《The House of Wolves》[The House of Wolves] - The Game which the Thieves play
Every time Aurelia had stolen a life, shed looked at herself in the mirror. She expected herself to turn into a monster, for the blood on her hands to soak her entire body and transform her into some demonic, malformed creature unrecognizable as a former human. But every time she looked, all she saw was a girl. A regular girl, with dark skin and black hair with frosted white tips. A regular girl whose hands shook constantly when she was afraid, who was only fourteen years old.
A sister, a daughter, a child, that was what she saw and this sight was what saved her. But so was her code. Her promise to never take a life unless she was ordered to had been her salvation. Like a thread allowing her to hold hope for herself, that maybe she could be more than an assassin or a thief. That maybe she could be accepted for her skin tone and eye color and all the features which she was forced to hide, and which differentiated her from those up top.
It was these characteristics, which drove her to a life of crime. After all, she wasn born with money, and the easiest way to make it was by taking what she didn have. Yet she had always clung to the faith that if she kept even a sliver of morality, she would make it out one day.
But now? She was like a puppet without a tether, a dog without a leash….she was not even human. She was certain that when she looked in the mirror that day, the monster she had always feared would make its appearance.
It was a thought which brought tears to her eyes, which mingled with the blood on her hands and created a runny mess which simply wouldn stop. She was vibrating uncontrollably as she ran, everything was a blur to her. She needed to get herself away from here as fast as possible. Away from the masks and the knights who were not really knights. Away from the money and the clock towers and the clean water and the bridges and every thing she could think of which she wanted so badly yet hated so much.
She could not come back here. Not after what she had done. She deserved to stay in the underground, accepting whatever jobs could be found there. But until she got there, she would continue to run through the shadows cast by the buildings, through the alleys snaking through the houses, through all the places where the light didn dare shine. The little corners which made their way to parts of the city the highborn bastards couldn even fathom. Bayronds square was where the light was always shining and the buildings were made of gold. But these alleyways were the only place she felt comfortable running now. How could she walk in broad daylight in a place like this, with her clothes and with blood on her hands. With her grease and dirt and her ravenous bloodlust, one cultivated by the blackness of the underground.
She was more out of place here than a bloodhound in a pack of sheep.
”Don cry little girl, ” whispered a radiant voice making its way into her thoughts. She turned around, and standing in the alleyways, was another merchant without a knight. He was a male though this time, with a golden face reminiscent of a saints and a subtle expression which provided a feeling of security.
Like an angel in the body of a man, far too beautiful for someone of her caliber. She hated the light that seemed to emanate from him, a light which felt twisted in nature but yet so much greater than anything she could ever attain. This was the voice of a man who had everything she had ever wanted, and who could do nothing but indulge. No different from any of the other merchants, this was how all of them looked and sounded when stripped of their masks. With faces that only looked complete when behind a veil. Not because they were ugly, but because they could not live without distinction and flamboyance of the most hedonistic kind.
She did not trust the man nor his intentions, nor could he stand his face. But when she tried to pick up her pace again the mans hand gripped hers. He pulled her in his direction and clasped her mouth like how she had clasped the mouth of that woman just minutes before. But his hands were cold and his fingers spindly like a puppeteers. She didn like the way they felt against her skin. But the man was strong, abnormally so.
He pressed her against the wall and that serene face of his turned to the picture of lecherousness. Saliva dripped from his mouth as he ran his hands down Aurelias neck and to her shoulder. She tried to fight but he paid no mind, and simply whispered to not struggle.
His voice was not forceful, it was soft like hers could never be, and yet unmistakably evil all the same. He pulled back her cloak and began to unbutton it. She had to find a way out of the situation. Shed heard many stories like this, of young boys and girls being cornered by lustful nobles, and every time shed thought to herself:
Why? Why are these people like this? Why do they see a girl and lose themselves? What did I, what did they do to deserve any of this?
She asked but she knew why. It was because they had power, they had the city in the palm of their hand. What was one person, no, one lowly piece of meat in the face of their wealth and status. She hated them all, she hated their clothes, their food, she hated their blood itself and all the shitty privileges it gave them. They could take whatever they wanted simply because of their birthright!
How could they cause innocent people so much suffering whilst they laughed from above in their piles of money?
But no…she did deserve this. She was a monster now after all, not a maiden or a girl, but an inhuman oathbreaker undeserving of salvation. Her code had meant everything to her, and she had broken it so casually, so easily. As simple as putting one foot in front of the other.
She would submit to this assault, she told herself, but her body did not agree.
Her eyes caught sight of a loose brick in the building she was currently pinned against. A rare sight in a place this perfect, this grand. But she could not be more grateful for it. She grabbed the brick and slammed it against the mans head. He stumbled back immediately, blood spurting from his wound.
”You- ” he reached for her with those perverse, malignant hands, but they failed to reach her. He fell to the ground unconscious, hopefully even dead. She stared at him numbly all the while, as if failing to recognize what she had just done.
And then, her heart dropped. Dropped like a rock it did, into the very pit of her stomach. She had lost control again, given into the voice without it even needing to whisper in her ear. She didn care about the reasons, she didn care about the justifications. She was done with all of that. All she could see was her own gaping pit of insecurity and self loathing.
She punched the wall in front of her with such force it stained her knuckles red. But she did it again, and again, and again, until a guttural scream loosed from her lips. And then she ran, even harder this time. Through the winding shadows and the lights too. As long as she could go away from here she didn care who saw her. She caught sight of a boy around her brothers age, sneaking through the city, looking as if he didn belong. But she didn care, she ran all the same. Even after she made it past the square she continued to run, blood dripping from her knuckles all the while. Through the blocks where all the normal people were, where she and her brother lived in ignorant bliss.
She only stopped when she reached the black market, the one on the far side of town. Here was where she truly felt at home. She didn like the place, but right now, it was the only spot she could allow herself to be.
A stubby little creature bumped into her then, one with pointed ears and splotchy colored skin. It grumbled when it did and shot up a look of pure animosity, yet continued on its way all the same.
It was a dwarf. But not like the dwarves in tales and legends who wielded axes and worked in forges, these creatures were far uglier, far less noble. They had grown drunk on human pleasures, lived comfortably in the underbellies of human cities whilst the rest of the world continued to believe in fantasies and dreams. Versions of these beings who were far better than the ones who actually dwelled in their lands.
Dwarves weren the only creatures who shared the black market with humans. One of the most famous meat shops in the district was run by a fat blob of a creature, one with pale green skin and fish-like protrusions extending from the side of his head. He had beady eyes and a figure reminiscent of oversized toads, yet no one paid any heed to him. No one saw him as a monster, why would they? Everyone here was the exact same, whether they looked like one or not.
Everywhere one looked in these parts, was utter depravity. It was the picture of indulgence which dwelled in the hearts of all the businessmen up at the square, just reciprocated by the common people in a much cruder way.
Old men with crooked yellow teeth smoked pots of tobacco and sipped gallons of booze every day on one hand, while the more fashionable criminals used these kinds of people and orchestrated violence all across the city. Trading lives down here was easier than coin. In fact it was preferable.
In the center of the underground was a building. One story, black wood, not much going for it but a sign which said Raymonds shop. Inside was Aurelias boss, Raymond Braedius. He was a pub owner who also led a circuit of assassins and robbers, performing jobs for anyone who would approach him.
When she swung open the door he was there, making a deal with…a man in a mask. The last kind of person she wanted to see. Thankfully, the deal was almost done, and the moment he handed Raymond a sack of money he stormed out the door, desperate to not be here any longer.
”Ah yes, my favorite little worker has arrived. Good to see ya Relia. ” Raymond said casually. Aurelia said nothing, prompting him to continue attempting to make conversation.
”Come on…why so blue? You look like you just performed your first kill! ”
She averted her eyes from him, prompting a shrug out of Raymond. He reached for a glass of beer he had been clearly working on, and drained it with a simple sip.
”Ain nothing like a Harpys Blood before the brothels open, am I right? ” He said to Aurelia with a chuckle and a wink. He was an older man, in his mid forties. He had a full head of scruffy gray hair and a tapestry of scars marked his face.
He had lazy brown eyes which stood out amongst his pale skin, and despite their lethargy they held a clarity and perceptiveness to them which Aurelia couldn stand. Their relationship had only soured after their fight about five weeks ago. In which Aurelia, in a fit of rage over him refusing to pay her on that day, decided to punch him square in the jaw.
She hadn regretted it, but it had terrified her the way he got up, and with a shard of broken glass sliced the edge of her stomach before she even realized what hed done. It had been executed efficiently, precisely, wasting no movement and causing just the right amount of pain to send a message.
He was a lustful, slothful, gluttonous old man but he was also dangerous, frustratingly so. He had no hesitation when it came to doing what needed to be done and that was why he could never be predicted.
She wanted to be away from him as soon as possible so quickly, wordlessly, she set down the masks which hung at her belt, which she had almost forgotten were there. Thankfully, all seven she had been commanded to obtain were intact. The seventh had a few specks of blood on it, but it was nothing which couldn easily be cleaned off.
Raymond narrowed his eyes and stared at her coldly, before shrugging and tossing her a bag of coins. When she opened it, she was outraged to find only fifteen copper coins instead of the amount she had been promised.
”The deal demanded thirty five, Raymond! This is only fifteen! ”
”Well….I thought it would be good to remind you of your position. Take the damn money and be on your way. ” Asserted Raymond coldly, no longer jovial and carefree.
”What right do you have to
emind me of my position? ” She slammed her fist on the table. She needed this money, not only to survive but because she knew that without her ability to kill, she was nothing. Nobody. So she deserved to be compensated appropriately, because if she wasn , it would mean that she was not even worthy at the only thing she could do. Which was to kill, to steal, to take until it sickened her. If that was the life she had to live, fine, but she would make sure that it meant something.
”You know what…I-I quit! ” she exclaimed, practically screaming. She didn really mean that, but at the same she did, because if there wasn proper compensation for her work than what was she even here for?
”And how do you intend to do that? ”
”I have money, nicked it off one of them merchants. Theres enough in this little bag to keep me out of this life forever. ”
She smirked and jangled the bag of money Ardos had given her in front of Raymond.
Of course..her bluff was empty. She hadn really nicked the money of course, and in her current state she was far too angry at herself to even think of going back up top, or anywhere away from here for that matter. She would have too…she knew that, but for now, she just couldn .
Unfortunately, Raymond saw through her bluff with ease.
”Nicked it off in a noble ay? Pretty hard to believe but, I know the sound of gold coins, so fair enough. But…whatll you do when you spend it all? Sure that money, if ya use it wisely, could last you for a year, maybe two…but it doesn change you. You won be able to leave this city, nor this life, and just like a drunk does with his liquor, youll always come crawling back. ”
”Y-you don know that. ”
”I don ? You think I, whove heard forty years in this game, this little game which all the thieves play, don know what it does to people? Even the bums who call themselves crime lords and what not are trapped in it. They just don want to accept it. This whole new damn generation doesn wanna accept it! ”
He shook his fist at Aurelia, no longer talking just about her anymore.
”Fuck you, Im getting out whether you like it or not! ” She was angry now. Genuinely determined to prove Raymond wrong whatever it took.
”Do you even know how hard I worked to steal those masks? All you do is sit back here like a bloody idiot, wasting away on booze whilst forcing the
ew generation you seem to hate so much to do your dirty work! ”
”Do you expect pity from me girl? Want a pat on the back for doing your **ing job? Take the money and leave before I steal another piece of your flesh. ”
”Well if Im doing my job then why don you give me the money Ive b