“Sorry you had to be here, kid,” the big thief said. “But we’re not about to give up a third of our earnings to the Baron.”
“Yeah,” the second, smaller rogue added. “Sad, but it appears that you were taken out by the guards.”
The little man pulled his knife and advanced on Pug menacingly. The boy braced for a fight.
He wasn’t sure how things had gotten to this point.
Pug was a thief in the Baron’s gang, one of the several in the city’s loose criminal collective known as the Shadow Guild. Despite the collaborative sounding name, the different gangs that ruled the shadows of the city were constantly fighting with each other for power and territory. Pug had been with the Baron for as long as he could remember.
He had been given his name, in part, because of his round and chubby face. If you looked hard enough, you could see a doggish resemblance in the boy’s dark brown hair and brown eyes, in the short chin and flabby cheeks, and in his ever present frown. The other reason he was called Pug—rather than say Bulldog or some other fierce-sounding name—was that it represented something small, something easily crushed. All the child-thieves that worked for the Baron were given similarly weak names—Sparrow, Worm, Flea. Pug knew it was a means of control, but he intended to make himself into something bigger.
So when the Baron had asked for someone to tag along on rival gang-boss Reaper’s heist, Pug had quickly volunteered. He was going to prove his mettle. And the job had seemed easy enough. Slip in under the cover of night and snatch a shipment of jewels being held in a warehouse at the docks. Reaper controlled the docks, but rival gangs like the Baron’s always tried to insert themselves in the business of others, under the guise of alliance.
The job had gone almost as easy as Pug had expected. The two men he followed—a big man named Dag, and a smaller, skinny man named Jerrik—knew the area well. They had subdued the warehouse guards without a sound and even had their own key for the main door.
The trouble had started when they couldn’t find the jewel shipment. Jerrik had been especially vocal—and vulgar—in his disdain.
“Why din’t the bloody high-brow leave it where we told em to?” Jerrik had complained.
“Somebody probably moved it,” Dag had said. “Maybe one of the guards. It’s probably hidden under something light. Look around. You too, kid.”
Dag had pointed a fat finger at Pug, who then began rummaging. He hadn’t even known what to look for. But while the two older men were grumbling, Pug had slipped a few items for himself into his pockets, including a nice stiletto dagger with a jeweled handle.
The two older thieves had eventually found the lockbox that contained the prize, smashing it open and dumping the empty chest into the river. After which, the three had returned to the alleys to conclude their business.
Then everything got spun on its head. Pug was supposed to get a third of the prize, but these two were unwilling to give it up. The Baron would not be happy. Things could have stayed simple. But they intended to kill Pug. Intended.
The two men drew closer, pushing Pug back into an area of the alley compressed by rubbish and carts. He could see murder in their eyes. But this was not the first time he had been forced to fight for his life. He drew the jeweled stiletto from the sheath hidden in the small of his back.
“Well, lookit this,” Jerrik said with a sick smile. “Kid wants to fight.”
“No games this time, Jerrik,” Dag warned. “Let’s just get it done.”
The big man came first but was restricted by the clutter in the road. He took a big swing with his knife, leaning dangerously forward in the process. Pug jumped onto a nearby cart, kicked off the wall of the building, and used his momentum to drive a knee into the big man’s face. Dag went crashing through some nearby crates. Jerrik came in with a downward slash, which Pug deftly rolled under. He slashed at the skinny man’s legs as he tumbled past. Jerrik fell to the ground screaming. Pug rose to his feet, grabbed the sack of jewels, and ran.
He could hear the big man stomping after him; he needed an escape route. The alley opened to a wide stretch of Market Street. The front buildings were only one story high and had flags and banners bound to their storefronts by rope. As he ran past, Pug slashed the bindings on one such rope, taking a tight grip of it. When the rope pulled tight, he used the tension and rotation from its bound point to walk up the wall and onto the roof.
“Give my regards to Reaper,” Pug said, saluting a panting Dag with his dagger.
Pug snuck his way back to the Baron’s lair, finding the bullish, scarred man in his office. Like always, the room reeked of cigar smoke and expensive alcohol. The boy dropped the sack of prizes on the Baron’s large wooden desk.
“You brought me the whole bag?” the Baron asked with a smirk.
“I’m guessing you expected it to go this way,” Pug said.
The Baron laughed and motioned for Pug to sit. He offered the boy a cigar.
“You’re getting old my boy. You’ve survived a lot. Most don’t…Maybe it’s time to make you a brother. What do you think? Would you like that, Pug?”
“Wolf…it’s Wolf now.”
The Baron smiled. Leaning over the desk, he lit Wolf’s cigar.