Hello, everyone. Tim here.
Working on podcasts and fiction at the same time is going to drive me insane. I’m fairly sure of this, but like a goblin with his hand stuck in the pickle jar I’m not willing to let go of anything. Oh well, I have made my own fate.
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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.
Through the eyes of an impish demon, fluttering over the barracks near the Vancaldor estate, Percy watched the changing of the guards. Heavily armored Hound legionnaires exchanged their positions with others who could have been the same but for the different carvings in the stone finish of their armor. Percy had left his physical form sitting in the stone carriage across from Alina and Kelebek. He turned the imp’s gaze toward the street where the carriage rumbled closer.
The imp’s sarcastic voice piped up in the back of his mind. “Some view, human.”
“It’s what I offered.” When Percy conjured a demon he shared senses with the creature while it served him. Usually, the idea of experiencing the physical reality was enough to please lesser spirits. Evidently, this one thought itself above that.
“You are a poor sorcerer to give me so little.”
“This deal will be our only one,” he grumbled mentally. Part of him hoped the disagreeable imp would agree, but such creatures were often contrary by nature.
“We will see, mortal. At least your body is healthy. I have had many hosts who did not mind their flesh…”
Philip ignored the imp’s rambling. He used the spirit creature’s eyes to trace the route of the golem carriage to the place where it stopped by the barracks. He willed the creature to descend to get a better view. The imp circled the broad, tiled roof of the barracks, then alighted on the peak of its gentle arch.
“Down below,” said Percival to the imp. “Look down at the courtyard.”
“There’s nothing to see there,” said the imp, sounding annoyed. “Were you even listening to me?”
“You are a very rude host.”
“Take it or leave it,” said Percy.
“The courtyard is dull. There is a stone-clad golem down there, but nothing else.”
“Does the golem have a face?”
“No, just a domed reliquary on its front.”
Percy recognized Saint’s description. He smiled inside but knew it would only appear as a twitch of the lips on his physical form.
“Thank you,” Percy said. “I’ll contact you again soon.” He broke the sense link and returned to full control over his own body.
Alina was frowning at him. She thought about how eerie it was to know a demon perceived the world through Percival when he summoned them. Worse, even a skilled summoner could lose control to a full possession if they did not take care. The more powerful the demon, the more difficult to retain dominance. She knew this only from what he had told her. She would never consort with such creatures herself.
Kelebek raised her eyebrows at Percival. “So,” she said. “What did you see?”
“A golem in the courtyard. It’s Saint.”
“Perfect,” said Kelebek. “We are in luck.”
“I hope Saint will be on our side,” said Alina.
“He’d better be,” said Percival. “If he doesn’t, this job is gonna be short.”
Naturally, Saint was not thinking about any of these three at that moment. When one’s spirit was imprinted on a relic and then sealed within in the control chamber of a golem-body, one has priorities not easily understood by the living, especially after ten years of ‘life’ as an animated clay statue.
Saint stood, apparently stock still, in the courtyard, listening with his golem sensorium to the sounds of the city in the distance. His senses—and he was definitely still a man in his own mind—were focused to a precision point. He picked out the nesting bats as they began to move around. He heard a cutpurse running with his prize blocks away.
And when he stopped focusing so hard on the distance, he heard his sometimes-companions discussing his disposition on the street as the carriage that had brought them slipped away.
“We’ll have to go in and find out if he’s with us,” said Percival.
“That’s risky,” said Kelebek. “There must be a better way.”
“There is,” said Alina. She set a hand against the dusty wall of the building closest to the gate Saint watched over. “I’ll go first. Percival, you can watch with your imp, and then follow when you’re sure.”
“But what about you?” asked Percival.
“I’ll be fine. Saint likes me.”
It was true, Saint thought. She reminded him of his own daughter, now fully-grown. She lived as a steward for the Great Hound on the other side of the city, employment guaranteed in part by Saint’s mortal sacrifice. He only hoped Alina would not ask him to betray the Great Hound.
Though Saint served the Rogue Hound directly, he had little respect in his stony heart for a man who bent his considerable influence to personal profit over the good of the people. Alina slipped through the gate and into the courtyard. Her footsteps were all-but silent, but Saint heard them clearly.
Alina crossed the courtyard quickly and quietly. She wished she felt as confident as she had sounded when she volunteered. She liked Saint, but the golem could be unpredictable without Martin around, and according to Percival there was no sign of the Rogue Hound’s even more rogue legionnaire nearby.
The bulky, hunched shape of Saint loomed over her, easily ten feet tall. She looked up at his faceless reliquary. Gilded steel circlets reinforced the domed, barrel-like, metal casket on the front of the golem’s body. He had no eyes, but she knew he saw her.
“Evening, Saint,” she said. “Fancy seeing you, standing guard.”
He nodded, moving his soul casket up and down in the absence of a real head. His spirit reached out, ghostly hands pulled a pen from where he kept it tucked under an armor plate. He lowered the pen to the dust of the courtyard below and started to write in the dirt without its point extended.
Alina leaned forward and read quietly.
“I heard you earlier,” Saint wrote. “Tell me the job.” The pen settled to one side of the words. As soon as Alina finished reading it, Saint’s ghost hand wiped them away like a breeze.
“We’re to intercept the Rogue Hound’s letter,” Alina whispered. “He must be writing it right now.”
Saint bobbed his casket up and down. He wrote, “I know of the letter. Find Martin. I will protect your way out.”
Alina nodded. “Thank you, Saint.”
He erased the words he had written, then tucked the pen back in its holding place.
Alina turned as Percival and Kelebek made their way through the gate just as quietly as she had.
Kelebek tipped her hand to Alina and Saint, a grateful Kalfaran gesture.
Percival brushed dust from his hair. Now, the real job began.
The job begins… next week. Thanks for reading.
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