Chapter 2, Part 1

Alessandra plopped down on her bed as soon as she locked the door. Her quarters were modest, just like those of every other member of Clan Mekoval. She had a bed that was just barely large enough for her to lay down in comfortably, a dresser that held all of her clothes, and a table and chair. The table held a few books, and there were a few more on top of the dresser. She usually liked to read for a little bit after a job, give herself a chance to wind down a little bit, but tonight she had too much on her mind to even consider reading. She was tempted to just go to bed, as it was already late, but her mind was racing too much for that activity too. Besides, she needed to wash the makeup off her face before she went to bed, because otherwise it would sting something fierce. But she didn’t want to be around other people at the moment, and there was always at least one other person in the bathroom. So instead she just sat on the end of her bed and thought.

It grated on her that Bezzum had it in for her so badly. The clan was her whole life. All she wanted out of life was to rise through the ranks and eventually become Clan Master herself. That was the goal of every clan member in all of Serotopolis. Obviously, not everyone would be able to fulfill that dream, but Alessandra knew that she was talented enough to make it. But as long as Bezzum held a grudge against her, she was always going to be held back. She deserved to be a higher rank than she was, but no matter how hard she tried, Bezzum refused to promote her to her rightful rank. She was tempted to challenge him to a duel and seize control of the clan by force, but as good as she was, there was little doubt in her mind that Bezzum was better.

All she could think of to do was to just keep pushing herself, getting better and better so that either Bezzum would be forced to acknowledge that she was a master thief, or she would be good enough that she could challenge him to a duel and kill him. Admittedly, the latter option would be preferable. Years of being held back by Bezzum had built up a great deal of resentment in her towards him, and she had to admit that it would be extremely satisfying to shove a dagger in his gut. But maybe she wouldn’t feel quite so resentful toward him if he actually acknowledged her skills.

There was a knock on her door, and she scowled slightly. It was pretty rare for one clan member to attempt to enter another member’s quarters. Trust was thin on the ground in an organization where killing a rival was a perfectly acceptable means of advancement, and allowing someone into your personal space, without any allies around, was almost asking them to attempt to murder you. Knowing that, apartment doors were always locked in the clan house, using the best locks possible (after all, cheap locks were pretty useless in a building full of thieves), and it was customary to knock and give fair warning if you needed to get into someone’s room. Forcing your way into a clan member’s room was punishable by expulsion, but only if you got caught.

“Who is it?” Alessandra called, a hint of wariness in her voice.

“Mikaelo,” came the response. The scowl faded from Alessandra’s face, but she didn’t rush to open the door. If there was anyone in the clan she trusted, aside from Halidasa, it was Mikaelo, but even at that, he had never tried to come into her room before.

“What do you want?” she called out.

“I just wanted to talk to you,” he replied. “You don’t need to let me in, but can you at least come out and walk with me?” She hesitated for a moment, then she pulled open the door and slipped out, pulling the door closed behind her. Mikaelo was shorter than her, and wiry, with messy brown hair, dark skin, and deep brown eyes that perpetually looked as if their owner knew a joke that nobody else did. He was a couple of years older than her, and in a similar situation. One of the best thieves in Clan Mekoval, he held a position lower than he deserved because of Bezzum’s animosity. Someday, when Alessandra was Clan Master, Mikaelo would be her Clan Leader.

“So,” Alessandra began, “what’s so important?”

“That’s a nice look for you,” Mikaelo replied, smirking at her wig and makeup.

“Isn’t it, though?” Alessandra replied, fluffing her long, brown hair with a grin. Mikaelo chuckled appreciatively, but then his smile disappeared.

“Will you walk with me?” he asked.

“Of course,” Alessandra replied, somewhat taken aback by this uncharacteristic seriousness. They walked down the narrow hallway together, and Mikaelo was silent for a few minutes. Alessandra watched him out of the corner of her eye as they walked. The mischievous twinkle that normally graced Mikaelo’s dark eyes was gone at the moment. Alessandra couldn’t remember him ever looking so somber.

Finally, she couldn’t take it anymore. “Are you going to tell me what this all about?” she blurted out. Mikaelo looked over at her, a small, surprised grin appearing on his face.

“Yes,” he said slowly. “I’m just trying to find the right words.” He was silent again for a few moments, while Alessandra tried very hard to not demand again that he start talking. Finally, they reached a small lounge area that was unoccupied, and he sat down in large, worn recliner. Alessandra sat down across from him, on the left side of a patched, but still comfortable, couch. “So,” he began, “I heard about your confrontation with Bezzum.”

“It wasn’t much of a confrontation,” Alessandra muttered grumpily. Mikaelo smiled slightly.

To be continued…

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