It was the first time Gwenevere had ever walked these streets with another soul, yet she’d seldom felt so alone. The man beside her clearly did not believe in decorum, because as they made their way through those chilly, derelict alleyways, Garrett made no attempt to hide his displeasure.
Every so often, Gwenevere would hear him release a loud huff, or mutter something about Basso under his breath. A few times, she’d been brave enough to inquire--but her friendly investigations were always met with a horribly daunting glare.
Gwenevere huffed herself, gazing up at the sea of chimney smoke dancing above her. The moon was her only source of illumination, as she continued to trail the reserved hoodlum further into the unknown blackness. She chanced a look at her reflection within a murky puddle of half-frozen, stagnant water, and noticed that the celestial body seemed to be trembling as much as she was.
How she wished the man would at least acknowledge her as more than some unwanted tag. After all, she was to be his house guest for at least the time being. And from what Gwenevere had observed thus far from the rancorous criminal, that arrangement was doomed to be awkward, at best.
“So...what street do you live on anyway?” she tried her best to smile, before adding with a quick little giggle, “it feels like we’ve been walking forever.”
“It’s only been ten minutes,” Garrett groused. “Don’t tell me your fancy shoes are hurting your feet already?”
Craning her head to the side, Gwenevere lifted her leg and began examining one of her fur-lined slippers.
“Oh no,” she remarked, hoping to alleviate his misidentified concern, “no, these are actually quite comfortable.”
Well la-di-da... the thief shook his head with a loud snort, neither slowing nor ceasing his pace.
He rolled his eyes when not thirty seconds later, his unwanted trainee piped up again. Garrett wondered if they indeed manufactured muzzles for girls like her. If so, he sincerely planned on obtaining one.
“I was just wondering, because we seem to be heading towards the center of town,” Gwenevere added.
“Excellent observation,” the thief quipped in a snide tone, “you sure are one clever girl.”
“Not particularly,” Gwenevere blushed, missing the obvious sarcasm in Garrett’s words, “but gee, thanks!”
“Uh-huh...” the thief muttered to himself.
“So, where DO you live? There aren’t any houses in the center of Stonemarket, ya know? That’s why I asked. It’s all just stores, and street vendors mostly. But there’s also a potion shop, and a few small bakeries too,” the girl leaned forward, eyeing him cautiously, “Say, you don’t happen to live in one of those bakeries, now do ya?”
Garrett finally stopped walking, and glared down at her.
“Do I look like the sort of guy who bakes bread?”
“Well, no...” Gwenevere shuffled her feet. “I just supposed there would be no harm in asking...”
“Idiot,” Garrett grumbled, before resuming his pace. Gwenevere shrugged off his latest insult, and ran forward to catch up with him.
“So, where DO you live?” she asked again, breathless with excitement.
“If I didn’t answer you the first time, what makes you think I’ve changed my mind?” the hooded man snapped.
“Well, it’s been a few seconds at least anyway,” the girl grinned. Garrett contained another sigh behind his taut lips, coming to a halt.
Gwenevere stared up at him, watching with burgeoning interest as the thief pointed his finger up towards the one structure in all of Stonemarket that the naïve girl had dismissed as his possible abode. Her green eyes widened, her mouth flopping open in abject wonder as she beheld the majestic structure. The spire of the tower seemingly pierced the moon, as ravens and smoke encircled it like a living nocturnal crown. The girl tightened her grasp upon her navy blue cloak, as if trying to keep her spellbound heart from leaping straight out of her chest.
“Wow...” she gaped, her mouth so wide that Garrett could have peered down her throat if he’d desired. “You live there?!”
“Yes,” he grumbled, still incredibly uncomfortable with her being privy to that delicate information.
Garrett had known random passersbys better than he knew this girl--and he’d had a much better rapport with them to boot. In all honesty, neither himself--nor that jolly drunk pal of his--were entirely aware of just what this strange kid was capable of. What her true nature was like, or why she had chosen to become a thief--beyond snubbing her obviously conventional parents.
A more trusting individual might have laughed at his paranoia. After all, how could the rogue possibly suspect such a foolish child of foul play? Even if she wanted to be, Gwenevere was far too clumsy and small to be any sort of threat to him. But an unfortunate--and frankly, horrifying--event nearly two decades ago, had taught Garrett two very important lessons: Never trust a noble, and never trust a pretty face.
Even still, the moonlighter had a difficult time picturing her pulling a knife on him. But he’d be keeping a constant eye on her, just to be sure.
“So, shall we?” Gwenevere’s voice rang like a church bell through the dreary streets, causing Garrett to tense.
“Shall we what? And keep your bloody voice down!” he hissed.
“Oh, sorry...” she reached for a strand of her lavish red hair again, with the full intention of chewing on it. It was a nervous tick of hers, and one which disgusted the thief most thoroughly. “I was just wondering if I should start climbing?”
The way his face revolted, gave the girl her answer.
“You want to climb up the side of the clocktower?” he asked in a cynical voice, raising an eyebrow at her. “Well, I suppose that’s one surefire way to get yourself killed.”
“B-but, I mean, isn’t that how YOU do it?” Gwenevere stammered.
“Tch, no. You’d get spotted by the city watch for sure pulling a stunt like that. You’d have to be a right taffing idiot to access the clocktower that way. The Hammerites built doors around the parameter for a reason.”
“Oh...” Gwenevere looked down at her feet, shame coating her sullen posture.
“I’ll show you the simple entrance, Gigi. Come on,” Garrett gestured for her to follow, then pointed at her busy mouth. “And drop it. You really shouldn’t be chewing on your hair like that.”
Gwenevere did as she was bade, spitting the damp tresses away from her teeth and lips. Then, she gleefully skipped down the street after a very frustrated Garrett.
Chasing after Garrett by fleeting moonlight had been challenging enough. Now, betwixt a forgotten realm of dust and cobwebs, Gwenevere found herself positively lost. Uncertainly crept and teased at the corners of her confidence, as her eyes struggled to find her mentor amidst the blackness. It was fruitless; like trying to locate a single drop of rain amidst a raging river. The thief, truly was the master of this place. A shade, wandering the gloomy and depressing confines of worlds long forgotten by most. She called out for him several times, but to no avail.
It was within this stretch of their untoward acquaintanceship, that Gwenevere became all-too aware that Garrett was trying his best to be rid of her. To lose her within this sinister city of murky danger. Brushing a cobweb from her sanguine mane, the girl began to crawl on all fours through the remainder of the musty tunnel. She found it was much easier to get her bearings in a new situation, when she could feel the earth beneath her fingers.
Thankfully, little deduction proved necessary, as the tunnel neither branched nor veered. Gwenevere yipped in discomfort as the top of her head bumped into something hard, and quite creaky. Rubbing her forehead with a miserable little groan, she pushed upward on the obstruction. It lifted with ease, revealing the inner workings of Garrett’s secret domicile.
In the time it had taken Gwenevere to find her way through dark and unfamiliar territory, the thief had managed to get a rather healthy fire going within a large steel barrel. The girl stared from her place below the floor, mesmerized by the vibrant hues of amber and red as they crackled and danced. She watched as Garrett ran his hands over their luster, his face sullen, and his eyes dark. Almost as though, he’d already forgotten about her.
Sensing that something was amiss, Garrett turned in the direction of the trap door. He blinked when he saw Gwenevere there, the wooden hatch propped up by her mop of messy red hair. She smiled, and crawled free from the passage, a sheepish expression donning her cherubic face.
“Took you long enough,” Garrett sneered, turning his attention back to the fire. Gwenevere began dusting herself off.
“Well, I might not have gotten lost down there, if you hadn’t run off like that!” she snapped.
“How do you get lost in twenty feet of direct passage?” Garrett smirked.
“That isn’t the point!” the girl crossed her arms, after flicking a cobweb from her hair. “How can you call yourself any sort of teacher, when you don’t even keep a close eye on your students?!”
The thief’s brows furrowed at her uppity little attitude. Turning to face her, Garrett pointed a stiff, accusatory finger in Gwenevere’s face.
“Stop right there,” he growled. “First of all, you’re not my student. Second of all, I’m not your teacher. I’m doing a job, and you just happen to be part of it.”
“I see,” the girl sneered. “So, just how many ‘jobs’ like me have you completed thus far, huh?”
“Seven. You’re the eighth,” Garrett replied coldly.
“Oookaaay, why do you keep doing this then, if you hate it so much?”
“Typical of your kind to ask that,” the thief belittled her. “I do it to get paid, princess. It keeps me in shape, and it’s the easiest way to make good coin these days, thanks to ‘Old Man Existentialist’...”
“Who?” Gwenevere gawked in utmost confusion. Garrett took notice of the fact that she hadn’t denied being a princess.
Also typical, he mused, and went back to rubbing his hands over the fire.
“Basso,” he grumbled.
“Basso?” Gwenevere repeated, beginning to wonder why someone like Basso still lived in the slums, if he had so much extra money.
A part of her wanted to ask Garrett about it, but she quickly deduced that he wouldn’t give her a straight answer. It was, after all, none of her business. However, the young woman decided internally that she would inquire about it to the boxman upon their next meeting. Basso was, after all, far less uptight than his hooded companion.
“Yeah. But housing a snotty little whelp like you cost him extra. The others were all at least competent enough to have their own places...” Garrett demeaned.
“Well,” she cleared her throat with a delicate cough, “you didn’t exactly give me much time to find a place.”
Garrett glared at her again.
"What?" he hissed, irked by the girl’s near-constant disrespect towards him. Intimidated, Gwenevere felt her bold composure empty out of her shuddering body like blood.
“W-what I mean is,” she stammered, “I-I’m a runaway who’s been living in the slums for less than a week...”
“Yeah? So where were you staying before Basso found you?”
“Beneath a bridge in Dayport,” Gwenevere proclaimed, puffing out her chest. “And actually, I found him.”
“Huh, I would have guessed a flophouse,” the rogue grinned. “Course, they usually charge money, and I doubt you’ve successfully stolen any of that.”
Gwenevere’s eyes went wide in stark astonishment.
“A flophouse!? Why, that doesn’t sound safe at all! Wouldn’t it just fall over?”
Slowly, Garrett’s eye began to twitch in reaction to the naïve girl’s peculiar response. His jaw taut, the thief swallowed the lump of warm saliva within his throat as he gawked at her. After a few seconds of awkward stares and silence, he finally shook his head and uttered a mumbly, “forget about it...”
Gwenevere, did just that.
It was quiet for a time. Garrett continued to warm his frigid body by the fire pit, while Gwenevere listened intently to the way the crackling flames echoed throughout the heart of the City’s forsaken timekeeper. She wondered how long the massive structure had been standing; the girl’s knowledge of anything beyond the gilded walls of her palace, sparse guesswork at best. Perhaps more than anything, she wondered why Garrett had chosen to live here. Flames reflected within her wild emerald eyes, as Gwenevere marveled upward at the long shadows cast against the now lifeless clockface. The mangled beams and motionless gears especially, served to create quite monstrous silhouettes.
“Garrett?” Gwenevere finally decided to break the torment of silence. The thief, did not respond.
“Garrett!” she tried again. This time, Garrett answered her with an annoyed grunt. Taking his crude acknowledgment as a sign of progress, she tried once again.
“WHAT?!” he snarled, whirling around to face her, his eyes ablaze. The girl gulped, recoiling from his furious outburst.
“Umm...well I was just curious, is all...” she peeped.
“Of what? How long it takes to get a rise outta me?” the thief sneered.
“No,” Gwenevere pouted. “I was just wondering about the other trainees. You know? The ones you helped before me?”
Garrett sighed hard, then stepped away from the fire pit to face her.
“Alright. First of all, I didn’t ‘help’ anyone, okay? I was paid. Second of all, why the taff do you care?”
“Well, I just kind of want to know what’s going to be expected of me. I want to know what sort of things I’ll be learning, so I can strive to do my best!” the girl proclaimed with a smile.
Garrett rolled his eyes again. He realized that he’d been doing that almost constantly since meeting Gillian.
“I wouldn’t worry about any of that. I don’t expect anything out of you. You’re nothing like the others...”
Gwenevere wilted, visibly hurt by his callous remark. But her demeanor perked up with ease, when another question entered her ever-curious mind.
“Well, that’s okay. I’ll still do my best out there!” her eyes seemed to glisten within the dim light of that forgotten place. “So, what were the others like?”
“They were from the streets. Their parents were criminals. They’d leave a girl like you battered and bleeding in the gutter if given half the chance. Some of them, even had actual talent,” Garrett growled. “Like I said; nothing like you...”
“Aw, come on!” Gwenevere begged. “That doesn’t tell me anything--be a sport, Garrett!”
“I’d rather not.”
The girl began to pout again, her brows furrowed and her lips pursed.
“Well then, what about your first trainee? What were they like? What made you decide to begin taking on apprentices in the first place?”
Garrett’s body grew rigid, his eyes flashing like diamonds in the darkness. Whether this obnoxious brat knew it or not, she’d just asked a loaded question. One that the thief would sooner slit her throat than answer.
“Thought Basso told you about that already...” he muttered in a reticent, dismal voice.
“Well, he told me there was a girl involved, so I decided not to pry,” Gwenevere cheeped in a cheerful tone which juxtaposed his own. “Sounded personal...romantic even!”
“It wasn’t anything like that,” Garrett snorted, noticeably disgusted by the very notion. Gwenevere craned her head to the side like a curious puppy.
“Oh? So what was it like then?” she asked.
“I’ve told you before--you should mind your own business.”
“Okay, fine. Be like that!” she fumed. “Let’s move on. How long have you been doing this sort of thing?”
“What? Housing ignorant little rich kids? As I told you before--this would be a first,” Garrett sneered.
“Oh come on. Don’t be like that! You knew what I meant!” she encouraged.
“And what if I don’t?”
“Oh, you...” Gwenevere rolled her eyes. “What I mean is, how long have you been stealing stuff?”
“I, ‘steal stuff’ to survive, Griselda,” Garrett groused, clearly offended by how disrespectful she was being. “A man’s gotta eat. I had rent to pay. Had equipment to purchase, so forth and so on,” he trailed off nonchalantly.
Gwenevere looked around, examining the inside of the immense and dusty clocktower again. She crooked a brilliant red eyebrow in utmost confusion.
“But...you live here. Surely the City doesn’t rent out the clocktower!”
From her tone, Garrett wasn’t sure if the girl was being sarcastic, or completely stupid. In his opinion however, it sounded much more like the latter.
“Don’t get cute,” he scoffed dryly.
“Was I? Whatever did I say that was so cute?” Gwenevere inquired.
Garrett shook his head, and started back towards the fire pit. He wasn’t going to enjoy this, and yet, he had to endure it. After all, he had done worse things as ‘favors’ for Basso, always with the reminder of an owed favor cajoling him from the back of his mind. A favor for a favor. It was about the only honor code people in his line of work had. At least in Garrett’s bitter opinion.
As the flames crackled and danced, devouring the sparse bits of charcoal and paper in their wake, Garrett began to wonder if he truly needed an extra favor. His instincts had only sharpened over the years, and he rarely required anyone’s assistance anymore--even for maps or information these days. However, the bulging sack of silver at his belt, placated these nagging thoughts.
“Garr-ett!” Gwenevere cried out, once again pulling the rogue away from his personal thoughts. He had a sinking premonition, that this was going to be happening a lot.
“What is it now?” Garrett groaned with utmost annoyance. “Isn’t it past your bedtime or something?”
“So, what DO you do with all of your money?” Gwenevere asked, ignoring his question.
“I thought I told you to mind your own business,” the irate moonlighter groused. “Like, four times already...”
Gwenevere crossed her arms, beginning to pout again, her long red bangs dangling over the sides of her face. Another man might have found the entire display relatively cute, but Garrett had never cared for the self-entitled, prissy types. Girls in women’s clothing, who believed that their looks would secure them whatever it was they fancied. Tramps who believed themselves akin to sirens and nymphs in relation to the alluring powers they held over most men within their domain.
How he delighted in seeing the look on their pretty little faces, when these privileged ladies discovered that their so-called ‘powers’ were useless against the hooded shadow invading their boudoirs. Garrett’s blackjack, had never been discriminatory. And neither, had he.
“Fine. Then I’m not going to tell you anything about me either!” the girl affirmed, turning up her tiny nose.
“Works for me. Keep your trap shut, and maybe you’ll actually learn something from me. The sooner you learn how to steal correctly, the sooner I can have my tower back,” Garrett countered. “We’re not partners, and we’re not friends. I don’t give a rat’s ass about you. Try to remember that.”
Gwenevere frowned. She turned her head, the fire illuminating her ruby hair in a soft orange glow as she began to examine the surrounding area. Peering upward, the tower’s core seemed to ascend forever. Only the sparse rays of moonlight filtering in through long-neglected cracks in the foundation served to prove otherwise.
From what few first impressions the place gave, Gwenevere could tell that the tower was well-lived in. There was a filthy mattress practically thrown into the corner of the room, and several broken barrels and crates lying nearby. Crumbled up wrappers, and bent tin cans presumably used as food containers lay scattered about, some quite thick with dust.
About the only part of the room that wasn’t in a state of decay, was the bright area to her right. Illuminated by the gentle radiance of the moon, were several display cases, each housing rare and beautiful treasures. One in particular--an elegant yet simple bronze ring, caught Gwenevere’s eye. She would never have even noticed such a mundane trinket, had it not been situated on its very own pedestal in the center of the thief’s collection. The tactful and loving way such prizes had been arranged, caused the morose girl to smile.
“You certainly take great pride in your work, regardless as to why you do it, Garrett,” she complimented in a sincere tone.
He didn’t bother to answer her this time, so instead, the young woman began to quietly observe his every motion with a keen, and utmost interest.
As she did so, more questions began to eke into the folds of her mind. Why would one as skilled and wise as this man choose to live in a dilapidated tower? Had something terrible happened to him, or had things always been this way? Although Garrett acted content within his realm, Gwenevere was certain that there was a very good reason as to why he seemed to treat all others with an aloof, and distanced contempt.
His bi-colored eyes held a serious, almost fractured expression. The girl’s own inquisitive green optics flashed in the darkness. Though it had been a very long time ago, she had observed such an expression once before. It was the visage of utmost suffering. Silent grimaces, and dead eyes struggling to keep ones darkest traumas chained and hidden. But naïve and unassuming as she was, Gwenevere knew such struggles always proved futile in the end.
After all, master thief though he was, Garrett was still a mortal man. And mortal men, could not wrestle back their demons forever.