The night was filled with fog so thick one could hardly see a hand in front of their face, let alone a gang of boys lurking across an alleyway. This particular passage was especially dim—one of the few in the Industrial Domain still lit with gas lamps instead of electric lights.
Everett waited patiently for their target to reach the flickering street lamp on the corner. That’s when he’d give Glasser the signal.
His nights were often spent in this fashion: scouting wealthy areas for the boys to pickpocket. It was their way of life. But lately it had become tiresome. It wasn’t that Everett had suddenly developed a fresh moral outlook on stealing. The rich hoarded their wealth and could afford to lose a few coins—especially in the Industrial Domain. Industrialites spent ridiculous amounts on trinkets and baubles designed to assist with tedious tasks like brushing teeth and knotting gold-‐‑embossed bow ties. Everett heard there was now a machine designed to tie shoes! Citizens of the Industrial Domain had actually grown too lazy to bend over their own stuffed bellies. What was this bloody world coming to?
Checking the pocket-watch in his waistcoat, he felt twitchy. He always felt this way before something bad happened. Tonight, he had an idea of where that bad feeling may be coming.
Normally, he and his brethren kept a low profile when thieving. They only targeted those who looked as though they could afford it. No more than a couple targets a week, and never in the same spot. Ignoring these rules was exactly how people got caught, and Glasser was growing dangerously close to overstepping that line.
The fool had been pushing high-end hits in the same wealthy areas, night after night. The others said nothing because of the payout. The upstart had even roughed up the last couple of targets, leaving them with black eyes, a broken arm in one case. There had been a small blurb about it in the back of the local paper, Industrial Highlights. The boys weren’t exactly making headlines, but they were garnering attention, which was both foolhardy and dangerous.
Ever since hitting puberty, Glasser had been reckless. Their patriarch, Varlet, had warned them about the powerful effects of hormones. He’d said the onset of manhood was a delicate time in which it was the most important—and the most difficult—to keep a level head. Glasser was not adjusting well to this transition. Then again, the boy rarely listened. Everett was only sixteen himself, but he heeded his lessons and learned fast, faster than the other boys. And definitely faster than Glasser.
The flash of an emerald necklace caught his eye, pulling him back to the here and now. Their target had finally reached the hissing lamppost. Everett pulled a flint lighter from his vest and flicked it once as the target turned onto the side street. Almost instantly, his four companions, headed by Glasser, hurried into the alley, hot on the lightly clicking heels of the lady’s shiny designer shoes.
Everett never felt bad for stealing, not when the choice was between a new necklace for an air-headed Industrialite or a meal for him. But he had never relished the taste of harming others. However, theft kept him fed, healthy, and even funded his experiments. Experiments sure to make him rich, boosting him to a whole new level of thievery where people would happily hand him their money, rather than Everett happily handing himself their money. That'ʹs all business is, really: stealing the honest way.
Everett waited a moment, making sure the street was deserted, and followed the boys into the sideway. He could faintly hear the woman struggling as he approached.
“We got it,” one of the boys called as they rushed past with the necklace. "Best hurry back to the Boiler Room, it’s getting late.”
“What about Glasser and Hodge?” Everett asked.
“Said they’d meet us. Don’t worry, we got the jewels,” the other boy insisted as they hurried into the fog.
Everett moved to follow when he heard muffled screaming from the passage behind him. Were Hodge and Glasser still holding the girl? What where they up to now?
Cautiously, Everett stepped back against the heavily shadowed wall and crept forward. When his eyes finally adjusted to the dim alleyway, he spotted three figures in the mist. Something was wrong.
“Hurry up then,” Hodge whined impatiently. "How many more valuables could she possibly have?”
“Quite a few.” Glasser’s chuckle was low and dark. “Why don’t you run along? She won’t put up a fight. Will you, dearie.”
“You never leave a brother without back up. Rule number one,” Hodge insisted.
“If you get into trouble, Varlet’ll take it out on me.”
“Do it! And if I find you’ve told anyone, I’ll have your head on a pike," Glasser threatened.
Without another word Hodge ran off, passing Everett without so much as a blink of an eye.
Silently, Everett approached Glasser and the target.
When he finally reached them, anger flamed red in his cheeks. It was now clear exactly which valuables Glasser was after—the degenerate was fussing with the lady’s skirts. Everett could put up with the attitude, even the violent tantrums, but this was the last straw. Someone had to teach Glasser a lesson.
Unhitching a leather case at the side of his belt, he turned a small crank within, thus initiating the chain reaction. He only ever used his defense mechanism in emergencies, but Glasser was spry. Who knew what he would do when confronted. A gentle humming—taut with unseen energy—coursed through the line that ran up Everett’s back, over his left shoulder, and down to his hand.
His steps were careful as he approached the struggling pair; one wrong move and the blade Glasser had at the girl’s throat might slip.
Everett knew he would get the drop. Glasser was too busy getting tangled in her petticoats. Everett was suddenly glad it was fashionable for Industrialite women to wear so many flouncy layers.
In an instant, he snatched Glasser’s dagger and placed a hand to the heathen’s neck. The bright electric current dropped Glasser to the ground before he could utter a word.
“Run,” Everett told the girl.
Mute with shock, she gathered herself and hurried down the way, finding her voice to wail for the police once she reached the open street.
Glasser lay on the cobblestones struggling to regain the use of his muscles. Everett would have to adjust the power next time—the scoundrel was already coming around.
“What’d ya do that for?” he muttered, his words fuzzy as his lips proved uncooperative.
“You went too far this time, mate.”
Everett dragged Glasser to the nearest gas lamp, removed a thick wire from his belt, and bound him to the post.
“Let me free and I’ll let you continue breathing,” Glasser hissed, clumsily struggling against him.
“I don’t think so. You’ve broken too many rules. You’re a danger, not just to me but to the rest of the boys,” Everett cursed him.
“Your stupid tricks won’t keep me here long,” Glasser warned.
“Long enough. That wire is tested up to three hundred pounds. You aren’t even a buck fifty.”
“I’ll tell Varlet. You don't turn on a brother."
“You aren’t my brother." Everett glared at him. “You’ve gotten your way too long and now it’s time to pay the piper. Maybe some time in lock-up will teach you how to behave. Good luck ratting me out from a jail cell.”
“Jail?” Sirens sounded and hurried footsteps echoed down the alley next to them. "ʺLet me go!” Glasser panicked. “I’ll pay you anything. I have a stash under the loose boards beneath my mattress. You can have half!”
“Give the boys in stripes my regards.” Everett smirked.
“You’re no better than me, Steamrun! You’re no better!” The yells faded as Everett hurried out the side road, down a few narrow passageways, and finally out to the docks.
The pickpocket knew his moral compass didn’t exactly point north, but he couldn’t stomach the abuse of innocents, no matter how spoiled and petulant they may be.
Everett sat at the air dock, his satchel close at his side. Glasser had a lot more stashed under the floorboards than he’d thought possible. The boy must have been cheating Varlet for years. It would be more than enough for a new start. He would have to change his name. Glasser wouldn’t be locked up forever and Everett knew enough of the louse to know he was not the forgiving type.
A sister at the orphanage he’d been raised in used to call him ‘Rhett.’ Perhaps it was time for Everett’s story to end and Rhett’s story to begin.
The mist cleared from Conner’s eyes as he stared down at the twisted diminishing hunk of metal before him. ʺPity, that was such a nice antique,” he sighed as the exposed gears and springs of the watch tarnished, separated, and skittered across the great table into nothing.
“Your apprentice sounds like a handful.” Patrick laughed.
“He is, but it is fascinating what he can do with machinery. A true savant.”
“We have two more tales to tell,” Angus called, interrupting Conner's boasting. “Banon’s last offering and my own."
“By all means, Brother, you first,” Banon offered. "Your tales are always so serious. I would hate to have this meeting end on a down note.”
“I am not sure how to take that, so I will just go ahead and share my final tale.”
“Yes, let’s do get on with this, I need to shop for a few last touches to my outfit for the ball,” Conner commented excitedly.
“The stores are closed now,” Angus replied.
“What I need I can certainly find at the all-hours corner markets,” Conner replied clapping his hands together slightly in excitement. “I so love those.”
With a roll of his eyes, Angus pulled a small chunk of rock from his pocket. It was almost a pebble and was black as night. “I offer this ancient tale of a creature so long lived that his origin lies with that of our world, long before unstable magics tore apart the thirteen lands. I sacrifice this piece of his being."
Angus placed the small rock upon the table where it smoldered, creating small flowing crevasses of red-hot magma which crept their way around the rock like exposed veins.