This is the story of a group of youths caught in the bloody streets of a dying city.
Ross, a fledgling theif and self-proclaimed master of the night, must fight to ascend the twisting social ladder in a dangerous world. Avelon struggles to overcome her unfortunate gender and make a name for herself as the world's youngest maga. Marcus, a new-made orphan, learns to provide for himself and live without the safety-net of his ancient family name.


5. The Bloody Thief

When Ross opened his eyes, dispelling the darkness that had surrounded him, cuccooning him against the hatred and the pain of the world, he was aware of only two things. The first was the pain, that burning, raw torment of torn flesh and shed blood. It was easiest to find, as Ross had been aware of it even in his fever dreams. He sucked in a choked breath, the air bubbling through his broken nose in a spay of sticky, half-congealed blood. And then he wished he hadn't, as the movement of his chest tore at both the ruins of his back and the aching, broken places on his ribs where he'd been kicked.

The other was the blood itself, a scarlet-brown lake around him, sticking to his bare chest with the fortitude of a barmaid. It clung at him, protesting and crumbling as he flexed sore muscles. But it wasn't merely on the ground. It glimmered in the sky, reflected off the sides of buildings, pattered about on small, infant legs.

And then Ross blinked again, and the russet lessened. His lethargic mind finally realized that the red sky was the dawn, that the white stone of the buildings and greesy puddles of water were merely reflecting this stolen color. Still, the pool of his blood was rather impressive.

"Len!" A woman's scream made Ross jump, sending another wave of agony through him. He collapsed once more to the ground as the woman came into view, a young girl with a tired face already showing a few thin lines. She spared him a single pitying glance, and then turned her fury on the child Ross had noticed before. The fat baby was stomping in the puddle of blood a few feet away, sending crumbles of it through the air. He couldn't be more than a year old, but he was fast. The child ran from its mother, waddling further into the sticky lake, closer to Ross.

And then the boy tripped on Ross' outstretched arm, falling back into the dried blood. With a piercing wail it picked itself up and ran to the woman, who opened her arms for the filthy infant.

I wish I'd had a parent like that, Ross thought. It was a useless fantasy, of course. Ross had been abandoned at birth, the bastard son of some minor noble and a whore, left to die. Unfortunately, he'd been found by one of the ranging gangs of theives, who'd kept him alive and taught him to steal for himself.

"Shara, you can come out, there's no one here. You missed the fun last night," Ross called out weakly. A moment later the small, scampering steps behind him signified his companion's approach. He hadn't known she would be there, of course, but the child was usually close by, and Ross still had his boots. Clearly, therefore, someone had watched out for him while he slept, and Shara was the only one likely to go that much trouble for him.

"You do realize that only fools steal from Guilles, right? That snake's got eyes like a hawk, I swear." Shara's voice was high, the voice of a little girl, which she was. She was Ross' apprentice, for the time being. The gang assigned each of the youngest children to an older, more experienced one, who provided for them. It was how Ross had survived and how Shara, Bethal, and Weston all survived now.

"Yeah yeah, maybe next time you can be the teacher then." Ross hated how shaky his voice was, hated the weakness in it, hated that Shara had to see him this way. Still, better her than any of the others. Shara, at least, wouldn't oust him merely out of spite.

The girl's pixie face fell a little, her eyes growing clouded and dark. "You know that's never going to happen Ross. I'm never really going to be a thief anyway. I'm a girl, and there aren't any girl thieves. I'm going to be a whore, so we all might as well accept it."

"Who told you that?" Ross asked, the anger steadying his voice as he pushed himself up to his knees.

"Pono. Kven. Jax. Everybody but you."

"No, you listen to me Shara. You can be anything you want, alright? Nothing they say will make you any less of a thief than they are. You just have to show them that you're the best."

Shara raised an eyebrow, showing all the attitude only a ten year old could manage. "The best like you?"

Ross laughed a little, then broke off with a grimace. "Well, maybe not like me. Shara, I've got one piece of advice for you. Never get caught." With that, he pushed himself slowly to his feet and took a few cautious steps. Dried blood broke off in chunks and fell around him, almost like shattered glass. There was one very distinct clean space, right where he'd been lying.

"So where're we going today Ross?" Shara asked skipping ahead to retrieve his ragged shirt.

Ross let a little smile touch his lips as he shrugged the material back over his head, wincing as it tugged at his torn flesh. "We're going to hit up the market, maybe grab some bread or something. Then you're going to hide, and I'm gonna take Guilles for everything he's got." He chuckled darkly as they walked slowly toward the center of town, Ross already planning his heist, Shara deciding how to stop him. Of course, they both knew it was useless and that he'd do what he wanted, but she had to try.

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