A small metal instrument slid into the elegantly shaped keyhole. Expert fingers pushed it further to the right.
The satisfying sound emanated from the lock, letting the grinning boy who controlled it know that his work here was done and causing his grin to spread wider. Crouched in the dead of night on a rich jeweller's doorstep was the bony figure of twelve year old Dracus, already a master of lock picking at such a young age.
Living on the streets of Great Lenorium was hard for everyone. Some refused to let reality sink in, that this was their life now – a life of stealing and living in squalor. Others accepted their circumstances and did the best they could to stay healthy.
But a handful of the homeless – those like Dracus – did a little bit of both. They made good use of every single morsel of food, scrap of metal, patch of fabric and coin they found. However, they kept thinking of the future, planning ahead, working hard now so that later in life, they could be accepted as great and powerful... perhaps even rich.
Nonetheless, compared to Dracus, where he dared to work, only a brave few of the street urchins deigned. Namely a shameless two called Briona and Iwald, both heartless teenagers who found themselves not to be burdened with guilt after they'd pick pocketed someone, but instead filled with unearthly, horrible, childish glee.
They were just the sort of people who would get on with Dracus. In fact, they did. The treacherous trio set to work every night, ransacking shops and homes, and when they ran out of Dracus' cleverly crafted lock-picks, they mugged unfortunate passersby.
Tonight was a lucky night for them. Not only had Dracus managed to create a newly designed lock pick from shrapnel of firmer metal than the usual – thus making it harder to break – but also the local jeweller had apparently fallen ill and been confined to his bedchambers upstairs.
The plan was for Dracus to guarantee entrance to the shop area, for Iwald to gather all the jewellery and trinkets he could, and then for the innocent face of Briona the she-devil to pawn the goods or fence them for a hefty sum the next day.
The authorities were never a problem in the slums of Great Lenorium – half of them, the weaker willed ones, had been driven out by the smell, another lot had vanished under mysterious circumstances and the rest of them refused to do their duty, as they never got paid enough for the dangerous jobs they had to carry out in such a crime-ridden place.
Once Dracus had completed his task he stepped aside and bowed mockingly to the awaiting Iwald. "Your Highness," he chuckled.
"Why, thank you," came Iwald's sarcastic reply before he stepped into the dark shop. He popped his head out again from behind the door seconds later. "I can hear talking upstairs!"
"Who is it, a doctor? What are they saying?" Briona hissed. It was amazing, how deceitful looks could be sometimes. For her blonde, wavy locks that framed her pale face perfectly and the sparkling, emerald green eyes from which surprisingly black, long eyelashes protruded, she was an absolute menace. When she was pretending to be some lost little girl in a trick to gain the trio a few more coins the only thing that she could never quite mask was her loathsome, seething voice that seemed to drip spite.
"I don't know, who even cares," Iwald yawned. "I'll go get the goodies while they're talking."
"Genius," Briona mumbled, rolling her eyes. "Hurry up then."
Iwald disappeared back into the dimly lit shop. All Dracus and Briona could hear was his mostly muted scuffling and extremely muffled voices. A few minutes passed by and finally he came out as quietly as he could, sweating and smiling, carrying a pile of... clothes.
"You were supposed to get some jewellery, you dolt," Briona snapped immediately.
Dracus wasn't one for words around anyone, of course, and kept silent. He only shared words with himself, but still raised an eyebrow at his companion in question.
"I did," whispered Iwald excitedly, nodding his chin towards the bulging pouch that hung at his waist. "I got loads o' money, too! The old guy keeps it all behind the counter. Not very bright, is he?"
"Reminds me of someone," muttered Briona drily but then smiled sweetly – it was sickly, in Dracus' opinion, but he didn't dare voice it. "So... why'd you bring clothes? What were they doing in the shop area?"
"I listened into the conversation going on up there," said Iwald, "and I gathered that the bloke must've been talking to his daughter. She's come here with her children to look after him. All of the clothes they'd come with were behind the counter too. I only took three outfits, no worries."
"Stupid of the woman to bring her children," Briona murmured, "surely they'd get ill too."
"I guess. But let's just get back to the warehouse for now, eh? I want to have a look at what we've got."
The three made their way back to the warehouse they inhabited hopefully unseen, though not without a lot of difficulty. With every step that was intended to be unheard the contents of the pouch clanged together and the clothes were nearly dropped several times, oddly heavy. The usual short, shrouded escape route they took was twice as long and nowhere near as stealthy.
Several times Dracus' instinct told him to turn around and put the stolen items back, but he wasn't sure why. The amount of money they could make from this was... well, tremendous, so why his subconscious would be telling him to leave it was a mystery.
Before he could think any more deeply he heard something snap behind him, jerking him out of his reverie and he realised that he was lagging behind the other two. Briona and Iwald weren't exactly waiting for him, so Dracus hurried along, casting a wary eye back down the alleyway they were coming out of, swearing that he saw something glisten and shift in the shadows.
It wasn't the authorities the trio had to worry about, it was the neighbours of the jeweller – if they glimpsed who had stolen his family's possessions no doubt they would tell him, and in that place... people dealt with their grudges harshly and painfully, whether it was legal or not. Who was to say that he wouldn't track the trio down?
He might have a delicate job, but you never knew what the man was like behind the counter. Once he was free of the sickness he might go after them, or warn other shopkeepers to get new locks. What business would there be for the urchins then?
Upon arriving at the warehouse, entering and finding the little corner in which they stored their secret treasures, they lit several candles and Iwald heavily set down their recent finds. "That was harder than expected," he commented as he rummaged through them, picking out bracelets and coins of various values.
"You found a dress, Iwald, a dress!" squealed Briona. She picked the garment out from beneath the rest of the duds. "Oh, it's... wonderful!"
Indeed it was. It was a soft cream colour with spiralling golden patterns intricately woven in throughout the silken fabric from which it was made. The high collar was laced at the neck, the sleeves were frilled at the ends and the skirting was netted. Closer inspection revealed that beneath the golden spirals there were smaller silver threads that spread out in web-like shapes. Overall, it was an odd piece, but gorgeous all the same.
Briona held it up to her thin frame of a body and sauntered around. "Wouldn't it look great on me, Iwald?"
Iwald was quick to support her overconfident parade. "Yeah, you'd look like a proper princess, like in the stories my brother told me before he went away!"
Without uttering a word of thank you Briona quickly turned to Dracus. "What about you, Dracus? What do you think?"
He nodded in fake approval – a wise decision. "You'd look like a queen." Of course, really he knew exactly what she'd look like if she wore it – a skinny girl with a stolen dress. The thing wouldn't even fit Briona. It was made for a slim girl, not an underweight girl. But it was best to appease someone like Briona, even if all the compliments and praise were false.
Dracus decided to look through the clothes himself. It wasn't that he was really going to wear them, though. He wasn't interested in appearing his best. He was just intrigued by the lovely patterns and bright colours that adorned them – it was remarkable to see such high quality attire in the slums of Great Lenorium.
He searched through the pile for something just as appealing and stunning as the dress but to no avail. It seemed that that had been the only formal wear. In fact, the rest of the clothes were pretty shabby when compared.
However, as he pored over each piece of clothing and dusted them down, something clattered to the damp wooden floor – a pendant. From its fine platinum chain hung a spectacular, deep purple diamond in the shape of a teardrop half the size of Dracus' palm. Solid tendrils of silver wrapped around and held it in place.
"This is... beautiful," Dracus breathed, but still loud enough for Briona and Iwald to hear.
"If you think that thing is pretty, look at these," Iwald said, cramming gemstones of all sorts into his hands and thrusting them underneath Dracus' nose. "Don't forget all the coins too!"
Dracus' gazed into the assortment of jewellery Iwald held. There were amulets, charms, necklaces, rings, rubies, emeralds, garnets... their many facets glittered and shimmered even in the dim light of the warehouse.
To Dracus, the purple pendant was still his favourite, although when he squinted at it he realised that it had a few chips and scratches. There was something so alluring about it though – it was like the purple diamond was an ocean, and now and then he thought he could see something moving in it, something lilac, swirling about. However, he eventually succumbed to the fact that it must be his imagination. The mental exercise made him realise just how tired he was.
"I didn't know you were into girly stuff like that," Briona sniggered when she saw Dracus fastening the pendant around his neck.
He shrugged. "It's not particularly girly."
"Well, at least you haven't chosen this." Briona gestured to an emerald encrusted ring, but when held up to the light it glinted red. "It matches my eyes."
"I wonder how a jeweller could afford the resources to make all these," Dracus mused instead of commenting on Briona's new favourite item. "And I wonder how come such an obviously rich, successful jeweller has set up shop in this part of the city."
"Why should we care?" said Iwald. "This is more than we've ever stolen before! Briona's going to pawn half and fence half tomorrow – do you have any idea how much money we will have? We could buy... buy..." He trailed off, lost in thought – an obscene thing for someone such as Iwald to be doing.
"We could buy better lodgings," Briona suggested, "but we'd need a little more than this."
"How much more?"
"I don't know. Let's talk about this another time anyway, like the morning or something," Briona said, lying down on the dirty floor and using the dress as a blanket and a folded jerkin as a pillow. "Blow out the candles, we need sleep. Well, I do, I've got to do some pawning tomorrow."
Iwald obliged and then started using the clothes in a similar fashion. "Just think," he breathed to himself, "we can have breakfast tomorrow! We can buy proper breakfast!"
"Hush, Iwald," Briona scolded half-heartedly, seconds later carried away in a dream of fancy dresses and colourful rings. Iwald fell asleep soon after.
Dracus looked up to one of the broken windows and found that, despite his exhaustion, he simply couldn't just lay his head down to get some rest. There was something about the pendant he wore around his neck that kept him wondering, kept him thinking about the jeweller. Setting up shop in the slums of Great Lenorium was pure idiocy – only a thing a person like Iwald would do – and surely a person such as the one who had displayed his fine craftsmanship in these adornments would not be so stupid. There had to be a reason.
But why should this reason concern me? Dracus reasoned with himself. Why should this keep me awake at night? It's nothing to do with me.
Because you are the one wearing one of his finest works, a breath of a voice whispered at the back of his mind. Dracus was pleasantly surprised to have an answer to his questions, but how would his subconscious know?
A shudder went down his spine. Maybe it wasn't his subconscious, maybe it was the pendant. He stared down at the radiant purple stone resting on his breastbone. It gleamed, and this time there was no bright light causing it to.
Are you... alive? Dracus thought at it. He waited for several moments and there was no reply. He let out a sigh of relief. Nothing for me to worry about then.
He gradually let himself drift off to sleep where he sat, head inclined and arms wrapped around his knees. The night had been an interesting one, and the following day Dracus was going to find out just how much that pendant was going to change his life – forever.