Stealth and Witchcraft

By Shannon Mayhew

Drama / Romance

Battle Scars

Garrett ended up falling asleep at his workstation that night, after carefully removing his metal prosthetic so as not to accidentally crush the more delicate components. After the difficult day he’d had, the thief was hoping to enjoy a long and dreamless rest. But his slumber, was far from pleasant:

***

A storm was imminent, though not the sort Garrett was expecting as he remained hunched atop that domed rooftop, surveying the expanse of that sullen midnight sky. It was almost numbing, having her so near. He could have reached out and touched her in that moment if he’d so chosen. But like the phantasmic specters of an impossible dream, the thief feared that such an attempt would shatter the precious veil between reality and fiction. For the moment, she was there. And she was speaking to him again, though far from the way he would have preferred.

“Have you caught your breath yet, old man?” she asked with that mischievous, uninterested smirk of hers. An expression she’d long ago acquired from her mentor, and perfected over the course of her short lifetime. Garrett glowered up at her, his bi-colored stare far from amused by her little jest.

“I wasn’t catching my breath, Erin,” he sneered. “I just happened to see something down below,” he explained, bobbing his head in the direction of the intricate glass skylight. His accomplice shot him an incredulous look.

“Riiight...” she crossed her arms. “And I have a husband and twenty-seven kids waiting for me back home.”

“Don’t be a smart ass,” the older thief discouraged her sarcasm. Erin just rolled her eyes.

“Come on Garrett. Basso told me you’d help out,” she groused, taking a few moments more to survey the billowing smog as it snuffed out the moon.

“Okay, first of all, yeah. And I am,” he reassured her. “Second of all, take a peek down there yourself if you don’t believe me.”

The thief pointed a thin and smudged index finger, encouraging the girl to peer down over the precipice of the stately manse. Erin did as she was bade, her cyan eyes narrowing as they began to make out the forms of several hooded figures below. Atop a mahogany pedestal towards the center of the room, was a silvery blue stone glinting with an almost otherworldly luster.

“Cult activity?” Erin asked, turning back to her mentor. Garrett said nothing, as he continued to survey the suspicious gathering below with pensive eyes.

“Perhaps,” he muttered, “certainly seems like the sort of layout for that.”

As he had done countless times over the course of his time with Erin, Garrett was only telling half-truths. Keeping his apprentice--no, his daughter--blind to that which could potentially harm, or otherwise greatly upset her. After all, what sort of parent could possibly do less?

Consequently, he knew full well that a ritual was indeed transpiring far below his piercing glare and stiff form. There were other artifacts resting upon similar pedestals, relics which had been used in a sinister ritual fifteen years before. And as he began to recognize each of the objects involved, a trill of primitive dread traversed Garrett’s spine with a sinister shock.
A gleaming heart of ruby red, impossible luster and impressive in size. A crown of twisted and savage design, its cold silver and aquamarine adornments visible even from this high up. A golden chalice, a mummified paw. The recognition of the four relics gave the master thief pause. He wondered, if it was down there too.

The unshakable sensation of disquieted uncertainty which ravaged his person mere seconds after, gave Garrett his answer. As he leered further still down into the darkness of that place, the hooded criminal could see it leering up at him. Silent and frozen, but watching him all the same. The Eye had promised to return to the City one day. To return for that remaining coal-brown optic which now sat mismatched alongside a venin green replica. And now, it was finally here.

But it wasn’t the presence of that sentient nightmare that gave the thief pause. It was the sacrificial podium which the hooded ones now encircled. More specifically, it was the masked soul strapped down atop it. Even from his present height, Garrett could see the victim writhing and trembling within their tight bonds. The green mask they wore was intricate, frightening. It reminded the thief of Pagans, although there was something almost mocking about the peculiar design. The lost eyes which seemed to stare directly into him from that painted smiling face. It genuinely chilled him. Garrett stood from the window, clasping his ward’s shoulder in the process.

“Nope. That’s it. We’re not doing this.”

Erin gawked up at the thief, as if he’d just revealed the impossible to her. And, in some sense of the word, he had. Garrett: The Master Thief, abandoning a job? It was beyond comprehensible for her. She had watched him take risks far greater, and come out even wealthier still. Her blue eyes darkened against the backdrop of gloomy sky and turbulent weather.

“What?!” the word was but a breathless whisper.

Garrett deigned to respond, having neither time nor interest for her blatant disapproval. As the thief turned around to leave, Erin jolted upright, stomping across the rooftop after him.

“Hey!!” she hollered. That, at least gave him pause. A puff of dense mist exited the girl’s dark lips, as she began to seethe. “What are you doing?!”

Garrett looked over his shoulder at her, the blustery winds tearing at his cloak.

“The job just fell through. I’m going home,” he remarked.

Erin acquired a stunned expression, her mouth wide open as she struggled to process what the thief had just told her.

“You’re BAILING on me?!” she gaped. “No way!”

“Way,” Garrett sneered.

Erin gestured furiously with her arms, before throwing them up over her head in a blatant tantrum.

“I don’t get it!” she shouted, “Basso told me you’d be fine with this!”

Garrett hesitated, a deep sigh leaving his lips as he massaged his throbbing temples. In his youth, the thief could recall his own mentor, Artemus, doing this quite regularly. Now, Garrett finally understood why. Turning around, the hooded misanthrope walked up to his child, and gave her a most unsettling glare.

“Erin. Look, I’m sorry. But I didn’t expect this. Not even the greatest of criminals can prepare for every contingency,” he explained.

But Garrett could tell by the headstrong look on her face, that the girl was far from convinced. Far from sated.

“That’s why you have skill. Aces up your sleeve,” she retorted, “So what if the nobles are dabbling in the unspeakable down there? The stuff we’re after is in the East Wing! Why in the hell are you letting what’s happening down there bother you like this?!”

“You don’t get it,” the thief growled. “This isn’t about feelings, or blind fear, kid. This, is about past experiences. Mistakes that I don’t want you getting tangled up in, Erin.”

Impossibly blue eyes surged through the darkness as the spry young huntress glowered up at her paternal guide. Garrett had been far from an astute role model to her. He’d disappointed at Christmas, and forgotten birthdays. But seldom had Erin been more disappointed in the man, as she was in that intransigent moment.

“I don’t care,” she snarled, blue eyes vibrant in the dark. “I need what’s in the East Wing. And I’m not leaving here without it.”

Erin’s attempts to assert herself proved futile at best. Before her stood a man who’d seen much, and suffered so much more. His eyes served as bi-colored windows into that which an imperious child such as she could never hope to comprehend. A dismal, inescapable prison of his own design. One that he secretly aspired to safeguard her from at all costs.

“You can always come back for it later,” Garrett rebuked, as the midnight rain grew frigid. “Whatever it is, it isn’t worth your life...”

The young woman stared awestruck at him for several moments, before releasing a raucous, mocking chorale.

“My LIFE?” Erin blinked, brushing a strand of jet black hair from her pallid face. “Okay, Garrett. I have time to play. I see...hmm, maybe six gaudy trinkets, a masked sacrifice, and some hooded freaks down there. No offense,” the girl grinned up at him. Garrett refused to dignify her with a response.

After a while of cold, awkward silence and raindrops, Erin cleared her throat.

“Okay, so my point was, just what exactly do you suspect’s down there anyway? Just what are you so afraid of?”

The thief glared at her, his cloak billowing in the air behind him like an imposing black flag. Garrett could smell the trepidation laced upon those chilling gales as they stung his face. It was as though the nocturnal abyss that surrounded them, was preparing for war. He glanced down at his boots, memories of perilous encounters long since past racing through his head. They were mages, and they knew the baron. He didn’t have to ask why--the situation spoke for itself. Something frightfully dubious, was happening down there. Something that involved that sinister winking relic.

“It was the first real commission I ever took--and the last. An enthusiastic nobleman and his consort contacted me regarding the thing,” Garrett explained. Erin raised an eyebrow.

“You? Working for a noble?!”

“I was young and stupid back then,” Garrett grumbled. “All I could focus on, was the promise of wealth beyond my wildest dreams. What sorts of things I could have done with all that money...”

The thief trailed off for a moment, closing his eyes in profound shame. Bitter lament. Thoughts of fine wines, a lavish manse by the sea. His own concubines, and enough treasure to make even a pirate king envious. Such worldly desires had corrupted and clouded his mind, much like Constantine’s curious green wine had the eve of their first meeting.
Garrett still chastised himself for never recognizing the obvious. The Trickster’s façade had been only skin deep, that devilish grin prominently out of place upon the old man’s face. And yet, the thief had taken the bait regardless.

Erin’s cold fingers tapped his hand, snapping Garrett from his disquieting stupor.

“So, you stole this dude an artifact back when you were my age? So what?” she snorted,” and what the taff does that story have to do with anything?”

Her mentor glared at her.

“The thing I stole for him--it’s down there right now,” Garrett responded in a distant, unsettled voice.

Erin peered over the skylight again, watching as one of the hooded figures reached for a large and tattered tome.

“Which one?” she asked, more curious and casual than the thief was comfortable with.

Reluctantly, Garrett pointed out the object in question. Though he couldn’t be certain, the thief thought he heard the thing emanate a gravelly chuckle as he did so.

“That one. It’s called The Eye.”

“The Eye?” his ward parroted, a derisive grin contorting across her face. “Stupid name. It doesn’t look anything like an eye.”

“That’s far from the point,” Garrett sneered. “It has one. Two, actually. And it’s looking to obtain a third...”

The moonlighter fought to contain a hitched shudder, but Erin caught the troubled grimace upon his weathered face.

“Garrett? You okay?” she asked, genuinely concerned but still grinning. The thief released a loud, shaken sigh.

“No. I’m not,” he replied, his gaze never leaving that horrible relic. It was watching him too, and the thief knew it. “Look, we need to leave now, Erin. That thing...it’s...”

Garrett’s mouth went dry, rendering him momentarily speechless. Erin inched closer to where he sat hunched over the edge of the skylight.

“It’s what?” she inquired, trying her best to sound genuine, and helpful. Garrett shook his head, standing once again from the rooftop.

“Never mind. We’re leaving,” he commanded, starting back towards the edge of the building again. “Come on.”

Erin started off after him, nearly tripping herself in her haste. Somehow, she managed to reach and intercept Garrett before he could begin his decent back down the side of the building.

“Wait a minute!” she panted, arms outstretched. “You’re seriously abandoning this heist because you’re afraid of a ROCK?!”

Garrett scowled at that, his pupils gyrating in a deep, personal fury. He had always known better than to reveal too much of his past to the girl. But for whatever inexplicable reason, that night, he had. Perhaps it was the overwhelming elation he felt to see her again after nearly four years of alienation. Or perhaps, it was the thief’s own distorted brand of paternal instinct, fighting against his aloof personality in order to keep her safe.

“It’s sentient, and it’s very evil. Let’s leave it at that,” he snapped. But Erin, was far from satisfied.

“So what?” she argued. “You’re Garrett! You single-handedly blew up the Trickster. You broke up the entire Mechanist order by using their own prophet’s weapon against him. Hell, you even destroyed that horrible hag who murdered my parents! You expect me to believe for even one second that you’re THIS terrified over a ‘very evil’ sentient bauble?!”

Lighting lit up the night sky, revealing the thief’s innermost turmoil to the girl he’d raised since she was twelve. Erin wasn’t prepared for what she beheld chiseled there upon his gaunt, grizzled features. The unspeakable stillness, the icy and detached expression of a man who had seen more than his fair share of evils. Garrett ground his teeth beneath stiff, compressed lips. His eyes closed, and as the thunder rocked the foundation beneath his feet, the criminal wrestled with an extremely delicate conundrum.

He had never told Erin the specifics regarding the loss of his right eye. The details were far too preposterous for anyone to believe, far too agonizing for the thief to relive. But if he stood any chance to convincing her to abandon the mission that night, risks had to be taken. Sacrifices, had to be made. This reveal, would be his final attempt to try and illustrate the severity of peril to his headstrong charge. It was a moot decision, but one made out of desperation rather than practicality. A part of him knew Erin wouldn’t listen. She never did, once the prize was in sight. But another part of him--a part only a handful of souls had ever been privy to--had made the attempt out of some improbable hope that tonight would be different.

“It’s also the reason I lost my eye...” he managed, his voice low and distant.

For the briefest of moments, Garrett’s heart surged with hope when he beheld the mortified expression upon the girl’s pale features. There was not a hint of skepticism locked away behind that lapis glare. Erin, believed him.

But the thief’s hopes were to be dashed just as quickly. Because although she did indeed believe his harrowing tale, Erin still possessed the same regrettable weaknesses that he did: Arrogance. Tenacity. Greed. After all, he had raised her that way. Children often inherit the traits of their guardians--both good, and bad.

She did not understand. Why, after all this time, all of her personal sacrifices, should SHE admit defeat?! Her eyes widened for a moment, before glazing over once more with those less-than-desirable traits.

“Alright, I think I get it,” she hissed, turning away in an exasperated motion.

Again, Garrett assumed that he’d gotten through to her. But hope, often has a way of amplifying disappointment, and pain. Erin faced him, her blue eyes shimmering with brazen confidence.

“But I’m not like you. This doesn’t affect me,” she hissed cruelly.

Garrett’s eyes grew wide beneath the shadowy confines of his hood, as the grueling ultimatum of the situation overtook him. Despite everything he’d just explained. Despite everything he’d risked and revealed at the cost of his own comfort, his ward would not be stopped. It was as though her mind was deadlocked, her body acting for the sake of another. Even at her most unruly, Erin had never been this blindingly foolish. It made Garrett wonder, with a sickening shift of his gut, just what she was truly after? And why?

As the girl proceeded to head back across the rooftops in the direction of the Eastern Gallery, something rough grabbed her arm. Erin whirled around, dagger at the ready. Only to see Garrett, the most bothersome look of severity present upon his face.

“Don’t...” he snarled, though his features reflected far more concern than anger.

Erin broke away from his grasp with a sharp, unexpected strength. She sneered up at her mentor, the midnight breeze ruffling her unkempt black bangs.

“Cut it out, Garrett!” she shouted, shoving him backwards. “You know what? This, is beyond stupid. If your gonna be stuck on this roof having a little episode, then I’m going on without you.”

A sensation like cold electricity swelled within the thief’s chest the moment those careless words left her mouth. He could accept her sassy attitude. He could endure her defiance. But when she dared to make light of the hell he’d suffered, after he’d just revealed a particularly terrible experience with her. That was the one thing Garrett couldn’t tolerate.

“What the hell do you know about it?!” he shouted, extending his hand and slapping her. “I’ll tell you: You don’t know shit! So keep your damned mouth shut, Erin!”

His outburst was an instantly regrettable action. A last resort to try and get his heedless waif to listen to reason. As the Keepers would have put it, a lapse in judgment. Yet another loss of balance.

The look of deep fear and pleading within his weathered face emphasized this, but the girl at his side felt only the burning in her face, and a vicious resentment budding within her chest. Erin grabbed her cheek, growling in frustration as she leered up at the man who had practically raised her.

“I won’t. I’m not a child anymore Garrett! And YOU...” she snarled, hesitation holding her venomous tongue for but a moment, before her sinister reprisal bit through those conscientious bindings, “...you, will NEVER be my father...”

Her words tore away at him, wounding the thief in a place his headstrong charge could never hope to see. A myriad of callous words flooded the thief’s mind like briny water; murky and chilling. But in that conflicted moment, the wounded moonlighter could only bring himself to ask one simple question in response.

“Erin, why is this damned gem so important to you?!”

The girl’s breath hitched in response to his unexpected quandary. It was as though she could once again feel the knife at her neck, smell the bile and whiskey upon her captors. Erin’s eyes flooded with hot tears, as she recalled what they had said to her at the start of the week:

“You dare to defy us?! We lost Vanessa ’cause of you, bitch. Now, you’re gonna get us that taffing gem, or I’ll have your heart instead!”

The Burrick’s Soul. One of the largest diamonds in the world. A marvelous prize indeed. Her ‘employers’ had made their rather passionate request known, but despite all of her previous experience with both thieving and assassination, Erin knew that obtaining the gem would be difficult indeed. That’s precisely why she’d contacted Basso, asking him to recruit Garrett onto this little excursion of hers. Despite her arrogance, Erin knew that she couldn’t do it without him. But for his sake--and for hers--she couldn’t tell him the truth about this job.

Thunderclouds rolled overhead, and Erin released a loud, distressed sigh.

“Listen Garrett...I-I can’t tell you, okay?” she tried. The hooded rogue glowered down at her.

“And why the hell not?”

“I just can’t, alright?” Erin snapped. “It’s...complicated.”

It had been almost four years since they’d last spoken, and suffice to say, the evening hadn’t been anywhere as hospitable as she’d hoped. When she first encountered her old mentor atop that roof beneath a vibrant sea of twilight and newly-birthed stars, Erin had expected a look of surprise to overtake his rough features. Perhaps even a smile. But instead, Garrett acted as though time itself had been absent for the last four years.

She continued to eye the thief, how his face now displayed such shock. Though for a different reason entirely.

In truth, Garrett had his own ways of expressing intense emotion. That was to say, he disliked doing it at all. Outwardly, he preferred his features to remain steadfast and stoic.
However, what transpired within, was a different story entirely. He hadn’t said a word, hadn’t asked for even the slightest of details when he’d met her atop the shingles that evening. Garrett didn’t bother, because he didn’t care. Seeing his girl again after so many years. Seeing her back, not only alive but according to Basso, doing quite well for herself. It filled him with an indescribable joy, a pride which even an arrogant man such as Garrett had never experienced before.

Garrett didn’t question Erin’s whereabouts, because simply having her back was more than enough to satisfy him. But now, how he wished that she’d stayed away.
The truth can be a very damaging thing, regardless as to whether or not one chooses to believe it. While Erin hadn’t meant them, even now as she deeply regretted those words, the tragedy remained. They were still undeniably true. He was but a bereaved misanthrope, trying to pay homage to a dead man he’d never so much as thanked for saving his life. Erin, had simply tried to pickpocket the wrong man at the right time.

As the malevolent ritual continued to commence beneath their feet, Erin looked up at her mentor again. Her eyes were large, pleading. Desperate to correct a disastrous slip of the tongue.

“Look, I’m sorry for what I said. You...you’re the one who saved me. That’s more than my biological father could do. I owe you my life, and I don’t tell you that enough. I--”

Before she could conclude her apology, Garrett held up a hand to silence her. Rubbing his temples, the thief allowed his balance to slip for the second time that night.

“--Erin. Just stop. You’ve been gone four years. You made your choice. You’re an adult now. Why the taff should I care how you feel about me?”

Upon receipt of those callous words, Erin’s entire world crumbled. Her sapphire eyes shimmered with tears there against that rumbling leaden sky, as she stepped backwards.

“Is...is that how you really feel?” she gasped, her hushed voice nearly drowned out by the vile storm.

Garrett turned to face her, his movements stiff and constricted. Remorseful, yet far too proud to admit his guilt. Another clap of thunder echoed throughout the City, as veteran and apprentice made eye contact. The thief’s tongue brushed the roof of his mouth, as though the act would ease the flow of words from his tight throat. But before he could even open his mouth, a shrill crackling sound disrupted the night.

Both Garrett and Erin began to survey the area, seeking a culprit for the peculiar interruption. However, it was the blue-eyed girl who found it first when she looked down. A sickening twinge of dread overtook Erin’s person, when she at last realized just where she was standing. Before Garrett could react, the skylight began to splinter outwards around her boots. He lurched forward, his instincts overtaking both reason and guile in that horrific moment.

“Erin! Get back!” he barked.

But his warning came far too late. The world around him faded to an inhospitable grey, as the thief felt the blood drain away from his face. His heart plummeted into his quivering stomach, and Garrett could only watch through his helpless stupor, as his entire world shattered beneath her.

***

Garrett sprung from his mattress, panting and drenched with sweat. It ran like blood from his temples, the clammy chill of the clocktower tickling his face. Clutching at the sheets, he stared through one maddened eye at his lap. His body was a trembling mess, his perception hazy at best in lieu of the nightmare and lack of depth perception. But that was until he noticed her.

Gwenevere was kneeling beside his bed, and as his vision gradually swam into focus, Garrett registered on just how concerned she actually was. Her cherubic face was riddled with an intense worry, her large green eyes almost luminous against a dismal backdrop of filthy shadows.

“Are you okay, Garrett?” she asked, the moment he glowered up at her.

“I’m fine!” Garrett barked, catching his breath with a shout. “Why wouldn’t I be?”

“Because,” Gwenevere crooned, resisting the urge to rest a comforting hand upon the thief’s quaking knee. “You were screaming.”

Garrett gawked up at her, the lack of symmetry within his features giving him a frightful appearance. Had he really been screaming? Considering what his nightmare had been about, the thief didn’t doubt it. He clutched the bedsheets tighter beneath his thin fingers, chastising himself for allowing the brat to hear him in a moment of weakness.

“Yeah, well even if that were true,” he huffed, “I’m fine now.”

Gwenevere scooted away from him, her eyes narrowing in response to his cutting words.

“Yes, I can see that you are,” she snorted. “Back to your usual, jerky self...”

“Then what are you still doing here Gwenevere?” Garrett stared pensively at her.

Gwenevere looked at him, focusing her two eyes upon his one. The remaining dark optic seemed to take on an almost sinister tone in the dead of night. She could tell that this sort of prolonged eye contact made her mentor very uncomfortable, but all the same, she needed him to see the gratitude written within her eyes. Furthermore, she had to know why he’d done what he had.

“Garrett?” she asked. The thief’s brows furrowed at her bell-like voice.

“Shouldn’t you be getting back to bed?” he sneered. Gwenevere bit her bottom lip.

“I-I haven’t been able to sleep at all tonight, actually,” she admitted. “I mean, I tried yes. But...”

“But?” the thief raised a cautious eyebrow. Gwenevere looked down at her crossed legs, and began chewing on her hair again.

“Garrett?” she mumbled through a mouthful of red.

“What?!” he snapped, feeling beyond uncomfortable by this point.

Gwenevere shot upwards, allowing the moistened strand to slip free from her mouth. Once again, she locked her gaze into Garrett’s, though there was a glint of skepticism and intrigue written within her face this time.

“Garrett, why did you keep me from those men tonight?”

Her question rattled him, causing Garrett’s entire face to warp into a look of utmost perplexity.

“What men?” he decided to play the fool, knowing full well just what scum Gwenevere was indeed referring to.

“The bounty hunters outside of the tavern,” she explained. Then, the young woman acquired an authentic bleakness within her features. “I may be ditzy. I may be clumsy and naïve. But I know that you despise me, Garrett. No doubt you’ve come to understand that there’s a reward offered for my safe return, and--”

“--considered,” the thief corrected. Gwenevere blinked.

“What?”

“A reward is being considered. That’s what your poster said anyway,” Garrett grumbled.

“Right,” the girl nodded. “So, if you indeed hate me so much, why did you hide me back there? Why didn’t you just hand me over to those men?”

Garrett sighed hard, cracking his knuckles as he contemplated the esoteric reasoning behind that innocent question of hers, and the actions he had taken earlier that night.
Truth be told, he’d been asking himself the same question. He did despise Gwenevere. More than anything, he wanted her out of his tower. Out of his life. So why had he allowed such a superb chance to be rid of her to slip from his grasp?

“I just hate bounty hunters,” he shrugged, perverting his response with both lies and truth. “So don’t you go getting it into your senseless little head that I actually care about you, or anything like that.”

“I...never said you did...” the girl smiled.

Feeling flustered, the thief’s discontent intensified. Despite her best efforts, Gwenevere soon found herself captivated by the empty void on the right half of his face. It seemed to be pulling at her, dragging her down into the unsafe realms of his morose world. When he noticed her incessant staring, Garrett grimaced.

“What is it now?” he barked.

Without even thinking, Gwenevere blurted out exactly what was on her mind.

“How did you lose your eye?” she asked.

The question had been innocent, but it caused a surge of torment to seize Garrett by the chest. It had been years since anyone had possessed the bravery to ask him about his eye. More specifically, how he’d lost it. But now, out of all the possible inquisitors he had come across, it was this insolent girl who had just unwittingly requested more than she could ever possibly understand. Her clumsy hands and wanting mouth had just ripped open those horrific scars which Garrett had tried so desperately to forget. The thief ground his teeth. She had no right. Initial chagrin, was soon replaced by a savage fury.

“Don’t you EVER ask me that question again! Keep your nose in your own affairs!” he bellowed, before abruptly jerking his face away from hers.

Gwenevere remained motionless upon the floorboards, her mouth drawn open into an exasperated gape. The girl continued to watch him, feeling for him as he brooded there in the darkness. However he had lost his eye, one thing was now eminently clear to her: It must have been beyond awful.

“I’m so, so sorry Garrett...” she finally spoke up, holding back tears as a lump began to form within her frail throat. “I never wanted to hurt you like this. I-I just--”

“--Go. Away,” he snarled, his slouched posture heaving with every breath he drew inward.

Gwenevere stood, tears shimmering at the edge of her remorseful eyes.

“Thank you, for today,” she curtsied, before returning to her place atop the stairs.

Garrett remained motionless for a time, perched within the serene blackness of his tower like a statue. He shook his head, beyond baffled by the entire situation. Why did she waste those frilly manners on him like that? Why did she stare at him so? And quite possibly the question which haunted him most of all: Why did she--upper crust lady that she was-- want anything to do with a thief like him?

When he was sure that she was indeed asleep this time, Garrett felt around the empty socket with the base of his thumb, and stood. Slinking past a now slumbering Gwenevere, Garrett ascended the stairway, and propped his elbows against the window ledge. With his remaining eye, the thief looked out over the slumbering city, lost in a sea of deep contemplation.

***

“Wow, that was amazing!” squealed the little girl at his side. “That guy never even saw you coming!”

Garrett continued to hold the tattered black umbrella over both of their heads, though it was proving difficult. That impish little urchin of his never seemed to stop moving.

“Picking pockets is all about focus,” the thief lectured. “Don’t just think about what you’re after. You need to be thinking of everything else around you, too.”

“But I thought the objective was to cut the purse and get outta there as quickly as possible,” the doll-eyed girl at his waist protested.

“That’s part of it,” he cleared his throat. “But there’s so much more to it than that.”

“Like what?”

Garrett stopped, and so did the girl. He bent down in front of the child, and locked eyes with his new ward. It still seemed so alien and surreal--having someone to look after. Someone to come home to at night. Someone, to love.

“You have to be aware of your environment. That’s the big thing here,” he explained, still holding the worn umbrella aloft. “Who might be watching. How much noise the ground you’re walking upon makes with each step. Remember Erin: A thief, is an opportunist. And opportunistic beings, need to strike with not only speed, but also precision. Because a thief, never knows where his or her next meal is coming from.”

The child continued to hang upon his every word, her cerulean irises glistening against the gloomy backdrop of a leaden sky. It was the only blue Garrett had seen in three days.

“I think I get it,” Erin’s mischievous little smile returned. Then, she began scratching at the back of her neck again.

“What’s the matter?” Garrett raised an eyebrow. “You don’t have lice again, do you?”

Erin shook her head.

“No. It’s just...this new haircut itches a little.”

The thief stared down at the unkempt, boyish new look his apprentice was sporting. When first he’d found her, Erin had been a mess. Her mid-length black tresses were riddled with fleas and lice, and matted more than halfway down her back. Garrett was no expert when it came to looking after anyone other than himself, and even less skilled when it came to understanding how girls and women tended to their hair. Therefore, the thief saw to the child’s mangy locks in the same manner he saw to his own: His trusty dagger. Erin hadn’t cried when first she’d spied her new and butchered hairstyle within the mirror, but the thief could tell she’d wanted to.

“You’ll get used to it,” he grumbled. Standing back upright, the thief placed a hand upon Erin’s back and ushered her forward. “But to paraphrase tonight’s lesson, every successful job is made up of a series of much smaller tasks and obstacles. You remember that, and you’ll be one hell of a thief someday.”

The little girl snickered a bit at her guardian’s use of the forbidden swear. She’d never met another adult like him before. While he was stern, cynical, and often oblivious to her needs and desires, there was a certain characteristic about the thief which the child took comfort in: Regardless of all his faults, Garrett, was genuine. And he was always honest with her.
He did not sugarcoat things the way other adults did. Erin appreciated how simple and straightforward her new guardian was. The way he never talked down to her, despite her young age. Raindrops soaking her face, a sparkle glinted off the corners of her lips as she smiled.

“When I grow up, I wanna be just like you!” Erin proclaimed.

Garrett stopped walking and stared down at her, a visage of shock and concern twisting his features. How such an innocent statement managed to stir up such a volatile mixture of emotions was beyond him. The thief looked into the starry-eyed whimsy of the child’s face, wondering if she would indeed harbor the same aspiration, if she knew just how harrowing and cruel his life had actually been.

“Why would you want to be anything like me?” he murmured, though there was a genuine intrigue intermingled around his harsh words.

The child blinked, her expression both confused and disheartened. Garrett nearly flinched when her tiny hand found his.

“Why not?” the girl’s playful demeanor returned. “You’re so incredible, and smart, and just plain amazing! You saved my life...”

Erin hesitated, looking down at her feet for several seconds. She appeared almost guilty, as though she’d just broken some unspoken rule between them. Garrett cleared his throat again, prompting his nervous ragamuffin to jump.

“What is it, Erin?” he asked, his voice monotone and hesitant.

In all of his years spent plundering the night, Garrett had seldom been caught off-guard. He had taken down powerful cults, and banished frightening gods from the fabric of his world. But in spite of everything he’d since faced, every trial he’d overcome, it was three little words, straight from the mouth of a wide-eyed orphan, that ultimately rendered him thunderstruck.

“You’re my father...”

Though he remained stiff and reticent, Erin smiled as she felt his gloved hand gradually close around her own. And together, thief and apprentice headed for home upon that otherwise unremarkable rainy afternoon.

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