Duke Werner; the enemy of pity, of mercy, and of God.
-- motto on a mercenary's doublet, 14th Century Europe
Night fell on the city, laying its unwanted touch upon its inhabitants.
Darkness was bad. Bad for business.
Business for those who care for such things.
'Stupid folk, ' he called them.
The man shifted a little under the cover of the shadows. Someone's heels clicked ominously off the distance.
He worked harder, better, and more diligently than his fellow man.
Did he not deserve more?
In another time, in another place, a learned man would say such an individual was more fit to survive this brave new world.
The footsteps drew ever nearer.
The concept would've been called: Urban evolution -- neo-Darwinianism.
An armored guard rounded the corner, his breath reeking of garlic and onion. Sword sheathed, guard down, he barely had time to choke out a cry when a heap of gray dust splattered atop his head. Coughing, sneezing, the man had protection against sword and spear, but nothing on his person prevented the sleep dust from entering his lungs. Not that it troubled the intruder one bit. Indeed, it made the nightly ritual that much easier.
The thief rolled the body into the shadows; hopefully, the darkness would cover its presence until daybreak. The end of the room lay what appeared to be a gloriously decorated sceptre, its silver body wrought with delicate engravings harkening back to times when workmanship was still valued.
Steady hands grasped the precious, overpriced ornament as the thief wore a grim smile.
Another job done.
And another job closer. To home.
New voices however, interrupted his success.
"Omigod! A body!!"
"There he is!! Thief! THIEF!!"
"Nuts," the man spun around and saw that a wide eyed serving girl and a half dressed guard had stumbled onto the body he had so cleverly concealed earlier, but apparently not clever enough.
"Git the udders!!" the guard shouted as he yanked out his sword.
The maid didn't need him to repeat the order as she ran for her life. Thinking quickly, the thin man brought up the sceptre to ward off a blow.
"Well dickie?" he rasped, "What're you waiting for?"
"Damn you," the guard caught himself as he sought an opening to avoid damaging his master's treasure.
"Stand down," the burgular said, "And you can get back to your fuckin'."
The man's eyes hardened, "You can ferget it pal, me mates will be 'ere any minute. You're dead!"
"Yeah," the wiry thief flicked his eyes briefly upwards, "Right."
The guard saw an opportunity and lunged. He was halfway to his target when an arrow whizzed between him and the thief, nicking his sword hand.
"Aaurgh!!" the old soldier instinctively dropped his weapon, such was the pain from his wound.
In an instant, the thief beset him with a vicious beating to his unprotected head with the butt of the scepter. As decorative as it was, metal was harder than bone.
"Urk! Urrrgh," the guard gargled as he sought to keep his footing. The half naked man collapsed on his knees and slumped over, unconscious. Not that the thief cared, he had more pressing matters to attend to. He grabbed the sword the man had dropped and slammed shut the only door leading into the throne room.
"Too close by half," he cursed as he jammed the blade under the door, effectively blocking it -- if only for a little while.
A slim figure swung down from the rafters and landed with a cat-like grace, "I had to take care of the girl."
"Quietly I hope?" the thief scowled as he threaded the stolen sceptre through a loose loop attached to his belt.
"As quietly as I could," the newcomer pulled her hood back, revealing a slightly frazzled mane of black hair. Like all elves, her ears were sharply pointed at the top and superbly sculpted to channel noise to her inner canal, thus allowing her the luxury of being aware of the sounds now coming from the stairs down the hall.
"But I think someone might've heard the scuffle," she cocked her head before pulling the hood over to hide her features again and retrieving her arrow from the ground.
The knock on the door was quickly followed by shouts and cries of alarm. The next few words spoken on the other side were not encouraging, "Get the weights -- break it down!!"
"Y'think?" the man gave his partner a sour glare before he ran to the other side of the room.
"Blame yourself you fool," the elf girl hissed and pointed at the first body, "Why'd you have to kill him in the first place?"
"I didn't damn you," he snapped back and pointed to the second knocked out guard, "How was I to know the bastard wanted to play 'king' with the chambermaid?"
"Curse it all," was all she could muster as they hurriedly unlatched the windows and fastened a line to the manor lord's throne.
"Hurry," she kicked open a shutter that wouldn't budge, "The door won't hold long."
"I know dammit," the man deftly retied a second knot before he hauled the coil to the window, "Now just shut up. I know what I'm doing."
The sword on the ground was beginning to screech and angry faces could be seen past the door as it opened bit by bit.
"They're 'dey are! Go 'round! Dey can't git far!"
A flurry of activity signified it was time to make a hasty exit.
"Here goes nothing," he let the rope drop to the ground below, "Jump."
The first jump pulled the throne off its moorings and sent it crashing into the window.
Both burgulars banged painfully into the musty brick wall.
Recovering quickly, they rappelled down the remainder of the way and were on the streets in no time. In the distance, a shrill whistle was heard.
"More men," the elf said matter of factly, "Split up?"
"Yes," the thief produced out a small lighter, "Go."
The hemp line caught fire fast and the flames spread upwards just as the rope began to jerk from someone else's attention above.
"Aaaiyyyeeeeee! Fire!! Fire!" the screams were chock with pain and panic.
The elf girl wasted no time as she headed off, taking care to avoid the multitude of electric lights on the cobbled streets. The man meanwhile, slinked away in the other direction, his face aglow with the destruction and carnage he had just wrought.
"Nemo me impune lacessit Baffurd," he murmured as he turned the corner and disappeared from view, "No one fucks with Chance."
Skilled fingers held the match as it neared the oil lamp. The flame caught the wick and the oil began to burn, sending its wicked stench throughout the small dusty room. It was small, about fifteen feet by twenty. The walls were plastered with a yellow wallpaper, faded from exposure to time rather than sunlight.
An even smaller lavatory which barely contained a latrine and wash basin, sat adjacent to the only door into the apartment. And a small bed with its covers drawn back, sat opposite the loo. Two gas lamps were perched above it and to either side but only the one near the window was lit. The human thief carefully set the glowing lantern on the sill without going near it -- he had enough of assassins taking aim at his shadow.
Coins of every size sat on the small table organized in neat stacks: gold, silver, copper; all the product of a hard night's work. He took off his leather gloves and picked up a gem the size of an egg. Rolling it between his fingers, his eyes fogged slightly as old memories came to him.
"Fit for a princess," he placed the stone back on the table, "Star of my life. Anchor to my soul."
The man picked up a faded picture of a woman carrying a baby and reclined on the bed. The woman was regal looking, with a coyness that was rarely seen in women her age. The only thing that betrayed her inhumanity were the two blackened nodules protruding from her temples. However, her eyes spoke volumes of her love for both the child in her arms and for the man the picture was meant for. A soft click jerked him away from his reverie. He sat up, dagger in hand as the knob began to turn.
"Chance?" an unmistakable voice spoke, "You are here?"
The thief let his weapon fall back to his lap as her willowy frame shut and fettered the door.
"You are late," he said casually.
"Had a run of bad luck," the elf girl threw off her cloak revealing her tattered clothing. Black leggings clung to her calves, leaving her thighs bare. In cue with her people's fashion, the leggings formed a part of her footwear as well, though she supplanted her feet with a pair of light sandals. A wrap around tunic covered her upper body and pelvis while traditional elven lace shroud hung off her slim shoulders.
"Did they follow you?" the man became suspicious as the girl picked up her discarded outer wear and draped it over a back rest.
"No," she sat down, "But I was injured before I escaped."
"What?" he knitted his brow and soured, "You're hurt badly."
She winced as she sat on the bed clutching her side, "I'll be all right."
"Sit down and don't move," the man said curtly.
"Just a scratch," she closed her mind to the pain.
The elf girl whimpered when he cut off her stained blouse and threw it in the sink. It was a bloody cut the length of a finger -- and messy enough to draw more attention than the fabulous set of small, perky tits just inches away.
"Where's the loot?" she managed to ask before he drew his sleeves back.
"The usual," was his reply.
The thief called Chance bowed his head over the elf girl's wound, his fingers and thumb touched the bloody skin around it. At first, there was nothing save the calls of the nightwatchmen, the cries of thugs and thier victims, and the constant chatter of carts and wagons over the cobblestone streets. Then soft, rhythmic chanting dulled the elf's senses. She felt the aching pain of her injury similarly dulled.
"Shylock again?" she murmured dully as her wound closed itself.
Chance nodded once, concentrating. When he stood up, the elf girl stayed where she was.
"Don't mention it Aja-Dae," the dark-haired man reached for the pitcher. Pouring himself a cup of water, he continued, "If anything I should thank you -- for tonight."
"Oh," she lay back on her pillow, half-forgetting she had saved him earlier.
"Still, with the fire and all," he grew thoughtful, "Ginny will be on the look out for his master's lost trinket."
Aja-Dae's smile disappeared fast as he went on, "It'll be at least a year before we'll be able to get the money from this job. Too hot."
He chuckled from his bad pun.
"I'm sorry," the girl tried to sit up but gave up when it began to hurt, "If I hadn't gone off trying to look for another way in --"
"It's okay," Chance patted her bare thigh, "I'm glad you did."
"I still feel pretty bad about it," she placed a cautious hand on his shoulder.
Her partner looked away, "Let it go. I've been waiting for more than a decade already. What's another year?"
Far too long, she thought but she kept silent.
"And besides," he managed a smile but his eyes betrayed his longing, "Perhaps she's moved on already."
"She'd dare not, Chance," the elf murmured, "Dracons pair for life."
As do elves, she reflected sadly.
"So traditions go," he sighed.
Say something, an inner voice prodded her. Do something to make him feel better, if only for a moment. But the elf remained still, afraid anything she'd do would wrong him. Chance began readying himself for bed. Aja-Dae, half giddy from his spellcraft, lurched upright and wrapped herself around him. He hardly noticed her, but as he struggled to remove his clothing, the warmth from her toplessness began to stir his interest.
"It's late," his hands grazed her slender arms.
"Let me thank you," Aja-Dae whispered as her hands slid over Chance, "As an elven bride would her champion."
Chance barely made an effort to protest as he turned around and held her. Aja-Dae looked up and kissed his cleft chin. A cut had left a small scar on his smooth chin. Despite his impeccable grooming, Chance was not a young man, and although his features were strong, they were not so harsh as to revolt Aja-Dae's innate elven appreciation of fine things.
As an elf, Aja-Dae outwardly resembled a young woman in the city, but she had seen such young women grow old and die long before she herself was wed. She had speculated little on Chance, as she tugged off his sweat soaked undershirt. She sighed softly as he stroked her bare back. She thought back to when she first met him. When she awoke in a stupor the morning after their escape from the prison camp.
It wasn't so long ago, she mused as they fell back into the small bed they shared.
It's almost been what? Six years?
Aja-Dae didn't know why she became his cohort in crime, she just wanted a place to stay and recuperate from her ordeal. Despite the passage of time, she could still remember the horrors of her captivity. Chance was the first person she had seen since her capture. He was so natural in his element, this stranger.