Haha, this one took ages to get started but eventually it flowed a bit better. Still very scrappy but I think I managed to get the tone right. I’ll see how it looks in the cold light of morning. For the record, the story behind this:
15:13 me: Hi ho
me: You can tell me what to write for today
because I am all out of ideas
James: all right
15:16 do you want me to pick from the things you have started or throw you a genre or what
if there’s something you’d like me to see write then pick that
if you have no real requests then just pick something at random or whatever
I just need something to decide with that isn’t my own easily distracted whim
15:18 James: fantasy bank robbery
Sometimes, you can just end up having a bad day. Not that often, really; you might think that you’re having a bad day when you really aren’t because you’re tired or hungry or worked up about something that doesn’t really matter. Most of the time you can’t even tell the difference between the two, so every now and then you need a genuinely bad day to remind you just how easy you have it on the false ones.
Rell was definitely having a bad day now. Her erstwhile customer was still unarmed, but he gave every impression of being wholly in control of the situation. She had thought that the heat had sapped her capacity for any feeling other than impatience, but now she felt fear stirring within her, a gnawing open-ended fear that left her guts cold despite the temperature.
Oddly enough, it wasn’t the first time someone had tried to rob the bank while she was on shift – there had been a raid by a criminal gang last month. It had been put down by imperial soldiers almost before it started thanks to some quick thinking on the part of the garrison commander. This lot were different. They had the numbers to haul the gold they were likely after, and every one of them looked ready for combat.
And they had hostages.
She stared at the man in front of her – obviously the leader – until a line of sweat ran over her eye. She blinked and a shudder ran through her as she took out her keys and laid them on the counter between them.
“Take them. I don’t want any trouble.”
One of the accomplices – perhaps a deputy – snatched the keys up as he passed. The leader barely seemed to notice and kept his attention on Rell.
“I understand that quite well, my lady. Please, feel free to sit down – I’d like to talk with you for a moment.” He gestured to the seats at one edge of the atrium – for customers – Rell thought to herself, and she knew she had no real choice but to comply. Between the heat and the feeling of an endless drop in her stomach, sitting was at least a second-best choice; her preferred option of running out of the building and the whole damn crazy empire was unfortunately not possible right now.
The eyes of the robbers standing watch followed her as she walked across the floor in a way that struck her as odd – she saw more caution than cruelty in their eyes. These certainly weren’t desperate men: the discipline of their movements and the condition of their clothes marked them as professionals – guards in a noble house, she supposed.
She dropped onto a bench, and her escort sat opposite her. His infuriating smile had gone: he wore a more calculating look now. Rell was unable to hide her stress, but there was no way she’d let him see her fear if she could help it. Taking the initiative seemed the only way out for her.
“What do you hope to accomplish with all this?” She waved at the men – the uniformed men, she realised – who were now moving bullion and valuables from the vaults to something outside the building, beyond her line of sight. “The local watch won’t want to tangle with you, I’m sure, but the garrison will be down your throats in a matter of minutes. Most of this money comes from Ara, and the owners take it very seriously. You don’t expect to make a getaway, do you?”
“I don’t plan on getting away from anything.” He started smiling again. “And I know that you don’t take all this” – he gestured vaguely at the bank, the ornamentation, the flustered customers from the capital – “seriously at all, assuming you’re as foreign as you look.” He leaned forward and offered her a handkerchief. “It’s a tricky climate to adjust to, no?” She nodded and took it mutely, since he obviously wanted to talk.
“I think you’ll find I’m already quite unpopular in Ara, as a matter of fact. It’s why I’m here in the first place: they’re hardly likely to give me any of this freely! That’s why everything’s got to happen quickly.” He pointed to the now diminishing flow of wealth out the doors of the bank; the soldiers or bandits or whatever they were had moved with remarkable speed, apparently unconcerned about the possibility of being apprehended by anyone from the garrison. “We’ve got a busy day ahead of us, you know?”
Rell started. “This isn’t the only place you’re robbing today?”
“Oh, heavens no. Plenty more to visit if we’re going to get anything before it’s all rushed back to the capital.” Several men approached – the distressingly rapid emptying of the vault had apparently been finished. The leader rose and nodded to them, prompting a series of shouted orders that got all of the thieves moving rapidly outside. He turned to join them before stopping and looking back at Rell.
“And this place wasn’t the first, either. We were just at the mint, in fact.” He grinned, reached into a pocket, and tossed a coin at her – she caught it without breathing. “A souvenir for you, my lady. I’m afraid I must take my leave.” Rell stared in disbelief as he walked – swaggered – out of the atrium and into the sunlight. It was too early to be relieved by the end of the imminent danger; her heart was pounding too hard to heed the unbelievable fact that she’d apparently been left to her own devices. The urge to get up and run hadn’t yet grown strong enough to overcome the weakness forced upon her by fear and heat.
Trying to muster her strength, she lowered her head and made a fist around the coin. As her fingers uncurled, she got a better look at the shiny metal. It was fairly new, minted in the style that had been common in the last couple of years in the western provinces of the empire. The face was unfamiliar – it certainly wasn’t that of any emperor she’d seen on the currency she’d handled over the last few months. The face was young, and its smile seemed faintly mocking in the indoor light.
Rell’s eyes widened. The expression was barely different in silver than it had been in the flesh. He’d been so well spoken, so unconcerned with the possibility of arrest and reprisal. So cavalier about being unpopular in Ara. His hair had been dark.
She sprang upright and ran after the departing soldiers. The heat no longer mattered, and her fear had somehow turned itself into a mad kind of hope. Caution told her that she ought to get out – out of the city and out of the empire – but she ignored it. She wasn’t old enough to be patient yet.