It wasn't long before the executions started.
When the city moved, everything inside the walls moved with it. Unfortunately, that included a pretty significant number of Western soldiers. As soon as they realized they were trapped inside Caduceus with a mob of angry Northerners, most of them stripped off their weapons and their weird metal armor, and surrendered.
For the next few weeks, executions became the city's most exciting form of entertainment. The black glass guillotine would come swooshing down, and like everyone else I would get caught up in the energy of the crowd and the moment and I would cheer.
I was sixteen. Of course I loved it. These Western soldiers were the source of all our problems; they were the monsters our mothers had warned us about in or cribs. They were the living, breathing incarnation of everything that Enki hated. They had made us suffer, and in return, we killed them. A hundred at a time.
Swish, thunk. Catharsis.
I was never alone. My colleagues loved to keep me company – the Disreputable Band, as Gavin called it. Execuions were a target-rich environment. All those bodies pressed up against each other, attention focused on a single slicing edge. It was easy to work an execution. The tricky part was target selection.
First, the mark had to have something worth stealing. As most people had already begun selling their valuables for food, this was easier said than done. So they had to be well-off, but not so rich that they could afford a bodyguard.
If I'd been born a boy, that's the career path I would have chosen. The amount the upper classes were willing to pay for protection of themselves and their valuables was obscene. There was always the danger, in my line of work, that you might piss one of 'em off. Thieves who did that never made it back to the Disreputable Band. As for girl thieves.. I didn't like thinking about it.
It was a gamble. I'd be lying if I said I didn't love the risk. The chance that I might get caught made it saltier when I didn't. It made me a champion. A hero. A winner.
Maybe that explains why I went for the wild card.
He was an old man, or at least, he looked old. His hair was white, anyway, and it exploded violently from the back and sides of his head, leaving a shiny bald crown on top. His clothes looked like they had been the height of fashion, once; now they seemed worn, and a little tattered.
But the most curious thing about him, the part that held my attention, was the way he moved. As he moved through the crowd, he seemed almost lost. His head bobbed and weaved like a bird's, staring at everything. It looked like he was searching for someone, but didn't know who, or what, it was he was looking for.
I gave the signal to Gavin. This was today's mark.
We had a simple enough operation. Gavin, the big lunk, weaved his way through the crowd until he was walking in front of my mark. I nimbly swooped in behind. As soon as I was in position, Gavin abruptly stopped, causing the mark to slam into him and almost fall over. While he was regaining his balance, I pretended to bump into him, while my hands quickly searched through his pockets.
It was all according to plan. This particular mark had more pockets than most, but that wasn't all that unusual. I smiled as I closed my hand around a lump of something heavy, cold, and hard.
Fifteen seconds after it began, the operation was over. The old man kept walking in that odd, stilted, staccato sort of way. Gavin and I quickly faded into the crowd.
“So what's the haul?” asked Gavin, once we were a comfortable distance away from prying eyes.
“Dunno,” I said. “Feels like a jewel maybe.”
“We should be so lucky,” said Gavin. “Go on then, open her up.”
I pulled the hard cold heavy thing out from my own innermost pocket.
“Enki,” Gavin swore. “Put that away before someone sees you.”
“It's so pretty,” I said. I was fascinated. I had never seen anything like it.
“Lucy!” snapped Gavin. “Put it away. Now.”
“All right.” I shoved the object back into the recesses of my long wool coat. “What kind of person carries something like that around?”
“I'd rather not find out,” said Gavin. He was getting paranoid – there was a vein on his forehead that bulged whenever he was frightened.
I was a little scared myself. I still had no idea what I had picked, but I knew it had to be important. Regardless of its place or function, the thing was made of metal. In Caduceus, the law has certain penalties for handling objects made of metal.
Swish, thunk. Justice.