Ben Gallo was missing.
It said so on the poster nailed to the light post that sat in front of the shoe repair shop. The owner, a man that went by Muller, brought out his ring of keys to lock the door, paying no mind to the girl whose hands hesitated an inch from the portrait of the Gallo boy. Her fingers shook in the air, from the cold or from fear, one couldn't be too sure.
There were two more years under his belt now. His face had filled out, nose sharper and hair longer. It was faded, but even then she could see the gold of his eyes.
There was a hefty reward for his capture. It was enough to pay off the debts owed to D'arcy and his crew of deplorable goons, The Floaters stood at each street corner with eyes searching for their next victim. They smoked their cigarettes, the smoke wrapping around their calloused fingers, with their heads dipped into the collars of their coats.
To them, Marnie was nothing more than the dust that collected on a neglected shelf. With not a single coin to her name, she remained a shadow that lurked in the dark.
She ripped the poster off the post and folded it into her pocket next to the letter he wrote to her. A new one always appeared after another was torn down, and Marnie had begun quite a collection.
The city never slept. Nightcrawlers taking the meek form of humans wandered the maze of backstreets as the sun nestled itself far beneath the blurred horizon. Buildings that stood as tall as the titans that ruled the stars loomed over those who slinked into the shadows, and there wasn't much surprise when Marnie found that she became one of them.
It had only been a month since she snuck herself into Hemlix. It was a fairly easy thing to do. Hemlix was the most infamous of pirate havens in the Astorsan empire and it was no stranger to weathered faces and shady figures.
The thick wool fabric of her stolen coat pooled at her feet and dragged on the pavement beneath her. She had swiped it off an unsuspecting merchant's table the night she arrived. She didn't label herself a thief on most occasions, but there wasn't a part of her that felt bad for doing it. The merchant sought to empty the pockets of foolish travellers, spewing lies that his items were produced only by the finest of designers in Astorsa. But anyone with a good eye would know they weren't worth more than the rubbish found thrown on the street.
She shoved her hands into the oversized pockets and brought the coat closer to her body. The sun was long gone and it left an icy wind that plowed its way through the narrow alleys of the city.
The clocktower chimed. It was a loud and thunderous sound that Marnie struggled to get used to. There was nothing of the sort back home in Tarllas. It was a quiet town filled with quiet people, or at least it had been until Patel unleashed his wrath, sparking what was now considered the deadliest war between pirates that the Revana Galaxy had seen since the Revolt of Ulysses over a century ago.
She didn't like thinking of Tarllas or the faces she grew up with. There was no telling what had become of them. She thought of the baker and his wife who smelled of fresh bread and pastries, of the farmer's daughter who was sickeningly sweet to everyone, including Marnie who didn't in the least deserve a kindness such as that. She then thought of her brother and his wanted poster she now had in her pocket. She rubbed the coarse paper between her fingers.
There were two hours until midnight. Her boots were muddied and soiled from the dirtied puddles left from the previous night's storm. Even now with the sky as dark as it was, the clouds were heavy with the threat of a new downpour.
Marnie was tired of waiting.
She kept her eyes locked on the pair of Floaters huddled together at the storefront across the street. She saw the knives they kept on their belt, the metal glimmering from the streetlights that flickered above them.