Chapter 1, Part 1

Alessandra Mekoval was running for her life, which meant that this night was just a typical night for her. Serotopolis was a dangerous city even in the best of times, and these were far from the best of times. Not to mention that running for your life was just another part of the job when you were a thief like Alessandra.

She grinned as she leapt over a traffic barrier onto a busy highway, and she laughed as a massive semorjo had to swerve to avoid hitting her, crashing into a smaller denarja. A second denarja smashed into the first one from behind, and as Alessandra leaped over the barrier on the far side of the highway and dropped down onto the causeway below, she could hear even more smashing sounds, causing the grin on her face to grow wider. Hopefully she’d started a huge chain reaction of wrecked vehicles, which would likely put a stop to her pursuers. She didn’t stop running, though. She wouldn’t stop until she was completely certain that they’d given up chasing her.

She raced down the causeway, running parallel to the massive stone bridge above her. She wasn’t worried about running out of breath, or about her pursuers catching up to her. She could run faster and farther than anyone in her clan, including Mikaelo, who had once outrun a sevendejo, and she was certain that there weren’t any of those after her tonight anyway. No, tonight’s heist had been small-time, just a fat merchant and his guards who thought they chase down a single girl on foot, get the goods back, and keep the Circle of Elders out of their hair. A sneer crossed Alessandra’s as she thought about the Circle of Elders. A sneer tinged with delight. There was nothing better than being a thief in a city where the government were the biggest thieves of all. Few merchants would bother calling the Elder Guard to help them track down a thief, because if the Elder Guard found stolen property, they kept it for themselves.

Alessandra ducked into a small hole in the stone wall that led down to the sewers. There was no way the merchant would follow her down here, but the same unfortunately couldn’t be said about his guards. She would have been surprised if the guards had seen her slip down here, but she didn’t slow down. Not yet. A few more twists and turns to make extra sure that they had no idea where she was, and then she could proceed at a more leisurely pace. But not relax. Never relax. The Circle of Elders might not take an interest in petty larceny, but the mercenary clans certainly did not appreciate being made fools of. If the guards failed to find her, they would report the failure to their clan, and the clan would be on the lookout for a tall girl with dark skin, blue eyes and long brown hair. They would never find her, because she would cease to exist after tonight, but it was never a good idea for a thief to let her guard down.

She wound her way through the tunnels underneath Serotopolis, taking seemingly random turns, even doubling back a couple of times to really make sure that no one was on her tail. After about fifteen minutes of this, seeing and hearing no signs that anyone was after her, she finally slackened her pace. Grinning mischievously to herself, she stripped the wig off and flung it on the ground. If the merchant’s guards managed to track her this far, they would quickly realize that the description they had was useless. Which wouldn’t surprise them. The mercenary clans knew how this game was played. They would beat her to death if they ever laid hands on her, but they knew as well as anyone how unlikely that was. Few thieves were ever caught in Serotopolis. The mercenary clans existed more as a deterrent than as an actual police force. The only true police force was the Elder Guard, and they only protected the interests of the Circle.

Of course, there was also the Order of Sunaru, but they had bigger problems to worry about than thieves. If the Order ever decided to stamp out crime in Serotopolis, crime would cease to exist in the city. Not just because the Order was that effective, but because they were held in such high esteem, that even the most hardened criminal would devote himself to the straight and narrow if a member of the Order of Sunaru told him to. But that would never happen. After all, the Order had much bigger problems to worry about.

Or so Alessandra had always been told. Just shy of her eighteenth birthday, Alessandra Mekoval had been born and raised on the streets of Serotopolis. She had no idea who her parents were. She suspected they were dead, but she didn’t know, and she didn’t care. Very few of her friends knew who their parents were. That was just the way of things in the slums of Serotopolis. Alessandra had never stopped to consider that things might be different. Parents weren’t ever something she had given much consideration to. The only reason she knew she had parents was that she knew how procreation worked. Someday she would probably have a kid, and very likely she would dump that kid at the House of Vagrants, where she had been dumped as a baby, and then never give it a second thought. That was just the way of things in Serotopolis. It never occurred to Alessandra that things could be different, or should be different. In any case, she had grown up on the streets, scrounging for food, finding a clan to join, fighting for every scrap of recognition she’d ever gotten, viewing the Circle of Elders with contempt and the Order of Sunaru with something akin to worship, just like everybody else in the slums. That is, when she thought about them at all. For most people living in the slums, the Order and the Circle were so far distant as to practically be myths. All she knew about the Order of Sunaru was that they were the champions of those who lived in the slums, protectors of all that was good and true and pure and noble. That was what everybody said, anyway. Alessandra didn’t know if that was true, and nor did she particularly care.

To be continued…

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