Bridged to Shadows
Chapter Three: No Good Brawler, Shameless Thief
Two large, brown-green eyes blinked at the pile of fat, cream-colored melons, wide and innocent. The shopkeeper was watching her, she knew; it just meant she'd have to be faster than him.
Shianne turned away casually, then walked straight into someone. With a rather foul curse, she tumbled to the ground, hot dust rising and clogging her nose. She sneezed, then realized things might have fallen out of the pockets of her short jacket and or her pants. Looking hastily around, she found only her necklace had been jarred loose; she really needed to get the chain fixed, but where would the money come from?
Well, duh: some rich guy whose wallet she lifted, but she'd have to find a rich guy first.
"Sorry," she muttered, stuffing the necklace back into one of her many pockets and struggling to get to her feet.
"Here." A hand was held out; she took it and was promptly pulled to her feet. "Nice necklace."
Shianne gave the male in front of her a wary look. He looked a few years older than her; a thin scar ran from the corner of his eye to halfway to his nose, which had been broken before. His skin was darker than hers, but not as dark as the Far Southerners, suggesting an inheritance of some Desert blood. His eyes were cloudy blue, but his hair was coal black, confirming her suspicions. "It's not for sale," she said roughly.
He held up his hands. "Just wondering why a little street-scrap like you would have a pure gold necklace," he said blandly. "Won't the real owner be missing it?"
She debated how to answer him. The ragged edges on his clothing told her he wasn't as high and mighty as he pretended to be; the scar and misshapen nose told her even more. He was as much of a street-scrap' as she was, only where she was a Shameless Thief, he was a No Good Brawler. That was what the self-proclaimed Good, Decent Folk called them, but they had no idea of the real politics behind the street hierarchy. Kids like him–other No Good Brawlers–fought each other for pay, or were hired by the Rich Snobs to do their dirty work. Shameless Thieves like her stole, were paid handsomely not to steal, or stole for a fee. There were also the Shameless Tramps, the Dead Drunks, the Whiner-Beggars, the Thugs–different from the Brawlers; they had no scruples whatsoever and pummeled for coin, using only their fists, whereas the Brawlers used whatever was on hand–the Scraps, one of which she had been for four years, and the Creeps. Creeps were to be avoided. Creeps could seriously mess a kid up just using their nose, or so the stories went; they were assassins, serious killers-for-hire. Shianne was a former Scrap, or homeless kid. Now she was one of the apprentices, being trained as a Shameless Thief by Hesper. Everyone knew her name for two reasons. One was the Jairedan heist. The otherWell, that was another story.
She settled for telling him the truth. "The owner's dead," she informed him coldly, forgetting to speak in street dialect. "She won't be missing it anytime soon."
His eyebrows rose, and he gave her a look. "You stole from the dead?"
The street-speech slipped back into her words as she regained control. "She weren't dead when I got it." She shrugged, knowing that stealing from the dead was bad luck. "Quit nosin' 'round that's as none your business."
"Wait a sec, Scrap," he said, eyes narrowed. A big hand came down on the top of her head, turning it first one way, then the other. Those storm-cloudy eyes looked closer at her, trying to see past the smudges on her face and a scab on her forehead from a scrape she'd gotten into. "What'd you say your name was?"
"I didn't," she retorted, stepping out of his grasp and scowling. "And I'm not goin' be spreadin' it 'round the place, 'specially not to thems as the likes of you."
The Brawler nodded slowly, then turned around, whistling cheerfully as he strode away. She stuck her tongue out at his back, and was about to go look for another place to pick up some breakfast when her eyes darted back to the boy again. To her astonishment, his foot hooked around the pole that held up one corner of the awning over the fruit stall, then jerked forward. The pole toppled over, and without its tension to keep it straight, so did the other one. The heavy canvas, attached to the wall behind them, flopped onto the shopkeeper, who struggled valiantly but only managed to knock over several crates of fruit.
Quick as lightning, Shianne's fists swooped down and caught up two apples, swiftly stashing them in her coat. Several other fruits had vanished into her pockets before she decided packing in any more would risk them falling out and leaving a trail to lead the guards. People weren't paying attention to her, instead watching the shopkeeper still try to get out from his own awning.
This was the best opportunity she'd had in a long time; she decided not to waste it and snatched one of the melons, holding onto it with both arms–it was twice the size of her own head. Pulling the bright green scarf from her head, she wound it around her prize, then changed her grip so it looked like she carried a child. She ducked down an alley, got out of sight of the main crowd, then broke into a sprint. She could give the Scraps a decent breakfast with this and the loaf of bread she'd stolen the night before
That Brawler–why had he helped her? Had he just been looking to make a mess for fun, or had he noticed her eyeing the fruit before and decided to make life a bit easier? Laundry hung overhead snapped in the wind as she passed, going deeper and deeper into the city through its veritable labyrinth of alleyways and back streets. She knew them well enough; she hadn't spent half of her life here for nothing.
Here it was; a decrepit old building that had been abandoned decades ago. It was the only place safe from most of the street classes, partially because no one wanted to kill the heirs to their crafts. Even though she was a Shameless Thief, when she wasn't being trained by Hesper or in the middle of a job, she came here to help out; the kids–or Scraps–rarely got someone to play with, and just as rarely got a real meal.
Knocking on the wall, rather than the considerably less sturdy wooden door, she whistled a tune softly. The door opened to reveal a friendly, middle-aged woman with flyaway brown hair tamed by a scarf and hair tie. "Oh, Shinny, you've brought food," she said with relief. "The Scraps've been wantin' something other than gruel, and bless me, I can't nick a bit whilst keepin' them from getting' into messes. An' we've got company, oh bless me"
"Really?" She stepped inside, and the door shut behind her. It took a moment for her eyes to adjust to the dimness inside, but she'd lived in this place for four years, so she knew her way around. "Who'd come to visit the Scraps? I don't remember any of 'em bein' the apprentice age."
"No, none of them is yet," she said, then stopped and slyly raised her eyebrows to Shianne. "He says he's here to see you."
"What?" For a moment, she was astounded; then she recalled one of the principal laws of the street: if someone did you a good turn, you did them one in return. It had to be that boy. Her grip tightened on the melon, which creaked dangerously, but she paid it no mind as she stalked past the woman and into the kitchen.
He was lounging there, as at home as if it were his house and not hers. "I knew it was you," he said placidly. "Dirty blonde hair more twisty 'n a snake, sixteen but short enough to look like a Scrap, eyes the color of pond scum or like, when you throw her off she don't talk like street folk Nice to meet you, Mistress Shianne."
"Get out," she ordered, eyes snapping. "Now."
The woman had followed her and had just gasped. "Shinny!"
"Shinny?" the boy inquired. "That's cute."
Shianne whirled around to face the Scraps' nurse. "Miranda, what is this–this stupid greaseball doing here?!"
Miranda looked scandalized. "Shin–Shianne, that's no way to treat Master Damon!"
"Damon?" She froze. There was only one No Good Brawler named Damon.
"So you see, Mistress Shianne, legend meets legend in the marketplace," Damon drawled, getting to his feet as she turned around again. He swept into a mocking bow. "Damonick Hamidi, at your service."
She tucked the melon under one arm and rubbed her face with her free hand. "What do you want?"
He bowed again. "Half."
"Half of what?"
"The melon?" She glared at him. "I stole it, fair and square!"
"Why, so you did, but it would've been a wee bit harder without yours truly," he said, giving the overall air of one dealing with an obstinate child. "And I don't think you'd've made off with all the rest you've got on you–or are those rubies an' diamonds you've got in your pockets?"
"The melon's for the Scraps," she said, realizing what he'd done. "And next time you knock over a stand so I can steal from it and you can pinch off me 'cause of the rule, you'll have to catch me before you get so much as a seed!"
"You are quick," he said approvingly. "The stories aren't just talk, then."
"I wouldn't say that," she snapped. "Plenty of stories say you're some undefeatable Brawler, bold as brass and whatnot, but you had to rely on some Scrap to steal your breakfast for you."
"Care, Mistress Shianne," he said, and she wondered how she'd missed the steely glint in his eye. "You wouldn't want to say something you'd regret."
She turned around to cut up the melon on the counter. The knife slid out of its sheath at her wrist, and she gripped it in a hand that, to her astonishment, shook. He made her furious, and she didn't know why. Miranda left to bring the Scraps in from the courtyard. "I'm not scared of you," she snarled, slicing into the rind.
"Mayhap you're not as quick as I'd thought, then," he said with a hint of regret in his tone.
Hesper came by later that day, only to find Shianne and Damon still at odds with each other. At the sight of her infamous pupil informing an infamous young man (who could probably slit her throat at any given moment) that his need to bother her probably had stemmed from his mother not loving him enough as a child, but then who could blame her, the older woman blinked, sighed, and cleared her throat. Well, maybe he wouldn't slit her throat–Shianne was no rookie at knife fighting when Hesper had taken her for schooling, and she'd gotten better since. "Damon." She inclined her head slightly in his direction; he waved. "Shianne, we've got another job lined up tonight. Fairly simple, it's a noble who promised a necklace to someone but the maker double-crossed him, took his money, and kept the necklace, claiming he sold it to the man and the man had lost it. The noble's covered our asses a couple of times but he paid me anyway, so I want to get the necklace and what he paid for it as well. If you want, you can lift a thing or two as well–I know the maker, and he's a real bastard, it isn't the first time he's pulled something like this."
"Two guards on the front and back doors, one patrolling the halls, one posted on the goldsmith's room, one posted in the room he's got the goods in."
Shianne grinned widely. "Sounds like fun."
"Oh, it will be," Hesper assured her.
"Can I come along?" Damon asked unexpectedly. Both females looked at him, eyebrows raised, and he shrugged. "I can't steal to save my life, but I'd like to see you two in action, and if you get in trouble it'd be handy to have another pair of knives."
"That it would," Hesper said slowly, "butShianne–we're playing Dress-up."
"He is not coming along!" she said immediately, sitting bolt upright. "Absolutely not!"
"Sorry, lad," Hesper said ruefully. "Can't have a distraught apprentice on the job."
He looked at them, confused. "I don't understand."
"You weren't supposed to," she answered, entirely unapologetic. "Anyway, Shianne, be at the usual place by sundown." Giving Damon and Miranda another nod, she left.
"How do you know Hesper?" Shianne asked Damon.
"How do you know I know her?" he countered.
Shianne folded her arms, giving him a look of disgust. "She wouldn't have said a word about any job we had if she didn't know you and think you could keep your mouth shut about what you heard. Now answer my question."
"Friends with my teacher, before a Creep got him," he said shortly, then stood up. "I'll be out frolicking amongst the streets if anyone asks. Pleasure to meet you, Mistress Shianne."
"If only I could say the same," she replied dryly.
"Until we meet again, then." He bowed a final time, then turned and left. She blinked–for a moment, he'd sounded more like a member of the merchant class at least, rather than a street fighter. Was there more to him than she knew?
The dry heat that blanketed the city by day had fallen to cool night; dusty sand muffled their footsteps, sand that had migrated into the streets from the Great Desert whose border the city sprawled on. People of all kinds came to this city: Desert Nomads, Far Southerners, the Pale people of the North, the strange people of the East with slanting eyes as dark as the Nomads. Then there were people like Hesper and Shianne.
Hesper's skin was olive, her coarse dark hair braided close against her skull. Her eyes were the color of jade. She said her mother was the Desert folk and no more did she know, but then, no more did it matter and no more did she care. She had told Shianne that only the Rich bothered with lineage and family lines; they were Shameless Thieves and that was all that mattered.
Shianne, on the other hand, was the best-kept secret of the streets. Her skin had been tanned by the sun far beyond its original paleness, but her eyes never changed their color, and in the sun her curly hair had only lightened. Anyone who saw her without knowing her real heritage assumed she was a cross-breed product with a lot of Northern blood, or she'd been playing with bleach. People like Damon, Hesper, and Miranda knew who she was, or at least, where she had really come from. There were so many street folk, and the city was so large, that she was to most just a tale told by the dancing fire. She'd been just eight when she'd gone into the Scrap House
But then again, she reflected as they approached the goldsmith's house, Damon had just been a story to her before she'd rammed into him in front of the fruit stall. And she wished he'd stayed a story, rather than turning out to be a condescending, bossy, sly, lazy jerk. Of course, if she'd been raised with the Brawlers straight out rather than lumped in with the rest of the Scraps, perhaps that would have negatively affected her personality too.
Shianne shivered and pulled the cloak tighter around her. She really disliked playing Dress-up,' as Hesper called it; it meant being a lot colder than she liked, for one thing, and for another it was really degrading. A good strategy, and one she'd no doubt have to use again before she went to the grave, but it didn't change the fact that she highly disliked it.
Besides, the miniscule thing that was an insult to all shirts and the only thing covering her front was really itchy. The skirt' wasn't much better, but she felt like a fool every time it rode up and she had to reach back and yank it down. Her real clothes were in a pocket she had sewn into the cloak, and the second this job was over and they were a safe distance away, she was putting them back on.
The goldsmith's house was huge, she realized as they drew nearer. At least five stories tall, walls of thick stone, balconies on the top two levels–this man made far more than average goldsmiths, and that was highly suspicious. Of all the smiths, this was one of the few to pay them not to rob their homes and shops. Of course, they did understand that if they got paid more than the initial sum to go and steal, all deals were off. But this man had never shelled out a cent.
He was going to regret it.
They sidled up to the guards, letting their cloaks loosen to let them get an eyeful. "Master Elimson here, he sent a message down to our neck of the woods," Hesper purred, jutting out a hip. "Would you boys mind letting us through?"
"I'm not sure I–" The man cut off when she raised an eyebrow at him and took a step closer.
"When me and my friend arefinished, we might be willing tostay around and chat," she offered. "What do you say?"
The other guard was fumbling for his keys. "Oh, hell, Holry, the sooner they get in, the sooner they'll be done."
The door swung open, and they sashayed in. Shianne kicked the door closed, shuddered, and followed after Hesper. The halls were lit with oil lamps in alcoves, and they both took one.
"The treasure room is on the fifth floor, and the key to the treasure room is in Elimson's bedroom," Hesper muttered as they walked quickly down the hall. "We can either risk getting it or handle the guard outside long enough to pick the lock."
"Lock," Shianne answered immediately.
"Good choice." They met a stairwell and began to climb. "I'll handle the guard. And I'll show you a nifty trick–one of my favorites."
Thatsounded promising. "Yay," she said softly.
They marched up the stairs in silence until they reached the fifth floor. The hallway had several doors, only one guarded. Hesper went first, hips swaying. "Hey there, handsome."
The guard turned, eyes widening. "What–"
Hesper held a finger to her lips, coy. "We're here for Master Elimson," she said sweetly.
"He–he's asleep," the young guard said, flustered.
"Oh, we know." She winked. "See, a good friend of his sent us–sort of as a thank-you, you know? A nice surprise for him. You wouldn't happen to know where his room is, would you?"
"I-I-I-it–it–this one–" he stammered, eyes on Hesper's hand sliding up his arm and onto his shoulder.
"Thank you," she said. "You're such a love." Her thumb pressed down on a nerve along his collarbone, and he froze, eyes staring blankly ahead. "Now isn't that handy?" She asked Shianne.
"What did you do?" she whispered, fascinated.
"Temporary paralysis–it's a nerve. He'll wake up in about five minutes, and it sends such a nice jolt to the brain that he'll forget me pressing on it."
"That is nifty." Shianne whistled in appreciation. "Why'd you ask which room was the goldsmith's?"
"If I asked for the treasure room, he'd know something was up, and it was one of two rooms with a guard posted on it. The only other room with a guard on it will be the one we want. Remember that–you don't want to give them any reason to think you're looking for something valuable unless you're pretending to be a possible buyer."
"Like with the crystal bouquet." Shianne grinned. "Good times, good times."
"Good times," Hesper echoed with a slight grin. "Now come on."
They turned the corner and found no guards, but the hallway split into two at the end, so they followed it to the end, then found a guarded door on the left. "You wanna give it a shot?" Hesper hissed into Shianne's ear.
She swallowed, then nodded, putting on a syrupy expression. "Oh, guard"
The man turned, and just as his counterpart had, regarded them with disbelief. "CanI help you, ladies?"
"We're trying to get to Master Elimson's room," she said, voice sickeningly sugary. "Could yougive us directions?"
"It'sdown the h-h-hall." He started stuttering when her hand came to a rest on his shoulder. "A-and to the l-le–"
His voice stopped when she ground her thumb into the same place on the collarbone, and the same, glazed look came to his eyes.
"Excellent," Hesper said in approval. "Lock?"
"On it." She pulled several thin metal bars out of her shirt and got to work. It wasn't the toughest lock she'd ever picked, but it wasn't too easy; a challenge, but nothing too hard. With a click, it released, and she leaned on the door. It opened. Picking up her lamp, she stepped inside.
The room was practically oozing with gold. She stared at it, trying to think of how many meals and pairs of clothes it would buy the Scraps.
"There it is." Hesper moved forward, pulling a heavy golden necklace off of the table in the center of the room and dropping it into the pocket in her cloak. "Go on, help yourself–the noble said he paid fifty Gold Sands for this sucker, I'll see if I can find that much."
Shianne needed no further encouragement. As corrupt as the goldsmith was, his skills hadn't suffered for the lack of morals, and everything in sight was a work of art. No necklaces did she put on, but an emerald-encrusted armband went around one arm, another one braided of white gold, rose gold, and yellow gold sliding up to encircle the other. A delicately crafted link bracelet was soon joined by a bracelet forged to look like a wreath of lilies and one of several strands of gold with emeralds woven into it. Rings went onto one hand, and she exchanged her normal small hoop earrings for ones that looked like a small fountain of gold. More trappings were scooped into the pocket in her cloak, tucked into her shirt, stuffed into the knot her hair had been pinned into, pushed into the small pockets in her hood, and crammed into the hidden pockets on her skirt, until she carried a small fortune in gold. She'd planned on this ever since she'd gotten the assignment, and enlisted Miranda to help her put more storage into her Dress-up' clothes. She'd show that Damon boy who was a Scrap when she and Hesper lifted enough gold to probably live honestly–but where was the fun in that?
Suddenly the door burst open, and guards stormed in, accompanied by a red-faced man still in his nightshirt. "Get them!" he bellowed, pointing a fat, shaking finger although there was no need to indicate who he was talking about.
They were in luck: there was a door that led to a balcony. They raced over, throwing it open–Shianne was very disgusted with the goldsmith and his idiocy where security was concerned–and Hesper, always prepared, pulled out a rope with a hook on it and hurled it to the roof of the next building, swiftly knotting it around the low railing. "Come on!" Pulling off her headscarf, she looped it around the rope, swung her legs over the railing, and jumped, sliding down the length of the rope.
Shianne had pulled off her headscarf as well, but a guard got a fistful of her cloak. Kicking at him wildly, she seized her cloak and yanked. All of a sudden the man released her, and unprepared, she staggered backwards, tripped over the low railing, and fell over in a tangle of thrashing arms, cloak, and blonde hair that was coming undone from its knot.
She shrieked, knowing there would be nothing but cold, hard ground to catch her. Terror burned down every vein–but something was flying out of her palms–two rivers of ink?
Shianne looked down to find the darkness pooling under another person standing there, head tilted back, her brown-green eyes meeting gray-blue–
The last thing she thought before she slammed into none other than Damon Hamidi was that her life really sucked.
To her surprise, other than that jolt ofwell, falling onto the Brawler, there was no sickening thud, no impact. Instead, they were falling even further, surrounded by more jet-blackness. She tried to yell, but no sound came out of her mouth.
Auri Haveran surveyed the window over the brim of her teacup. After she, Sair, and Kessie had landed in this strange place, and the man who called himself Elwyn the Strange had hustled them into his house overlooking the Wheel or whatever he called it, he'd sat all three of them down, poured them tea, and told them to wait for the other two. He'd seemed enormously pleased that they'd come, but she wished he'd explain a bit more. Especially when the redheaded boy and the tough-looking girl had roared out of nowhere on what she had to admit was a pretty cool motorcycle. One more group, and then answers would come.
She turned to find the girl looking at the teacup in her hands as if it were a shrunken head: revolted, but at the same time oddly fascinated. "It's not bad," she said helpfully. "I'm Auri Haveran, by the way."
"Tara Price," the girl muttered. "Please tell me this is a dream."
She shrugged. "I've had some pretty weird dreams, but this one's taking the cake."
"Tell me about it," Tara said darkly. "First we're being chased down by the government, and then we fly into frickin' Camelot."
"The government was after you too?" Auri leaned forward.
Tara snorted into her teacup, having finally consented to take a sip. "Yeah, they wanted to use me to power some giant crystal ball or something."
"It was a machine based on one of Einstein's theories." The redheaded boy spoke up for the first time; Auri wondered at his lab coat but didn't comment. "The theory of the Clockwork Universe–that the motion of every molecule is predictable, therefore by factoring how every molecule would move and affect the motion of others, and by factoring in outside forces, the future could be mapped out. The computer constantly processes the information and is able to predict everything that happens a week in advance."
"Could you translate that into English?" Sair asked curtly. He wasn't taking the whole traveling-to-another-world thing very well.
"Wait, try to do it in monosyllable words so the pretty boy over there can understand," Tara said, every bit as rude as he'd been.
Kessie hopped down from her chair, oblivious to the tension in the room, and walked over to the window, pressing her face to it. "Yay!"
"What is it, Kessie?" Auri turned to see what had caught her attention.
"Friends!" She clapped her hands. "More friends!"
A girl with curly blond hair dragging out of a knot and not very much on other than her cloak had just landed in the center of the circle of cobblestones. Or more accurately, she'd landed on the young man underneath her, who was looking rather uncomfortable.
"Wonderful!" Elwyn passed by the doorway, and they heard the door slam. Meanwhile, the blonde was yelling something, the black-haired boy propped up on one elbow now that she was off his back. Auri pressed her ear to the window to try and pick out the conversation.
"That's a cute outfit."
"Will you stop saying anything about me iscute? I'm not cute! And quit staring! Don't you dare touch that gold, I stole it, it's mine!"
"Yeah, but I saved your life. You owe me some."
"You didnot save my life, you self-important, bigheaded moron!"
"In case you forgot, you landed on me."He was starting to sound irritated. "Are you always such a brat?"
"Even if I hadn't landed on you I wouldn't have died! And I am not a brat–it's not my fault that you're stupid, you might as well keep your mouth shut and not give me the opportunity to verbally smack you around!"
Auri didn't need to put her ear to the window to listen anymore–they were both shouting loud enough for everyone in the room to hear. Of course, now the rest of them were crowded around the window as well.
"Did it ever occur to you that you don't need to give someone hell if they so much as look at you cross-eyed?"
"Did it ever occur to you that if you just keep poking your finger in the piranha tank, eventually it's going to get bitten off?"
He got to his feet. "There should be no piranha tank!" he yelled. "It's not my fault if you're a hypersensitive, bitchy midget!"
Auri covered Kessie's ears. This wasn't going to be pretty.
"I am NOT hypersensitive, I am not bitchy, and if you ever call me a midget again I'll–I'll–I'll make sure you'llnever have children!"
"Excuse me?"Elwyn had been hovering a few feet away, cheer slightly diminished by their loud and rather vulgar argument.
"I'd like to see you try, miiiiiiddddggggeeetttt!"
The girl threw out an arm, and a knife flew straight and true towards its target. The boy leapt to the side, caught it by the blade, tossed it into the air, and caught it by the hilt this time. "Don't even try, midget. I'm way out of your–"
A second blade whizzed just past his head, thudding into the wall twenty feet away–a few feet beneath the window–and a few black hairs gently floated free.
"–league,"he finished weakly.
Elwyn stepped forward, smiling brightly. "Would you like some tea?"
There you go, another chapter, nine pages in one day In truth, I'm kinda stuck on chapter fifteen of one of my fanfiction stories, so I'm stalling I really like how Shianne and Damon get along, don't you? Don't expect the next chapter to be up nearly this fast, though–I've got to get back to work on my fanfiction.