Chapter One- Julia (Cont.)
Abruptly, Thalia stopped. She looked to her left, then right. "Shi-" she started to swear before the sirens cut her off.
They were so loud that I felt my ears begin to bleed and I felt like covering my ears with my hands and curling into a ball.
I settled for doing just one of those things as I sprinted across the lawn as fast as I could, only peeling my hands away from my ears when I jumped up and grabbed onto the top of the gate,
prepared to pull myself over.
Using my feet against the bars to quicken my pace, I pulled myself up and leapt over, only stopping to let the impact waves leave my legs before resuming my sprint alongside Thalia and Orion.
Without slowing or stopping for a second, we wound our way past smaller, but no less gaudy, estates and aristocratic children coming home from the pubs on our side of town.
The bastards liked to drink among our people so that they felt closer to the city's citizens, even though they would never be anything like us.
They wouldn't remember us dashing down the cobblestone streets, but the two ghosts I saw definitely would. I was suddenly thankful for my gift, but more grateful for the patrol's lack of a gift.
They'd never catch us; not with our masks, lifts in our shoes, and all distinguishable features hidden away.
As the electric street lights turned into candlelit ones, I felt reassured that we'd outrun the Patrols that were surely looking for us,
but soon after we turned onto the dirty streets that we called home, I heard footsteps pounding down the street next to us.
I recognized the heavy footsteps as the thick rubber boots The Patrols always wore, and grabbed the backs of Thalia and Orion's shirts to pull them down the alleyway next to us.
They complied and ran straight through it, each of us recognizing the street we emerged onto.
We took the backroads that The Patrols didn't even know about, winding in a strange pattern that would throw almost anybody off, but was like second nature to me.
The people who could afford to live in the houses facing the alleyways wouldn't care enough to pay attention to the people outside of their window.
They were used to this sort of activity, so they didn't care enough to glance outside.
The sound of thudding footsteps faded away the farther we went.
When we felt satisfied we'd put enough distance between ourselves and the patrol officers,
we emerged back onto the main streets and slowed our pace to a jog- ready to sprint again if we needed to.
I was breathing heavily and my heart was pounding in my ears- so loud I could hardly hear anything else.
We were close enough to our home that I doubted we'd have to run again, so my heart would have a chance to calm down and hopefully wouldn't have to work this hard for the rest of the night.
Our shed was located on the top of one of the tallest buildings in eastern Nazica. It was an old garden shed that still had all of it's rusty tools still inside.
They provided good coverage and could be used as weapons if the knives each of us always carried weren't enough. We each had a small bedroll that was set against a wall.
Mine was across from Thalia's and next to Orion's, so in a sense, our wall was our only sanctuary away from the others.
Every night when one of us would come home, we'd have to climb up four stories of the old, stone building.
The stones made lovely ledges to grab onto and made it easier to climb up, but they weren't completely secure.
Once, I grabbed onto a loose stone and fell from the second story, earning myself a broken nose and numerous scars to remind me to be careful.
Before climbing, I secured the satchel against my shoulder and checked to make sure the ruby was still in one piece before following behind Orion, who had been the first to begin his assent.
With the numerous times I'd fallen fresh in my memory, I checked to make sure each stone was secure before trusting it with my body weight and using it to hoist myself up.
I was eager to reach the top. The patrols could still be looking for us, and could come down our alleyway and shoot us dead before we had the chance to fight back.
I didn't stop to rest when I reached the top of the building.
It was insanely late, I was exhausted, and I desperately wanted to pull the itchy mask covering my face off and toss it into my handmade bag beside my bed.
Thalia and Orion seemed to feel the same way because they too didn't stop for a second before entering the shed.
As soon as we were safe behind the walls of our shed, I yanked off my mask and ran a hand down my face, savoring the sensation of skin against skin instead of skin against coarse, cheap cotton.
One day, I would buy a mask that would feel nice and would make me never want to take it off.
"Is it safe?" Orion asked me after he tossed his mask onto the bed, revealing his dark skin, black, cropped hair, and bushy eyebrows.
He was a mountain compared to us: broad shoulders that bumped into almost everything in the shed, muscles that scared most people into giving up everything just by looking at him.
Definitely someone I was glad to have on my side.
I opened my satchel and grabbed the ruby to show them. "It's intact," I told them. "Unlike my lungs, heart, and stomach."
"That alarm was new," Thalia said as she pulled off her mask, revealing her almost uncanny appearance to Orion.
The only difference between them was her softer jawline and medium length frizzy black hair that she never seemed to be able to tame They were twins from Lux who left to find
better work opportunities when they were young, but found themselves in the seedy underbelly or Nazica; forced into a life of unsavory actions in order to survive.
"I wouldn't have set it off if I'd known about it."
"You're not an idiot, Thalia," I assured her. "We know you've been on the estate enough to know where every trap is located. I'm just glad we're still alive."
"Me too. The patrols were close." She walked in front of me and picked up the ruby. "Why can't we just keep this?" she sulked. "It's so pretty, and would make us look fancy."
"Because this is what's going to keep us alive," Orion said as he snatched the ruby from her hands.
"The market's open tomorrow and if we don't get some more food, the patrols are going to find our starved bodies here and toss us in the next burn pile."
Since all three of us had been imprisoned before, we didn't have the right to be buried in a graveyard.
The church, who basically runs the government here in Damnare, made it a rule decades ago. It's a bullshit rule if you ask me, but it also makes sense.
Most criminals don't have a family to mourn them, and due to the number of people living within city limits,
they'd soon have to start stacking caskets on top of each other and listing numerous names on the expensive headstones.
"I'll be back in an hour," I told Thalia and Orion as I stuffed the ruby back into my satchel. "We won't get paid if I don't deliver this tonight."
"Of course we won't," Thalia said. I couldn't see her very well, but I could tell she'd just rolled her eyes. "Stay lucky,"
"Stay safe," I responded as I exited the shed gently closed the door behind me. People still lived in the apartments below us, and we couldn't afford alerting any of them to our presence.
The wind was blowing hot, sticky air into my face when I emerged onto the rooftop. Summer in the city was always miserable.
The head amplified the smell of coal coming from the mansions on the opposite side of the city, and it clung to you like loose seaweed in the ocean.
I was suddenly thankful for my thin shirt, even if it meant compromising on non-see through fabric.
I took my time descending the stone wall. The descent was always trickier because you were more likely to fall.
You have to be very careful where you place your feet, or else you could end up flat on your back with a broken spine.
Not having the mask against my face felt fantastic and allowed me to shift my full focus on my footing.
A familiar feeling of relief overcame me as soon as I felt the solid ground underneath my boots, but couldn't linger long. The night was fading away, and I needed to get paid.
During my walk through the streets. I took note of how many more spirits were clinging to the outsides of stores and walking down the street, but I couldn't look at them for long.
Every spirit I saw wore the markings of their untimely death for me and the rest of the spirit world to see.
Some had permanent bloodstains covering their skin and faces, others had gashes and lacerations, others looked sickly and like they could topple over at any moment.
While I appreciated being able to see them, the horrors of seeing their death never got easier.
The bank I was visiting still had candles lit in the windows outside of it. Clearly, they were waiting for me to come by and deliver the gem.
Before stepping inside, I took a deep breath and noted the knife hidden inside my boot before pushing open the unlocked doors. There was only one person seated at one of the desks.
It was Lincoln, my ancient buyer and employer for the next few minutes.
"I expected you to be here earlier," he said without looking up at the paperwork displayed in front of him.
"I'm here now, aren't I?" I responded, not in the mood to deal with his shit.