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.

 

#

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.

 

#

 

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. I need your help to get noticed, so please read or buy the book, and if you do, give it an honest review over at amazon.com. Thanks!

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.