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No Kings. Mo Masters. No Demons. Opening Scene

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Opening portion of the opening scene -- meant to establish the tone, setting (both physical, magical, and social), and protagonist 

The problem with rumor, Arren thought from the shadow of the alley, was not that it lied.  The problem with rumor was that it sometimes told the truth.

Arren knew she should be out looking for sure scores, not watching a man across the muddy street, armed with a cheap sword and flintlock, try not to fall asleep.  She’d not made a decent score in weeks, and her coin was almost gone.  But if rumor was telling the truth, a very rich merchant had just done something very stupid with a very large amount of his coin.  If she was ever going to get out of the Wreck, she needed to take chances.

And there was a guard in front of what had been an empty building just a week ago. The building was like most in the Wreck -- somewhere between about to have fallen down and already falling down. You wouldn’t put an armed guard in front of that unless you had something in it worth guarding.  That was just logic.  So maybe rumor, this time, was telling the truth ….

She bit her lip, then decided.  Arren closed her eyes and prepared to taste for magic. Then, very gently, in case the guard had wards, she pushed her senses across the muddy street.  Tasting for magic was uncommon but not unheard of, so she had to be careful.  But there was no taste of apples that would indicate wards.  Just the slightly bitter taste of the protection magic common to all guards, thugs, merchants, and other people of violence.

Arren nodded and pushed into the building.  Sweat beaded onto her forehead, dampening her dark curls.  Tasting took effort, and she began to sway on her feet as she pushed her senses through the first floor and up the second.  No bitterness.  No nut flavors, so no protective magic for a guard dog.  No apples, so no magic-tasting wards inside.  And, most importantly, no gagging, nauseating rotten meat taste of demons.  But … yes.  There, in the back on the second floor.  A slight taste of sweetmeat, partially burnt: lock picking prevention charms.  Arren smiled, reassured by the slightly burnt taste of the magic.  Poorly done magic tasted burnt or raw.  The merchant had hired someone cockier than good.

Arren's eyes popped open, and she shook her head in amazement.  Rumor was telling the truth!  Some merchant, terrified that he would lose his coin the next time the powers that be sent a demon after the strikers and Sisters of the Poor marching in the streets for better pay and treatment, had moved his coin to the Wreck.   The most violent, lawless part of the city of Luxton.  It was as if he'd tied lead weights to all his chickens and then moved the chicken coop to the den of the largest, meanest group of foxes he could find.  How did someone so dumb ever make any coin to guard in the first place? Must've been born to it.

Now, if that guard would just fall asleep …

But he remained stubbornly only half-asleep.  He waved his arms.  He walked back in front of the door.  His chin fell to his chest, then jerked upward.  Arren gave serious thought to signing him a lullaby.  She clicked her teeth and looked at the roof.  Well, who says you have to climb up?  It would be incredibly stupid, but then, so had every other decision that had put her here this night.  What was one more?

Five minutes later, she stared at a much less forgiving brick wall.  The building with her coin in it was connected to this one via three others.  All she had to do was get to the top of it and walk across their connected roofs.  But this building was not so tumbled down — it was owned by Jerr-lin the Ugly.  He stored various goods there between the smuggling and the selling.  It wouldn't do to have the roof crashing down on valuable property, so he spent coin to make sure that didn't happen.  There were no obvious guards tonight, as she’d hoped.  The early fall storms generally kept even the smugglers’ ships off the lake this time of year, so there wouldn’t be anything to store for a few more weeks.  But no building in the Wreck was completely solid, and she found handholds enough.

Halfway up, though, she slipped, one foot falling out of its place.  She scrabbled to re-plant it, the scraping sound of her boots echoing through the city and her head. Then, just as she regained her footing, a shutter to her left popped open, and a bald head shot out, gleaming in the moonlight.  It jerked to and fro like a children's puppet controlled by a drunken hand. "Who’s there?  Who’s there?”

Arren clung to the wall, flattening herself to it, joints screaming in pain. Finally, after an eternity and a minute or two, the head pulled back into the window and the shutter slammed shut.  Arren steadied her breath until she could no longer feel her heart beating, then finished her climb.

In ten more minutes, she was peering over the edge of the roof of the building that held her loot.  At its bottom, the guard was sleeping.  The thrice-damned demon fucker had gone and gotten a chair and was happily snoring away in it.  Arren clenched one of her knives, then shook her head.  She patted her burglar's lantern, making sure it was tight against her thigh, then eased herself over the ledge.

After a moment, she could reach the shutter with her foot.  Tentatively, she tried to peel it away from its home.  Somewhat surprisingly, it swung open.  She reached out with her other foot, and the shutter’s twin also opened.  A moment later, she had shimmied down low enough to safely swing into the building.  She dropped through the window with a faint, hollow thud, landing in a crouch.

Arren held her breath and waited.  Quiet.  She slowly breathed out, then tasted for magic, using the burnt sweetmeat taste to guide her slowly to the safe.  She picked her way quietly inside, relying on the growing intensity of the taste to move her through the dark building.  Once she could feel the safe, she carefully placed the burglar's lantern beside her and opened it slightly.  The lantern was designed to give off a dim, narrow beam of light, very difficult to see unless you were standing right in front of it.  It was the most useful thing she had ever stolen.  She adjusted it slightly so that the light shone on the safe’s combination lock. Arren smiled.  This was going to be easy.

Arren gently turned the dial in one direction until the taste of sweetmeats faded, leaving only the absence of taste, an emptiness not entirely unlike hunger.  Then she turned to dial in the other direction and back again, finding the spot in each direction where the magic disappeared.  The safe door creaked, so Arren wrenched it open in one go, then listened.  Absolute quiet.  No lantern light, no voices, no nightmare dog claws skittering out of the dark.  She reached in, feeling for the safe's contents.


No coins, no boxes, no jewels.  Not even a note mocking her for trying to rob an empty safe, not that she could read.

Arren swore and strapped the lantern back to her thigh. She took a breath to calm herself and closed the safe’s door slowly, trying to not let her anger and disappointment cause a mistake.  The thief paused, listening.  Nothing.  Relieved and anxious to be out of the lie, she turned to work her out of the room.  The floor creaked.   Yovah’s burnt dick!

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