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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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Thanks for reading!

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.

 

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More story next week! Thanks for reading, folks!

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.

 

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Thanks for reading! I’ll be back soon with more stories.