Grain knew the things he did were wrong, he'd always known he was the bad guy. He didn't always like stealing from others, but that's what he was raised on and it's all he knew how to do anymore. It was like second nature to him and he couldn't help himself: today especially.
He was on his way to his uncle's house in the Scorpion's Den with his newest collection of wares, when he spotted a SandWing dragonet. He didn't think anything of her, that is, until he spotted the heavily jeweled gold necklace draped over her shoulders, hardly even managing to keep itself attached to the scaly youngster.
That could set me up for weeks. Grain had thought, only needing a passing glance to estimate a value for the piece. And it looks like an easy mark…
But you couldn't! A voice shouted in his head. She's so young! It's probably very special to her!
The voice came as no surprise to Grain, as it always chimed in with its condescending tone when he spotted a mark, so he ignored the annoyance, letting his mind wander with plans and ideas of how he would make off with the necklace unseen instead.
She probably wouldn't even notice if I just walked over and slipped it off right in front of her. He thought, half admiring his own skill and half expecting the girl to be too distracted by his charming features to notice him taking it.
Grain had been praised for his good looks and “sparkling” black eyes many times in the past, both by those who know him and those who now wish they never had.
He wasn't very large for his age, but he found that to work to his advantage. It made it easier to gain the trust of younger dragons who underestimate him. Grain found that when you don't look like a bandit, unwitting dragons are more likely to share sensitive information.
But Grain hardly thought his looks would be needed for the task at hand. For him, stealing a gold necklace from a dragonet would be easier than stealing a stone from a salamander.
Grain decided to make his move before someone noticed him, slinking toward his target, going over his plan quickly in his head. Distract. Snatch. vanish. He thought, knowing exactly how he would execute the steps.
“Grain!” He said, speaking loud and obviously to attract the attention of his mark, but using his own name to ensure not to cause a foolish dragon to follow him when he made his escape. “Over here, buddy!” He made sure to change his stride to be less practiced and more wobbly.
Just as planned, the dragonet began to turn to look over at the loud, bumbling SandWing stumbling through the crowd, and just as planned, he ran right into her, toppling over her, wings flapping as they became locked in a dramatic tumbl. Stealthily Grain slipped the necklace off of her as they flopped around.
A cloud of sand and dust kicked up as the dragon's fell to the ground. Taking the moment of invisibility as an opportunity, Grain stowed the necklace in his bag with his other treasures, planning to pawn it later.
Coughing, the dragonet fanned the sand away with her wings. She looked genuinely surprised and a little more curious than Grain had expected.
His victims were usually annoyed and angry, especially if they figured out what just happened, but this dragon just looked intrigued.
“I-I’m so sorry!” Grain said, keeping up his bumbling SandWing guise with exaggerated guilt. “I wasn't looking where I was going!”
“Who are you?” The young girl asked, coughing one last time, the look of curiosity still plastered on her face.
“Cobra.” Grain said casually as he got to his feet, offering a talon to the fallen dragonet. “It's such a common name that my friends have come to call me King!” He added with guile, trying to distract the girl as well as make his lie seem more believable.
She looked at him more closely as she took his offered talon and pulled herself off the ground. “Have we met before?” She sounded as if she were looking at a forgotten face.
“N-no, I don't think so.” Grain was nervous enough that he hardly needed to fake it anymore. He planned to be gone already and the way the dragonet was looking at him made him uncomfortable.
Have I stolen from this girl before? He wondered. Does she know who I really am?
“I have to go or I'll be late!” Grain interrupted the dragonet and began to make his exit before she could ask anymore questions or look at him further. Something about her small, obsidian eyes made him feel like she could see right through his scales to his true self.
Quickly making his way out of sight, Grain began to feel it, the feeling that always came after a successful snatch. It was an awful, dark feeling he wished would relinquish him already. His uncle assured him it would go away after his first few jobs, but it hadn't, and it felt worse and worse with every item taken. Every time he took a necklace, bracelet, ring, loose gem or whatever else he thought might have some value, the feeling just grew heavier. He noticed it was less severe if he stole from a wealthy looking dragon or someone who looked like they'd stolen the treasure to begin with, but this girl was nothing like that; she was a dragonet who'd probably been given a great, meaningful gift from a wealthy family member who loves her, possibly the only she's ever received in her life.
Please put it back, Grain. The voice begged in the back of his mind, catching Grain off guard with its sudden appearance in his head.
Not an option. Grain thought back to the pleading voice. I’d get caught and then we’d both spend a very long time in prison.
Grain played it out in his head, honestly considering the idea of slipping the dainty jewelry back into its original resting place around the slender neck of the dragonet, but in every scenario he could think of he was caught with the necklace -and several other dishonestly acquired treasures- and promptly imprisoned for eternity.
Nope. Not doing that. He thought sternly to himself. Let's just get to Ant's place and forget about it.
That's when he spotted another easy steal. A lone MudWing napping in the shade of a junky looking bit of cloth held lazily by a few lame sticks. It looked like it was made to block the sun, and it did its job well, considering its condition.
But that's not what caught Grain’s eye, he couldn't care less about the silly inventions of a Mud dragon. It was the bracelet on the MudWing’s arm that held Grain's attention.
Don't do it Grain. You've already got plenty. The voice insisted, intruding on Grain’s planning, as usual.
The bracelet didn't look too valuable, but it was such a simple grab. Passing this up would be a true crime. Grain convinced himself.
He looked all about, making sure no one was watching as he slowly made his way over to the MudWing, being careful in case the MudWing was awake. The area wasn't heavy with traffic, which was likely why the piece hadn't been lifted sooner, but Grain still wanted to be careful not to get caught.
“King!” A somewhat familiar voice called from behind, sounding distant, but still too close for Grain's liking. “King! Wait up for me!”
Grain was frozen by the sudden interruption, only a few feet from the MudWing, so close to the bracelet.
Now's your chance. The voice said, appearing just as suddenly as the dragonet had. Give the necklace back.
He looked over and met eyes with the dragonet for a single instance before bolting, dashing down the quickly busying street.
Get out of sight and wait for her to leave. Grain thought, ignoring the voice. It shouldn't take long.
Once out of sight, Grain wasted no time finding a place to hide. He dashed under the shade of the nearest market stand he found. The SandWing running it eyed him suspiciously as he pushed himself further passed the normally allowed space for customers. Grain looked at the shopkeeper with a pleading gaze and the SandWing slowly looked away.
With a relieved sigh, Grain settled into his hiding place. He'd managed to squeeze himself between the body of a large hippo and an enormous jar whose contents somehow smelled worse than the decaying hippo.
“Are you hiding from that girl out there…?” The shopkeeper asked slowly, drawing the slightest glance at Grain.
“Yeah.” Grain said after a moment. “I think she wants to rob me…” Grain might have felt bad about stealing, but lying never seemed to bother him… Until now.
Once again Grain’s chest was filled with a heavy darkness, feeling as if it was gaining intensity with everything he did.
Does she know what I did? Grain wondered, finally finding a moment to think. Why hasn't she gone to get help? Does she think she can kill me? Does she want to blackmail me? Grain couldn't escape the feeling that all the wrong he's done throughout his life was about to catch up with him and make him the most miserable thief in the entire kingdom; or perhaps all of Pyrrhia.
“She's gone.” The shopkeeper announced.
“Thanks.” Grain said as he got out from under the shade of the shop, glad to be away from the foul smells of the SandWing’s wares.
“There are better ways to show your appreciation…” The SandWing’s tone suggested he had been planning this move from the start, but it was to be expected in the Scorpion's Den.
Grain decided to purchase the hippo that had hidden him and went on his way, hoping his uncle would forgive him for being late now that he had food. Even if it wasn't the most desirable prey item to be found in Kingdom Of Sand, it was better than nothing.
If that girl thinks she can make a fool of me she's got another thing coming. Grain thought as he dragged the hippo beside him, finding the dragonet on his mind again. I should have just taken care of her back there instead of hiding. He felt a dark, looming feeling at the thought.
You wouldn't kill a dragonet. The voice said, returning to his mind once more. She just wants her necklace back.
Grain narrowed his eyes and slipped his tongue out and in again, refusing to acknowledge the voice any longer.
After an unnecessarily long trek, Grain finally came to find himself at his uncle's place of business. It was a sand colored structure with a few unexplained spots on the walls that looked the color of dragon's blood, long dried and years old. There was a sign on the front that read: “Antlion’s Snake Pit.” Of course, Grain knew that was just a cover, he didn't even know what a snake pit would even be, if such a thing actually existed. If the words on the sign reflected what actually went on inside it would likely say “Antlion’s Fence Service” or “Criminal activities here” with a large, brightly colored arrow to make sure no one could possibly miss it.
No matter what the sign said, though, this was Grain’s destination and Antlion was his uncle. The dragon who taught him everything he knew about cheating, lying, stealing and sneaking. He was basically a father to Grain, though Grain did have a father, not near as good a thief as Antlion, but a father no less.
Grain dragged his hippo up by the door and lifted a claw to knock when a dragonet fell from the sky and landed on the hippo next to him.
“There you are, King!” The dragonet said sweetly, her voice squeaking ever so slightly as she said his fake name.
Grain’s heart jumped into his throat at the appearance of the dragonet, the dark feeling heavier in his chest than before. She's tricked you into showing her your base! He thought wildly and began slowly backing away from the tiny SandWing. She'll bust you for sure now!
“What's wrong?” She asked innocently. “Is this where you live?” Her attention turned to Antlion’s building. “What's a Snake Pit?”
“P-please leave me alone…” Grain spoke quietly, shuddering slightly, eyes wide with fear. “I-I didn't-”
Tell her the truth! Face what you've done, Grain! The voice commanded, sounding more forceful than ever.
Grain tried to speak, confess his crime and feel the wrath of the young SandWing who was obviously more clever than he, but nothing happened. The words wouldn't come.
“Have we met before today?” She seemed somehow oblivious to Grain's pain.
He shook his head slowly, finding that was the only thing he could do. She's gonna tear you apart, Grain. He thought, feeling helpless.
“But…” The dragonet look confused, as if she were expecting a different answer. “Then how did you know my name?”
“W-what?” Now Grain was confused. He hadn't even learned the dragonet's name in the time they spent talking after crashing into her.
“You called out to me and then crashed into me. It was like you didn't know I was there, but you sounded like you knew me.”
She nodded and smiled. “You had to have known already, but I don't know how.”
Sh-she doesn't know anything. All at once, he collapsed to the ground, tears in the corners of his eyes. “She doesn't know anything!!!” This time he spoke, shouting with relief and confusion.
“Hey! I know a lot of stuff!!” She said, obviously offended by the exclamation.
You have to tell her. The voice in his head insisted once more, calm now.
“Grain,” He felt weird talking to another dragon with the same name as him. “I think you lost this.” Immediately he retrieved the stolen necklace from his bag, deciding that, after a day of being chased around the Scorpion's Den, terrified of a witless dragonet, he would give up thieving once and for all, feeling the heavy darkness lighten ever so slightly as the young SandWing retrieved the stolen necklace from his talons.
“Three moons!” She said, eying the necklace with wonderment. “I didn't even notice it was gone!” She put on the necklace and hugged him. “Thank you so much, King!!”
Grain couldn't help but hug the tiny SandWing in return, feeling happier than anything he could recall.
Nice job, Grain. The voice said, sounding as if it had finally accomplished a mission after several years of trying.
The dragons held their hug for a moment: Two Grains of sand in an embrace, once worlds apart, but now together, part of the same desert.
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