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Thief chapter one
This was it, I finish this, and I can stop being a Jumper for good. I can see it from the roof window of the mansion I was standing on, a gleaming golden statue of a snake. The snake is the royal family crest, only they and the ambassadors are allowed to keep them in their homes since the Orlai queendom fell, and the Ikkei kingdom took the country of Orlaiay and a number of other nearby countries, for themselves, renaming it all Ikkeida. My cousin Guillotine was on the old council, for that he was executed. He was the reason I stopped stealing the first time when I was a little kid, during the time I was only a Snagger. He was the only family I had left. I had to become a Jumper to survive. That’s how many live nowadays. But I have it harder than the others; I refuse to join a gang. Gangs can give you back up when you need it, but I refuse to share. Although, I have an advantage over other single Jumpers. I’m a Jack Jumper. Not many can become Jack Jumpers, you have to be able to jump well on anything, and run well on anything, well… almost anything. Most cities have Roof Jumpers and Street Jumpers, port towns have Water Jumpers and Boat Jumpers to add to the list. Desert towns have Dune Jumpers, forest towns have Tree Jumpers, if it’s a jungle, then there’s Vine Jumpers too, the mountains have Rock Jumpers and Snow Jumpers. I can jump on (almost) anything, so I’m a Jack Jumper.
What am I wasting time thinking about that for? I’ve got to get that snake statue! I recounted the guards and tracked their marching patterns; okay, I can do this. I slowly opened the roof window, when it was about halfway open it squealed very loudly and it echoed in the great hall below me. Crap! I quickly dropped to my stomach and hung off the edge of the window by my fingers. I perked up my ears and listened for the voices to stop and the marching to resume.
“Did you hear something?”
“It’s probably just this building settling. This estate is over four hundred years old you know.”
The small talk eventually stopped and I cautiously peeked over the edge and, to my relief, saw that the guards had begun marching again. I waited until their pattern gave its weak spot, for five seconds in their routine all of them are facing away from the statue. I forced the window the rest of the way open a little at a time until I was sure I couldn’t push it any more. I had to do this fast or they’d see me. Three… Two… One… NOW! I leaped inside and landed silently on the floor, I quickly yanked the statue off the pedestal and launched myself back onto the roof. The guards immediately noticed that the statue was gone. Time to run! I crammed the statue into my satchel and I nimbly made my way out of the estate. From roof to roof, from roof to wall, from wall to tree, then tree to tree. I thought that I pulled it off. But it seems that several gangs were watching me carefully, gangs usually have the policy to let other Jumpers do your dirty work and then steal it from them to get the money. Three Tree Jumpers ambushed me. The first punched me off my course, the second kicked me into the air, and the third snagged the satchel. I went crashing down into the dirt and mud; it had rained the night before. Well this was just great, I waited for two hours up there, and then got my butt kicked by some grungy Tree Jumper gang that stole my loot, and now I have mud up my nose and in my ear. With the other ear, I heard running water. I bolted for it; the water was coming from the nearby dam. Near the top, an advanced leak that would make a good shower sprayed from between the planks. I stripped and, leaving my clean under things on, stood beneath the refreshing cool water. I washed my clothes and my hair and scrubbed my chimera skin boots. The shuffling of gravel caught my attention; this isn’t a very tall dam, so he spotted me right away. I gathered up my stuff and dashed into the trees near the side of the dam.
“Hey! Wait!” I heard more crunching gravel and his voice.
“Go away! Even a Jumper has dignity!”
“Hey, I’m sorry I looked! Can you slow down a minute; there are a lot of trees here…”
“I said go away!” despite the lack of ground below, he was keeping up pretty good. He must be a Sprinter. I HATE Sprinters. They’re like Jumpers except that they rely on their speed to help them, that’s why there are thirty Jumpers to a Sprinter. However, Sprinters can squeeze in just about anywhere like a snake, that’s their advantage
“Slow down a minute!”
This isn’t working, he’s keeping pace too well. I bounded out of the treetops and onto the reserve water; small splash noises accented my steps. There were more splashes out of count with mine, faster. I began jumping backward to see what was going on behind me. NO WAY! He can run on water too?! I turned around and began to take larger bounds to get to the other side and onto the aqueduct. After some barefoot water sliding, I reached the ground and used a style called Fox to bounce between the trees on the other side. The bark hurt a lot, especially since I was in bare feet and these were pine trees. I had waited too long on that roof, it was getting dark and the lack of light was affecting my accuracy. But that Sprinter would have it hard too; if you can’t see where you’re going it’s a bad idea to run.
Apparently, nobody ever told him that. Because when I stopped to catch my breath, he crashed into me hard enough to send me spinning into a nearby tree. A loud crack rang out through the dark needles as my steel-gray hair that covered my head smacked into the wood. I’m tougher than a lot of people so the worst I got was a bruise. Groaning, I sat up. He had face planted into the rocky soil and coughed as he spit out some gravel. I quickly remembered why I wanted to get away from him; I pulled on my pants, tunic and boots, strapped my belts on, and then sat down. What was I doing? It was dark out, I’m a Jumper, I just lost the biggest steal of the century AND all my food and weapons, and this is a guy who may be able to help me; even though I hate Sprinters.
“You okay Sprinter?”
“I think so, what about you? I was going way too fast.”
“No kidding! I’m going to have headaches for a week!” that was a lie, I just wanted to make him feel bad.
“I’m sorry; I just wanted to apologize about earlier. At the dam.”
“You should! Sneaking up on a girl like that!”
“I said I was sorry!”
I gave a loud, exasperated sigh. Why was I arguing with him when I needed his help?
“Look, I forgive you, alright? It’s just that, I got robbed earlier and now I don’t have any of my stuff anymore. Can you help me set up camp and get along ‘til I can go on my own?”
“If it’ll make up for what happened earlier.”
“Yeah, whatever Sprinter.”
We had cleared an area off the ground for the fire. I collected wood and he went spear fishing. When he came back, he lit the fire with his Sparkstone. When the fish were cooked and we were eating, I heard the sound of shuffling leaves. I glanced over and saw a wriggling, brown and tan thing slithering between the leaves by the light of the fire. I snatched it behind the head and flung it into the dam reservoir which was nearby.
“What was that all about?” he said with a mouth full of fat Tempeststrike fish.
“Snakes! I HATE snakes!”
“That’s none of your business Sprinter!”
“That’s not my name you know! It’s Viper!”
At first I was surprised at the name, but then again he didn’t look like any Orlai I’d ever seen. He had small round ears and blonde hair for one. He had patterned skin like a reptile. His pupils were round too, and when he yelled, no particularly sharp teeth other than a pair of fangs where his canines should be were visible. He could squeeze between cramped trees easily, and he could run as fast as any Windbone. I clenched my fists and screamed at Viper.
“You’re an Ikkei! That’s why I hate snakes! All Ikkei name their children after reptiles!” I lowered my volume but continued. “It’s funny actually; you all act in cold blood like reptiles. You names suit you.”
“You-you’re not Ikkei?” Viper said, surprised. I began yelling again.
“I’m an Orlai and I’m proud of it! But then again, I wouldn’t expect you to know that. The crest on your belt, it’s the crest of the Ikkei royal family isn’t it?” his hands quickly turned the belt around to hide the silver serpent buckle.
“Why wouldn’t I know the difference between an Ikkei and an Orlai?”
“The Ikkei royal family hasn’t left the palace in ten years, Orlai were outlawed from their own homeland. There would be no way you’d ever seen anyone like me crown stealer.”
Viper sat there on the ground covering his face, taking this all in.
“I never knew that it was like that.” That made me more furious than before.
“LIAR!” I catapulted into the branches; I didn’t want his help anymore. Not from a Sprinter, not from an Ikkei, and not from a liar. The darkness wasn’t going to let up until morning, and the hot angry tears that streamed from my eyes was making it even harder to see. So it’s no surprise that I jumped right off the edge of a cliff. Even a Jack Jumper can’t jump on air; I thought I was going to die.
Suddenly, I wasn’t falling. There wasn’t ground beneath my feet, but a hand grasping my wrist. Viper was trying his best not to lose his grip and let both of us fall into the ravine.
“Looks like you can’t go on your own yet.” He managed to force out.
I hate to admit it, but I was almost glad to see him. I climbed back up the side of the cliff and onto the ground.
We went back to the fire pit and finished the Tempeststrike fish. I didn’t speak to him for the rest of the night.
In the morning, I woke Viper up by throwing another snake into the reservoir. We decided it would be best to get to a town and start buying some of the stuff I needed. Viper had a map with him.
“The nearest town to here is Rocky Lizard. There’s a tavern there called The Snake’s Casque. We can start there and find you a way out of the country after we get your stuff back.”
“Wait, out of the country?”
“You said you’re an outlaw in Ikkeida.”
“But the thing is… I left the palace without any money.”
“You don’t even have a single Tooth with you?!”
“No I don’t have any Snaketeeth with me!”
“What kind of thickskull are you?!”
“Hey! Don’t call me a thickskull! Teeth jangle and I wanted to leave unnoticed!”
“You could have taken a Snakemouth with you!”
“That wouldn’t have helped!”
We were getting nowhere, and I didn’t want to be around him any longer than I had to.
“Urgh, that doesn’t matter. We’ll stop at White Serpent first and pick up some money.”
“Won’t we stand out? A lot of rich folk go there daily.”
“You don’t know anything do you? White Serpent is a river town, everyone ends up there eventually. The rich people are just a bonus. C’mon, we better hurry or it’ll get dark before we start.”
With me bounding and Viper running, we made it to White Serpent in no time. After I forced him to take his belt off so nobody would see it, I had to borrow Viper’s cloak to hide my hair and ears. Any remotely knowledgeable person would recognize an Orlai right away; I’d have stood out more than Viper ever would in this town. Because only Orlai have pointed ears, metal-colored hair, many sharp teeth and dragon eyes in one combination, other races can have most of them, just not all at once in that quantity. It’s not that I look weirder than anyone else here; it’s just that I look different from the weirdos who live in White Serpent. There are merfolk, there are centaurs, and there are Minotaurs of all kinds, elves of every origin, tree folk like dryads, dwarves from the Floating Caves, ogres from the Barren, fauns from the Fields, if you can name anything it can probably be here. I remember when Guillotine would take me here during the time it was still called Archer’s Crossroad when I was a kid.
There I go again, daydreaming. Viper was watching me carefully, for what reason I have absolutely no idea. But he must have wondered what I had in mind because he asked me why my eyes were so shifty.
“Why do you keep doing that? It’s worse than having Gutslugs climb on your back.”
“Shut up batbrain! I need to concentrate!” I looked from snakemouth to snakemouth, no, no, no, AHA! That’s the one! “Stay close Viper.”
“Don’t ask! Just stay close!” I watched what the guy with the overstuffed snakemouth was doing, looks like he’s a menagerie merchant. Maybe I’ll steal that dragonfly eel too. I decided to make use of Viper and have him distract the guy. “Hey, Viper.”
“You see the man over there, the fat one with the beard holding the caged red dragonfly eel?”
“What about him?”
“Go talk to him, act like you’re going to buy it. I want that eel.”
“You’re not going to make me steal that eel are you?”
“No, we’re not going to steal it. Just get over there and do what I told you until I come back.”
I was already gone; Viper went over and talked to the guy just like I told him to, I didn’t think his head was that full of dirt. The merchant greeted him just like everyone else.
“Hello sir! What can I do for you?”
“May I see your dragonfly eels?”
“Ah, you have a good eye for animals. Right this way.”
The merchant led Viper into the tent and showed him cage after cage of dragonfly eels. Viper pretended that he was still trying to buy the red one.
“Do you have any crimson dragonfly eels?”
“Crimson! I have one but he’s not for sale.”
The merchant backed up closer to my spot at the back of the tent, come on, just a little more…
“Are you sure? Why isn’t he for sale?”
“He’s my best breeding eel and I don’t want to send him off.”
The merchant shifted his feet and got close enough for me to use my name pendant to cut his snakemouth off his belt. I quietly slipped my hand out of the tent and made my way around front. Viper was still pretending to want to buy the eel.
“But don’t you think that if you over breed him he’ll die?”
“I haven’t over bred him just yet!”
By now I had made my way into the tent from the front. I better step in before Viper does something stupid.
“Hello? Anybody here?”
“Another customer! Welcome ma’am! May I help you?”
I stepped in; making sure my face was hidden.
“Yes, I will give you a two headed snake for that crimson eel.”
“That’s quite the sum, but I am afraid that-”
“TWO, two headed snakes.”
The merchant had begun to sweat with the anticipation of a large amount of money, Viper was beginning to panic and shift around. He knew that neither of us had brought any money with us, but when I saw him doing that I glared angrily at him. He held still and put on his zoshh mask. The merchant gave in; he couldn’t resist that much money.
“Alright, you can have him.”
“Good, I’ve wanted an eel for some time now.” I dug into the newly stolen snakemouth and pulled out two heads and two snakes and dropped them into the merchant’s eager hands. He handed over the cage, I unlatched the door and the eel wrapped himself around my arm immediately. “Keep the cage; I don’t need it. I think I’ll call him Sanguine.”
“Nice doing business with you.” The merchant said as he waved us off. He was out of sight but not out of earshot when we heard a cry of distress at a lost snakemouth. I began humming.
“What did you do?”
“I didn’t do anything, what are you talking about?”
“You took his money, didn’t you?”
“I HAVE a name Viper.” I took off my name pendant and shoved it in his face.
“What is that?”
“My name, don’t you know anything?”
He took a long look at it.
“Where? On the sword?”
“It is the sword, jellybrains! My name is Sword! Even a thickskull like you should know that!” over the noise of the crowd, I heard the unmistakable clanking of armor. I turned, those were palace guards! They must be looking for the one who stole the statue of the snake. If they find me, they’ll have me executed for trespassing in enemy territory. “Viper, we should go.”
“There are palace guards here. If they find us, they’ll kill me and arrest you.” I opened the cloak. “C’mon Sanguine.” Sanguine climbed inside and wrapped himself around my waist like a belt.
“Guards? Sword, I don’t want to go back to the palace!”
“Then hurry up!”
I started jumping over people and Viper weaved his way through them. We didn’t stop until we reached Rocky Lizard; it was about midday when we arrived. The Snake’s Casque is right on the edge of town; the sign had a green snake that was wearing a helmet. I hated just looking at it so much that we went inside right away.
I sat at the end of the bar; the barkeep was cleaning a glass just like all barkeeps do all day.
“What’ll ya’ have stranger?”
I tossed him a set of Fangs.
“Red candle, extra thick.”
“What about the kid next to you?”
“Brutal Twister, make it thin.” I’m surprised that a rich kid like him could stand up to something so strong. Even if it’s thin.
“A Brutal Twister?! Haven’t made one of those in a long time.”
I tossed him another set of Fangs. The barkeep shut up and began to mix the drinks; I sat still while Viper looked around for anybody that might want to help us sneak out of the country.
“Sit down. People are starting to stare at you.”
The barkeep suddenly spoke up again.
“May I ask your names strangers?”
“We’re Alipeal Crystaldusk and Atesagr Ashpath.”
“Those sound like mountain elf names, he don’t look like no elf.” The barkeep said, glancing at Viper.
“Ah, that makes a bit more sense.” Sanguine crawled out from under the cloak and sat on my shoulders. “That’s a nice eel, what’s his name?”
“Sanguine, just got him in White Serpent.”
“That’s nice, here are your drinks.”
Once the barkeep went away, I took my glass and moved to a table in a corner. Viper started complaining again.
“Why didn’t you ask him if there was anyone who can help us get out of here?”
I socked him in the arm.
“What kind of dunghead are you? Never ask a barkeep for anything except a drink, they do what they can for money and money only.”
I took a gulp from my Candle.
“Okay! But who are we going to ask?”
“I hear that you might need some assistance getting somewhere.”
“Whagh!” Viper screamed.
A party of an elf, a dryad, and a centaur had somehow snuck up on us and overheard our conversation. I can understand the elf and the dryad, but the centaur? He couldn’t walk quietly if he needed to sneak around a rouge Bloodwing. I punched Viper in the arm again and spoke without turning around.
“Why do you want to know?”
“Yewloc saw what had happened with the statue from within one of the forest’s trees when we were resting yesterday.”
I turned and squinted at them from beneath the hood.
“What do you want? Normal people don’t just hang around forests all day.”
“If you are willing to share the profits when you sell the statue, we are glad to help anyone with anything.”
“I knew it. You were one of the gangs watching me. You’re a Mix gang.” I took a swig of my red candle. “Tell me your names and I might consider your offer.” The dryad told us her full name as Sanguine took a gulp from my drink.
“I’m Yewloc Frostleaf. From the north forest.” She said in a voice like falling leaves.
The centaur who had not said anything up to this point introduced himself.
“Atleth Nighttail, I’m from the Red Plains.”
The elf didn’t answer right away; I let him be silent for a moment before asking him for his name.
“What about you?”
“Tagoit Dashcava, from the Twisted Gauntlet.”
“The Twisted Gauntlet? That used to be Holy Waters didn’t it? The capital of the second of the five elf kingdoms? Weren’t the Dashcavas an important family on the Orlai Queendom council?”
Instead of answering, Tagoit changed the subject back to names.
“What about you two? What are your names?”
“Sword Mourner, from Last Horror.”
“Last Horror was the Dragon’s Realm before the Ikkei took power, right Tagoit? The capital city of Orlaiay, Warrior’s Grounds, was at its heart.” Said Yewloc.
“The Mourners were a powerful family back then.”
“Hey, we still don’t know his name Tagoit.” Atleth said, pointing a finger at Viper. I had to step in and stop Viper from doing something stupid.
“Go drink your Brutal Twister.” After he was far enough away I spoke to the Mix gang. “I’ll tell you his name only if you swear on your life that you won’t turn him over to the palace guards.”
“Did he do something?”
“I’m not telling you anything until you swear it.”
Yewloc spoke up first.
“I swear on my life, and may I burn in a forest fire if I break my promise.”
“Now the two of you. Go on, swear it.” I said tauntingly. Atleth was the second to give his word.
“I swear on my life and I shall never speak again if I cross my word.”
“Good, now we wait for you Tagoit.”
I let him pause again, I remembered that Guillotine told me you never answer right away to an elf, and never demand a quick answer from an elf. It’s their etiquette to give a short silence before speaking. Tagoit finally decided to give one.
“Alright, I swear on my life. Let Baladas haunt me for the rest of my days if I double cross you.”
“Now was that so hard?”
“We gave our word, tell us his name.”
I whispered it to Tagoit since he was the one who wanted to know so badly. After not answering for a few seconds of course.
“He is Viper Cahalbeit, a castle runaway from the Ikkeida capital of Reptirusal.”
Atleth’s sharp ears picked up the words and he attacked Viper with Tagoit. Sanguine hissed and bit as best he could against thick cloth with his tiny teeth.
“What are you doing?! You gave your word!” Yewloc shouted in her ghost of a voice.
“We said we weren’t going to give him to the guards! We’re not; we’re going to kill him!”
“H-hang on! Why kill me? I’m nowhere near important enough to kill! I’m the third son and as far away from being king as I can possibly be!”
A couple of guards in the corner, that I hadn’t noticed until now, overheard this and they drew their swords to retrieve Viper.
“Hand over the prince and nobody gets hurt, you can all go home.”
“Not if I can help it!”
I leaped and kicked one of the guards in the stomach, even while wearing armor he doubled over. The other charged; I easily jumped onto the weapon he was holding and slammed my leg into his helmet. Viper saw this as his chance to slither out of danger. He slid under the table and weaved his way around a few people and to the door where he stopped.
“Right behind you!” I grabbed Sanguine and we dashed outside leaving everyone confused. Well, aside from the Mix gang. We didn’t stop for a long time, not until we had no place to go. Why in all of Rodoki did I help this thickskull? “What now genius?” A hand tapped me on the shoulder, it was Yewloc. “What do you want?”
“I want to apologize for Tagoit and Atleth, their behavior was absolutely uncalled for. They won’t do it again, I promise.”
“A thief’s promise is worth nothing, I should know.”
“We’re not really thieves, we’re refugees.” I de-scrunched my eyebrows, refugees? I’m one myself so I can understand why, but these three don’t look the type to be refugees. “I assure you that we are merely that and Tagoit is just trying to help us get by. I’m sure that with time, the both of them will understand and forgive your friend there.”
“He’s not my friend; he’s an acquaintance of circumstance.”
“Will you help us? We would be very grateful.”
“Only if nobody tries to kill us when we’re not looking.”
“I guarantee they will not hurt you purposefully.”
Grudgingly, I agreed. Viper only agreed because he still wanted to help me for some reason. He’s okay and it’s easy to talk him into things, there are also benefits to a group. But there’s a drawback too… it’s hard to move discreetly. The inability to move quickly and silently made me uneasy. Especially because all of us are refugees and some of us are fugitives. But as long as I kept my face and Sanguine hidden, and Viper didn’t wear his belt buckle, nobody would suspect us of anything.
Tagoit had Viper pull out his map and we planned our route out of Ikkeida.
“We’re here, about ten Flights from Rocky Lizard. Where do we want to get to?” Tagoit said, pointing at the map.
“Darmakr, a friend of my family lives there and I’m sure they’ll help us out.” I said confident that everyone would agree with me.
“But that will take months!” Atleth shouted at the top of both sets of his lungs.
“Not if we pass through here it won’t!” Viper said, dragging his finger along the part of the map that represented what everyone Daskkei called the Gorge of the Wasted. A huge strip of abandoned kingdoms and nations running an imaginary, irregular, jagged scar through the heart of Ikkeida. The old buildings are often hideouts for Bountees. Nobody goes through there except the bravest Snaggers; even they don’t want to pass through the narrow parts. The route Viper was suggesting ran straight through the center of it.
“You do know that’s the Gorge of the Wasted, don’t you?” Atleth said nervously shifting his hooves.
Yewloc pulled Atleth to the side and explained in her already quiet voice to him.
“The Ikkei don’t know about the Gorge, none of them do. Many of them think these kingdoms are still in their prime.”
“Where have these Ikkei been the last twelve years? The information surely must have reached some of them by now.”
“That’s just it; it hasn’t reached any of them besides the king.”
“How? You can’t keep that many people ignorant at once.”
Tagoit was sitting on the ground away from the group now, with his legs crossed and deep in thought. I kept looking from him, to Viper, to Yewloc and Atleth, to the map, and Sanguine who was staring at me from the top of my head. Suddenly, Tagoit stood up.
“I say we go through the Gorge.” He did it so fast that Sanguine had grasped a good bit of my hair in his little paws, as I pried him off everyone except Viper objected.
“What!? That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard!”
“I’m sorry Tagoit, but I have to agree with Sword.”
“You know that the Gorge of the Wasted is…!”
“Think about it for a second. We’re all refugees, Sword here is a Jumper, and Viper is a runaway from Ikkei royalty. I think we can all swallow our pride for awhile and go through the Gorge to get to Darmarkr quickly.”
Atleth’s and my anger cooled a bit. Sanguine let go and I was able to think a little better. “Tagoit’s right, there’s nobody there and we need to go quickly and quietly. I say we go.”
“Not you too Sword!” Atleth said, shocked. “Most of that land is…!”
“I know what it is Atleth!” I snapped at him venomously. “Of all of us, I should know what it is. So don’t remind me.”
“Well? What do you think Yewloc?”
“I think we should pass through the Gorge. It would be best to get out of Ikkeida as soon as we can.”
“I’m sorry, Atleth. But majority rules, into the Gorge we go.”
“I don’t believe this.”
“Believe it or go chew on sand.”
“Grr.” Atleth grumbled to himself, stomping away angrily.
“Alright, it’s settled then. We get some rest and set out for the Gorge tomorrow.”