It’s the year 1165 S.E. (Separate Era) and the country of Llyrak is separated from humanity by a massive wall. Llyrak and its six regions-Sergandia, Kazimat, Lukenstein, Dimasiia, Nadihko and Klavdiar-feel resented by this wall.
They feel cut off from mankind.
This has caused tension between the rulers of the six regions, leading to an overall hate of the largest of these regions, Sergandia. This tension only rises when the young prince’s becoming advisor and best friend mysteriously disappears. To make matters worse, Prince Nikita also knows that she’s in Kazimat, the region hidden by it’s secrets.
Nikita is all but hopeless of ever saving his friend until he finds exactly what he needs: eighteen-year-old Mishka Mironovna Pronina, the regions greatest thief.
To avoid starting an all out war with Kazimat, Prince Nikita and Mishka go behind the emperor’s back to rise to the challenge of saving the young advisor. But the stakes are high. Nikita knows he has to save his best friend, but at what cost? The regions are already on the brink of war, and the curiosity of why they have been sealed off from humanity continues to increase.
Stepping out of place may be just what Llyrak needs to cause the entire country, and maybe even the world, to collapse into ruin.
The inside of the palace was different than she had imagined. It was colder than she thought it would be, and the hallway Mishka was in was so dark that she could barely see. She could feel the clean, smooth wall under her fingertips, guiding her way through the darkness. Not that she needed it. Mishka had studied the blueprints to the palace so many times that she could have walked it in her sleep.
Mishka stayed low to the ground and was careful to always make sure that her hood was covering her slight frame. She had knocked out the surveillance guard and tied him up before entering the palace to remove any complications, but even so, she didn’t want to take her chances on being discovered later. For her plan to work, she needed the prince to not have any idea as to who she was and where she came from, not until the time was right.
Clinging to the wall, Mishka peeked around the next corner to check for guards, though the hallway was as empty as the rest. She crept around the corner, staying low just in case something were to happen. Mishka was currently in the west wing of the palace, and the hallways she was taking were make her trip much longer than it needed to be, but they were theorized to be the least active of the palace. The theories were, for now at least, holding true. She had only run into one guard, who she was able to easily dispose of.
Mishka took another left at the end of the hallway, stopping as the metal beneath her fingertips changed from the texture of glass to tiny mountains on the walls. It was a slight change, but it was there. And she had almost walked right past it. So much for having extensively studied the blueprints.
Turning, Mishka pressed her ear against the wall, and rapped on it. The vibrations bounced around the room for a second before they returned Mishka’s ear, with a hollow sound to them. There was a room on the other side. Mishka could more than guess that it was the room that she was looking for. She knew it was the royal safe of the region. Taking a few more steps down the hallway, she felt along the wall until she found a thin crack. Mishka was then able to trace the small split all the way around a rectangular frame and back to the floor. A door. Carbon steel, by the information that Mishka had managed to obtain about the palace.
She got down on one knee next to the keypad. Carbon steel doors were great, but they all had one minor flaw. The emperor had tried to fix the flaw so that it would be triggered if it was exploited, which was an admirable plan, but it still wouldn’t keep Mishka from getting in. Digging a metal wedge out of her backpack, Mishka shoved it between the keypad―which had been buried into the wall―and the metal around it, and easily broke it off to reveal an assortment of colorful wires. She found the one wire in the bunch of them that was colored green, and cut it. Instantly, the door popped open as alarms, louder than any Mishka had ever heard, went off. The lights in the hallway that Mishka was in clicked on one at a time, starting from where she was. They went down the length of the hallway, until the entire thing was lit up like the sun.
“Alright, now it’s time to really get this party started,” Mishka muttered to herself with a small grin. She ducked into the case where an assortment of bright and shining jewels awaited her. There were many in the room, but only one that she cared about. Mishka quickly grabbed the emperor’s crown, which had just recently been put in the room in the absence of the royal who usually wore it, off the top of a velvet pillow sitting on a marble post in the middle of the room. The timing of this entire charade was just too perfect.
Stuffing the crown into her backpack, Mishka ran back out into the hallway as she swung her backpack onto her back. Guards were already streaming down the right side of the hallway, armed to the teeth in gear. The front line of guards held larger, and rounder triggers. They were colored a dark black in the front but dark green on the clunky chambers that held paralyzation darts. They weren’t deadly, no matter where they hit, and meant that the prince at least had hopes of bringing Mishka back alive. Though the rest of the guards that were farther back had weapons that were similar to the paralyzation triggers, but they had sharper edges and a sleeker design, not to mention they were also completely black and shot small iron pellets that could easily bring her down in one hit. Mishka had a feeling the prince knew what she was after. He was not playing games tonight. Fortunately, neither was Mishka.
She managed to slide around the corner, narrowly dodging the first wave of darts that exploded just behind her, then barreled down the hallway, aiming for the window at the end of it. She knew the guards would not be expecting it since they were on the third floor. That’s why she had incorporated it into her plan in the first place.
The guards whirled around the corner behind her as even more flooded the halls to Mishka’s left and right. Shots were pinging all around her. Fortunately, because of the large and clumsy size of the darts, they were hard to aim for most people. But Mishka knew that wouldn’t last for long. It was only a matter of time before they started using the much more accurate iron pellets.
Covering her face with her hands, Mishka jumped through the glass of the window in front of her. In just a mere matter of seconds, Mishka was free falling from the palace, toward the ground and her possible death. Only she had planned her jump just right, and one of the streets of the palace was beneath her. A street that had a magnet beneath it, like the rest in Llyrak. Mishka switched on the magnets of the boots she was wearing, turning them to negative polarity to match the street below her. The influence of the magnets immediately started to slow her fall as the two matching sides repelled each other.
Mishka steadied herself, spreading her arms out like a bird as the ground neared her. It stopped its ascent on Mishka right as she reached it, causing her to touch the bottom side of one of her boots to it, then flung her upwards again. Mishka didn’t go nearly as high the second time, but she was still able to use the momentum to fling herself away from the castle as another round of tiny explosions went off behind her. The stabilizers in her boots held as she hit the pressure point of the magnetic field one more time, then Mishka disengaged her boots, dropping to the ground.
When she hit, she hit hard, and accidentally let loose a small gasp in pain, only stopping herself after it was too late. Mishka shook the shock wave of pain off, and looked up at the guards. There were a couple of them huddled near the window, watching her on the ground. However, none of them were gutsy enough to follow her. One did try to hit Mishka by firing off a few shots, but she disappeared down the road at the sound of the first blast. Not even Mishka wanted to play her chances of being hit.
The voices behind Mishka grew more distressed when they realized that, somehow, someone had just broken into the palace of the prince and gotten out alive. Mishka allowed a small grin to creep up the edges of her lips. Served them right. They were too arrogant, thinking no one could steal from them.
Mishka hurried down the road of the palace, careful to stay close to the edge where there were a few trees that could hide her should she need it. She glanced over her shoulder in distress, then up at the large city in front of her. If she could make it into the city, it could help her hide, give Mishka her chance to get away.
Making it to the palace gate, Mishka moved behind one of the trees. Down at the other end of the road, she could hear the deep but smooth purr of the ascender’s engines powering up. They were still far off, but Mishka knew how fast those things went. Sure enough, no more than a few seconds later, the first ascender passed by Mishka’s hiding spot, followed by at least thirty other glyders and even a few more ascenders. As the last of the large vehicles passed, Mishka jogged out, grabbed the back of the last ascender with her left hand and engaged her magnetic levitation boots once again. The ascender simply pulled her right along with it, out of the gate and past the guards standing at it, who didn’t even think to look for her there. Mishka smiled to herself, mostly to keep the beat of her heart calm, and held onto the ascender as they zipped through town.
Between the colorful billboards that lined the street and the mirrored buildings taking up almost every street corner, the city was lit up and seemed to be covered with festive lights, despite that it was the middle of the night. The city was so much brighter than Mishka’s own. Cities like this during the day were nothing strange, and actually pretty normal amongst other large cities. Night was a different story. Few cities, no matter their size, lit up like this at night. The colors amongst the mirrored buildings, fire glass and pristine sidewalks and roadways was one of marvel.
It had always been a dream of Mishka’s to see Oldowan at night, one that had seemed far-fetched until now. Even as she glided through the city on the back of one of the prince’s ascenders, she still had trouble believing she was really there, in the capital of her region. It was something that not many got to see.
Spotting the regional edifice of Sergandia, Mishka suddenly realized that they were nearing the heart of town, where the guards would most likely set up blockades and spread out to start looking for her. Mishka let go of the ascender, and landed with a soft thump on the hard ground.
Amongst the excited nighttime sounds of the city, Mishka turned on her heel, scanning for something that could hide her. She had taken two steps, when someone yelled, “halt.” Mishka knew the word was directed at her, but instead of stopping, she increased her pace, allowing her feet to fly through the streets. There were a couple more demanding calls behind her, but they got lost in the wind.
The black backpack thumping against Mishka’s back was a nice comfort, knowing that she was so near to being done. It brought her hopes up almost as much as the sudden shriek of dogs behind her brought them down. A second, deep howl sent chills down her spine. She had been hopin, up until then, that they wouldn’t use the dogs.
Mishka cut down an alleyway between two buildings that had been shoved way too close together, heading towards the center of the city. Her heart was thumping like a brass drum in her chest. Putting a hand over her heart, Mishka wound around another corner, nearly bumping into a guard and his dog in the process. With a heart lurching leap, Mishka jumped backwards and turned to retreat, only to bump into yet another guard.
“Over here!” the first guard called out to his lackeys over the sound of his snarling dog. Mishka still had her hood up, so she had hopes that the guards hadn’t gotten a clear look at her.
She whipped out a knife, causing the second guard to yell, “she’s got a knife.” He turned his trigger, an iron one, around on Mishka. Steadying her knife, Mishka dove below the gun, and rammed her weapon into the guard’s calf. A flash of guilt hit her for a moment, but she quickly brushed it away. The guard would be fine. A hit to the calf wouldn’t kill him.
As the guard went down, Mishka was quick to jump over his body, yanking her knife out in the process. The first guard tried to stop her with words of disapproval, but Mishka was already too far away to hear him.
But she wasn’t far enough to miss the sound of the dog’s rapid barking.
The barking that was getting closer.
For the first time in the mission, goosebumps ran down Mishka’s spine and along her arms. Her legs went weak, though just for a moment, and only through fortune was she able to regain her balance. The dog’s deep howls were joined by several more, at least five by what Mishka could guess without having to look behind her, and they were quickly gaining on her. Even though they were still a half a block back, Mishka could practically feel them nipping at her heels. She skidded out from an alleyway, whipping her head around frantically, desperately searching for some sort of safe-haven.
When the dogs got just a few feet behind her, Mishka shot off again, darting into a nearby building that was made of mirrors, just like the rest of the buildings in Oldowan. Bystanders in the building tried to stop Mishka as well as the dogs, but she plowed ahead anyway, knowing that they wouldn’t do much to halt the dogs either. Veering into a stairwell, Mishka pounded up the steps, taking them two at a time. The dogs entered just a few seconds after her, their paws as loud as thunder, but the dogs started tripping over both the stairs and themselves when they entered the narrow place, which would help Mishka, but wouldn’t get her out of her predicament.
Mishka ascended a few stories before she burst out of a door, sprinting for the first window she saw. There was another building just a few feet across from the one she was in. She could see it. She was almost there.
Then, suddenly, she was on the ground. Pain exploded in her leg only after she hit the ground, and Mishka quickly realized that there was a large beast crawling over her. It must have been able to get over its friends easier than the rest and slipped past her realization.
Kicking at the dog’s stomach, Mishka threw it off. It hit the ground with a soft whimper, but still managed to get up just as Mishka did. Mishka landed another blow on the dog with her bad leg, knowing it wouldn’t be able to support her weight, and due to the new fragility of her leg, the dog only flew back a couple of feet. Mishka took her opportunity however, and started limping toward her freedom once again. Pain flew up her leg when she first placed pressure on it, but as she stepped more, the pain decreased. She worked herself up to a run, still slightly limping on her bad leg, and took a flying leap as she rammed her shoulder through the window.
The rest seemed to happen in slow motion. She gazed through the next window, at the faces of the unsuspecting spectators, as she glided through the air, with nothing to save her should she fall. She glanced down at the ground, which was a couple hundred feet away from her, then to her right, where she could see the bright lights of not only the city, but the ascenders as well. She wasn’t able to find any guards, but Mishka knew they were there.
Then she crashed through the next window. Mishka momentarily fell to her knees, but she pushed herself back to her feet, almost falling over again from the strain of her leg. Only barely was she able to keep her balance as she plowed on, not even daring to look back to see if any of the dogs had followed her or were going to.
As Mishka descended back to the ground, she flung her bag off her back, tearing through her contents of it. She brought out a light red cloak that she had brought precisely for this purpose, and ripped off a small piece of it. As she exited the building, Mishka had no doubt that the dogs were still close behind, and directed herself back towards the center of the city, where she knew the guards would be. By now, there was a large gathering of people around them, probably trying to see what the ruckus was about even though it was the middle of the night.
Mishka kept her sights set ahead of her as she neared the barricades. She hunched close to the ground, but got even closer, until she was right next to one of the guards. Glancing up, she noticed that he was looking at her, and she feigned surprise. With a quick swipe of her hand, Mishka shoved the small piece of cloth on the side of the building, then scampered off again.
The guards tried to chase after her at first, before they found the scrap of cloth that she had left. Shouts of excitement and demands to find the dogs she had left behind rose up behind her over the sound of Mishka’s pounding heart in her ears. Pausing, Mishka leaned on her knees, careful to put more weight on her good leg, as she waited for the guards to catch up. She drew in her precious breaths, but bounced on her toes while she waited.
Soon, the strangled cry of the dogs came from farther down the alleyway, and Mishka grinned. Spinning on her toes, she took off again. Her long hair slapped her back as she ran, winding her way through the streets to evade the guards and dogs following after her.
Mishka led her pursuers to the outside of the city, where the buildings weren’t nearly as nice as they were in the populated part. The value of the buildings around them decreased, going from the nice mirrored walls to the same weathered brick that Mishka’s own house was built on. The people thinned out as well, to the point where Mishka couldn’t even see another person. So, holding out the red cloak, she let it fly. Indeed, it only travelled a few feet before it fell to the ground, unmoving, but that was all Mishka needed. She dove into a nearby, abandoned building that was far enough away that the dogs nor the guards could find her, but close enough that she could watch. She had to be sure that her little plan had worked. Mishka could hear the dogs and the prince’s men off in the distance, closing in fast, but could tell that they were not yet anywhere near her. The darkness of the night began to drown out the noises of the small army until the only thing Mishka could hear were the crickets and her elaborated breathing.
Mishka paused, tilting her head in wonder, when the ear-piercing howl she had been waiting for came from somewhere near where she had dropped the cloak. She peeked out of the building to see a couple of a dogs and a large group of guards racing toward the cloak. Holding her breath in hope that she had actually been able to trick the dogs, she watched the guards as they excitedly approached the clothing. These dogs were genetically engineered to be even better trackers than they used to be, which made it hard to deceive them. That’s why Mishka had been careful to spray her cloak with a distinct smell before she left not even a few hours earlier.
Most of the dogs were in the small alley by then and were sitting near their prize. The guards, who were a bit slower, approached them to see what the dogs had found. The first man there, seemingly the head of the palace guards, lifted Mishka’s coat off the ground and showed it to the others. Even from where Mishka was watching, she could hear the chorus of groans from the men. The cloak that they had found was not their thief nor their prized jewel. Mishka knew that the prince wouldn’t be happy with them, and that made her night. After casting one more quick glance at the buildings around them, the palace guards turned to head home or maybe try to pursue her elsewhere, their heads hung in defeat.
Mishka collapsed against the wall and let out a heavy sigh of relief. She suddenly remembered about her wound, and lifted her leg. The part of her pants where the dog had bitten was in tatters, and blood had soaked through the little fabric that was left. Her leg was even worse. Mishka frowned as she inspected the damage. Her skin was completely bloodied up. The dog’s teeth had ripped through several layers of skin in several places, and Mishka could tell that she had lost a lot of blood. No doubt she should be unconscious, or at least not able to walk.
Staring at her leg for another moment, Mishka shook her head in dismay. She couldn’t say why she was still surprised by these types of things. She tore off a piece of her shirt and tied it around her leg for a sort of temporary bandage, then leaned against the wall again.
The crickets were singing their daily nighttime chirps, and Mishka listened to them, with her eyes closed as she congratulated herself on her biggest feat yet. She never had any doubt that she would be able to pull it off. Still, knowing she actually did it was one of the best feelings in the world. Mishka had done what no one else in history had ever succeeded at. She knew, of course, that the guards had not completely given up searching for her, but she didn’t need to stay hidden from them for long. Just long enough.
Mishka took the backpack off her back and set it in front of her, slowly unzipping it until the moon reflected off the jewel inside it. Mishka carefully took the crown out of her backpack and held it up to the light. The crown. The emperor’s crown. The crown that was left in the care of the emperor’s arrogant son while he went to a meeting across regions. The emperor couldn’t take the crown, of course, because there was a possibility of it getting damaged, stolen or lost if he were to take it, and it was the perfect opportunity for Mishka. It was a priceless jewel and the most expensive thing in the region, and Mishka was holding it in her hands.
“Well, I did it,” Mishka whispered in the stillness and peace. “I got the crown of the emperor.”