I haven’t done any writing for far too long, and for a number of different reasons. One of the last parts of my on-off novel was a bit of a change in style to what I had previously been writing, as I wanted to try something slightly different. The following is an extract from this section of the novel, and for reference, we have already met both Glint and those he meets on his little adventure, earlier in the novel. Although part of a much larger piece, I’ve titled this “A Thief’s Surprise” for purposes of the blog, and I welcome comments and constructive criticism:
The Deralith Institute was an imposing building in the heart of Glave’s cultural district. This area of the city was home to theatres and museums, restaurants, public baths and a great arena where teams of men and women played the ball games harbastin and faininta in front of vast crowds. The Institute was the most famous of all of these buildings, indeed it was the best-known museum on all of Halleon and people would travel from as far as Lyria in the East and Charyndar in the West to view the famous works of art on display in the Institute. The museum employed the most advanced security measures, from rotating ward locks to pressure pad display stands, and was said to be impenetrable to thieves, giving rise to the nickname ‘The Fortress’ in the undercity.
The reputation didn’t put Glint off however, and he currently stood on the roof of the museum preparing to steal a priceless Ayala painting. He’d taken the job more for the challenge than for the payoff, although the money would certainly come in handy – even for a master thief like Glint, times were tough lately. He’d tied a pair of ropes to chimneys on either side of him and fed the other ends through the harness he wore, securing them into the small pulley-based devices built in to it.
Ready to go, Glint stepped back to the edge of the roof and leaned back as the ropes took the strain of his weight. He walked backwards down the wall, easing the triggers on the pulley mechanisms to let more rope through as he made his way towards the ground below. Four paces down from the lip of the roof, he came to a small window. It was no more than a handspan wide and barely twice that in height, not even big enough for the smallest thief to wriggle their way through. Glint tied off the locking mechanism on his pulley triggers and reached into the sack that swung below him. He took out a small bottle, tied to a loop inside the sack, as he couldn’t risk dropping any of his tools, and used a similarly attached paintbrush to spread the contents over the glass windowpane. The mixture gave off a faint smell of almonds and looked like honey in the soft light of the moon, but Glint knew that was as appealing as it got and anyone trying to taste the mixture would find themselves unpleasantly and terminally ill. Once he was done, Glint returned the items to his sack and brought out a masonry trowel, little more than a small sheet of metal with a handle on one side. Taking care not to touch the window itself, he pushed the trowel against the centre of the glass, holding it steadily in place while the solution set around it.
Glint quietly hummed to himself while he hung in position, using the timing of the song to test his work – he knew from test runs exactly how long the honey-like mixture would take to completely solidify over the glass. When the tune was finished a second time over, Glint let go of the handle, which dutifully stayed where it was. He reached back and this time took a hammer and chisel, both wrapped in cloth and tied to his sack, then began chipping away at the edges of the glass with an efficiency born of plentiful practice. The muffled thuds of impact were barely audible even to Glint and it didn’t take long to work around the entire frame of the window. The pane came away in his hands with the barest of pulls on the handle now attached to it and Glint slid the whole thing into his pack.
Next out of the bag came a small mirror on an extendable rod, which Glint pushed through the now empty window space, and a length of cord with an iron hook on one end, just below a small metal cage. He inserted a Lightstone into the cage and thrust it through the hole in the wall before opening his fist to let out the light it generated. He measured out the ten paces of cord he’d estimated would take the hook to the top of Ayala’s Gods at Play in the Garden of Halleon and using the mirror as best he could, manoeuvred the hook to the frame of the painting, guided by the glow of the Lightstone. It took several long moments and more attempts than he cared to number, but the hook finally took hold of the frame and Glint took a deep, steadying breath before beginning the slow process of hauling the entire thing up to his position.
The frantic ringing of a bell sounded out into the night and Glint froze in position, almost dropping the cord and painting in a moment of surprise. It took a few heartbeats for him to realise the noise was coming from too far away to have anything to do with his activities tonight, but if nothing else, perhaps whatever it was would divert the attentions of the authorities away from the cultural district for a time. Glint let out the breath he hadn’t realised he’d been holding, then resumed his work. The thief knew from over twenty cycles’ experience that the key wasn’t in who could crawl in through an opening, but rather what could be pulled out of one. He reached a hand into the museum and took hold of the heavy frame, turning it with a struggle so the painting faced the wall, then securing it with additional hooked cords fastened to his harness. He took a small blade and with deft movements and readjustments of the securing cords, sliced the painting from the frame, then rolled it up and pulled it outside where it was slid into a reinforced tube strapped to his back. In considerably fewer heartbeats than it took to winch the frame up, Glint lowered it back down until it rested on the floor below where it was initially hung. He retrieved his hook and Lightstone then began the climb back up to the roof, grinning to himself in satisfaction all the way.
It was another two ahns before Glint found out what the ringing of the bells was for. He’d stopped for a bite to eat at an all-night vendor in Market Square then continued on towards an inn called The Golden Mare, where he knew he’d be able to get some sleep in the common room until sun up. He was almost at the Mare when he saw movement up ahead and flattened himself against the side of a building. The silhouette he’d seen was too big to belong to a man from the city and something about the way it moved told the thief to stay well clear. He decided to play safe and head topside, walking the rest of the way to the inn on the top-streets made up of the city’s rooftops.
The creature saw Glint as he pulled himself up onto the roof of the building he’d sheltered against and it let out a low growl that the thief had no trouble hearing in the relative quiet of the night. Survival instincts taking over, Glint ran in the opposite direction as fast as he could. He heard the protest of tiles as the creature climbed up the sloping roof behind him, the unmistakable sound of claws scratching against the icy ceramic and then of the beast scrabbling to stay upright as a tile fell out from underneath it. Glint knew the loud smash of ceramic on the cobbles below would draw attention, but not as much as the bestial roar that followed it as the creature failed to stabilise itself and fell crashing to the street below. He didn’t stop to look back, just concentrated on putting one foot safely in front of the other on the slippery rooftops. Howls from behind told Glint the creature wasn’t alone, and then more took up the call from in front and over his left. He changed course and headed to the right as soon as the opportunity arose and glancing back as he did so, he could see two of the beasts in pursuit and gaining fast.
Glint didn’t have much time, but he knew these rooftops better than he knew the streets they followed. He was headed back into the cultural district and not far ahead, he’d find one of several public bathhouses, a flat roofed building with a large skylight taking up much of the surface. He had to judge it right and not slip, but Glint didn’t have time to check his landing point before launching himself into the air and over the parapet of the bathhouse. He landed on the thin walkway between the glass panels of the skylight and ran across this to the opposite end of the roof, briefly waving his arms through the air to balance his landing. Only a few heartbeats later he heard the great smash of glass as one of his pursuers crashed through the skylight behind him.
Glint risked a glance behind him as he jumped onto the far parapet of the bathhouse, and he was rewarded with the sight of the second creature losing its battle to hold on to the edge of the walkway, broken glass cutting into its hands before it dropped down into the pool below. Glint stepped back from the parapet and tentatively approached the broken skylight where, edging closer, he could hear splashing coming from within the opening. He peered over the edge and could just make out two forms in the pool below, one still and lifeless, the other making frantic attempts to stay above the waterline. The thief breathed deeply, hands on his knees as he recovered from the chase, watching as the second creature stopped its thrashing and joined its companion in floating silently.
“Well,” Glint announced to the night air, “that went swimmingly.” He stood and was about to step forwards, making his way out of the cultural district for the second time this night, when he saw a dark shape climb over the edge of a rooftop several buildings away. More were quick to join it, Glint counting five or six making their way onto the top-streets he’d recently run across. “Arsehelmets!” he cursed under his breath as the lead creature started moving in his direction with a slow, loping gait. Glint turned and ran back to the parapet he’d stood on moments earlier, then dropped onto the rooftop beyond and ran for all he was worth.