Chapter 1: Thief of the Market
“THIEF! THIEF!” The grocer yelled as he tore through the marketplace, looking for me. I pushed through the crowd subtly so people wouldn’t point their fingers. I walked into a nearby alley, hoping that he would give up or something. Nope, this guy was tenacious over a stupid peach. It wasn’t even a good one. It had a large bruise that anyone who would inspect it would notice. I was doing him a favor honestly.
Just as the grocer was about to approach the alleyway, guards stepped in. “Sir, I’m going to have to ask you to calm down.”
“‘Calm down?’ I just had my merchandise stolen from me! Instead of sticking around here and questioning me, you should look for the brat that stole my produce!”
“Alright, calm down. What do they look like?”
“Young, skinny, dirty! What else do you want?!”
As the guards tried to get yet another fleeting description of me, I wandered through the alleyways to get to another part of the market. The fancy part of the market where they only sold stuff to the rich people that no one really needed, like jewelry, perfumes, powders for your face, that kind of stuff. No merchants were wary of me here because I never had to take any of that stupid fancy stuff. The grocers, now they were wary of me, but since no one knew exactly who I was or what I looked like, I was still able to go in there without worrying about someone recognizing me right off the bat.
I leaned towards the market to listen to the gossip: the only real good part of the fancy part of the market. When they weren’t buying stupid stuff, they were talking to each other, almost trying to one up each other with who knew more. Very convenient for people who didn’t know anything, like me.
“The Lord of Fire has still not been found,” one man told another.
“It has been sixteen years since the other one has died,” the other replied.
“Yeah. It’s hard to believe that the Fire Seeker hasn’t found him yet,” the first man sighed.
“Yeah. Must be tough being the only one though, huh?” The second pointed out.
“The others died in accidents, right?”
“Yeah. The weirdest part is that they were all fire accidents.”
“Yeah. He’s the only one left.”
“At least he narrowed it down to the capital. I don’t know how much longer we can last without an absolute leader.” the other chuckled.
I knew the bare minimum of what they were talking about. The countries had their leaders that were ‘chosen by the Spirits’, Elemental Lords. For Terratin, it was the Lord of Earth; Aquaria had the Lord of Water; Vitia had the Lord of Life; Viersahlin had the Lord of Wind; then there was Pyra who was still missing the Lord of Fire. That’s pretty much what the rich people have been talking about for years. ‘Who’s gonna rule us’? Or ‘Maybe I should take over for the mean time.’ Stuff like that.
Then, the sounds of clanking metal seemed to overpower the chatter. “Look Mommy! It’s the guards! It’s the guards!”
“Be quiet dear,” the mother whispered. . . just barely. The clanging metal got louder and louder as I was getting further and further away. From the sounds of it, there were a more than I could count on my hand. I slinked further and further away from the market, something put me on edge. I couldn’t tell what, but something made me get out of there.
“Everyone stop!” There was a booming voice. That didn’t mean me. I wasn’t in the market. I made it around the corner when I heard the guards shout again “I SAID ‘EVERYBODY STOP’!” That made me stop. Once the shock melted from my system, I continued to shuffle away from them. If I ran, that might’ve made too much noise for that stickler guard. He must’ve been a nobility guard or something because he definitely wasn’t any of the guard rotations that I observed for the market.
“Fire Seeker?” Another guard called out. That was it. It was always that damn Fire Seeker. Something about him made me feel as if I should be on the other side of Pyra when he was around. I stopped caring if I made any noise and booked it.
It was easy to find my ‘house’ in the alleyway system because of the giant cloth I hung up. I pushed aside the cloth to reveal more cloth. I looked up: roof cloth. I looked down: floor cloth. I looked to the side: wall cloth. Bed: hammock (also cloth). Everything is cloth.
I looked at the floor, seeing all of the treasures I had accumulated over the years. Some being ordinary dolls and some being antique cups, gold jewelry, and fancy, ripped clothing. I rolled in my hammock, pulling up a blanket that I stole from a vender that had business of blankets and other things like that. Before I could fall asleep, I heard some steps from outside my little haven.
“Kaira? You in there?” a friend, if he could be counted as that, asked.
“No. Go away, Haroj,” I snapped back. Haroj entered my little section of the alleyway. His dark hair flopped over his forehead. He had tan skin, dark eyes that were narrowed at me, and his clothes were ripped and had stains all over them. He may sound mature, but he twelve and he dumb. He’s just like me: a street rat. The difference between us was the fact that he was really, really, really dumb.
“Well, this is a surprise. Kaira is being a bitch,” Haroj said, sarcastically.
“No. I’m being the nobliest noble that ever nobled. Now, what do you want?” I asked.
“You’re the best thief of the orphans, correct?” Haroj asked me.
“I wouldn’t say that.” I rolled away from Haroj.
“I have a job for you. This rich lady just slapped one of the little kids. We need to get her back,” Haroj said.
“No. There is no ‘we’. Get out.” I pointed to the giant cloth door.
“Come on. You have to help us,” Haroj said
“No, I don’t. Just get out,” I said again.
“I can’t just let this go, okay? We could be hit by a carriage and no one would give a shit. That needs to stop,” Haroj was trying so hard to convince me.
“But that’s not my problem. I don’t care about all of that. They can do whatever they want. We just have to focus on surviving. Now get out, before I hit you,” I said.
“You’re being such a bitch. You should help out the people in need,” Haroj said.
“I’m just as needy as you,” I said. “I need food, shelter, and water. But you saw me working at this ever since I was little. You guys need to do the same.”
“You damn bitch. They’re kids! They’re like only six!” Haroj screamed at me.
“Haroj. Listen. I dealt with you last week. I can only deal with you in small doses if at all. Now, leave,” I groaned.
“The kids are hungry!”
“Amazing! So am I!”
“I’ve been doing it for yeeeeears! You do something!”
“Well, that sounds like a personal problem. Now, shoo.”
“Tch. Bitch,” Haroj scoffed as he walked out of my haven.
I munched on some bread I swiped from a merchant as I walked the market for that day. Luckily, the old geezer didn’t notice. There were more people than the other day. All the talk was about him and how something happened yesterday, blah, blah, blah. He also made a public announcement that he was staying in the capital for a while.
Just my luck.
I polished off the bread and did my usual wandering through the marketplace. Nothing unusual was going on, until I heard the shouting.
“DAMN BRAT! ARE YOU THE MARKET THIEF?!” a grocer that I hadn’t stolen from yet shouted. I guess I was just so damn good that none of them could recognize me. I turned around and saw one of the little alley kid’s being yelled at by the grocer. The little boy looked nothing like me. I had tan skin. He had pale skin. I had red-brown hair. He had yellow hair.
“Please sir! I’m hungry,” the boy whimpered. People were staring at him as the grocer readied himself with a knife.
“That don’t matter. YOU THIEVES ARE ALL THE SAME!” The grocer raised the knife and was about to swing it. Before thinking, my feet took off and I knocked the knife out of his hand. “Damn girl. What the hell are you thinking?”
“I’m so sorry about my friend’s sister’s uncl--no--my friend’s sister’s brother’s former roommate’s cousin.” What are words? “You see, there’s this game his friends have been playing with him, and he’s been starting to think it’s real. So, I’m sorry. What did he take from you?”
“He took this,” the grocer showed a small melon. It was smaller than my fist.
Such a big fuss over a tiny, tiny melon. I thought to myself. I heard the market start up again. Perfect. “I’m sorry, that won’t happen again. But be careful, there’s another person playing his game,” I said. I pretended to look over his shoulder.
When the grocer did look over his shoulder, I swiped a large melon just to spite him. I rolled it off the table and cushioned the blow with my foot. Before anyone could tell him, I waved good-bye and started to kick the melon softly to roll with me. As I got farther away from the grocer, I pretended that I dropped the melon just before and picked it up with no one the wiser.
“Thank you!” the boy thanked me as he brought the melon to the other kids. They were so ridiculously happy.
“Oh, sure, now you help them,” Haroj rolled his eyes. How did he find me?
“On my time, not yours. Look, I couldn’t watch the kid be killed over a runty melon. If you’re going to be killed over stealing, better make it big,” I said.
“Wow. Just, wow. Now, how about--” Haroj said.
“Nope,” I interrupted him.
“You don’t even know what I was about to say!” Haroj screeched.
“With you, that could only go two ways: Steal all the time for the kids or steal from the fancy people to get stuff to sell or something. Then I’ll give the same answers: I can’t steal too many times because then they’ll see my face too often and then I can’t blend in with the crowd as easily and stealing stuff to sell is too risky because if they find the stuff with me, that’ll be hard to explain and then boom, dead. If you want to steal from the fancy people, fine. But I’m not going to do it.” I flourished my hands at the end to make my point. Haroj huffed as he rolled his eyes. “So glad we had this conversation.”
“Then at least teach them how to steal properly!” That was a new one.
“If too many people can steal well, vendors are going to notice then going to complain then BOOM! More guards. More guards mean that it’s even harder to steal, which means there’s definitely no food for anybody.”
“Why haven’t they done it after almost five years of you constantly stealing?”
“I’m practically a myth in the market. The only reason I have a ‘name’ is because one vendor tried to scare another about me and it spread like wildfire. The ‘Market Thief’ is someone that appears and takes the bad stuff that no one wants. No one knows when I’ll appear if at all. The only things they have to go on me is that I am a girl and I have brown or red-brown hair. Alright? If I keep stealing every day, there’s a higher chance that somebody’s going to recognize me and then--” I drew a line across my neck with my finger. “I don’t want that. So, I’m going to do things at my pace and not yours. Doing things at your pace are just asking for death.”
Haroj just grumbled some more before shrugging it off and went to check up on the other alley kids.
I took that as a victory.
Night time rolled around and I sat on top of the roof of a nearby house, overlooking the entire capital. Surrounding me were the houses that workers were in. They weren’t too big, but they had just enough room for them and their families. Sometimes they were a little bit too small. I was in the neighborhood where things were falling apart left and right on the houses. Those were for the poor workers. The roof I was on had holes every which way. The house next door had wood instead of a window. These were the houses we had to stick around because the guards wouldn’t listen to them if they complained about us. I looked up towards the edge of the wall and saw the richer houses. They were overly big and barely anyone to fill them with. If we even looked at them with the slightest bit of contempt, the guards were on our asses. It was annoying.
Then looming over all of us was that damn Ember Palace, reserved for the Lord of Fire and other fancy people. It was too big. It would take a lot of people to make that place feel full. Like a lot. Maybe even the whole capital. I chuckled as I thought of the fancy rich people in the same area as an orphan. They might faint or something. That would be funny. All the rich people fainting after just touching one of us.
My thoughts were interrupted by the sound of cracking of wood with some screams. Usually not a good sign. I waited until I heard the scream again before pushing myself to my feet. I walked along the rooftops, hopping across the gaps between houses until I got to the origin of the scream. There was a vendor I recognized in the middle of his crates of fish while two guys were raiding his stuff. I watched from the roof, wondering if I should get in the middle of it. That guy could recognize me when I’m in the market and then get a positive description to the guards.
“Please stop. My wife and children need this,” the vendor pleaded.
“Shut it!” One of the men growled.
“Feed ‘em one of the fish you’re sittin’ in,” the other scoffed.
“I ca--” the vendor started.
“I said ‘Shut it’!” The first one shouted, raising his hand which had something glinting in it.
I slid down from the roof and hit the ground. I made enough noise to distract all three of them. They went silent for a while, trying to figure out who was there. I picked up some rocks from the ground and threw them at the angry men, hitting them every now and then.
“What the hell?!” One of them shouted.
“Make me!” I said in the most petulant voice I could muster. Once I saw their figures come after me, I ran. I hoped that vendor had enough sense to get out of there with the time I was giving him. I ran through the alleyways, hopping over piles of trash and barrels of things as those men were catching up. I ran to one of the main roads, looking at the street as the moon lit it up along with some of the oil lamps lining the road.
“Stop running, you bitch!” the one who held the glinty thing in his hand shouted at me.
“Now why would I do that?” I shouted back as I ran down the main road towards the fancy part of the capital.
“I’m going to tear you in half!” The other one shouted. He was big enough to be intimidating without a glinty thing in his hand.
“First you have to catch me!” I laughed as I ran down the road. It was quite the ways to the fancy part, but I had to keep going or I was going to become quite the sight for the people in the morning.
The houses were getting bigger and I saw people starting to look out their window to see who was shouting at each other so much. Some of the people started to get out of their houses just to see what was happening. But I didn’t need them to be around. Where were those damn clanks of metal?!
Those guys must’ve gotten tired of running because they threw rocks at me.
“That’s cheating! You guys are cheaters!” I shouted at them as I tried to cover my head. Apparently one of them used that time to tackle me. Probably the bigger guy judging how bad it hurt.
This is what I get for being a decent human being.
After we stopped sliding, I managed to slip out from underneath the big guy and tried to get out of the way, but the other guy was waiting for me. He swung down his glinty thing, his very sharp glinty thing. Bits of my hair fluttered in the air after his sharp glinty thing was stuck in the road. I kicked him in the face, making him stumble over. I crawled away from the two guys. Where the hell were those damn guards? They had to have heard this by now, or at least of it from the people watching it.
The big guy grabbed my ankle and I fell flat on my face.
Where were those damn guards?! The one time I need them to be around me they aren’t! What the hell?! I slammed my fist against the ground. Just my luck, no guards and I was going to die helping a stupid vendor! What the hell?!
The grip around my ankle released and there were screams coming from all around me. I lifted my face off the ground and saw almost every single pole that had an oil lamp burning brightly. The fire quickly spread to the street. The whole city was lit up and screams were everywhere as people retreated out of their houses and away from the poles. The men that were chasing me were long gone and I was stuck in the middle of the fire.
I finally heard the clanks of the guards that should’ve been there as they tried to get people to safety. I stayed on the ground, watching the chaos that just. . . happened.
“Hey! We have someone in the street!” One of the guards shouted. Couple more clanks of armor to watch the girl in the middle of the street get burned alive.
“Go get her!” One of them shouted.
“You go get her!”
“You know I have a fear of fire!”
“It’s called ‘common sense!’”
There was a rumbling in the sky and a wall of water came down on us. The fire that spread from the street was gone but the oil lamps still had a little bit of flame going. There was a figure standing quite a bit from me covered in blue. He was Aquarian. There was a chorus of “Lord of Water!” or “Lord Sorak!” from the guards. I could feel him staring at me. I pushed myself to my feet, staring at that Aquarian man. He stared back but I couldn’t explain what I felt. I wanted to run away, but my feet were firmly planted to the ground, or something along those lines.
“Are you hurt?” The Aquarian, probably Lord Sorak called over. He took a step forward and my feet finally were able to move away from him. “Someone please call over Lord Ilidecian!” There were clanks of metal going away from the road. “I’m not going to hurt you.” He took another step towards me. “Lord Ilidecian will help you. He’s like me. He’s the Elemental Lord of Life. We’re here to help.” I took another step away from him. “Please.”
Before he could convince me to stay there, I ran.