It was mid-May, and Ronna’s Spring Festival was in full swing. It was Dawnhaven’s claim to fame, and year after year it drew in thousands of tourists in the three months of the celebration. People from all over the world were drawn in by the promise of opulence and elegance, of glamour and glitz and the most luxurious three months anyone could ask for. The quaint cobblestone streets were packed with vibrant booths and flamboyant costumes, masked men and women dancing through the city like so many exotic fish. Music, carried by the gentle wind, seemed to float over it all, adding to the picture of dazzling festivity.
This was all that most of the revelers saw of Ronna; indeed, it was what they were supposed to see. However, if you choose to look past the masks and the paint to the country itself, you begin to notice more.
Often the light is too bright for you to see the shadows, but once you do there is no way to avoid them. The old man huddled on the street corner in a beat-up army jacket. The young mother who has not yet realized that the promise made to her will never be kept. The filthy children darting through the affluent crowd in search of poorly-guarded purses.
Let us, for a moment, focus on one of these children in particular. Of course, when you look at him he seems perfectly average, for a street urchin, despite being slightly older than the others at sixteen. His dark hair is shaggy and unkempt, slightly too long to be comfortable. His black jacket and jeans are worn ragged. In fact, everything about him is reminiscent of the shadows he seems to materialize from. His sneer is bitter and permanent. His eyes, however, are the most remarkable part of him. Although his clothing and skin are dark and muted, one eye is a bright emerald green and the other an unnaturally piercing blue. Something about this boy is intriguing, his eyes or his insubstantiality or his intrinsic sharpness or the catlike grace with which he moves. Something gives him a certain quality that makes you want to give him a second glance - but by the time you do, he is already gone.
Dmitri slipped through the crush of bodies as easily as a fish through water, keeping his head bowed and his posture relaxed. These months were always the easiest of the year; he was the best thief in the city of Ronna and the flood of tourists brought with them foolishness and great wealth. Dmitri unclasped a gold bracelet from a woman’s wrist, then deftly maneuvered a man’s wallet from his coat pocket before tucking them both into his coat. Yes, the Festival of Spring was the best time of the year for a pickpocket, except for -
“Hey, you! Stop right there, thief!” Dmitri cursed quietly, spotting a Queen’s Guardsman charging toward him through the crowd. He spun around and began to sprint, evading confused nobles as if he had been running for his life since the day he was born. Which was not surprising considering that was exactly the case.
Dmitri kept running until he broke out of the crowd, darting into one of the alleys branching off from the street. He slowed to a jaunty walk after ensuring that he had lost his pursuer, shoving his hands into his jacket pockets and whistling as he strode triumphantly through the dingy passageway. He could feel the weight of the day’s plunder in his inside pocket, pressing against his chest, and he was satisfied despite his close encounter.
“You know, overconfidence is often the downfall of most skilled criminals.” Dmitri froze, his song cut off abruptly. A figure detached itself from the shadows and began to saunter toward him casually as the deep, velvety voice continued. “Truly a tragedy. A bit of arrogance, an inflated ego, and even the best criminal of the age falls. Well, a tragedy for the criminal, that is. For people like me,” the man stepped into the light, and Dmitri’s eyes widened, “it is an advantage.” The sunlight slanting down through the dust-filled air illuminated the sharp but delicate planes of the man’s face, the long gold hair tied back from the visage of an avenging angel.
Dmitri’s veins ran cold with ice. He tried to step back, but was met with the rough brick of the wall, firm and unyielding. The man kept walking toward him until they were a breath away from each other. “Then again, you are far from the greatest criminal of the age.” He was only barely shorter than Dmitri, and easily held his gaze with cool grey eyes. Dmitri did not need an introduction to recognize him: Raphael, the captain of the Queen’s Guard and the Prince of Dawnhaven.
Dmitri swallowed hard and grinned ferally, baring his teeth at the other man in a mockery of a smile. “Look, I don’t know what you’re talking about, man. I’m not a criminal, I’m just trying to enjoy this lovely festival. You wouldn’t want to disturb the peace by arresting a virtuous, innocent partygoer, would you?”
Raphael snarled in reply. “You, virtuous? Your kind wouldn’t know virtuous if it bit you in the - “
He was interrupted by the arrival of a trio of Guards. If they were surprised to see their prince nose-to-nose with the very thief they were hunting, they didn’t show it. One of them, Dmitri noticed, was the one who had first caught him in the square. The guard squared his large shoulders and marched up to Raphael, inclining his head in deference. “Sir, this boy was caught stealing from the Duchess of Lamonte. Permission to take him in?”
Raphael finally broke Dmitri’s gaze, turning his eyes to his lieutenant before nodding shortly. “Permission granted. Make sure you watch him carefully, I have been after this one for a long time. He is quick and clever, even if he doesn’t look it.” He turned back to Dmitri at the last sentence, haughtiness clear in the sharp lines of his face.
Dmitri sneered in reply. “I’m touched, I really am. In fact, I think I’m blushing.”
Raphael refused to rise to the bait. “I’m surprised that you’re still so cocky, considering you’re the one about to be sent to jail for life.”
The taller man simply smiled sweetly. “Oh, am I?” The prince could have sworn he winked once before seeming to melt into the wall behind him. Before Raphael could grab him, or cry out, or do much of anything beside gape silently, the arrogant thief had vanished.
A moment of astonished silence passed before Raphael returned to himself and commanded his men to scour the area. They were too late. Dmitri was long gone, loot in hand and full to the brim with smug satisfaction. The prince was forced to return to the festival, baffled and infuriated.
Back in the vacated alley, a girl was perched, birdlike, on a fire escape from which she had watched the entire altercation. She giggled delightedly and sprang down, violet eyes full of mischief, before she turned the corner and disappeared.