Warning: This work has been rated 16+.
Being the most notorious thief in all of Reindale—perhaps all of Arlan—hadn’t come easy. But had it been worth it? As Ren grinned from the enclosed booth within the tavern—one mainly populated by rich pricks who had nothing better to do then pretend to slum with poor folk—he thought the cost had been very much worth it.
The gentle smoke of opium managed to push its way past the thick curtains surrounding his booth, along with the scent of ale. Ren reshuffled his deck of cards, waiting for—
A throat cleared beyond the curtain. A slow smile spread over Ren’s face. “Enter,” he said in the haughtiest voice he could muster.
The crimson curtain was pulled aside and three men entered, obviously new to the gig. “Um,” one of the men said, glancing around, his hands fidgeting. He straightened his brown overcoat that Ren supposed was meant to appear deplorable, but with the silver stitches and immaculate threadwork, there was no doubt it had cost a fortune. “The person at the bar said we could play cards here?”
“Thank the gods,” Ren said with a wave of his hand. “I’ve been waiting for some partners for hours. I thought everyone was too busy getting drunk. Sit, sit.”
The rich men all slid into the booth. Normally, men didn’t go into private booths to play cards, but that was part of Ren’s and the tavern owner’s agreement. The owner sent the rich pricks to his booth, and Ren gave him a small percentage of his winnings. Ren shuffled the deck once more, relishing in the cards snapping over one another.
“Well, what are we playing?” he asked. He began rolling the cards over his knuckles with rapid precision. The rich men glanced at his hands with mute fascination before meeting his eyes.
“Uh,” one of the men muttered.
“Fine. Shoulder Pass it is.”
The men glanced at one another. “We’ve never… Played that game.”
“Oh, it’s easy. I’ll teach you. But first…” Ren stuck a hand out of the curtain and called, “Four ales!” Within seconds, the curtain was pulled back and the broad, scarred owner set the ales before them. When he moved to leave, Ren winked at him.
“Okay, now that that’s taken care of,” Ren said, taking a gulp of the ale. “Shoulder Pass is an easy enough card game.” He began dealing the cards swiftly. “It’s a game of deception and trickery. The goal is to end with four cards of any kind in your hand.”
When he finished dealing, he set the deck in the center of the table and grabbed his hand of cards. “You have two options with your hand. You can trade cards with someone, or draw from the deck. But when you go to trade, you can lie to all your heart’s content.”
The men eyed each other, their enthusiasm growing. That was why they came to the tavern in the first place. For a taste of danger. What they didn’t know was that the only danger they were in was losing all their money.
“The shoulder pass is what happens when you believe someone is lying, but you wish to trade anyway. If someone offers you a trade and you think it to be a lie, you take your card and lay it upon their shoulder.” Ren demonstrated on the brown-haired man seated beside him. As his hand landed upon the smooth material of the man’s tunic, he used his other hand to unlatch and slip off the man’s watch. A second later, both hands were gone and back on the table. “If that someone is indeed lying, they have to reveal their entire hand to the rest of the table.”
The men all nodded enthusiastically. “What are the stakes?” one of them asked.
Ren tapped on his chin, contemplating. “10 silvers each loser,” he decided. The men were rich enough to accept without complaint. If they were in a real tavern in the slums, that instant agreement alone would have them jumped for whatever coin they carried.
So, they began. As they played, Ren stole another of the men’s watches and another’s ring. When the game ended, Ren winning—unsurprisingly, as the game had been rigged from the start—the other men sighed and handed over their pouches of money.
Ren waved them out with a smile, the coin jangling in his hand. They grumbled—not for the lost money, but for the lost pride—and were gone within seconds.
Ren had approximately ten minutes from then until they would come running back, realizing they had been robbed.
Leaning back in the booth, he counted his winnings, the gold watches and sapphire studded ring pure enough to gain him a small fortune. With a grin, he piled the money and strutted out of the booth, stopping at the bar long enough to toss the owner a pouch of coins.
Out on the dark street, empty save for the beggars, Ren bounced along the cobblestone, his winnings tucked safely into his pockets. He straightened the lapels of his jacket, enjoying the feel of the rich, indigo fabric, threaded with silver. When as good of a thief as himself, money had ceased to be an issue.
There was a tap of feet behind him and he picked up his pace. While money wasn’t an issue, his long list of enemies was. Ren knew better than to use his wealth to pay for a bodyguard. No one could be trusted when he had the profession he did. So, his money often went into other precautions. Such as his apartment situated only two blocks from where he was, listed under a different name. It was his third apartment that month.
Ren debated going straight to his apartment and potentially leading his obvious follower to his one safe house or trying to shake him off. The latter would’ve been the smarter move, but he was scared enough to completely disregard logic.
The steps following him didn’t cease when he turned down a tight alley, slipping out onto the following street. Stuffing his clammy hands in his pockets, he lowered his head and slunk closer to the sides of the buildings, shooting surreptitious glances over his shoulder. The man following him was cloaked, a hood shadowing his face. He could’ve been one of many that Ren had stolen from.
Turning back forward, he picked up his pace, practically running. He needed to shake this guy off. Even if he got to his apartment, he wouldn’t be safe there. There was doubt the series of locks he had put on his door would hold him back—not even knowing that Ren himself couldn’t pick them. What good were a few locks when one had a weapon sharp enough to break the door?
Darting down another alley, he went further into the slums, the streets growing narrower and the buildings crumbling on the edges. He found the metal door—the entrance to the one place he had a chance of ditching his follower—and banged on it four times. It opened within a second and he tossed the bouncer a single gold coin before bounding down the stairs and into the following room.
The roaring crowds assaulted his ears and Ren shoved into the pack of sweaty men. He glimpsed the two fighters in the pit—neither of them he recognized—and continued to shimmy his way towards the bar. As he went, he ripped off his noticeably luxurious coat and untucked his white tunic. He risked kneeling in the packed crowd and smeared his trousers in the mess of whatever shit was littering the floors. Back on his feet, Ren scrubbed a hand through his gelled hair, messing up the curls he had spent far too long perfecting that morning.
By the time he was finished, he was at the bar and pulled himself onto a sticky stool. “Whiskey,” he ordered. The man behind the counter pushed a glass in his direction within the next moment.
As Ren lifted the glass to his lips, he surveyed the crowd, looking for the cloaked man. He doubted he could find anyone in the throng. Not with the shadows cloaking the room in a dim darkness but for the bright torches surrounding the pit. Though, if he couldn’t find his pursuer, then his pursuer wouldn’t be able to find him.
Ren turned his eyes to the pit. He didn’t frequent the Lounge often—not anymore. When he had first begun to find his gift in thieving, it had been his favorite place. Surrounded with so many lustful and bloodthirsty men, slipping his hands into their pockets had been easy. Now, it didn’t provide the amount of money he needed to maintain his lifestyle.
Although the Lounge was a great place for pickpocketing, Ren had never bothered betting on the fights. He had been young and stupid enough to once place a bet against a small, Styrkish girl only to lose every last copper. He hadn’t bet again after that.
When he was sure he was safe—or safe as one could be in the Lounge—he pushed himself off the stool and tried to sneak out the door. He made it halfway before he felt a hand slip by his pockets.
Ren swung around and grabbed the hand of the boy trying to pickpocket him. He tried to tug his wrist away but Ren held firm.
“Why don’t you hand over whatever coin you stole and we’ll both go on our way.”
The boy tugged again. “Let me go!”
Ren sighed. “If you aren’t skilled enough not to get caught, you deserve losing whatever pocket change you stole. So, hand over my money.”
The boy lashed out and landed a fist on Ren’s jaw. Ren stumbled back, cursing. He didn’t like fighting. He was always more of a runner—lean and fast enough for it, too. But when his eyes narrowed on the little thief getting away through the crowd, Ren charged at him.
He tackled the boy to the ground, shoving his face into the grimy floors. “All you had to do was give me my money back, you little bastard,” he shouted.
“Get off me!”
The boy flipped Ren off and kicked him in the ribs. Ren curled in on himself and grabbed the boy’s ankle, pulling him down. He fell in a heap and Ren leapt on him, digging his knee into the boy’s chest. He slipped his hand in the boy’s pocket and grabbed his money.
The surrounding crowd began to take notice of the brawl and turned towards them. When the boy kicked Ren off, knocking him into one of the watching men, a few of the crowd jumped into the fight. The crowd swarmed around him, punching one another, their fists barely missing Ren. Now, he enjoyed a little chaos, but this was far more than he signed up for.
He scrambled to his feet and tried to push through the mob. He had his money back and now was his time to leave. The noise grew to the point of discomfort, and a fist landed in his gut, knocking the air from his lungs. Bodies shoved against him, knocking him down, then kicking him back up. A few arms struggled to pull the men apart to no avail.
In the fray, Ren’s hands automatically flicked to the men’s pockets, swiping the little coin they had. Realizing his misplaced focus, Ren turned towards the direction of the exit and crouched, using his lack of height to his advantage as he slipped through the men’s stomping legs.
When he finally broke out of the mob, he wasted no time in bolting for the thin staircase that would get him out. He made it to the street with no one on his tail and bolted towards his apartment, his torso and face throbbing.
He cursed as he ran, stumbling over his feet. Why the hell had he tackled that boy? He was rich enough as it was. If he just let the kid keep his change, he wouldn’t be in a fuck ton of pain.
Slowing his pace, Ren tentatively ran a hand over his ribcage, taking in a sharp breath. Nothing was broken but that didn’t mean it didn’t hurt like a bitch.
When Ren turned down the street that led directly to his apartment, sure that nothing could make his night worse, he stopped, immediately proven wrong by the group of royal guards marching towards him.
“Fuck me,” he muttered.