Author’s Note: Last weeks chapter. I’ll post another in a day or two for this week.
The winds blew, whipping their cloaks around wildly as they jumped from one roof to another, their steps silent as their leather boots touched the stone beneath. They wore slim, one black lens piece goggles like the regular guards of The Free Cities. What they did not wear was what differentiated them from those guards – guards that could not be seen anywhere near Undercity.
There were six of them. They had no helmet, letting their hair rustle in the passing wind. They had a pair of black pants, their legs strapped with thin, sheathed swords at their side, a contrast from the guns any border guard had; and last, they wore light black tunics, something no sane person would wear in the dead of winter, Undercity or not.
However, if you looked closely at them, you would notice the shimmering light red runes inlaid in the thread of their outerwear. They were patterned around key areas of the tunic, releasing a dynamic heat that could grow to fully warm them even in temperatures ten degrees below freezing.
Suddenly a loud sound rang in the air, followed by another. The horrid sound echoed over and over across the city, reverberating between the granite building walls. Red lights turned on, illuminating the entire city.
Out of the six, the one at the very front stopped. The rest followed suit.
“The sirens have gone off,” the one in the lead called out. “Undercity’s Dog will come. Proceed as planned.” And as following his order, three members of the group split from them and headed west.” The leader glanced for a moment as their silhouettes faded in the red light, and as that quick moment passed, he continued forward.
The group’s speed was fast, and their jumps were light. Even though the roofs were not always flat, and the distances were quite large, they still managed to cross over with ease.
“Sir,” a voice came from behind. The leader did not glance back, but as if taking his silence for an answer, the one from behind continued “I know I’m new, but how exactly are we tracking them?”
The leader growled. “You’re only asking this now? Did you not look at the brief?”
“I have not, sir. I did not even complete my operations training before I was sent here, let alone had a chance to gain access to the files.”
The leader was quiet for a moment. Not finished with his operations training? Are you screwing with me? But the leader did not say that. It was not up to him to decide who was picked as a part of his team. “That woman was doused with the Pollen of Gravier a few days ago.” And at that, the leader took out a glass case. Inside was a black beetle. It’s deep black eyes were flashing with a green light. As they grew closer, the frequency of the light would increase, and if the beetle changed directions, they would change their direction similarly. After having it out for a few moments, the leader spoke, “have you understood now?”
The Pollen of Gravier was a natural substance found deep in the Northern Caverns far from The Free Cities. It was rare and very expensive as demand was high. Seeing as how they lived in The Free Cities, where assassinations, spying, espionage, robbery, and any other form of deception ran rampant, anyone would not even need to guess why. The substance was used by female Canter-beetles to attract males. Once they were in mating season, they would squeeze into the sealed membrane of the large Gravier Plant and rub themselves in the pollen. Once doused with this substance, the pollen would remain attractive to male Canter-beetles for at least ten days, and be detectable within a two-mile radius.
You ask how we are tracking them, but the real question is why. Why do they want the girl? What’s so special about her? And more importantly, if they managed to douse her with the pollen a few days ago when she was still in Eastern City, why is it only now they are going after her?
The leader did not voice his thoughts though. He was a mere soldier. One born for service, made for service, lived for service and was to die for service. And none of those entailed him to ask questions.
After a few more seconds passed, the red lights turned off. All the lights in the city began to shut down. Sector by sector of the large city turned dark until nothing was visible. One. Two. Three. Then the crystal lanterns by the road turned on, leaving that as the only source of light available.
The leader then looked down at the beetle in the glass container. The light in its eyes flashed before it grew steady and bright.
“They’re close.” And just as the leader spoke, a distant booming echoed. The group looked to the west to see blue and orange lights flashing far away. “B-team has intercepted Undercity’s Dog. We must hurry. We don’t have much time.”
Far from the western shore were rocky lands that spanned for miles. These lands were not cohesive, popping here and there, a mile or two of ocean water distancing themselves from each other.
For those rocky lands that were large enough, cities were built on them. These cities were vast and self-sufficient, each different in their laws, their ruling class, their culture, and certainly, their economy. However, regardless of their differences, they all had ways of connecting to each other, and they all ended up intermingling and trading, the most efficient method being by shuttle.
Undercity was not considered a city by the ruling class of The Free Cities, but that was only officially. No one in their right mind would think that Undercity did not have the capabilities as one. To be considered a city, one just needed to have met a certain population standard and a sustainable economy, regardless of trade between other cities.
Undercity had both these qualities. But the reason the ruling class, and the leaders of the other cities refused to legitimize it was for two reasons. The first was Undercity was ruled by a commoner, and that commoner refused nobility from grasping any power within its limits. The second was the primary reason. Once a city was legitimized, they would have a seat on the council of The Free City Alliance. The Free City Alliance made decisions that affected all the cities as a whole. At the moment the political structure was at a delicate balance. If another seat was made, that balance may very well be broken.
Navari lifted his head. “We have to go,” he said. He pulled Alaina1AlainaWow's up. “We have to go now!”
Alaina shook her head. She pulled Navari back down into the corner. “Just lay low. Once this is over, we’ll move. It’s too dangerous right now.”
“It’s even more dangerous if we stay. I can sense three-headed directly towards us. These three were following us from before. Based on their movement… it’s as if they know exactly where we are.”
Alaina frowned. “Are you sure?” She asked.
Navari just looked at her. He knew she could not see him in the darkness of the corner. But sometimes the body could just tell when they are being stared at. That was the feeling Navari wanted to convey.
He heard a sigh. “Alright. Let’s go,” she seemed to relent. Whether that was because of Navari’s stare or because she trusted him could not be known.
The two got up and ran down the street. They stayed near the edges, remaining hidden from the light, without keeping too far from it. They managed to be on track of where they were going, following the roads with lanterns as they headed closer to their destination. They were not predictable though. They cut through dark alleyways and ran down other streets to lose those that were after them.
“We must head east. That’s where the next shuttle will be.”
“Will it still be running even during this… shutdown?”
“I’m not sure, but the shuttles are not run by any one city. It is an independent organization. If they shut it down without former notice, and hinder business, the city’s governor would have major problems.”
Navari did not say anything, but he seemed to get a hold of what was going on. The trains and shuttles were run by a company. Given how goods from small to mid-sized trade between cities were largely transported through trains and shuttles, it must have garnered a lot of business. Such business would have many willing competitors in the making. If a City’s governor was capable of shutting down such trade with ease, it could very well ruin them in the long run. That train company must have a way of deterring such an outcome. Meaning… The shuttle is still active. But the real question is how they can keep track of us after all this time. Given their distance, they don’t have any visual on us. This was not some forest. They could not be tracked by snapped twigs or tracks. And given how their method of entering the city, tracking them by scent was highly unlikely.
“They’re getting closer,” he breathed. As the words passed his lips, Alaina bolted down the street. She no longer seemed to care of whether she stayed hidden from the light or not.
Navari copied her. He understood what she was thinking. ‘If they already know our position, what’s the sense in trying to stay out of sight?’ And so, they managed to run at an even faster pace than they had before.
Lantern after lantern past them by as their booted steps echoed down the passing alleyways and winding roads. They easily past men, women, and children, huddling in corners – hiding. There were not many people left outside, but there were still some nonetheless. Most stayed near the walls and remained quiet.
It was then, though, that Navari turned around. He grabbed the handle of the short sword and pulled the blade from its sheath. His movement was quick, his steps decisive, and his draw was practiced.
Sparks flew and a pressure bored down on Navari. Navari jumped back, garnering some distance. He looked into the gloom.
Coming out slowly was a man in a cloak. His hair was short and he had on a pair of sleek, one-piece black lens goggles. The goggles were thin, the arm of the goggles pressed against his brown hair. Their tunics were also dark. He could see tiny runic symbols shimmering on it as the man stepped into the light.
Navari had not even glanced back to see if Alaina stopped as well.
“To block my attack, you’re quite skilled,” the man said. “But to stop us, you’re not skilled enough.” And the man pounced.
The movement was fast. In only a single step, he had launched himself over several meters and put Navari right within reach.
Navari jumped to the left, dodging the man’s grip. But just as he did so, the man swung his sword with a backswing. Navari blocked the attack. He grits his teeth as the weight behind that sword threw him off balance.
It’s going to come again, he thought. And readied himself for another attack of that man’s sword, but… it never came. The man had actually taken the opportunity to dash past him!
Navari cursed. He bolted after him. Alaina! He knew the probability they were after Alaina was extraordinarily high. It was practically the most danger they worried about at the moment.
Navari had thought he and Alaina had managed to keep a good distance between them and the stalking three. But he suddenly sensed one of them speed up significantly. The burst of speed was so sudden within a couple of seconds it took to turn around and draw the short sword, he was already attacked.
Now the man had gone ahead of him, and Navari could see that Alaina had not stopped when he did. She kept on going towards the shuttle.
I should just leave right now. I’m already past the border. Why should I get myself involved in her mess?
As Navari hesitated, two swords, flashing from their metal surface reflecting the lantern’s crystal light, swept silently from the surrounding darkness. Navari dodged one and blocked the other.
The two others that were traveling along with the man from before had caught up, and they did not appear to try and surpass Navari. They’re targeting me. It seems they want to drag me down here, and the other will chase after Alaina. From that one strike, I can tell that one has passable skills at best, but the other is very skilled. Navari’s eyes narrowed. I guess I won’t be done for a while.
I guess I have no choice but to fight for now.