A young thief far to the east pulls off an audacious heist... and then gets caught.
|A man in plated armor walked up the steps to the public podium, a staple of any district in the Citadel. He turned to face the public, who had gathered for the announcements that marked the start of every day in the capital of the Meiyan Empire.
“People of the Citadel!” The man called, his hand resting on the katana at his side as he spoke. “The arrestor’s office would like to remind you all of the bounty on the assassin Akuto’ head! You may know him under different names: The Terror of the Citadel; He who Lurks in the Shadows; The Master of Thieves. Should you have any knowledge of his whereabouts, a portion of that reward awaits you!
“Additionally,” the samurai continued, grimacing slightly, “the head of the arrestor’s office would like to address the anonymous complaints we’re receiving concerning the accuracy of Akuto’s wanted poster. He says, and I quote, “should the murderer desire a more accurate portrait, he may turn himself in at any time. The office will have plenty of time to capture his essence once he is behind bars.”
Akuto gave a slight chuckle at that. Apparently, the head of the arrestor’s office had a sense of humor! It was almost enough to make him turn himself in! Almost. But Akuto wasn’t fooled by this clever ruse; what use would the arrestors have for a wanted poster of a kid they’d already captured?
Besides, he reminded himself, as he snuck away from the assembly he had been spying on, he still had work to do. Undermining the ruling elite of the Citadel was busy work! He had no time to rot away in a cell, even if he could escape at any time he desired.
He walked through the mazelike streets of the Citadel, headed for the central district where most of the nobility resided. The hooded boy passed by many a merchant’s home, some carrying the telltale sheen of Abjuration magic protecting it, others with broken windows showing the telltale signs of forced entry.
The people of the Citadel really did live in a society. The ruling elite controlled (and consisted entirely of) almost every magically-gifted individual in the city, monopolizing the exclusively Abjuration-based local magic. They sold their “protective” services to any merchant that fell in line, and any that did not… well, they usually ended up with broken windows.
Ever since the death of crown prince Seiichi Murakami, the ruling class had doubled down on their oppressive “protections.” Anyone unable to pay the protection fees was forced to live outside the protective walls of the Citadel, where bandits roamed the streets uninhibited by the elitist interior. The “noble” Abjurer families were clearly consolidating power, hoping to use Seiichi’s death as an opportunity to oust Emperor Murakami.
Akuto tore down a poster of an extremely gaunt man in his twenties or thirties, shaking his head at the description underneath:
For the murder of Prince Seiichi Murakami and numerous thefts
Seriously, how had these outrageous posters ever made it to print? He was much younger than they drew him as, scarcely more than sixteen. His nose was far straighter than the one in the picture, and he had generally fewer wrinkles on his face. He was slender, but not gaunt and sallow like how he’d been depicted. But anyone who saw him would instantly recognize that he was the person in that portrait, for one reason alone: the hair flap that covered his right eye, the only part he felt they’d gotten completely accurate.
He hadn’t even killed the Prince! He was just being used as a convenient scapegoat, the only evidence against him being the circumstantial fact that he could sneak past Abjuration-based protections and nobody knew how! But of course, there was no way anyone would question the arresters’ assertion. Too frightened, no doubt, to question why a career thief would have ever taken up assassination. He tossed aside the poster in disgust as he continued walking.
Ah, here he was! The mansion of a particular Daimyo by the name of Donyoku. Well known for overtaxing his subjects and keeping the surplus coin for himself. This would be Akuto’s greatest heist yet. He would return that coin to all the people Donyoku had stolen it from… and keep the surplus coin for himself. Thievery wasn’t exactly a high-paying profession, after all.
First matter, of course, was to break in. The Daimyo had a pretty impressive setup, as protections went. Alarms on all the doors, barriers on all the windows, he was pretty sure the locks were pick-proof (although he’d never actually picked a lock before) and even the chimney had dirt propellant and a ward on the top! He’d clearly spent years building up his defences. Too bad it would all go to waste, Akuto thought to himself, as he teleported inside.
Abjuration wasn’t technically “shield” magic or “protection” magic, like most believed. It was instead magic of banishment, of keeping things away from the caster. It could do so by erecting a barrier between two things; a person and an oncoming arrow, for instance. But it could also do so by moving things to other locations, sending something from one place to another without occupying the space in between. He’d heard it called banishment by the Citadel’s elite, but he preferred to call it Rifting.
Akuto had told precious few about his little parlor trick. Rifting was rare, powerful, and forbidden within the Citadel, and even an infamous criminal like him could get in a lot more trouble if word got out of his true ability. He’d only mastered the spell a few months ago, after years of secret practice. His mentor hadn’t had much faith in him, as he didn’t shown much aptitude for more traditional forms of Abjuration, but somehow Rifting just came naturally to Akuto.
For example, to break into his current target’s home, he’d made a rift between the street outside and the mansion’s interior. He wasn’t sure exactly how it worked; it was like he was “folding” the world as one might a sheet of paper, so that the place he was and the place he wanted to be were right next to each other. Then, he stepped into the rift, and suddenly he was inside the supposedly “impenetrable” mansion!
And what a mansion it was. Akuto looked around in awe at the fancy jewel-encrusted chandelier adorning the main foyer, before heading into the vault. Opulent furniture and gaudy paintings filled every room from here to the basement. Donyoku may have been a greedy pile of garbage, but Akuto had to admit the man had style.
Ah, here it was. The vault door. An impenetrable wall of iron with a needlessly-complicated combination and so many wards around it that even Akuto would be unable to get through. Too bad the wall next to the vault door had no such protections.
Akuto stepped inside the cavernous vault, lined almost wall-to-wall with gold and silver coins. He opened a rift in the floor and began shovelling the coins into the safehouse where he kept all his stolen goods. Once it was mostly emptied out, he took a small pouch of gems for himself and walked through a different rift to his sewer hideout to rest. Nobody, not even the Daimyo, would be any the wiser.
Or at least, that’s what he’d thought. For when he stepped back into his filthy, lonely hideout, he found that for once he wasn’t alone; a man, clad in heavy, layered armor, his face obscured by a demonic mask, stood nearby, scouting the area intently for interlopers. A katana rested at his hip as he scanned the room.
The arrestors had found him. He must have left some clue; maybe he’d dripped sewer water on the floor during his last heist… or maybe that idiot Ren had ratted him out! He knew he couldn’t trust that child! Akuto was just about to step back through the rift when the samurai turned and noticed him.
“What the… how’d you get over there?!?” The uninvited guest cried out, drawing his blade.
Akuto cursed. If he escaped through the rift now, the secret to his success would be out. He’d have to try and talk his way out of this situation. “Alright, don’t attack, you got me,” he said, adopting the high-class dialect of the Meiyan noble class to address the samurai as an equal.
The samurai narrowed his eyes at the boy. “You… don’t really look like your wanted poster. You sure you’re Akuto?”
The boy laughed easily at the comment. “You know, I’ve been saying that exact thing for months now! They really need to fix up that poster! I’d volunteer to model, but y’know, “Citadel’s most wanted criminal” and all. Hey, what’s the reward at right now? It’s so hard to keep up!”
“I believe it’s currently ten thousand.” The man got into a defensive stance, still not trusting the boy in front of him. “Dead or alive. I recommend you come quietly.”
“No can do, I’m afraid,” Akuto shrugged, leaning against the wall of the sewer. “Ten thousand is WAY too small for a thief of MY calibur! You’re being undersold, my friend. Come back when they make it a hundred thousand, then I’ll turn myself in and you can be reimbursed fairly!”
The samurai chuckled. “Awfully full of yourself, aren’t you? Unfortunately, I’m not taking you in for the money. I’m here in service of the great Emperor Murakami, long may he reign!”
The young thief sighed. He’d brought up the Emperor; never a good sign. “Yes, yes, the wonderful and mighty Emperor Mamoru Murakami. I’ll say this about him: he may not know the first thing about parenthood-” (here the samurai winced; it was a common rumor that the emperor had been responsible for his son’s death) “-but the man can make a mean fanatic! Tell me, are you doing this for “honor?” Or perhaps for “the glory of your country?” Or maybe it’s good old-fashioned “obedience to the crown?”
The samurai spat underneath his mask, not relaxing from his stance. “Honor, if you must know!” He replied. “Not that a snake like you would know what that means!”
Akuto smirked. “I know full well what it means. What our mighty Emperor calls “honor” is really just a fancy way of saying “ego.” You’re here because His Majesty has enough egg on his face to make an omelette suffer self-esteem issues, and needs you to do the dirty work of cleaning up his mess!”
“How DARE you besmirch Murakami’s good name!” The samurai bellowed in fury and lunged forward, thrusting his sword towards the chatty thief… whereupon said chatty thief disappeared.
Oh well. Akuto liked talking his way out of situations, but he wasn't actually very good at it. Time for plan B.
“What… What manner of trickery is this?” The samurai asked, looking around somewhat frantically for his missing target. “Show yourself, fiend!”
Akuto grinned. They were always so surprised he could do that. Now behind the warrior, he pressed one of his sickles to the man’s throat. “I don’t want to kill you,” he said to the samurai, “but it wouldn’t be hard. Drop your blade and I’ll send you to a far-off land where you can live out the rest of your days in peace. Continue fighting and I’ll have no choice but to -OOF!”
Dammit. They always chose “continue fighting.” These damn samurai and their damn honor. Akuto keeled over, trying to catch his breath; the wind had been knocked out of him by that elbow in his gut. The man raised his blade for a finishing blow… and hesitated.
When he’d been knocked back, the hair flap that covered Akuto’s face had fallen back as well. He looked up at the samurai with a pained expression; not just from the unexpected attack, but also because of what he knew he’d have to do next.
“Prince Seiichi…” the samurai said, looking down at the boy in horror. “But… but you’re…”
“Dead. Yes, he is.” A quick slash to the exposed neck was all it took. The samurai fell to the sewer’s floor, and Akuto kicked his lifeless form into the water before returning his hair flap to its position on his face.
Akuto went by many names. But Seiichi Murakami was no longer one of them.
Hey guys. This is my first ever novel. I'm not so arrogant as to think it's done yet, but I will be uploading it here to get feedback. Please feel free to give whatever constructive criticism you feel is necessary!