Chapter 1 – Now Don’t Get the Wrong Idea…

This isn’t what it looks like, I swear!
 
“You are a lousy thief, ya know that?” he stated from his side of the bars.
 
Okay, maybe it’s a little like what it looks like, but I can explain! Just give me a few minutes to get out of this, okay?
 
The stringy guard eyed me up and down from his position against the stone wall across from my cell. I simply sighed and leaned against the sidewall. I’ve been in prisons plenty of times before, so this was nothing new. Don’t get me wrong, though. I’m not a thief. Really, I’m not, no matter what people like this guy tell you. Honestly, I shouldn’t even be in this place. If that stupid balcony hadn’t fallen out from under me, they never would have known I was here. It’s not like their haughty lord would have noticed a few missing jewels.
 
I picked at one of my nails. They had taken away everything else, so, besides my dark blouse and pants, it was the only thing left to play with. I’d already explained to him that I wasn’t a thief, but for some reason the ‘I’m only here to liberate those poor oppressed jewels’ line didn’t work on these guys.
 
“How could anyone ever call you a master thief? You’re not stealthy at all. Catching you was like hogtying a calf,” he boasted. “You’re not as tall as I expected, and somehow, I thought you’d be …” the guy trailed off, rubbing his chin. He turned his dark eyes up a bit, searching for the right words.
 
“Older?” I suggested.
 
“Well, that too. I was thinking more … ghost like, I guess. They say you are one, ya know.”
 
I rolled my eyes. “Really? I’ve never heard that one.”
 
“I can’t believe others failed to catch you before. Of course, none of them were as well trained as the knights of Lord Barston.”
 
“Knights? You lowly thugs?” I scoffed, wiping some dirt from my nails.
 
The guy straightened up and puffed out his chest. I half expected him to start pounding it like some sort of ape. “Say what you like, little girl, but when my Lord is crowned king of all Lath…”
 
“As if,” I butted in, shooting him a hard glare before turning up my nose. “That lard butt could never be king. He’s far too much of a greedy porker to ever live up to such standards.”
 
“You dare call–”
 
“You’re right. I shouldn’t be calling him a pig. That would be insulting those poor pigs who’d rather be skinned alive than lumped in with that fat bastard.”
 
“You…!”
 
Oh, look! I think I pissed him off.
 
He clenched his hands into tight fists, but didn’t dare raise them. Brothel owners never liked their “merchandise” to be marred. Okay, so they hadn’t exactly said they were going to sell me to a brothel, but that’s generally how it works with these people. If I were anyone else, I might consider it a threat.
 
“Go on, hit me if you think you can get away with it,” I goaded. When he dropped his hand, I snorted, “Run along, little lap dog. I’m sure your master’ll be callin’ soon.”
 
If looks could kill, his glare would have struck me dead on the spot. Since they can’t, I smirked.
 
“You will pay for those words, girl. You can be certain of that.” Boasting over, he stormed off like a child that wasn’t getting his way.
 
And while he’s off pouting, I’ll be getting out, thank you very much.
 
Several minutes later, one of the guards came to check on me. Needless to say, when he found me gone, he was quite upset. Like so many before him, he was quick to open the cell, leaving the key in the door. Then he ran in just to make sure I really wasn’t there. Somehow, despite there being nothing for me to hide under or behind, everyone still goes in to double check that their eyes aren’t wrong.
 
And, of course, the scene wouldn’t be complete without…
 
“Hey! Max! She’s gone!”
 
Perfect.
 
“What d’ya mean she’s gone? We were right here the whole time! How could she’ve gotten out?” That would be Max from down the hall, by the way.
 
This particular lord’s little private prison was just a long hall with a few cells on the left side. At the entrance was a small table the guards used for cards or dice. In theory, they should have been able to see me get out, but in the four years I’ve been in this profession, I’ve found most guards are overconfident and unobservant.
 
“I don’t know! She’s just gone!” Max’s buddy cried as he leaned his head out of the cell.
 
This got Max up. He walked the ten steps to my former cell and stared inside, just as wide eyed as his partner. Sure enough, I wasn’t there, so Max went in to check all the walls and bars too.
 
I know. I know. The whole response was rather cliché. Now, you’d think that when something has been done so many times it reaches cliché status, people would stop doing it. Fortunately for me, guards are stupid and assume they would never fall for this old trick.
 
So where was I, you ask? In the cell just past it, where I’d chosen to hide until dumb and dumber went inside. When they were thoroughly distracted, I hopped out quietly.
 
SLAM!
 
“Enjoy the accommodations, boys!” I chimed as I locked them in.
 
“Hey!” they cried, running for the door. “Let us out!”
 
“Well, I could, but then you wouldn’t get to enjoy the cell as much as I did,” I teased, tossing the keys out of their reach.
 
Giving them a three fingered wave, I made my way up the hall. Sitting right there on the table was all of my stuff: two daggers, a set of lock picks, two hair spikes, and the small pouch of opals I’d recently laid claim to.
 
“You little bitch!” one of them yelled while I tucked the jewels safely down my dark blouse. “When I get my hands on you…”
 
“You forget what Blue Lights is best known for,” I interrupted. “It’s not the stealing that’s made me famous.” With my daggers secured to my wrists and spikes back in my braid, I was off. Before walking out, I flashed them another three finger wave, chirping, “Have a good night, boys.”
 
And with that, the brave heroine made her daring escape! Once again, she risked her life for the sake of those poor helpless jewels and came out triumphant! Huzzah!
 
… … …
 
What? Aren’t you happy I got out? It would have been a really short story if I hadn’t.
 
Oh, I know what you’re thinking: just how in the world did I get out, right? Now, I’ll have you know that’s one of the great secrets of Blue Lights, and I don’t reveal my secrets to just anyone. Actually, I don’t really reveal them to anyone at all, now that I think about it. I don’t have many friends, you see. Kinda goes with the ‘fourteen years old and an outcast from society’ territory.
 
So how do I know I can trust you, hmm?
 
Oh…well…alright. You seem like a good person, and I’m usually a good judge of character. Besides, you are sitting here to listen to this whole mess, so I might as well share a few of my secrets.
 
I’m a mythrin. A hawk mythrin to be exact.
 
What do you mean you don’t know what a mythrin is?
 
Oh, you’re not from Lath, are you? Great. That actually makes things easier … for me anyway. To answer your question, a mythrin is a person who can turn into an animal; a single animal. It’s not like magic or anything. It’s just something we’re born able to do. On the outside, we look like humans with a small point to our ears (sort of like if you’re a quarter elf) so we’re not too different from your average person. It’s real hard to point us out in a crowd if you don’t know what you’re looking or smelling for … unless you have magic on you, but that’s a topic for another time. The basic gist of it is that I can turn into a red hawk, and while I can’t fit through the bars as a human, I can as a bird.
 
Don’t tell anyone though. No one has figured this out yet, and I’m not eager for them to know. The last thing I need is for people to figure out how the great Blue Lights is always able to escape.
 
Blue Lights is me, if you hadn’t figured that out already. I have no idea where that name came from, but one day I saw a rough sketch of myself on a wanted poster with the name ‘Blue Lights’ on it. All I know is the name has something to do with the lanterns of the dead.
 
My real name is Kithryn, though you can call me Kit. No one that’s ever caught me knows my real name, so you better not tell anyone. The less people know about me, the better.
 
I think it goes without saying, but anything I tell you should be kept quiet. You can keep a secret, right?
 
So anyway, after my daring escape, it was off to find my partner, Ziane. She’s is a white miniature griffin. Now, don’t be fooled by the word miniature. If you haven’t lived in Lath long, you probably think mini griffs are small enough to sit on your shoulder or something. You know, a cute, tiny version of the big ones, with a tiny cat body, little bird hands, and those expressive eyes.
 
This is not the case.
 
Yes, she is considerably smaller than a full sized griffin, but she is not small by any means. At the shoulder, she stands about waist high. According to the books I’ve read, she shouldn’t get much bigger, but I could be wrong. Since last year, she’s gone from small enough to carry on my back to the size of your average dog, and she doesn’t even have her plume feathers yet.
 
Needless to say, Ziane is just a bit too big and clumsy to come sneaking through manors with me. However, she makes a great traveling companion. That, and most people don’t like to mess with someone that has a griff. She may be a mini, but she has all the power and fierceness of her larger cousins.
 
Ziane is never hard to find. I usually leave her right outside of town in some overgrown area where people aren’t likely to see her. I can always trust her to settle there with a good book for several hours. This time, I’d left her hidden in the weeds along the Tiom River right where it merged with Blue Lake. She was quite well tucked away when I left.
 
After strolling out of town, I’d taken the main road until I came to the marsh side of the swollen lake edge. Tromping in among the weeds and mud, I followed the animal path towards the marsh.
 
“Ziane?” I called. Silence followed. “Ziaaaaane?” I tried again. Still no answer. “I know you’re here. I can smell you …”
 
Fump! I suddenly found myself tackled and shoved face down into the grasses and muck. Just as I was going to knife the person that jumped me, I heard a familiar purr in my ear and relaxed.
 
“You are terrible at keeping quiet,” Ziane teased as she sprawled out on my back.
 
“I wasn’t trying to be quiet,” I grunted back. Pushing up onto my elbows, I gave the griff an unamused stare. She titled her sharp face to one side, pink eyes bright and curious. “So I bet you think you’re smart now, sneakin’ up on me like that.” She nodded enthusiastically. “I’m so glad I could give your little ego a boost, but don’t let it go to your head!” I quickly rolled to the side before she could leap off. With a startled squawk, the young griff tumbled onto her back, and I snatched one of her back feet, lifting it high enough to keep her from rolling over. “You’ve still got a long way to go before you can get the best of Kithryn Jayoce Toullon.”
 
She stuck her pointed tongue out at me. “I still got you today!”
 
When I released her foot, she relaxed on her back while I stood and surveyed the mess she’d made of my clothes. A good laundering was in order, that’s for sure.
 
Impish griff …
 
“You’re late,” Ziane broke through my thoughts. “You said you’d be back before the sun came up. It’s almost noon.” One sharp talon pointed up to the sun high in the sky.
 
Like many of the border towns in Tamii, it had walls that were heavily patrolled. I had to wait until morning before I could slip out the front gates, and I’d left her quite a ways away just to avoid unwanted attention. Though Tamii and Samii have declared peace, there is still a lot of tension between them, so if I tried to slip by the guards and was caught, it would have been bad. Trust me, one cell was enough for today.
 
Plus, the opals weren’t treated, so they wouldn’t shift with me like my clothes and weapons.
 
I guess I should explain that. See, among all of the shape shifting species in the world, mythrin are the only ones who’s clothes and items can shift into their bodies when they change form. To do this, items have to be “treated” to shift too. I would tell you how we do it, but it’s a mythrin secret and I’ve sworn to keep it.
 
I shrugged. “Everything didn’t go quite as planned.”
 
“Does it ever?”
 
“Yes!” I scowled.
 
She quirked a furry eyebrow.
 
“It does!” I defended. “And no one could’ve predicted the balcony would break! The thing was made of moldy old wood, and he just painted over it to look nice! How was I supposed to know the fat bastard was too cheap to fix parts of his own house?” She just sighed and rolled her eyes at me. “Not like you could have done any better. And it doesn’t matter anyway cuz I still got the jewels.”
 
chapter 1 imageZiane’s tufted ears perked forward. “Oh, can I see?”
 
“Sure.”
 
I pulled the small pouch out and pried open the ties, dumping a few out on my hand. With great care, she picked out one of the milky opals and held it up to the light. When she tilted it back and forth, a wash of rainbow sparkles glittered from inside.
 
“Pretty,” Ziane churred. “Think you’ll get as good a price as he promised for them?”
 
“Maybe. Depends on if his buyer backed out or not.”
 
Of course, to sell these little beauties meant I had to get to Mertia City, and that was a long walk. Lucky for us, passenger boats always run up and down the Tiom and are a much faster way to get there. The Tiom river is really long and deep, so people can use it to go quite a ways inland. It’s the biggest trading route for most of the middle of Lath just south of the Riokos.
 
Good thing I always plan ahead and already bought tickets. You didn’t think I was really going to be so foolish and not prepare for this, did you? I’ll have you know, I always map out my escape route before I pull a job. I even bought them in another town just in case I was recognized before I got out of this town. Don’t look at me like I’m some paranoid, crazy girl. I’ve been on my own since I was nine and I’m still alive. A little caution can go a long way in a place like Lath, and you best remember that if you plan on staying long. Besides, the town was only a short walk away, and we could be there well before dark.
 
When the opals were safely deposited back in the pouch, I changed out of my all-black work outfit and back into my usual travel clothes: an off-white blouse with a flared collar, a faded slate-blue bodice, and a pair of worn dirt-brown pants with burgundy patches. I made the patches myself, including the little embroidered griffons on them. When I was decent again, I grabbed my side pack, hooked it around my belt, and we headed down the road.