Author's Note: I'm amazed anyone would have any interest in this, but yay anyway. To Chase a Thief is only a working title. This is basically a prologue, but I wanted it to be the first chapter instead. I have the first three and a half chapters written out (all longer than this one) but I want to wait on posting them. Please accept that the events promised in the summary won't actually begin until about the fourth chapter—I have this thing for introducing characters and giving a background before the action begins. As for the rating … well, it's PG-13 to be safe, since I have only a vague idea where this story is going. -.-;; [ The romance category is still a bit iffy, since I'm not sure who the romance would be with, or whether or not people want it to include a little romance. Input is adored. ]
I am praying to the formatting gods to not screw my alignment and font styles to hell. o.x
Now, I know that I couldn't possibly be lucky enough to think of a completely original idea, but this has just been too much fun to write. As always, please realize that I have not intentionally copied anyone, so if events or characters seem similar … well, eep, sorry, don't kill me! Heh. Reviews are worshipped (mantras, robes, and smoking incense pot-things included) but flames are not welcome. Please let me know what you think (constructive criticism is good) so I can know whether or not to keep posting.
T o C h a s e a T h i e f
An infant's high-pitched wail tore through the silence of the darkened city. Aldira Kahlinae slowed her hurried pace, cradling the warm body closer to her as she rocked it to and fro. Once the crying died down to whimpers, Aldira allowed her green eyes to scan her surroundings. The cobblestone road had grown more and more run down as she went, openly displaying that this was one of the poorer sections of the city. The buildings were crowded together and seemed to lean in onto the street. They were in shabby condition, having fallen into disrepair. This was one of the places that people of respectable status would as soon forget existed—a perfect place to hide a problem she would rather have forgotten.
Dim glow lamps hung from light posts every so often, but their presence grew steadily farther apart the longer she walked. Truth be told, Aldira was fearful of this place, especially at this late hour. She knew, just as most people did, that vandals and other such scum prowled streets such as these at night. While her arms held the child, one of her free hands clasped the hilt of a dagger so tightly that her knuckles were turning white. It was a simple knife, one she had snatched from the kitchen, but its blade was long and sharp, and would certainly halt an attacker if used properly.
Aldira's fear, however, was not for the bundle of new life that now slept so trustingly in her embrace, but for herself.
"Wretched child," she hissed under her breath, staring out under kohl-enhanced lashes at the source of all of her problems.
Her expression was a mixed one, holding mainly anger and resentment along with an underlying feeling of uncertainty and regret. If only … if only she had not allowed herself to be charmed by that dashing young man. Had that truly been just under a year ago? Aldira could still remember his face along with that grin and wink he had always given her. A deep ache settled in the pit of her stomach as she looked back down at the babe. She looked just like her father.
Aldira could not keep her child and she knew it. She worked at a tavern in a middle-class section of the city as a serving wench. She was, and knew she was, the customers' favorite out of all the girls. Her slim, curvy form often encased by her long, honey-blonde hair was enough to drive most men mad. A grin formed on her painted lips as she thought of this, then faded as her mind returned to the task at hand. This child had nearly ruined her entire life. Luckily, her pregnancy had not begun to show until the last few months—she purposely under-ate in hopes of remaining thin. Once it became apparent, she was given a short leave from her wenching duties to serve, unseen, in the kitchen until the time of delivery came.
It came earlier than expected, at dawn four months ago. The midwife had been worrying herself hysterical, blabbering on about Aldira starving herself and about the early arrival. The child most likely would not have survived if Aldira had not had wide hips so perfectly suited to childbirth. When she was informed of this, lying exhausted and sweating on her straw-filled bed, her first thought was that she wished the child had died. As it was, the first few nights were extremely trying. The babe, premature as she was, was smaller than a normal infant would have been. She needed to be watched at all times, and seemed to sleep no more than ten minutes at a time. Aldira was exhausted. The child should not have lived past birth, much less weeks and months after, but she had.
It was all too much for the simple, flirtatious tavern wench. Aldira had managed, with help from the other girls, to care for the baby for nearly four months. Who knew that the spawn would be so expensive, both in money and in time? Aldira sighed as she continued to walk steadily ahead, hardly noticing where she was going as her thoughts enveloped her once more.
Once, some weeks ago, Aldira had turned the infant over onto her stomach in the makeshift crib, and sat waiting for the child's movement to still. She could not go through with it, in the end. She could not directly cause the death of her offspring. Her mind was never entirely stable in the first place, as she cared only for herself and her own comfort, but now it had been slowly twisted until she at last could take it no longer. Abandoning the babe would not be killing her, now would it? Her mind's reasoning would have seemed absurd to others, but it was perfectly logical to her.
Now she found herself wandering the streets, waiting until she felt that the child would be far enough away as to avoid suspicion. After all, once she announced that her baby had gone missing, some gentlemen would undoubtedly search for the absent child in hope to curry Aldira's favor. Aldira had no intention whatsoever of allowing the cause of all her problems to be found and returned to her, so she had to make sure that the wretch was left in a part of the city that no one would think to search.
The baby squirmed in her arms and let out a pitiful mew. With a sudden shake of her head, Aldira drew herself back to reality, vaguely aware that she had been mumbling to herself. She stopped at the next corner she came to, blinking at the height, or lack thereof, of the building that was located on the bend. Unlike most buildings in the area, it was short and squat. It sported broken shutters loosely covering windows as they banged softly in the growing breeze. She had long since gone past the point where people bothered to hang lamps and it was too dark to read the sign that swung from a pole attached just above the door. Before long, her eyes were drawn to the gutter that ran along the edge of the roof, just within reaching distance.
"Now, lovey, I want you to stay here and be nice and quiet for a while," she whispered to her burden. Before she could deposit the bundle in the gutter, a sharp coo caused her to look down at her baby. Mismatched eyes stared coolly back at her, one a muted version of her mother's green eyes, and the other a slate gray inherited from her father. That gaze was unnerving. The child's skin was a dusky brown, and tufts of darker hair were just beginning to grow. Aldira bit her lip, looking away from the baby snuggled in the soft blankets.
"My little dark beauty…" Aldira sighed just before her arms extended to place the baby inside the cupped, metal hands of the gutter. The blanket protected the tiny girl's body from the soaked leaves and other rubbish that surrounded her, but she shivered and began to cry regardless.
Aldira could wait no longer, she must return before someone awoke and wondered were she had gone to. She turned heel and ran back down the cobblestone road as quickly as her legs would take her. Just then, the heavens opened up, and it began to rain.
A figure separated from shadows where it had stood watching the strange woman, eyes drawn towards the undersized building with gutters lining its roof. The boy—yes, it was a boy—moved closer until he stood in the middle of the narrow street. He was small, looking less than seven years old, though he bore himself with confidence. Dark hair grew darker still as rain splattered down on him, soaking his clothes in a matter of seconds.
A keen cut through the sound of heavy rainfall. It was just as he had suspected. The woman had been carrying and whispering to a bundle of rags that she held in her arms. At first, the boy had thought the woman to be delusional, speaking to cloth, until he had heard a soft noise come from inside the blankets. Now his curiosity was piqued. He darted up to the building with an uncanny sense of stealth, tipping his head back to peer at the gutter from which the howling came. Rain streamed down his skin like tears. He was much too short to reach inside, so he cast about him for something to use.
Trash, broken pieces of wood, and a number of empty mugs was all he saw at hand. A pub, he realized quite suddenly, just before he spotted a sturdy barrel set right outside the eave of the poorly shingled roof. The barrel was open and had a small amount of water gathered in it already, for that was what it was for, to gather rainwater. You could never be too frugal in big cities such as these, especially when rain was so rare.
Making haste, the lad scooped up the barrel lid, quietly secured it, and laboriously dragged the keg out into position under the occupied drain. With a nimble leap, he stood atop the barrel. Sitting would have been suitable, for he towered above the metal trenching when he stood. The boy expected to find a half drowned hound or cat wrapped up in the linen. His small hands reached forward and carefully removed the drenched cloth from about the wailing creature's face.
He nearly fell off his impromptu perch when a wet, frightened, and yet very human face stared up at him.
"Oh, 'ello there," the boy mumbled weakly after a moment, then reached in and awkwardly heaved the infant into his arms. The weight of the child and the sopping fabric combined nearly threw him off the container a second time, but he hopped down quickly before gravity decided his fate for him.
"Now how didja get yourself into that spot of trouble?" he asked his charge conversationally as the girl snuggled up closer in an attempt to absorb his body heat. In the back of his mind, the boy knew that he needed to get the child to a warm, dry place soon. He could take her back to Neko's …but no, that would only stir up trouble. Besides, Neko's place was on the other side of the city. "You must be very unlucky, cursed I would say. Don't go rubbin' none of your bad luck off on me, ya hear?"
He continued on, his voice teasing but comforting to the child that was quickly losing her grip on consciousness. As he spoke, the rescuer was dodging down alleys and side streets at an alarming pace. Somehow, he managed not to jar the small body he held as he sprinted along the sleek, narrow, cobbled streets.
It was not long before he reached his destination, a tall building with spires and statues of gods and goddesses. It was a rather poor temple, as temples went, but it was better than some he had seen. The actual building was decent in size, and there was a small stable, a medium garden and orchard, and an open field that accompanied it. He could not see much detail through the sheets of rain, but he had snooped about this area before, so he had a fair idea of what it looked like. He glanced down at the child in his arms. He had never held a baby before, so he cuddled her awkwardly but protectively. Her eyes were closed, short breaths making her chest rise and fall, and he wondered if she was asleep.
"My name's Rhys, by the way," Rhys stated, not the least bit fazed that the babe could most likely not hear him, much less understand him.
Rhys strode up to the high gate and began to shout at the top of his lungs, silently apologizing as his noise started the babe awake. He quickly drew his tattered hood up over his head just as he saw people begin to emerge from the cathedral. There was no point in advertising his face, especially to the clergy. He bowed humbly as a man and two women approached the gate, all dressed in flowing robes of silk that dragged in the mud and were soon saturated with rain. Rhys tried not to snicker.
"My lord, my ladies…please, I beg for your help. I found this infant awash in a gutter. She is sick by now, I am sure," he spoke formally, nearly gagging on his words. He was not positive the child was female, but due to the overall pinkness of the blankets, he had assumed the gender.
"Come in, come in!" One of the women cried quickly, throwing keys into the lock of the gates and swinging the great doors open. She quickly relieved Rhys of his burden. "Poor darling …does she have a name?"
He was about to open his mouth to say that she had had no identification on her, but he knew that that would lead to the clergy naming her. Knowing them, they would pick something horribly religious, like naming her after one of the obscure goddesses of random things whose names were impossible to pronounce. You must be very unlucky, cursed I would say. Don't go rubbin' none of your bad luck off on me, ya hear? His own words echoed back in his mind. A smile formed on his lips as he bowed quickly and spoke once again.
"She does, my lady. Her name is Jynx," he said, then abruptly turned and darted back into the alleys to make for home. Take good care of her.