Name: Zyrk

Age: 23

Gender: Male

Height: 5 feet, 9 inches standing tall.Usually slouching or hunched over so he looks to be closer to four feet, 6inches.

Skills/Talents: Zyrk is an accomplishedbrawler, having learned the hard way how to defend himself and get what heneeds. He is by no means a master martial artist or heavy-weight pugilist, buthe can hold his own in a fight and is not at all opposed to ‘cheating’ in orderto win. Additionally, Zyrk has practiced the arts of pick pocketing, palming,and picking locks to the point that he can ‘make ends meet’ with little to noactual ‘work’ taking place. He is an accomplished sword fighter, although heprefers to use daggers or his trusty Ironwood Bastone when weapons are calledfor in a fight. He is quick on his feet, has an excellent sense of balance andcan scale most surfaces with little danger of falling or slipping (partially dueto the retractable claws in his finger tips). He is in peak physical conditionalthough by no means exceptionally strong. He speaks Mwene and Arcadian fluentlyand knows a few bits and pieces of various other languages since Arcadia is aport of trade, although he really can’t even have a basic conversation in any ofthem.

Physical Description: Zyrk is descendedfrom the Jaguar people of the deep Mwene jungles. As such he has a dark, goldentone to his fur and is mottled with randomly shaped, black rings across hisback, outer arms, and outer legs. His chest, stomach and inner arms and legs area much lighter and softer fur, closer to a cream or eggshell color. He hasbright, vibrant blue eyes and the tip of his left ear is split vertically abouthalf way down the length from an old fight that did not end the way he wouldhave hoped. He has well defined, sinuous muscles and is deceptively nimble forhis size, but nowhere near as strong as the majority of his people. His tail islong, about one and a half times the length of his legs and is stark white atthe very tip and lined with concentric black rings down the rest of the length.He has retractable claws in the tips of all of his toes and fingers. His choicein apparel is simple, often borderline poverty-stricken in appearance, althoughit is simply part of his carefully crafted image.

Personality: Zyrk tries to becompletely self-serving. He puts on an air of being a rogue, out for no one buthimself and doing whatever he needs to do in order to survive. He will steal,cheat, bribe, bully, coerce, and be generally unpleasant to just about anyone inorder to get what he wants or needs. However, he never lies to anyone, ever, andwill go out of his way to avoid killing anyone who has not shown a completedisregard for his own continued existence. He often leaves a portion of hisspoils where the truly poor/helpless can find them, usually in the form of food,clothing, and the occasional trinket or small value coins, but if he were askedhow he feels about those same people he will go on and on about how he despisesthem for not being willing to get up off their rears and make something of theirown lives. He normally has a charming personality and is quick to smile orlaugh, especially in the middle of a good brawl (he likes to think it isdisconcerting to his opponent).

Equipment: Zyrk carries very little inthe way of actual gear, trying to keep things as simple as possible. He normallycarries a half dozen throwing daggers of no appreciable quality along with twofighting knives (about 10-12 inches long, curved blades, razor sharp on bothedges), and his Ironwood Bastone (two simple sticks, about 32 inches long and aninch and a half in diameter). He also will carry a length of strong, light ropeor cord when he is out robbing people’s homes in the night, just in case heneeds to tie someone up or make a hasty descent down the outside of a structure.

History: Zyrk grew up in the jungles ofMwene where his tribe roamed the eternal twilight hunting and raiding othertribes and settlements. The jungle presented a difficult life at the best oftimes and Zyrk learned at an early age how to defend himself, as well as how totell when he was incapable of doing so. He spent his formative years prowlingthrough the jungle canopy, scouting ahead for the raiding parties, then throwingfirst sharpened sticks, then actual knives at any who tried to escape theirraids. When he came of age (at 15 years old) he decided to take his leave fromthe tribe and seek his fortune in the cities where he dreamed money rained downfrom the heavens. His tribe’s final gift to him was his coveted Ironwood Bastone,the ceremonial weapon of his kin. The Ironwood is a rare hardwood that growsscarcely in the jungles and is prized for its strength and weight.

Once on his own he made his way through Mwene and Erim to the Turquoise Sea andeventually to the cities of Arcadia where he quickly learned that a jungle wasstill a jungle regardless of what it was made from. Since then he has made alife for himself, stealing for what he needs to survive and trying to gounnoticed by anyone with any sort of power, because the one time he did getnoticed, things did not turn out the way he would have hoped…


The time Zyrk got noticed

It was a cool morning in Arcadiaand Zyrk’s fur ruffled as the light sea breeze rolled over him from the bay. Hestretched languidly in the morning sun, taking a moment to survey the streetsfilling with people of all shapes and sizes below his rooftop abode. Turningback toward his roughly constructed rooftop shack, it wasn’t much, but there wasno landlord and the rent was cheap, as in non-existent. Leaning inside the shackhe picked up his belt and wrapped it around his waist, settling it on his hipsas he drew the buckle closed. Finally he reached through the door one last timeand removed the shoulder sheath that held his Ironwood bastone and slung it overhis shoulder as he moved toward the ladder that led discretely down to streetlevel in the alley behind the building.

As he entered the growing crowedof market-goers thronging through the street, his keen blue eyes immediatelywent to work, roving through the crowd for signs of easy prey. A fat canine witha drowsy look on his face as he stood in front of a merchant’s tent, shiftingfrom foot to foot made for a perfect beginning. As he walked past the wafflingshop patron he reached out with practiced ease and sliced the leather thongholding the man’s coin purse to his belt and slipped the heavy purse into hisown belt pouch as he moved away into the crowd.

It was near midday that ithappened. He had spied an easy mark drifting between street vendors, lookinglost and out of place on the crowded streets. He grinned under his hood, todaywas a good day indeed.

“Welcome to Arcadia…” he thoughtto his target as he bore down on them with his usual stealthy approach.

That’s when it all went horriblywrong. Just as he reached out to cut his mark’s purse strings, the person spunaround and in one fluid motion clicked a thin but sturdy metal shackle aroundhis wrist. He was so stunned buy the event that h didn’t even think to resist ashis aggressor spun him around, twisting his manacled arm around behind his backand deftly secured his other arm there. Less than a minute later they weresafely sequestered away in a nearby alley, Zyrk with his shoulders and securedhands pressed against the wall and the angry bovine face of his former markpressed close to his own. The other’s nostrils flared as he glared into Zyrk’seyes menacingly.

“Thought you had another easy markeh thief?” He growled through flat, brownish teeth as he tried with littlesuccess to press Zyrk’s body further into the stone wall behind him.

“Sorry friend…” Zyrk gasped back,his body working overtime just to pull in enough oxygen to keep him conscious,“Think you’ve got th wrong guy…”

The bovine grinned at that andshifted himself so his right forearm was braced across Zyrk’s chest, then leanedinto him with the considerable weight of his body. He then reached into Zyrk’spouch and withdrew several coin pouches bearing cut strings.

“I suppose it would be pointlessto plead innocence at this point?” Zyrk tried to turn his grimace into a roguishgrin as he spoke.

“You suppose correctly.” Thebovine responded with a grunt as he jammed the purses back into Zyrk’s beltpouch roughly.

“Any chance we can talk this outlike civilized blokes?” He tried again.

“None.” The bovine huffed as hegrabbed Zyrk by the shoulders and roughly yanked him off the wall. With theefficiency of an experienced jailer the bovine latched a length of chain to thelink between Zyrk’s manacles then roughly shoved him in the direction of thecrowded street, holding the other end of the chain firmly in his other hand.

Zyrk simply dropped his gaze tothe ground, hiding his face from the throngs on the street, and let his captordirect him through the use of rough shoves and grunts. There was no sense infighting back now, he would have to wait for a more opportune time to make abreak for it.

Twenty minutes later they had leftmost of the market traffic behind and were moving through the slightly lessdirty streets of the older portion of the city. This was where the big money wasliving. Old blood with old coin, most of it begot at the point of a sword or apoison-laced drink at a banquet. Zyrk knew this because he spent the occasionallate night here, moving across the rooftops, slipping silently in and out oftop-floor windows and efficiently redistributing these ‘noble’s’ wealth back tothe masses. Usually in the form of an evening on the town or a night at thebrothel.

However there was one home hewould never have considered entering unbidden. That being the home of one of themerchant lords. The individuals who ran the free market in Arcadia. They werethe richest in the city, unless you counted the brothel owners, and were by farthe most attached to their money. They were the ones who maintained small,private armies of mercenaries and assassins. That, of course, being one of thehomes they turned up the path toward with a rough shove on his left shoulderthat nearly made him topple over as his body instinctively tried to keep himmoving past the hopeless situation that undoubtedly lay behind the front doorsof this abode.

The yard was huge and elaboratelydecorated, glittering and pristine compared to the gritty streets beyond thegarden wall. As they approached the front entrance, the doors drew aside,seemingly of their own accord, permitting them ingress into the grand entrywaybeyond. The room was nearly as large as the entire building that Zyrk had builthis hovel atop. There must have been three or four levels looking down into thecourtyard he found himself in, each with an open balcony wrapping all the wayaround the cavernous space. The entire courtyard was paved in smooth marble thatlooked to be imported from the other side of the world. The floor gleamed sobrightly that the lamps lighting the space beneath the balconies reflected withthe intensity of the afternoon sun, creating a halo of light coming up off thefloor and making it difficult to see through any of the numerous open doorslining the perimeter of the enormous room.

When they reached the center ofthe room, Zyrk’s captor kicked him roughly in the backs of his knees, drivinghim unceremoniously to his knees on the hard stone floor. Zyrk grunted hisappreciation for the kind action of his new friend as he looked up in time tosee a large boar looking down at him. The boar was a dark brown color and hislumpy face was broken up at odd intervals with thick yellow-white tusks thatseemed to jut out at incomprehensible angles. Zyrk wasn’t sure he had ever seenanything quite like this person with their beady black-red eyes and twisted,massive teeth.

“Nice day for a walk.” He tried tounsettle them with unexpected humor. “Although I must say that your friend hereisn’t much of a conversationalist really.”

“I don’t pay Sorn for his wittyrepartee, Zyrk, is it?” The boar responded with an unsettling gleam in his eye.

“Er… Would there be any point inrefuting that accusation?” Zyrk looked around at the bovine Sorn standing behindhim, arms akimbo, the chain lead still held firmly in one of his hands.

“Not as such, no.” The boarcommented idly as he began to pace around the center of the room. “You areprobably wondering what you are doing here…”

“Actually I thought we had a lunchdate. Are the appetizers on yet?” Zyrk did his best to follow the boar’smovements but in the end gave it up and began searching his surroundings for hisexit. Nothing seemed to be leaping out at him as being particularly appetizing.

“No, in point of fact. They arenot.” The boar replied coolly. “And your attitude toward your predicament is, Imust admit, less than desirable. He passé din front of Zyrk as he finishedspeaking, jus tin time for Zyrk to see his thick, lumpy tongue dart out frombehind his misshapen teeth to lick his fat, brown lips, leaving a solid line ofstringy slobber dangling from tusk to tusk all the way around the boar’s face.

It was all he could to do keepfrom either retching on the spot, or laughing hysterically. “Well, I’ll tell youwhat, since I don’t seem to be here about liberated coin purses, how about youtell me why I AM here. That way we can both get back to our own lives as quicklyas is convenient for you.” He was pretty sure he actually HAD retched a bit…

“Very well then, since you insist.My name is Lord Byron, and I have had something taken from me that I want back.”

At that, Zyrk squared hisshoulders and straightened  his back. He was a lot of things but stupid was notone of them. He had never stolen from this Lord Byron before, and he knew thatfor fact. He liked his fur way too much to be that daft. This was not theinterrogation it had been made out to be… “Fine, then how about you release meand we talk about this like adults, the part of the posturing egomaniac iscomplete wasted on me. I know who you are.” His tone was instantly serious, allbusiness now.

The boar stopped, seemingly takenaback by the change in Zyrk’s demeanor and voice. He seemed to consider thewords for a moment, rolling them around in his voluminous skull before finallyactually hearing them. “Very well. Sorn…”

A moment later, Zyrk’s hands werefree and he hoisted himself to his feet, straightening his clothing out as hemoved and slipping the hood off of his head. Finally he looked the boar in theeyes and bowed low. “Lord Byron. How can a simple beggar be of service?” Hedidn’t like it, but he knew that playing up to Lord Byron was the only way toget clear of the situation intact.

Lord Byron eyed him critically fora long moment before finally speaking again. “I have need of a person of your…Moral latitude and skills.”

Zyrk eyed him back a moment beforenodding silently to continue.

“One of my rivals has taken apriceless treasure from me, the jewel of Mycen. The jewel is to be used in asacrifice to dark gods and I want it back.”

Zyrk nodded his comprehension.“Who is this rival? And where does he keep the jewel?”

“He is Lord Haath. And he keepsthe jewel in a bedroom on the top floor of his estate in the northern portion ofthe city. My spies have seen the jewel sitting in solitude atop a velvet-covereddais through the window from afar. I want you to free the jewel and bring itback to me.”

“And in exchange for thisservice?” Zyrk responded coolly, folding his arms across his chest. “What ca Iexpect as compensation?”

Lord Byron raised a stubby eyebrowat him. It was difficult to tell if it was a gesture of respect for Zyrk’sbargaining, or one of disbelief at Zyrk’s audacity. “I could turn you over tothe city guard for the thief you are. I am sure they would love to put you onthe next penal ship bound for Myr.”

“But if you do that, then youwon’t get your jewel.” Zyrk responded matter-of-factly.

“I could just as easily find someother thief to retrieve it.” Lord Byron’s voice grew loud enough that it echoedoff the smooth marble walls and rolled up and down the myriad of hallwaysbranching from the room.

“I don’t think so. Anyone who hasbeen here more than five minutes knows that Lord Haath is even less likely to betrifled with than yourself. You chose me because you must know something aboutme. If I had to guess I’d say that you know I never lie, and that I don’t carewho I steal from if the terms are right.”

“If you will steal from anyone,then why have you not already robbed Haath blind? Or myself for that matter?”

“Because, despite my manycharacter flaws, I have not, to date, demonstrated any propensity for stupidity.As such, I have not stolen anything from anyone that would indicate that I haveactually taken a side in your little fiscal war. I remain neutral and I makesure that everyone knows it. So for me to do what you are asking, is for me tocast my lot in with you, which will change my ability to continue in thelifestyle to which I have become accustomed. That being the case, I would expectadequate compensation for such a perceived shift in loyalties. I can deal withthe city guards if I need to, but politics is another animal entirely.” At that,Zyrk actually put his feet up on the small table tha occupied the space betweenthem, crossed his legs and leaned the expensive wooden chair back on its rearlegs nonchalantly.

Lord Byron remained silent forseveral long moments after Zyrk finished speaking. Eyeing the Jaguar up and downwith an extremely critical eye. For the longest time Zyrk feared that he hadoverestimated this person and seriously overstepped his boundaries with hisbravado. Finally however, Lord Byron leaned back in his own chair, tossing hishead back and belting out a great peal of laughter that echoed even more fromthe marble walls of the great room. His laughter was such that he clutched hishands to his belly and held it firmly as he chortled and roared. After severalminutes more he finally pointed a hand shakily at Zyrk, still laughing with allhis might. “…I like you… Zyrk… you are… a… bold one…” It took several more longminutes of belly laughing before he could calm down enough to actually speakintelligently again. With a simple motion from his hand, a try of steaming hot,flavored coffee was brought out by a serving girl and set on the table betweenthem.

Motioning to the tray, Lord Byroncontinued speaking finally. “Very well then… I shall grant you your weight ingold in exchange for this act.”

Zyrk smiled as he leaned forwardand poured two cups of the steaming liquid. Offering one to Lord Byron, whoaccepted it with a friendly smile on his misshapen brown lips, then picked uphis own and, an instant after his hosted drank from his own cup, sipped at thecoffee himself. “That will do… as a start…”

Lord Byron almost choked on hiscoffee as the front legs of his chair slammed down on the marble floor and herolled forward in his chair, almost unseating himself. “For a start?! I waswrong about you. You are not bold. You are dimwitted!”

Zyrk’s smile widened as he lookedup from his cup. “That may be the case, but do not forget that it is I who haveit within my power to give you that which you desire. You may have brought mehere against my will, but it is I who has the upper hand at this table, and youwould be wise to realize that Lord Byron.”

The boar stood up angrily, wavingtoward his guards who began to race across the room toward Zyrk, who continuedto sit there calmly, feet propped up on the table. “Because not only can I getyou what you want, but I can make it look as though Lord Nyrrin is the onebehind the theft…” He took another sip of his coffee and enjoyed the look ofamazement that spread across Lord Byron’s face.

As the guards reached the sceneand began to grab at Zyrk’s shoulders and arms, Lord Byron raised his hand andstopped them cold, then whisked them away to the corners of the room once morewith a flick of his wrist. “How would you do such a thing?”

Zyrk smiled broadly at his host,winking as he did so. “That is a trade secret. You’ll just have to take it onfaith for now.”

“I see…” He gingerly sat down inhis chair once more, reaching for his coffee cup as he stared at Zyrk inamazement. “and what price would you place on such a deed?”

“In addition to my weight ingold?” Zyrk drew the moment out as long as he thought he could safely make itlast. “Complete anonymity and autonomy from your house. I want you to neverspeak to anyone outside of this room of our business. Not your wife. Not yourmistresses. Not your children, or underlings, or business partners. Not anyone.And I want to never hear from you or any of your people ever again. If I do thisfor you, then I expect us to move on as ships in the night. I’ll continue notplying my trade in your back yard, and you’ll continue leaving me be, just likeit was yesterday or last week again.”

Lord Byron looked at himincredulously. “ How could you say that? Surely you realize that the work Icould offer you would pay much better than anything else you could do on yourown…”

“Of course I realize that.However, I value my freedom, and certainly my life. Neither of which would bemine any longer if I was in your service full time. Better to be a beggar inArcadia than a prince anywhere else.”

Finally Lord Byron offered a thinsmile of understanding and a faint nod. “I should have asked you to shake downsome of my delinquent accounts rather than retrieve my jewel. In less thanfifteen minutes you have become my equal at the bargaining table and bested meat debate. It would be nice to be able to keep tabs on one such as you. Give meyour word that you will never come to my door as an enemy and I will give youmine that your terms will be met.”

Zyrk nodded confidently at theboar. “I give you my word that after the conclusion of our business I will nevercome into your home uninvited. Nor shall I ever do anything to undermine yourpower in Arcadia. I want nothing but to be left to my own devices, to make aliving for myself in my own way.”

Lord Byron nodded satisfactorily,hefting his weight back off the chair again and offering an open hand to Zyrk.“That is good enough for me.”

Zyrk stood up lightly and graspedhis host’s hand firmly, looking the boar in the eyes as he gave the other asingle, confident shake. “Done and done. I will need two days. If I do notreturn by then, I am either dead or rotting in Haath’s dungeon.”

“Very well.” Lord Byron nodded ashe released Zyrk’s hand. Good luck to you.”

With that, Zyrk spun on his heelsand strode confidently out the door and back into the streets of Arcadia.

Zyrk had heard of activities thatmade time pass in a blur. In fact as a cub he had experienced a few suchactivities while playing with other cubs in his jungle home. The nexttwenty-four hours were anything but such an activity. He spent the better partof the day trying to find a vantage point from which he could take in LordHaath’s entire estate. He had to move once or twice in order to study all areasof the compound, for upon further reconnaissance he discovered that it truly wasa compound rather than a simple, albeit lavish, Arcadian home.

Lord Haath was truly prepared todeal with a small invasion force should such an event ever threaten him. Therewere regular patrols of guards throughout the gardens, regular postings of armedguards at entrances and choke-points throughout the winding pathways that ledfrom the high wall to the house itself. The pathways and walkways seemed to bedeliberately designed disorient and confuse for anyone at ground level, havingbeen surrounded with high, well manicured hedges and other plant life, not tomention walls, statuary, and other obstacles.

 

The only straight, unobstructedapproach to the house was the main path from the street to the front door. Apath that had no less than twenty armed guards posted and patrolling its length.His salvation seemed to be in the form of the fact that it looked as though thebulk of his problems seemed to be located in the grounds, from what he couldtell through his observations the fighting forces inside the estate itselfseemed rather limited. He rarely spied an armed individuals moving about throughthe many windows and balconies of the home.

All through the first day and thatnight he watched, memorizing the guard’s shifts, patrol paths, post locations,the winding courses of the twisting garden paths and, as much as was possible,the interior layout of the home itself, even going so far as to locate the mostlikely room where the jewel would be kept, although the upper floors of the homehad most of their window shutters pulled closed so it was impossible to tell forsure where it was. By morning he was exhausted but had the beginnings of a planforming in his head. He took a couple hours to get some rest, then went shoppingfor what he would need to make his assault on Lord Haath’s estate.

As the sun began to set on thesecond evening, Zyrk climbed silently up to the top of the tallest structurenear the estate, a high bell tower. Carefully he secured the loose end of hisnewly acquired rope to the heavy iron framework that suspended the large bells,then he picked up the metal hook secured to the other end of the long line andtested its weight and balance at the end of a short stretch of rope. Taking amoment to center himself and line up his shot, he gave the short stretch of ropea couple of quick revolutions and let the hook fly free.

The grappling hook soared throughthe air and landed with a dull thud on the roof of the next tallest structurenear the estate, a cistern used for collecting rain water from the many oceanstorms that blew across the coastal cities of Arcadia. Pulling the rope taut,Zyrk secured his end tightly to the framework and then tested his weight againstthe line. He then made sure the rest of his equipment was secured to his person,grabbed the rope and hoisted himself up onto the line.

Slowly he made his way, hand overhand, to the center of the rope where he rolled himself over and hooked his legsonto the rope, dangling upside down and looking to the ground below him toverify he was in the correct spot. Directly below him he saw his target, a largeoak tree in the corner of the garden of Lord Haath’s estate. The tree was notclose enough to any of the garden walls that it could be accessed from thestreet or the top of the wall, but from where he was, suspended in the airbetween two buildings, he had a direct shot at the ancient looking tree. Pullinghimself up, he slipped his next prepared length of rope from around hisshoulders and securely tied it to the center of the taut rope he as danglingfrom. Once the new line was secured, he let the coiled end drop and watched asit unrolled itself rapidly, finally reaching maximum extension with the enddangling down inside the uppermost leaves and branches of the oak tree belowhim. With a sigh he wrapped a turn of the new rope around his right hand andwrist then maneuvered one of his legs free of the supporting line and wrapped aturn of the vertical rope around it as well. Slowly he shifted his weight fromthe taut line to the dangling line until it was supporting his entire weight,then he pinioned his feet against one another on either side of the rope andbegan his slow descent toward the tree, heading face first so that he would beable to watch for any sign of guard activity as he made his way into thecompound.

A few minutes later he was able tofree his hands from the rope in favor of finding purchase on the branches of thetree, then his feet transitioned to the strong branches and he was free of theprecarious rope, making his way down the tree and, finally, to the solid groundof the garden. Now came the difficult part of the evening’s activities. Silentlyhe crept through the garden, making his way from path to path, timing hismovements so that he would miss the patrols and hoping that his single day ofobservation was sufficient, normally he would spend several days casing alocation before moving in on it as there were so many ways that things couldvary from one day to the next. His timetable didn’t allow him the luxury of thatmuch planning and observation this time, and he hoped that the lack of it wouldnot come back to get him.

The trip through the garden waslong and tedious as he was forced to make frequent stops in order to allow theplacement of guard patrols to permit his passing between them unseen and on morethan one occasion he took a wrong turn and ended up in a dead-end cul-de-sac ormoving in circles. The sliver of the moon was high in the sky by the time hereached the base of the house where he meant to make his ascent to the upperlevels. Unfortunately the outside of the house seemed to have been designed toprevent people from climbing it and nothing had been permitted to grow closeenough to the home to allow it to be of any assistance. He would have usedanother grappling hook but the sound of the metal clattering along the roof or abalcony was sure to instantly attract the attention of the guards.

Instead he had set up anotherlength of rope with a slip knot at one end in the same fashion as the people ofthe steppes that used their ropes to bring down charging or herding animals. Asquietly as possible he set the coil of rope on the ground and made sure that itoriented to allow it to uncoil as smoothly as possible. With the large loop inhis hand he tested the slip knot to make sure it was functioning properly thenlooked up to check his path up the wall. The way was clear up the sheer side ofthe home all the way to the third floor balcony that was his intended entrypoint and just above it was the roof with its chimney just visible past the eve.

After the next patrol passed hislocation, Zyrk counted off the seconds until they would be around the corner atthe end of the path then stood up and started spinning the loop of rope causingit to open up into a wide circle. With a flick of his wrist he launched thelasso up toward the roof and yanked back on the trailing rope as it reached theapex of its arc, causing the rope to drop down around the chimney. With one morelook around for guard patrols he slipped up the wall, pulled the rope up behindhim and left it in a coil on the balcony as he slipped through the doors intothe interior of the house.

If the home of Lord Byron wasopulent, then that of Lord Haath was simply obscene. The walls were constructedof smooth, polished stone with veins of gold, silver, and platinum runningthrough them like they were marble, although the surfaces were very obviouslyhand-made. The floors and walls were lavished with expensive furs and tapestriesand the room in which he had entered there was a set of couches and chairssitting around low tables, all constructed of the finest quality of ebony andivory he had ever seen. The room appeared to be some sort of sitting room forentertaining guests and it had a set of large, double doors that led out of theroom. Quietly he crept across the space and gently leaned his ear against thedoor. The faint sound of breathing from the other side of the door told him allhe needed to know.

Silently he crept toward one ofthe sofas and picked up a small pillow, then moved himself back to the doorwhere he set himself to one side, with his back against the jamb. Taking a deepbreath and holding it in, he tossed the pillow across the room where it collidedwith the wooden door to the balcony and forced it closed with a clatter. Amoment later the door to the hallway opened and canine poked his head over thethreshold. In one fluid motion, Zyrk reached up, grabbing the guard with onehand on either shoulder and leveraged his elbows into the man’s solar plexus.With a heave he rolled his weight forward and the guard’s feet came off theground and spun through the air in a wide arc. He landed on the hard stone floorwith a thud that forced the oxygen from his lungs and as he looked up withbleary, tear-filed eyes, Zyrk dropped to one knee and drove his fist full forceinto the guard’s stomach, causing him to exhale in a wheezy sort of gasp thatsounded like a water-logged pier straining under the force of an inbound ship.

Quickly Zyrk rolled the guardover, blindfolded his eyes and tied his wrists together securely behind hisback, then repeated the process with his ankles. He then dragged him to thedarkened fireplace and rolled him over the hearth, using another length of ropeto tie him bodily to the iron grate at the bottom of the fireplace.

In a flash he was back at thedoor, peaking into the hallway. The sitting room he was in was on the corner ofthe house and the hallway outside stretched away in two different directions,one straight away from him, and the other to his left. The hallway stretchedaway from his door in two directions and appeared to be empty so he stepped out,pulled the door closed behind himself and crept down the hallway toward theopposite end, where there was a sharp turn to the left. At the end of the nexthall was a door on the right-hand wall where he suspected the jewel to be. Asuspicion that was now given more weight by the simple fact that there were twoarmed people guarding the door. Thankfully it was far enough away that theyhadn’t seemed to notice the sudden activity at this door.

Having suspected this would be thecase, he had planned his route in advance and with two quick steps he dashedacross the hall and into a door on the same wall as the one he sought to enter.The room he entered was a bedroom, again overly lavish in appointment andequipped with several sets of rings attached to the walls at various points anda few sets of chains dangling from the ceiling.

He shook his head as he glancedaround. “The things that make people tick…” he muttered under his breath as hecrossed the room and stepped out onto its balcony. With a few quick glances downat ground level he figured out where the guards were at and with a moment toestablish his timing, he took a few quick steps and leapt the distance from hisbalcony to the next one over. This wall of the estate seemed to be occupiedprimarily by bedrooms, which all had balconies. Two more quick jumps and he wasoutside the room he sought.

Checking the door for sounds fromwithin, he heard the faint sound of breathing, but it was not coming from nearthe door so he would have to enter the room and deal with whatever was therewithout advanced preparation. Quietly he slipped his fighting knife from itssheath and stalked through the door, holding the knife with the blade pointingtoward the floor and leading with his left hand.

The room was another bedroom,nowhere near as well-appointed as the last one he had passed through. This roomhad its stone floor mostly bare and the walls were devoid of the tapestries hehad seen previously. There was a simple bed against one wall, two chairs oneither end of a small coffee table on the opposite wall and in the center of theroom stood a low dais, only one step up with a large velvet pillow atop it.Sitting calmly in the center of the pillow was a young woman. She was obviouslyof Lynx descent, her fur was pale and her pointy ears had dark tips with longtufts of fur arcing off of them. She was clad in a garment of wispy silk andsat, cross-legged in the center of the pillow with her arms folded in her lap,facing the door to the hallway.

Zyrk crept into the room, knife inhand and eyes darting about, searching for trouble. As he approached the daisthe woman whispered to him in a sweet melodic tone that sent a wave down hisspine. “Lord Byron has sent you to me.”

“He sent me for the Jewel ofMycen, it was said to be in this room resting on a dai…” Then it occurred to himthat it had been his mistake to assume the jewel was a gem. With a sigh he slidhis dagger back into its sheath and moved around in front of the woman. “You arethe Jewel of Mycen?”

“I am.” She replied simply.

“Well, this is going to complicatemy exit plan a bit…” he said as he looked around the room for anything thatmight be of use.

“You assumed the jewel to be astone?” She said, casting her emerald green eyes on him as she spoke.

He stopped for a moment, allthoughts driven from his head as he gazed upon her beauty. “Uhhh…” He managed tobarely get past his lips.

She looked at him for a longmoment, her beautiful eyes boring into his soul. “He so often does not offerinformation that is not specifically asked for.”

“Yeah, I’ll have to remember tobring that up the next time I see him. In the mean time however, I think we needto work on a plan to get you out of here.” Zyrk did his best to not look at her,knowing that to do so would distract him again and that was the last thing heneeded right now.

“I am at your service.” She bowedher head as she responded in her delicate whisper, then stood up in one fluidmotion that reminded Zyrk of the ballet dancers he had seen in the public forumon many an occasion. “What is your plan master…?”

Zyrk looked at her for a momentlonger than he thought in retrospect would have normally been appropriate then,“Zyrk.”

She bowed her head once more inhis direction. “Very well Master Zyrk. What is your plan?”

He offered her a quirky grin.“That’s just Zyrk. I am no one’s master.”

Her fur ruffled a bit inembarrassment. “Be that as it may, until I am back in my father’s home, I amyour servant.”

He was about to rebuff her againwhen an idea occurred to him… “I think a plan is forming… Could you please knockon the door and get the guards to come in here for me?”

“Of course Master Zyrk.” Shereplied as she bowed her head again. She then made her way to the door as hemoved himself to the side of the door and drew his bastone from their leatherpouch across his back.

She moved up to the door and,seeing him nod his readiness, tapped lightly on the wooden surface, then took astep back so as to be clear of the door as it swung open.

One of the guards, a feline ofsome spectacular muscle mass leaned his head through the door and eyed hersuspiciously. “What do you want?”

“I need my pillow moved closer tothe balcony so that I may bathe my body in the light of the moon.” She repliedin a melodic tone, stepping back and pointing to the dais.

“We are not your personalfurniture movers.” The cat replied angrily.

She smiled demurely, “Lord Haathwants me stress free and accepting of my fate does he not?”

The guard glared at her and noddedhis head slightly.

“Then please move my pillow closerto the balcony so that I may bathe my person in the light of the moon. Itsoothes my spirit.”

The big cat  glared at her again,looking back and forth between her slight figure and the heavy dais in thecenter of the room. Finally he looked back out of the room and jerked his headin the direction of his companion and the pair strode into the room and towardthe heavy stone structure.

As they cleared the threshold Zyrkquietly closed the doors behind them and slid the bolt home, then slipped upbehind the guards as they plodded unsuspectingly toward their headaches. With aquick motion, Zyrk brought one of his bastone down on the side of each of theirheads. The smooth cylindrical wooden sticks collided with the flesh and fur ofhis targets and created a sickening thumping sound upon impact, followed by thesound of a heavy body collapsing to the ground in a heap.

The second body completely failedto hit the ground due to the fact that it had completely failed to fall at all.The large cat staggered forward, then spun around with a short sword in hishand, swinging it in a wide arc at exactly the level of Zyrk’s neck. With speedhoned through countless fights, Zyrk dropped into a squatting stance, narrowlydipping under the blade as it nicked the hairs at the tips of his ears. From hisnew vantage point he cut loose with a flurry of strikes with his bastone,targeting the guard’s left knee and upper thigh.

The guard dropped to his kneeswith a yelp of pain, but seemed more determined than ever to relieve Zyrk of hishead and took another wide swing with his still tightly clenched blade. Bringinghis own weapon up in response, Zyrk drove the wooden shaft full force into theguard’s forearm. The quick blow was not nearly enough to break his bones, but itwas more than sufficient to get him to let go of his sword, sending theimplement skittering across the shiny stone floor. Not stopping for an instant,Zyrk followed up the disarming blow with a series of quick strikes to the guardstemples, finally causing him to crumple to the ground in a heap.

“They must have picked him up inthe underworld somewhere. I’ve never met a cat that stubborn before.” He intoneda he caught his feet again. He smiled at the jewel as he moved toward the door,sliding the catch back and opening the door a crack to peek into the hallway.But before he could get a glimpse of anything a fast-moving knuckle sandwich methis face. The gloved fist came in through the gap in the door and drove into hisface with an alarming amount of force. Zyrk rolled backward off his feet andLord Byron’s daughter gasped as he curled into a ball and rolled heels overhead.

As Zyrk rolled back into thecenter of the room the door was kicked open and through the door stalked ahulking brute of a bovine, adorned in the most stylish of shredded leathershirts any street beggar could ever hope to own. The brute was easily eight feettall and weighed four hundred pounds and his muscles would easily account forninety percent of that weight. His hands and forearms were clad in thick,hardened leather that was studded at odd intervals with metal spikes and studsand there was a large gold ring looped through his left ear. “Sit jewel. I willtake out your garbage.” The creature grunted as it advanced on Zyrk.

Or his part, Zyrk had been able toabsorb some of the shock of the punch by throwing himself backward off his feetand tucking into a backward somersault. However, the damage the punch hadactually inflicted was nothing to laugh at. As he rolled back to his feet, in acrouching position, blood poured from his somewhat flattened nose and his lefteye began to darken beneath the short fur covering his face. His head swam a bitas he caught his balance but his weapons remained firmly in his grip. In adesperate bid to get the upper hand against his new adversary he launchedhimself, shoulder first at the guard, driving the hard point of his shoulderinto the bull’s solar plexus with all the strength of his legs.

His body collided with the guard’sand elicited a slight grunting noise, but didn’t seem to do much more than makehim stop moving forward for a second or two. Looking down his chest at Zyrk, theguard narrowed his eyes and then brought his arms together across his chest inan attempt to catch Zyrk in a bear-hug.

Zyrk dropped to his back, narrowlyavoiding the bovine’s arms, then kicked his legs up and pushed up with hisshoulders, arms and kicked out with his extended legs, driving his feet upwardinto the bottom of the guard’s chin. This got the guard staggering backward,which gave Zyrl a the chance to spin around and drive his bastone into theguard’s knee with all his strength.

The guard dropped to one knee witha grunt, then looked up at Zyrk, a malicious gleam in his eye as he cocked backhis right arm and lashed out with a vicious uppercut. “Get back, worm.”

Zyrk grunted as the fist connectedwith his jaw and lifted him bodily off the ground, sending him sprawlingbackward where he landed in a heap on top of the cushioned dais and flipped overonce more, rolling down the slight rise to the stone floor.  The guard regainedhis feet with no apparent discomfort at all, while Zyrk struggled even to figureout which direction was up. His head was spinning and there was a terribleringing noise in his ears as he staggered to his feet, clutching his bastone inhis weakened grip. “Is that the bessst you got…?” He slurred through hisswelling jaw.

“Come back over here and we’llsee.” The guard snarled at him, nostrils flaring with contempt.

Zyrk stumbled forward, making hisway shakily around the dais. As he passed the Jewel, he winked at her with hisunswollen eye, causing her to conceal a strange gasp/giggle sound behind herhands.  “Arigh… les’sss ssee wha’cher godd…” he slurred as he looked back at theguard.

As he moved within the range ofthe bovine’s impressively long arms, the guard reached out with both hands,apparently making a bid to squeeze Zyrk’s head between his massive hands. In asudden burst of speed however, Zyrk lunged forward, slipping between the guard’shands and driving the blunt end of one of his bastone into the guard’s righteye.

The room filled with a roar ofpain and rage that shook the fixtures and rattled the window shades. Wasting notime however, Zyrk spun around, placing several precisely aimed blows with hisbastone. Calves, knees, thighs, and lower back as he spun in a wild arc aroundbehind the reeling guard. When the bovine dropped to his knees again, stillclutching his bleeding eye socket, Zyrk brought down a series of hammering blowson the hulking guard’s shoulder where it met the neck.

Finally, Zyrk stopped moving,standing in a fighting stance several feet from the guard, bastone at the readyin a defensive position and squinting through his swollen eye at the now silentbull who finally fell face forward to the floor.

Zyrk sighed in relief as the Jewelran across the room and threw her arms around his body, squeezing him tightly.“I thought you were going to be killed.” She gushed.

Zyrk smiled at her, ignoring thepain in his jaw. “I had him right where I wanted him the whole time.”

With that he pulled free of herembrace and moved across the room to the balcony, peeking out for a long momenthe finally caught sight of the reflected moonlight that was his pre-arrangedsignal. A moment later he grabbed one of the hanging braziers from the wall andtook it out to the balcony where he spun it around in two large circles,creating a glowing circle of light on the balcony. Finally he launched thebrazier up into the air as high as he could and rushed back into the room, notwaiting for it to come down again before he grabbed the Jewel by her upper armand moved her to the hallway door.

“Ok, we are going to have to move,and move quickly to make this work. Do not stop unless I tell you to or we aredone for. We are heading straight for the front door and out the gate. Anyquestions?” His speech was much better now that his head had cleared up a bitfrom the earlier attack.

She shook her head no, then turnedto face the door, slightly behind her rescuer, setting her face in a determinedlook, lips pressed tightly together, and ears swept back from her head.

“Alright, here we go.” Zyrkannounced as he pushed the doors open and they moved out into the hallway.

They made it to the main stairwaybefore encountering their first resistance, which Zyrk brushed aside withrelative ease, rolling unconscious bodies down the stairs ahead of them afterthe brief encounter. By the time they reached the second floor, just one abovethe main level, a ruckus could be heard outside in the garden. It sounded asthough there was a battle raging outside the house walls, and any guards theyencountered seemed to be rushing toward the sound of the altercation, ratherthan looking for the escaped Jewel.

Two more quick fights saw them atthe front door and within a few more minutes they were winding their way throughthe streets of the harbor city, the din of combat fading quickly behind them.

When they finally stopped to catchtheir breath, Zyrk slid his bastone into the leather sheath across his back ashe leaned heavily against the wall o the alley they had secreted themselveswithin. “Are… you… alright…?” He panted.

“Yes… I believe… I will be… fine…”She replied breathily. “What… happened… to the… guards…?”

“I… procured some assistance… thismorning before I went in after you… I always try to have a back-up plan, plus Itold your father I would make it look as though Lord Nyrrin had taken you.” Hisbreath was coming under control now.

“How did you get Lord Nyrrin toattack Lord Haath?” She raised an eyebrow at him, ears perked up curiously.

“I didn’t. I hired a group ofmercenaries to disguise themselves as Nyrrin’s men and storm the estate.” Zyrksmiled as her bright, green eyes looked into his own blue pools.

“That was… very clever of you…”She finally whispered as they drew closer to one another by barely perceptibleamounts.

“I have been told that I have myclever moments…” He replied, leaning toward her as her scent filled hisnostrils. His ears twitched a bit as their lips finally met and they kissedpassionately for several long moments.

When they finally broke off thekiss, they were both panting for breath again and an uncomfortable silence fellbetween them. It was another long minute before Zyrk finally spoke up, turningto face the main street that their secluded alley opened up onto. “We should getmoving. I only have a few hours before I am supposed to return you to LordByron.”

Over the course of the next fewhours they made their way through the dark shadows and deep recesses of the cityas they moved inexorably toward Lord Byron’s estate on the other end of thecity. They chatted briefly whenever they would stop for a rest and whenever theycaught one another’s eyes they would find themselves staring at length, and onnumerous occasions they were forced to stop themselves in the middle of apassionate kiss. Zyrk had never felt this way about anyone before, and he wassure she was feeling the connection as well.

As they approached the gates ofLord Byron’s estate, still out of earshot of the guards there, Zyrk stoppedsuddenly and turned to face her with a serious look darkening his normallycheerful face. Even through the swollen eye and jaw, she could tell that he wascontemplating something quite serious.

“Listen. I’m not sure how yourfather would react, but I need to tell you before this is over that I think I amfalling for you.” He looked at his feet as he spoke, unsure that he could handleher response, not wanting to see her face if she thought he was a fool.

When he felt her hand lift hischin until their eyes met his heart nearly stopped. Her face was one of love andadoration, and a tear was forming in her eye as she smiled. “I think I amfalling in love as well Master Zyrk. It is a most unfortuitious outcome as mydestiny is already decided.”

Zyrk shook his head slightly. “Runaway with me. I have already decided to leave the city when this is over. LetLord Byron keep his pile of gold and we can disappear into the jungles.”

“I cannot. I have a destiny, andit must be fulfilled.” Her face grew soft, compassionate, as his eyes clouded.

He looked away from her again,unable to face her eyes. “Well… Maybe I can stop by… we can see each otheragain… talk about it… I’ll get you to change your mind…”

Her face changed again then. Ittook him a moment to realize what it was she was conveying. Then it hit him. Itwas pity. There was something else going on here that she was not telling him.

“I’m sorry Master Zyrk. I will beleaving tomorrow night, with the full moon. The time is almost past and I MUSTfulfill my own destiny.” Her voice was soft, pleasant, and while there was somepain there, it was filled mostly with the pity that he did not quite understand.

“If it is about my being a thief…I can change. I’ll open up a shop or…” He had never even considered something somundane as a way of life before, but he couldn’t really stand the thought of hergoing away with some betrothed husband when he knew they had fallen in love withone another.

“That will be quite out of thequestion I’m afraid.” A bold, male voice shattered the moment. Zyrk looked up tosee Lord Byron and several of his goons lined up between them and the estate.“The Jewel must be prepared at once.”

“Father.” She said flatly as shebowed low to him.

“You. Take her to her room andprepare her for the sacrifice.” Lord Byron hollered as he gestured at two of histhugs. The two immediately snapped to and began moving in on her.

In a flash Zyrk was between them,bastone in hand and ready for a brawl. “Go!” He shouted over his shoulder. “Makea break for it and I’ll hold them off!”

The goons snarled at him, baringtheir teeth and flexing their hands around their now drawn swords. They took atentative step toward Zyrk but were stopped when she softly rested her hand onZyrk’s shoulder, completely disarming the situation. He turned to face her witha questioning look.

“I told you Master Zyrk. I have adestiny to fulfill. Did my father not tell you that I was to be sacrificed?” Thelook on her face was one of complete serenity and acceptance.

Zyrk was stymied. “He… uh… He didsay that, but I thought…”

She smiled at him. A warminviting, caring smile. “You assumed it was Lord Haath that was going to offerup the sacrifice… I understand. It was a simple enough mistake to be made. Butnow that you are aware of the circumstances we can all go about our business.”

Zyrk nodded his head dumbly for amoment before he realized what was going on. Then he stepped back from her andspun around to face the thugs again, this time his face was contorted in avisage of pure anger. “They’ve bewitched you m’lady. I won’t let them do this.Stay behind me and we’ll get you to someone who can help.”

The goons advanced on him as hestood against them, bastone raised. As they moved into range he was inmid-swing, about to brain one of the thugs, when it happened. He was so involvedin the people in front of him that he didn’t notice what was going on until itwas too late.

In a flash, the Jewel of Mycensnatched one of the fighting knives from his belt sheath and struck out like abolt of lightning. Zyrk saw the expression on one of his adversary’s faceschange and out of instinct, ducked down low, which caused the blade to miss thecenter of his back. Instead, the blade sliced cleanly through the skin of hisleft ear about half way up, then sliced the ear cleanly in half as his momentumcarried the blade out the top of his head. Zyrk winced in pain as his sensitiveflesh was bifurcated, and his hesitation gave the thugs all the time they neededto close in on him.

He had never suffered such abeating in his entire life. It had taken him months to get his strength back,and when it was over he was certainly in no shape to be dashing in and rescuingany misguided women. In reality he had been more than lucky to have survived thefirst few nights after the incident. They had left him there. Broken andbleeding in the streets of Arcadia. He had crawled out of the street and takenrefuge in the dark alleys and sewers until he had the strength to make his wayback to his rooftop shack where he spent his days and nights in feverednightmares, imagining the torturous ways in which her soul had been sent to thebeyond.

Zyrk sighed as he sat on the edgeof the roof looking out over the setting sun and the glorious light show itcreated on the calm water of the harbor. His heart ached, and his soul had arend in it that was mirrored in his perfectly bisected ear. He feared he wouldnever again be whole, and he felt certain that he would similarly never againallow himself to fall in love. If this was what it was to be in love, he didn’tthink his heart, or his body, could survive the journey