Paul's footsteps were muffled, and his body was wrapped in shadow. He had taken a half hour to move 30 feet along the corridor, and in reward for his patience and his caution, he had spent that half hour safe. Soon, he would make himself less safe, but that was the payoff he had come in here for.
No one seeing Paul at work would guess that he was the Paul they saw at play. The play was a sham of what his work was, a parody of what he did that made his real job so much easier. It was easy to show up drunk and loud for a party, and clumsily withdraw quarters from behind people's ears, and carry on with the worst type of parlor tricks. And to be caught "trying to steal" some 10 gil piece of silverware from the hostess. Well, that was part of the entertainment: quite risque and fasionable to invite a famous thief to your get-together. And everyone would laugh and clap at the dashing burglar, who would take your drink out of your hand, drink it, and return it before you knew what happened.
All part of his misdirection. Real thievery was a boring, meticulous affair. One he didn't engage in often. One he didn't have to engage in often: the lesser trinkets of the drunken thugs that made up the Empire's occupation force, the things they wouldn't notice gone from their carriages or their wrists, were enough for a modest man like Paul to live off for a year. And Paul, who widely proclaimed himself as the greatest thief in the kingdom, was never suspected. Who would suspect an attention-seeking buffoon of pulling off such a heist?
His foot padded down, and he winced for a second inwardly when he realized that it was audible. Not obviously so, but audible.
The corridor he was moving through, a pitch black, cold and desolate place, had taken on the dimensions of a carnival to him. And to him, it was as obvious as a carnival. A misplaced foot was as obvious, to him, as holding up a sign and chanting "COME GET ME". The four steps he would take in the next five minutes were like a day's journey, and the cobble that stuck out a little bit more would be planned for the way some would plan climbing a mountain. As his foot moved on to that cobble, the time and space of the corridor became finer, longer, full of ramifications that he only could see, and each ounce of pressure he put on the cobble made him see what was going on around him, made him feel everything from his youth in Althea to the palpable feel of Mattias' evil presence. But the cobble didn't shift, it didn't move. He was safe for a second, a moment longer.
And now, after so much meticulous care, he threw caution to the wind. Or appeared to: because even that was merely part of his deception. He laughed and shouted out "I am Paul, Master Thief!" immediately all the guards that he had snuck past swiveled and looked at him, and gave chase. But their surprise and anger against their interloper, and the legends they had heard about the legendary light hearted thief Paul, all came to the fore of their minds, and became weapons against them. Paul was not a violent man, most thieves aren't. But the confusion of the soldiers at seeing the master thief in front of them gave him an advantage that he quickly used. His attack against them was swift , vicious and effective. He had knocked the jailer down with a blow to the temple, and before the man could even slump to the floor, Paul used the keys on his belt to undo the metal doors.
He looked in on the huddled figures. It was amazing to a man as hold and experienced as him that these young people, still looking so green and helpless, were the bravest people he had ever met. Although he would play it off as merely avoiding being in their debt, beneath his poker face, his heart was warm towards them. And he knew that these confused children could do what none of the great or mighty could do: end the tyranny that threatened to eclipse all shreds of meaning on his planet. His own part, no matter how great, reached its apex as he freed them from confinement.
"So there's my thanks for saving me from the mines! You'dbetter get moving!"