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The world holds its breath as Melfina watches the scene unfold.
Her savior stands tall, staring down at the offender from within his impenetrable armor. He radiates the casual confidence of a lion sizing up its prey. The Luna Guard strictly enforce any and all Violations of Property, and there is only one punishment for theft. Death.
The thief cowers like the rat that he is, cornered and ready to flee the first chance he gets. Random goods from her shop litters the ground beneath him. The Tome of Lost Knowledge must have been the last item he grabbed.
It's safe, she thinks, and her despair blossoms into hope for recovering the tome, adoration for her savior, and rage at her attacker.
The standstill lasts but a moment. Panic vanishes from the thief's face, and what was once a cornered rat now resembles a coiled snake. With a smirk, he replies to the Luna Guard, "The frantic scream from the girl tells me this is worth five lives. I choose the book. Come and collect if you can."
"You don't even know what it is!?" screams Melfina as the guard unsheathes his sword.
"Mouths are for sucking not talking wench. Let the men handle this," retorts the thief.
Melfina has no time to be furious as she watches the guard do the oddest thing. He bows.
"Ha! Already conceding? I must be too much for you. Or are you afraid you might scratch your pretty little armor," he sneers.
"Anyone can afford the time to properly honor a duel."
"Afford! Don't talk to me about costs. If I was as rich as you, paladin, I could buy my way to God's graces too."
Not just a guard, but a paladin as well Melfina realizes with wonder as she notices the ankh hanging from the guard's neck while the thief's words finally crack the paladin's stoic expression.
"Where is the legendary swift justice I was promised! This has been disappointing. No wonder your kind hardly ever takes the field. Commanding from up on high on thrones of gold." The thief's arm whips out and a shuriken flies from his finger tips before the last word leaves his lips, and immediately sprints toward the paladin, drawing his dagger.
It seems that the paladin is as surprised as she is. Melfina watches him do nothing but stare at the shuriken as it flies toward his exposed face. The blur of steel and the sharp clang of metal prove otherwise. The thief halts his advance, astonished by the speed of the guard's sword.
"Not bad," the thief admits grudgingly.
"My name is Stark. You should know the name of the man who ends your life."
Hopelessly outclassed, the thief turns his head and looks Melfina in the eye. He lifts up the Tome and carelessly tosses it by the front flap of the cover. "Enjoy!"
Stark runs forward effortlessly, the weight of his armor hardly hindering him. As he comes within range, Stark's sword strikes out. Yet no matter how good a sword he is, luck is on the thief's side. He can move in ways that a man in full plate cannot. Shallow cuts are all that the guard can manage to land.
None of that matters as Melfina's only concern is the Tome of Lost Knowledge. Irreplaceable forgotten knowledge rests is those pages. Her eyes track to the book as it sails through the air, pages violently flapping about, hoping they won't tear loose as she knows they must.
The book vanishes behind the corner of a nearby building. As she races to recover it, she quickly finds her fears have come to pass as she sees at least one page has torn free and lies there helplessly impaled on a crystal growth coming up from the ground.
"The Tome!" Melfina howls as she turns to face the venomous thief. Burn! Is the only thought smoldering within her as she begins to cast flamestrike. She craves the smell of his charred flesh.
The thought of how many years of knowledge that might have been destroyed pierces her heart. The fear returning to his face is small consolation. She wants to see him suffer. Yet, he knows he has already toyed with luck for too long. Adding another playmate would make him lose this game.
Concentrating on her spell, Melfina doesn't notice the shuriken. It bites into her chest, interrupting the delicate movements and concentration needed to cast the spell. She can't let the paladin finish him off before she's satisfied her craving, so she begins anew, but a wave of dizziness soon follows.
Poison! she realizes. All attempts at casting cure fail, as the poison takes its toll.
The thief grabs ahold of some of the goods on the ground and flings them at Stark's face. "Pah! Nightshade!" spits the paladin as some of the poisonous plant leaves his lips.
"Hmm... I like it. Call me Nightshade. You should know the name of the man you failed to kill," he hisses. Before he pushes the paladin too far, he points to Melfina. "Look at the girl, paladin. Kill me or save her. Choose!"
Unaware that she has collapsed to the ground, Melfina's vision blurs as she watches the thief take off. After him! is all she can think as the guard runs toward her instead.
He kneels down before her, says a prayer and lays a hand on her shoulder. Shocked, she sees flames begin to engulf him. She feels the fire begin to consume herself as well.
The world turns black.
* * *
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