Ceres ducked into the first alleyway she came across, her brisk but casual pace turning into a full out sprint once she'd made it off the street and out of easy view of anyone who might be watching her. She knew that part of Kymal well, and the quickest way to draw attention to yourself once you had someone else's money was to run for it. It was better to wait, to slip out of sight and then put as much distance between you and the mark as possible.
She'd learned that the hard way back when she'd first started picking pockets, and she had a small scar on her left thigh to show for it. Luckily, she'd always had a talent for thinking on her feet. She was a fast learner when properly motivated.
Without hesitating, Ceres took a running leap and kicked off of the wall beside her as she came to the end of the alley. She flung herself upward, grabbing for a small balcony a good four feet above her head. The moment her fingers touched it, she let loose with a well-aimed backflip.
Her feet landed lightly on the floor of the balcony a moment later.
With a quick glance around to make certain no one had noticed her acrobatics, Ceres started up the small ladder that led from the balcony to the roof. There was a small store on the ground floor with the owner's home above it, and the tiefling who lived there used the building's roof for storage. Chastity didn't mind when Ceres hid up there for a bit, as long as she didn't have any guards on her tail.
Well, and as well as she gave her a small cut of her earnings, of course. Still, it wasn't the worst arrangement Ceres had come to with someone since she'd left her hometown with no intent of ever looking back.
Ceres sat down once she made it to the roof, pulling out her prize. The human woman she'd robbed had clearly been a traveler passing through Kymal on her way somewhere else, and between her gold-rimmed spectacles and her wavy brown hair flowing loose instead of tied back, she'd seemed like an easy mark. Considering the weight of the coin purse in her hands, it seemed like she'd made a good choice.
Shaking her head, Ceres opened the purse and took a look inside. Her breath immediately caught in her throat.
The first thing she noticed was that the purse wasn't full of gold or silver, like she'd been expecting. It was full of platinum. Ceres was holding more money in her hands than she'd ever even seen.
The second thing she noticed were the faint glowing runes carefully cut into the inside leather of the purse. Magic wasn't exactly her specialty, but she doubted they were anything good. Well, not good for her, at any rate.
She should have known it wouldn't be that easy. Nothing ever was, not for her.
"Well fuck," Ceres muttered under her breath.
Above her, someone started clapping.
Not entirely certain what she was going to see, Ceres glanced upward. The woman she'd stolen the purse from was looking down at her, standing on the ladder that Ceres had climbed up and leaning over the wall that surrounded the building's flat roof. Up close, she didn't look nearly as naïve as she'd seemed before, the intelligence in her blue eyes impossible to miss.
"Impressive," the woman said, raising her eyebrows. "I didn't even notice that you'd picked my pocket until you got far enough away from me to set off the alarm."
Ceres eyed her warily, not saying anything. She resisted the urge to look around. She knew this roof well enough that it wasn't necessary, and it would be easier to run if the woman wasn't expecting it.
The woman laughed, and Ceres had the oddest feeling that she was being read like a book. "There's no need to be so skittish," the human said lightly. "I've been looking for someone with skills like yours. With a little training, I think you could be almost as good as me."
"Didn't you just say you didn't notice me stealing your purse?" Ceres shot back, the words slipping out before she could stop them. And once they were out, well, she didn't see much point in stopping before she was finished. She's already said too much, so what was a little more? "It sounds like I'm already better than you."
That sparked an amused laugh from the woman. "You have a sharp tongue, don't you?" she asked. Her tone shifted, picking up an almost flirtatious air. "I'm curious to see what else you can do with it."
Ceres shrugged, still keeping a careful eye on her. "I have my talents."
"I'm sure you do," the woman said, her eyes crinkling with amusement. Then she suddenly reached her hand down towards Ceres, clearly offering it for a handshake. "My name's Maya."
For a long moment, Ceres stared at her. Then she slowly reached up and took the offered hand. "Ceres," she said. "I'm Ceres."
Then she yanked on Maya's hand, sending her flying up over the wall only to go sprawling at Ceres's feet a moment later. The human woman let out a curse as she landed, the wind clearly knocked out of her, but she didn't seem particularly surprised. If anything, she seemed grudgingly impressed.
Maya sighed. "I suppose that I should have seen that coming," she said dryly.
Ceres slowly smiled.
Sometimes Ceres wondered what in the Hells she thought that she was doing.
She glanced up from the dagger that she'd been sharpening more out of a need to keep her hands busy than because it actually needed any work done on it. The fire in the center of their camp was starting to grow low, and the shadows around them were growing longer. It was getting late.
Ceres let her gaze drift over the campsite. Gwae was sitting on the other side of the fire, a bottle of something alcoholic in her hands that she was steadily making her way. She kept looking up from time to time, clearly trying and failing not to look at the couple sitting a few feet away from her.
Speaking of which, Eryth and Arian were leaning in close to each other and quietly whispering between themselves. Ceres could probably read their lips if she wanted to, even in the dim light, but she doubted the topic would be anything of interest to her. Especially considering the faint blush that was slowly growing darker at the tips of Arian's ears, not that it took anything particularly vulgar to cause that reaction from him.
Near the edges of the camp, Shema was flailing at Aritian. Then she seemed to melt into the shadows, completely disappearing. Aritian's mouth twitched, as if he was trying not to smile. A moment later, Shema reappeared behind him. He jumped almost a foot in the air as she wrapped her arms around him in a loose hug that he clearly hadn't been expecting.
Gods, sometimes Ceres felt old. She knew that she'd been young and foolish once upon a time. All she had to do was think back on, well, almost anything that she'd done with Maya over their decade or so together to convince her of that much. But that had been a long time ago, and time kept moving forward.
Her eyes darted over towards Zallar. He was reading from a large book that was resting in his lap; the gods only knew where he'd found it. The corner of his mouth was twitching slightly, as if he was trying not to smile. It was... somewhat terrifying, to be honest.
Ceres felt the corners of her own mouth twitch a bit, and she quickly turned her attention back towards the already-sharp dagger in her hands. When she'd joined the others on what was essentially a scavenger hunt, it had been because Velora had asked her to do so. The others had been new to the Land of Ravens, untrained and still learning to work together. It had seemed reasonable to have someone with a bit more experience join them, at least for a while.
She wasn't entirely certain when it had gone from being a duty to something more.
Oh, the others drove her mad sometimes. There were definitely times when she had to remind herself of just how young the others were, save Zallar at least. It took some effort to keep herself from doing or saying something that she'd probably regret before too long. But... but...
Well, but something. That's really all she could say.
The others called themselves family. Ceres wasn't quite certain she was willing to go that far, not yet. She hadn't had a family in a long, long time, after all. It was her own fault, she knew that much. She had been the one to leave, to cut ties when all her parents had wanted was—
Well, they'd wanted something that she could never give them. They'd looked at her and saw the daughter they'd lost rather than the child they had. She had never met Juno, had never even seen a picture of the older sibling she'd never known, but Ceres had been standing in her shadow since the day she was born.
Maybe she'd been right to leave. Maybe she'd been wrong. After almost thirty years, though, did it really matter? The past was in the past, and that's where it was going to stay.
Nothrim. Family. It was complicated, that much Ceres was willing to admit.
Whether she liked it or not, the others were growing on her. For better or for worse, she wanted to keep them safe. Protected. Together. Gods, she was getting sentimental as she got old.
She just hoped it didn't get her killed before it was all said and done.