The Return of Blogging

 

Hey, everyone.

 

Let me just dust off this old blog here.

 

Whew.

 

By god, it has been a while.

 

First off, I want to say thanks to everyone who read and enjoyed the serials Tenlyres, Stolen Parts, and Invisibles. Those are going to be on hiatus for the time being, to give me more time to write other fiction. I love writing stories, but right now I don’t have the ability to split my focus and construct fiction for sale and fiction for this blog simultaneously.

 

Next up, there are only a couple days left before October, at which point I will be ending my giveaways on instafreebie.com. If you want to get Rem’s Dream for free, head over there using this link before the first of the new month.

 

Now, a quick update on my writing process.

 

I picked up the writing pace on Sunday, and maintained a pretty solid rate (for me) through the week. All these words either went to notes in the “Clean” universe, where my latest release is set. This is a pretty unusual genepunk/cyberpunk setting which also features an alien occupation of the Earth in the near future.

 

I decided on Sunday, after a solid day of writing on the second book in the series, that I want to keep this setting alive for a good long while. I don’t want to be bound to one story-world for my whole career, but I think I can commit to this one for a while. Along those lines, I started brainstorming some new spin-off story ideas on Tuesday, for use once I get some more released in the main series.

 

It’s also worth noting that I have begun a consistency challenge to write at least 100 words every day for 100 days. Lately, I haven’t always been consistent, and this has hurt my momentum on the stories I’ve been producing. I started this challenge on Sunday, so I’m now on Day 6 of the challenge, as of this writing.

 

Anyway, I’m pretty happy with my progress. I’m sharing a brief sample from the week’s writing below. It’s good to be back and talking as myself. Feel free to leave a comment, or click on the sidebar at mentalcellarpublications.com and check out any of my books. Thanks for reading everyone.

 

Weekly Writing Excerpt (Rough Draft)

He nodded. “It felt good to help. To be one of the good guys again.”

“Is that how you felt when you served?” Elizabeth’s voice was soft. “Like a good person?”

I remembered how she once told me her father had been in the military. Elizabeth rarely discussed her family, and I could tell at the time she and her father were not on good terms. She looked down at her plate with a sigh.

Thomas glanced at me. I unfolded my arms. The silence seemed absolute despite the other residents eating at neighboring places all around our table.

I said, “Don’t rush into anything, Thomas. It’ll be dangerous out there.” Outside the window, snowflakes started to scatter from low, gray clouds.

Thomas gave me a small smile. “I promise, I’ll tell you first if I decide to do something crazy.”

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.

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.

 

 #

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.

 

#

 

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.

6

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.”

 

#

 

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.

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.