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It’s a ripped apart world. Shattered continents and the skies churn with poisonous clouds. A world where time doesn’t exist.
A place of death and decay. It’s hard to believe there’s something better. In the center, a tiny island where time flows and life thrives.
The last place on Stili that’s untouched by devastation.
No one would expect a paradise in the depths of destruction. Nobody would think someone would live there. This notion is what I’m counting on.
My former master might say I’ve grown careless. Committing to one spot puts me in danger.
Who cares? I live my life. Nobody can tell me what to do. Except for the ones who pay me.
Salt trails remain where the ocean laps.
Though I have few cares, something drew me to sustain it. All my assignment’s profits were used to build a shield. It’s the only constant in this chaos.
I left them behind for this place of emptiness I call home. What would’ve happened if I’d stayed?
The thrill of heists keeps me going. I live for months without being summoned for a heist. On a day with vicious skies, it comes.
I turn on the receiver, and their hooded faces appear. They speak in a monotone, their voices echoing in that strange chamber.
“Yaris Slopon, the stealer of jewels. Welcome.”
I nod. What’s visible behind me is a dark room. I’m careful not to show any hints to where I live.
The connection scrambles my location. If they found me? I don’t want to entertain that.
“We have a promising assignment for you. Are you interested?”
“I need more details.”
They expect the closed-off version of me when my heart hammers. It’s a fight to stay in control.
“It’s too sensitive to discuss. Meet us, and we’ll fulfill your wish.”
Trying to act like they haven’t caught my attention, I nod. “Guess I’ll see you soon.”
I kill the connection, and a smile grows on my lips as I ready my equipment. In this universe, heists keep me anchored to reality.
The Red Flag Syndicate’s worst trait is a lack of subtlety. Their palace is set high on a mountain in the most populous sector of the Miriandinus Galaxy.
Though they’re not subtle, my life depends on it. The ship enters the atmosphere, cloaked, and settles far from the HQ. I’ll continue on foot.
After proving my identity, I’m let into the chamber where the High Eleven sits in straight-backed, elaborate thrones.
“Yaris Slopon. Welcome.”
I nod, crossing my arms. “I came halfway across the universe. You better not disappoint.”
They speak in unison. “This task is a delicate, dangerous job.”
“Nothing I can’t handle,” I say.
They shake their heads, and explain, “Since we’re taking an enormous risk, you’ll work with a partner.”
I scowl. “What kind of heist is this?”
Footsteps echo in the chamber. Someone else says, “Dangerous, and unpredictable. Like myself.”
I’m in deep trouble.
“What do we have here?” Her infamous smile ekes through the words.
Brenna Lane. She’s the most wanted assassin in seven galaxies. Uncatchable, dangerous, and unpredictable. She’s terrifying. The worst part?
We used to be friends.
I gather strength to turn around. The woman is poised and proud, with her dark curly hair tamed into an elaborate braid, skin an elegant sepia brown.
You could forget how dangerous she is, getting lost in those piercing eyes.
See the jagged-edged swords hanging from either hip, and you remember who you’re dealing with. I know those swords. They drew my blood.
She watches me, her eyes a shifting mixture of purple and green.
“I never thought I’d see you alive again.” The words drip off her tongue like venom, mouth twisting into a sneer.
“I’m living proof of your failure.” I’m toeing dangerous ground, but the crack in her unbreakable façade fills me with malignant triumph.
She laughs, a sadistic sound. “Brave, aren’t you?”
“Brenna Lane. Destroyer of lives. Welcome.” My superiors say, and she steps away.
“What’s our assignment?” I sigh, tapping my foot.
She grins, but I can’t let my guard down. Not like last time.
“We want you to steal the most valuable crystals in this sector.”
“Which ones?” The assassin says.
I scoff. She doesn’t know?
My superiors answer for me. “The Chrono Crystals.”
I grin, rubbing my hands together. “I like a challenge.”
The jewels are renowned. They’re stored at a museum on an island outside the capital city of the planet Chron. On display for all to see.
“Do you wish to do this task?” The High Eleven say.
“How much do I get paid?” I ask.
Considering the price they could sell the crystals for, I’m entitled to a hefty reward. The amount they propose is enough. I nod. “I’m in.”
Their hooded faces turn to Brenna Lane, and she gives them a conniving smile. “No task is too difficult.”
Crossing my arms, I say, “Have you got a plan? Any inside contacts?”
The leaders of the Red Flag Syndicate nod. “Pay careful attention.”
“We’re going in as regular citizens?” I ask, and my superiors nod. “Do you have false identities we can use?”
“I’ve got it all covered,” Brenna Lane says. How come she knows more about this?
“We’ll need a shuttle to travel to Chrono,” the assassin says.
I nod. “Agreed.”
“We shall meet again here tomorrow morning to discuss our final preparations,” the High Eleven say. “Rest well tonight.”
Brenna Lane has already disappeared. I leave to prepare for the heist of a lifetime.
The assassin waits for me at the entrance to my quarters. If she knows where I’m sleeping, what else does she know?
“I have a question,” I say.
She nods, her expression calm and collected as always. “Ask.”
“How do we expect to get it?” I ask. “We want to get out alive.”
“You’re right. I can’t do it alone, so they hired you too.”
It’s true. The assassin’s finesse is unmatched and her blade sharper than any other. My thieving skills are impeccable.
Still, I don’t understand why a jewel thief would need an assassin.
The High Eleven clap their hands for attention, and it echoes around the cavernous room. “You’ll be transported down to Chrono disguised as cleaning personnel to get you into the embassy.”
“You’re going through a lot of trouble for one jewel,” I say before I can stop.
“It’s a treasure of the Chrono Royal Family,” The High Eleven say.
“Why would you want an old heirloom?” I ask. What happened to the master thief who doesn’t ask questions?
Brenna Lane looks at me with what I can only describe as pity.
Does she know something I don’t? The High Eleven explain their plan, as if I never asked. I have to admit, it’s solid.
“Do you have questions?” The High Eleven asks.
I shake my head. After a moment of silence, Brenna Lane says, “I have one question.”
“What is it?” The High Eleven asks, all letting out an annoyed exhale.
Brenna Lane looks at me again before asking. “Do you trust this thief?”
“I can handle this,” I say. “The question is, why should I trust you?”
She shakes her head with a small, triumphant smile. “You shouldn’t.”
I don’t. Her presence still has a disgusting amount of power over me. The worst thing? It feels like she knows. If she manipulates me again, it’ll end me.
The High Eleven interrupts the staring contest. “This is a serious mission, and we need you to be committed.”
She turns away again after giving me one last disapproving look. What’s she up to?
“Proceed to the docking hall. Good luck.” The High Eleven gesture to the door, and we are dismissed.
The ship’s beautiful, sleek fins and clean lines are inspired by the aquatic creatures in Chrono.
Brenna Lane isn’t here, so I can breathe. She’s suffocating.
The shuttle is alerted to my presence because the gangway slides down.
The corridor to the cockpit is deserted. I don’t have to deal with anyone else, so I sink into my seat with relief.
Brenna Lane’s presence still lingers like an irritating itch – it doesn’t feel right without her here.
My fingers hover over the console. The ship hums to life at my touch and the engines fire up.
I turn around to look out the cockpit window, and my already cold blood freezes. She’s here.
Brenna Lane stands at the bottom of the gangway, her coat’s hood pulled up. I close the cockpit door after she enters.
When we return from this heist, we’ll settle this.
The assassin settles next to me after having explored the ship mid-flight. Off comes her cloak, and it’s a shock at how different she looks as a cleaner.
Her mask and swords are gone, but she’s wearing a face-scrambler.
No one knows what she looks like. Brenna Lane looks at me again. If she’s trying to unsettle me, I won’t let her win.
“What are you thinking?” she asks.
“I’m wondering if the Syndicate knows about your history with me,” I say to see what effect it’ll have, but there’s no change in expression.
Brenna Lane tilts her head and shrugs. “We need to be on our guard.”
This is dangerous, if not impossible. It’s too good to pass up.
I’m in a spaceship, headed to the most fortified place in the universe, alone, with the assassin Brenna Lane. Will she kill me and take the profits?
The ship’s pleasant trill brings me out of my stupor. “We’re approaching Chrono.”
I glance out the window. The fifth dimension disappears, and a beautiful planet dotted with the lights of underwater cities fills my vision.
“Preparing for docking,” the ship goes on.
“We need to prepare,” I say to the ship. “How long until touchdown?”
The view of Chrono’s surface changes as we descend into its atmosphere. It’s water and half-submerged buildings.
Giant crystals reach towards the sky from beneath the vast ocean.
“The Chrono Crystaliums,” Brenna Lane says, her eyes lighting up. “After the heist, I’d love to explore them.” The famous assassin has hobbies?
The ship docks, metal on metal, echoing through my bones. “Please wait while the Control Tower runs the security procedures.
“Tell me. What’s the biggest heist you’ve done?” Brenna Lane asks.
Didn’t take her to be one for idle conversation. I lean back, racking through them. She’s watching me, looking for the first sign of weakness. I’d be dead before I hit the ground.
“Stole the King of the Lightbulb Nebula’s crown right off his head.”
She whistles, rolling her eyes. “I guess the tales they tell have merit.”
“The stories they tell about me pale compared to the real thing. Does the same apply to you?”
Our eyes lock in an unspoken challenge, but she looks away first.
The ship’s announcement fills the silence between us. “Proceed to the entrance.”
Here goes nothing.
“We did it.” Brenna Lane gestures at the box between us. “Happy?”
I’ll never see this jewel again; it belongs to a rich fool who’ll show off their prize for years.
I’ll take the money and avoid her forever. Fingers crossed.
Still, I can’t resist making a jab at her. “I despise how graceful your face becomes when you’re about to make someone bleed dry.”
I expect her to flash a wicked grin, but her confidence fades. “Do you think I enjoy it?”
The simple question leaves me stunned. “What?”
“You think I’m this soulless woman?” she asks. “That’s not me.”
She turns her gaze to the window and takes a deep breath, like it might drown every other thought in her head.
There’s nothing to do but gape. Brenna Lane stares at me, haunting eyes piercing my soul, and I can’t look away. I’m frozen, my thoughts still and blank.
She brings a trembling hand forward, the one that once drew a knife down my face. My mind screams at me to pull back, but I can’t move.
The assassin traces the scar; the touch sending lightning through my skin. I’m drawn to her like there’s nothing else in the world. It’s terrifying.
“I’m sorry,” Brenna Lane whispers. The forts break, and tears run down her face as she sobs. She’s always been unshakeable. Is she broken? Is this an act?
“Why?” I ask.
She is silent for a long time, overwhelmed by her thoughts.
“Those years ago, when we fought, and I betrayed you,” she trails off, torturing herself by replaying painful memories.
I thought I was the most affected by that incident.
“I was supposed to kill you,” she whispers between sobs. “I couldn’t do it.”
“What?” This makes little sense.
She takes a few moments to gather herself as her eyelids run black with her makeup. “You never deserved what I put you through.”
“Why do it?” I ask again, softer this time. “Why leave me for dead?”
“It was easier than telling you the truth,” she shudders with uncharacteristic disgust.
“You still got the money,” I say, unable to hide my anger. “And kept your reputation.”
Her purple-green eyes flash, and I brace myself for violence, but it never comes. “I was a coward.”
We sit in silence, the air thick with the weight of the past. The pain in her eyes is raw. I can’t look away. We live a life built on bad choices.
“I have a proposition,” I announce, standing. She’s surprised, and waits for me to continue.
“We’ll do a partnership. We’ll be in high-demand, and split the profits.”
An extra layer of security in case clients try to double-cross me. It’s happened too many times in the past.
There’s a beat of silence as she mulls it over. Her posture changes. It’s not hope, but her presence feels lighter. “You’re serious?”
I nod. “It’ll be more beneficial than both of us working alone.” I’ve always been reckless. Why else would I be a jewel thief?
“Alright,” she says after a long moment, “I’m in.”
Brenna Lane might be my downfall, but I’m looking forward to the ride.
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