Ever since the demise of their Kingdom, Alina and Amaris had been inseparable. That wasn't to say that they weren't inseparable as children, but as of now, they still tended to stick in the same general vicinity unless absolutely necessary. Alina didn't mind this at all, as she loved her sister, and always having her around was a blessing. As children, the two had been found by a middle-aged man of a local thieving guild, more commonly referred to as the Shadows of Zykar. His name was Elias, and while he possessed a rough exterior, as was common for their guild, he had a pure heart. Elias had taken in two twin elven girls, only 5 at the time, and had raised them as his own. He had done this for no reason other than it seemed like they were in need of help, and he was in a place to give it. Most of the Shadows of Zykar had been found in ways such as this, people who had been through significant trauma, yet had a lack of family to support them. In short, the twins had had nothing but the clothes on their back and very little knowledge of the world. It was Elias who had taught them how to go about living as everyday citizens, and eventually how to hide their ears to avoid being persecuted. In turn, the twins had lost a family, yet found a new and unlikely one in a few days time. Being a part of the guild they were never void of loving relationships, as all members of the guild tended to care for one another. Although, the twins true identities were not known to anyone but Elias, which was important to secure their safety.
It was another beautiful day, and the sun shone down on those inhabiting the Kingdom of Zykar. It was warm, but a cool breeze tickled Alina's cheeks as she walked through the town she and her sister had made their home. She thought it was ironic for a Kingdom led by such a power-hungry tyrant to be so beautiful, but she had no complaints. This was her home, regardless of her past. The town inhabited by Alina, her sister, and the rest of the guild lay in the outskirts of the Kingdom of Zykar. She appreciated their location as it meant she would never have to be faced with seeing the King after he had slaughtered her family. Even now, Alina had nightmares surrounding that night.
As Alina walked through the busier part of town, she was quick with her work. She swiped spare money and valuables from locals and travelers alike, careful as not to alert them of her antics. Having been thieving from a young age, she was something of a master in the art of thievery. A flirty smile and a light touch to those who passed hadn't failed her thus far. Her long, wavy hair hid her ears, and she was careful to keep them hidden. A recent bounty had been placed on the head of all elves, more specifically her and her sister. While this worried her, she knew that hiding in the small cottage she resided in with her sister and Elias would do her no good. Approaching the local market, she bought some fruit and bread that was likely to last her sister, herself, and Elias a few days. After purchasing what she needed with the stolen money, she looped back around to find her sister in the thick crowd.
Near the marketplace, a slim figure huddled, cloak pulled tightly around her frame. Dark tendrils curled from the cloak’s hood like wisps of smoke, and only the lower half of a pale, heart-shaped face could be seen. To any passerby she would have appeared as a wraith in the shadows; something easily overlooked or forgotten about. She could have been anyone.
As her sister disappeared into the crowd, Amaris watched. Alert, always alert — Elias had stressed the importance of always being aware of one’s surroundings.
Rely on your senses, he’d said. Your eyes will play tricks on you, but what you hear, what you taste and smell, that will tell you the truth.
Despite there being no outward sign of any danger, something was wrong.
She couldn’t see it nor smell it, there was nothing but the feeling in the air that they were being watched. Observed.
There was a sudden yell at the marketplace; a vendor, his face purpled in rage, shaking a trembling fist at two laughing youths as they ran. One tossed a stolen trinket to another in the crowd, then another. A ring of little thieves, children scattering in the streets, gone before the authorities could apprehend them.
Slippery little creatures, children were. Amaris caught one by the arm as he attempted to dart past her.
He struggled vainly, but her grip was like ice as she pulled him into an alleyway nearby. Small eyes widened in terror.
“Stop! Please! I didn’t do nuthin’ wrong!”
“Shh,” she hissed, throwing her hood back. “I’m not going to hurt you. I want you to pass along a message to your leader for me.”
He paused in his struggles, blinking as he took in her face. “Yer strong for a lady.”
“The message,” she repeated. “Can you do that?”
“Yeah, yeah. Just lemme go!”
Amaris crouched so that she was at eye level. “The black crow feasts at midnight.”
The child blinked at her, brows furrowed in confusion. He seemed to recognize that the message itself was vital, but he couldn’t comprehend the importance of the individual words. It didn’t matter. What mattered was that it would reach the proper ears, and preferably before nightfall.
Satisfied that her message would be delivered, she released the boy. He scampered off quickly, with only a glance back in her direction once.
By this point, Alina had returned from her rounds.
“We’re no longer safe here,” Amaris whispered by greeting. “I’ve found us another sect of the Guild. Hopefully, come twilight, they’ll take us in. Tomorrow we should leave.”
Whether the invisible eyes that followed had merged with the startled crowd or had simply vanished into the ether, for the moment, they weren’t under observation. Amaris could finally let herself breathe.
The marketplace teemed with life. A bustling, cascade of activity that made any one who attempted it, invisible in the crowd. He moved like water with the current, through the rapids and tributaries of shop stalls, selling everything from dried nuts to fruits to cured leather and spun silk. It was a clever strategy; always in the open but never without a crowd. Easy to slip away, quick to blend, a multitude of exits. A life on the run had taught them well, and perhaps this was why his prey had managed to survive for so long.
It had been weeks since he started tracking them, but only days since he located the elven twins. The Shadows of Zykar. Nimble creatures in the daytime, vermin in the night. Fennac, however, was patient; all good treasures were worth their weight in gold. Perhaps after these two he could briefly retire. Find himself a warm meal, a comfortable bed, and someone to occupy it – time permitting, of course. These Zykarans were not as welcoming as they let on, and while he no longer walked with his people, The Freewalkers were regarded by most to be savages of ill-repute – what with their foreign gods, traditions, and superstitions. Men with no home, no loyalty, and no king. Perhaps he'd rid himself entirely of the peasant life and ascribe to the very nature expected of him.
As Fennac leaned against a carriage, biding his time and observing, he had just finished his bite of the golden apple when the boy darted out between two caravans.
That was quick.
Tossing the apple core aside, the boy's freedom was evidently short-lived; Fennac caught him by the collar as he passed, and dragged him back to his side.
“What message did she give you?” he asked.
“Get off me.”
The boy spared Fennac the theatrics of tugging and pulling, immediately assessing the cloaked figure that held him as an imminent threat that no pleading or bargaining would free him of. Still, the kid had spirit, he'd give him that.
Pulling the collar tighter, Fennac lowered himself to level the boy with a gaze. “The message or I’ll hand you over to that merchant.” Fennac’s eyes shifted to the shopkeeper, his plump, round face still red and bloated as he cursed away. “They don’t take too kindly to thieves in the city, especially orphaned gutter babies.”
“I don’t know," he spit, defiant, hardening his returning stare.
It was a matter of pride for these little street urchins.
Fennac frowned, and with an indifferent shrug, he began to drag the thief behind him. “Wrong answer—“
“Okay, okay," he surrendered, trying his best to resist Fennac with no avail. "She said ‘the black crow feasts at midnight’.”
“‘The black crow…’” Fennac mauled it over.
It was likely that the kid was lying, but just as probable that this little theft network the twins had submersed themselves was more complex than he gave them credit for.
“You should learn to mind your surroundings.” He released the boy’s collar. The boy stumbled a foot. “Next time it will be the city watch, and you’ll find yourself scrubbing someone’s chamber pot for the rest of your days.”
The boy scowled, but said nothing. He scampered off and merged back into the river.
If Fennac was lucky, maybe the little thief would mention the interception; startled prey had a habit of responding reactively. And if they were reactive, he’d be able to take the elven twins off their guard.
Perhaps his payday would come sooner than he thought.