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
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.
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.
This story concludes next week! See you then.