The guard should have known something bad would happen.
He’d never had good luck guarding the library vault; he always missed out on the visits of particularly famous nobles, or fell asleep near the end of his shift and then was reprimanded by the captain of the guard. But for whatever reason, the current shift had been relatively painless, almost enjoyable.
It was two hours into his shift, sometime around midnight, when he heard the rustling from within the library. That in itself did not bother him, because he knew the vault was filled with all sorts of strange and magical objects. Some of them were bound to move.
But not five minutes later, there was a crash. And then . . . swearing?
He listened closer, putting his ear to the vault door. Holy mother of the moon. That was certainly some colorful speech.
It occurred to him that while there was a strong likelihood that the items within the library could move or make noise, it was doubtful that they would swear; not with such a wide range of vocabulary. Which meant that someone was in the vault. He listened again – there was more than one voice, so someones. Multiple someones.
At that point, the guard decided to take a chance going into the vault; whatever was in here, he was sure his superiors would rather him find out than the objects be stolen. So he unlocked the door, pushed it open a crack so he could slide in. He caught sight of shelves and shelves of books, scrolls, shiny devices made of metal, necklaces and bracelets decorated with gleaming jewels . . . but then, ignored it all, and concentrated on finding the supposed intruders.
The guard made his way around the maze of shelves, following the sound of swearing, which had been hushed a significant amount at the request of one of the foul-mouthed thief’s comrades. Taking quiet, tentative steps, the guard peered through a dusty group of books to an open area not fifteen feet away. There the intruders stood, having obviously snuck in from an open window that let in moonlight – three of them, crowded around a table full of scrolls and paper taken from the shelves. The guard couldn’t make them out very well in the dim light, so he crept forward in an attempt to identify the intruders . . .
And knocked into a shelf to the left of him, causing a large glass ball to fall onto the floor and shatter. This alerted the thieves, who looked up, caught sight of guard, and immediately began shoving papers into a satchel held by one of the intruders. Making a move forward, the guard slipped on glass – cursing his luck – and nearly lost his balance. By that time, the thieves were jogging to the open window.
The first thief – the one with language fit for a sailor – slipped out, golden eyes gleaming through the darkness as he ducked out the window. The second followed gracefully, the satchel gripped tight in his hand.
The last thief paused for a moment, his figure outlined by the light of the moon. The room was right enough for the guard to see the boy – yes, it was a boy, couldn’t be older than seventeen – cast a grin over his shoulder. It was filled with far more excitement than the guard believed the situation warranted, as well as more than a bit of mischief. Knowing there was nothing he could do, that he was too late, the guard stopped and stared at the overly exuberant boy.
With a two-fingered salute, the last intruder clambered out the window, disappearing into the night with his fellow thieves; but not before whispering, in a voice that carried clearly across the room:
“Long live the night.”