Once, long ago, the Dragon decreed that any person having over 5000 pennies would be taxed of all he or she had over that amount. And it was as the Dragon said, and he established the Guild of Tax Collectors. Anyone who got over 5000 pennies saw their money go straight to the Guild of Tax Collectors. The Tax Collectors became the most powerful Guild, and the most secret, on the whole mud.
But there was another Guild in the realm, an older one. The members of this far older guild had long ago mastered the subtle arts of secrecy and purloinment. These members bore the new taxes with grace, for it was the will of the Dragon. But the overweening pride of the Tax Collectors grew great, and eventually it became intolerable. They worked a magic so that they would never have to leave their secret, impregnable fortress.
Taxed coins were magically gathered into the aethyr, and when the time came for them to be collected, they returned to this realm and poured through the streets to their destination. All could see the coins, but none could touch, because the Tax Collectors' magic froze the entire realm while the coins made their journey. And the Tax Collectors taunted the members of the older Guild with this money, and said it could never be stolen.
But one mortal man, a member of the older guild, was also a knight QE, a Philosopher, a Cunning Scoundrel, and a Shaman. He did not brook this insult to his guild, and set out to avenge it. Full long, he meditated, and at last he realized a solution. Cloaked in the deepest invisibility, he ventured into the Hedge and Rose Tea Room, where he found a full quart of Dragon's Blood.
Returning to the streets with the Dragon's Blood, pursued by the invisible servants of the Hedge and Rose, he heard the jingle of approaching coins and quaffed the full quart of Dragon's Blood. The shock, enough to kill him many times over, was balanced exactly by the deathly lag of the Tax Collector's spells. He set out after the jingling coins, and followed them to the hidden, impregnable fortress of the Tax Collectors' Guild.
Borrowing a nearby gardener's cart, the cunning scoundrel had brought along a rope with a grappeling hook, and enough rope to scale the walls. He reached the top of the wall in safety, for the Tax Collectors in their pride thought none could penetrate their defenses. Climbing down the rope on the inside, the philosopher ventured into the fortress bearing only a well-Forged Sword and a dereferenced pointer. Always going the way opposite to that indicated by the pointer, he soon found his goal.
In the Hall of Pennies, he found huge heaps of pennies, and soon gathered up more than any other person on the mud, even the wizards and gods.
Then two Tax COllectors found him, and fell upon him with great howls of rage. But the quester emeritus knew well the ways of the blade, and slew them both. Setting forth with over 10000 pennies in hispossession, he left the Hall of Pennies. But a third Tax Collector had crouched down behind the door, and leaped out at him, stabbing him deep in the thigh with a sharp knife. The shaman slew that Tax Collector as well.
Hearing more Tax Collectors coming running, the Adept fled that place, limping and leaving a trail of blood. Behind him, the Tax Collectors set a dog on his trail, and it was a very fast dog. The cunning scoundrel had just reached the outer wall when the dog rushed up and bit him on the very spot where he'd been stabbed.
Unfortunately for the dog, the thief had not yet removed the dagger from his wound, and the thing's long hilt caught in the dog's throat, choking it to death. Behind the dog came a Tax Collector, raving and red-faced, wearing a white nightshirt. "Die, thief!"
"I'm a Brigand Lord, a master of my craft, and no mere thief! What's more, you will help me, but to live, not to die.
"How so, thief? Do you not see my good long sword?
"I see it, but I also see your good clean nightshirt.
Confused, the Tax Collector attacked our hero, who cleverly fainted from loss of blood. The Tax Collector's swing went wild, in a wide circle, and ended in the Tax Collector's head. The shaman used his mystical arts to recover from his faint, and to make a bandage of the Tax COllector's nightshirt. Forced to leave the Forged Sword behind to climb, he hid the Tax Collector's boot knife in his bandage, and climbed to the top of the wall once more.
When he reached the top, the Tax Collectors at the bottom had begun to shoot at him, and he had to time to draw up his rope. He leaped down on the outside, to the ggardener's cart. But someone had moved the cart, and the philosopher fell on sharp rocks, cutting his head and hurting his leg further. As he crawled away, the invisible servants of the Hedge and Rose found him, with the remaining Tax Collectors not far behind. The Adept crawled to the river bank and fell in just as they reached him.
For a long time they patrolled the river, and some patrol it still seeking the man who robbed the Tax Collectors' Guild of over 10000 pennies, but no mortal man could stay underwater so long, so most knew he had died, and his story with him.
Now, all things in time come to change, and so with the end of this story. It so happened that when the Tax Collectors could not find the money which had been stolen from them, they went before the Dragon.
"Hey, Dragon, we want you to destroy our enemy. Stop what you are doing and go find him."
The Dragon opened one eye slowwwly and looked at the Tax Collectors. "Enemy?"
"Yes! He broke into our impregnable fortress and robbed our treasury of over 11000 pennies! We demand that you fid him now and destroy him."
The Dragon slowwwly opened his other eye. "You demand that I 'fid' him, eh?"
The Tax Collectos realized their mistake just a moment too late as the Dragon yawned slowwly -- then ate them all in a flash. Chomp, chomp, chomp, yum, the most powerful and secretive guild was all gobbled up. The Dragon, after his snack, considered taking another nap, but decided instead to fly to the impregnable fortress that had once been the Tax Collectors'.
He flew for a long time, he flew for a short time, he flew for no time at all. What is time to the gods, after all, but a plaything and a whim? He arrived at the stronghold, and covered the sky above it with his beating wings.
With a crack of his tail and a blast of his flame, the Dragon destroyed the fortress. The gold he took, the rest he destroyed, and back to his home he went. That nap, hard-earned, he returned to then, and he dozed himself right off.
The thief, meanwhile, had found a healer, a medicine woman, from far across the water. She tended his wounds for the sake of her craft, and soon he was healed again. When he could walk again, unbandaged, he returned to the site of his
crime. The fortress was gone, replaced by heaps of ash.
He sat himself down, and laughed really hard -- he'd thought he'd be able to repeat his crime. But the Guild of Tax Collectors was no more, neither to be suffered nor bearded again. On the whole, he thought, it was a good thing, because he would now no longer be hunted.
As he thought this, the stones underneath him heaved him into the river. Boldly indeed did he mock his tormenters: He said "Glub!"
His tormenters shrieked silently and glowed with unseen force; thus did he recognize them as the servants of the Rose and Hedge. They flew out after him and dropped rocks on his head, and he sank under the surface of the river. Death-dealing they were, and mercy they showed none. They chittered and whispered as they pushed him below, and this was their secret gloat: "Taxes you may avoid, and taxes you may regain, but NO ONE can ever cheat Death!"
This truly great wisdom they never repeated; only their victim heard them, and so it was lost forever. Likewise the body was lost forever, but the invisible servants knew their enemy was dead. For as they had told him, and as they all knew, the two things in life that none can avoid are taxes, taxes, taxes and death.