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.

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