Human Thief of Set
She ran blindly down the alley, hearing footsteps close behind. In the dim light she could barely see her hand in front of her face, but knew her pursuer had no trouble seeing in the dark. Narrowly avoiding a discarded wine crate, she felt along the wall for the crack she knew was there--it HAD to be there.
How did she get here? Had it really come to this? Quinn closed her eyes briefly, her mind taking her further back than she cared to remember--back to the sights, sounds and smells of her hometown. At least she had been happy then. Her father, the town tailor, was always neck-deep in shirts and tunics, sparing a moment or two from his work to give Quinn's hair a tousle and ask how her day had been. Her mother was the anchor of the family, providing a constant source of love and quiet understanding. She was the light in her husband's eyes, and the whole town said Quinn was her mirror image in a smaller package. They were Setites, but the small town was surprisingly open-minded and welcomed the family as they did anyone else.
For a time, they were truly happy. Then, slowly, Quinn noticed her mother's health fading a little each day. Her father noticed it too, and called for the local healer. Despite the healer's best efforts her mother's health continued to decline until, only days later, she died and was buried in the family plot behind the house. Quinn, only eight at the time, would often stare out her bedroom window at the graveyard below, wishing she could see her mother one more time. Her father changed after the funeral; his face was gaunt and pale, his hair showing signs of premature graying. His "light" gone, he now turned the focus of his life onto Quinn, the miniature version of his late wife. Determined to give her the best in life he threw himself into his work, often tailoring well into the night. Quinn found herself in breathtaking dresses and jewelry, attending the finest school in the province. She enjoyed the sudden finery in her life, but both of them knew they would give it all up if it would bring her mother back.
Soon the town changed as well: the population started dwindling as jobs and housing in the city became plentiful, and Quinn's father found his income rapidly decreasing. They stayed afloat for a while, but he was soon forced to withdraw Quinn from school. Her dresses and jewelry were sold to put food on the table, and their furniture auctioned off to pay taxes. Eventually her was faced with what he had tried to avoid--if they wanted to survive, they would have to move to the city.
Taking Quinn, now eleven, by the hand and packing their few remaining belongings he sold their house, spending the gold on a carriage ride to the city and rent on an apartment--which turned out to be little more than a drafty room above a liquor shop with a single board in place of a door. He found work as a tailor in a large clothing workshop, one employee among many (and paid as such.) He worked hard, determined Quinn would live a better life just as he and his wife had planned. Quinn attended school in the city, and preparations were made for her to be apprenticed to a merchant. Perhaps she would even be a tailor, like her father.
The city was not as kind to Setites as their hometown had been, so the pair turned to those within their temple for companionship. They often attended religious services, and Quinn--upon finishing class for the day--would go to the temple to play with other Setite children. She spent so much time running about and chatting with her templemates she earned the nickname "Little Mouse" which the others called her fondly. Before long, Quinn and her father realized hatred of their kind ran as deep as the city Council itself: the Sheriff, a Taathian San, would often frame Setites for crimes and torture or kill them in the public square. He claimed to dole out justice by his master's hand, but Set's followers knew he was nothing more than a bully...and a dangerous one at that.
Although her father had meant their move for the better, business began to decline in the city as well. The factory could no longer afford so many workers, and he suddenly found himself without a job and a now-impossible rent to pay. Quinn saw him visibly deteriorating both in body and spirit. He was always ready with a smile for her, but she knew it was only for her benefit. He began to visit the Temple more often, and as Quinn played she watched him speak quietly with the other members. She didn't understand the significance of it then; she only knew that he would smile at her, tuck her hair behind her ear, and disappear for hours during the night, returning at dawn with money in his pockets for meals and rent. She was curious, but never pressed the issue; at least they never went hungry anymore.
This night wasn't supposed to be any different. Quinn stood by the door as always, watching her father put on a shadowy cloak and prepare for another outing. He tucked her hair back and kissed her forehead, murmuring "my little mouse" before lighting their only candle and walking out the door. She waited patiently for his return, watching the candle slowly melt into a puddle. Hours went by, until she fell asleep; upon waking, she saw the candle had gone out. It was nearly dawn, and he still hadn't returned. She debated what to do, knowing he had expressly forbidden her to leave the apartment without him, but her heart told her something was wrong. She left the room and began searching the streets quietly, asking others if they had seen him.
Soon she saw a crowd gathered at the square and, figuring her father would be among them, began pressing her way through the people. When she reached the center, she stopped: her father WAS there--lying at the feet of the Sheriff in a pool of thick red blood, his eyes glassy and blank. The Sheriff stood over his body like a victorious gladiator, her father's blood still on his sword. "Such comes to all who would dare steal in this city,"he gloated to the crowd, giving the corpse a kick for extra measure. The action sickened and infuriated Quinn, anger and horror rising in her throat; she would never see her father alive again, and it was all due to this--this CREATURE before her. He smirked cruelly and shouted, "Glory to Taath that I was able to strike this criminal down before he harmed the city further."
That was it: Quinn's blood boiled as she stepped in front of the crowd. "Liar!" she shouted. "You're the only criminal here! You and everyone in this filthy city! You commit crimes and frame us to get away with it! Why is everyone here so blind?! You're the thief, and a murderer, you--BASTARD!" Her angry words lingered in the air over a hushed crowd. The Sheriff looked down at the child before him, and smiled with a deadly calm. "It seems we have drawn out the criminal's offspring. 'Little Mouse', is it?" he addressed her directly, taking a step forward. "Yes, your pseudonym is well known to me. 'Mouse' indeed...you are nothing more than a rat. You are under arrest for conspiracy against the city council and aiding the enemy." He grabbed her roughly, and for the first time Quinn realized the danger she was in. She desperately fought to free herself, but his grip was vice-like. Her fury surged again; a rat, was she? Fine, she would be a rat. So she did what any rat in her situation would do: she bit him. Hard.
He screamed and instinctively let go. She took off, knocking people over in her scramble to get away. Hearing him close behind, she desperately looked for a shortcut...ANY shortcut...
In the alley, Quinn's hand finally found the crack in the wall that led to a small opening and she slipped through. She pumped her legs harder, knowing the Sheriff wouldn't be far behind. Sconces lining the walls of the tunnel barely provided enough light for her to see, and she prayed she didn't trip; if she did, she didn't want to think about what would happen when he caught her. Finally, after what seemed liked years, she reached the end of the tunnel and tore aside the tattered curtain. Her destination stood before her, so near yet not near enough for her to breathe safely yet. She had come to the only place in the city she knew she would be welcomed: the temple of Set.
With the Sheriff closing in, she burst through the courtyard gate and bounded up the steps. Pushing open the opal-inset doors she ran to the altar in the main room, which was occupied by several members of the congregation, and huddled next to it. Sensing her distress, a clergywoman came over to see what was wrong. At the same time, the doors of the temple flew open with such force they cracked the granite wall on impact. The noise stopped everyone in their tracks as they turned to watch the Sheriff enter the temple...and head straight for Quinn.
Suddenly a figure emerged, seemingly from nowhere, and stepped between the two. Looking up, Quinn saw the high priest of the temple, who also happened to be Sanene. The Sheriff stopped advancing and the two Sans regarded each other with a dangerous silence.
"Brother," the high priest finally acknowledged. "It has been some time."
"My brother died the day he followed the false shadow god," the Sheriff growled. "My business here is not with you. Step aside."
"You made it my business when you walked in here. What has this child done to make you hunt her like an animal?" Quinn watched the pair, still numb from her sprint through the streets. She felt the clergywoman's comforting embrace, but couldn't seem to stop herself from shaking uncontrollably.
"She is wanted for crimes against the city council. I also thank her for the gift she gave Lord Taath," he held up his right hand as he spoke, and Quinn saw the blood trickling down his dark skin from where she bit him, "and wish to return the favor."
"Conspiring with a thief and making statements against the council's high representative of law," the Sheriff sounded impatient. "You have one last chance--step aside. You are obstructing justice." This last sentence drew snickers from the growing crowd, which only added to his ire.
The high priest turned to Quinn. "What have you to say, Little Mouse?" he asked her softly. Still trembling, Quinn opened her mouth to speak. "He--" she swallowed hard, trying to still the tremor in her voice. "He killed my father!"
Gasps and hisses could be heard from all corners of the room; even the high priest's eyes darkened briefly before he turned back to the Sheriff. "You should leave now,"he suggested calmly. The Sheriff sneered and said something harshly in Sanene. The high priest responded in kind, at which the Sheriff glowered at him. "She is a wanted criminal and you are aiding her. She must be dealt with."
"You make the rules within the city," the high priest responded, "but here you are on sacred ground. Your rules have no power in this place. You have killed this child's father and attacked her in her own temple. An attack on one of us is an attack on us all. Do you think you could arrest all of us?" Even as he spoke, the other members of the Temple began to close in: the woman who had been consoling Quinn stood up in a defensive posture; a group of Go-blin-als who had been repairing lockpicks now drew their weapons and faced the Sheriff; the Leuians in the temple emerged partially from the shadows, their claws and teeth clearly visible; still others stepped forward or made their presence known from the darkness, until the Sheriff realized he was completely surrounded--and quite alone. He grunted, the only outward acknowledgement of his defeat, and glared at the high priest.
"If she is seen in the city, she dies," he said simply, then turned on his heel and stalked out of the temple.
The temple members cheered and celebrated their victory. Quinn relaxed as she realized she was out of immediate danger. But as she gazed at the glistening opals lining the altar, she realized that she too was alone, and would never see her father smile at her or hear him call her "Little Mouse" again. Before she could sink further into despair, however, the high priest's voice caught her attention. "What will you do now, child?" he asked. Quinn shook her head, her gaze on the floor. "I don't know," she admitted. "I don't even have a home, or a family anymore."
"As long as you walk in the shadows you will always have a family," he corrected her, sitting on the altar in an attempt to put her at ease.
"And for now, this will be your home." He studied her carefully, sizing her up. "Did your father tell you what he did for a living when he left the factory?" She shook her head. "Then we have much to discuss. You are small, but that may work to your benefit. The skills you learn here may not make you rich, but it will guarantee you never go hungry." He gestured to one of the Go-blin-als, who scuttled over and pressed a newly repaired lockpick into Quinn's hand. "Take her to see her new guild, and teach her what she needs to know," he instructed. The go-blin-al squealed and motioned for Quinn to follow him. As they moved towards the back of the temple the high priest called out to her, "In time you will see that Set has given you a blessing in disguise; welcome to the secrets of the shadows, Little Mouse."
Quinn did learn the skills of her new trade and became rather adept at them, her thin, wiry body an added bonus in making fast escapes. As the years passed she also grew like a weed; at fifteen years old and six feet tall, the term "Little Mouse" hardly applied anymore, yet the title had stuck. She came to believe this turn of events in her life really was a hidden blessing amidst the tragedy she endured, and found that she indeed no longer went hungry. The Sheriff had threatened her life if she was ever seen in the city again; as a result, Quinn made good use of the shadows and made sure she simply was never SEEN in the city as she practiced her arts. Her room in the temple was small and sparsely furnished, but in time it became her haven from the outside world, a comfort on the days she sorely missed her father. Still, the memories would come flooding back whenever she passed through the square. Eventually she knew she would have to leave her old life behind permanently, even if it meant leaving the temple and her friends, and forge a life for herself in a new city with the skills she had learned.
The high priest was understanding when she approached him with this realization, and with his blessing he gave her a map with directions to a city called Spur. "The temple there is not as large as this one," he warned, "but they are no less welcoming than we are. Good luck, and Set guide your path." With that, he instructed two Leuians to guide her out of the city. On the main trade route she bid them farewell, turned her back on her past for the second time, and slowly made the journey to Spur...and her future.