Claude got back up. He'd fallen back into the alley as a result of being forced back by the thug. Fortunately, that was the end of the alley and it was more spacious, giving him more space to duck around.
He really couldn't afford to underestimate anyone, not if even a common thug could push him so far. Had he not risked using Magic Missile while on the ground he might not have survived.
He wasn't a true battlemagus, after all, and only had a single true combat spell. While it could take care of the thugs without a problem, he didn't know how useful it could be against a real magus. He couldn't do much against the bearded magus that had attacked him in the small forest. He would have lost if the enemy had had combat spells of his own.
Claude would always reflect on his actions after every such occurrence. That was one advantage he had. It wasn't any different this time. He felt he was becoming too reliant on a single spell and thinking he was invincible against Blacksnake with it. So, he became too careless and even declared he would rob them.
Even if he used Projectile Barrier before challenging them, he shouldn't have dropped the handaxe when two ranged weapons were raised against him. He could've parried the close-range attacks had he not. Fortunately, the alley was wide enough to get out of the way.
Currently, all six Blacksnake thugs in the yard were beaten down, at least four of which were dead. Claude wondered why there wasn't any commotion from the ruckus, however. Not one person had popped their head out of a window to check. If something with up, he had to be careful.
He cast another Projectile Barrier on himself, and entered the yard. He made his quiet way to the tree with the Shark bodyguards. One was faking an injury. Claude gave him a light kick.
"Get up! I know you're fine. I'll make it so you don't have to fake it if you don't get up now."
The guard immediately sat up and kneeled.
"Lord Magus, please spare us. We are not with them. We are victims just like yourself. Just look at how they beat my face..."
Claude had to admit the man had not been spared blows. His eyes were only just barely still open, and he bled from numerous lacerations all over his scalp. He'd been surprised to see a Shark so badly beaten, but the young man's voice had revealed his inexperience.
Claude pointed at the six bodies in the yard.
"Find anything valuable on them."
The beaten-up guard didn't expect the magus was there to rob Blacksnake and didn't immediately react. Claude snorted an unresponsive second later, however, and the guard dashed off as best his aching body would let him.
Claude kept his distance and watched as the latter made his practiced way around the bodies. Lacking in combat experience or not, he was a superb pickpocket, Claude decided.
Unfortunately no skill in pickpocketing could take what wasn't there, and what there wasn't, was money. Between all of the bodies there were just a single riyas and four sunars in copper.
Claude shoved his chin in the direction of another nearby corpse, and soon it was searched as well. Even with the other corpses' money, however, he only had three thales.Claude motioned his chin to the other corpse. Soon, the other two injured and three dead thugs.
He sighed and glanced at another pair of recently deceased in a further corner.
"There. Two more."
"They're Sharks, Lord Magus. We're not your enemies," the guard said, surprised.
"True, but you're not my friends either. And it's not like they will need any of it. Get a move on! I can put you to sleep if you don't want to..."
"I-I'll search them," the guard answered quickly.
"I'll have you things as well. Didn't I say I was going to rob all of you? All of you."
The guard had to fight the urge to bang his head open against the ground, and finally believed the magus really was there to rob them.
The final two corpses and unwilling victim finally satisfied Claude somewhat. Blacksnake may be bigger, but Shark clearly had all the money. The victim alone had three thales and ten coppers. One would never have expected such riches to come from one wearing such meagre clothing.
"What are you looking at me for? Can't part with your money?"
"N-no... Lord Magus..."
Claude stashed his loot and smiled. He had 15 thales now. His mood much improved, he decided to spare his poor victim some consolation.
"Think of it like this. If I hadn't come to rob you, you would've been dead. All you've lost instead, is a couple thales. A cheap price for your life, no?"
The guard didn't answer, his face an awkward mask of obeisance. If that was how the thief-magus was going to soothe his conscience, so be it. Whatever got him out of there as quickly as possible.
"How many people are there in the house?" Claude asked.
"At least a dozen came, and at least a couple went in."
"T-there's their second-in-command, Fatbull Bowen, and his four guards... Jerad, Kesline, and Kefnie are inside as well, and one of my friends, Ablonk..."
So nine, Claude thought. Why did he hear nothing from inside then? He did sense breathing in the building, he might have thought nobody was home if he hadn't though. The entire house was pitch black as well. Bowen must have noticed the commotion and decided it was best to make things dark. They were probably waiting in ambush by the door.
"Does it have a backdoor?"
"No. No windows on the ground floor, either. There are two on the first floor, but it's six metres straight down through them."
"So this is the only way in?"
Claude raised his voice.
"The lights inside are all out. You think it'll be fine as long as you hide? With me doing the robbing, none of you can escape."
He pointed at the guard and then at the wooden door, motioning for him to open it.
The guard pointed at himself, stupefied.
Claude nodded sagely.
The man gulped, then headed for the door. He stepped over a Blacksnake corpse, then stopped and picked it up, dangling it in front of him.
Claude approved of his ingenuity and decided he was probably an okayish guy.
The door opened with a creak and the dead body was struck by several blows at once. The guard shoved the body into the black and rolled away from the door as quickly as he could. The corpse landed face-up, its forehead split, but no blood leaking from the wound. His chest had been split by four throwing axes, and three swords had also rooted themselves in his torso. Its left leg was completely severed and rolled around on its own.
The house was still pitch black inside, and the corpse was entirely swallowed by the darkness. Claude didn't need his eyes to know what was going on inside, however. He could sense the roughened breaths of the corpse's murderers and he could sense they'd relaxed some, thinking the corpse had been something else before their attacks.
Claude's finger pointed in the door's direction for a moment, then a flash of bright light dashed out of the top of it and shot into the house and illuminated the interior.
There aren't any useless spells, only useless magi.
In that moment, Claude couldn't agree more. A spell didn't have to kill to be deadly, one just had to know how to use it. Luminous Pearl, for example, sealed the bastards' in the building's fate merely by stripping them of the cloak of darkness, rather than doing any direct physical harm to them. The sudden presence of a miniature sun blinded the people inside for several moments, and it was just long enough for Claude to take action.
He darted in through the doorway and pumped Magic Missile after Magic Missile into everyone he saw. All-in-all he let go with five, felling one with each, leaving the house void of enemies. In fact, it left the house void of all signs of life. Where were the sisters and the boyfriend?
Claude turned around, and found them tied up in the room's further corner. They stared into the blinding light of the pearl, trying against the odds to catch a glimpse of what was going on in the room. They're eyes eventually fixed on him, filled with terror. A corpse lay in front of them, chest gouged open by knife cuts and axe strikes. It was probably the friend the guard had mentioned.
"You, come in and continue," Claude ordered.
The guard slid into the house, his eyes narrowed. Even for him the light was blinding.
The four guards were all as poor as the ones before. Fatbull Bowen was the only exception. And quite the exception at that. He had five crowns and ten more thales. The night was finally worth it.