The Thief's Vow
  When I was in the process of publishing my first book, Dragon's Fire, a friend of mine turned me onto writing short stories. It seemed like a great way to give new readers a way to sample some of my work.  This is one of those very first pieces, written somewhere around October 2014. Let me know what you think of The Thief's Vow.

    His anxiousness gnawed at him. Like motion-sickness, nausea swelled from the pit of his stomach to the back of his throat. I don’t puke, Garreck thought. The green look on his face would tell you all you needed to know about whether he believed himself. The air bubbles in his churning stomach continued to work their way up though, and he repeated the refrain, I don’t puke.   
    He wished they would hurry up so he could get this blasted ordeal over with. Once it was done, the anxiety would pass and his stomach could settle. If he lived of course, and that was certainly not guaranteed. Impossible as it might seem, the truth is that was the least of his concerns.   
    As the time for the crime approached, Garreck forced his thoughts away from his stomach and fear and redirected them to the task at hand. This was no easy task for this greenhorn. He had the quick and nimble fingers honed through a life spent as a fletcher. He also had a bit of craftiness about him, which might aid him if it were to end in fisticuffs. But all-in-all he’d rather it not come to blows. Not that he was afraid, but it could become a bit messy. He had no experience in pilfering, robbery, burglary, or any other art of thievery. But the promise of new life waited.   
    In fact, if he pulled off this heist, it would change everything. In one dangerous and ballsy moment of fearlessness, he could keep his promise. It was a vow he made just a year ago. Back then he had no idea how he would make it happen, but he swore on his life that he would keep his vow. Now he understood what it would take to keep his promise. He would do what she asked, he would steal the Hiz'jorum.  
    He didn’t understand things concerning priests and witches and their eternal conflict. He knew they were enemies, but he didn't have a horse in this race, until now. He even went as far as trying to convince himself that they had it all wrong from the start. What if the goodies were baddies and the baddies were really the goodies? A warlock’s never done me any ‘arm. Nor a priest any good, to tell ya the truth, reasoned the thief.   
    In the midst of his avalanche of thoughts, her voice echoed in his mind. The priests have the — a book that belongs to me. Its name is the Hiz’jorum. It’s nothing really, just a simple artifact of my faith. It is very dear to me. Return the grimoire to me, and I will grant your request.   
    When he first made the deal, he didn’t know what he was getting himself into. Initially, he didn’t even know what was so special about this book, this Hiz’jorum. He knew that trusting the witch was probably not the best of ideas, but it was the only way to keep his vow, to get the life he desired. He knew that any book the witch wanted, must delve into the secrets of angels and demons, but what was that to him? So he decided not to dig any deeper.        
    He continued lying to himself though, as he attempted to justify his crime. Angels and demons, really? Sounds like a foolish bit a nonsense to me, the superstitious lot. An’ who’s to say that what they do an’ believe is wrong anyway? Angels, demons — what’s to say one is evil and one ain’t. Even if them demons is as bad as the priest’ood proclaims, that’ll be their problem, not mine. Besides, if studyin’ that mess does ‘em right, who should I be to deny ‘em.   
    Time was up. The moment had arrived. The temple doors below his perch swung open, and the temple guards departed for their evening patrol. Her voice echoed in his mind once more - “return the grimoire to me, and I will grant your request”. He reached down and slid his dagger into the doorjamb to prevent it from latching. The guards did not notice. Within thirty seconds they were around the corner and out of sight.   
    Garreck used his knife to pry the door open enough to slide his fingers inside. It wasn’t much, but it allowed him to pull the knotty pine door open. After tucking his dagger back into his tunic, the thief swung down to the ground some eight feet below. Once on the threshold of the temple, he pulled a small, round rock from his tunic pocket. He wasted no time in placing the smooth stone in the corner where the doorjamb met the ground. He carefully pulled the door against the stone. The door was not latched, but by all accounts, it appeared closed.   
    For a novice, he was smooth. He didn’t have time to pat himself on the back though, he must make haste. After quickly scanning the inside of the sanctuary, the shrouded burglar dashed forward down the aisle. The witch had told him that the tome would be kept in the book repository at the back of the temple. So onward he ran.   
    Sprinting past the altar, Garreck found himself at the head of a short hallway. He looked through the two rooms off to the right first, but he found his prize in the chamber across the hall. He conjured up a gust of wind from deep within his lungs. Sending it rushing forward from his mouth, he sent the thick layer of dust swirling into the air.   
    The thief began choking on the nasty haze he brought upon himself. A short coughing fit stole ten precious seconds, but he had it. The Hiz’jorum was his for the taking. He turned and darted out of the room, leaving the dust storm behind. His legs were not his greatest asset, and he thought he might be mired in quicksand, but those little legs kept churning.        Those legs carried him past the altar and back into the sanctuary, where he found the one thing he hoped not to, a person. He thought his heart would stop when his eyes found the priest before him. It was too late though. Even if he could have seen the priest a moment before, he doubted he could have gotten those legs to stop in time. They collided. He barreled, quite unintentionally, into the robed figure. The abrupt collision was not gentle on either of them. There they were, both sprawled out on the floor, and the book tumbled from his grasp.   
    “No, you mustn’t take it. There is another way,” shouted the priest before snatching the book off the stone floor.   
    Garreck fought to catch the wind that had been knocked from his lungs. Once retrieving it, he hopped to his feet to meet his accuser. There he stood, face to face with the priest. Beautiful and gentle eyes of the softest blue stared back at him. She was a discovery, lovely in a way that was entirely foreign to him. She was pure, noble, and even angelic. He was stunned. He stared at her innocent face. Her eyes were not angry or prepared for violence. They held newfound tears. In that moment, which may have lasted for age, he lost sight of his mission.   
    He allowed himself to drift off into the expanse of her soul, but not for long. The memory and weight of his vow was a bolt of lightning that came crashing back down upon him. In a way far different from his desires, he touched her. The force of his shove even surprised him. She let out a cry as she crashed down to the stone floor. He jerked the book that rested in her slender fingers. She bravely tugged on the book. He grunted as he ripped it away from her, partially lifting her little body off the ground. With no way to catch herself, she fell to the floor one last time.   
    He stared down upon the young woman. Sobs shook her body. He felt sorry for her, but there was nothing he could do. No one would stand between him and the life that had been promised. He knew his time was running out so he turned to leave.   
    Turning around one final time he said, “If I ‘ad another life, I would ‘ave loved you. But this — this is the one I was given.”   
    It did nothing to stop her tears, and he didn’t expect it to, but perhaps she might think better of him. He didn’t delay any longer, because the guards would return soon. The thief ran out of the temple and disappeared into the city.   
    He wasted no time as he fled far from one end of the great city to the other. He didn’t care who he might careen into or how strange he might seem dashing through the city. He had a vow to keep, so he ran. To a sprinter, those legs just wouldn’t do. However, he was no ordinary man. He was one driven mad with purpose, and those legs served him well.   
    He climbed the coven’s stairs two at a time until he reached the top. With the dusty tome under his arm, he found his way to her. Her eyes fixated on the book, her expression shifted from cold and distant to warm and inviting.       
    “You have done it. You have retrieved the Hiz’jorum” said the witch as her voice trailed off.   
    “I ‘ave ‘eld up my end of the bargain, now for you to do your end of it,” replied Garreck boldly.   
    “Fair enough,” she answered with more than a hint of darkness in her voice.   
    He handed her the book. “Let’s be done with it now, ‘fore it’s too late.” 
    “Indeed,” she answered as she signaled for her servants to bring the little girl.   
    The lesser witches carried the pallid child in and laid her on the floor between Garreck and the witch. Her body was limp and motionless except for the rising of her little chest as she fought for breath. Her straight blond hair stuck to her wet, fever-soaked cheeks.   “
    Are you ready?” she asked.   
    “I am.”   
    “You do realize there was another way?” the witch asked.   
    His eyes fell away from her to his daughter who lay dying on the floor. Her defeated body became hazy. He couldn’t muster the strength to answer the witch.   
    She continued, “You knew it, yet you chose this one. Why? Why didn’t you go to — Him?” she asked with a cold yet amused glare.   
    It seemed as if the very grains of sand ceased to fall through the eye of the hourglass. He heard her. He also heard the voice of the blue-eyed angel played back in his mind. There is another way. He tried to swallow the lump in his throat, but the surging wave of emotions wrecked him as he reached for the witch’s outstretched hand.   
    Through his tears, he grabbed her offering and said, “I know; I just couldn’t believe—”   
    The witch laughed as he plunged the dagger into his own stomach.   
    He saw his angel’s gentle face one last time, and he whispered to her, “If I ‘ad another life, I would ‘ave loved you. But this — this is the one I was given, an’ I ‘ave it to give but once.”   
    He grew weak as the pain overtook his body. He looked down upon his little girl. The color began to return to her cheeks. The sleeping child turned to her father. He stared at her precious face one last time.   
    “Daddy ‘as kept ‘is vow.”     



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