Invisibles 8

Hey everyone, Tim here, just a quick reminder I have two new books out.

The Mangrove Suite

Soul Art

Now back to the story.

Invisibles

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.

 

8

“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?”

Martin shrugged.

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!

Invisibles 7

Hey everyone, Tim here, just a quick reminder I have two new books out.

The Mangrove Suite

Soul Art

Now back to the story.

Invisibles

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.

7

Kelebek crept down the alleyway, leaving Saint behind her on the street. He was too conspicuous to follow closely but fast enough to catch up with her if he sensed trouble ahead. She had built enough golems to trust in that fact.

Saint’s senses caught not only Kelebek’s movements but also the group on the street in front of the Watertakers’ hideout. Though they were almost a block away, he could hear them creeping toward the door. Saint hefted the massive scattergun he carried onto his clay shoulder. He hoped Alina would be more careful this time.

Alina and Percival lurked by the steps at the front of the building.

Martin stood back from Alina, armored hands clenched. He knew he could not afford to be reckless, but they were taking too long if Ceth meant to harm the woman he had just tugged inside seconds ago. These two were young, but compared to him they had ice in their veins. Once, Martin had been sworn to protect, as all members of the Hound Legion. Of the places he had been, only Sarsa seemed to strip away virtue so quickly.

He circled Alina to the foot of the steps. He marched up them.

Saint heard his footfalls and knew the plan was going awry. Martin was a skilled brawler, but he was also a good man. Sometimes Martin wished he had been more like Martin when alive. The rest of him figured that would have gotten him killed even faster. He followed Kelebek toward the back of the building, not worried about his heavy steps. Martin was making noise up front. The Watertakers would be busy by the time Saint arrived.

Percival whispered to Martin, “What are you doing?”

Martin ignored him and knocked on the front door of the building they planned to rob, a building full of korda gang members. The slat in the door opened with a click. “What do you want, legionnaire?”

He met the eyes looking out at him from the door with an even gaze. “I’m off duty. Not really a legionnaire right now.”

“Then get lost. You ought to know where you are, dog man.”

“I know exactly where I am, watertaker.”

“Ceth!” said the door guard.

Martin’s stone-gauntleted hands punched through the door. Fingers unwrapped an grabbed the man’s forearms. He pulled, so the korda hit the door between them. He groaned and fell to the floor. Martin pulled the door open.

Percival and Alina stared at him. Another pair of eyes glared in Martin’s direction from the far end of the hallway behind the door. They glared at him over a jeweled korda breathing mask. “Legionnaire,” said Ceth. “What are you doing here?”

Alina scrambled up the stairs, Percival at her back. She grabbed Martin’s shoulder just as he freed his hands from the broken door. “This is trouble.”

“I’m good at trouble.” Martin’s eyes did not leave Ceth’s. “Bring it on, korda.”

As Percival reached the second to the top step, just behind Alina and Martin, he spotted four more korda gangsters as they emerged from doors on either side of the hall, between Martin and Ceth.

“Time to go,” Percival said.

“No.” Martin stepped into the hallway. Percival may be practical, but in this situation pragmatism became cowardice. Martin was a trained soldier. He did not need to back down from a handful of men with knives, especially with Saint so close by. The korda would be lucky if they only met his fists.

He hefted a mallet in each hand, both of them small, but with stone heads. Martin’s skill in geomancy allowed him to make those heads hit harder than they had any right. He marched into the hallway. The first korda lunged at him. Martin broke his arm and kicked the knife behind him. He heard Alina pick it up. Two more of Ceth’s goons rushed Martin. He sent one into the wall and cracked the other’s knee.

Ceth backpedaled, trying to put distance between himself and Martin. Percival did not blame the gang leader. Too bad for us there are still ten more of them in there. No way will Martin have an easy time of it, and either way we’ll all have a new set of enemies in these parts. Percival grimaced as he saw Alina holding the knife dropped by the korda gingerly in one hand.

“No use,” he said, “If they get past Martin we had better run.”

She shook her head. “I don’t think so.” Alina did not like the idea of shedding blood, but she had seen enough of it to know that’s often how gangs worked. She followed Martin into the hallway, past the moaning and whimpering forms of fallen Watertakers.

Martin dropped the fourth goon. He smiled at Ceth, who was fumbling with a bag on his belt a few feet away.

“What’s the matter?” he said. “Attached to your limbs.”

Ceth grunted. He pulled a pistol, all brass in color, from the bag and aimed it at Martin’s head. “Don’t take a step further.”

Martin lowered his mallets to his sides. “Hey, good effort.”

“I won’t miss,” said Ceth. “You’re a dead hound now.”

Martin knew all too well what the pistol could do at that range, but he was now stuck in this hallway.

The door behind Ceth slammed open like a gunshot. Smoke poured out of it, gray and choking. Ceth whirled to look behind him. Martin’s mallet cracked down on his skull. Ceth staggered, then crumpled against the wall. Alina ran forward and pulled the gun from his hands. The smoke in the room beyond him resolved into the form of a woman, Rethe, the korda woman who had walked beside her on their way down the street.

Rethe regarded Martin with a smile visible through her breathing mask. “What do you know, a knight to the rescue,” she said. “Good timing.”

He frowned at her. She did not look like she had been in trouble, which meant she could have been playing them all along.

“Who are you?” Martin asked.

 

#

 

See you next week for the next installment!

Invisibles 6

Hello friends, Tim here.

It’s been a whirlwind week, between returning home and completing edits on a book called The Mangrove Suite. This is a story I’m intensely proud of, and it’s now available on amazon.com in the kindle unlimited program.

Check out The Mangrove Suite here.

In other news, progress on the new books keeps on coming, and I think I am back on the horse as far as writing rough draft goes. Good thing too. Writing fiction is among the best parts of my life.

Now, the heist went off over the last five weeks, but the Invisibles still need to make ends meet.

Read on to find out the details of their next job.

 

 

Invisibles

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.

 

6

Clouds rose from the canals and into the Sarsan night. These streets and islands were called The Fog. The place was well-named, Percival thought, as he prowled down the alleyway, leading the way for Alina and Martin. The pale mists obscured structures new and old, sitting squat along the streets in the darkness.

He looked from the alley’s mouth into the street. A squad of Red Guards, the city police force, marched along the damp street, their lanterns offering wispy strands of light and diffuse apprehension to any would-be thieves who happened to be wandering outside their home-turf.

Percival’s summoned rain-imp winged her way over the buildings. He focused himself to share the demon’s senses with accuracy. She dropped onto a slanted rooftop just above the gutter. Then a hand slapped down on Percival’s shoulder. He emerged from the demon’s mind with a start. Alina’s touch would have been welcome, but the hand on his shoulder was heavy, cold with a stony gauntlet.

Martin Leng liked moonlighting, even when he could not see the moon in this mist. Percy grunted at him. Martin lifted his stone-clad hand easily thanks to his geomantic abilities. He might not be a shaper who could craft golems like Kelebek or sculpt weapons like the Rogue Hound, but without the metal armor he usually wore under his stone cladding he could move as naturally and quietly as most anyone. He peered around the corner as the Red Guards and their lamps receded.

“Looks like we’re clear,” Martin said.

Percy grunted again. “Give me a second with my imp. Then I’ll tell you if we’re clear.”

The summoner still had not forgiven Martin for being a member of the Hound Legion, evidently. He would have shrugged if Percy could see him. Of course, even in a good mood, Martin figured Percy did not like the direct approach.

Alina caught up with them. She adjusted her posture to walking normally rather than staying low to avoid light, and went out into the street without missing a step. She would keep an eye on the Red Guards for them. Martin trusted her more than any demon Percy could summon.

She walked into the middle of the street, feeling exposed, though she knew Saint was listening from the alleyway on the opposite side of the street from Percival and Martin. Nonetheless, she proceeded down the street toward the Watertakers’ hideout. She had never dealt with the Watertakers in the past, but she knew their reputation from the few Korda she met in Nicodod Ring.

The Watertakers were all Korda exiled from their peoples’ mighty eastern sky fleets. Though they were human-like, arguably fully human, Korda did not mix with westerners well. Alina spotted a figure emerging from a building near her on the right.

Like most of the Korda in dusty Sarsa, this one wore a mesh mask over her mouth and nose. Her hair was lank and yellow, but unlike many of her people, she left it uncovered. She wore a long black dress with practical shoes, odd to see given the neighborhood. What little of her skin was visible was pallid, as if she never saw the sun. The woman fell into step alongside Alina.

Martin turned to Percy. “Someone suspect her?” he asked.

“Not likely,” said the summoner. “That Korda isn’t a Watertaker.”

“How can you tell?”

“She’s not wearing blue.”

“You can see that?” Martin could not help the incredulity from his voice.

“My imp can,” said Percival. “Don’t go clanking out there trying to help.”

“I don’t clank,” said Martin.

“Not that you can hear,” said Percival, hoping the big legionnaire would catch his meaning. “Stay in the shadows.”

Alina sneaked another glance at the woman walking beside her as they crossed the street, still heading toward the Watertakers’ building. They were close enough together, Alina smelled alcohol an chemicals wafting off of the woman. She could not place the foul smell,  but it was clearly present.

“Where are you going so late?” asked the woman.

Alina smiled. “Home,” she lied.

“You don’t live around here,” said the woman.

Alina did not let her smile slip. “You got me. I’m taking the midnight ferry back to land.” The small docks did lie further on this way, so the untruth would be difficult to guess.

The woman nodded, and Alina thought she saw a ghost of a smile beneath the breathing mask. Funny, how common the device appeared, because Alina and the others were here to steal a far more decadent version from the Watertakers. Ceth, the leader of the gang, should not have worn it around so proudly, letting its sapphires sparkle in the sunlight and start the rumors spreading.

Percival and Martin followed Alina and the woman to the hideout. There, Alina kept walking past the building. But the woman turned and approached the doorway to the building. Martin glanced at Percival. “What were you saying about her not being with the Watertakers? People can change their clothes, you know.”

“Just watch, please.” Percival crept ahead, following the street after Alina, who had passed out of the Korda woman’s line of sight and was circling around to meet up with him and Martin.

Martin watched the two younger members of the crew approach each other, then turned his attention to the front of the Watertakers’ hideout. The woman knocked on the door. A slat opened and a small square of light fell on the woman’s black dress. He listened as well as he could to the voices speaking.

“You’re late, Rethe,” said the man behind the door.

“I’m here to pay,” Rethe answered.

The door unlatched, revealing a man in a sapphire-jeweled mask. He grabbed the woman by the forearm. “You have no idea,” said Ceth. He pulled the woman inside. The doors slammed, and the bolt locked.

“Did you see that?” Martin asked as Alina and Percy returned.

“I heard everything.” Percy shook his head. “Told you she wasn’t with them.”

“Yeah, no kidding,” said Martin. “Does this change anything?”

Alina shook her head. “Only makes it tougher. “Saint and Kelebek should be on their way inside by now.”

Martin nodded. He hated the idea of what Ceth would be doing to the woman he had just dragged inside. He made a face but knew there was a heroic urge inside him. Tonight would have been dangerous enough without Rethe’s appearance.

He glowered at the Watertakers’ door. Not long now.

 

#

 

Thanks for reading! Come back next week for more Invisibles.

Just Stop or 13 Years Writing

Just Stop, or 13 Years as a Writer
#

As many of you will have read before, I started my writing journey as a complete novice in August of 2004.

That reunion has come around again. I don’t always notice these, but this year I have a song that has been speaking to me about my journey.

And because it’s me, it’s a heavy metal song. This one is by a little band called Disturbed. You may have heard of them.

A few years after I started writing, Disturbed released an album called “Ten Thousand Fists.” This song is the second song on that album.

It’s called “Just Stop,” and for the life of me, I cannot think why I never noticed it before the past few weeks, despite having listened to “Ten Thousand Fists” many times. Cheesy as it sounds, the lyrics in this song really speak to me as a writer who has trouble with his internal critical voice.

Some of you may not be familiar with the kind of split that many say goes on within writers. There is the wild and carefree creative voice and the sternly admonishing critical voice. The lyrics of “Just Stop” are what the creative voice should say to the critical voice during the rough-draft stage. My creative voice has been having trouble doing that over the past several.

I’ll leave you with the chorus, courtesy of Disturbed:

 

 

“…Step back a moment, and look at the miracle starting in our life

Don’t stop the moment, and let the incredible happen…”

 

Now imagine saying that to part of yourself and not another person.

Thanks for reading.

Invisibles 5

Hello everyone, Tim here. I’m on vacation right now, so I’ll be ringing in August with my family back east-ish. Anyway, the latest chapter of Invisibles is the last in the first set.

Check out my new book, “Soul Art” Amazon/Other Sites

Check out my work on Instafreebie.

Now, on to the story.

Invisibles

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.

 

5

Alina woke up quickly once the soporifics wore off. She sat up on the couch where she lay and looked around Hajur’s back room meeting place. Smoke and shadows dominated, but she made out the shapes of her fellow thieves on the chairs and couches around her, except for Saint, who would not have fit through the door.

They had all made it out of the score all right.

The room was warm but smelled less of the sweet narcotics she expected, then of… burning paper.

“The letter?” Alina asked.

Hajur grinned and lowered her pipe. In her free hand, she held the burnt edge of a piece of paper. “Disposed of,” she said. “After I read it, of course.”

“You wanted the letter to burn it?” Alina sat up fast, her face hot with temper. “He’ll just write another letter, you know?”

“Calm down, girl,” said Hajur, dropping the remains of the paper to the floor. “This letter was the Rogue Hound’s message to his legitimate leader. As I suspected it was time sensitive. By the time the couriers deliver the second letter, my associates will be long out of danger.”

Alina scowled at Hajur, past Percival, Kelebek, and Martin.

For their part, the other three thieves in the room looked puzzled, but Alina doubted any of them would care once they were paid. But Hajur had made Saint, and Martin who really should care, betray their leader, however nefarious, and that should be worth extra. Alina took a deep breath and explained her opinion to Hajur.

“Correct, indeed, girl.” Hajur took a puff on her pipe. “I will pay them an extra half share each.”

Martin gave a satisfied grunt. “Sounds alright. Now, if I hurry, I should be able to return with the case the letter was in. Get another bonus, maybe.”

“And Saint?” asked Alina.

“I’ll take him his share, and we’ll be on our way together,” Martin said.

Percival and Kelebek glanced at Alina. She nodded. “Alright. Fine.”

Hajur blew smoke from her pipe. “Take your cut, and be grateful, girl. Not everyone gets away so easily.”

She knew what Hajur said was true. As she took her bag of coins while the others took theirs’, she considered saying something else, to clash again with the information thief. Alina thought better of it. She glanced at Percival as they left the dusk diner for the night outside. He pulled his collar up but caught her gaze as he did.

“Something wrong?” he asked.

“Back there, Hajur only wanted us to delay the Rogue Hound’s message. Why? I don’t believe it’s just her agents getting out of trouble.”

“I don’t know,” he said. And he really did not know. However, his hatred of the Rogue Hound meant he had not questioned the job before. “Anything to slow down the war machines.”

Alina shook her head. “You really hate the hounds, Percival.”

He snorted. “When someone enslaves you for their war, you can tell me how to feel.”

Kelebek clapped them both on the shoulder. “Don’t bicker too loud, you two. There are worse things in the night than hounds and golems.” She slipped between them and headed for her home. The money jingled a little in her pocket, telling her there would be enough to help her sister’s children eat for another week. She hoped Martin did something useful with his share. She could have used the extra coin.

Eventually, she reached her shop. Once inside, she locked the door, and then bolted it. She climbed the stairs to get some rest before morning. But sleep took it’s time to arrive.

Percival and Alina walked side by side in silence for a while. He wanted to apologize but could not seem to find the words. She turned to go to the smaller, local Church of Angels in her neighborhood near Nicodod Ring. Percival started to speak, to say sorry, but she brushed off his words.

“It’s late,” she said. “I was angry too.” She did not sound angry at that moment, but Percival let her go with just a nod of assent.

She knelt down before the altar in the little church with its simple tiled floor and single tower over the sanctuary. She prayed a while, asking for forgiveness for her lifestyle, praying fervently. Eventually, she raised her head and went home to sleep, but she did not feel much better by the time she drifted off.

Percival found his way to the fortune teller who worked near his home in a run-down part of Nicodod Ring. The windows of the fortune teller’s antique shop were dark and the doors closed. He kept walking as the last of the dust storm died away. At last, he reached his building and then descended into the basement he rested. Down there it was dark as pitch. He took off his coat and sat in a musty but comfortable chair, under a lamp. He doused the light before long, and eventually, he drifted off to sleep, dreaming not of his friends, or the Rogue Hound, but of what might be the next score. Invisible in the dark, the city slept, waiting for the next dawn.

The Rogue Hound was writing his replacement letter. Hajur’s pipe-smoke gradually dispersed. Martin Leng collapsed onto his cot.

Only golems like Saint remained, watching, listening between the dying of the lights and the rising of the sun.

 

#

 

Thanks for reading! I’ll be back soon with more stories.

Invisibles 4

Hey everyone, Tim here.

I’m taking my yearly summer trip back to the family home land soon, so that’s exciting. Hope all you who share seasons with me are staying cool.

You can find my new book, Soul Art, wherever fine ebooks are sold.

Or you can download my samples at instafreebie.com.

Now, onto to the story.

 

Invisibles

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.

 

4

Percival climbed the steps to the second floor of the Rogue Hound’s estate in silence. Already past a handful of guards, he had split from the others back in the entryway. If he was caught out, this would be down to a foot race, hardly good odds against the Rogue Hound’s legionnaires. Still, he was their best chance at grabbing the letter if it came down to reflexes.

On the other side of the building, Alina crept down the richly carpeted hallway. Though most of the building was lit up with lamps this hallway was dimmer than the others thanks to the subtle mists Kelebek had given Alina to release midway down. It wasn’t smoke exactly, but a kind of dust that hung like fog. Alina stayed low, held her breath, and slipped past the armored guard who clanked down the passage in the opposite direction.

Kelebek found Martin on the ground floor. He was leaning against the wall in his heavy brownstone-covered armor. As most geomancers in the legions, he covered lighter metal armor in a layer of rock. He did not wear a helmet, and his east-Asian heritage made him unmistakable. She recognized him and stepped into the light just before where he stood. Martin did not startle easily. He looked up at Kelebek with a small smile.

“Dark work? What’s the plan this time?” he asked in a low voice, with a mild European accent.

She raised a hand slightly in greeting. “A letter from the Rogue Hound.”

“You want to steal it?” he whispered. “A good idea. One that needs a good plan.”

“Alina and Percival are going ahead. We’re to get them to the courtyard where Saint is waiting.”

“Sounds simple enough. Should we divert the guards?”

“I think so.” She smiled slightly.

He nodded to her. They left the ground floor’s side hall, and began to walk toward the front of the building. Kelebek indicated the flares she had brought with her from her shop. Those would burn bright and loud, and serve as ideal distractions once one of the others had the letter. Best be ready because whichever got the letter, Alina or Percival would be in a hurry on their way out.

Percival reached the end of the second-floor hallway leading to the passage outside the Rogue Hound’s study. He flattened himself against the wall and peeked around the corner. Three people stood before the doorway. Two of them were armored hound legionnaires, the other was Alina in her dusty clothes.

At first, he thought the hounds had caught her. Then he realized her hands were still free, though she held a small bottle out to the guard. The hound without a helmet wore a secured case for a letter on his hip. He had the hound’s message, Percival felt certain.

Alina said, “The Rogue Hound asked for this potion to treat his letter.”

“What kind of potion is it?” asked one legionnaire, a big man with sandy-colored hair.

“A potion of suggestiveness, effective on skin contact.”

“Intriguing,” said the blond legionnaire. “Should we see if it works?”

The other legionnaire, who wore a slitted helmet, rolled his plated shoulders. “You have an idea?”

“Girl, open the bottle.” The sandy-haired legionnaire leered at her. “We’ll test your potion.”

Alina frowned at them. She hoped they would not recognize the scent of sedatives. She spotted Percival at the corner. She caught his eye and then nodded to the guards, but so he could see. She held her breath as she lifted the lid of the bottle and then waved it between herself and them.

The scent of soporifics floated in the hallway. The helmeted guard immediately staggered to one side. The sandy-haired one’s eyes widened. He clamped his lips tight and slammed one hand on the letter case at his hip. His other hand reached for Alina. She stepped back, but his fingers closed on her wrist. She dropped the soporific and the small bottle shattered on the floor, releasing the rest of its contents. Alina could not hold her breath anymore.

Percival gulped in air, then charged past the fallen guard and went for the would-be messenger who held Alina’s wrist. He hit the big legionnaire from behind and made the man stumble forward. Already drugged, the man stumbled forward, then fell to his knees. Alina swayed on her feet, staring at Percival.

“Run,” he said, as he freed the letter case from the blond legionnaire’s belt.

She nodded, and they took off back the way Percival had come.

Alina’s head swam as they reached the top of the stairs. The soporific was having its effect. She threw an arm across Percival’s shoulder and leaned on him as they descended the grand staircase. A trio of other legionnaires emerged from the hallway she had gone down initially. They pursued her and Percival as she started to drag her feet.

They hit the front door as an explosion sounded outside into the courtyard, off to Percival’s left. He threw the door open and helped Alina with him as they stumbled outside. She left his side. A few steps later, she sank to the ground.

“Alina?” he turned toward her, but not as fast as Saint scooped her up on one of his stone arms. The dome of the golem’s casket bobbed in a nod.

“Time to go. Right,” said Percival. He sprinted for the gateway.

Saint slammed the door to the mansion with a thunderous force. Then, he bounded away on piston-like legs. Saint sensed that Kelebek and Martin had left the estate, and Percival was ahead of him. He sprang over the wall before the legionnaires had time to open the door behind him.

Saint hit the street outside with a thud that did him and Alina no harm. Percival ran over to the golem and the girl, waving the letter case in one hand. “Got it. Let’s go!”

Saint bowed his head to Percival. Kelebek and Martin emerged from an alleyway where they had hidden after placing the flares. The group started toward Hajur’s to deliver their prize.

And like that, the Rogue Hound’s letter passed out of his hands. But to what end? None of the thieves` yet knew.

 

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Thanks for reading! This job is not quite done… see you next week!