Warning: I have no issues portraying violence, having sexual elements, exploring various ethical themes, featuring homosexual characters or romances, and so on that can be considered sensitive topics.
Prologue: It Takes a Thief…
One of the last places anyone would ever expect to find Cassidy Cain was Vedan's branch of The Temple of Yewel. Libraries, casinos, corporate offices, club houses, and the like were more her inclination. Nevertheless, she was there. She had to be there. One of her rules as a thief, of which there were many, was to give anything she stole to those she felt it rightfully belonged to. That was one of the reasons she even became The Grandmaster of Theft.
The few who shared the tiny waiting room with her were unaware that they were in the presence of the "noble thief". They weren't even aware that she was Cassidy Cain, the heiress to the Cain fortune and future Chair of the Cain International conglomerate. Like any decent criminal, she understood the value of disguise: she wore a pair of blue jeans and loose fitting long sleeved pink top, donned oval glasses with thick frames that obscured her narrow shaped eyes, hid her eye's true pine green hue with brown contacts, cloaked her lengthy auburn red hair – which she styled in a hime cut – with a long caramel wig with wavy bangs, and claimed that her name was Athena Whitwick. She even brought an ID with her in case anybody questioned her identity, not that they did. Instead of the closing wails of sirens or mesmerized awes that she of all people was there, the only sounds which filled the room were that of her magazine's pages flipping at regular intervals and the clicking of the receptionist's keyboard. It wasn't until she was approached by the man she requested that she drew any attention at all.
"Miss Athena Whitwick?" the man, Gerard Turned, asked.
Cassidy glanced over him. He was as she researched: tall, skinny, brown eyes, sepia toned skin, craggy oval face, brown short frizzy patch of hair, carefully clipped thin mustache. Were these regular circumstances, he would have been just another face in the sea she saw daily. What made him special was the jade robe he wore. It was that simple yet well-kept robe which identified him as a Yewellian priest and thus, her asset.
He wasn't her asset based on the robe alone. It helped, but Cassidy seldom depended solely on objects like badges and wardrobes when verifying someone's identity. So, before stepping into the temple, she investigated him for a good week. She had him shadowed, his apartment bugged, his records checked, and his bank account monitored. There were no doubts in her mind that he was who he said he was and that she could trust him to serve the role she had in mind.
She stood and gave a slight bow. "Good day to you, Mister Turner."
"It's a blessing to meet you, Miss Athena," he said, as she assumed he would. "How may The Followers be of service to you?"
"Could we go somewhere a bit more private first?"
"Of course." He led her away from the waiting room, down a hallway, and into a space the church set aside for private meetings. Once the door creaked close, he asked, "So what would you like to share?"
From her pocket she withdrew a small black cloth. Her slim fingers gracefully untied it to expose the tear shaped red diamond pendant resting inside.
Gerard leaned in and squinted. "I-is that…?"
"Adora's Tear, yes."
His eyes widened. "I…I can't believe it…"
To most people, Adora's Tear was merely an expensive treasure. To The Followers, it was a holy relic. If legend was to be believed, they were created when the first Yewellian, Adora, was murdered when trying to spread their teachings. Her bloody tears were said to have been crystallized by Yewel into thirty indestructible stones that serve as a reminder to humanity why violence was never the answer.
"It's a family heirloom," Cassidy lied. "My late aunt passed it on to me months ago. I just learned what it's really worth thanks to that whole mess with Narcissa Richmond and The Grandmaster of Theft. That necklace I saw them competing over looked similar to mine, so I looked into it, learned about Adora's Tear and, well, here I am. I've no idea how my aunt got her hands on this, but whatever. I want you all to have it."
"We'll have to get it verified to prove it is the real thing. If it is, there's a 500,000 crown reward-"
She placed the necklace into his hand and flashed a gentle smile. "The satisfaction of righting an injustice is a reward in and of itself."
"I – Thank you… You have no idea how much this means! You know, it is people like you that make me certain that humanity will eventually achieve Yewel's dream."
"I sincerely doubt that," she muttered as she turned away. "I'm…not exactly someone your sect would even want to have in it."
He patted her shoulder. "There's nobody that our faith won't welcome. If there's something you've done or plan to do which is troubling you or you want to confess, the church is here for you."
She bit down on her lip. "…Is it true that if there is something that someone wishes to get off their chest, The Followers are not just willing to be there for them, you promise absolute confidentiality about anything shared?"
"Yes, it's true. We will never betray your secrets. If there's anything you'd like to discuss, I'm happy to lend you my ear and console."
"I…" She dropped her head and sighed. "I'm really, really, really sorry, but can I have a moment to think about this?"
"Take all the time you need. We'll always be here for you."
She took a seat, clasped her hands around her head, and stared at the ground. "There is something I'd like to discuss," she said after a minute of contemplation, "but is it alright if we do this elsewhere? And in a few days from now?"
"Since it'll take place elsewhere, we'll need to register the meeting in our system and perform a background check on you first, just to be safe. Are you okay with that?"
"Yes, that's no problem at all."
She took a piece of paper from a nearby table, jotted down a number, and handed it over. "Contact me whenever you're ready."
Cassidy departed not long after that, smiling the entire way. Everything was proceeding according to plan.
Three days passed, during which both sides went about their preparations. On Gerard's end, he turned over Adora's Tear to their high priest, who contacted their headquarters outside of The Empire. It was inspected, confirmed to be the genuine article, and then whisked off to their main temple, where it joined the others. After that, they hired a service outside of their church to inspect Athena Whitwick, who came up clean. Gerard contacted Cassidy without any worries after that and they made a deal to meet at Acquiro's very own Maleperduis, where Cassidy set the stage. When the night came, Gerard pulled on dark blue jeans, buttoned up a light blue checkered shirt, and laced up a pair of boots, then drove his truck to Maleperduis.
He arrived to find chatter of all sorts roared from the sea of people who roamed the warm space that was Maleperduis. Some huddled around the bar counter, where an attractive male bartender entertained with flashy stunts. Others were seated in front of one of the televisions mounted on the wall, watching tennis on a sports channel while tearing into food that was brought to them by women in sleek black dresses. It was all quite the spectacle.
"Are you Gerard Turner?" a voice from behind him asked, to which he swiftly swung around to.
The voice belonged to a young man dressed in an ebony suit, dove white shirt, and blood red tie. He stood level to Gerard, had crow black hair which was neatly combed back, and light bronze skin which made it difficult to determine his ethnicity. His facial features did not help the matter; his gray eyes were an elongated oval shape, his nose short and straight, and his cheekbones low. His only distinguishable feature was the pair of aviator sunglasses which preceded his forehead.
"Um, yes I am," Gerard answered. "And you are?"
"Here to escort you," he replied. "Miss Athena is waiting upstairs for you."
They made their way up four flights of stairs, the escort at an easy pace while Gerard dragged his feet. They passed room after room until they arrived at the peak of the stairs, where the VIP lounge resided.
The young man stopped at the door and held up his hand. "Wait here for a second," he instructed before slipping into the room. When he stepped back out, he returned clutching a long electronic rod. "Miss Athena has two requests before you enter. First, turn off your phone and leave it with me. You'll get it back when this is all over. Second, you let me check you with this for any bugs."
"Uh, if you don't mind me asking, why all the secrecy? Her background check didn't say anything about all this."
"Miss Athena will explain everything inside. If you get inside. All she wants is for those two things to happen first. I can't let you pass until that's taken care of. It's your call if you go any further or not."
He removed his phone from his pocket and handed it to the man. "No, it's okay. Do what you must."
Sweat formed on Gerard's head as the man ran the lengthy device up and down his person. Just what was he guarding? What kind of world was he about to enter? He peeked at the stairs. It wasn't too late to turn back. He hadn't learned anything that could get him killed or anything like that. Yet he couldn't bring himself to leave. He had given his words that he would meet Athena Whitwick that night. He had a duty to perform.
"Alright, you can enter," the man said upon completing the scan. "Word of advice, don't try anything. She's not someone you want to get on the wrong side of. Best case scenario, she'll have me take care of you."
The man opened the door, ushered Gerard in, and slammed the door shut.
Silence and the sweet fragrance of strawberries replaced the chatter and odors from below. Bright lights showered down from the ceiling to reveal a spacious room with crown gold walls and framed television monitors which transitioned between various artworks, none of which Gerard recognized.
The projected paintings weren't the only thing he didn't recognize. He also couldn't recognize Cassidy, who sat opposite of the entrance in one of the various leather club chairs that furnished the room.
Like her ally, she wore an ebony suit. Her own was composed of a long sleeved jacket, knee length skirt, stockings, ankle boots, and choker necklace. The only articles of her appearance which weren't black were her swan white blouse, cherry red tie, and her bow shaped lips and trimmed fingernails which were painted a light shade of pink. The clothes themselves were impeccably well made and tailored to showcase her slender, toned figure.
"Good evening, Mister Turner," she greeted with a clear, articulate voice. "I offer my sincerest apologies for the cloak and dagger routine. My circumstances force me to tread with caution. Can I interest you in a drink? I can conjure up whatever concoction you desire, so long as it's non-alcoholic."
"You're… not Athena Whitwick…" Gerard observed. She had a certain grace about her now. She sat with perfect posture, her legs crossed, and her pointed chin in her hand. She wore a smile that could disarm an army.
"I am, depending on how you perceive things," she said. "Athena Whitwick is one of the various guises I assume whenever I've fieldwork which requires me to conceal my true identity."
"Then who are you really? And what do you want with me?"
"Who I am is Cassidy Cain, heiress to the Cain fortune and everything which lies within its reach. As for what I seek, I've been forthright from the onset. I wish to speak with you in private and the church failed to provide me the same solace as this bar." She gestured towards the chair across from her own. "Will you please take a seat?"
Gerard stayed rooted in place. Even he, someone who didn't keep up with celebrity trends, knew of her. Philanthropist, conservationist, animal advocate, socialite, high stakes gambler, globetrotter; these words and more described her and the ventures she was known to take part in. Her presence of all people was disorienting, to say the least. Nevertheless, he crossed the soft carmine carpet and took the seat across from her. In the eyes of Yewel, she was no different from any other.
"Before we begin, is there anything you'd like for me to call you?" Gerard asked.
"Seeing as my name is Cassidy, I believe that should more than suffice." She leaned in closer. Her smile morphed into a smirk. Her voice sank to a whisper. "Or perhaps you can call me The Grandmaster of Theft. It's just as acceptable a name."
Gerard blinked then took her in again, now as if he were staring at an abstract painting. "Y-y-you're kidding, right? I mean, you're…" His mouth gaped. "…you're still just a kid!"
She snickered. "I am by no means a child. In fact, I'll officially be twenty in two weeks."
"That's still pretty young to be a thief like The Grandmaster. Or a thief at all."
"If we're to go by statistics, my being a thief shouldn't come as a surprise. It's far more common for those around my age to be a criminal than it is older types. What's more, being a criminal of that aptitude isn't as strenuous as it would be to some others. You'd be amazed what you can accomplish when you've been groomed in all sorts of topics, come from a moneyed background, and, most importantly, wish to learn. If you still don't believe me, consider this: do you honestly believe I'd devote as much time and effort as I have to arranging this meeting, were it a prank?"
Gerard made no immediate reply. Her words made sense, but still, her, The Grandmaster? Outside of her calling card – a black card with a crimson red fox head and wavy red and white fox tail on it, The Grandmaster of Theft was a phantom. None were able to catch her, even though she had enemies on both sides of the law. Whether or not she was even a girl was highly debated at times! For someone like that to just up and announce their true identity like Cassidy did seemed unreal.
"I don't think you would," he admitted, "but…how? How could that possibly be enough to make you a master criminal?"
"Many thanks for calling me a master thief, though I can't say for certain whether or not I truly qualify. Truth be told, The Grandmaster of Theft is merely a title I conceived as a means of psychological warfare. As the saying goes, reputation precedes."
"That doesn't answer the question."
"That is where you're mistaken. It answers a portion of the equation. People perceive me as a master criminal, which in turn enables me to perform in ways which I might not be able to otherwise. If there is one thing I've learned well, it's that perception is a power onto itself. Of course, that alone isn't the sole source to my success. I'm likewise fortunate to possess a capable, versatile crew who can cover the angles I cannot. For instance, the man who escorted you here is one of my accomplices. His name is Augustus Wynn. If you ever speak with him again, please address him as Wynn. He's not particularly fond of being called by his first name. Anyway, on the surface, he's my bodyguard and chauffeur. In the criminal underworld, there are a number of names for what he does: heavy, muscle, hitter, enforcer. You can select whichever you prefer. The task is ultimately the same."
Thug, Gerard thought but didn't say. Although it was reasonable to assume that she wouldn't hurt him for it – The Grandmaster of Theft was said to avoid hurting innocents – it was best not to test her. Who knew what sort of logic a criminal could operate under when deciding such things? Better safe than sorry.
"Alright, let's say you're actually The Grandmaster of Theft," he continued. "Why? You don't have any reason to risk your neck. What do you get out of this?"
"Why are you a priest? Why did you join The Followers?"
"To help people, of course."
"Then we have that in common! I too wish to help others."
"But why must you be a criminal to do that? How does being a criminal help anyone? If you really want to help people, there are other options out there. Especially for someone like you."
Her lips puckered for a second. Then her smirk reemerged. "How acquainted are you with The Osion Purge?"
Gerard narrowed his eyes. "You don't need to tell me about that. Every Yewellan knows."
"So I needn't elaborate on how your people's belief in pacifism, in non-violence and the sanctity of human life, came into conflict with King Gregory's mandatory military draft and how that translated into The Followers being outlawed from his country?"
"How about how Gregory had your people slaughtered, or how The First Temple that resided in his country was ransacked and torched, or the exodus of Tai Emmons, and how she saved each of Adora's Tears?"
Gerard clenched his jaw. Of course she didn't need to tell him about any of that. He knew the tale. Tai Emmons, a priestess, fled with the pendants and her family. However, she was forced to give five of them to smugglers as payment. The smugglers helped them escape the country then sold the jewels off for their own fortune. To even think about that left a sour taste in his mouth.
"I won't disagree that there are other options available to me," Cassidy continued. "However, the same sadly cannot be said for those who I come to the aid of. Tell me, how well were your people fairing at retrieving Adora's Tear without me? Was the Imperial government all that accommodating?"
Gerard averted his eyes from hers. They both knew how that played out.
When The Followers of Yewel did try to retrieve one of Adora's Tears from a known owner, a media personality named Narcissa Richmond, she denied their claims. When they took her to court, she trounced them. Narcissa's elite team of lawyers halted progress from being made until the statute of limitations for retrieval had passed.
There wasn't a single Follower who didn't resent that play on one level or another. There also wasn't a single one who didn't despise Narcissa for what she would do next.
"I'm willing to cut a deal with The Followers," Narcissa told them, "if you can get five hundred thousand crowns. Get five hundred thousand and I'll sell it to you."
And they did. It took months, but they did it. However, when it came time for the exchange, Narcissa's tune changed.
"You know, after thinking about it. I'm finding that I'm more attached to this than I thought. It's going to take more money if I'm going to sell. How about you get a million crowns? We can talk then."
Both The Followers and various people in the public were disgusted by this, though it changed nothing. Narcissa was the legal owner. She could do whatever she pleased with it. And that played right into Cassidy's hands.
"The reality I've found is that sometimes doing what's conventionally considered good – being friendly, adhering to the laws, showing mercy, telling the truth – is not enough to ensure that the right things occur," Cassidy said, her voice harsher than before. "Sometimes the only options people are left with are to either yield to these tormentors, to allow them to prosper in spite of why they're prospering, or to do something 'bad' to set things right. It's when predicaments such as these arise that we become a factor. We're 'the villains' so people like you don't have to be."
Gerard tried to form words, but couldn't. He wanted to argue with her, to tell her that her path was the wrong one, that there was nothing that a thief could ever do to help anyone. But he didn't. He couldn't bring himself to. She truly had helped them. In that moment, Adora's Tear became more than just a religious relic or another score; it became the key to influencing Gerard's heart – as Cassidy had planned.
"I…really don't think there's anything someone like me can do for you," Gerard said as he stood. His eyes flew to the door. Just a few steps and he would be away from the siren song that was Cassidy Cain.
"That's where you are wrong, Mr. Turner!" Cassidy said, her voice sweet honey once more. "In fact, I'm in need of your assistance in particular. I'm presently preparing for what shall likely be a lengthy campaign and there's a role I wish for you to assume in it."
He continued to cross the room. "I will not be an accomplice to any crimes."
"I'm not asking you to be. Quite the opposite, actually: I wish for you to convince me to not commit a crime."
"Wh-what?" Gerard's stride faltered. He twisted back around to face her. "Why me?"
"I once read that sometimes the best approach to overcoming a problem is to introduce someone who possesses an alternate perspective, who thinks differently from those already immersed in the conundrum. They might be able to offer an idea which would have otherwise gone unnoticed. I've such a dilemma and you see the world in a way I do not. Ergo, you might possess the answer I seek. So would you be so kind as to help me?"
"…I'll need to know what the crime is first."
"You're planning to murder someone?!"
"I'd be grateful if you didn't shout such things," she replied, smiling. "And for the record, I've yet to actually plan the deed. I'm simply entertaining the thought."
"Why would you even think about it?"
"There's this… calling them a person is generous, but it'll suffice. This person I encountered recently has forced me to contemplate taking their life. It's…perplexing. On one hand, I rather not murder anyone. These lives we lead are, to the best of my knowledge, all we have. So when a life is stolen, the perpetrator steals everything."
"If you truly believe that, how could you even consider killing someone?"
"…Because there are some things in this world which cannot and should not be tolerated or absolved." Her nails, which bit into her chair's arms, were the only thing that betrayed her otherwise composed outer shell. "Before I continue, allow me to make one thing clear: I will punish this person for what they've done. That is not open to debate. Don't squander my time trying to persuade me otherwise or try to interfere with my operations. While I've no desire to harm you, I'll do what I must if you force my hand. Do we have an understanding?"
Gerard needed that seat more than ever then as his knees jellied. It was not just the fact that she had threatened him, but the way she did it in. Her voice remained as soothingly sweet as ever. Her face was as beautifully composed as when she welcomed him.
"Well I guess it's a good thing you're trying to think of alternatives to murdering someone at least… I'll…do my duty as a priest." He returned to the chair. "So who is it you want to kill? And why?"
"You're going to wind up raising all sorts of questions if I simply tell you who they are and what they've done. What's more, I rather you understand why I feel as I do before you pass judgment. If I'm to do this any justice, I'm going to have to share with you the details surrounding my latest caper from the beginning."
Welcome to The Grandmaster of Theft series! As you can already tell from the prologue, this series is a caper that follows the life & escapades of Cassidy Cain & her criminal crew. At the bottom I tend to leave various questions I am curious about response wise. The reason I ask them is because it provides things I can use to better refine the story. The story is in its present state not just because of my imagination and spirit, but because of feedback. I'm an entertainer at the foremost and I need to know what entertains, what people respond to, etc. Of course, I know I can't please everyone, but still, the more I know, the more I can work with and more I can refine. So yeah, if you'd be willing to answer things there, point out what you enjoy and don't, I'd appreciate it and will use it to make a better experience!
What is your first impression of this series?
Did this prologue draw you in? If so, what did it for you?
What is your first impression of Cassidy Cain?
How about Gerard Turner so far? What are your thoughts on him?
The story surrounding Adora's Tear, what do you think about that?
Your thoughts on Narcissa Richmond so far as she's setup to be an antagonist?
Any questions, comments, compliments, criticisms, or so forth?