Mumbling to himself as he staggered up the loamy path, Dirt
was incredulous, “How did she get in there?”
He knew it was a “her” because he had brushed up against her as they fought. Never had he thought of sex while struggling for his life, but her skin tight, black leather, pulled tightly over lean muscle, scintillating hips, and athletic breasts, sucked at his thoughts even now. He paid rapt attention to her beauty right up until she ran her sword over his ribs, and kicked him out of the second story window of the merchant’s office, leaving her alone with all of those government contracts.
His fingers fumbled to fold back the flap of pallid skin; bleeding badly, and melding with his brown leather jerkin. It probably won’t kill me, but I certainly need to mend, he thought.
Four months of planning, to just end up using his emergency escape route and holing up in one of his safes for the next few weeks. It just wasn’t fair. He started swearing under his breath, “By Loki’s lights, I knew every inch of that floor plan, I knew everyone’s schedules, I knew every last mouse and mite coming and going from that office. How in the HELL did she get in there?”
Dirt had a knack for stealing stuff. It had started at an early age, in the orphanage, supported more by need than by desire; now it was all desire. He was the best thief around and there wasn’t anything he couldn’t pilfer. Well, there wasn’t anything he couldn’t pilfer until tonight, right up until his unceremonious crash onto a pile of discarded roofing tiles that probably woke up half the city.
He thought to himself, How the HELL did she get in there, and who the HELL was she? No one has a right to be that fast, that strong, and certainly not that alluring all at once.
Dirt wriggled through the small opening in his safe and slid the false stone home, shutting out the world. Once secure inside, he set about making a poultice for the jagged wound on his ribs. He spit and groaned as he extricated the leather jerkin from his blood and sweat and said to no one in particular, “At least she had the decency to cut me with a sharp blade.” He spent several minutes flattening the colorless flap of bloodless skin back over the raw muscle, using the poultice to seal the edges, and then setting his needle to flame so he could stitch it down.
A roiling fever came on slow but picked up pace and hit hard. Dirt spent four agonizing days of acrid delirium sweating it back out through his pores. One realization solidified through the fog of the fever, “No one was that good; she had to have an Augment.”
Dirt needed otherworldly help. He wasn’t going to find an augmented thief by walking up on her in the local tavern, so the witch was his only option. He used her as infrequently as possible, because she had a way of making you open your soul to her visions. No self-aggrandizement, no excuses, no quaint justifications, just bone jarring truth. But right now, it was a fair trade; Dirt could take the truth, as long as it got him some information on the Bitch.
He had taken to calling her, “Bitch,” while fevered in his safe, but the name stuck in his mind and was now cemented in his dreams. He didn’t know if he wanted to peel off her skin, or peel off her clothes. Both had their promises of pain mixed with pleasure.
Dirt knuckled the little bell hanging next to the witch’s door, and she croaked out an unintelligible welcome. Shutting the door behind him left the room dark and dank with no circulation and heavy with incense.
“Come, come, my child. I have the answers you seek,” croaked the old witch behind the table, while waving her wizened hand. Her wrinkled, decaying age gave her the right to call anyone a child. Her smell, like rotting bacon and maple syrup, gave Dirt the urge to leave breakfast on the floor. Hints of succulence and long remembered delicacies, laced with sweetness and rot. Dirt felt drawn and repulsed simultaneously.
“What have you brought to offer, my child?” Her voice sounded like old bullfrogs.
Dirt replied, “Something special this time. Something worth the vision I’ll need.” He placed a small box with intricately carved dovetails on the table.
The old crone fumbled with the lid for only a moment, her arthritis delaying possession of the prize for only a split second. The glass eye staring back brought a quick smile to the wrinkled lips, and she gave the eye a kiss, like the forehead of a long lost grandchild. Her puckered lips reminded Dirt of a cat’s anus.
Dirt was in a hurry to get to his vision, “Let’s get this over with, old witch.”
The old hag slipped the box inside her robes and said, “Something special indeed, my child. I will need you to come closer this time. Special visions require different methods. And this will certainly be a spectacular one.”
Dirt scraped his chair up close, and the witch grabbed either side of his face, pushing her thumbs into the cheek bone, right under the eye. She had never done this before, and the thumbprints burned like Loki himself was boring into his face. The sacrifice of some quick pain was worth the vision and he refused to pull away until he received his due.
The old witch showed him the Bitch then. She was exactly the same under the light of day as she had been that night. The light did not diminish the black of her hair or the flash of her eyes. Eyes so dark they swallowed her pupils. The shadows of that night did not play tricks with her coloring like most. She moved through the throng with catlike grace and stopped briefly behind an obese noble yelling at his houseboy. Her move was so quick, only Dirt caught it, and her skill took his breath away. The fat purse matched the noble’s girth, and she walked away with a small fortune.
The vision swam and deposited him in her room. She was naked, and doubled over a writing desk. He thought, “Oh, if I was only there in person. I would pay her back with a sword of my own.” His lecherous desire almost spilled him from the vision. His urge to pull the thief to him and slap her bare behind clouded the witch’s vision momentarily as he refocused on his motivation. The witch’s truth was that Dirt wanted the Bitch, whether she welcomed it or not.
His focus swam again until he was looking at the object she caressed on the writing table. It was a small egg of polished granite. The top was grey, and the bottom was vibrant blue. The contrast of the colors was striking, and he could still see it’s aura if he closed his eyes. The Bitch deposited the egg in a small wooden box, clasping the lid with delicate fingers.
Dirt’s thoughts echoed, I knew she had an Augment. I KNEW it. The lurch of the vision pulled him outwards, and he stood outside her room, then nauseatingly outside on the street. She was staying in a local tavern called, “The Bitch’s Brew.”
You have got to be kidding me, echoed in his head as he exited the vision, rattling around like a seed in a gourd. Dirt was yanked back to face the putrid breath of the witch cackling in his face.
Dirt started his reconnaissance the very next day, using a disguise as an elderly gentleman to remain anonymous. He waited in the common room of the Bitch’s Brew for several hours, eating breakfast and lunch before he heard her door squeak open and then lock shut.
He expected to see the same striking figure but was greeted by something else entirely. She was no longer the lean, muscled, beautiful thief. She was dressed as a gruesome, obese beggar. She must have used prosthesis for her hips, as they were inhumanly large and swayed back and forth without conscience.
Dirt thought to himself, I bet those hips would still jiggle, even when she’s not moving, like the fat cut from a butchered hog.
The crown jewel of her disguise was a mole on her cheek. Not one of those cute moles that men find endearing. It was the circumference of a large apple, and clung to half of her face. She appeared to be growing barnacles like a ship docked too long at the bay.
Her inconsiderate hips bumped tables and patrons alike on her way out of the tavern. Dirt waited a few minutes before following her to watch her slog past traffic on the city streets.
Dirt saw plenty of available targets, but she paid them no heed, sauntering her way towards the city’s center. She was not an aimless thief, and Dirt could sense her determined focus on an unseen goal. No haphazard thievery here; it was like a pinpoint of light, focused on her predetermined objective.
She finally reached her destination, outside of the Commissioner’s summer home, settling against the wall to beg. The Bitch played the part well, even getting spit on a couple of times. But there were kind citizens as well, and each copper that landed in her hand quickly disappeared into her robes.
Dirt thought to himself, Why beg when you can steal, Beggar Bitch? Her approach made absolutely no sense. She was getting coppers instead of gold. He thought back on the fat noble in the witch’s vision; remembering her augmented blend of speed and dexterity. A critical Dirt continued his thoughts, She is not putting her skills to effective use.
Dirt watched her for hours, blending into the shadows of an alley with a good view of her squalid little gutter. Shifting his position as the sun faded to take advantage of longer shadows and clearer observation.
Late into the night, with barely a moon to see by, Dirt could swear she slept. A citizen out very late, or very early, threw a charitable copper in her lap, but she made no move to collect it. Dirt could feel something was odd, a niggling feeling of hair standing up on the back of his neck, but couldn’t quite put a finger on it. He rubbed blood into his legs and stretched in preparation for whatever might happen.
Then he saw her; just a glimpse of black against the sliver of moonlight, stretching out of the Commissioner’s window, and shimmying around the side of the building.
Dirt mumbled to himself, “Well, Loki be damned. How in the hell did she get out of the hips, and into the building? She’s a damned magician if I’ve ever seen one.” He glanced back and could still see the empty husk of the obese beggar with a shiny copper winking in its lap. She was able to shrug off the disguise without notice, even though Dirt had a trained eye and watched vigilantly throughout the night.
Dirt whispered to the empty air, “I have got to get my hands on that Augment.” Then rushed down the next alley to catch her trail.
The Bitch pressed her back against the wall of the Commissioner’s office and extended her legs to the wall of the building next door, cradling a huge sack of coin on her thighs. Using the friction, she was crab walking down the building to the ground when the alarm sounded. Some idiot in the building was clanging a bell like an invalid having a seizure.
Dirt thought, By Loki’s balls, she stole the taxes, as a half dozen guards poured from the surrounding buildings. Augment or no, he doubted she could fight all of them.
He watched as the Bitch slid to the ground, and melded with the shadows at the base of the alley. The city guards set up a perimeter and were slowly closing the noose. It was time to get involved.
Being an outside observer gave Dirt the surprise he needed; the guards were not expecting danger from behind. As silent death, he crept up behind the nearest of the searchers. Dirt ended it quickly with a gloved hand over the guard’s mouth and six inches of steel dagger in his kidney. He pulled the limp body into the dark shadows, while a wash of warm blood ran down his forearm and dripped sluggishly onto the cobbles. The noose dropped away from the Bitch’s neck.
The Augment flared for a split second; a light blue aura around the cord on her neck, and she sensed the opening. The Bitch darted through like a cat with its tail on fire, and Dirt watched her fly past with renewed desire. He didn’t know which he wanted more; the cold Augment pressed against his chest, or her hot breath against his neck.
There were several surprises from the Bitch over the next few weeks of disguised reconnaissance. Dirt learned that she wore her Augment whenever she went out, learned that she enjoyed spiced cider and a hot bath, and that she never took a lover to her room. The biggest surprise of all was that she only stole from the government; returning the hoard of money in discreet amounts to orphanages, healers, and honest businessmen.
That was the cement in Dirt’s mind, he would steal the Augment rather than try to conquer her. The Bitch was using the Augment in a pathetic attempt to be righteous. But Dirt knew better. The honest businessmen cheated on their wives and had bastard children in the seamier parts of the city. The healers were working on poisons in their cellars; keeping their clientele sick enough for continued profit. The orphanage was run by a slobbering pedophile. Giving them money just gave them license to further their crimes and indiscretions.
The Bitch was out late last night in another exhausting thievery of a Constable’s lock box. Dirt knew the routine; steal, escape, spiced cider, hot bath, deep sleep. Today was the day to swipe an Augment from a thief.
Dirt deftly unlocked her door while she was pouring the buckets of hot water into her tub, covering any click of the latch with the splash of water. He stood for several minutes, listening for the drop of boots, the squeak of leather, and finally, the exhalation of breath while sinking into soothing hot water.
It won’t be long now. Sleep, Bitch, sleep, he thought. He concentrated his hearing on the other side of the door and waited until he could hear measured, relaxed breaths and stepped through. He had oiled the hinges during one of her previous excursions, and the swing of the door was silent. The back of the Bitch’s black mane was damp with water, and he could see the crest of her breast just past her head. The even rise and fall of her chest, coupled with glistening hot water beckoned to his carnal desires. The hypnotic combination of nudity and steam left him conflicted. But Dirt fought it off, and shook his head, thinking, That’s not what I came for.
The writing desk was near the door. He slid over on silent, padded feet, as only an experienced, master thief could do, and snatched the wooden box. As soon as the Augment was in his possession, he replaced the box with a replica he carved himself and then sulked backwards out of the room. Stopping for one last, lustful look at her nude body before slipping into the hall and closing the door silently behind him.
It took all of his years of training and experience to remain calm, walk the hall and the common area of the tavern with purposeful, but unhurried strides. He actually giggled as he stepped out onto the street, unable to hold back his giddiness. An uncontrollable smile split over his teeth, and he quietly exclaimed, “Not every day that an Augment gets swiped, let alone from someone as quick and clever as the Bitch.”
The Augment called for him to use it. But he resisted temptation and left it in his safe so he could spy on the Bitch the next day. He wanted to gloat over the object of his attentions; to see her reaction at the loss of the Augment. The Bitch’s reaction was not what he expected, but he gloated nonetheless. Perhaps she hadn’t discovered that her prized possession had been lifted.
She packed her bags, loaded up a carriage, and rode away from the city. Dirt followed her to the city gates and watched longingly until the transport became a black dot; finally disappearing. He lingered at the border of the city with only memories of her sweaty body, her damp raven colored hair, and her dark, sultry eyes. Those memories flashed only when he blinked and he cherished the afterimages of his greatest victory. The only evidence that she had passed this way were two lines in the mud that converged to a point over the horizon. Even the carriage tracks would soon disappear under the crush of other travelers, and scouring of the weather.
Tonight was the night. Dirt would take the Bitch’s Augment and steal from the Prince himself. Nothing was safe from his talents; if he wanted it, he was going to take it.
Dirt settled the Augment against his chest, and pulled a loose jerkin over his head; heading out into the night. The Augment swung back and forth with his movements and bumped a cool trail from side to side.
The Augmented thief scaled a tree near the Prince’s compound and dropped silently to the top of the surrounding wall. The moonlight exposed his silhouette, but the guards outside would have to turn to see it. Guards always search the horizon; they never expect anything to get behind them.
Dirt followed the high defenses until he reached his chosen entry point. A window in the top floor of the Prince’s treasury room. The Augment was already working in his favor; the window was slightly ajar. He pulled a series of short tubes from his belt and fastened them together, painstakingly fashioning a hollow tube that reached from the wall to the window. He strapped a sheep’s bladder on both ends with tightly wound string blowing in the tube to inflate the bladders as much as possible.
His mind was working brilliantly, and this little tool was a fantastic creation. Clearly the Augment was helping his preparations. He slid the end of his invention under the window, and gently squeezed the inflated bladder on the nearest side. The opposing balloon expanded until it rested against the bottom of the window and the sill, and then built pressure and slowly lifted the window completely open.
Dirt tied the bladder down, and left the tool in place. He crouched to build up enough power for the jump, and dove through the window, somersaulting as his head neared the floor. The maneuver brought him instantly to his feet. The interior of the room was lit from the window behind him, and he was blind to the dark corners opposite his entry.
Finely tuned senses alerted him to the danger his eyes could not see; he felt stealthy movements and heard breath slide past teeth. He hauled out his sword and dagger and stabbed wildly into the dark. Dirt expected the steel to meet flesh, but his sword clanged against a metal shield and sent sparks flying. The sparks exposed a return blow speeding towards his neck; frozen in the brief strobe of metal on metal. He barely caught the blow with his sword and dagger. Not fully blocked, he only managed to redirect it to the side of his head. The edge cut above his ear, hit his skull, and slid towards the sky, opening a large flap of scalp.
Augment or no, Dirt knew when to cut and run. He hurled himself back out the window. It was not a repeat of the graceful dive upon entry; it was a desperate lunge to save his skin. He crashed through two panes of leaded glass, and landed on the wall with his midsection. The unforgiving stone drove the breath from his lungs, and he barely hung on while unsuccessfully sucking at the air.
Blood from his head dripped carelessly down into his eyes, and gave a red tint to his surroundings as he tried to blink it away. Dirt rolled up on top of the wall, balanced his way back to the tree and then followed gnarly branches to a nearby roof. The guards would not be able to follow him from the ground, and the rooftop escape route was a genius piece of preplanning. He fled, jumping from roof to roof, with his scalp flapping goodbye like a vain hairpiece.
The safe was just that. Safe. Several times, the Prince’s men had almost caught him, in a dogged effort to chase him down and make him pay. Dirt barely avoided them and slipped into his safe with mere moments before the guards ran past the invisible cellar. The strapping over the stone would hold even if they prodded it, appearing to normal eyes to be part of the foundation of the tannery above.
For the second time, Dirt found himself gently pulling a jerkin over a nasty wound that would have to be stitched down. The gory mess of his scalp worried him and he thought, What if the hair never grows back? What if I have a bald patch? What if the skin dies and I have an exposed skull forever?
He approached the burnished copper mirror to inspect the damage and to clean the gaping wound, but the Augment caught his eye. It swung across his chest, wiping a streak of sweaty, blue paint in a small arc. The blue arc, coupled with his pale nipples, created a perfect representation of a vindictive smile and two knowing eyes. He yelled out in realization, “You set me up! You, YOU……..BITCH!”