Hello, everyone. Tim here.
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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.
The Church of the Angels towered over the streets, all white stone and gilding, a western cathedral dropped into the center of Sarsa. The sounds of vesper songs had been replaced by dismissal bells when Percival approached. Dust swirled around the towers, wearing at the western-style gargoyles and sculpted feathers of stone, angel wings at the peak of each arched support.
He waited in the shadows as people emerged from the light of the front doors and proceeded down the steps, casting long strands of shadow before them. Nose covered by his collar, Percival watched for Alina’s silhouette to resolve from the interspersed light and darkness.
Alina Weir made her way down the church steps.
She wore a white sand coat with a hood that covered her dark hair. The shadows it left on her face also made her light skin less noticeable in the night. Alina spotted Percival at once, despite his skulking, and she knew immediately that meant there was work to do.
Dark work was the source of her money, but Alina felt no need to embrace the worst aspects of the trade. For one, she did not understand why Percival never seemed to slow down, let alone sleep. She supposed when one consorted with demons like he did, priorities were very different from hers. She stepped into the dusty street, shielding her face from the dust with the side of her hood.
“Percival,” she said in the slight Greek accent he recognized as much as her face, as they neared each other. “Why are you here?”
“Straight down to business, yes.” He pulled down his collar from his nose and mouth. “We have a job tonight. From Hajur.”
“What is it?”
“We are to intercept a letter from the Rogue Hound.”
“The Rogue Hound? We’ll need Martin for this.”
“I agree. How long before you’re ready?”
Alina wrinkled her nose at that. He ought to know better after sixteen months of dark work in Sarsa. “I’m always ready.”
“Good.” He nodded to her as evening parishioners streamed past them on either side. “Let’s get the others.”
“Tell me what we know on the way.” Alina preferred not to be caught out of place, and she knew Percival often got in over his head. If he didn’t, he might never have ended up in Sarsa. “Don’t make this personal,” she said. “I know you don’t like the Rogue Hound.”
“It’s just work. The Rogue Hound is an ass, but that’s all he is. Besides a good mark.”
“A dangerous mark,” said Alina.
“But a good one,” Percival smirked. If there wasn’t work to do he could have argued with Alina all night. Or, at least until she got annoyed and told him to go away. “Kelebek lives around here. We should get her next.”
Alina folded her arms as they approached the darkened block of stucco buildings where Kelebek lived over her shop. “Is that all we know?” she asked Percival.
“Hajur didn’t tell me much,” he admitted. “She didn’t think it was relevant.”
“The contents of this letter weren’t relevant to her?”
“She must have a spy close to the Rogue Hound who has her informed. But no spy can say what hasn’t been written yet.”
They stopped in front of the shop with a sign in the Kalfar’s native language and in English that read “Ayaz Golem Sculpting” in white letters. Alina frowned at the sign, but Percy had an idea the expression was meant for him.
Alina sighed. “I don’t like it. The Rogue Hound is not a kind leader, but he helps protect the city.”
“Hajur lives in the city too. If stealing the letter would threaten Sarsa she wouldn’t be asking us to do it.”
“But she doesn’t know what it will contain—Or she won’t tell us.”
A window slat opened on the first floor of the golem sculpting shop. Percy swore internally. A lock unlatched somewhere inside. He and Alina turned to the door of the shop as the door opened.
The late-thirties Kalfaran woman who stood in the doorway, haloed in yellow lamplight, glared out at them. She wore a sculptor’s smock, but without a trace of clay on the white material. Her hair was pulled back.
“Come inside,” Kelebek said. “Or do you two want the whole block to know what you’re talking about.”
“We weren’t that loud,” said Percival.
“Indeed, not,” said Alina.
Kelebek shook her head. She held the door open with one hand. “Well, you weren’t quiet. Come in.”
The two of them made their way sheepishly inside. She closed the door and turned to them.
“We have a job,” she said. “For Hajur, right?”
“I swear, we weren’t that loud,” said Percival.
Kelebek rolled her eyes. These foreigners had not respect for the ears of the city. “With what your oaths are for, that does not inspire confidence.” She turned to Alina.
Alina pursed her lips. “Hajur wants us to steal a letter. From the Rogue Hound.”
“Interesting.” Kelebek carefully removed her smock, leaving the dark brown trousers and tunic beneath. “Good timing. My latest mask needs to wait before I fire it.”
Percy chuckled. “Speaking of golems. I think we should bring Saint in on this.”
“Saint? But why?”
“The Rogue Hound’s people tend to be heavily armed. Saint is insurance.”
“We need Martin, anyway,” said Alina. “Saint could be useful.”
“Why couldn’t you two agree quietly when you were outside?” said Kelebek with a small smile. “Saint is a rough beast compared to any I’d make, but the idea is good.”
“I suppose the next stop is the barracks. Martin is a hound, at least on the surface, and Saint works for them too.”
“This should be interesting.” Kelebek set the smock on the small table near the front of the shop.
The three of them left her sculpting shop for the dusty night outside.
The crew assembles… next week. Thanks for reading.
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