Invisibles 13

Hey everyone, Tim here. Today’s chapter will be the last serial fiction on the site for a while. I need to evaluate if posting fiction here is a good use of my time, as it really disrupts my writing of other fiction. This chapter wraps up the current story. Enjoy!

Here is 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.

 

13

The sapphire-inlaid mask slid across the smooth counter of the morning bar, an establishment on the south edge of Nicodod Ring. The place would not open for another fifteen minutes, but the proprietor knew Kelebek when he saw her, and let her in the door. She looked at the old man behind the counter. “What can you make of that?” she asked.

“The korda diplomat’s mask. I know a collector who may be interested.” He took the mask off the counter and replaced it with a bag of coins. “Hope it’s worth the trouble.”

Kelebek smiled at the old man. “Me too,” she said, “time will tell.”

 

A short distance away, down the street at dawn, walked Martin and Saint. They were off duty for the day, but everyone trusted Kelebek to hold onto their shares once she fenced the mask. Good thing too, Martin thought, yawning. He needed food and sleep in that order. Martin glanced at the hulking golem walking at his side. “You alright?” he asked, holding up a small pad of paper.

Saint’s airborne pen scrawled a few letters on Martin’s paper.

Martin read the two words to himself. Worried. Alina.

He looked at Saint and nodded. “Me too big guy. Me too.”

 

Once Alina changed into her damp clothes from the night before, Rethe shewed her onto the dock as quickly as she could. She had not asked for a share of the crew’s profits. The girl had killed Ceth, and that would make life interesting for her awhile yet. She raised the houseboats anchor and removed the line from the dock. “Until next time, kids,” she said to the two young thieves on the dock. They did not answer her as the boat pulled away.

 

Percival walked with Alina, feeling as tired inside as she looked outside, but not nearly as down-trodden. He knew why. He had not taken a life this morning. Though he worried about her, he did not know what he could say. When she ran forward to help Martin as Ceth prepared to strike, she ought to have known what could happen. By Percival’s estimate, killing Ceth was nowhere near the worst it could have been. He sighed when they parted ways, then pulled his dust coat around his shoulders, and walked for home.

 

Alina did not go home, not right away. She marched steadily east through the city, toward the Furnace of Confession. Every day, countless pilgrims and believers wrote their sins on small pieces of paper. Every night, those secret confessions went into the fire, symbolizing the angels forgiving the sinners.

Alina had offered confessions their before, and fairly regularly when she was a few years younger. Yet, never had she felt so filthy, so in-need of forgiveness as that morning, with the bloodstains left on borrowed clothes, and the implement of murder still stowed, freshly cleaned, in the concealed sheath in her trouser-leg.

On a scrap of paper, she took from the woman overseeing the collection of sins, she wrote the crime. Murder. Her hand trembled as she wrote. Once she folded the paper up and dropped it into the basket of metal wire with those filled out by others, she hoped she would feel better, feel forgiven. She did not.

Even that night, when she went to meet the others and the smoke drifted over the city from the Furnace of Confessions, she could only think of the blood dripping from the blade. Every time she recalled it, she knew what she had done would not be easily forgotten or forgiven. From on high, the angels answer the righteous. From below, the demons answer the wicked.

And in Sarsa, those who work in the dark could only truly answer to others who ply the shadows. The girl who felt remorse looked ordinary to the people she passed that night, but to those who could see into the heart, she would have been the rarest sight in the city. Few would pray for forgiveness here, and fewer still could find it.

 

#

 

Thanks for reading. I hope you enjoyed this story.

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Invisibles 12

Hey everyone, Tim here. This is a little late in the day, but I am back with a new chapter!

Here is 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.

 

12

Ceth and his band of Watertakers marched down the street just before sunrise. Percival watched the dozen or so korda advance on the boathouse. The burning signal Kelebek had lit on a pole in the darkened street in front of the boathouse cast their shadows out behind them.

Martin stood beneath the burning signal, a pile of rags Rethe assured were especially irritating to korda. He wore full armor, covered in mud-turned-clay dredged from under the dock and held in place by his geomantic abilities. The damp surface of his armor glistened in the flickering firelight.

The gang of korda drew closer, clubs and pistols carried openly.

Martin called to them, “Want a rematch, Ceth?”

“You should never have strong-armed us. We own the Fog.” Ceth grimaced at the crew from behind his breathing mask. “And now you and your thugs are going to find out what that means. Rethe, show yourself! I know you’re here.” He brandished a pistol in one hand, a short blade clutched in the other.

Percival tensed for the Watertakers to rush forward, to make a break past Martin to where he and Alina and Kelebek stood. A high-pitched whistle came from the boathouse behind them. Rethe straightened herself to a standing position behind the barrels on the raised porch of the building.

“You want to see me?” she raised an ornate pistol, one of the old artisan match-grade smokeless weapons she collected and winked. “You got it, Ceth.” She pulled the trigger.

At this range, she could not have hit Ceth, but the bullet burst into the air, propelled with smokeless powder it made satisfying bang as it left the chamber. A clattering sound followed that sound as the bullet ricocheted off a distant roofing tile. Rethe lowered the pistol.

“Are you crazy?” Ceth stalked forward. “You’re going to bring the Red Guards into this.”

Rethe smiled. “That was the idea.”

“We’ll kill you. Never, never bring the guards down on me!” Ceth trained the barrel of his pistol on Rethe. “You first, human-consorting whore!”

Martin’s small stone-headed hammer went overhand, left his fingers and flew straight, guided by his geomantic influence. The impact would be strong enough to break bones. The hammer’s head struck Ceth in the wrist. His pistol snapped from his hand before he could fire. His hand swung on the end of a shattered wrist.

“No way to talk to a lady,” said Martin.

The Watertakers roared in fury, but none louder than Ceth. They charged as a mob.

Percival supposed the guards would arrive in minutes at most, just as dawn broke. Kelebek backed up at the stairway toward where Rethe stood on the boathouse porch. She, Alina, and Percival each produced a pistol lent to them by Rethe, a collector if ever there had been one.

Martin breathed evenly as the first trio of Watertakers raced toward him. He held a mace in each hand. The one in his right was made of solid steel from handle to head, a single piece with the gnashing jaws of a hound sculpted on the front. The other had a metal handle, but the head was formed of solid granite. Both weapons felt light as feathers in his hands, thanks to his powers taking their weight, but he knew each one was heavy enough to stop a blade and break a limb if the swordsman parried.

The Watertakers’ blows met air or armor. He crushed one leg with each blow and then backed away from the third attacker. For his part, the last of the three chargers left standing looked at his moaning comrades in shock, hesitant to follow Martin any further.

Another gang member rushed past him, trying to circle around Martin’s side. Kelebek shot him in the belly. The korda man went down with a wild yell. His weapons skittered across the paving stones and landed at Martin’s feet. He backed up toward the boathouse. Then, Ceth and two more Watertakers barreled into him from the opposite side.

He grunted as the wind rushed from his lungs and he tumbled over backward in spite of his armor’s massive weight. He realized as he fell that one of the korda must be a hydromancer, a common ability among their people though rare among humans, and his armor was still damp with mist and water from the mud he had dredged for extra protection. He hurled the stone hammer at the first Watertaker to leap at him, where he lay on the pavement.

The hammer caught the korda in the chest and hurled him to the ground. Martin scrambled to get up, but his movements felt sluggish, resisted by the powers of the hydromancer. Alina and Percival fired their pistols, but with only one shot each, Martin doubted they would stop Ceth and the others.

“He’s not going to make it,” said Alina. She stuffed the pistol back into its holster. Her other hand found the knife tucked into the sheath on the other side. She rushed toward where Martin lay just as Ceth reached the fallen man.

The korda raised his sword. Alina felt impossibly slow, too far away to stop him.

Percival’s imp snatched at the grip of Ceth’s sword. He swung his other hand at the creature to ward it off. Percival knew he would pay for this in the contract if the imp was hurt at all. The creature spun through the air, smarting from Ceth’s blow. The exchange happened in seconds, but it gave Alina time.

She lunged forward, under Ceth’s swinging arms. Her dagger found flesh. Ceth hacked a cough and looked down at the blade emerging from his chest. Alina released the handle of the knife, and the leader of the Watertakers tumbled backward into the street.

“Time to go,” Kelebek said.

Martin got to his feet.

Three squads of Red Guards emerged from the alleyways opposite the boathouse. They advanced on the fighting criminals holding single-shot rifles, barrels bristling with bayonets. Alina stared at the blood on her hands but backed toward the boathouse, as the plan had been. Martin grabbed her shoulder and turned her. They ran for the boat, though Alina’s whole body felt numb.

Up the porch, through the doors to the dock. They reached Rethe’s waiting houseboat with a pair of Red Guard’s close behind. But Saint waited on the boat, concealed by a heavy sheet. His huge oars dug into the water with more than human strength. Alina staggered to a stop on the deck. Saint dragged his oars and pulled them out into the harbor, the whole crew on board.

The sun broke through the clouds over the water, making the blood on Alina’s borrowed clothes and pale skin look dark.

She had not meant to kill him. She started to cry.

 

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This story concludes next week! See you then.

Invisibles 11

Hey everyone, Tim here. It’s been a few rough weeks for writing, but I am back with a new chapter!

Here is 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.

 

11

The small houseboat bobbed in the water, moving toward the Fog. Mist might burn off the neighborhood in sunlight, but Alina doubted it would lift at all before then. A flame on the open-air stove at the center of the main deck glowed with red heat, providing most of the available light. Rethe stood on the other side of the flame talking with Martin and Kelebek. Her lank yellow hair looked almost red.

Luckily for the korda woman’s plan, neither of the two more experienced thieves had gone far. Alina looked down at the stolen mask in her hands. Sapphires glinted along its sides. Lucky for her, the device allowed for limited breathing underwater though most were only designed for filtering out dust from the storms. She shivered under the blanket draped around her shoulders and felt the odd cut of the clothes Rethe had lent her when she had gotten on board.

Sitting on the deck beside her, Percival stared at the buildings and streets rising from the marshy islands of the Fog. Alina wondered if he was sharing his senses with the imps he had sent ahead. Demons. Ifreet. Shaitan. The church taught such entities desired only the corruption of mortals and in beyond his world only the angels could be trusted. Alina still believed, but Percival used such beings as instruments. She prayed silently they did not use him for worse in return.

“You said you had a plan.” Martin looked out at the misty islands. “What do we do once we get to shore?”

“Simple,” Rethe said, loud enough everyone on deck could hear. “If you want to fence that mask, you will need to slow down the Watertakers. Entanglements with the law can be such a great inconvenience for those accustomed to dark work.”

“Entanglements with the law?” Kelebek frowned. “That could be dangerous for us as well.”

“If we don’t do something about the Watertakers, they’ll be on Percival’s trail before dawn,” Alina cut in.

Percival glanced at her, surprised she’d spoken up. “Anything in mind?”

“The leader of the Watertakers, Ceth, is responsible for the mask. If we lure him into a meeting with the Red Guards it’s possible they’ll take him out of our path for us.” Rethe smiled. “And I think I know just the way to get them to meet up.”

“Taking down Ceth’s a start,” said Martin. “But what then?”

“And why help us?” asked Percival.

“Questions, questions.” Rethe’s smile widened. “Gentlemen, I like an underdog. And Ceth has been on my nerves for too long. Does that answer your questions?”

“Well enough,” said Percival.

Martin grunted but said nothing. He disliked the tone the korda woman took with them like they were children.

The boat approached a covered dock by a darkened building on the edge of one of the Fog’s small bordering islands.

Kelebek nodded. “Let’s get to work, then, people.” She wanted to meet up with Saint as soon as possible. They’d all be safer with the golem around.

Alina stood with Percival on the boat. Martin and Rethe went ahead onto the dock. Kelebek glanced back at the two younger members of the crew. “Coming?” she asked.

They glanced at each other, looking sheepish in the fading light from the stove top, then followed her into the shadows of the dock.

 

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Thanks for reading!

Invisibles on Wattpad

Hey, everybody.

It has been some time since I posted a simple blog post here, so here I am with some news.

First, I have made the first 5 chapters of Invisibles available on Wattpad, which I plan to keep updating regularly as the stories progress.

The story has a new cover there, same as the image at the top of this post.

I’ve been writing on one book and planning several others, as I usually do. Not sure when my next release will be ready, but hopefully I will be able to release the next Clean book this year or early next year.

Thank you all for your continued support by reading this blog, and don’t forget you can get most of my books wherever books can be purchased online. The exception is The Mangrove Suite, the first Clean book, which is available exclusively on Amazon.com at the time of this writing.

Appreciation all around. Thanks for reading.

 

Invisibles 10

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.

 

10

Percival ran along the pier, knowing he would be too late. The korda man who had pushed Alina into the water was already gone, leaving her beneath the harbor’s dark waves. He hoped, but he did not pray. What angel or god would answer a summoner’s plea, even if they truly listened?

When he arrived, he found the surface of the water unbroken, no trace of Alina.

He stared into the water, but what hope he had mustered failed quickly. She had sunk deep. Perhaps the korda had stabbed her, though Percival saw no tell-tale blood in the water. He was no stronger a swimmer than she, so he had no hope of diving in and finding her in the dark. She had been foolish to insist on going alone. He sighed, and tears threatened him, despite what he could say he knew about life and death.

The sadness surprised him, though it probably should not have. Alina had been the one to allow him to join the crew. Now? He could not help someone who had helped him so much.

Beneath the surface of the water, Alina struggled to pull herself up the pilings of wood and stone the held up the place she had fallen. She could see nothing but groped for the support columns in the dark. She inhaled a little. Her breath would have made her lungs fill with water, and would have done so minutes ago, but she wore the korda mask, a tool for filtering out dust, and as she had hoped when she put it on, somewhat useful for breathing water. Useful, but not perfect, because it leaked and she tasted salt with every drop.

She found the piling and began to climb, slowly, laboriously, upward.

Her head broke the surface and she gasped into the night. The mask returned damp sea air, but no dripping of salt water. She sputtered, truly, halfway drowned, and then looked up at the end of the pier. She half-expected the silhouette to belong to her korda attacker from the Watertakers, but instead, Percival’s thin frame and heavy coat greeted her. Something shimmered in his eye. Was he… crying? She could not tell for sure.

He crouched down on the end of the pier. “Alina?” he said in a whisper.

“It’s me,” she said. “Help me out.”

He guided her along the pier, relief audible in the sound of his breath. He sent an imp to find Kelebek, and then to get Martin and Saint. Finally, Alina dragged herself onto the rocky shore beside the pier, just under street level.

“Sorry,” she said, sounding exhausted, as he helped her back onto the stones of the street.

He held her closer than he meant to and said, “What for?”

“I told them it was you,” she said, “said you had the mask. He had a knife. I’m sorry.”

“It’s alright,” said Percival. “I can handle them later.”

“We can. I owe you that much now.”

“I sent for the others,” he said and released her so she could stand on her own.

“Good. We’ll need their help too.”

“Kelebek isn’t going to like this,” he said.

“She certainly will not,” said Alina with a self-conscious half-smile. “But I’m glad to be alive.”

“Doesn’t that make two of us then,” said a voice from behind them.

Alina and Percival turned together. Rethe stood on the street not far away, yellow hair gleaming in the diffuse glow of a street lamp.

“You got a raw deal, girl. Perhaps I could assist you.”

 

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Invisibles 9

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.

 

9

Alina made her way down the street toward the mainland, out of the Fog. The streets were still damp when she found the small chapel of the angels near the docks to the south. At least four hours remained before dawn. She looked up as she passed into clearer air and saw Percival’s imp darting over the rooftops.

She could see it clearly, despite the darkness. For some reason, he never seemed to want her to go alone while working. She looked up at the imp, squinted to make sure, while clutching the bag with the mask in it to her chest, and then waved the imp down. The little demon descended.

The creature looked like an airborne rat, sans hair, perched on the street sign. The wings were leathery, but shaped like neither bird nor bat. Alina disliked the creature at once. The imp’s large eyes looked at her, glassy, but clear. “Percival,” she said. “Stop following me.”

“What if there’s trouble?” the imp croaked with a hint of Percival’s tone. “Allie.”

“Don’t call me that, Percival. Go away.”

The imp hopped forward on the street sign. “What makes you think I’m right behind you?”

“This imp—this demon is disgusting. Leave me alone.”

“The Watertakers are moving.”

“They won’t leave the Fog.”

“You’re not far enough away to be sure of that.”

“If you’re so concerned why did you agree with me before?”

“We needed to do something. But don’t be stupid and act like you have to do this alone.”

She turned her back on the imp. “Fine. But keep your distance.” She started walking away, then looked over her shoulder at the imp. “And don’t call me stupid.”

The imp did not say another word, but caught the wind from the harbor and glided up to the roof of the chapel ahead of Alina. She walked across the stony walkway beside the docks. She knocked on the chapel door.

The keeper, an old woman with tired eyes, opened the door. “Alina,” she said, “What are you doing out so late?”

“I had an errand to run in the Fog, but I got lost after the sun went down.”

The Fog is a dangerous place after dark, girl. Come in, quickly.”

Alina stepped through the doorway. She lowered the bag with the jeweled breathing mask in it to her side. She gazed across the chapel to the hanging mobile of the heavens over the altar at the far end of the narrow sanctuary. The keeper yawned, one hand to her mouth. “I’m afraid I can’t offer you much of the bed in the bell tower this time. We had a man come in, beaten, attacked by bandits earlier in the evening.”

“How terrible,” said Alina with a frown.

“Indeed. But I suppose around here, the poor ground korda suffer the worst of the violence.”

“Wait,” said Alina. “Is the man staying behind the bells… a korda.” She could not help but recall that the Watertakers were an all-korda gang.

“Of course he was, girl. Didn’t you hear me?”

Alina nodded. “Sorry, I’m just distracted.”

“You don’t have to tell me. You can rest here in the sanctuary. You should stay until sunrise.”

Alina stifled a yawn of her own. The mask felt heavy in her hand. “Thank you, keeper.”

“It is no trouble. I was just finished cleaning.”

“You work late.”

“Of course. There is much to do. But now—” she yawned again, “—I’m going to sleep.”

“Thanks again. Good night.”

The keeper smiled, then left the sanctuary for the rectory behind the sanctuary. Alina lay down in one of the pews, on her side, using the mask and its double-wrapped bag for a pillow. She did not sleep, though. She waited.

When the sounds of the keeper preparing for bed subsided completely, she opened her eyes. Alina stretched an arm, then rolled onto her back. A shadow fell across her in the light of the mobile’s glimmering stars. She started, and the shape resolved itself into the form of a man in dark clothes, with a black breathing mask.

“You are one of them,” said the man, “I thought I recognized your voice.” He reached for her with a mottled, muscular, hand.

Alina’s eyes widened. She slithered out of reach, keeping her grip on the bag with the mask. He followed her into the gap between pews. His hand wrapped around her ankle. She kicked and thrashed. He pulled and she fell onto the floor between pews.

He snarled and stalked toward her. She rolled to one side, ending up under the pew she had been laying on before. She looked the way she had rolled from, and found the korda’s shadowy face there to greet her. His arm snaked out and grabbed her shoulder. She tried to push away, but her back hit the lower part of the pew, which completely blocked her path. The korda dragged her, painfully, from her hiding place.

“We’re going for a walk,” he said, one hand at the base of her neck, brushing her skin just below her hair. She heard a rasp of metal and felt the tip of a blade poke slightly into the small of her back.

She shuddered, but managed a glare at the korda.

“Walk,” he repeated, and then pushed her ahead of him. She walked out through the chapel doors with him right behind her.

He drove her out onto a long, rickety, wooden pier, then made her walk all the way to the end.

The water was dark between her and the Fog, buildings visible in the shadowy distance.

“Where’s the mask?” asked the Watertaker.

“I don’t know,” said Alina. “One of my gang took it.”

“Which one?” he asked.

“I don’t know his name.”

“A him. Describe him to me.”

She pictured Percival, tears of frustration building in her eyes. “He’s tall, skinny, and has light skin.”

“Light skin? Like yours, westerner?

“Yes, like mine.” She felt for the heaviest part of the mask in the bag clutched to her chest in both hands. “Let me go and you’ll have time to catch him, still.”

“You think I’d fall for that?” he poked her back again with the knife, nearly piercing her cloak and the tunic beneath. He snarled. “You go in the drink, missy.”

She spun as he shoved her, swinging the mask. It caught him full in the face. His knife flew from his hand and plopped into the water. Then he hands shoved out and Alina went over the edge of the pier. Her clothes dragged her down into the dark water of the harbor.

 

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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 to 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.

 

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            More story next week! Thanks for reading, folks!