the guards rushed in to see what the problem was—Calast attacked them with his heavy water bowl as the thieves attacked the other guards.

It didn't take long for the thieves to open the cells. They released only members of the guild at first but, with Calast's barked order, they released all the prisoners—they would help add to the distraction.

Tolamis limped from his cell. He could walk, but he knew there was no way he would be able to run from anyone—and running was required in an escape.

Stumbling after the others, Tolamis quickly fell behind the more able-bodied criminals. I'll be their sacrifice to distract the guards! Gritting his teeth against the pain, Tolamis attempted to run. His leg was unable to take the impact and he fell to his knees.

The wound had become infected a few days pervious and the pain was much worse than before now that he had jarred it. When he attempted to stand, he felt a hand grip his right arm. Yelping in surprise and fear, he jerked backwards.

"We don't have time for that, boy. Come!" Calast growled, pulling him to his feet.

Tolamis was shocked as they made their way out of the dark recesses of the prison. The older man was risking his life with a half-lame fool! They managed a type of run with three legs—Tolamis's hurt leg not touching the ground. It was faster progress for Tolamis, but he knew it was slowing Calast down.

Somewhere during the battle, Calast had retrieved a spear from guard. And he wielded it like a master, causing Tolamis to reassess the thief. Calast was much more than a simple thief.

They were headed for one of the back gates secured by a group of thieves—thieves that hadn't been in the cells. When they neared, a guard barreled into the side of Tolamis. He fell over, dragging Calast down with him.

Calast had barely enough time to block a sword-thrust with his spear, cursing. He jumped to his feet, slashing at the guard's face.

Tolamis recognized the guard—the Master of the Guards. No matter how talented Calast was with the spear, he stood no chance against Galen. Tolamis caught a glimpse of a broken spear—only the butt of it, but it would suit the purpose he had in mind. He picked it up, surprised by its heavy weight. He pulled himself to his feet.

The Master sliced at Calast, grazing the thief's shoulder. Calast saw Tolamis stand up, recognized what the younger man was planning, and thrust his spear at Galen's belly.

Galen dodged the thrust easily but not Tolamis's blow. He fell, stunned by the hard hit to his head.

Calast didn't waste time to thank Tolamis and the two, Calast once again supporting Tolamis, went for the gate.

As soon as they made it through, the thieves who had been guarding it pulled it closed. Guards on the other side cursed and ran up to it, trying to get it open. The thieves had devised some way to keep it closed and the guards' efforts didn't get them anywhere. Other guards on the tops of the walls shot arrows at the thieves.

"What the hell were you trying to pull, Calast, by rescuing a cripple?!" one thief growled as they ran from the castle. He helped support Tolamis's other side

"I don't need that now, Phalsr," Calast spat. "Don't question my actions or words, for that matter."

Tolamis felt light-headed as they made their way through alleys. The combination of his wound, his lack of good food, and the exertion were all working against him. He stumbled many a time.

"Calast… I—" he began, almost tripping.

"What is it?" Calast asked.

"I need to find my family," Tolamis panted.

"…I understand. Look, if you ever need…help…come find me. Anyone in the slums will know my name and point you in my direction," Calast replied. He smiled warmly. "Be careful. The guards shouldn't recognize you, but stick to the less-populated streets."

"Thank you… For everything," Tolamis whispered before leaving him. He still had the spear butt gripped in his hand and used it to aid his walking. His leg felt somewhat better, but it was still terribly sore.

Progress was slow and Tolamis stayed mainly in the alleys. The sun was peeking over buildings when he made it home. It was a hovel, really, but it was better than living on the streets.

Tolamis burst through the door and went for the bedroom. The entire place was empty: clothes were gone, cherished possessions missing, and not a single soul to be found. Tolamis slouched against the wall of his bedroom, tears welling up. She left me? Or did she think I left her? Conliri was gone and so was their son, Tormar. There was love in the family, but it wasn't the same love most people had—it was more respect. And now…

When he had collected himself, Tolamis stumbled to his feet. He went to the neighbor's home. Tamra was a kind woman, a good friend of Conliri.

She opened the door, tired face hardening at the sight of him. "You!" she exclaimed, attempting to slam the door in his face.

Tolamis was able to get his foot in the crack as the door slammed into it. "Please…" he mumbled.

Tamra opened the door, eyes narrow. "What happened to you?" she asked, some of her friendly nature creeping back into her voice.

Tolamis shook his head, foot throbbing. He was glad he hadn't been stupid enough to put his right foot in… "What happened to Conliri… And Tormar?"

"She came over here about a week ago, telling me that you were a bastard had had deserted her," Tamra said, frowning. "…did you?"

"No! Why would I do that!?" Tolamis exclaimed.

"She said something, also, about 'what he did'. What's going on?" she asked, expression now concerned. "Are you in some sort of trouble, Tolamis?"

"…yes, but I don't want you mixed up in it. I'll leave." He stopped. "Sorry…"

Tamra smacked him on his shoulder. "You come bursting up, demanding to know where your wife is, then you don't have the decency to tell me why? It's none of my business, is it?" She paused when she noticed Tolamis's pained expression. "At least come in and get a change of clothes. I still have some of my husband's."

Tolamis nodded dumbly and followed her in. The fussing was even worse when she noticed his limp.

"There!" Tamra said, satisfied with the results of her labor. She had put Tolamis into some of her let husband's clothes and had dressed his wound after cleaning it.

"Thank you… I'll make it up—"

"No, no! I did this for free! Just…get out of your trouble, okay? If I see Conliri, I'll tell her it was all a mistake," Tamra scolded. "She didn't tell me where she went… So I don't if I will see her again."

Tolamis nodded and smiled, leaving her home. He headed to the slums, still limping but better off than before.


"Calast, you say?" an old man asked. Tolamis had asked him, a beggar sitting near the entrance of the slums, if he knew the man. "'course I know him!"

"…can you tell me where I can find him? I don't have anything to give you, though…" Tolamis prompted.

The old man complied, giving Tolamis directions. They took him to a run-down building in the very heart of the slums. He knocked on the barely-intact door, ignoring the nearby whores.

A large man opened the door and he recognized Phalsr. "What do you want?"


"Here, boy!" Calast called from the depths. "Come in."

Tolamis suppressed the urge to spit at Phalsr and walked around the larger man towards Calast. "…I've come to—"

"Yes, yes, I surmised as much," Calast cut in. They enjoy cutting me off, don't they? "There's one condition, a price, though."

"A price?" Tolamis asked.

"We won't go into that now… Welcome—consider this your home. Training will start rather soon," the older man told him.

"Training for what?"

"To become a thief, of course. One of us. This is the Thieves Guild! But, first, we need to do something about that name of yours… Tolamis sounds too innocent. Besides, you need to cut your ties with your former life."

Tolamis nodded in acknowledgement. "When I was younger…I was a pretty good thief. I went by the name of 'Malok'."

Calast smiled broadly. "That's perfect."

Author's Notes: Thank you lots for reading! :) Hope you enjoyed. Anyway…feedback is very much appreciated since that's the only way I know you've read. (*grr* No hits.)

June 4, 2001