This story is by Cloe Runion and was part of our 2020 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Brant pressed a finger to his lips and motioned for Aliza to close in from the west as he entered from the east. She nodded. Concealed in her shadows, Aliza crept into the light of the barricaded room.
The soldiers, clad in silver armor, would not notice the ghosts in their midst. A few fidgeted after sensing a cold presence, but that was all. They wouldn’t hear her or her partner – the shadows she controlled, courtesy of her Scáthian heritage, silenced their movements and hid them in plain sight.
Out of the corner of her eye, Aliza spotted her cohort moving into his position. He had his knife at the ready, and she rolled her eyes – he could be so dramatic. This would be a quick and easy grab, but it was one of the largest heists they had ever pulled. Or at least, she thought so. It was the crown jewels of the most secure and powerful country. They’d started out as petty thieves, but then went all-in.
Brant whistled, snapping her out of her thoughts. Aliza whistled back and began carrying out the plan. She slid between and behind two of the guards. One of them looked over his shoulder, sensing the heavy silence always resting on Aliza because she chose to leave her family for this life. She hadn’t been in contact with them in years.
The guard clutched his pointed staff tighter, his knuckles turned white, strained. He shrugged to himself after spotting nothing and turned back around.
Get in, get out. That’s all they had to do. She whistled again to signal Brant. He answered with one of his own. She reached up, clasped two of the soldiers’ heads and banged them together. Their helmets clanked and they hit the floor. The other soliders looked around to find the cause of their fallen comrades. They marched away from their post to hunt for the criminal – leaving the entrance they once blocked open for the taking.
Aliza smirked to herself – the dimwits were easily distracted. She strutted up to the Crown Jewel Chamber. The doors were large and made of pure osmium, the heaviest metal ever found, making them tricky to open with only her strength. In addition to that setback, the door had an ornate system of gears that if moved wrong, the whole tower would go into lockdown mode.
Aliza knew without looking Brant had joined her at the door. She evaluated the time it would take her to open it. She raised three fingers to Brant. Three minutes. He nodded and walked away to keep a lookout. If need be, he would buy her enough time for her to dismantle the safety protocols.
She pressed her hand to the door. Taking a deep breath, she closed her eyes and began unraveling the locking system one gear at a time. The whirl and whoosh of the individual disks made satisfying sounds as her mind worked out the door.
She vaguely heard Brant’s whistle signaling someone was coming her way. Almost there . . . Almost there . . . She held her breath as the final gear fell into place and they all stopped turning. An antagonizing moment later, the door opened with a soft hiss and puff of smoke. She whistled, telling Brant to return. When he did, they shared a look.
Aliza walked in first with Brant close behind. The Crown Jewels stared at them from their glass case. The gleam of ruby and emerald, topaz and sapphire, amber and amethyst shone from the case, some embedded in jewelry, others simply out in the open.
Brant smashed his fist into the case and the sound of shattering glass filled the gilded room. He took out their bag and they began to stuff all of the Jewels into it. Aliza shook out her amazement of what they’d just done – they had successfully broken into the Royal Palace of Brenlin and were stealing them. The Crown Jewels of Brenlin. The hard part was going to be getting out.
Once the case was empty, they crept back into the halls of the tower. Aliza cloaked them in shadows once again. They strode down the corridors and passed several groups of guards, but their luck held out. They broke into celebration after emerging from the palace. Too soon, Aliza thought as hoofbeats and metal clanging came from behind them. Aliza nodded to Brant and they broke away from one another. The fields around the palace provided little protection, so Aliza cut for the forest. They would meet up later to divvy up the spoils.
Tree branches snapped behind her as the guards followed. She was breathing hard, but adrenaline made her faster. Suddenly, she tripped and fell into a bramble bush. She cursed. She eclipsed herself in shadows in a vain attempt to cover herself to escape. However, her magic faltered. The cold of steel graced her back and a man’s voice said, “Stay where you are or die.” The man clipped a pair of shackles onto her wrists.
They had caught her.
“You will remain silent until we reach the palace. Capeesh?”
Aliza nodded in answer.
The guard forced her to advance forward. They trudged until they were no longer shaded by the forest’s canopy and in the fields. By the time they reached the palace, her feet felt like she’d walked on smoldering coals. The guard pushed her into the palace and led her to the throne room.
The soldier shoved her to the floor. “Bow before your king,” he ordered. She listened and put her forehead to the floor, her arms and hands laid out in front of her.
“Who is this?” boomed King Wallace. Aliza wanted to see if his powerful tone matched his appearance. But she wished to live to fight another day, so she remained face-down.
“Your Majesty,” said her soldier-captor, “this is one of the Most Wanted criminals in Brenlin, Aliza Carabaldi. We have not yet found her cadre, Brant Estan, but I assure you, we will.”
“Look at me,” the king ordered. Aliza glanced up and stared. The king had a formidable figure with broad shoulders and sharp features. His piercing gray eyes made her shiver, but he looked rather young. How old was he?
King Wallace demanded, “Where is your companion, Miss Carabaldi?”
Aliza didn’t move her mouth. She would not betray her family. She would not betray Brant, because Brant had saved her from her doom. He had saved her from being trapped forever as a prostitute. He was the first man to ever look upon her as an equal. He inspired her love to steal from wealthy men – to end the patriarchy in Brenlin.
The king grabbed her chin. His fingers were sweaty and his eyes bulged. “If you answer me, I might let you live.”
Aliza only shook her head.
King Wallace sneered. “A week in the dungeon will beat the defiance out of you.”
He flicked his fingers and a group of guards circled her, hauling her to her feet. She spat at the king before they took her to the dungeon. Her head slammed against the stone wall as they threw her into a cell. Spots dotted her vision as it darkened with her pending doom. Alone forevermore, because she and Brant had made a deal – if either of them was caught, they would leave it to fate to decide if they were freed. She was on her own.
Aliza’s consciousness faded in and out over the following days. She was delirious with whatever the guards were putting in the little food she received. She stopped eating it, so that she might be able to think. She didn’t consider an escape plan; she wasn’t focused enough to do that. Until the poison in the food wore off, she was stuck.
Aliza woke with a pounding headache. Why hasn’t Brant . . .? Then all of what happened rushed back. She had thought even with their oath, Brant would’ve tried to save her. Apparently not. Fury towards Brant bubbled up inside of her like a volcano about to erupt. She’d have to depend on herself to get out of this one. She studied her surroundings. The small window that let little light in was barred, nothing around her to use as a weapon.
No escape. For now.
When the guard came to collect her, Aliza fought back. She knocked him unconscious, stole his keys, and freed herself. She rushed out of the dungeon, racing past sentries in the halls with assistance from her shadows.
She sprinted out into the fresh air to their meeting spot – he wasn’t there. She thought Brant would wait for her at least. He could try to pull heists without her, but without her shadows . . .
She could still be who she was without him: a swindling, cunning thief.
She smirked to herself, racing off to find another item to steal, another heist to pull.