Author's Note: Hello, beautiful people!
I am so, so, SO excited to share my first ever original novel with you all! This took about two years to write, and a lot of that had to do with my poor mental health at the time, but now I've decided to go through it, revise and edit it, and share it with anyone who might be invested enough to read it through. If you like the first chapter, then don't forget to hit that Follow button so you won't miss an update. While you're at it, drop a review and tell me that you think. I know authors constantly asking for reviews can get annoying so I won't ask beyond this author's note, but it really helps an author out when you review their work and tell them how much you love their story.
As this isn't a fanfic, I don't have to put a disclaimer here. I own everything. Feels pretty freaking good, man!
Surrounded by souls, there was no way just one should have stood out to her. From the rainbow of colors and varying intensities of passions, there was no reason for a single soul to stand out in the crowd. Yet one did, and she couldn't stop her eyes from sliding towards the one who possessed it.
The train was filled with chattering people, many of whom were dressed in elegant attire. Women in frilly dresses of soft color and men in dark suits sat in the booths and maintained conversation over dinner, activity, game, or whatever gossip they brought with them on the trip. An elderly couple played cards with a young couple. A group of middle aged women knitted as they talked. A teenaged girl with inky hair hidden under a large white hat with pink lacing read as she sat across a dozing man old enough to be her father. Many others feasted on the roasted duck and baked potatoes the servants brought to the passengers who bought a meal ticket. With the cranberry walls and dark green booths – a color combination the woman did not understand – the scene looked to be one from a painting brought alive with the sounds of happy passengers and the smells of finely cooked food.
Yet despite all the activity, it was the young man sitting at the other end of the train that got her attention.
He stared at her with piercing gold eyes, his orbs contrasting against his pale skin and pure black hair. He stared, and stared, and stared. Blinking was a rare occurrence.
With calculated movement, the woman brought her arms up and hugged herself as if chilled despite her magenta velvet coat. The young man – more of boy, when one looked at him closely – had a persistent soul. Strength, determination, and willing to do whatever it took to get what he wanted were dominant traits that made up his personality. If he wanted to cause trouble, he would not let anything stop him.
At first, she tried to ignore him. She would tuck her hair behind her ear – the strands shifting from purple to blue to and green: the natural ombre giving away her Perutheon heritage – but the motion was mostly useless with braided hair. Next, she stared at her reflection in the table and looked at her dark face with one eye blue and the other red. Yet just because she looked away from the boy didn't mean she was now unable to sense his soul. The more she tried to ignore it, the more she could feel it. Enough time passed. She needed to act now.
Moving away from the boy's hard gaze, the woman stood and approached one of the guards. His soul confirmed that he was as bored as he looked. He craved excitement, but nothing exciting ever happened on a train. They would make the trip there with no hiccups, just as they always did. These feelings were why the woman went to him instead of the other guards: he would be willing for anything of interest to happen, even if it was nothing more than a woman fearing a boy who had yet to make any unwanted advances towards her.
"Excuse me, sir?" The woman reached out to feather her gloved fingers across his forearm.
The guard snapped his attention towards her. "How may I help you?"
Looking back towards the boy just to return her mismatched eyes to the guard, the woman said in a hushed whisper, "I don't like the look that boy over there is giving me. He keeps staring, and it's starting to make me uncomfortable."
The guard gazed at the boy, focusing on him just in time for the youth to pull a knife from under his sleeve. "Stay back, miss," the guard ordered, taking hold of her shoulders and gently pushing her aside. To his companions, "We got a boy with a weapon over here."
It was enough for all the guards on that cart to approach the boy and figure out what he was doing with a knife on the train and restrain him if necessary. He was their primary focus now, and not a single guard was paying attention to the rest of his surroundings. They were completely distracted.
The woman nodded to the small girl with the large white hat. The girl, with the same piercing gold eyes as the boy, grinned. Without hesitation, the girl bounced to her feet and followed behind the brown-skinned woman, leaving the sleeping man behind without a backwards glance. Now that all nearby watched as the guards try to disarm the boy with the knife, none of them saw the woman and girl slip out of the cart.
"You think Garrett will be all right, May-May?" the girl, removing her hat and letting it fly away from her grasp, asked as the woman began to climb the ladder to the top of the cart. The small girl shed her white, layer dress to reveal black overalls and a black shirt.
Wind whipped through the lose strand of her hair as Maybel answered, "He's handled worse before, Gemma."
After taking off her gloves, coat, and skirt to reveal dark, skin tight shirt and shorts, Maybel, now appearing her young age without the mature attire, began to climb to the top of the train cart then lent a hand to the smaller girl as she joined her friend on the top.
"That's not what I asked," Gemma mumbled before putting the thought from her mind. Her twin was strong and capable; he would join them soon enough to help the rest of this heist.
The roof of the iron train was flat enough to walk on, but how fast the train was going made balance a necessity if one was going to travel the top without flying away. Smoke from the front of the train flew behind like a flag in the wind, making the air smell of charcoal. The girls were enveloped in the smoke, but they were far enough away from the engine for the pollution to be of no issue to them.
"According to my research," Maybel said, shouting above the pounding of the train and the roaring of the wind, "the Star Gem is in the last cart. It will be heavily guarded and securely locked away, but it shouldn't be anything we can't handle."
Gemma cracked her knuckles. "Then what are we waiting for? Let's get started!"
Keeping low, the two girls were careful to keep their balance as they traveled down the carts. The setting sun would have blinded them has their backs not been to it. As long as there were no interruptions, it would be another hour before the train came into town, but in would not be as long before the train crossed over the bridge. The girls had to get the Star Gem and be gone with Garrett long before then lest anyone saw who they were.
When they came to the final cart, both climbed down the ladder and examined the lock. Maybel chewed her lower lip as she used her gift. "There aren't any guards here. No one's keeping watch. I don't like this."
"Don't you see anyone?" Gemma asked. Maybel shook her head. "Not a soul in sight?"
"I can feel the souls in the other carts," Maybel answered, "but not in this one. It doesn't make sense. Why leave a valuable gemstone unattended?"
"Must have a lot of faith in whatever security system they set up for the ride." Gemma cracked her knuckles. "I can't wait to play with it!"
As Maybel stepped back, Gemma moved closer to examine the lock. Without touching it, Gemma studied its design and features. Every puzzle could be solved, and she was the one who would always, without fail, find the solution.
"The lock has a film on it," Gemma muttered, half to Maybel and half to herself. "If I touch it, there will evidence of smudged fingerprints left behind. We don't want that." Tucking her chin length hair behind her ears, Gemma narrowed her eyes as she studied the device further. "Other than that, it's just a regular sliding puzzle. Not one that would be easy to solve without touching it, but I can do it."
"You can do anything." Maybel knew it was true. Despite her childish nature, Gemma was more intelligent than most. It was her miglior gift.
Gemma giggled before she dug into her pockets and pulled out two pen-sized picks. The answer already laid out in her mind, Gemma used the tools to slide the tiles to their solved pattern. What normally would have taken minutes was done in seconds, and the lock clicked open. Both girls jumped away as it fell to the ground. The pieces rattled from the vibration of the moving train, but the lock was now useless.
Grinning in satisfaction, Gemma looked at Maybel as if to say See? Told you I can do it.
"Are there any other puzzles keeping us locked out?" Maybel asked, eyes locked on the one by her feet.
After a moment studying the door and around it, Gemma answered, "Not outside, no."
Maybel bit her lip. "When I open the door, we have to get in, get the Star Gem, and get out. There will be no time to disarm the traps waiting for us inside."
"Unless we have to disarm it," Gemma quietly muttered. Both girls took a deep breath. Gemma eyed Maybel. "You want to rush in, or should I?"
"I'll go for it." Maybel bounced on her toes. "You keep any eye open. If there's something you think you need to disable, then disable it. Don't wait for permission to do so." Gemma nodded.
Steeling herself, Maybel yanked the door open. Immediately a shrill cry tore through the evening air, yelling louder than the train and wind combined. Maybel and Gemma both instinctively covered their ears. Neither could hear herself think. Even passengers at the front of the train would be able to hear this alarm.
The girls wasted no time. Maybel ran in and searched for the Star Gem. It wasn't out in the open, resting on a feathered pillow like how some people treated their valuable jewelry. Instead there were boxes scattered throughout the cart, and the gem undoubtedly had to be inside one of them. Another measure of security, only this wasn't a puzzle that could be solved. Guards would be here before she and Gemma both had time to even look through half the boxes. They littered the floor, rested on shelves, and hung from the ceiling. Maybel swore, or she thought she did. It was hard to tell.
Meanwhile, Gemma wasted no time putting an end to the screaming. After finding the device that created such an alarm, she tore the device from the wall, inspected it, and picked a small rod off the ground. Once she inserted the rod into the clockwork, the alarm stopped. Gemma's lips moved, but Maybel didn't hear the words that came out. Her ears were ringing too loudly to hear anything.
Shaking her head to signal she didn't understand, Maybel began to sort through the boxes. They had a minute at best. They were already captured at worst. Soon the train would cross a bridge over the river, and the Star Gem needed to be in their possession by then.
Gemma pocketed the device and began to look as well. Her mind analyzed the set up, but there was no puzzle to be completed. She and Maybel would have to search at random. The miglior gift Gemma possessed was useless here.
Their presence was the first thing Maybel felt. Then it was their anxiety and determination. Some wanted to be the hero. Others were frustrated that a criminal picked now to try to steal the Star Gem instead of waiting until it was passed on to the next group that needed to take care of guarding it. All wanted to stop the thief. If someone got away with the Star Gem, these men would have hell to pay for not doing their job.
"We have company," Maybel whispered, or she thought did but was not sure if Gemma heard. Based on Gemma's lack of reaction, choosing to instead check inside as many boxes as she could, Maybel inferred that Gemma's ears were ringing just as badly as hers.
With a sigh of frustration, Maybel scanned the room one last time. She picked up one of the boxes and stuck it in her shorts pocket. It was now or never. Maybel tapped Gemma on the shoulder and signaled that they needed to leave. Gemma was quick to listen, except she didn't know where the guards were coming from. She climbed a stack of boxes and undid the latch on the roof.
"Gemma!" Maybel screamed, the name a buzz in her own ears, as the small girl tried to leave through the emergency exit located on the roof.
Gemma didn't hesitate to push open the door. It took the guards waiting for her no effort to haul her up and hold her down. After they had Gemma secured, they peered in. Maybel was already out of sight.
Suspicion flared up in every one of them. There's no way this girl was alone, they seemed to think. The emotions the souls were radiating were so distinct, Maybel could almost hear their thoughts. Somebody else must be down there.
Gemma was swallowed in fear, her soul trembling. One guard dropped to the ground and investigated the cart. Maybel held her breath, praying that he wouldn't look closely at the box she hid behind. His footsteps shuffled across on the floor. The ringing was beginning to subside.
With the return of the use of her ears, Maybel heard Gemma's desperate, muffled screams from above. She sounded just as terrified as her soul let on. Her friend's terror was getting to Maybel. It took all her self-control to not shout at the guards to leave Gemma alone. She needed a plan before she could act, but Maybel had none. Her head was growing too heavy for her to think of one.
"Anyone else down there?" asked a voice from above. His soul was uncertain. Maybel tried to focus in on it, but her grasp on soul seeing was growing weak. There was too much to fear. As long as Gemma was in danger, it would be impossible to sense souls like Maybel normally could.
"I don't see anything," the one searching the cart answered.
"Keep looking," ordered another voice. The guard inside the cart obeyed. He inspected each box carefully, looking harder than he had the first time.
Heart cramming in her throat, Maybel tried to breath as quietly as possible. She couldn't tell how close the guard was, but she believed it didn't matter. Sooner or later he would find her, and it would all be over. Not if help can come in the nick of time.
As if an answer to Maybel's prayers, the guards above shouted. Maybel sucked in a breath. The guard ran back towards the door on the ceiling.
"What happened?" he shouted, his voice wavering.
Risking it, Maybel turned around and peeked from behind the box. She looked just in time to see a figure swing from the hole and kick the guard in the stomach. As lifeless as a ragdoll, the guard flew towards Maybel and crashed only a few feet from where she hid. Her head snapped back in the direction of the force that kicked the man.
"Did you two really have to set off the alarm and get the entire patrol looking for us?" Garrett hissed, narrowed eyes fixed firmly on Maybel. "If we don't get away soon, that's the end of this."
"You shouldn't talk too much considering you did take your sweet time getting here," Maybel retorted as she jumped to her feet and ran towards Garrett. "What happened to them? The guards, I mean."
"I threw most of them off the train. They shouldn't suffer more than broken bones." Garrett pointed to the back of the cart. "That one I just got should simply be unconscious. I didn't kick him that hard."
Maybel and Garrett looked towards the direction of the voice. There was Gemma's head, hanging upside down from the doorway and grinning right at them. Then the grin faded. "Star Gem or not, we need to go now. The train's about to cross the bridge."
"Well then let's not stand around looking pretty." Maybel looked towards Garrett. "Give me a boost."
Lacing his fingers together, Garrett knelt down. When Maybel placed a foot on his palms, he hoisted her so that she could climb through the emergency exit. After she was secured on the top, Garrett jumped, grabbed the edge, and pulled himself up.
"Just a little closer!" Gemma shouted, the wind again rushing past. Maybel nodded. The bridge was in sight.
"Remember," Maybel began, "we meet on the other side of the river. It's important that we head in the direction the train is going."
"Well, yeah," Garrett muttered, "it's the closest town for miles."
As the train began to cross the bridge, the three teens slowly walked towards the edge. Maybel's heart rammed against her ribcage. Her senses were heightened, and her body desired to feel the anticipated rush. This was the moment she had been waiting for ever since she and the twins planned this heist.
They waited until their cart was in the middle of the bridge before they jumped. Gemma screamed in delight. Garrett screamed in fear. The bridge wasn't too high above the river, but it was just high enough for each of the teens to feel the rush.
Maybel was about to follow after her friends when something distracted her. Then it happened again. A flash to her left, a few carts down. Maybel looked in the direction of the flash, but she saw nothing. There weren't any other figures on top of the train that Maybel could see or sense. It must have been her imagination.
Wasting no more time, she jumped. A scream immediately tore through her. Adrenaline coursed through her veins. Rushes like these were her favorite part of any heist. In a way, she was an adrenaline junkie.
One moment the wind was rattling through Maybel's body, whipping her now loose hair. The next moment, water held her in its consuming embrace. Echoing sounds vibrated in her ears. Air bubble surrounded her in attempts to reach the surface. Once her fall slowed to a stop, Maybel followed the air pockets.
Breaking the surface, Maybel gasped for a breath of air. She shouted in pleasure. Her heart still pounded, but her laughter could not be contained.
That is until she remembered that the twins jumped as well, seconds before she followed.
"Gemma! Garrett!" Maybel snapped her neck back and forth in search of the two. Her heart rate increased for a second time, but this time wasn't in anticipation. Maybel called their names again, and the she got a response.
"Over here!" Garrett swam towards her. "Have you seen Gemma?"
"No." Maybel's eyes burned. "Do you think the fall was too hard for her?"
"I doubt it. We've jumped from higher before." Garrett searched the area. Still no sign of his sister. "If she's just pretending to be a mermaid right now, I swear—"
"There she is!" Maybel exclaimed, relief washing over her. Without hesitation, she swam towards the boulder Gemma was hanging onto. Garrett followed close behind. "We thought we lost you!"
Gemma grinned at her friends. Her fingernails dug into the rock, and she appeared to just barely hold on, but she was all right. "Nice try, but you can't lose me that easily."
Back together, the three swam towards shore. As she stroked forward, Maybel wondered why she always planned for the three of them to meet back up but then always panicked whenever they were out of sight. She immediately stopped wondering.
No point in finding a problem if you weren't going to try to solve it.
"Well," Garrett said as he removed his coat and twisted it tightly, "that was a nice swim. Although I suggest next time you want to take a dip in the water, maybe we go to the river instead of taking such lengths to get wet."
Maybel punched Garrett on the shoulder. He laughed, and she grinned. Gemma tilted her head to the side.
"Was this heist a failure, May-May?" she asked.
Going stone still, Maybel dug into her pocket and pulled out the one box she grabbed. "I don't know," she answered. "The Star Gem could have been in any of those boxes. This is just the one I wanted to check before we had to leave."
Garrett stared at the box Maybel held out. "Any particular reason that lone box caught your interest? It's not that big."
"I don't expect the gem to be a giant." Maybel held the box close to her chest. "As we were in a hurry to get out before we got caught, I thought to myself, What if this was my diamond and I needed to get to it immediately? How would I keep it safe while at the same time make sure I could just run in and grab it if need be? Then I realized that the box containing the diamond would be set apart, allowing someone who knew to get it an easy time retrieving it. That's why I focused on the boxes with the unique designs on them. This is the only one I had an eye on that I didn't get the chance to check."
The box shook in Maybel's grasp. "I'm going to be really disappointed if it's not in this box," she added, her words quaking.
Garrett walked to her side and knelt down so that they were eye level. "It won't be the end of the world if it's not there."
"Yeah." Gemma giggled. "The important thing is we did our best, and we had a lot of fun doing it!"
A smile crept up Maybel's face. Taking a deep breath, Maybel removed the lid. She almost cried instantly.
"We got it!" Gemma jumped up and down and clapped her hands. "We stole the Star Gem!"
"Good thing." Maybel laughed as the bubbles of relief overflowed from her stomach and spilled from her lips. Tears threatened to fall from her eyes. "I was so sure we failed this mission."
Placing a hand on Maybel's shoulder, Garrett said, "We got that stupid jewel, so now we get to relax until we need more cash. How much did you say that item would sell for on the black market, Maybel? Enough to keep us sustained for a few months?"
"Enough that I believe we can enjoy our weekend." Maybel rose to her feet. "It's been a while since we went to Ruby's, hasn't it, Gemma?"
The smaller girl bounced with excitement. "I'm going to be dancing all night long! I won't stop until I see the sunlight!"
Garrett snorted. "You two have fun. Meanwhile I'll get the studio all to myself."