Authors: A.M. Sexton
Davlova: Book One
Davlova: Book One
Copyright © 2014, Marie Sexton
Editing by Karin Story
Cover art by Reese Dante
ooks are not transferable. All rights are reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews. The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is illegal. No part of this book may be scanned, uploaded or distributed via the Internet or any other means, electronic or print, without the author’s permission.
This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places and incidents are products of the writer’s imagination or have been used fictionally and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locale or organizations is entirely coincidental.
Licensed material is being used for illustrative purposes only and any person depicted in the licensed material is a model.
Published in the United States of America by Marie Sexton at Smashwords, June, 2014
EBook ISBN: 978-0-9914153-3-5
Paperback ISBN: 978-0-9914153-4-2
This book took me nearly two years to write and practically killed me in the process, so it's not surprising that I had a great deal of help from a great many people.
Heidi, Troy, Sarah, Annabeth, Gia, Rowan, Kristen, and my husband all read it somewhere along the way. (There were probably others, too. I apologize if I missed you.)
I want to thank them for taking time out of their day to assist me.
I want to thank ZAM for helping me make a critical decision.
I want to thank Karin and Kelly for helping whip the final draft into shape.
I also want to give an extra large "thank you" to Carter for helping me brainstorm the solution to my last sticky little plot problem, for listening to my incessant whining, and (especially) for pushing me on through the end.
You probably wouldn't be holding this book in your hand (or reading it on your device) if it weren't for him.
The Festival was always a lucrative day for thieves. The rich tattooed folks descended from their hillside townhouses to celebrate in the plazas of Davlova, mixing with us lowborns as if they were doing us a favor. Blood ran hot and beer ran cold, and as the sun worked its way across the turquoise sky, opportunities bloomed like wildflowers in the gardens of the temples. The pureborns thought they owned the city, but down here, they were nothing but easy prey.
Clan children worked the crowd—begging, pickpocketing, spotting marks for their older peers. Anzhéla’s clan was out in force, but we preferred the alleys to the streets. Deep in the shadowy places between the towering buildings of Davlova, many a man lost his purse or his life. Many a girl lost her chastity, although usually not on purpose. Opportunities were seized. Fortunes made. Of course, in order to take full advantage, a man must be willing to get his hands dirty.
Or his knees.
The man who’d led me into the alley this time stank of onions and pussy. I wasn’t the first whore he’d paid today. I hoped for the woman’s sake he’d been a bit more sober when she’d had her turn. Whether it was the alcohol or because he didn’t like what I was doing, I didn’t know, but it took longer than it should have. My knees were sore and my jaw aching by the time he gave up his load.
I watched him stagger back toward the street, zipping his pants over his fat belly and whistling through his teeth, too drunk to step around the piles of shit in the alley. I didn’t bother to follow. I always made them pay in advance, partly because I’d learned the hard way how impossible it could be to get money out of a flat after he’d come, but also because it gave me a chance to see from where the mark pulled his money. And while I was on my knees with his cock in my mouth and his hands in my hair, I could usually get a pretty good feel for how fat that wallet was, too. This guy was loaded. A scrap of purple fabric peeked out from his back pocket, signaling the location of his wallet, marking him for my clan.
You have no idea how much that blow job will end up costing you.
His purse was still secure in his pocket, but not for long. It wouldn’t do to have him walk right out of the alley and find it missing, because then he’d know it was me. All he’d have to do was grab one of the city guards and point him my way. Our crew’s method insured that he’d never know who’d taken his money. But over the course of the afternoon, one of them would find him. They’d wait until he used his wallet one more time, then they’d sidle up behind him and lift it, smooth as silk.
And the money I’d made here in the alley? That was mine to keep. The pickpocketed wallet and its contents would go to Anzhéla, but she didn’t begrudge us a bit of personal business on the side.
I wiped my face, trying to rid myself of the smell of him and the woman he’d fucked earlier that day, but it clung to my skin. Even the rot-and-piss reek of the alley couldn’t seem to beat it.
“Sir, can you spare a penny?”
I turned to find a young boy, his small, dirty hand outstretched. He was probably less than five years old and thinner than any kid his age should be. His stomach was beginning to balloon from starvation. Unfortunately, he wasn’t alone in that regard. Not here in the trenches.
I sighed inwardly and glanced around, scanning the nooks and recessed doorways around us, searching for more wretches. It was possible he had friends. Even if he didn’t, there might be other beggars nearby. If I gave to one of them, they’d all be on me. I had little enough as it was. But the only person I saw was deeper in the alley, bundled in a blanket between two tottering piles of trash, either sleeping or dead.
I looked back at the boy, who watched me with huge eyes. There was always a chance he was playing me, working for a clan. But no. A trained beggar would have seen my hesitation. He would have pushed his advantage. Or, better yet, he would have turned on the waterworks and started to cry. But this boy didn’t. He wasn’t expecting me to help him. He looked beaten.
When it was adults, I could ignore them. But it was harder with kids. Maybe because I’d once been him.
I scrounged in my pocket and came up with a bit of iron.
“Here.” I laid it in his palm.
“Thank you, sir—”
“I’m no sir. Listen, you know the old theatre, down past Roxy Lane?”
He cocked his head, thinking. Meanwhile, the coin was still in his hand, his arm held out in front of him. He’d be an easy mark for any clan kid. But not once he became one himself. Then he’d learn. “Is that the building with the monsters on top?”
“That’s the one. Go down there. Hang out around front for a while. See what happens.”
He was confused by that, but it was as much as I’d do. Sure, I could have taken him there myself. But there were dozens of other kids on the streets who hadn’t found clans yet. Maybe hundreds. And just as many who were already working for a crew. Even Anzhéla couldn’t save them all.
I finally emerged from the cool shadows of the alley into the bright noise of the festival. Jabin was waiting for me on the other side of the street. We didn’t speak, but I flashed him the sign that meant all was good. He touched his hat brim in acknowledgment and went back to working the crowd.
On the surface, this year’s festival seemed like any other. The temperature was soaring. The white bricks paving the streets were hot enough to cook griddlecakes. The plaza was an open oven, buzzing with flies, clogged with people, reeking of sweat and ale and the sausages sold by fat, greasy vendors. Pureborn women in ornate dresses shooed their children through the crowd. Slaves and servants shuffled behind. The husbands stood in clumps, smoking foreign cigars and laughing loudly at private jokes.
What the tattooed fools didn’t seem to notice was the undercurrent of hatred and resentment that simmered beneath their noses. The angry remarks from merchants. The hostility of the whores. The grumblings everywhere that we lived in filth and squalor because these privileged bastards liked it that way. The plaza had been swept clean of refuse and horseshit for the festival, but it was littered with bright yellow squares of paper, like oversized confetti. If any pureborn had bothered to read what those leaflets said, they would have fled back behind their wall and locked the gates. They would have doubled the guard. They certainly wouldn’t have been so arrogant, or so obvious in their disdain.
Half an hour and two wallets later, I spotted Jabin again. He was leaning against a wall in the shade, watching me with an intensity that meant he wanted to talk. That surprised me. Jabin and I often watched each other’s backs as we worked, but we preferred to work singly.
As I edged my way through the crowd to stand next to him, he pulled a fag out of his pocket and stuck it in his mouth. “You read one yet?”
I didn’t have to ask what he was talking about. “Of course.”
“These rich fucks have no idea, do they?”
“Probably not.” The festival was the only day of the year when money from the hill made its way into the trenches in any kind of volume. Whoever was printing those fliers thought it was time we did something about that imbalance. More and more often, the masked men in yellow robes stood on street corners, preaching against the hill and the Council who ruled Davlova. When they’d first appeared a year ago, folks had laughed at the idea of a revolution. But food and jobs had become scarcer. Thieves were more prevalent, and the worst of them wore the uniforms of the city guard. Nobody laughed about rebellion much these days.
I pulled a lighter out of my pocket, flicked it open and sparked it to life. Only flint and a thumbwheel, so it didn’t fall under the ban against technology. I held the flame out toward Jabin so he could duck his head toward it. This was all just cover. It was a risk talking to me where anybody could see us, and the cig gave us an excuse to talk, although we’d keep it brief. The first rule of Anzhéla’s clan was, don’t get caught. The second rule was, don’t get caught together.
“What’s up?” I asked as I snapped the lighter shut.
He leaned back against the building and blew smoke. “The boss needs to see you. Word’s out. Chop-chop.”
“It’s still early. Lots of wallets to lift.”
He shrugged again and flicked ash. “I’m only the messenger.”
So through the crowd I went, chop-chop, like Jabin had said. Anzhéla didn’t often send word onto the streets. It was safer to wait until we all drifted home. My curiosity was piqued, although not so much that I didn’t take a few minutes to liberate a couple of fat wallets from their drunken owners on my way. No alley tricks this time. No marks for the clan. Just a quick lift as I pushed my way past. After all, wouldn’t want to let my skills get rusty.
I watched the alleys as I passed, alert for other thieves or members of rival clans hidden in the shadows of buildings or trashcans. The plaza was open territory, but here in the trenches, walking on the wrong side of the street could be cause for a fight. I kept my hand near the knife at my hip. But luck was with me. Or maybe it was only that all the thieves were working closer to the festival. I saw plenty of desperate people, but none who seemed keen to test me.