Chapter 8, Part 2

The journey back to the clanhouse was long, slow, and joyless. They were nearly on the opposite side of the city from the clanhouse, and they couldn’t ride the semorjos anymore, partially because they were loaded down with loot from the North Vandeo Bank, and partially because they’d stripped off their disguises to escape from the mercenaries and thus no longer matched the descriptions on their fake identification papers. So with the semorjos no longer an option, the thieves were forced to make their way across the city on foot.

The sun was almost fully overhead by the time the thieves stumbled down the street in front of the Mekoval clanhouse. The sentries at the door frowned worriedly as soon as they saw Kraylea and his team, but they didn’t say anything as the team passed through the door. Silently, the four of them made their way up to Bezzum’s quarters. Alessandra was not looking forward to this meeting, but she took solace in the knowledge that she couldn’t possibly be blamed for this fiasco, as she had not been in charge of this team.

Once inside, they found that Bezzum was meeting with all four of the Clan Leaders. There was some consternation among the five of them when Kraylea and the others entered, but they were too good at masking their emotions to let any real shock or surprise show. The signs were there if you knew what to look for, though.

“So, four members of a six member team arrive in the middle of the day,” Bezzum said grimly. “I take it things did not go all that well.”

“You could say that, Clan Master,” Kraylea replied, his voice grim. “Sharae and Fihal are dead. The mercenaries knew we were coming. They had an ambush all planned.”

“Is that so,” Bezzum said, his voice unchanged. “And what about the spoils?”

“We managed to get away with some,” Kraylea said, pulling out two large sacks full of riches. Shiena and Fergen did the same. Alessandra stayed motionless. She had been standing guard outside the vault with Fihal, so she hadn’t taken any loot out of the vault.

“A fair take, I suppose,” Bezzum said with a sigh, emptying one bag out onto his desk. “Well, you four are dismissed for now. The Clan Leaders and I need to discuss the appropriate punishment.”

“Punishment, Clan Master?” Kraylea asked, confused.

“Of course,” Bezzum said. “Two of my clan members are dead. Surely you would agree that such an occurrence demands consequences?”

“I…yes, I see,” Kraylea said with a bow. He turned away from Bezzum, and motioned to the others to follow him out of the room. As soon as they were outside, they immediately dispersed in different directions. Alessandra stood outside Bezzum’s study for a few minutes, hoping to hear something of what was going on inside, but she couldn’t hear anything, and finally decided that the risk of getting caught was greater than the possibility of figuring out what the “punishment” was going to be ahead of time. Surely Bezzum wasn’t going to try and blame her for this…was he?

She slouched down the corridor and made her way back to her quarters. Before she made it there, however, she was met by Halidasa, who had her usual cheerful grin on her face.

“Hey, Alessa!” she chirped as soon as she saw Alessandra.

“Hey,” Alessandra replied glumly.

“Uh oh,” Halidasa said, her grin fading slightly. “I know what that look means. Did your latest job go bad?” Alessandra nodded.

“I swear I must be cursed, Hali,” she replied with a sigh. “Everything I do lately goes bad. I don’t know how to fix it.”

“Cheer up, Alessa!” Halidasa said, her smile widening again. “Bad luck never lasts forever. Before you know it, things will be going great again, and you’ll be on your way to becoming a Clan Leader!”

“I wish I could have your optimism, Hali,” Alessandra said, smiling slightly. She started to continue on her way past Halidasa, and then she stopped. “Hali, I need to tell you something.”

“What is it?” Halidasa said, looking slightly confused.

“If anyone ever tells you that I’ve betrayed you, or that I’m thinking about betraying you, don’t believe them, okay? I would never, ever, even think about betraying you.”

“I know that, Alessa,” Halidasa said with a frown. “Why would you even think about that?”

“Just…remember,” Alessandra said, looking at Halidasa intently. “I’ve always got your back. No matter what.”

“Okay, Alessa,” Halidasa said, still confused, but then she smiled. “I will remember.” Then, on impulse, she gave Alessandra a hug. Alessandra just stood there for a moment, looking stunned, and then, awkwardly, she put her arms around Halidasa and returned the hug.

“Thanks, Hali,” she said softly. Halidasa patted her back lightly, released her, gave her a dazzling smile, and then turned and bounced down the hallway. Alessandra stood there for a moment, looking utterly bemused, and then she turned and continued on her way toward her quarters.

She spent the rest of the day laying on her bed, staring at the ceiling. She was completely exhausted, but she couldn’t sleep. All she could think about was how once again, she had gone out on a job and it had been a total disaster. Of course, it wasn’t as bad as the Vanmorzen manor, but in a way, that thought almost made things worse. The job where she hadn’t been in charge was less of a disaster than the job where she had been in charge. What did that say about her leadership skills? How could she ever be Clan Master if she couldn’t even pull off one simple heist?

The hours seemed to crawl by as she stared at the ceiling above her bed, but before she knew it, somebody was banging on her door, startling her.

“What is it?” she yelled, sitting up suddenly, her eyes going wide.

“It’s Kraylea,” came the response. “We’ve been summoned to see Bezzum.”

“Alright, I’m coming,” Alessandra said, ignoring the sick feeling that appeared in pit of her stomach.

To be continued…

Chapter 8, Part 1

As soon as the mercenary leader spoke, Kraylea was moving, his hand lashing out faster than anyone would expect a man his size could move. Almost as soon as the word “them” left his mouth, he had a knife in his throat and was collapsing onto the ground, clutching at the hilt of it. Even before he started falling, Kraylea was moving, racing toward the nearest mercenary with a knife in each hand. The other members of his team followed suit, and the result was that before the mercenaries could even react to their leader’s last command, half a dozen of them were already dead.

They still outnumbered the thieves three-to-one though, and the surviving mercenaries had gotten over their initial shock and were fighting back now. The thieves were much faster than the mercenaries, but the mercenaries had heavier weapons and armor, and were physically much larger than the thieves, even Kraylea and Fergen. The result was a fierce battle that the thieves didn’t stand much of a chance of winning.

Fortunately for them, they didn’t need to win. They just needed to escape. Having taken down a number of mercenaries, the thieves were able to slip through their line and race out of the bank.

Unfortunately, there were more mercenaries outside.

“Scatter!” Kraylea yelled, flinging himself toward the nearest mercenary, ducking under his sword, and slamming a knife into the gap between his breastplate and his helmet. “Meet at the rally point!”

That was the last Alessandra was aware of any of her teammates for quite some time. For the next few minutes all she was aware of was herself, the knives in her hands, and whoever was standing between her and escape at any given moment. She weaved, ducked, and leaped out of the way of swords, axes and polearms, stabbing at vulnerable spots whenever she got a chance, but mostly focusing on moving forward and staying alive.

For what seemed like an eternity, that was all there was to Alessandra’s existence. Then, suddenly, there were no more mercenaries in front of her, just an empty alleyway. She could still hear the sounds of fighting going on behind her, but she didn’t hesitate for a moment before she was racing down the alley as fast as she could. Part of her hated to abandon her clanmates, but Kraylea had ordered them to scatter, and outnumbered as they were, the best could hope to accomplish by going back was to get killed herself.

She emerged from the alley and out onto a busy street. There were no mercenaries here, just a lot of civilians going on about their normal routines. She slowed down and walked quickly through the crowd, looking for another alley. After a few minutes, she found one, and ducked inside. In the alley, she stripped off her wig, wiped off her makeup, popped out her contacts, and shed her jacket. If the mercenaries were smart, they’d be circulating her description to other clans, and maybe even the Elder Guard, and she wanted to make sure she looked as little like the description they had of her as possible.

A few minutes later, and she was rounding a corner and arriving in front of a small park, a different one than the one they had met in before robbing the bank. Kraylea was already there, sitting on a bench and pressing a white cloth to a cut on his forehead.

“You made it,” he said with a grunt as Alessandra walked up to him. “I was beginning to think I was the only one that escaped.” He paused for a moment, and then said, “Fihal’s dead.”

“Ah, crap,” Alessandra said, slumping onto the bench next to Kraylea.

“Yeah,” Kraylea replied bleakly. “One of those bastards got him in the leg, and that was the end of him.”

“What about the others?”

“Dunno,” Kraylea shrugged. “Never saw any of them after we left the bank.” They sat in silence for a few minutes, both thinking bleak thoughts. Then Kraylea stirred, as if he was about to say something, but before he could, Fergen strolled into the park.

“I know that that’s not how a heist is supposed to go, but damn I got to kill a lot of mercs today,” she said with a grin. “So satisfying.”

“How satisfying is it to know that Fihal is dead?” Kraylea asked with a grimace. That wiped the grin off of Fergen’s face immediately.

“Oh, no,” she said. “That’s terrible.”

“Yeah,” Kraylea agreed.

“What about Sharae and Shiena?” Fergen asked.

“No idea,” Kraylea shook his head.

“How much longer we gonna stay here?” Fergen asked.

“Long enough,” Kraylea said. Fergen grunted in reply, and the three of them lapsed into a morose silence.

They weren’t waiting long when Shiena limped into the park. Kraylea jumped up as soon as he saw her,  ran up to her, and wrapped his arms around her. She returned his embrace, but it didn’t change the haunted look on her face.

“Kraylea,” she said, pushing away from him slightly, “Sharae is dead.”

“Wait, what?” Kraylea asked, stunned.

“Yeah,” Shiena said. “One of the mercs was about to run me through, and suddenly she was there. She stabbed the guy, but not before she took the blow that was meant for me.” Kraylea just stared at her, as if unable to process what she was saying.

“Well that’s that, then,” Alessandra said. “We need to get moving.”

“Don’t you have a shred of decency?” Fergen hissed at her angrily. “Give the man a moment!”

“He can grieve when we get back to the clanhouse!” Alessandra hissed back. Before Fergen could reply, Kraylea turned to them.

“Let’s move,” he said tonelessly. He and Shiena shuffled slowly out of the park, he with his arm around her shoulders, and her leaning on him as his body was all that was holding her up. Alessandra and Fergen exchanged a grim look, and then followed after them.

To be continued…

Chapter 7, Part 6

With the guards taken care of, Alessandra went back to the door to the security room and quickly picked the lock. The room was quite small, and it was taken up entirely by a large console covered in buttons and knobs and levers and multi-colored lights. There were two technicians sitting at the console, and they turned around in surprise as Alessandra and Shiena burst in.

“Hey!” one of them yelled. “You’re not allow-” He cut off abruptly as a knife pierced his eye, and the other technician died just as suddenly. Shiena shoved the body of the man she’d just killed out of his seat and sat down in it.

“Let’s see,” she murmured as she inspected the console. “Should be right around…” Jamming her knife underneath the console, she pried open a metal panel, exposing a jumble of colorful wires. “Ah, this’ll do,” she said happily, and sliced through a green wire and a red wire. All of the lights on the console immediately went dead.

“Let’s go down and meet up with the rest of the team,” Alessandra said.

“You don’t give the orders around here, chiela,” Shiena said scornfully. “Just shut up and do as you’re told.” Immediately, she left the room, leaving Alessandra to follow with a scowl on her face.

They made their way down to the first floor without incident. In fact, their progress was so smooth that Alessandra began to get that creeping feeling in her gut that she had had in the Vanmorzen manor. She almost said something to Shiena, but she knew the reaction she would get, so she said nothing, and instead continued to follow after her.

In the main lobby of the bank, they found the rest of their team. They were standing around the door leading to the vault, attempting to get it open. As they approached, Kraylea noticed them and waved them over.

“Hey!” he called. “Come get this door open!” Alessandra hurried over and inspected the lock quickly, then she pulled out her tools and got to work on it.

“What’s taking so long?” Fihal hissed.

“It’s not a standard lock,” Alessandra hissed back. “It’s got some sort of sweep mechanism I’ve never seen before.”

“Well hurry up!” Kraylea demanded. “Those mercenaries guarding the entrances are gonna notice that the security systems are down soon. It won’t be long before they start patrolling the halls.”

“Got it!” Alessandra proclaimed. The door swung open and the whole team quickly rushed inside. They made their way down a long, narrow corridor that slowly sloped downward, so that by the end of it they were completely underground. At the end was a huge door made out of nivotal, a strong, dark gray metal. The lock on the door was bigger than Alessandra’s head, and unlike any she had ever seen before.

“Crap,” she muttered as soon as she saw it.

“I don’t mean to pressure you,” Sharae said grimly, “but you’d better figure out this lock faster than you’ve ever done anything before in your life.”

“Yeah, I get it,” Alessandra said, her tone just as grim as Sharae’s. She pulled her tools back out and got to work.

As it turned out, the lock was unusual but not terribly complex. The trickiest part was the sheer size of it. After a few minutes, she begrudgingly admitted to herself that she wasn’t strong enough to force it open herself, and motioned to Kraylea. He gave her a winking smirk, sauntered over to the lock, and, with a grunt, broke the lock. As soon as he did, he motioned to the rest of the team, and they all grabbed onto the door and hauled it open.

Once it was open, Kraylea motioned for Fihal and Alessandra to stay outside and stand guard, while he and the other members of the team went inside to fill their bags with loot. The process of looting the vault took just a few minutes, and the six of them were headed back up the corridor and out into the lobby.

And then all hell broke loose.

As they were crossing the lobby, doors on either side and behind them burst open and a couple dozen mercenaries streamed into the room. Some of them were carrying swords, others had heavy cudgels, and a few were wielding big, two-handed axes. All of them were bigger than Kraylea, and they all had very satisfied looks on their faces. Kraylea and the others screeched to a halt, and began mentally weighing their odds.

“Oh, you people are in big trouble now, aren’t you?” sneered one man, the biggest one of them all. He had a crew cut, a scar down one side of his face, and black beady eyes that seemed fixed in a permanent squint. “You all thought you could waltz into this bank and take whatever you wanted without paying a fee? Well, the fee has come due now.”

“Maybe. Maybe not,” Kraylea said with a smirk.

“Didn’t you ever stop to think that maybe things were a little too easy tonight?” the big mercenary said in a soft, mocking voice. “Didn’t it occur to you that maybe you got into that vault just a little too smoothly?”

“Hey, I was too busy killing your buddies to stop and think,” Kraylea said, his smirk growing wider. The sneer disappeared off the big mercenary’s face and was replaced with an ugly grimace.

“You fools,” he growled. “You were set up! Somebody told my clan you were coming! Somebody from your clan I would bet, unless you’ve been blabbing about your plans all over the slums.”

“If this is an ambush, it’s a pretty lousy one,” Kraylea said with a shrug.

“What are you babbling about, chiela?” the mercenary snarled. “You’re outnumbered and surrounded! None of you are going to leave this place alive.”

“Big talk for someone who hasn’t actually killed a single member of my team yet,” Kraylea said with a wink.

“Enough of this nonsense!” the mercenary leader howled. “Kill them!”

To be continued…

Chapter 7, Part 5

Before she knew it, she was turning a corner and arriving at the rendezvous point behind the bank. The others were already there, lounging against a wall, and Fihal was with them, standing next to Kraylea and talking in his ear in a low voice. The rest of them were scattered around the block, so that someone observing them wouldn’t know that they were part of a group.

As soon as Kraylea saw Alessandra, he gave a sign and relocated to a nearby alley, where the rest of the team joined him. Once they were all gathered in the alley, Kraylea began speaking.

“Change of plans,” he said. “Security on the back doors is tighter than we expected, so going in that way is out.”

“What are we going to do then?” Shiena asked.

“We’re still gonna set up a distraction, only this time we’re going to hit both back doors. Fergen and Fihal are going to set off a smoke bomb on the left door, and act like they’re trying to get in that way. While that’s going on, me and Sharae are going to attack the right door. But that’s just going to be a distraction too. The real infiltration is going to be Alessandra and Shiena going in through a third floor window.”

“Ugh, why do I have to go with her?” Shiena said in a disgusted voice.

“Because I said so, that’s why!” Kraylea snapped. Shiena recoiled, looking hurt, but that expression only appeared on her face for a moment, before she gave Kraylea a simpering smile that made Alessandra want to retch.

“Once you two are in, you’ll make your way to security and disable it,” Kraylea continued. “Once that’s done, the rest of us will pretend that we’re retreating, and then we’ll circle around and come in through the windows in the alley.”

“How are we going to get onto the third floor?” Alessandra asked.

“See that building there?” Fihal asked, pointing towards the building next door to the bank. “That’s an apartment building. Apartment number 304 is vacant, and has windows that face the bank. Get in there, and get across to the bank.”

“The apartment building must have security,” Alessandra protested.

“Back door is unguarded,” Fihal replied. “There’s a nerfota on the door, but that shouldn’t be anything Shiena can’t handle.”

“Alright, let’s do this,” Kraylea said. “Ladies, get moving. Signal once you’re in the apartment.” Alessandra and Shiena nodded, and began strolling toward the apartment building. They went through the narrow alley separating the bank and the apartment building and made their way to the back door.

Once they reached it, they found that Fihal was right. There were no guards in sight, but there was a panel next to the door with numbered buttons and a red light. Shiena promptly popped the cover off the panel, exposing a mess of multicolored wires. She rearranged a couple of the wires, which made the light turn green and the door pop open, and then she replaced the panel. Quickly and quietly, the two women passed through the door and made their way up to the third floor.

They soon found a door marked with number 304, and Alessandra immediately got to work picking the lock. It was a fairly simple lock, and within moments the door was swinging open. The apartment was indeed vacant, completely lacking in any furnishings and coated with a thin layer of dust. They crept through the apartment towards the window, opened it, and gave Kraylea and the others the signal to let them know they were in.

“There’s a lumoss on the window over there,” Alessandra whispered to Shiena.

“There would have to be,” Shiena whispered back, irritated. She pulled out her violan, a device that shot out a hook attached to a strong rope, aimed at the wall near the opposite window, fired, and then cut the rope off and tied it to the windowsill. As soon as she was sure that it was tight, she began climbing across. Alessandra did the same with her violan and began climbing after her.

Once Alessandra reached the window, Shiena had already disarmed the lumoss, which was a sort of metal ring around the outside of the window that would sense if anyone passed through the window and would sound an alarm. With the lumoss disarmed, Alessandra was able to easily break the lock and open the window. Quickly and quietly, she slipped inside and dropped to the ground. She moved to the side to allow Shiena to enter, and took a quick look around. They were in a small, empty office, with carpeted floors and a single wooden desk. The office was, despite being small, quite richly decorated, and Alessandra thought that they could have made a nice haul just from robbing this one room.

Shiena and Alessandra slipped across the office, and peeked through the window in the door to see if there were any guards outside. There were none that they could see, so they opened the door quietly and slipped through it.

“Security room is on the second floor,” Shiena whispered, and Alessandra nodded. They crept through the halls, making sure to keep a sharp eye out for patrolling guards. After a few minutes, they made their way down to the second floor and found themselves just outside the security room. There were two mercenaries standing guard outside of the room, big, hulking men with swords on their hips and cudgels in their hands. Shiena glanced at Alessandra and motioned to the guard on the left. Alessandra nodded and drew her long knife out from its sheath. She also pulled out a small rock, and tossed it down the hallway to the left.

“Hey, did you hear that?” the guard on the left said as the rock clattered against the wall.

“Better go check it out,” the other guard grunted. The first guard nodded, and trundled down the hallway to investigate. As soon as he was out of the second guard’s sight, Shiena burst out of the shadows and had slammed her knife into the second guard’s neck before he had a chance to make any noise. Once he was down, Alessandra raced down the hallway after the first guard and slit his throat from behind.

To be continued…

Chapter 7, Part 4

She gritted her teeth and handed her papers to the guard waiting at the gate. He glanced over them briefly, and then looked up at her. She stared impassively back at him, just another tired commuter anxious to get home after a long day of work.

“Name?” the guard said in a bored voice.

“Nietasha Volemare,” Alessandra replied, using the name that was on her papers.


“I’m a records clerk at Veshamil Industries.”

“And you live in Vandeo District?”

“Yes, sir.”

The guard looked over her papers one more time, and then he handed them back to her and waved her through. Stifling a sigh of relief, she walked through the gate and into the crowded station. Weaving through the throng, she made her way through the station and out into the busy street. Evening was falling, but Serotopolis never truly went to sleep. Vandeo District was primarily residential, but there were a number of commercial enterprises there as well, especially near the border with Ashcraz. Well-dressed people and others who wouldn’t have looked out of place in the slums walked along the sidewalks bordering the busy road outside the station. Stores selling an almost unimaginable variety of goods stretched as far as Alessandra could see. Any of them would have made a tempting target if she had been alone, but tonight, she had a bigger job ahead of her.

She hurried down the street with her head down, just another overworked clerk rushing to get home to get some rest before another long day at the office. She dodged and weaved her way through the crowded sidewalk with ease, because, as crowded as it was, it wasn’t nearly as crowded as the average walkway in the slums. After a few minutes, she reached her destination, a small park wedged in between two apartment buildings. Kraylea, Sharae and Shiena were already there. Sharae was leaning against the wall surrounding the park with her arms folded, while Kraylea and Shiena were sitting on a bench, making out.

“Good, you’re here,” Sharae said as soon as she saw Alessandra. “Now, we just need Fergen to arrive.”

“What about Fihal?” Alessandra asked with a slight frown.

“Fihal’s going to meet us at the bank,” Sharae said, glancing at Kraylea and Shiena with a slightly disgusted look on her face. “He had some last minute preparations to make.” She shook her head slightly as she watched the intense kissing going on, and then turned to look back to the street.

“I never figured you for the jealous type,” Alessandra said in a low voice, leaning against the wall next to Sharae and folding her arms as well.

“It’s not that,” Sharae said, frowning slightly. “Kraylea can slobber all over whoever he wants. Doesn’t bother me. I just wish he’d show a little more…discretion about when and where he does it.”

“Wouldn’t that be nice?” Alessandra muttered. She was silent for a moment, and then she said, “We might have a problem. The Elder Guard was checking papers at the semorjo station.”

“Yeah? So?” Sharae said, still pointedly not looking in Kraylea’s direction.

“So what if it has something to do with us?”

“Why would it? If the Elder Guard thought were up to something, they never would have let us pass their checkpoint. The Elder Guard isn’t exactly subtle.”

“But don’t you think-” Alessandra began, but Sharae cut her off.

“Look, I understand if you’re a little skittish after what happened at the Vanmorzen manor,” she said, “but you need to put those doubts behind you. A thief needs to be bold. If there’s a good reason to abort the mission, we’ll abort it. But we can’t be jumping at shadows, or we’ll never accomplish anything.” Alessandra was silent for a moment, but before she could say anything else, Sharae spoke again, “I can tell you’re dissatisfied. Maybe this will cheer you up. Fihal’s doing reconnaissance on the bank right now. If there’s any extra security on the bank, he’ll see it, and then we can talk about aborting the mission. But we have no reason to think right now that extra security at the semorjo station has anything to do with us.”

“I suppose you’re right,” Alessandra sighed.

Before she could say anything else, Fergen strolled into the park, with her hands stuffed in her pockets and whistling a merry tune. She snorted as soon as she saw Kraylea and Shiena, and then made her way over to Sharae and Alessandra.

“What are we waiting for?” she asked, leaning against the wall next to Sharae and folding her arms across her chest.

“You,” Sharae said pointedly, pushing away from the wall and strolling over to Kraylea. “Kray! It’s time!”

“Well, let’s do this then,” he said as he extricated himself from Shiena. “Split up!” he ordered. “We’ll meet on Vadoray Street, behind the bank.” He immediately began heading for the nearby street, and Shiena went off in a different direction. Alessandra picked a third direction and began walking toward the bank.

Even though she was on a job, she couldn’t help but look around at all the sights there were to see in Vandeo District. It was far from the nicest district in the city, but it was still much nicer than the slums. Most of the buildings were new and shiny, but there were a few that were clearly hundreds of years old or even older, and even the old buildings were clean and well-maintained. There was no garbage on the streets, and the people hurrying along the sidewalks were clean and well-dressed.

She knew there was no way she would ever be able to live among these people, but it was kind of fun to dream. The highest thing she could ever aspire to was to be Clan Master. And she would indeed be Clan Master someday. But even a Clan Master was still just a slum dweller. Part of Alessandra wanted more. But she stuffed that part of her back down, because there was just no way it could ever happen.

To be continued…


Chapter 7, Part 3

“I apologize,” she said, with a bow that she hoped was deep enough to hide the dismay on her face. “Please forgive my indiscretion.” She stayed in that position, bent nearly in half, waiting for Fergen’s response. Fergen was silent for a long time, long enough that Alessandra’s back began to hurt slightly from being bent over. Finally, Fergen let out a deep sigh.

“Oh, knock it off,” she said, and she didn’t sound angry anymore, just resigned. “All this bowing and scraping doesn’t look good on you.” Alessandra straightened up, and as soon as she did so, Fergen said, “Ask your question.”

“Of course,” Alessandra replied briskly. “I just have always been curious, with your strength and your skill, why you have never challenged Bezzum for control of the clan.”

“I like my current level of stress,” Fergen said with a snort. “Besides, how often does the Clan Master get to go out in the field? I need to be out there, cracking skulls and breaking legs. I’d go crazy if I had to be cooped up in the clan house all the time.”

“I see,” Alessandra said. “Thank you for taking the time to answer me.” She turned to walk away, but Fergen stopped her with a big hand on her shoulder.

“Hold on,” Fergen said sternly. “I’m not the sharpest tool in the box, but I’m not as dumb as everyone thinks I am either. I see what game you’re playing here, and if you’re looking for an ally from me, you can forget about it. I like Bezzum, and I’m perfectly satisfied with his leadership. And I happen to think he’s right about you. You’re a maverick, too concerned about your own glory and not enough about the good of the clan. You wouldn’t find me as Clan Master to be any more conducive to your ambitions than Bezzum is.”

“Of course,” Alessandra said with another bow. “Thank you for the warning.” Fergen smiled wryly at her, and shook her head.

“You’re not gonna give up, are you?” she said, and then held up a hand. “No, don’t answer that. I don’t really care what you have to say. Just…watch your back, yeah?” She looked deep into Alessandra’s eyes for a moment, as if looking for something, and then shook her head again and turned to walk away.


The next evening, Alessandra was riding in a semorjo on her way across the city to link up with the rest of her team near the bank. The massive vehicle was packed with people on their way back home after work. Most of them were sitting, but there weren’t enough seats on the semorjo to accommodate everyone onboard, so quite a few were standing. Alessandra was one of them. Slum dwellers weren’t allowed on the city semorjos, so she didn’t want to do anything to draw attention to herself. Anyone who had a seat was liable to be confronted by someone who wanted them to give it up. Someone who was standing was less likely to be pestered.

Alessandra watched the huge buildings crawl by as the semorjo creeped through the heavy traffic. She was currently in the Ashcraz District, one of the districts closest to the city center, and thus one of the wealthiest districts in the city. Of course, none of the people riding the semorjo lived in the Ashcraz District. People who were rich enough to live in Ashcraz didn’t ride the semorjo. Most of them had sevendejos, or even mescoras. Alessandra wondered sometimes what it would be like to fly in a mescora, but only the very richest people in the city could afford to own one. No matter how rich a thief clan got, owning a mescora was beyond their capabilities, if only because an unauthorized mescora would certainly be noticed by the Circle of Elders.

The glittering lights and towering buildings of this district fascinated Alessandra, but she did her best to not just stare out the window of the semorjo like an idiot. No one who rode this route regularly would be fascinated by the sights of the city. The glitz and glamour of downtown Serotopolis would be old hat to the people who actually lived here. Still, it wouldn’t hurt anything for her to just look, and imagine what it would be like to live outside the slums.

It was a futile dream, though. No one ever left the slums, not permanently. The Elder Guard might be lax about enforcing the laws that kept slum dwellers from entering the city proper, but they certainly weren’t lax about enforcing the laws that kept slum dwellers from living in the city. Alessandra had certainly heard of slum dwellers who had managed to get forged papers allowing them to take up residence in the city, but it was incredibly rare, and they were always caught. The punishment for possession of such forged papers was to be thrown into Mokatal Fortress and never heard from again. Alessandra might fantasize about living in Ashcraz District, but that was a risk even she wasn’t willing to take.

An announcement over the semorjo’s intercom, telling the passengers that they were about to pull into Vandeo Station, interrupted her thoughts. Vandeo Station was on the boundary between Ashcraz District and North Vandeo District, and, more importantly, it was only a few blocks from North Vandeo Bank. This was where Alessandra was going to get off. A few minutes after the announcement, the semorjo slowly ground to a halt, and a number of passengers, Alessandra included, moved toward the exits.

As soon as she hopped off the semorjo and began making her way toward the station, she got a nasty shock. Two Elder Guards were standing by the entrance to the station, and they were checking everyone’s papers before they could enter the station. Alessandra had papers, but they were fake, of course, and she had never had to test them in a situation like this before. She immediately began thinking that Kraylea should call the job off. If the Elder Guard were checking papers at a semorjo station, wasn’t that a good indication that they were onto Clan Mekoval’s plans?

To be continued…

Chapter 7, Part 2

“Here’s the layout of the bank,” Kraylea grunted after a moment, slamming a large, rolled-up piece of paper on the table and rolling it out. “The main entrance is here, and there’s two rear entrances, here, and here. Fihal, I want you to plan a distraction at this rear entrance.”

“And, the rest of you will slip in the other entrance while the guards are distracted,” Fihal replied, sounding bored.

“That’s what the mercenaries will think,” Kraylea said with a grin, “but we’ll have a surprise for them. Sharae, you and Miss Sexy Ass will go in the other entrance, and then retreat as soon as you encounter the first sign of resistance. The mercenaries will think they’ve successfully repelled our attempt on the bank, and that’s when we’ll hit the first entrance in force.

“Interesting plan,” Sharae said thoughtfully. Alessandra thought it sounded like a needlessly complicated plan, but she didn’t say anything. She wasn’t here to contribute. She was only here to follow orders, and if she tried to do anything else, the others would put her back in her place faster than she could blink. So, as much as it galled her to take orders from others (and to be called Miss Sexy Ass), she kept her mouth shut. But inside she was seething.

“Once we’re inside,” Kraylea continued, “we’ll need to access the security wing and shut down the main security system. That’s located here. Sugar Plum,” he said, winking at Shiena, “that’ll be your job.”

“I’ll take care of it, Honey Bear,” Shiena said in a syrupy voice that made Alessandra want to gag.

“Sweet Cheeks,” Kraylea continued, addressing Alessandra, who just barely managed to refrain from snarling at him, “once security is down, you, me, Fergen and Sharae will proceed to the vault where we will load up on money, while Shiena and Fihal will stay in main security and make sure no one turns the system back on. Then we hightail it outta there and get lost in the slums. Pretty simple, yeah?”

“Hey, did I miss anything?” a deep, female voice asked suddenly. Everyone turned, and saw Fergen coming into the room. Fergen was almost as big as Kraylea, and much more muscular. Alessandra had no idea what color her hair was, as she made a point of shaving her head regularly, although her eyebrows were blonde, so it was probably a good bet that the rest of her hair was as well. Fergen was one of the most fascinating people Alessandra had ever met. She was good-natured and always had a smile on her face. Unlike most people in the clan, she always went out of her way to help others out, and always had a positive attitude. In fact, she had always reminded Alessandra a lot of Halidasa. She was also extremely good at killing, and enjoyed it immensely. In fact, Alessandra had heard a rumor that Fergen had killed more people than the rest of the clan put together. Having seen her in action once, Alessandra was inclined to believe it.

“Yeah, just the entire meeting,” Fihal said, rolling his eyes.

“Ah, good,” Fergen smirked. “I hate meetings.”

“It would be nice if you knew what you were supposed to do,” Kraylea said dryly.

“Am I doing anything different than I usually do?” Fergen asked, raising one eyebrow and putting her fists on her hips.

“Nah, of course not,” Kraylea replied with a grin. “I know what you’re good at.”

“Yeah, you and every mercenary clan in this bleeding city,” Fergen said with a snort. “Well, if we’re done here, I’m gonna go back to training.”

“Whatever,” Kraylea said, waving a hand dismissively and turning away from her to Shiena. “Get outta here.” Fergen snorted again and left the room.

An idea occurred to Alessandra suddenly. “Team Leader, may I have permission to leave?” she asked in her meekest voice.

“Only if I can watch your ass jiggle on your way out,” Kraylea chortled, ignoring the venomous look that Shiena was giving him. Taking that for a yes, Alessandra bowed her head and then darted after Fergen. She found her just down the hall from the meeting room.

“Fergen, may I speak with you for a moment?” Alessandra asked. Fergen stopped, and then slowly turned to face her, a look of undisguised contempt on her face.

“Give me one reason,” she said in a quiet, dangerous voice, “why I shouldn’t crush your skull with my bare hands right now.”

“Apologies,” Alessandra said deferentially, bowing low, “but I had a quick question I wanted to ask you.” Fergen was silent for a moment, rubbing her chin while she gazed at Alessandra like she might gaze at a particularly disgusting bug that she was about to crush under her boot.

“You might be fooling the Clan Leaders with that humble act, but you’re not fooling Bezzum, and you’re definitely not fooling me,” Fergen sneered. “You think you’re the best thief that’s ever graced the halls of this clan, and you don’t give a crap about the lives of your clanmates. Well, let me tell you something: you’re a mediocre thief and a terrible person, and I, for one, will not shed a single tear once Bezzum finally kicks your sorry butt out of here.”

Alessandra was shocked. She knew that her clanmates were angry at her for her failure at the Vanmorzen manor, but she’d had no idea how deep their animosity ran. She’d never truly believed that she would get kicked out of the clan, but now, for the first time, the thought that it was a very real possibility occurred to her. Fergen was one of the kindest people in the clan, the kindest, aside from Halidasa. If Fergen felt that way about her, what were other people thinking? She’d always believed that she’d recover from her failure and continue her inevitable rise to Clan Master, but Fergen’s attitude made her wonder if that was really as likely as she’d thought.

To be continued…