I was right not to be afraid of any thief but myself, who will end by leaving me nothing. -Katherine Anne Porter

Wealthy men can't live in an island that is encircled by poverty. We all breathe the same air. We must give a chance to everyone, at least a basic chance. Ayrton Senna

Chapter 1

An Easy Job

David looked over at his friend Belinda. She was currently dancing with a nobleman's young son, her hair in an intricate braid and a green loose gown swirling when she moved. It almost made him laugh to see her all dressed up. Her a sneak-thief and gutter rat. But he wasn't much better. In fact he was probably lower although he'd learned all his tricks from her. He was a sneak-thief as was she, but he was also a pit pocket, a cheat and all other countless dishonest things. And it didn't bother him in the least. Living as an honest man on the streets was a little way from impossible.

So after his mom had died he'd met up with Belinda and they'd run the streets and picked as many pockets as they could. He knew his mom would disapprove but it was all he could do, so until he had another option he would do it.

Shaking the thoughts away he focused on his work. Rat had informed them well on the lay out of lord Tristam's manor. Manor- which was strange considering his high position throughout Efratis. But the lord liked to keep it simple and that suited David fine. Less rooms to loot. He slipped around a guard and up the servant's service stairs. He would work from the top down. His target was jewelry and other small valuable items that could fit in the small pouch at his belt. A diamond was better than a fancy pot.

Slowly the pouch filled as he worked his way room from room and down to the ground floor. Taking out his knife he pried the eye out of a dragon figurine, slipped it into the pouch and walked out of the room. Right into the sword point of a very angry looking guard. David's eyes narrowed and he backed into the room slamming and barring the door with a chair. Walking quickly to a window, he shoved the heavy drapes aside and climbed out. It was a short drop and he rolled to take off some of the impact. He regained his footing and lit out for the road leading from the manor.

Belinda heard a piercing whistle and excused herself from her dance partner. Lapis was out, she thought, smiling at David's nickname. In their line of work everyone had a nickname. The fewer people that knew your real name the better. Her own was Fox Fur.

Striding down the stairs she stopped only to be lifted into a carriage by a very happy looking man. Wolf, their transporter. Once inside she removed the bottom half of her gown, revealing the black trousers underneath. Rolling up the bottom, she formed them into a sash and tied it around her waist. She was well aware of David's silent humor and it was well known that she hated dresses but she was pretty enough to be used as eye candy. She snorted, how stupid.

The carriage slowed to a stop and David hopped in across from her. Leaning back with his legs crossed on the seat he looked the image of ease but Bel knew him well enough to see the tension in every muscle of his body. Something unexpected had happened but she didn't ask anything. David was good at what he did. Unbraiding her hair so that the fox colored locks waved out she leaned forward. David untied the pouch from hid belt and tossed it to her. Once he was finished looting a job always lost its buzz for him. Bel suspected it had something to do with the chance of being caught..

Upending the bag she tossed a Lapis Lazuli ring with a crow engrave on it to him as payment. She selected a ruby bracelet for herself then tucked the rest away for Boss. David slipped the ring onto a piece of twine and placed it around his neck and under his shirt. The motion brought her attention to the tattoo that wrapped like a bracelet around his wrist. It was the mark of a caught thief. David had received ten lashes in a jail cell for being caught that first time three years ago. Second time and he became a slave to whoever it was he had wronged. Three and he was dead. But David never tried to hide the mark. It seemed to work as a reminder for him rather than an embarrassment.

"A guard saw me." Belinda's eyes widened.

"David that's dangerous you could've become a slave." David sat up suddenly, his eyes smoldering with anger. He didn't say anything but she guessed what he wanted to say. You think I don't know that. I'm not stupid Belinda Sonder. But Belinda was more worried about what Boss would do. She had no doubt that she would find out, she always did, and this being David's second strike he would have to leave. He was too hot to stay with the rest of them. But David was one of the best looters they had. Boss wouldn't toss him out, would she? Of course she would.

David walked into the alleyway, Belinda following. They stopped at a safe house with a thick metal door. It was no different from the others on the street except for a dim light glowing in one of the windows. Boss was still up. Belinda knocked on the door and a spying latch slid open.

"Password?" a voice asked.

"Open up, Rat. I'm not in the mood." David said rudely. Belinda shot him a look but he just shrugged. He really wasn't in the mood. He knew that Boss would've found out about his slip up by now. How, he didn't know, but then, he had stopped trying to figure out Boss a long time ago. After your first couple weeks on the streets you just sort of excepted things as they were. No curiosity to get in trouble over. So when Rat opened the door it took all of David's will power to walk with Belinda to meet Boss. Boss was a very intimidating woman, yes woman. She was cunning, smart, not unkind and practical. Except when angry, then she tended to lash out. And she was very angry now.

"David, come here." she said in a soft melodic voice. David almost bolted, but forced himself to walk forward. The slap that came was expected but it still hurt. "That's twice. You're here so that means you were able to get away, but you were seen. I'm sorry," she said in a tone that was anything but remorseful "But your going to have to leave. At least for three days. You're one of the best thief's I have so I won't get rid of you completely." She leaned down to whisper in his ear. "One more slip up and I won't let you back. No matter how good you are. You're both dismissed. Fox Fur make sure Lapis is gone by twelve chimes."

"Yes, Boss." She sat the pouch of jewels on Boss's desk and they left the room.

David walked out of Bosses room and into the boy's section of the safe house. Comrade, his wolf-dog, raised his head and padded over from his pallet in front of the hearth. David ruffled the dog's ears.

"Hey, boy. Have you been good while I was gone, huh?" Comrade's tail wagged and he licked David's face. "I need you to get my bag, Comrade. Bag." The dog's ears went flat and his tail drooped. He was smart enough to know that they were leaving. Wolf walked over.

"So what did Boss say?" The wiry boy had earned his name for his eyes, which were a strange yellowish brown color and for his animal instincts. He'd been caught once in all of his eighteen years and he'd taken his ten lashes without so much as a whimper. It was regular for him to tease the guards that patrolled the slums where they lived. He was one of David's good friends and the only one he trusted to take care of Comrade. When the jailers had turned him out on the street after his ten lashes, Wolf had found him and taken him back to the safe house.

"The scent is too fresh for me to be around here right now. She says I can come back in a couple days. I need you to watch Comrade 'till then." The older boy leaned on the wall next to David's bed and watched him pack.

"Take him with you."

"I can't." David snapped as he tossed a black tunic into the bag Comrade had brought him. The Lapis Lazuli ring hanging from his neck slipped loose and he tucked it back away.

Wolf held up his hands to ward off David's temper. "Hey, I'm just saying that he would be good to have with if you're avoiding trouble. He's big, and has excellent instincts. It'll be like having me around, except he's furry and doesn't talk." He grinned and David laughed.

"Fine, I'll take him."

"You just make sure you bring him back, Lapis. And yourself too. If you see any guards split, okay. I'll check up on you in the morning, so meet me at the Old Crone." The older boy grabbed David's bag and they headed toward the safe house's back door. Belinda was already waiting for them there. She hugged him.

"Stay away from the guards and don't get caught. I'll see you in three days." She bent and gave Comrade a kiss on the nose. David walked out the door and started toward the bridge. It was dangerous to be near the Riches tonight but he had a hideout near there. Plus Comrade would let him know if anyone was near. Weaving his way through the slums unseen, he reach the bridge in about an hour.

The bridge and the river separated the Riches from the rest of them in this underground city. The only light were big torches that ringed Taloren. It being located within the Dragon mountains was a huge feat of craftsmanship and it was one of greatest marvels of Efratis. Lord Tristam Devoir was the city's ruler and he was doing a great job in comparison of his father who was the whole reason that the Riches treated the people of the slums like animals. Tristam had tried to get rid of that hatred but had been told he was a fool for thinking he could get those "animals" to behave. And now he had to deal with a theft.

"It's just horrible, Lord Tristam." Lady Gertrude gushed. "Those vile rats will stop at nothing to satisfy their greed."

Tristam grimaced, he had never liked Lady Gertrude, and now he couldn't stand her at the moment. The only greed that he could think of now was that of the nobles. While they had lavish feast, others in the slums were starving. It made him sick-hearted and sad. He turned to the guard and asked for the boy's description. Gertrude leaned in as did Lord Bodex. Suddenly Tris felt nausea flit through him, but he hid it well. Hopefully this was the boys first time being caught. He couldn't stand the thought of hanging a boy. He couldn't stand giving him a punishment of any kind. The things that the thief had taken would feed him and any of his friend for a long time. Tris would hardly miss them and it seemed better for them to go to some one who would need and use them—

"He had dark-gold hair milord and blue eyes, as far as I can tell. He was about five feet nine inches, with a wiry build." Tris thanked him for his help and asked him to get a patrol together to search for the boy. Then he excused himself. He didn't feel much like partying anymore.

David curled up in the attic room of an abandoned house down by the bridge. This was his hideout. He had found it ounce while running after he stole some food from the marketplace. Only he knew about it, although he had wanted to share it with Belinda. It had always slipped him mind though.

Comrade padded over and curled up next to him. In the morning he would meet up with Wolf and after three days he would go back to living in the safe house with the rest of the gutter rats. At least that's how it was supposed to happen. David closed his eyes, slipping into a peaceful sleep, unaware that his life was about to take a drastic change. Again.