Hey everyone, Tim here, just a quick reminder I have two new books out.
Now back to the story.
Within the circle that protected Kalfar there was one city that commanded true respect and awe, the world over.
Sarsa, the seat of the Lord Executive, ruler of Kalfar. Glorious city, stern line of defense against beings from beyond. This was the richest and proudest of all cities in the near-eastern alliance.
Sarsa, city of countless exiles.
Sarsa should have drawn attention for all kinds of reasons, but there was a side of the city not often discussed on record.
Sarsa, the shadow city, where the desperate and the skillful plied their illegal trades. Darkness under street lamps. Poison in the minds of the high officials. Ice in the veins of the guilty.
That is the Sarsa to be watched.
And that is the Sarsa waiting to be seen.
“Who the hell are you?” Martin said, conscious of the repeated question.
“My name is Rethe,” said the Korda woman, as she walked past the fallen form of the gang leader lying against the wall. “Don’t bother remembering it. I don’t expect we’ll meet again now that you have the jeweled mask you wanted.”
Percival and Alina stared at Rethe from behind Martin. “You know that?” Alina asked. “How?”
“I ascertained it by observing your approach. Don’t worry, I have no intention of revealing a theft.”
Martin growled low in his throat, a bad habit he had never beaten, often revealing his frustration. “You led us in here. You were never in trouble.”
“If I hadn’t arrived with a plan, I would have been.” She crouched and unfastened the mask from Ceth’s face. “Don’t take it personally.”
A crash shook the building, letting everyone know Saint and Kelebek had arrived. She slid down from his back and then picked her way through the debris-strew, smoky lounge past unconscious Watertakers. Kelebek stepped into the hall behind Rethe. “Who are you?” she asked with a frown.
“Rethe,” said the woman. “We were just over this, but please. The other Watertakers and Red Guards will surely be here soon thanks to your golem’s big entrance.”
Kelebek shook her head. “Hand me the mask.”
“You can have it.” Rethe held out the mask, its cheeks set with small clusters of polished sapphires. “After all, it belonged to a sky korda diplomat, so I don’t envy your job to fence it.”
“What?” Percival stepped forward. “A diplomat? From which embassy?”
“I’m not sure. But likely they’ll want something like this back, if only for monetary value.”
“If you weren’t here for the mask,” Martin asked, “What were you doing?”
“Sending a message,” said Rethe. “I want the Watertakers to know they can’t lean on me.” She crouched in front of Ceth again. Her hand clenched around his unmasked chin. “Do you hear that, you fool?”
The korda gang leader snarled, but no words Percival could understand. He shook his head.
“You’re acting alone?” he asked. “How can you keep the whole gang off your back that way?”
She shrugged, releasing Ceth, and then stood. “That would be telling. Goodbye, thieves.” Rethe walked out the front door, past Alina, whistling a hollow-sounding tune behind her air-purifying korda mask.
The group of thieves reached the derelict house in the Fog where they had planned to meet up if the job went wrong. Though they had the mask, Percival knew something had indeed gone wrong with the job. The woman, Rethe, inflamed the Watertakers. Percival and the rest of the crew could easily be caught in the middle, especially being they now held the stolen sapphire mask. He monitored the streets through a circling imp as the others talked about what to do with the mask.
“We need to fence it immediately,” said Kelebek. “Put some distance between us and the mask.”
Martin nodded in agreement.
Alina scowled. “We don’t know if what Rethe said was true. She could be trying to play us.”
Why would she do that? Saint wrote on a chalkboard beside him. She didn’t seem to care about the mask at all.
“Well, I don’t trust her. I don’t see how any of you can.” Alina folded her arms and sat down on a bench abandoned in the building.
Percival left his imp’s senses completely. “I agree with her,” he said. “We don’t know what this woman wants.”
“Well, we can’t just sit around here, that’s for sure,” said Martin. “Personally, I say we fence the mask and track her down. Find the truth.” He sounded as angry as Percival was frustrated.
“What’s the matter, Percival asked, “Mad she didn’t appreciate your chivalry?”
“Watch it, kid,” growled Martin.
“Easy, boys,” said Kelebek. “We can’t afford to fight each other, not with the Watertakers and the Red Guards out hunting for the mask.”
“True,” said Martin softly.
Percival nodded. “What do we do, then?”
“Let’s hide the mask,” said Alina. “We can fence it tomorrow. For now, we definitely need to get out of the Fog.”
“Who’ll do it? Ceth’s going to want it back,” said Percival. “Not mention the rightful owner’s people are probably out looking.”
“I can hide it,” said Alina. “That will buy us time.”
“Fine,” said Kelebek. “Do we all agree?”
Saint moved his domed reliquary up and down, the golem equivalent of a nod.
“Good,” said Alina. “Give me the mask.”
She had lived in this city longer than him. Percival hoped she knew what she was doing.
More story next week! Thanks for reading, folks!