Ruby Red 6

As she moved out of the dark room and into the dimly lit hall, she tried to look in every direction at once.  More than that though, she listened.  She heard distant murmurs and the sounds of heavy feet walking across the third floor.  While she’d needed the map to reach the palazzo, she’d committed the internal floor plan to memory.  She didn’t hesitate as she turned right and started walking.  She also didn’t bother hugging the wall or sticking to the shadows as she moved.  Most people thought sneaking around a house was all about staying constantly hidden.  Not only was that way too much work, but hiding from one potential watcher’s angle often makes you more visible to another.

The true keys to stealth are silence and awareness.  Dido’s eyes scanned for any door that might have light coming from underneath and her ears picked up footfalls on all three floors.  As a result, most of the time she didn’t even need to hide because she wasn’t there when guards clomped through a hall.  She even followed twenty feet behind a servant halfway across the third floor because she knew his arms were too full to risk looking back without destabilizing his precarious burden.

Misdirection and footwork got her up to a huge set of double doors on the third floor.  The Natouri’s vault was a little unconventional, but more secure than most.  Three stories up and encased in thick stone, the only way in was through the doors in front of her.  And the only way through those doors was by getting past a lock that made the one on the balcony look like a child’s toy.  Dido guessed a battering ram might also be a good strategy, not that there was enough room to properly swing one.

As far as Dido could tell, there were only a couple guards patrolling between the second and third floors.  She should be able to hear them coming, but just in case she left doors suspiciously open around either corner.  In the time it took them to investigate, she could hide in a nearby storeroom.  Turning back to the doors of the Natouri vault, her eyes quickly explored the lock and the edges of the door frame.  Tapping the wooden trim next to one of the hinges, Dido heard a faint, hollow echo.

A secret panel had been cunningly disguised by the intricate carving around the doors.  Pulling a thin metal pry bar from where it was sheathed against one shoulder blade, she began to coax the panel loose.  The surprising amount of resistance caused her to wince.  Any wrong move could trigger a trap or an alarm.  There were different schools of thought about home defense in Thage.  Some preferred to be alerted to attempted burglaries and others were content to find the thief’s body in the morning.

Dido very much wanted to avoid falling into either category, so she barely allowed herself to breath as she finished pulling the last corner of the board free.  Underneath was a complicated mass of tiny gears and twisting hoses.  The jumble made her head spin.  This was exactly the kind of thing that Bull could make short work of.  Thinking of her brother jogged her memory, and she recalled another night last month when he’d given her a new gadget.

*          *          *

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