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.

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