The Prince of Thieves Ch. 07byUseli©
Caliga surrounded them, a fortress of grey stone and shadows. The town just seemed so dark. Even the clouds above the town were a depressing shade of grey that threatened rain at any moment.
"Everyone seems so lively," comments Nero, causing smiles to appear on the faces of Nizel and Atlas. "I don't like this place, Prince. I feel like everyone is watching us."
"It's because they are," Illia tells him. "Why are they watching us, Nizel?"
"Perhaps it has something to do with the wanted posters splashed all over the walls," responds the dark skinned male. He motions towards one particular piece of parchment depicting the amazon.
"I would have said it was because she was so beautiful," speaks Atlas with a wry smile. "I had the same reaction when we first met." Kale rolls his eye's.
"Can we just stay on topic?" asks the scholar.
"You're just jealous that you're not on a poster, Kale. It's a burden we bear to be so wanted." Nero and Nizel both share a brief laugh at that.
"Only you, Prince," calls Nizel. "If we're not careful. We're all like to end up attracting attention." Atlas nodded in agreement and called his mount to a halt.
"I've got a few errands I need to take care of," speaks the thief. "I'll catch up with all of you shortly..."
- - -
The grey sky had given way to rain, and it drenched the entire town. Illia liked the rain nearly as much as she liked the sea. Its smells, the sounds...it was all so relaxing compared to every day life.
She stoked the fire, warding off the chill brought with the rain and sighed. There came a knock at the door and before she could call for whoever it was to enter the door opened and Atlas stepped in.
Water dampened the floor as it dripped from his clothes and his boots squished softly with each step. "I see it's raining," teases the amazon. It brings a smile to the thief's lips and he flicks several cold droplets of water from his finger-tips in her direction.
"I was the first to know," responds Atlas.
"Standing on a roof has it's advantages I see." He just shrugs and sits on the foot of the bed, removing his boots. "Is there any particular reason you've chosen my room to undress?"
"You've got a fire going, and I'm chilled to the bone. Would you turn a poor young man away?" The amazon tosses a piece of kindling into the fire.
"Get undressed." A wry grin splits the Prince's face. "I don't mean for that, Atlas. You need to get out of those wet clothes if you want to warm up."
"Fine." He stands and removes his belt, tossing it to the floor beside his boots and then striping his vest off. Illia stood and turned, only to be surprised as he tossed his wet vest at her. Atlas smiles and sits down on the edge of the bed once more. Illia looks over at the thief who is now only wearing his wool trousers.
"So, you came to my room...late at night." She adds the vest to the growing pile of clothes. "Is talking what you really had in mind, Atlas?" The Prince smiles and chuckles.
"Oh, I'm supposed to make the first move? I thought amazons liked to be in control." Illia approached slowly, gazing down at the thief.
"Mm." His hands came up and captured hers, twining their fingers together. "Well...far be it from me to demand you change." The Prince's smile faded somewhat as he became aware of the sound of loud shouting over the sound of the heavy rain. They were coming from the street outside of the Inn. "Just...just a moment." He disengages himself from the amazon and approaches the window, peering through the foggy glass down at the street...and Vergil!
"What is it?" questions Illia rather impatiently.
"Vergil." In a moment she's standing next to him, peering out the window as well at the thief. "Those men...they must be Royal Guard from Solis."
"How did they find us?"
"We don't exactly blend in." Atlas watched as Vergil speaks with several of the men before continuing down the street towards the large manor on the hill. "The Duke must be putting them up while they search for us."
"We should leave tonight, then. If we stay we'll only be captured."
"True enough." The amazon looked at the man, his jaw tight and eyes firmly set upon the figure of Vergil through the heavy rain. "I'm going to go have a little word with him. I'll catch up with you outside the city."
"Atlas, now is not the time to be chasing revenge."
"I may never get another chance like this, Illia." The thief steps away from the window and quickly pulls his clothes back on before heading for the door. Illia catches him by the wrist and he stops.
"Is it worth getting captured? Getting killed?"
"If you had a chance to take revenge against those who captured you and threw you in that cell in Solis...would you take it?" Her grip on his wrist turns lax and Atlas turns. The thief steps close and places a chaste kiss on her lips. "I have to do this. He sold me out, sold out everyone in the Guild. I cannot allow such betrayal to go unpunished."
Illia places a hand on the back of his neck and pulls him into another kiss. "Try not to do something idiotic...like get killed." A wry smile splits Atlas' face and he nods.
"No promises." Then, Atlas left the room...
- - -
The rain drenched everything, making the roof tiles slippery. It failed to deter the male who ran along them, the cold rain drenching him to his core. Images of times past, friends laughing and talking around a fire flashed through his mind and drove him towards a single objective....end Vergil.
The man who stripped him of that simple pleasure. He dashed along a small beam and stopped at the edge of the roof. The manor stood before him, a winding cobble-stone road the only available means of reaching it to normal people.
He would have scaled the cliffs were it not for the rain that soaked everything. But it wouldn't deter him from entering. He looked around, eventually stopping his amber gaze upon a lone guard posted in front of the winding road.
Were it not for the small lantern that hung out of the rain courtesy of a small awning, he would have been left completely in the darkness. Atlas dropped down to ground level and made a slow approach.
There was no way to approach from behind, so the guard saw Atlas' approach. "What are you doing out this late?" questions the guard. "Go back to your home, citizen." A bolt of lightning streaks through the sky, illuminating the Prince and causing the silvery blade of his dagger to glint in the sudden light. The thief rushes forward as the guard reaches for the hilt of his sword far too slowly to defend himself.
The beginning of a scream is torn from his throat moments before it's slashed open by the Prince. The crimson tide of blood rushes down his chest, staining his already mud spattered surcoat. Atlas was in awe that the sharpness of his newly acquired dagger.
It had cut FAR deeper then he had thought it would. Returning the weapon to it's sheath at his lower back he knelt down, lifted guardsman and carried the body out of view of everyone else.
Though he felt it was wrong to rob the dead, he took what little coin was left on the man and then started up the winding path. To the Prince, it seemed like an eternity before he reached the top. The urge to just rush in and kill Vergil for his betrayal clawed at his soul. With every slow, calm step he forced himself to take he felt as though Vergil was getting further and further away from him. He took one final step and found himself standing in front of the manor.
There were two guardsmen posted in front of the door, both fitted with plate armor. He knelt down behind a small bush and watched for several moments. They didn't seem to be going anywhere. Just the same, he wasn't going to take the front door.
The Prince was so engrossed within his own thoughts that he failed to hear the approach of someone from behind until a hand was clamped over his mouth. "Shh," came the harsh demand of Illia. "Just relax." He nodded and she released him immediately.
"What are you doing?" he asks her. "I thought you left the city?"
"And let you do something this foolish? Hardly." She moved around to kneel beside him. "Are we taking the front door?" Atlas responds with a shake of his head.
"If Vergil thinks for a second that I have found the rock he's hiding under, he won't hesitate turn tail and run. That's just the kind of man he is."
"My thoughts exactly." The two of them skirted what they believed to be the guardsman's field of vision. The amazon followed behind Atlas, relying on his vast experience of skulking around in the darkness of night. The rain muted any sound their weapons and armor produced as they moved across the well manicured grounds of the manor.
The two picked a window with no candle burning in it and approached slowly. The Prince peeked in to make sure that there truly was no one within the room before he reached up and opened the window. Atlas grunted a bit as he pulled himself up into the room and then turned to offer a hand to Illia.
The amazon woman ignored it and pulled herself into the room, closing the window behind them. The room was very obviously a store-room of some kind, with cleaning items of all kinds stacked upon the shelves. "What now, Atlas?" The thief approaches the door and presses himself against the wall, quietly cracking it to offer a peek out into the hall.
"We check the second floor. That's where he'll be." Illia approached the thief, standing behind him.
"How do you know?"
"Because I would be there, too." With one more peek to make sure the coast was clear, Atlas opens the door fully and steps out into the beautifully decorated hall.
Portraits of family lined the walls of the hall, vivid and colorful as the very day they were painted. Neither of them were familiar with the dark halls but quickly found their way to the mainhall.
Atlas' and Illia's booted foot-steps echoed slightly on the marble floor of the grand hall. Thankfully, most of the noise was blotted out by the sound of heavy rain. They started up the staircase only to give pause at the sound of a beautifully performed sonata, haunting the otherwise silent manor. A frown split the thief's face as he slowly took the last few steps to the second floor. "What is it?"
"Shh." They followed the sonata to it's origin and instead of peek inside, Atlas threw the doors wide open. Vergil sat with his back to the two of them, fingers gliding over the ivory keys in front of him. "You need practice."
"Indeed," responds Vergil simply. "Though unfortunately I haven't much time to devote to my craft these days. I spend most of it chasing you, Prince." He stands and turns to face them. "Well...I'd heard you were traveling with that amazon, though I never imagined there was truth to the rumor. Impressive."
"If I were you I wouldn't worry about her, Vergil."
"You've come to kill me." Atlas drew his dagger from it's sheath at his lower-back in response. "Very well. We'll settle this like men." Vergil reached back and drew a curved blade from a sheathe strapped to his back. It was a bit bigger then a dagger with a wicked curve, but lacked the reach of a true sword and Atlas knew he was deadly with it.
The doors are thrown open moments later and in strides the Duke, several members of his personal guard following. Illia drew her sword in response. He was a tall man with a silver beard and a sword at his hip. It was clear by the way he carried himself that he had at one time been a soldier. "Halt!" The guards immediately stopped at Vergil's command. "No one interfere." Atlas and Vergil squared off with one another. "I'll take pleasure in killing you, Prince."
"Boast all you want, it won't make a bit of difference after I've spilled your guts, Vergil." The two men rushed towards each other. It was clear to Illia that they were equals in terms of skill. They dodged each other's weapons or redirected an incoming blow with their own before lashing out violently.
She'd only seen Atlas fight a handful of times, but never had his eye's seemed so cold. It was the look of a man not bent on simple victory but murder. The amazon watched as they lashed out at one another, flowing from offense to defense seamlessly.
It was amazing to watch them fight, even knowing that only one of them would be walking away. "Why?!" demanded Atlas. "You were like a brother to me! Why would you sell out everyone in the Guild? Is your greed so great that the lives of your friends mean nothing when weighed against your own personal gain?"
"You think that is why I did it?"
"You, Prince! It was always you!" Even Illia was confused by that answer. How had Atlas wronged him? "Ella taught me the same as she taught you! But no matter what I did, or how much better I was then you everyone only ever saw YOU! Are you truly so much better then I?!"
"What are you talking about? Everyone knew your name as they knew mine!"
"Wrong! I was ALWAYS the better thief! You became the Prince of Thieves and I was never able to step out of your shadow! Everyone always believed you are better then me! Always believed you are superior to me! Even Ella only had eyes for you, a simple street urchin!"
"You sold us out because you were jealous?!" Atlas growled and pressed Vergil harder, landing a strike across his hip. The man stumbled backwards, howling in pain and rage. His crimson blood stained the white marble floor. "Money I could respect, but jealousy...you're more pathetic then I thought, Vergil." Vergil rushes forward, face contorted in a silent snarl.
Atlas side-steps the infuriated man and slashes him across the top of the arm. The dagger bites clean to the bone, severing the muscles. Vergil cries out and drops the blade with a loud clatter against the marble floor. He cradles his now limp hand against his chest and steps backwards from the Prince. "Guards! Arrest these two! By order of the King!" Atlas knelt down and retrieved Vergil's blade to use against them as members of the Royal Guard surrounded them.
Instead of the fight that Atlas and Illia anticipated, the Duke motions towards the retreating Vergil and the members of the guard. His own guardsmen surrounded them, weapons drawn. Atlas and Illia were confused by this turn of events. "What are you doing? You traitor!" The guard and Vergil were escorted from the room at sword point, leaving only Illia, Atlas and the Duke. The man looked at the two of them.
"You have quite a bit of gall to break into my home," speaks the Duke. "Though, it provided me the opportunity to be rid of that insufferable man." Atlas smiled a bit from under his hood. "So I'm conflicted. Do I throw you in jail, as you so rightfully deserve, or do I release you for the service you provided me?"
"Well, it is just us," responds Atlas. "Who's to say that we didn't escape through one of the windows before we could be captured?" The Duke smiled and nodded.
"My thoughts exactly. Of course, you realize that I'll have to place the murders of the Royal Guard and that man, Vergil, solely upon you both. If you are captured, I can offer you no assistance on your way to the gallows."
"I know." The Duke called for his men and the doors opened again. A single man entered the room, carrying the sheath to Vergil's blade. The weapon was meant to be worn across the back and that required a few straps across the chest to hold it tight. He affixed the sheath to himself, a strap running across his chest from shoulder to hip and one across the ribs from chest to back to hold it firmly in place.
After testing his range of movement and finding it to his liking, he then awkwardly returned the weapon to it's sheath. It would take some getting used to but Atlas was sure he could learn to weild it effectively. "If you would see your chore through...Vergil will be held in the dungeon." Illia and Atlas nod in response...
- - -
They gathered at the tavern, none of the seedy patrons giving them a second glance as they sat at their own table. They had all decided to return to the city for the night, rather then weather the storm and risk freezing in the cold rain on the trail ahead.
"Are you alright?" questions Illia, interrupting the long silence that had settled between them. "You seem troubled, Atlas. Is Vergil's death not as sweet as you imagined it would be?"
"No," responds Atlas after several moments. "I thought that...I would feel some sort of...satisfaction." He taps several fingers against the wooden table and raises his flagon to take a long pull on the drink. "Instead I feel empty. Money I could respect. But simple envy...how he must have despised me. I cannot imagine the pure hated that spurred his decision to betray the Guild."
"Often times its those closest to us that cause the most pain."
"He was wrong, you know." Illia cocked her head slightly in confusion. "I always saw his potential. It was my own foolishness that blinded me to his impending betrayal, deafened me even to Ella's words of caution. I refused to see what he had become...until it was too late."
"We cannot predict what others will become, or what choices they may make. But never confuse their choices with your own. Vergil made his bed, and he had to lie in it. Every step he took, every decision he made was his own. They were influenced by his own delusions. He believed you had wronged him...that is what drove him to do what he did."
"Huh. Perhaps. But now it's of no importance." There's a long pause between the two of them before the Prince sighs. "So, are the others alright?"
"They're a bit wet...but otherwise unharmed. Kale was a bit upset, though." A bit of a smile appeared on Atlas' face.
"Kale's always fussing of something or other." The Prince stood and placed a few coppers on the table. "I'm going to get some rest."
"Are you going to be alright?"
"I'll be fine. I just need to be alone to think for now." He captures one of her hands in his and places a kiss to her knuckles. "If you need me, you know where I'll be, Illia." The Prince released her hand and turned away, leaving the tavern. All the patrons heard it, and it confused everyone. As the door closed behind the thief a long, mournful howl broke through the rainy night...