They were watching Catia’s fangs again as she spoke. Their gazes drifted down when she opened her mouth, and they met her eyes again on a pause, a little too purposefully. Over and over again. Catia touched one tooth with her tongue and glanced uselessly at the mirror behind their little table. She could guess at how each fang must cut her smile, twist her expression. But she had never seen them.
Before they had sunk in below her other teeth, her reflection had started to smear. In low light, she was nothing but an annoying smudge. The sort of thing that made her want to spit on the glass and scrub it with her cuff. In brighter lights she was a shadow that should not exist. Disconcerting. Stomach-turning, and impossible.
She had avoided daylight for months, just to keep herself believing that she was more than that shade in the glass. And to keep the others from seeing the strange way her skin bent the light even under their eyes.
And yet, the most irritating aspect of coming back from the dead was that no one believed she hadn’t gone evil.
Elida knew every creak in the expansive apartments. She had watched Ness invent them eight months before when they moved in.
It had been pure entertainment, watching him on his hands and knees, teasing floorboards and stair railings and cupboard hinges into making their little noises. He tested them and he memorized the distinctions at the same time. Each was a little warning bell when anyone moved inside his apartment. When Elida stepped forward to help him, he gave her a look the equivalent of slapping her hands away, and laughed at himself after. He trusted her. But he trusted himself more.
So, she just watched him engineer squeaks and groans and creaks out of polished elegance. She hadn’t purposefully memorized them, too, but she liked the look on his face when she arrived in all her usual silence even while he rattled in the spaces he created.
Creeping down the stairs now, Elida had no need to see his surprise. She wished it very far away. Keeping her hands off the railing, she skipped the last step, and slid immediately to the right. A brush of air instead of a body, she imagined. A ghost. A thing already moved on.
The double doors opened on the main hall and the first man in line stuttered in his first step. The chain between his feet clattered in his quick stop, and the echo of it lasted longer than his pause. The woman behind him elbowed him forward, the guard beside him nodded for him to continue, and he turned to lead the line along the back wall, glancing furtively at the high seat on the far side of the hall. Clearly, he had not expected to find the First Lord sitting as his judge.
The entire line clanked as it moved, the men and women taking the short steps the chains allowed them. Their hands were free, however, each of them convicted of small crimes that made the guards more wary of them running than the harm they might do to those around them. They glanced up then away, quick, then glanced up again a moment later, and Terius didn’t blame them for being surprised.
Imalie probably should have hidden the money better. As a matter of course, no matter how well concealed, money could always be hidden better. Whoever had invented it, was a genius for making it so easy to carry, and also an idiot. No matter what else was around, Imalie knew that a thief would take coins first. They were easy to pocket, easy to run with, so easy to trade in for something more personally valuable, and nearly impossible to recover once taken.
Imalie knew. She’d taken enough of it.
But she’d lived behind serious locks for a long time, and she supposed somewhere in the back of her mind, she’d believed that anyone who cracked their way inside her four walls would have earned the right to the purse.
She stopped believing it the moment she slipped through her back window and found him standing beside the toppled table.
Imalie blinked at him. She glanced at the front door, still perfectly seated in its frame, but she didn’t really have to. She’d circled the block before she came in, assured herself that everything was in place twice before she allowed herself to trip the window latch and arrive home.
Slowly, she smiled. Rocking back, she looked over one shoulder, then the other. The table was resting on its lip. The shelves were pulled straight down off the wall. Her books, her papers, every small thing in the room was scattered over the floor. “You made a mess,” she said.
There are two ways to be robbed. The same thief, on the same day, same snatch-and-grab, can rob two people, two different ways.
One will see the robbery, feel the fingers as they take what isn’t theirs, and feel the missing weight for a long time afterward.
Maybe they scream when it happens. Maybe they scream again the next day when they miss what they had. Maybe they scream a hundred nights afterward when they wake in the dark feeling the robbery all over again. Maybe, just maybe, they scream when they start to believe it will be the only way to tell the rest of the world that it happened.
Because they know what it was: theft, a mugging in the dark, violation, all the wrong sides of force, criminal, rotted, wrong.
He might as well have been twirling his heavy purse on a finger, the way he strode down the back alley with it bouncing on his hip. Jennika could almost count the coins inside, listening to the clack and ring of each one sliding inside. It was half-past midnight, and colder than the hot afternoon had announced. Jennika stood on the corner, waiting for him to pass before she ducked into her hole for the night. Her fingers were numb, and she could see her breath, but he strolled past, like it was mid-morning on a balmy beach.
Impatient, Jennika shifted against the wall, just enough to catch his attention. Late at night, movement in the dark made men hunch up their shoulders and quicken their step. He saw her and didn’t care. She tried not to glare at him.
Finally, he came to the corner. A little past arm’s reach, he turned in front of her to head north on the street. His purse clinked one more time, invitingly. It would have been the easiest thing she’d done all day to cut the string and take the weight of it, but it was late, and she didn’t feel like another run in the dark tonight. Dropping her gaze to her boots, she let him go. One step, two steps, three steps, four… finally out of her range.
“You’re just going to let me go?” he asked.
When caught between the devil and the deep blue sea, Mack picked the sea. He wasn’t a madman.
But watching a second devil saunter into port, Mack slowed, stopped, forgot that escape to an open ocean was an option. There were too many interesting games to play.
Dena looked over her shoulder, following Mack’s eye line. She sorted through the general crowd quickly without finding anything interesting and looked back to her work. She finished nailing the next crate shut and shoved it up onto the growing stack on her right, ready to be taken aboard. Seeing that Mack still hadn’t moved, she looked at him and followed his eye line one more time. The devil had gotten closer, a few healthy strides toward the foreground of the busy docks and Dena could spot him now.
“You know him?” she asked. She yanked the next crate toward her.
“Yeah,” Mack said. “He hates me. He’d kill me on sight.”
He was sleeping on the floor when Anya came back to the room. Anya stopped in the doorway, looking at him. He was two feet from the bed and its deep mattress, laid out flat on the the hard wood floor with a single, thin blanket. He was curled in on himself, one arm wrapped across his bare chest for warmth. The blankets on the bed were mussed and thrown back. It was hard to tell when he’d abandoned it.
After a moment, Anya stepped into the room, moving toward her rucksack at the side of the bed. Watching him, she rolled her foot against the floor with every step – heel, ball, toe, down then heel, ball, toe up – quiet as she could, so she didn’t wake him. He didn’t shift. His slack expression didn’t shift.
He grabbed her ankle when she passed him. She froze. His fingers shifted, ready to pull her down.
“It’s me,” she said quickly. “It’s Anya.”
It was hard to be the new girl in town, which is why Jennika preferred to be the new ghost.
City streets were practically built to be drifted down. They were wide enough that everything and everyone simply stepped into the stream of traffic and felt the motion more than the things around them. Maybe they felt the shadow of a building that they didn’t like, or that they wished they could go inside. Maybe caught the smell coming off a cart, and either faced it a second longer than they had to to breathe it in, or turned away as fast as possible. Maybe they caught the eyes of someone across the street, but if they didn’t know them, they turned away as if they had been a stone in the wall behind them. Jennika let them, stepped quietly and enjoyed the feeling of being invisible.
In Jenny’s experience, rooftop thieves were single-handedly responsible for the average citizen’s faith in good things falling out of a clear blue sky. Fat drawstring purses did not bloom out of cobblestones, though she’d seen quite a few men pluck them up as if they had. Pearl necklaces did not vine their way around a branch on the tree beside your front door, though she’s seen quite a few women fall for that. Bread did not bake golden brown on the window ledge, but Jenny guessed you’d never know it just from biting into the sun-warmed crust.
Sighing, Jenny laid out flat on the roof, arms crossed over the edge with her chin on her wrists. She eyed the sack on the ground, half-open from the fall with an apple still rolling lazily away from it. She glanced to either side of her at the sheer faces of the buildings, trying to decide the best way to climb down and retrieve it. Glancing at the front doors, she tried to calculate how long it would be before someone tripped over it and the apples and cheese and delicious cherry tart wasn’t hers anymore.