The humourless man behind the counter slides the key through the bars towards you.
“A pleasure as always,” he says, though his face gives no hint of a smile. He moves something below the counter and the heavy doors ahead of you swing smoothly open, ghosting along the deep carpet.
You know that he will be the first challenge, when the day comes. Your source says all the keys are stored in a small room beyond his cage, in a section of the bank not linked to anywhere you have been allowed to visit on any of your previous visits. Not that you have been allowed to visit anywhere beyond this room and the next.
The doors close behind you, while those at the other end of the corridor are already swinging open. The clerk watches you through the bars to the left of the now-closed doors, his eyes never leaving you until you are out of the airlock corridor and have stepped into the main vault.
As the second set of doors closes, sealing you in, the manager is already strolling towards you, hand extended.
“As always, a pleasure,” he says, shaking your hand. “This way, please.”
He leads you along the vault. All around you the walls are lined with small double-locked panels, each one labelled with brass plaques inscribed with identifying numbers and runes of warding.
“Here we are,” he says, stopping half way up the room. From his pocket he produces a key, much like the one you were handed outside, and inserts it into one of the locks on the panel. His eyebrows rise as he looks toward you, waiting.
There’s a crackle of magic lancing across your fingers as you slot the key into its hole. The hairs along your arm spring to attention, though no harm comes to you. This isn’t the first time you’ve wondered what would happen were you to insert the wrong key.
This will be the second challenge. The third will be finding out where the manager stores his keys – and how he gets in to this room without passing through the foyer.
You both turn your keys, and the panel swings away to reveal the small cloth bag inside. You scoop it up, and the manager slots the panel back in place almost immediately. Without a word he turns and leads you to one of the nondescript doors set into the outside walls of the vault. It opens into a square room, richly furnished and holding a heavy desk and a comfortable armchair.
“As always, I will be ready when you are done,” he says, ushering you in and closing the door behind you.
You set the bag of holding on the table, already starting a mental countdown, ticking of a suitable amount of time before you can leave without arousing suspicion.
This will be the hardest part. All the treasures of the bank are stored in bags of holding – which means their contents can only be retrieved if you already know exactly what they hold.
Even if you can pull off the robbery, empty the whole place – how are you going to get paid?
Something I learned while writing The Wheelhouse was that I really enjoy designing high security facilities. The challenges of keeping people – or things – locked up in a world where people can teleport at will is an interesting one.
Here, then, is a bank for a magical world. There’s no need for a giant vault full of gold, guarded by dragons and traps. Instead, a hall of safety deposit boxes, each containing a bag of holding, is all that is needed to protect the treasures of the richest in society. Minimal staff mean that security breaches can be minimised; one clerk, who only has access to the barred-in main counter, which holds the levers that open the doors at either end of the airlock corridor; someone to work in the key office, who hands off the keys to the clerk, who gives them to the customers; the banker himself, who lives in his chambers in the western side of the bank, and accesses the vault through a door that only he knows how to open; and a team of powerful mages in the large study/workshop in the south-east part of the bank, creating more bags of holding, overseeing the wards on the deposit boxes, and ensuring that nobody accesses the vault through magical means.