The Wizard – Entry 5

Reil squinted and shielded his eyes from the bright suns. There were clouds in the sky, but any that tried to provide shade dissipated in minutes. He was home, his real home, on Taiath’Rhowar, standing in fields of rolling green hills. Wildflowers ran through the grass likes veins, bursting with colors of red, white, and purple. In the distance, great walls of trees stood like an approaching army, towering into the sky with rich, proud leaves shining dark green in the sunlight.

          A few hundred yards in front of the thief stood a house, stout and strong, and made of thick palestone. A roof made of solar catchers basked in the sun-filled afternoon air, powering the house’s electrical needs as well as the automated irrigation machines. A garden overflowing with fruits and vegetables, shined from the shower it was being given. Chickens, sheep, and goats roamed in and out freely, happily filling the air with clucks and bleats.

          Reil knew this house, it was the house he was born in, built by his father and mother. Yet despite knowing he was home, something felt off. He felt as though this wasn’t where he actually was. The wind rushing around him and throwing his clothes and hair into fits of flapping; that was about right for this time of year in the Alvennis Forest. The damp, cool smell the wind carried from the woods; that was right as well. The tight fitting, white shirt and tight blue pants tucked into ankle-high running boots; that was right however itchy the shirt was.

          This is a dream, it finally hit Reil as he realized he hadn’t been to his home planet since the beginning of the war nine long years ago. I’m on Sovon’Yur, in Feldrin with broken ribs. He assumed he’d wake up upon noticing the fact that he was dreaming, but to his surprise he remained standing in the fields of his youth. It must be a side effect of those megs, I’ve heard they mess with your head worse than wyneroot.

          Reil had assumed that being in a dream was what felt off, but the sinking feeling lingered yet. What was it about this day? What day even is it? Hoping to learn more of his whereabouts and whenabouts, he set off toward the house of his childhood, not sure if he should be wary or just accept the dream and smile.

          As his feet fell closer and closer to the door with stained glass scenes of flowers in the center in the shape of a crescent moon, Reil let small turns of a smile edge onto his face as the smells of his mother’s garden filled his nose. Great, now Feldrin will stink even more when I wake up for having remembered this. The thought was hardly filled with anger, Reil could even forget the itchiness of his shirt for the beautiful aroma of the garden and the soft, comforting whirrings of the irrigation machines. A wide window stood off to the left of the door with a large sill that Reil remembered curling up on with coffee and a book on countless days of his early childhood. He slid a hand across the well worn wood of the window sill, letting his fingernails scratch along with his hand. His hands were more calloused than he was used to, they were as his hands used to be when he spent all his time climbing trees in the Alvennis.

          Admiring the wood and the architecture of the house, so carefully and lovingly crafted by his own parents, he slowly pulled his eyes upward and into the house. It took him a time to adjust, the humid air from the freshly watered garden fogged the glass, but he saw two very familiar shapes sitting at a large table, hands being thrown in directions and occasionally slamming onto the tabletop.

          Tall and burly, with his tight blue shirt of Rhowaran fabric strained by the mass of muscles underneath, stood the man who taught Reil how to climb, fight, track, and hunt. Bave Ryik, a true man of Taiath’Rhowar with a massive personality and an even larger beard. His blonde hair was pulled back in a tight ponytail and his beard spread wildly across his face. His violet eyes looked happy, even when the man was furious, with creases around the edges from spending most of his days smiling. The usual strong, jovial cheeks were more drawn this day, and his forehead was taut with worried wrinkles. The subject of his frustration stood on the opposite side of the table, a thin blonde woman of below average height with sparkling eyes of two colors; one typical Rhowaran violet, the other a warm brown. The multicolored eyes betrayed her mixed heritage, one parent evidently having been from somewhere other than Taiath’Rhowar. Her pointed chin was tilted up and her thin lips were pulled into a haughty pout. She stood as if she was three feet taller than she really was. Anne Ryik was without a doubt the most stubborn being that Yvesu ever crafted, and Reil shuddered with memories of the times he spent attempting to win an argument with her.

          His parents’ fighting wasn’t uncommon, but it was always gentle and they made up soon afterwards. They truly loved each other with all the Heart the Mother had given them, and it showed in all they did. But this wasn’t one of those fights. Reil remembered these fights clearly, fights out of frustration and fear of the approaching war. Rumors that the fighting would reach Taiath’Rhowar early on because they were the energy producers of the Windfell Empire had caused high tensions and stress among everyone, his parents included. They weren’t misplaced fears either, two of the Empire’s eleven planets had already fallen to the war, and Yellen was currently in a losing and bloody battle.

          Windfell, that’s a name I haven’t thought of in a long time. The Windfell Empire was the first casualty of the war. It was once powerful, stretching across the better half of the Olitheren System, twelve colonized planets under its power and two more in mining colonies. Windfell flourished because of its powerful grasp on the energy industry. Its planets, though not very large in number, were prosperous and strong. Taiath’Rhowar was the Empire’s greatest asset, producing enough power for the other eleven planets and the mining colonies by itself. Great rivers and powerful wind raged across the surface, with only man-made terraformed areas and rare natural forests such as the Alvennis being hospitable. Those who lived in the terraformed cities were not natives to Taiath’Rhowar, but colonists from the more central planets of the empire who first came to the planet close to a thousand years ago, fairly early into the 9th and current, Cycle.

          Those who lived in the forests were true natives of the planet, and were given immunity to the laws and governings of the Windfell Empire. A brief war could be found mentioned in historical texts, with the natives resisting the arrival of the Imperial colonists. But over centuries, the two people groups grew close, with the Rhowaran natives eventually voluntarily entering the Windfell Empire and accepting their government. Natives all looked similar, with tanned skin, blonde or white hair, and the most striking and unique feature, eyes of pure Rhowaran violet.

          Rhowarans were humble yet loud people, they weren’t afraid to speak their mind but they didn’t often boast. Emotions flowed freely in conversations with people of Taiath’Rhowar; it was considered unhealthy for the Soul to hold back emotions, so gatherings were filled with loud singing, professions of love, tears of both grief and joy, and everything in between. Reil’s family lived as traditional Rhowarans did, building their own house out of wood gathered from whichever forest they lived in, often miles from the nearest neighbor, and entirely self sufficient. He grew up learning how to garden and cook from his mother, and how to hunt and woodwork from his father. Childhood for a native Rhowaran meant climbing and running through trees, fishing from roaring rivers, and countless hours of manual labor helping run the family house.

          “I won’t say it again, Anne!” Bave said through gritted teeth, effort from withholding a yell clearly evident. “If we want him to live, we must send Reil to the Sovon System, whether the war reaches us or not. He’ll be safe there.” His tone softened slightly as he reached for his wife’s tear streaked cheek, “regardless of what happens, we’ll be with him again.”

          “In this Vein, or the next?” The now trembling Rhowaran woman choked audibly on her last words.

          “Oh my Heart, I am so sorry,” Bave stepped around the table and pulled the woman into his arms in an all encompassing hug.

          The Sovon System belonged to the Delkari Dynasty, and was the target for many Windfell refugees in the last year as the recently united Gav’Rethil Federation swept through systems, colonized or not, annihilating and conquering every planet they laid claim to. The Delkarians had been close friends with the Windfell Empire since the Collapse, a Galaxy-wide economic disaster early in the Cycle, when the two powers worked to pull each other from the financial hole they had both fallen into.

          In an act of good faith, the Delkari Royal Family sent ambassadors from the Family itself to tell the citizens of Windfell that any and all refugees seeking safety from the approaching Gav’Rethil army would be welcomed on any planet in the Sovon System, barring there was room remaining. The first planet filled with refugees was Sovon’Pel, with Sovon’Yur, the planet Reil had found residence on, being the last to accept Windfell citizens before closing their gates as the war had reached the galactic scale and the Delkari Dynasty became a target of the Federation as well.

          “Anne, I ask it out of love and nothing else,” Bave pleaded while caressing his wife’s hair, “please sign the documents. As the war keeps growing do you think the Delkarians will continue their altruism? Do you think they will welcome us with open arms as our people walk into their cities with targets painted on their backs? Soon their gracious offer will be rescinded, and when that happens I want to thank the Mother that our son is safe in their cities.”

          Anne’s hands trembled worse than the rest of her frail body, “I will sign. I will sign out of love, but my Heart breaks today.”

          That’s why everything feels off. Today is the today they told me I was leaving Taiath’Rhowar without them. To go to the Sovon System, leave the home of my people, become a citizen of another empire, and have my own identity ripped from my Soul. Reil’s long held bitterness toward his parents’ decision had not left him. When a native of Taiath’Rhowar left the planet, they would forfeit their identity as a Rhowaran. He kept his first name as a matter of necessity, but he was no longer a Ryik after that day. He was just Reil now; Reil the thief, Reil the street urchin, Reil the golden-haired fullop. But not Reil Ryik.

          Perhaps he would not have been so angry with them had they come with him, but by the time his stubborn parents had finally realized how real the danger of the war was, the Delkarians had already altered their offer to accept only one refugee from each family. Of course his parents would not leave each other, and as he was an only child, the decision of who to send a very easy one to make.

          Reil’s hands trembled as memories coursed through him and shook his core. He was in a travel pod on a Leviathan-Class Passenger Ship by the time the carpet bombs leveled the forests of Taiath’Rhowar. He was told of the bombings the day he stepped off the ship that brought him to Feldrin. The Delkari soldier showed true compassion, and Reil remembered the genuine pain in the man’s eyes when he gave the news with a comforting hand on Reil’s shoulder.

          What he didn’t know was that once the real soldiers left to go defend the outer planets of the Sovon System, all good, honest men would be gone. The guards stationed in Feldrin were horrid to the refugees, eating the rations meant for new arrivals and abusing women. Any respect Reil had gained of the Delkari people from their refugee program and the virtuous soldiers he had met on the passage from his home planet was beaten out of him, mentally and physically, in his first week on Sovon’Yur. The remaining human left in him was not the same human who once ran through the Alvennis Forest. His Heart was bruised and his Soul was split in two. He felt a broken old man at only eleven years old.

          Unable to withstand anymore flashbacks, and not wanting to look at his parents knowing they had only a day or two from this moment before they were killed, Reil backed away from the window with tears in his eyes. How long am I going to be stuck in this dream? Has my day not been bad enough, Mother? In a little more than a day, Reil’s life had been turned upside down. He was to be a Squadron Leader, youngest to ever be appointed, had good friends he considered family, and was happy, all things considered. Now he was trapped in a dream filled with painful memories of his ruined homeworld, was lying in some Godless alley way with broken ribs, and with the exception of Cent, everyone he knew was likely dead.

          With nothing else to do while he waited to wake up, Reil did as he always did on Taiath’Rhowar when he found himself unable to handle what Yvesu threw his way. He went to the Alvennis.

          There was a dampness in the air around a Rhowaran forest that never left. The wind of the day made it stronger and the moisture in the air teased Reil’s nose. He patted and searched through his pockets to find a tie that could hold his hair back in the unceasing gusts. The leather band held the blonde strands tightly, and Reil couldn’t help but let the nostalgia in as his eyes scanned the familiar tree line ahead. Blue skies, bright white clouds above, and all four suns shining, telling any Rhowaran that it was midday.

          The emerald tree line shimmered as the different shades of green reflected the suns’ lights. Trying to look past the first row of trees was like trying to see more than a few feet ahead in a lightless cave. The ancient shade of the Alvennis was deeper than an ocean, and said to have beared witness to the Mother’s creation of the first human. Most native Rhowarans claimed that the forests of Taiath’Rhowar themselves, they could never decide which forest, were the actual birthplace of the human race. As the towering treetops grew closer and began to give Reil the feeling of being but a grain of sand in a desert, he could almost believe the creation stories he heard in his youth. If you had to choose a place to give us Life, Mother, this would’ve been a good one.

          Reil stood in grass strands reaching up to his knees, looking upward at the trees that stood as high as twenty-story buildings. He knew they were smaller, but he couldn’t help but feel that these trees even made the skyscrapers of Feldrin seem small. A low howl whispered through the darkness of the Alvennis. The trees were too tall and too dense to allow light through and even during the brightest days of Summer the Alvennis was cool and dark.

          He couldn’t count the number of days he spent in the very woods that now towered in front of him, and yet he had never been afraid of them. They were always so inviting, the cool air being a relief from the heat and the darkness being a blessing of the Mother in comparison to the blinding light of Taiath’Rhowar’s four suns. And yet, as he stood in the clothes of his childhood, the low roar struck fear into him and the darkness looked menacing.

          A flash of blue and white caught his attention and set his stomach to fluttering. Someone in Rhowaran native garb had dashed behind a tree. In seconds, even with the smells of spring and of the fauna in the forest, Reil caught the scent of the phantom Rhowaran. It was as if nothing else had a scent but this human. The familiar tendrils of honey and skylillies tickled his nose and pulled him forward onto the balls of his feet like physical hands. Memories hit him even harder than before, but this time he wasn’t alone in them.

          “Lyrin,” Reil barely got the name out in a whisper. Once the words had left his tongue, he knew he wanted to say it again, it was like a drug. “Lyrin!” He called into the trees, a laugh breaking into his voice at the end. “Lyrin, I’m gonna get you! Who’s the king of the Alvennis?” He taunted and laughed and broke into a run into the dense trees.

          Breaking the treeline was like entering a portal. The whole world changed around him in an instant. Reil’s eyes had to adjust to the darkness and his skin was quickly covered in bumps from the chill. The world took on an entirely new palette. The only thing that remained the same was the scent of his closest friend. He couldn’t get Lyrin out of his nose if he stuck his face right into a patch of whiskeyroot. Despite the cold and the intimidating lack of light, Reil could not force the laughter down as it bubbled up his throat. It felt so good, so right, to be running with Lyrin in the Alvennis again. How long it had been since it last happened, and how much had gone wrong since.

          Trees whipped by on either side, Reil’s ponytailed hair flowing wildly behind him. The darkness grew and the forest’s depths ahead looked black as night. There was the usual sounds of a forest cascading from all around, but also another, quieter noise. Reil’s mind was torn between chasing the blonde haired woman in front of him and trying to hone in on the quiet, pestering noise. Without warning, a dull force coursed through Reil as his right side collided with a tree at full running speed. Lost in thought, he had not seen the fat, gray-barked trunk in front of him. He tumbled to the ground, using his hands and thief-trained reflexes to avoid hitting anything else on his way down. Reil’s fall came to a stop with his body cradled in a swath of large and surprisingly warm roots.

          The system of roots held his head slightly off the forest floor and his feet up even higher, like he was in a hammock. The stiffest hammock I’ve ever been in, that’s for sure. Where in the Dark did that tree come from? Reil put a hand to his head to stop the spinning. Now that his chase with Lyrin was over, she didn’t appear to have stopped when he had his fall, he craned his ears to listen to the sound that had still not stopped.

          “Reil, wake up. I’m not going to carry you again.”

          It was Cent’s voice. As the sounds of his friend’s voice became clearer, the world around him blurred and tore apart. The bark of trees splintered and exploded, sending spears of wood flying all around. The darkness ripped through the forest like a tsunami and a horrible scream filled the now freezing air. A sharp plank of wood dug straight into Reil’s chest, not stopping until it was a full foot into the soil underneath him. He screamed, without feeling any pain, and it was over.

 

~`’~

 

          “Reil, it’s ok. It was just a nightmare. You’re alright,” Cent was kneeling at his side with concern painted on his face and his hands on Reil’s shaking shoulders.

          Reil panted as he fought to believe Cent’s words of comfort. “I was home.”

          “What do you mean?”

          He shook his head to clear his thoughts as much as to finish waking up, “On Taiath’Rhowar. It was a dream but it all felt so real, and I knew it was a dream but I didn’t wake up.” The words came pouring out of his mouth in a breathless flood.

         Some concern left Cent’s face, but he kept one hand on his friend’s shoulder. “Probably a side-effect of the megs, you know everyone says those things mess with your head worse than-”

          “Wyneroot. Now I know what they meant. I couldn’t feel pain really, but my other senses were fine, if not heightened. Everything felt… off. And… well I woke up when the forest began to explode and… a piece of wood went straight through me.” Reil’s voice began to slow down and regain control.

          “That’s… disturbing. How did it feel being home?” There was a pause before the last word; Cent wasn’t sure how to mention the topic around Reil, it was always a touchy one since they first met.

          “It was wonderful, I saw Lyrin. I’ve told you about her before, right?” Reil chucked a bit, feeling far better for having been awake.

          “Oh you may have mentioned her here or there, or you know, a few hundred times.” Cent joined Reil’s laughter.

          Reil didn’t tell his friend everything about Lyrin, about the feelings he held for her or about their inside jokes that only they understood. But in telling Cent about his life before Feldrin, before the war, he couldn’t help but bring her up, because nearly every memory he had of Taiath’Rhowar that was worth mentioning involved Lyrin in some way or another.

          “So, you know what would help me forget my terrible dream and near-death experience?” Reil put on his smoothest smile and wiggled his eyebrows in the direction of his friend.

          “Hm?” Cent took one look at Reil’s face and rolled his eyes, blowing upward to get an unruly strand of hair from his vision.

          “Nectar of the Light itself; some good, piping hot Seventh Street coffee.”

          Cent sighed before shrugging, “well, if we stop by Victoria’s place we can probably trade her a few megs and maybe some painkillers for a whole silver. Most Lightless money I’ve ever held at once. A coffee wouldn’t be too hard on the bank as long as Vicky’s home. Besides, she’d want to hear about what happened yesterday.”

          Reil cheered and pumped his fists into the air. “‘Bout time something good happens.” A bit of sadness ringed with the last words. It was hard to remain happy after the raid on the Thief House. It already seemed so far away, it was hard to believe it happened only the day before.

          “Before you get too excited, let’s see how those megs worked. Think you can walk?” Cent asked cooly, his voice its usual calm, “judging by your fist pump, I’d be willing to bet your ribs are in working order.”

          Reil clambered to his feet, restless after so much time spent immobile. “Good as new! A little sore in the side, but nothing too bad.”

           “Think you’ll be fine for a hike through the city? Victoria’s place isn’t close, and it’s even farther from Seventh Street than here.”

          “I’ll be fine to kick your butt, a hike through the city will be a breeze,” Reil shadowboxed the air in front of him while giving his imaginary opponent his best footwork.

          “As much as I’d like to prove you wrong, I’m not quite in the mood to drag your body to a hospital. And somehow I doubt they’d accept stolen medications as payment.”

          The two friends laughed as they began to pack up their few belongings. Reil stuffed as much as he could into the network of pockets lining his thieves coat, and Cent placed the more valuable and important goods into his backpack. The raven-haired thief wasn’t wrong, it would be a long trek, but visions of a fresh cup of coffee pushed aside the arduous journey ahead for Reil. He smiled and zipped up his coat thinking to himself that maybe things weren’t quite so bad. Cent patted his shoulder with a smile, “Let’s head out, shall we?”

Advertisements

The Wizard – Entry 4

A warm breeze filled with the smells of a city born out of metal and tar blew across Reil’s face, teasing his bangs into curls and pressing them in all directions. It was gone as soon as it came; wind and breezes were not common in Feldrin, they found it difficult to weave in between the hundreds of miles of skyscrapers and make it to the crowded streets. The sounds of the Great Factory, a nickname given to the city for its thousands of production plants, rang as loud as ever. The workers did not cease their duties to mourn the loss of one of the city’s many Thief Houses being destroyed, no one did.

          “Wake up you golden haired little idiot, I see your eyes moving behind those lids of yours, it’s time to get up.” The voice was soft and playful, as teasing as the short lived breeze. The young man with the soft voice sat cross-legged to the left side of Reil, his hands a flurry of precise motion as he oiled bandages with a pain reliever to apply to his friend’s bruised and possibly broken ribs. The breeze had toyed with his hair as well, his thick mane of obsidian hair pushed back and looping curls hanging in a tangled mess. Though, as anyone who knew him would confirm, the man’s hair was in such a perpetual state of disaster, the breeze could only have helped it. His pale green eyes took turns keeping an eye on the oiling job at hand and checking to see if Reil had awoke. “Reil, I mean it. Until you are up and talking to me I can’t assess how serious your injuries are.” His voice had become slightly harder, with a serious edge replacing the playful one.

          Reil groaned and opened his eyes before quickly closing them again after seeing how bright it was. He couldn’t remember where he was or why, but he was positive that by all accounts he should be dead. “Are we in the Vein of Light, Cent?” The Vein of Light was the afterlife for those that Yvesu accepted as worthy, whereas the Vein that the living resided in was called the Vein of Souls, and the afterlife for those damned by Yvesu was named the Vein of Darkness.

          “No, but you would’ve been had I not found your unconscious body in the escape passage, and I nearly got myself sent there by trying to save your sorry golden locks. For such a lanky guy, you really are a Godless challenge to drag out of a building.” Cent’s playful tone had edged back into his voice, but he moved to Reil’s right side to apply the now oiled bandages. “Can you lean over on your side? I need to apply these wraps, your ribs look like they were hit by a bus.”

          “I don’t feel any pain, though,” Reil leaned over on his side to give his friend access to his ribs. “I expected to be writhing on the floor to be honest.” He was telling the truth, he felt as though he was a bit banged up, but certainly not as bad as he should feel considering his misadventures in the House. The thought of the House brought back memories of Quentin’s final moments, “Cent… Quentin is… He didn’t make it out of the raid.”

          “That’s because I gave you about six doses of painkillers, I raided our infirmary before booking it out of the House earlier.” Cent smoothed the bandages while pressing slightly on his friend’s side, attempting to assess if the bones were broken or not. “And about Quentin… I know. I’m sorry Reil, I know he was like a father to you,” empathy filled the raven haired thief’s voice. Empathy was Cent’s biggest downfall as a thief. He couldn’t help but feel the pain of everyone he met, and he always strove to balance the load everyone carried. The reason he had never been promoted had nothing to do with his skill, he was arguably better at sneaking, extracting, and even fighting than anyone in the entire House, maybe the whole city. The reason lied in the fact that on more than half his missions he’d end up giving most of what he stole to those in need that he saw on his way back to the Thief House. On more than one occasion, Cent would show up not only empty handed, but he’d have given his own money to a man on the street.

          Reil was eager to change the subject now that he was sure Cent knew about their Thief Lord. “Do we have enough of those painkillers to stave off the pain until I’m healed?” Reil knew the answer, but he was eager to of avoid the inevitable incapacitating pain that would wash over him as soon as the medication wore off. He stretched slightly before laying back down after Cent gave him the thumbs up for finishing the bandages.

          “Not traditional painkillers, no. But we do have a more natural remedy for the pain, and if you’re up for it there is no short supply of it either.” A smile crept into the corners of Cent’s mouth.

          Reil raised an eyebrow, “and what would this ‘natural remedy’ be?”

          “It’s called manning up and dealing with it, you fullop” the young man roared with laughter, rocking onto the back of his heels for full effect. A fullop was a large, grazing creature known for being spectacularly unintelligent.

          Reil sighed, not entirely sure if he found the joke as funny as his friend had. “You’re a riot, Cent, truly.” He rubbed his side as he attempted to stand up, however Cent stopped him with a hand on the shoulder.

          “Just because you don’t feel the pain doesn’t mean there isn’t any damage. I mixed in some megs into the oil on the bandages, if you can keep still until tomorrow morning, you’ll be free to get up as you wish.” Megs, a slang term that neither Reil nor Cent knew the actual name of, were a powdery white capsule that aided the healing of broken or cracked bones at a seemingly impossible rates. They usually ran a month’s salary for each capsule, Reil figured Cent had come across some when he raided the infirmary.

          “Morning…” Reil’s voice trailed off as he thought about what the night would bring. Feldrin was a dangerous city without a place to stay for the night, and that’s considering you are a young man trained in stealth and combat. With his injuries, it’d be up to Cent to defend them both. Well, if there’s anyone I’d trust to be up for the job, it’d be Cent.

          “I’ve placed us in what I think is a safe spot. We’re out of the way of most foot traffic, and the people that do come here should remember me, I’ve given them food and money here and there.” Cent’s pale eyes scanned the alleyway, it was strange to watch those mint-colored eyes dart between playful and serious, youthful and hard. “And under not so perfect conditions,” Cent began wrapping his wrists and knuckles with black fighting tape, “I’d like to think I’m prepared.” The tape on his hands glinted in the sun that hung low on the horizon, sinking lower with every minute. The oil on them would be active as soon as Cent rubbed his hands together, and from that time on, it would apply a burning sensation on human skin as if it was doused in acid, without leaving any marks or damage. It wasn’t the cleanest of fighting tools, but the Great Factory’s streets weren’t clean and the way Cent saw it, the most humane thing he could do in a fight was end it as soon as possible.

          “Hey Cent,” Reil wanted to relieve some of the tension that had crept into his friend’s posture and gaze, “I wanted to thank you, for saving me. It must’ve been like Darkness to get me out of-”

          “Reil,” the onyx-haired young man cut him off, “what… What happened in the House earlier today?” Reil couldn’t place the thief’s tone; was it curiosity, or fear? “The floorboards above your body looked like a grenade went off on them, and the wood was left in thousands of splinters.”

          “I’m not really-”

          Cent continued on as if he didn’t hear Reil, “those weren’t thin boards. Quentin splurged the last time he had the House renovated, I remember seeing the bill when he sent me to get supplies with Luke. I just… What happened in there? How did you get into the escape tunnel?”

          Another rare breeze blew through the alleyway, picking up force with the building walls acting as a wind tunnel. The faint sound of rustling and tumbling bits of trash filled the silence. Reil’s nose picked up on the heavy smell of tar and oil in the air; tomorrow was a big day for the harbor, ships coming in from all Delkari planets to deliver fuel for all of the city’s factories. There was a mission planned to rob a Starrunner-class cargo ship, a massive brown and orange freighter capable of transporting enough oil and tar to power a quarter of Feldrin for weeks. Supposedly it’d also be housing a modest pile of silver for some lowly Lord of some sort, Quentin had intercepted the message about a month back. “I’d tell you if I knew Cent,” Reil looked at the bottoms of his fists, where he had smashed the wooden floorboards, for the first time since he woke up. They were perfectly fine, not a scratch on them. “I think, I mean maybe… Maybe another support beam fell when I passed out and opened up the escape passage?”

          “There wasn’t a beam that close to it, and if it had fallen that close to you, we wouldn’t be talking right now.” Cent went to run a hand through his hair before remembering the oiled wraps on his hands. “Did…” there was a pause as Cent thought over his words, “did you use-” Cent was interrupted by a sound coming from farther up the alleyway. The wind had masked the sounds up to that point, but with the breeze gone, the intruder’s steps were clear to the thief’s well-trained ears. “Keep talking Reil, I’m checking it out,” his voice had dropped to a whisper, but he needed Reil’s voice to be heard to hide the fact that he had been alerted to the oncoming stranger. He crept towards the bend in the alley, back nearly pressed against the large dumpster that obscured his view. His hands were only inches apart, ready to activate the burning oils at a moment’s notice.

          From his point of view lying on his back, Reil couldn’t tell much of what Cent was doing, but he kept up the talking in hopes of being useful in some way. “I think we should get some rest man, we’re gonna have an early day tomorrow and we’ll need the energy.” He hated being prone and immobile while his counterpart did the hard work, but unless this stranger was heavily armed or in a group, they really wouldn’t stand much of a chance against Cent as it was anyways. “Maybe we can trade some of the meds you took for some coffee on Seventh Street, nothin’ cheers me up like a cup of Yvesu’s own Light.”

          The steps from whoever was approaching their makeshift encampment were getting clearer, they must’ve been coming around the corner of the dumpster any time now unless Reil’s ears betrayed him, and they rarely did. As soon as he heard the steps stop and the sound of clapping hands, he knew the trap had been sprung. “Give ‘em Darkness, Cent!”

          The hands clapping would’ve been Cent activating his wrappings’ oils. Reil had personally seen fights ended before they began simply by the sights of Cent’s wrappings. He bought his fighting oils from a specialty shop in the sewers, where a person could buy nearly anything. These oils were special for more reason than just the painful effects; when they were activated they gave off a blue light that made the user of them look like their hands were engulfed with fire. Most people looking for a street fight wouldn’t mess with someone who looked like they could summon fire with a clap of their hands, it was too close to something a Wizard might do.

          Reil kept his ears tuned to the fight, trying desperately to decipher what was going on. He heard grunting, and at least three sets of boots on the ground. This meant it was two on one, possibly more, with Cent being the one. Reil thought of being worried, but none of the grunts had been Cent’s voice, so he could piece together how this fight was going. He was just about ready to inquire about how things were going when his thoughts were interrupted by his friend’s yelling.

          “Now be smart and don’t come wandering back here again!” Cent called after his terrified and injured opponents. He laughed to himself as he tossed the used up wrappings into the dumpster. “Poor saps looked so confident when they saw me, I think the humility earned tonight will do them good.”

           “The bruised pride might do them good, but what about the bruised bones?” Reil laughed with his friend, feeling pretty decent all things considered. He didn’t know if anyone else made it out of the House after the raid and the fire, and it ate away at him with worry, but Cent made it out and saved his life so things were not as bad as they could’ve been. “Also Cent, I think I’m gonna have to put our previous conversation on hold for a bit, the smoke tore up my throat pretty good and talking is getting pretty painful.” It wasn’t a lie, but Reil’s reluctance to revisit that topic might’ve been as good a motivator as the pain.

          “Of course, and you were right in what you said earlier to distract those punks, you really do need your rest, especially if you’re planning on recovering.” Cent perched himself up on a small mound of metal scraps and sweeped the now sunless night for anymore unwanted sounds.

          Reil thought of telling Cent he’d need rest as well, but he knew his friend wouldn’t listen, and they would certainly need someone on watch. He looked up at his friend’s silhouette, pale skin glowing as it reflected both moon’s light and hair blending in with the night. Reil had known him from his second day in Feldrin, and they’d shared countless stories of their youth. And yet, the young man with the slate hair was a mystery to him. His eyes could shift from playful and young to cold and emotionless in seconds. Certain topics, which Reil always quickly changed from, would cause his muscles to tighten, showing off their usually hidden strength. He had empathy enough for a small village, and yet Reil had never seen someone fight with such vicious precision before. But he was his best friend, and for Reil, that was enough. “Goodnight Cent, wake me up if you want me to take over the watch.”

         “Goodnight Reil, maybe in the morning we can get those coffees you mentioned before.”

          Reil hoped Cent wasn’t just toying with his emotions. He really did want a coffee tomorrow to help him deal with the reality of today’s events. His thoughts drifted to black as the megs’ drowsy properties swept him off to sleep.

 

~`’~

 

          A songbird flew blindly through the fog of the city. The density of the gray film over the city was impenetrable even to a bird’s sharp vision. With an angle of the wings or an extra flew flaps here and there, the pink and yellow creature dodged tops of buildings at the last second. The sounds of the city bubbled up through the clouds of smog, dimmed but not silent. A second sound, louder than the din of city life, crept its way through the fog. The songbird took off in the opposite direction as soon as the Wallace-class Destroyer pierced the clouds in view of the little winged beast.

          The Destroyer was aptly named, a monster of a ship and true feat of engineering. It was a matte gray, only slightly darker than the blanket of fog that clung to its exterior, with black vents and sensor strips lining the outer walls. The ship moved slowly through the air, all sensors giving off a disruptive signal and masking its location. The near skyscraper sized battlecruiser kept its altitude just above the tops of the highest buildings. Round apertures on the belly of the Wallace-class ship opened up with a flare of steam and hissing. Inside the ship, bombs were primed and slowly lowered so that their tips hung at the mouth of the openings. The target of these bombs came into view on the screens of the ship’s Command Center. The harbor was bursting with activity this morning, the refueling of the Great Factory of the Delkari Dynasty was still in full swing. A loud electronic beep pierced through the fog and echoed against the sides of skyscrapers as the bombs were activated, but they still clung to their loading bays. The Destroyer would wait for its signal to attack, no move could be out of place

          Trade and commerce were not the only things that would be kindled that grave morning; the war was almost upon Feldrin.

The Wizard – Entry 3

In an instant, Reil was reaching back into his coat in hopes he could blend back to a DPF worker and escape before any of the Guard could see him. If they had indeed raided the House, they knew what the coat of a thief looked like. As his trembling fingers fumbled with the small blending knob, a window on the third floor of the House shattered. Through it, the body of Brody, a thief two years older, but also two years newer to the job than Reil, whipped through the air. His screams were cut off abruptly and his body made a sickening crack as it collided with the concrete. Had he been but steps closer, blood would have sprayed across Reil’s jacket. He thanked Yvesu he had stopped where he had.

          It was unlike the Guard to kill thieves, arrests were made and men were jailed, but not murdered. One of Quentin’s connections must have gone bad, three gunshots were fired in rapid succession in the house and the sound of something heavy tumbling down a flight of stairs could be heard from Reil’s location, very bad. His trembling hand retreated from the coat pocket; if the guards were killing his brethren, he could not flee and let them die. He had to help, as they had helped him more times than he could count. He unsheathed his dagger from its confines in his boot, threw the canvas bag to the side, and rushed in through the smoke covered back door to the House.

          As soon as he cleared the smoke in the entrance, he leaped and grasped the shoulder of a guard standing watch. He swung his body weight around, knocking the guard off balance before quickly slitting the man’s throat. He felt no pity at the gurgling sounds of the man’s last breaths.

          The guards were not in their standard red uniform, instead in all black, with the Crest of the Delkari nowhere to be seen. This was not to be publicized like most Thief House raids, with the mugshot of the House’s Thief Lord displayed proudly on every street corner as propaganda promoting the Feldrin Guard’s ability and power. Reil’s theory about Quentin’s connection going bad must have been true.

          Perhaps Quentin lost the goodwill of a member of the Royal Family, or angered a high ranking businessman. Whoever it was wanted no trace of their connections with the underground left alive, and to Reil’s dismay, they seemed to be getting what they wanted.

          “Quentin! Cent!” Reil was weaving through the smoke like a serpent, going by sound rather than sight. His yells were answered, not by those he called but with screams of agony and gunfire. “Luke! Oliver!” His knife found itself planted in the chest of a guard who had placed himself between Reil and the staircase. The man fumbled for his gun as he tumbled to the ground with wide eyes and muted grunts. Reil kicked the gun out of his hand and continued his search through the fog.

          “Kid!” That was Quentin’s voice, if strained, there was no doubt. “Get out of here kid! Get out of this Godless house and run!” The last word ended short with a grunt and Reil’s ear located where it came from.

          “I’m coming Quentin!” His hands tore at the smoke, trying desperately to clear it from his vision. The fogged house mirrored his clouded mind. His footsteps fell irregularly as the smoke began to choke him. At last, Reil tumbled into a room, gasping for air and looking around wildly for his boss.

          “You idiot kid, what did I tell you? Lea-” The butt of a pistol swung into Quentin’s temple and the kneeling Thief Lord hit the ground hard. Two men stood in the room, one with a pistol standing over Quentin, and the other standing near the room’s grimy floor to ceiling window. His uniform gave him away as a Guard Commander.

          “Your… leader,” the words came out like venom, “gave you sound advice. Run little runt, my men like a good chase.” The Commander stood with his feet shoulder width apart and his hands behind his back, elbows making 90 degree angles. He stepped forward, his footfalls sounding like a blacksmith’s hammer pounding out metal. He placed a boot on Quentin’s head, pressing it firmly to the ground. “Well? Are you going to stay and watch me kill your… friend…?” The man tilted his head at the question, with an upward twisted line chiseled out of the rock hard features of his face; it might’ve been what the Commander considered a smile.

          “I-i…” Riel was too stunned to speak, and his head too filled with smoke to think. He struggled to his feet and the other guard was there in a flash to plant a metal toed boot in his side. The sound that came from his ribs scared him. A sudden pain flooded him as he was lifted to his knees by his hair.

          The guard laughed and the Commander simply bored a hole into Reil’s Soul with his gaze. “You’re a curious one. So young to be so eager for death.” His voice hardened the air around him and then chiseled through it like ice. He withdrew a pistol from his side with a gloved hand and looked appraisingly at the gun. Slowly he cocked it and released the slide with a flair. “I bought this gun just for this event, Quentin. I had this gun made especially for killing you. It’s quite nice, really.” He leaned down to get his face closer to Quentin’s, no doubt increasing the force of his boot on the man’s face ten-fold. “No more running this city like you own it,” the last words were almost a whisper. This man must have hated Quentin far before the connection ever went bad. Perhaps the Commander even had a hand in causing the failed connection. Feldrin politics went far over Reil’s head, and Underground politics took it even higher.

          “Such an honor, sir. I’m glad you thought me important enough to commemorate my death in such a special way. Will you retire the gun after you kill me? Maybe hang it up on your Godless wall next to your awa-” The boot lifted momentarily before slamming back down and crushing Quentin’s head into the ground so hard Reil could’ve swore the wood on the floor even splintered. But the pain did not overcome Quentin’s laughter. The bloody faced man laughed through blood specked coughs and gritted teeth.

          The Guard Commander threw the gun into the wall in front of him, the clip falling out and landing close to the door. “You are not special, you are a swine. A dirty rat facing an exterminator. You think you deserve an honorable death, Quentin? You’ll not be getting one.” The Commander’s once stone hard face was now red and perspiring. Quentin did always have a way at getting under even the coldest mens’ skins. “Gath, give me your old knife. The rusty one.”

          The guard holding Reil’s hair laughed, his voice filled with evil. Reil already hated this man, this sadist. “Yes sir, a wonderful choice for this peasant.” His voice was slick with grease and spit. Rage boiled up inside of Reil at the thought of men of such low caliber and honor being the ones to kill him and Quentin. In his rage, Reil made eye contact with Quentin, and everything moved blindingly fast from there. His boss had given him his signature wink, it was an over the top, purposefully dramatic wink, with an eyebrow raise to end it, Reil had seen it only a few times before, but it always meant the same thing; “hold on tight, things are going to get messy.”

          Reil knew that this time, he had to play his own role in the mess. And as the guard reached to his boot to draw his knife, he loosened his grip ever so slightly on the thief’s hair. As he tossed the knife to his Commander, the plan fell into action. Reil pulled out of his grasp and planted a fist in the man’s stomach. Pain coursed through his body as a reminder to the damage to his own ribs. He quickly picked his knife off the floor and jammed it through the guard’s eye, quickly turning to grab the pistol magazine that was near the door.

          As this was going on, the Commander’s boot also lightened on Quentin’s face as the man leaned back to grasp the thrown knife. At this, the Thief Lord pushed up with all his weight sending the Commander falling to his back. Quentin pushed himself fast grasping the fallen pistol in front of him, turning just in time to catch the magazine Reil had thrown him. He slammed the clip into the pistol, cocked it, and fired three rounds into the rising Guard Commander. The man struck the ground, hands patting the places the bullets entered, once hard eyes filled with confusion and hate. “Hate to kill a man with his own gun, not very honorable. But then again, Vik, you were never the honorable type, eh?” Quentin forced a smile through a pained face. A moment after the smile crossed his face it was replaced by a gasp and Quentin collapsed.

          “Quentin! Quentin, come on, don’t fail me now. We gotta get out of this Godless building,” Reil rushed to his boss’s side, worry painted across his face. He ignored the screaming pain from his side and tried to lift the injured Thief Lord to his feet.

          “Watch your language kid. Only I get to curse ‘round here, remember?” Quentin reached into his coat pocket and began fishing around for something. “‘Sides, I can’t sneak past these guards, and I’m in no condition to fight. But you, my boy, you’ve always been like a snake. The less visibility, the better you move. Here take this,” it was clear at this point that it was a major struggle for Quentin to even speak. He pressed a map and a few other papers roughly folded up into Reil’s hands. “These are directions and names of a fellow Thief Lord. He and I are real close like. He’ll look out for ya. Tell ‘im ol Quentin sent ya and you’ll be welcomed with open arms. Follow my instructions on who to talk to in order to get an audience with ‘im. No doubt he’ll want to hear about what happened here today from an eye-witness such as yourself.”

          “No, I don’t need this. We can go to him for help together, let’s go. I’ll take out the guards to make a pathway and you can cover my back with the pistol,” Reil felt tears welling up around his eyes and he attempted to stuff the papers back into Quentin’s hands.

          “Idiot boy, look at my legs! I ain’t goin’ nowhere!” The Thief Lord had real anger, or was it grief, finding its way into his voice.

          Reil gasped when he looked. In all the rush, he had only been taking in his surroundings at a minimum level, shapes and sounds mainly. The smoke was still clouding his vision and mind, and only getting worse as the House must’ve caught fire at this point. He nearly brought a hand to his mouth when his mind cleared enough to make out Quentin’s legs. The upper half were fine, but from the knees down they were a bloody mess. Reil could make out at least one bone sticking out, and he couldn’t even find skin through all the blood. The Thief Lord had been tortured long before Reil had gotten there, he shuddered at the thought that some of the earlier screams he heard in the smoke might’ve belonged to Quentin. “W-What do I d-do, sir?”

          “You keep those damn instructions I gave you, and you get out of this Yvesu-forsaken house, ya hear, boy? You saved me once, no need to try to do it again; this time you won’t be so successful.” Quentin had tears in his eyes at this point, the first Reil had ever seen from the hardened older man, but he couldn’t tell if they were tears of sadness or pain, probably both. “I appreciate what ya did for me, even though it was the most fullop-headed you ever did do. But my time here is up, and you still got a long life ahead of you. Yvesu willing, maybe you’ll be wearing the Thief Lord coat one day yourself. But not if you don’t get out of here, and now.”

          “I owe you my life, Q-quentin,” the sounds of destruction began to filter their way through the cloud of Reil’s adrenaline and he slowly drew himself back to the dangers at hand. “I only wish I could repay that debt. Thank you for everything, sir. It’s been an honor.” Reil began standing up, ready to get back into the fight that raged through the House. “May Yvesu’s Heart light your Way.” The last sentence was difficult to get out, he had never expected to be saying that prayer to his boss anytime soon.

          “And the Ways of all the other good men who died today,” Quentin said with a surprisingly strong voice for his condition. His statement was met with a nod from Reil. “And Reil, you would’ve made a great squad leader. And you’ve made me proud every day since the day I found you. Go out there and keep on makin’ me proud, kid. Show the world you’ve got Heart enough for an army.” With that, Quentin pressed the Commander’s gun into Reil’s hand and nodded, his eyes losing their light quickly and his elbow shaking heavily from holding up his weight. Quentin silently breathed a thank you when the young thief turned and ran into the hallway.

          He didn’t want the kid seeing him die, and he knew Reil didn’t want to see it. It was better this way. The old Thief Lord struggled to crawl towards the body of the guard, Gath. In the man’s inside right coat pocket, Quentin found what he was looking for. He withdrew the pistol and checked the chamber for bullets; nearly a full clip. He gripped the gun’s slide in between his teeth and used his arms to drag his body to prop itself up against the wall facing the open door. Satisfied with his position, he cocked the gun and waited. The scuffs of boots coming up the staircase primed his adrenaline for one last firefight. He smiled as he took aim and yelled to get the guards’ attention, “In here! In here! The Commander is hurt, come!” The footfalls faltered as they changed direction. Quentin took a deep breath. His finger slid over the worn edges of the trigger. As he began to let out his last breath, the guards poured in. As soon as the first one took a step through the doorframe, the Thief Lord’s last fight began.

 

~`’~

 

          Back on the first floor of the House, Reil’s eyes darted around wildly. He was not escaping, he was hunting every last guard who was foolish enough to stay in the building. In his right hand he held his knife, now slick with blood. In his left, he held the gun Quentin had used to kill the Commander. A guard, making a run for the door after realizing the building was about to collapse from the fire, turned the corner and all but skidded to a stop after seeing Reil’s soot and blood splattered face with his piercing violet eyes glowing through the smoke.

          Two more guards came running up behind him, but not before a bullet found its way between his eyes. Reil fired off two more rounds, taking down one of the guards who had just arrived. He tossed the gun to the side, he’d used the entire clip, and switched the hand of his dagger before rushing the last remaining guard. The man turned to run, not even bothering to defend himself. Reil planted the knife in the man’s spine and quickly removed it, kicking the man over. A loud cracking of wood worked to take the edge off of the thief’s bloodlust. A large support beam collapsed and sparks and cinders blinded Reil with heat.

          I’m being stupid. The House is coming down and I’m wasting time. Reil sheathed his knife and ran for the door, shielding his eyes and hitting the ground as another burning support beam fell and blocked the exit. The pain in his side roared louder than the fire all around him and his coughing kept him pinned to the floor.

          Both exits were blocked at this point and the heat was becoming unbearable. His vision blurred, whether from tears or the smoke he couldn’t tell. He thought about running back up the stairs and finding a window to escape through, there was one of the fourth floor that was jumping distance from a large power vent on the building next door.

          The smoke is even thicker up there than down here, I have to get out here, and fast. Reil’s thoughts fought with the fog that was blanketing his mind. He couldn’t think straight and his breathing was becoming rougher. Reil pounded his fist on the floor out of frustration, and was met with a loud hollow sound. In his panic he’d forgotten about the hollowed out floor passages Quentin had taught all the thieves about in case of an emergency escape.

          His fingernails scraped across the wooden floorboards, dried blood flaking off of them and fresh blood covering them. The boards must have expanded in the heat from the fire and refused to lift as if completely ignorant to Reil’s desperate attempts to remove them. “Open, damn you!” Reil’s voice was barely recognizable from the tears in his throat. He finally got a single board to begin lifting when his hands, slick with blood, slipped and sent the board snapping back down into place. “No! I need… I need to get o-out of here.” Reil began to waver, his body ready to collapse. His lungs weren’t getting enough air and the pain in his side had peaked. I promised Quentin I’d get out of here! Images of his beaten and near dead boss flashed in his mind, the man’s last words rang loud in his ears. Energy coursed through the thief’s veins and his Heart beat like a drum. “I promised Quentin, and I won’t break that promise!” With a roar like thunder, Reil brought his fists down upon the wood in front of him. Splinters shot in all directions and dust soared into the air to mix with the smoke. Without even moving forward, Reil simply fell forward into the gaping maw of the escape passage, completely at a loss for strength.

The Wizard – Entry 2

Not a second after Reil’s feet had made it onto the concrete loading bay outside of the Labyrinth, the steel doors slammed shut with a plume of gas escaping from the sides. He wondered if the guard had planned such a close call with the emergency switch. He worried about the man’s injuries, but with the capsules he gave him, Reil knew he’d be fine as long as he got some bandages to stop the bleeding soon. He wouldn’t have blamed the man for still trying to lock him in the ship, it would certainly secure his job and a heavy reward in Sigils, maybe even a silver coin.

          With a shake of his head Reil cleared his thoughts of the man and brought his attention back to the mission at hand. He reached into his coat and found the small carbon knob on the inside left chest pocket and turned it 90 degrees. His coat’s exterior shifted into a deep blue hue with a white and red crest on the front right over the heart depicting a globe with three sharp lines cutting through it vertically; the Crest of the Delkari.

          From the back pocket of his pants he whipped out a hat of matching hue with a shortened bill and a white symbol of a bird on the front. He uncrumpled it and fit it over his greasy blonde hair, first slicking his unruly mop straight back with a firm hand. He tossed the canvas bag onto the ground and slid a carrying strap out of his coat, attaching it to two metal rings on the bag.

          He hefted the strap onto his right shoulder and set out at a leisurely yet determined pace out into the busy streets surrounding the cargo bay. Anyone who saw him would dismiss him as a simple deliveryman, the white bird on his hat being the symbol of the Delkari Postal Federation and his deep blue coat with the Crest of the Delkari on it being a rough match of their standard entry-level uniform.

          He knew he had to get back to the Thief House to deliver the pick up, but technically, his orders were to drop off the goods at 4 o’clock and it had only just passed noon. Reil made his way to a favorite bakery on a side road in the same direction of the House. He dug a hand into his trouser pockets and found a few Sigils inside, enough to get a coffee and maybe a muffin.

          If Feldrin did anything right, it was baked goods. He’d even heard rumors, probably false, that kings and queens of other planets and systems had pastries ordered from Feldrin to their palaces because of how delicious they were. It was a rumor Reil was tempted to believe every time he bit into a fresh Seventh Street Bakery smallcake.

          Weaving his way through the throngs of people in the busy streets, he took in his surroundings. The city was ugly, there was no doubt of that, but it had a charm. It had an immense economic value, but the Royal Family cared only for its production capabilities, not its citizens. And the oppressive heat could kill on the right day. It was dirty, dangerous, and the Guard was about as corrupt as they come. I can’t really be one to lecture on ethics though, Reil smiled to himself as he hefted the bag to feel the weight of his prize.

          The buildings in Feldrin were huge, truly scraping the sky and then some. The tops of each skyscraper was never visible, at least Reil had never seen them, as they pierced the smog that blanketed the city year-round. They shot out of the ground, windows dirty and covered with grime; Reil had doubted that anyone inside the buildings could even see through the windows at this point.

          The architecture in Feldrin was an interesting combination. Half the buildings were made only of ground to roof windows, while the other half were almost entirely exposed concrete, either small slits for windows or none at all. The buildings were often smashed up against one enough, real estate prices in a city this size didn’t quite allow for empty spaces. Alleyways, while very rare, were pitch black, with odd sounds coming from them in the late hours of the night. Smells fought for an audience with Reil’s nose from every direction, mixes of gas, tar, food, and filth all assaulting his senses. Reil took it all in and shook his head with a laugh, I really can’t decide if I love or hate this city.

          He took his seat with a bit of flair and a huff, less than carefully placing his canvas “delivery” bag on the seat next to him. “I’ll have a coffee, no sugar please, and one of your muffins. Thank you very much,” Reil beamed a smile to the attractive waitress and arched his back in his chair for a good stretch. The cost of going to a full service bakery to a street rat like Reil was hard to justify, but the way he saw it, he had to treat himself sometimes. His job well done today should be justification enough in any case. He slouched in his chair, earning him haughty stares from the people who frequented high end places such as Seventh Street.

          “Oh, a man can’t rest after a long day’s work, eh? Well, then quit your staring.” Most who knew him wouldn’t describe Reil as subtle nor well versed in the art of social interaction. After a few more haughty huffs and puffs, Reil laced his hands behind his head and looked into the freshly cleaned window to his right.

          His reflection surprised him in a way. He hadn’t remembered growing up, and his face didn’t have the lightness it once held. His greasy blonde hair had grown long enough to pull into a ponytail and his skin was more tanned than ever. There was a small scar under his left eye, but you had to know it was there to notice it. His friend Brody had bought, stolen is what Reil believed the correct word was, an anti-scarring capsule for him for his birthday last year and it had worked wonders. His violet eyes didn’t show their true colors in a glass window, but even so he thought they looked deeper than he remembered. The last bit of ‘baby fat,’ as Luke liked to say, had apparently burned off from all his adventures and escapades leaving a well chiseled jaw line with an ever so small amount of fuzz starting to sprout on the tip of his chin.

          A movement behind the glass stirred Reil out of his thoughts and he realised there had been a woman behind the window, undoubtedly flustered at having had a scruffy looking deliveryman stare so intently at her. Windows aren’t one way mirrors, idiot, Reil reminded himself angrily.

          To hide his shame, the thief turned his gaze forward, to the street in front of him and the massive, towering white structure across from that. The only building cleaned on a near daily basis, and flourished with intricately carved scenes and statues; The Church of the Source Star, Temple of Mother Yvesu. Men, women, and children filtered in and out of the grand white temple, all wearing their best outfits. In most Churches, people were told to come in rags and old garments to show humility and to be modest, but people who frequented Seventh Street were too superior to the rest of the ‘filth’ of the city to be seen in anything but the best suits and dresses. Reil rolled his eyes, I wonder what you think of them, Mother. Walking around thinking they are Gods and Goddesses among men. You ought to teach them some humility sometime.

          To say Reil’s ‘prayers’ to Yvesu were casual would be an understatement, but he thought of himself as a good religious citizen. How he justified stealing for a living was a thought to confront at a later time.

          He enjoyed his coffee and muffin, people watching on the busy afternoon. He had attempted to flirt with the waitress her second time to the table but he was met with a cold glare. Her loss, Reil thought to himself. As he finished the last sip of his coffee he figured it was time to get going. Perhaps arriving for the drop off early would look good in front of Quentin and the others. He left the payment on the table and hefted the bag back onto his shoulder, not so eager to leave the blessed shade of the bakery’s canvas overhang. With one look back at his reflection in the window, he straightened the cap on his head and set off.

          Reil quickened his pace under the hot sun, even hotter after the glass from the skyscrapers reflected it downward onto the streets. The city was always hot, with a fog of fumes and smoke resting over it like a blanket on the hottest afternoons. He found shade quickly and walked along close to the buildings, relishing every time he crossed paths with an air vent and got a face full of semi-cooled air. In the heat, it felt like ice water being poured over his head.

          He was vaguely aware of the rip in his pants and the possible blood stains from the taze-dart in the ship corridor, but everyone around him seemed too busy to take notice, and he himself was simply happy to be alive with a belly full of coffee and baked goods. Not like there’s anything I can do about it right now anyways, Reil reasoned. When the dirty blackstone building came into view, the thief wiped his forehead of sweat and let out a long-held breath.

          This was to be his last solo mission if Quentin was to be believed, and he’d be promoted to a squadron leader for bigger, more important robberies. The previous two missions of his had been successful in the end, but far less clean. A relatively problem-free robbery such as the one he had just pulled off would look good when Quentin and the others reviewed his track record.

          As he swiped the hat from his head and jammed it into his back pocket, Reil rounded the corner to the rear of the building where he always made his drop. Deliverymen and other costumed characters constantly visiting the same run down building would draw attention, so the thieves had to be crafty with their entrances after a successful mission.

          It wasn’t much of a life, the way of the thief, but it was all Reil really had at this point; be a thief or work as an uncared for, minimum pay office mule. The thieving life provided excitement, a rush, shelter, and food. If you can call it that, Reil mused. Above of all those benefits, it provide a family… Of sorts. Truth be told he was lucky to be where he was. The youngest thief to be considered for squadron leader, and he was always given the higher end missions. That fact held far more weight than it appeared to, for it meant Quentin and the others had trust in him, and in the world of thieving, trust was worth its weight in silver chips.

          The Thief House run by Quentin was a good one. It brought in modest money, but made up for the profits in the number of connections it had. Missions were safer, less guards were on duty the day of a big robbery, the death rate of thieves was far lower than any other group in the city, the list went on. The rumor was that Quentin used a heavy portion of the profits to pay off more guards, and his connections rivaled that of members of the Royal Family. He came off as hardened and uncaring, and he played the role well when he needed to, but Reil believed he cared for his thieves. The way he saw it, the rumors had to be true, and Reil knew no other Thief Lord who would pay so much out of pocket for the added protection of disposable, usually untrained, men.

          Still lost in thought, Reil was not aware of the unusual commotion outside of the Thief House. He had already set his shift-coat to revert to its usual black and dark green, with his unruly hair pointing in every direction, by the time he realized what was going on. The back door to the House was broken off at its hinges and trace amount of purple tinted smoke oozed out of broken windows; Reil knew at that point what had happened. The House had been raided by the Feldrin Guard.

The Wizard – Entry 1

If you ask a thief, any thief, they’ll tell you a whole bunch of ways to get onto a cargo ship. In fact, the nicer ones will even draw you up a map of the interior based on the model and build of the ship. And in their defense, that is all well and good, but here’s the real catch. Not many of those thieves really find it important to inform you on an essential part to robbing a cargo ship; and that is… to get off the ship once you have stolen the goods. This may seem like common sense, you just retrace the steps you took to get on the ship, right? Well, it’s not always that easy.

 

~`’~

 

          The yellow alarm lights flashing on the walls nearly blinded Reil, causing him to drop his bag and instinctively bring his arms up to shield his eyes. His back hit the metal wall hard and the air forced itself out of his lungs. The sirens pounded in his head and it felt like his brain was trying to escape his head through his eye sockets. He reached an arm down to pick up his bag and rolled on the wall into a small crevice to get out of the view of anyone who might be coming down the hallway. He fumbled through his coat pockets searching for the map that friendly thief he met at the tavern had drawn up for him. His right hand found parchment and he ripped it out of the pocket and angrily unfolded it.

          “Let’s see here. If I came in through this way…” Reil’s voice trailed off as he murmured to himself about the convoluted layout of the Siphon-Class cargo ship aptly named Labyrinth. His finger traced around the paper, mapping out a poorly constructed escape route. Sudden footsteps racing down the hall snapped Reil back to the very real danger at hand. He crouched down low in the small space, so low he was nearly laying on the ground. Being a thief had taught him more than a few handy skills, some of which would hopefully save his life on this Yvesu-forsaken day.

          As the footsteps came closer and closer, Reil’s legs tensed and primed themselves for a leap. A footfall finally landed close enough to set off the thief’s instinctual alarm bells and he pounced forward with his shoulder tucked and head down.

          His shoulder collided with the nearest guard and sent them both tumbling to the ground. The guard’s surprised grunt and then silence confirmed he had been knocked unconscious. The other guard recovered quickly from his initial surprise and fired a round of taze-darts into Reil’s leg. Luckily one of the two darts missed, leaving Reil free from the incapacitating shock usually associated with a round of taze-darts. He let out a cry as the dart ripped his skin with its serrated barbs, but he had to keep moving if he wanted to escape with both his life and his loot, which, to a thief, carried about the same weight when it came down to importance.

          He quickly pulled the barbed dart from his leg, worsening the wound and sending pain shooting through his body. Taze-darts needed both barbs to pierce the skin in order for their incapacitating shock wave to be activated, and removing them as quickly as possible was as necessary as it was painful. Pulling the dart out of his skin and swinging his good leg out to sweep the guard’s feet out from underneath him happened all in one swift movement; Reil was up and shouldering the guard into the wall and cracking the back of his head with his elbow. Before the guard finished slumping to the ground, the thief was grabbing his bag of loot and darting off down the hallway with his prizes slung over his shoulder.

          The heavy canvas bag beat against his back as Reil’s footfalls became faster and faster. One hand grasped the bag with a vice grip, and the other hand held the map just as tightly while re-adjusting constantly in hopes the map would stay open while the thief ran.

          “Alright, down this hallway and my third left, all I gotta do is get to…” Reil’s mutterings became ragged with his breath, his escape route changing by the minute every time he heard more footsteps or saw a flash of the red uniforms of the guards and ship workers. The running combined with the on setting claustrophobia from being in the cramped halls of a budget-level cargo ship was beginning to take a toll on Reil. “Just keep running, keep it together Reil,” he berated himself, trying to keep his pace.

          Before he could continue his self-directed pep talk, he heard the sound of a trigger being pulled followed by the tearing of canvas as two taze-darts planted themselves in the bag slung over his back. He looked to the upcoming corner planning on diving to the left to escape the inevitable second shot from the guard.

          His right leg tensed, ready to push himself to the left as hard as he could when a cargo ship worker with a wide, bare chest stepped out from Reil’s supposed escape route and swung an iron crowbar right into the side of the thief’s head. As instincts kicked in, time slowed in Reil’s eyes and he shot his hands out to grasp the metal bar. A shock wave echoed through his bones, but the adrenaline dulled the pain, at least for now.

          With the crowbar in his hands, Reil forced the end held by the worker back and into the other man’s face. The burly man was far larger, and stronger, than Reil’s medium frame. The worker held the bar tight and swung it, along with Reil, into the wall to his left. A nauseating crack resounded as the thief’s shoulder and side collided with the hard metal. He lost his grip on the crowbar, but quickly dug into his boot pocket to remove his knife. It was a well made knife, and it had gotten Reil out of, as well as into, a fair share of sticky situations.

          Let this be a time where it gets me out of the sticky situation, Reil thought with a feeling of dread. Three men, two trained fighters, against his lean and protein-starved body wasn’t a very fair fight. Without giving himself more time to think of his odds at victory he jammed the knife into the worker’s thigh and ripped upwards as fast as possible, blocking out the cries of the cargoman. The worker hadn’t deserve this fight, he was just trying to keep from getting fired for not aided the guards.

          In an instant, Reil spun around and threw the knife. It planted itself clean into the rightmost guard’s shoulder and with another spin, the thief grabbed the crowbar now laying on the floor and sprinted toward the guard with a taze-gun aimed straight at him. A forward slide on his knees put Reil just inches underneath the oncoming duo of taze-darts, and he brought the iron bar up for a skyward strike as fast and powerful as he could manage. The cold metal found purchase in the red uniformed guard’s crotch and Reil pushed his full body weight forward and upward, sending the stunned guard onto his back and down the hall. A kick to the side of the head incapacitated the guard who was now getting up and holding his shoulder where Reil’s knife had dug into.

          The young man picked up his knife, shoved it into its sheath, and picked up his bag of stolen goods. “That couldn’t have gone cleaner,” Reil said in near disbelief. He had definitely been at the disadvantage. The only thing that could’ve gone better would have been if he had avoided hurting the worker, but he held out hope that the man would heal well and be heavily compensated for his bravery.

          “On to the exit we go,” and Reil turned to keep on his way before more red uniforms stormed the hallway. He had been far too lucky that he had only run across two of them this time, he assumed the low class and value of cargo of the ship didn’t warrant any more guards from being sent. As he turned to go he saw the injured worker crawling toward the emergency door-lock switch on the wall opposite from Reil. “Please sir, do not make me do this,” the thief pleaded while hefting the heavy canvas bag slung over his shoulder, ready to use it as a blunt object to knock out the burly cargoman.

          “But if I don’t try an’ pull the…” The worker stopped mid sentence and nodded solemnly at the thief standing over him. He pushed himself back up against the wall and began applying pressure with a cloth from his pocket onto his leg wound to stop the bleeding.

          “You just say you did everything you can. I’m sorry for hurting you and I pray you will be rewarded for helping the guards, but I can’t let you catch me. Hit the switch as soon as I’m out that door. They won’t know you didn’t pull it as soon as you could.” Reil reached into his thieves coat and pulled out a small purple capsule. He weighed it in his hand before reaching back in and grabbing a second one, this one glowing a faint green. He handed them to the worker with a sad smile, “here, crush the purple one in your hand and press the powder into the wound. Take the green one and swallow it. It’ll prevent infections and speed up recovery. Once again, I’m sorry; how I wish times were different. Good luck.” With that Reil took off down the hallway, the canvas bag once again hitting his back with every step.

          “Good luck to you too kid,” the guard called out after him. He looked at the capsules and nodded before following Reil’s instructions. “How I wish times were different as well,” he muttered under his breath as he crawled forward to flip the heavy, red and yellow striped switch to close the doors. He strained to hear the thief’s footsteps and hearing none, flipped the switch and sank back to the wall with a sigh. Soon after he heard footsteps rushing down the hallway and saw red uniformed guards and workers in overalls making their way toward him and the downed officers. He waved his free hand at them and called for a first aid kit. He saw a cargowoman holding one and smiled with relief, leaning his head back against the cool metal wall and closing his eyes. The compensation better be sweet, he thought as he the woman with the first aid kit knelt down beside him.

Introduction and Welcome

Hello readers,

The Coming of the Dawn is a science fiction web serial that will update 3 times a week, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. It follows the lives of two friends coming of age at a time of great change, social unrest, political turmoil, and galaxy-wide war.

There is fanciful technology, powerful and mysterious magic, and ancient prophecies all clouding the future for our two young protagonists. They’ve grown up together, but with political ties, opposing goals, and the tide of war crashing at the gate, how long until they find themselves on opposite sides?

I thank you for reading, and welcome you all to the Coming of the Dawn.