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Goes Unpunished, chapter 1

The next morning, the adventures are slow to leave

Lussi rolled out of bed as the sun rose. The early morning sun cast a blue light in the house. Although to call it a house was not quite correct. It was her home, and it had been in her mother’s family for generations. It was also, a tree. A very large, very old tree.

Trees like this didn’t grow very often, certainly not anymore, and probably hadn’t ever without some magical interference. The base of its trunk supernaturally large, with a strange split between two roots that traveled up the trunk for about three feet. In the split of the bark was a small, for a human, steeply angled door. Not triangular, but with a high peak like the windows on a church's spire.

The tree had several knots in its trunk that had left holes exposed to place windows. Lussi had these open now, it was early spring and she was quite pleased with the warmer weather they had been having. At the top of the trunk was a large window, with colored glass, that remained closed. The trunk itself was surprisingly short, given its massive width. At the height of about two and a half men, or five to six halflings, the trunk splintered into thousands of branches.

Many were small and merely provided shade, but one of the larger ones had been repurposed to expand the living area. A small deck seemed to be built along it. The planks of wood stretched for about six feet, or the height of one man, in both directions. A small hammock stretched between two of the branches near it and a table with two wicker chairs sat on it. One of the chairs was flipped over, Lussi hadn’t taken many guests this winter, and the halfling was too superstitious to leave a chair open and inviting like that.

Inside the trunk was surprisingly spacious, for Lussi at least. A human would find it as tight and cramped as they might have expected. One large living area was immediately within. A small iron stove stood under one of the windows near a table. Shelves lined the walls in that area, pots and pans were stacked haphazardly on them, along with spoons and knives and other utensils. Halflings were very fond of food, and cooking was never thought to be a chore, but cleaning and maintaining order was not as highly regarded.

On the other side of the room, was a large round chair. Its base was made from wood that had been woven together, much like the wicker chairs higher up in the tree. It wasn’t a high backed sitting chair though; it was formed into a large, deep circle, with a plush cushion set into it. It stood on a conical base, though it was quite low to the ground, perfect for a halfling to come home and sink back into with a glass of brandy.

There was a smaller table next to the chair; a stack of books resting underneath it. On the table was a small glass dish, filled with ashes and an empty goblet, which lay on its side. Lussi’s bed was about halfway up the tree, in an alcove where the largest branch began. It had a curtain she could pull over it, she had last night, since the adventurers had set up camp outside her tree. Most nights, she left it open, letting the breeze in from outdoors.

Just outside the curtain was a narrow walkway that ran around the entire inside of the tree. Along that walkway were rows of bookshelves carved into the wood. Most of the books were technical scripts that had belonged to her mother or father, a few of which she was familiar enough with to be able to use. Among them were also a good number of magical texts, of which she had no use, but had relieved their previous owners their burden of possession, based on their value. The books closest to her bed though, were family texts; histories, genealogies, and old journals. Her contribution to the library consisted of a stack of maps and a few leather bound travelogues; detailing her journeys, and the loot she had found on each one.

Lussi yawned as she looked around the house, savoring the calm of it. It would be a long time before she woke up here again; and she knew it. She was going to miss it here, she always did; but the weather was good for traveling and thieves didn’t make a living hiding in the woods. The word had come a few days before. Just a date, the place had been agreed upon before they left each other in the chill of late fall, last year.

She traveled the summer months with a small party, sometimes into late fall if the take had not been as much as they needed. Most would have called her group a gang, only comprised of five members. They preferred to think of themselves as a fledgling guild; still young and making their name. She would meet Briza on the banks of the river Esmel, as she did every year, and the two would travel north together, meeting the rest of the party in Baulder’s Gate.

As she looked out her window she realized she had some things to do first. She needed to prepare her home for sitting empty over the coming months, and she needed to get rid of these adventurers. Wrapping a sheet around her body, she climbed down the ladder leading to her bed, her feet padded softly on the floor as she tossed a piece of wood into the stove.

She packed the last of some dried moss under it and struck it with the flint. The fire quickly lit up the inside of the stove, but it would take a while for the top to heat as well. She placed a kettle of water on the top of the stove and headed over to her chair. Peeking out the window, she could see the adventurers still sleeping. Slowly and quietly, she pushed the chair back against the wall and rolled the rug underneath it back. A hidden door was now where the chair had been.

Placing her key in the handle she turned the latch and lifted the door open. A ladder led into the darkness below the tree. Quickly she slipped into the hole and pulled the door closed above her. She didn’t need to see to get down the ladder, she had climbed her whole life, but small bugs with luminescent bodies populated the cellar and provided some light. Crossing the near dark room, she lifted the top from a lantern and sparked the wick inside.

The cellar was mostly barren now, there were racks to house supplies for the winter, which were nearly exhausted. A few barrels were lined against one wall, one was secretly a cache for Lussi’s treasure and was magically warded for protection, two of the barrels bubbled away while spirits for next winter fermented within, the fourth she pushed across the dirt floor and left open, under a hole in the bottom of a hanging pantry.

She opened the pantry, an iron ring hung on the inside of the door, just less than a foot across; small runes were inscribed around the circle. On the shelves, wrapped in paper were hand pies, both meat and fruit, small jars some filled with pickled vegetables and other with fatty deviled meats. All of which were where the last of the stock on the racks had gone and would be perfect to sit over the summer in the cool cellar. There was also another ring, identical to the one on the door, on one of the shelves. She took the loose ring and closed the pantry, walking back to the ladder.

Lussi hung her towel from a rung and left the ring leaning against the bottom step. It was always much cooler down here than above the surface, Lussi shivered as she hurried to the smaller room behind the ladder. A heavy, moss covered curtain separated the two rooms of the cellar. This room was much warmer and heavily populated with the glowing bugs. A blue light glowed all around her.

The room was simple, its floor was several inches lower than the larger part of the cellar. On one side was a stone well, next to it was a wooden bath with a small shelf above it. Lussi began filling the bath with hot water from the well. The small room had been warm already and the added work of filling the bath had Lussi’s hair matted with sweat.

Lussi started to climb into the bath, getting one foot in, before snatching it back out and hurrying out of the room, back to the pantry. The cool of the cellar caused a flash of gooseflesh on her body. Reaching to the top shelf she grabbed a hand pie, one that she hoped was filled with delicious purple berries, and ran back to the smaller room. She slipped quickly over the side and immersed herself in the warmth of the bath, knowing this would be the last good bath she would have for quite some time.

She knew they would find inns along the way with some accommodations, but she had never found any of them to be as satisfying as her very own. Generations ago, her family had picked this spot, and cultivated this home very purposefully. The small room she was in had a well that tapped into the hot spring deep below the caves, which the tree grew above. The springs provided abundant, clean water, and already heated, perfect for the bath. The caves themselves were right below the tree and didn’t benefit from the heat of the spring; making them perfect for storing food and magical ingredients.

Lussi sank up to her neck in the water, keeping her hands above the surface, and breaking off pieces of her pie. Finishing the last bite, she slipped her head under the water and blew bubbles through her nose. She breached with her head back, pulling her hair back, and mostly into place. Stepping from the tub she wrapped her hair in a cloth, standing tall above her head, and quickly wiped the water from herself. She took a bottle of scented oil from the shelf and combed its contents into her hair.

Wrapping herself in a fluffy dry cloth, she exited the small room, and kicked a plug from the bottom of the bath, allowing the water to run out, the soft floor would absorb it quickly. Lussi could hear the whistle on her kettle start to blow, just in time for tea, she thought. Picking up the sheet and the iron ring she hurried up the steps. Pausing only for a second for another hand pie, this one stuffed with water fowl, slowly cooked in its own fat.

Peeking out the window, Lussi could see that the kettle had woken up the adventurers. They were beginning to move about their little camp, packing away their things and preparing for another day of traveling. She poured herself a cup of tea and set the pie on the edge of the stove, letting the heat warm it and soften the fat inside. Then she grabbed a small dish from the shelf by the stove and the bag that was next to it. From the bag she pulled the last large slice of fish, which had been smoked and dried. She placed it in the dish, sprinkled a few tea leaves on top and poured some of the water from the kettle over it.

Clicking her tongue, she looked out the window for the wildcat that shared breakfast with her every morning. She was concerned about not seeing it at first, the kettle usually was all the call the cat needed. Then she heard the impact on four feet on her floor, and turned to see her friend rushing towards the food. “Good morning, Miss Huxley”, which was the name she had given the cat. “Was somebody sleeping in my bed?” Huxley leapt up onto the table, pulling at the fish before the water had fully softened it. Lussi scratched the cat’s head, “You know you’re back to hunting after this, your free ride is over until I get back.”

Leaving the cat to her breakfast, Lussi placed the kettle on the window sill with a bowl of tea leaves. “Kettle’s hot! Come and get it!” She called out the window to the adventurers. The group gathered their cups from the night before and came to the window. Lussi noticed that the dwarf traveling with them did not come this way. He sat on a rock and sneaked a flask from his pack as they gathered for the kettle, taking a long pull from it.

“Good morrow, little one.” The swordswoman greeted Lussi. She was mighty cheerful to have slept on the ground last night. Lussi was always a bit gruff in the morning while she traveled. “A generous host you are indeed.” The swordswoman wrapped her hands around the mug, extracting all the heat she could from it. It seemed to have gotten quite cool outside last night, no wonder Huxley had crawled into her bed this morning. “Oh my,” the woman laughed, “where are your clothes? Do you not wear them?”

“I do, I am getting them now,” Lussi assured the woman. “I was just washing up. I’m leaving on a trip today, as well.”

“Splendid! How exciting!” This woman was certainly boisterous, Lussi wondered if she had a flask tucked away somewhere as well. “In what direction do you go?”

“First, I go up the ladder, to fetch my clothes and pack. Then I will go down them, and we can discuss our travels.” The swordswoman smiled at Lussi and stepped away from the window. Lussi hurried up the ladder, leaving her tea to steep next to the pie.

The room at the top of the stairs had been a workshop for both her mother and father. Most of their things were still here, Lussi dabbled in both arts, though she was much better at making potions than she would ever be at building artifacts. A few charms was the best she had ever been able to manage in her father’s art. Her mother’s work had provided her with numerous recipes that were especially helpful in her trade.

She pulled a bag of holding from a hook on the wall. It had been a gift from her father, not a difficult artifact to create, but one she had not been able to replicate. If she had, her treasure horde in the cellar would appear much smaller. From the outside it appeared a simple leather satchel, but the inside was much larger. This bag would hold up to five times its size. The real difficultly was in carrying it then, the bag did nothing to reduce the weight of what it held.

Her fingers traced along the shelves of tiny bottles as she picked the ones she needed. One could never be too careful when preparing for a season long trip. She would surely have a need for most of these potions, but she needed to choose carefully. She needed the right balance between what she would be able to carry easily, and what would prevent her from paying some of the exorbitant prices that merchants would charge in the cities frequented by adventurers.

Healing potions were always a necessity, one could never have too many it would seem. She placed five in her bag. Potions of endurance she found came in quite handy, too. Sometimes you just needed then to give you that added strength to go on. Lussi always brought an oil of speed, in case she needed to make a hasty exit, as thieves often did. She also brought several potions of slow, these were to be used offensively. By far, she had the most of one particular type of potion on her shelves, and she packed plenty of it in her bag. They were small, bulbous, purple vials, each stoppered with a cork. Her father used to laugh and say they were like a backwards alcohol. Each sip you took would make other people find you more trustworthy, make them like you more. Drink enough and almost anyone would find your charm irresistible.

Lussi found these to be most helpful in her trade. She couldn’t count the number of times these potions had gotten her past guards who were searching specifically for her, how many people had divulged secrets not meant to be shared with her. In truth, few people used potions like these. They were considered largely without value. Except of course to bards, who found them to be quite helpful. Bards are highly regarded in taverns for their art and performance. In social settings though, they can be quite exhausting; prone to arrogance, boasting and vanity.

Glancing over the shelves again, she checked to see if there was anything she had forgotten. She grabbed a few vials of anecdotes for poison, and a few remedies for various curses. As a thief, Lussi spent a good deal of her time sneaking through vaults and trying to pick the locks of chests that she found. She was very familiar with the gauntlet one had to run to get through most vaults, assaulted by a barrage of traps designed to keep people like her out, and at the end of all of that it was likely that the chest itself would be loaded with a trap as well.

Lussi cinched the tie on the bag shut and set it on the table. She turned her attention to the clothes that were cluttered about the room. Previously, this had been a workshop for her father and mother; and she did spend a small part of her winter making potions and charms up here herself. Mostly, for her, this room was a dressing area, it was closed off from the rest of the house, except for the hole for the ladder that led through the floor. Its only window was fixed closed and fitted with a beautiful stained glass mosaic, providing all the privacy that could be found in the cellar underneath the tree, without having to keep her clothes in a cave.

Digging through the clothes, she found her walking pants. These were the most comfortable she had for the weeks and months of traveling by foot she had ahead of her. They were leather, which made them suitable as a light armor if she were to find herself in a skirmish. The pants were made from strips of leather, alternating black and white, stretching from the waist to the calf, which is as long as they reached. There was a split in the hem of each leg, letting the pants flare out a bit over Lussi’s claves. Halflings didn’t wear shoes or boots, preferring to keep their feet uninhibited by anything so cumbersome.

Pulling them on, she reached for the tunic she had worn the night before. It was light also, and other than the silver and iron studs, it provided little protection in heavy battle. It did allow her to stay agile and nimble though; which would serve her as better protection when she needed it. She pulled it over her head and tightened the lacing on the sides. She felt stiff, but safe. Lussi tugged it down so that it almost met her pants, leaving her waist exposed a bit.

Lussi pulled the towel from the top of her head, letting her hair fall around her shoulders. She combed it quickly with a brush; pulling it back tightly and winding it into a bun on top of her head. She took two sticks from the table and used them to hold her hair up. These were not just any hair sticks, they were carefully chosen, both for being a sort of lock pick, which was of infinite importance to her work. One was a hard steel pick, nearly unbreakable, even on the strongest of locks. The other was less conventional for a lock pick, it was a large splinter of a mage’s staff that had broken when he fell in battle.

Lussi had scoured the battlefield after seeing the wizard's defeat, hoping to find some magical relics left undamaged. The earth was scorched where the wizard had fallen, a blast having originated there and consumed the area nearby in fire. At the center of the blast, she had found this; one lone, charred, wooden stick, with a fragment of a ruby still attached to the top. As a lock pick, it was a last resort, as it lacked finesse or subtlety; the magic left in the pick was chaotic and uncontrollable. It was still able to release a powerful blast of fire; but it was unrestrained, and without aim. Not a problem as long as it was placed in the lock before released.

Lussi reached for her belt, securing it around her waist. The belt fit over her pants, which held to her body tightly on their own. The belt was used to hold her gear. Metal rings hung from the leather of the belt, allowing her to fasten the bags, both the ordinary holding the iron ring and the enchanted bag of holding, to it. She also clipped the sheath containing her dagger to it. Lussi avoided confrontation at just about all costs, but traveling all summer without any weapon was too risky of an endeavor. One never knew when they would find themselves cornered and forced to fight; especially when one was going spend her summer thieving.

As they left, she pulled her pipe from her pocket, stuffing a mixture of leaves and herbs into the tiny hinged door on it. Pulling a candle from another pocket, she lit it from the embers of the adventurer’s camp fire and held it to the open door, puffing on the end of the pipe. She pulled the candle away as puffs of smoke began to fill the air. The cloud of smoke smelled sweet and floral, but with a hint of something sour underneath. She licked her fingers, then pinched the candle out.

The swordswoman looked at her, judgingly. “Little one, smoke will make the walking slower, you may have a hard enough time keeping up already.”

“The walking? Yes, it might, but it makes the time so much faster.” Lussi said, smiling, and slid the candle back into her pocket.

This story is protected by International Copyright Law, by the author, all rights reserved. If found posted anywhere other than storiesspace.com with this note attached, it has been posted without my permission.

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