The Wind Walker
Table Of Contents
Captain Bacchus stepped out of a blustery night and into the welcoming glow of a tavern known as The Corkscrew. Full of the bustle of the evening, the common room held men who played cards for fairly middling stakes whilst merchants dined on the upper decks. Every table pointed towards the stage where a fair haired lass entertained the crowd. She sang a jovial but polite ditty about the Shipwright’s Wife and her love for wood. Her tone was even decent.
Thought the captain. It was not the kind of pub where airmen brawled and neither was a lodge where nobles sparred tongues all a’ twisted. It was nice, dull to the point of obscurity is what it was.
Great for a furtive meeting come the stroke of nine.
Tonight he wore a cloak of anonymity, literally, he wore the shroud at the client's request. This particular punter had paid Bacchus and his company their regular going rate simply for a meeting all cloak and shadows like. It was much against Bacchus' usual ruckus style. He was infamous, which is of course a kind of famous. People usually came to him. He had enough work to last him and his crew a decade but the secretive nature of this solicitation drew the captain's curiosity. Which is a difficult thing to do if you’ve already explored most of the known world. He’d seen - and some have even accused him, wrongfully, of sleeping with mermen for Aether’s sake! B
An open seat at the bar drew him in. He resisted the urge to throw back his hood revealing his familiar vermilion curls. Warmth permeated his clothing and he began to relax. The barman took this as a sign to approach. “Well and good there fella’ what can I get for you?” Said the barkeep.
“Turbuskan Ale and a pack of nuts” Bacchus replied.
“Right, Ale and some refreshments” The man replied letting out a sigh.
Bacchus settled in while he waited for his drink. He scanned the crowd. There was a bit of laughter from one table. It looked like a guildmens son had just got married. Men of the household had taken the young lad out “on the town” so to speak. Liquor ran freely at that table. The captain figured he would have had a better time at it down at the docks in a real pub or better yet the cat houses. Other than that, there was little to note, the place was quite the borefest.
His musings were interrupted as the barkeep brought back a glass stein with a blonde almost almond coloured ale, that leaked with froth, and a plate of what looked to be individually selected kernels. oFantastic. He thought.
“Here you go lad.” The barman said as he placed the refreshments in front of Bacchus. With a pause, a shuffle and a stroke of his chin whiskers he continued. “So uh do you like the daisies in the King’s square this time of year?” Oh for Nether’s sake.
Were the first thoughts that came to mind. This is why I hate clandestine meetings. Misting phrase words that sound like the old bugger is coming on to me.His thoughts continued. He let out a puff and replied.
“I do so prefer…” another sigh “the roses… look where in the mist are they?” Bacchus replied before taking a deep swig of his beer.
“Um I uh, in the back lad. Past the lav, the room to the right. Knock thrice” The barman said as his rosey cheeks turned scarlet.
“Knock thrice, I’ll knock you thrice” Captain Bacchus grumbled as he took his beer and placed a few coins on the bar. With that he stood up and took three steps away before he turned around, marched right back to the bar and picked up his plate of nuts. Bacchus then lifted his nose up into the air and made his way towards the room.
Nibbling as he made his way down the corridor he nodded to a hooded fellow who leaned against the wall just outside the lavatory. A general courtesy amongst travellers. He then turned right and knocked on the door, thrice. Must be nobles, they know how to suck the fun out of these things with their cliches. He thought as he waited for someone to answer the door. Several bites later the door swung ajar to a brawny man who wore a tan shirt. He looked the Captain up and down before he ushered him in. The room was modest, large enough for a small party, with two entrances. A table stood upon a fine carpet and surrounded by several chairs whilst the space had its own hearth to keep its occupants comfortable.
Aman sat alone at the table. He eyed the captain as he entered the room. Bacchus returned the scrutiny. The man wore a fine crimson coat and a pair of bronze spectacles, rare things that sat upon a sharp nose. “Am I correct in assuming you are Bacchus Caduceus, Captain of The Glee?” The sharp nosed man said. Bacchus stepped forward and with a flourish threw back his hood letting his red locks fall into place. Followed by a moment of silence in the room. “Captain Bacchus?” The man repeated.
The captain breathed out slowly. “Yes, The one and only.”
“Do you not think it a fool's errand to come alone, Captain?” Said the man as Bacchus saw a sizeable shadow approach from the corner of his eye. Arms closed in on him but within the span of a heart beat Bacchus had dropped his ale and brandished two weapons. A rapier twirled behind his back and lay, point first, at the neck of the bouncer, whilst a flintlock pistol was leveled at the man seated at the table, who as of yet had remained unmoved.
It took a mere moment for the silence to be broken. The second door burst open and two men stepped in, they wore armour from a house that Bacchus did not recognise. k
“Enough Claudeus, I think the good captain has shown his merit. You and your men may leave.” Said the man at the table. Claudeus waited until the blade held at his throat was lowered then nodded and left without ceremony, his men followed. Captain Bacchus smoothed his cloak and ran his hands through his hair.
“Was that necessary?” He said to the man.
“Quite, this is a serious matter yet I am still shocked you came alone.” The man said.
“As you requested. Now who are you and what’s the job? My curiosity has waned.” Bacchus replied.
“You may call me Chandler.” Said the man. The candle on the table reflected the brightness of the man's teeth as he made an attempt to smile. “As for the matter at hand, please sit. I promise we shall not assail you again. Your safety is secure.” He continued
“Right, Chandler...” Bacchus replied as he stowed his daggers. “To business then.” He continued before he took a forlorn look at the spilt ale upon the carpet.
“We need you to find something precious that was stolen from us. Yet here is where the request becomes unusual.” Chandler said as he removed his spectacles.
“Unusual?” The Captain said whilst he placed his elbows on the table and leaned in.
“Yes. We cannot tell you what you seek or who we work for. If the disappearance of our… treasure were to get out there would be quite the commotion.” Chandler said.
“I see.” Bacchus replied, straightening his back. “I don’t play games and theatrics will only entertain me for so long. Find someone else.” He said as he pushed his chair back. Chandler coughed then bumbled out his next words.
“We will reward you and your crew handsomely!” With a clap, one of the men, who was not Claudius, entered the room and placed a chest full of coin on the table then departed just as swiftly. “Half now and half again when you return, over fifty times your usual asking price, Captain.”
Captain Bacchus' eyes grew wide as he eyed the chest. He took a coin and flicked it into the air.
“My apologies, how rude of me, by all means please continue.” He said. Chandler smiled and slid his glasses back on.
“We can’t tell you what you are looking for but we can tell you what to look for and where. Once you have it then it need not be a secret.” Chandler continued. The man then brought out a sealed parchment from his jacket pocket. “Do we have a deal, Captain?” Chandler said. Captain Bacchus eyed the parchment and nodded.
“Fine. I accept, we have a deal.” The captain said.
Bacchus leaned back in his chair and unrolled the parchment. His eyes scanned back and forth as he read out the details of the request. His lips drew into a smile and he brought his palm to his forehead. Chandler and his men had left with the promise that the first half of the payment would be brought to their ship at dawn. With his work done Bacchus Caduceus, Captain of the Glee veiled himself once again and left the room. s
As he strode down the hallway, past the lavatory, the hooded fellow from earlier peeled off of the wall and matched his step with the Captains. As he entered the common room - several of the gamblers, without a word, put down their cards, rose from their seats and joined the convoy. The fair headed songstress stopped mid song, scooped up her tips, made a curtsy to the crowd and stepped beside Bacchus, in front of the others.
“So my Captain, where are we heading this time?” She said. All pretense of a soft voice gone.
Captain Bacchus opened the door into the fresh night air.
“Crater, we’re going to Crater.” He replied and together they left the tavern.
Chapter 1 - The Cloth and The Cudgel
The city of Crater only came into existence 25 or so cycles ago when it was discovered by a Barbosian merchant caravan who sought a swift route past the mountain flatlands. Led by their curiosity, a party which included Issac Tan, The Great Traveller, ventured to the bottom of the basin to discover the entire cavity had a plethora of exotic minerals with marvelous properties. All 13 of the lesser merchant clans at the time banded together to create their own state. The name Crater is quite literal for a city built inside a Crater. - Tinkers Notes #
The first strike of the hammer caused a crack to appear in the rock. A second more powerful blow tore it asunder. Pieces crumbled away to reveal a white chunk of ore. Silver veins ran through it that glinted even with the lantern's glim. The boy who wielded the hammer took a moment to glance around the room. All around him sat youth of the same age. Each with their own tiny mallets. Breaker Boys they called them. They all sat in neat little lines separating the impurities from the ore. aIt was tedious at best but still better than the alternative.
The boy thought to himself.
Tap, tap, tap an insistent tone that droned into the boy’s head as the others continued their work. Tap, tap, tap the noise controlled the room in the same way that a fly dominates dung. It was enough to be maddening. The boy imagined it was the reason those working the mines drank so much even if they laid the fault with their wives. Every so often the rhythm was broken up by a loud bang. One such a disturbance drew the boy’s attention. Among the workers strode a man with a cudgel. Every third row he would crack his cudgel down into the wooden runners in which the stone was deposited. To distill discipline. More often than not it would ‘mistakenly’hit a hand. The man loved his routine and repeated it throughout the day. He had just finished a circuit of the room. Now was the time.
The boy’s hand raced to the only pocket on his ragged trousers. The one he had sown himself. He took out a necklace, a piece of metal that still had a shine to it. He opened it to reveal a tiny illustration of a woman. She stood tall on a lush hill with free flowing hair reaching for a wishful sky. Of course there was no colour, that all came from his imagination. Deft fingers took the picture out and brought it to his lips at the same time the soft glow from the shard of ore in front of him vanished. Once the picture was replaced he tied the keepsake around his neck and tucked it into the cloth shirt that barely covered his shoulders.
A pair of eyes flickered in the boy’s direction. “Where’s your mother’s wit?” Came a hiss from his side.
“My what?” he whispered in return.
“Your sense, Zephyr, what the hell are you doin?” said the neighbouring boy.
“My own business, Joulan,” replied Zephyr. Joulan shook his head which made his mousy hair sway at his shoulders.
“Tis’ my business when your slack gets me a thwack.” Joulan replied as he shot Zephyr a pointed smile. Followed by a slight giggle from Mitzy, next to Joulan, the last seat on the row.
“Hush, both of you” Mitzy attempted mid titter.
“Yeah, we better or else..” Joulan began.
CRACK. Stone debris scattered to the floor as the cudgel made a solid connection in front of them. Both boys froze. “Who the hell do you think you are?” The man wielding the weapon said. “Do you think this is all fun and games? That you can prattle while others work?” He smashed the club down once more as he finished his tirade. Joulan lowered his head and tried to shuffle away whilst Zephyr jumped to his feet.
“I’m.. I’m sorry. I really needed to pass, badly sir” Zephyr said, meeting the man’s gaze as he brought his knees together.
Zephyr was on his knees before he knew it. He never even saw the blow. In fact he had trouble seeing anything. At that point the world spun. His cheek felt hot, the skin pulsed as if he’d just been stung by a craterbug. Zephyr looked up at the man. He was tall and slim yet his arms still had power behind them despite his lack of bulk. A pair of dark eyes looked down back at him. “Do you take me for a fool boy?” The man said. Speaking more through his narrow nose than his mouth. n
“No..s” Zephyr began but was cut off by a swift kick to the rips.
“Pass? I’ll beat you so bad that blood is the only thing you’ll pass for the next month you heathenous little gobshite.” The man said with a hint of glee on his voice.
In agony Zephyr tried to plea but as he opened his mouth pain racked his stomach causing him to lean forward and retch. As he did he felt something slide from underneath his shirt. His tormentor wrapped his slender fingers around the necklace and used it to yank the boy to his feet. Surprisingly the lace held until the wiry brute ripped it from his neck. “Well, well. What’s a pretty thing like this doing with a gutter rat like you? Who’d you steal it from, boy?” Said the man as he lifted the boy’s chin with his weapon. d
“Please, Overseer, it was my mothers. She gave… ” Zephyr tried to beg but was cut off once again with a punch to the gut causing him to double over.
“Lying little gutter filth, I’ll have you…” before the Overseer could finish he himself was cut off with a bell and a whistle. He made a face of distaste as he spat on Zephyr. “I’ll be taking this, it’s too good for the likes of you.” He pocketed the piece of jewelry into his jacket and looked at Zephyr’s two friends. “Pick him up.” The Overseer headed down the line and shouted out “Line up you little miscreants, Lola’s not had her fill yet, plenty more go around for scum like you.”
Hands clasped around his arms and he was helped to his feet. Zephyr gave his friends a grateful smile. “That bastard,” Mitzy said, not quite under her breath. “Quiet, Mitz, or he’ll dish some out upon you too” Joulan intervened before he turned to Zephyr. “You alright, you bloody fool?” Zephyr gave a half nod in reply.
The trio joined the rest of the breaker boys in line to leave the mine. Each and every one of them had their fair share of sweat and dust. Zephyr had to lean upon Joulan until the wind returned to his lungs but he wasn’t the only one limping. Others would be stiff from the day's work. As they followed the queue into the next room they remained silent. Light shone from two exits. One in which the Overseer and his goons stood guard and ushered out the boys. A second where larger men, the miners, made up less orderly lines and larger still Overseers guided. The men were older and covered in much more grime than the boys. Sweat and dust was the least to cover their brow as scapes, scars and the dried blood that accompanied such was plain to see. Zephyr shivered at that sight despite the humidity from the mine.
All stumbled to a stop when a taller boy stepped before the Overseers. “Who’s that they got there?” Said Zephyr as the Overseer ran his hand down one side of the boy and then up again. He did this with each person before they could leave.p
“Jerome.” Mitzy whispered in reply.
Jerome was a tall boy. Nearly as tall as the men in the other line but not quite as square in the shoulders. Zephyr thought he could see the corners of the boy's mouth lift in a smirk. The Overseer had obviously noticed as well and brought his hand up as if to slap him. A soft light pulsed from the man’s hand.
Amurmur rippled through the crowd. The Overseer motioned to his associate’s. One man kicked the back of Jerome’s knees out whilst the other whacked him in the back of the head. Jerome buckled and spat out a small piece of the precious ore. The boys each stepped back and even the miners seemed to cast their eyes down at what happened next. Beckoned by the Overseer another guard joined the group and the four of them encircled the boy. Together they rained down pain, sturdy boots and hefty cudgels lay into the boy that moments ago had seemed so close to being a man.
eThose were not the cries of a man.Zephyr thought to himself as his nails dug into his palm.
I doubt I would fare better. He chided himself.
“Let that be a lesson to you all.” The Overseer said waving his arm in front of the crowd as if he’d won some great victory. “Steal from us and you’ll be punished. Simple as that.” The man said as if he didn’t take joy in the enforcement of it. He emphasized the words with one last kick into the boy’s stomach. Evidently, with that, the man decided he was done for the day. He ordered one of his lackeys to drag what was left of Jerome and together they left, leaving the other lesser Overseers to guide the workers out.
Next in line Zephyr stepped forward. It was a different Overseer than earlier. The man held a perfectly smooth stone the colour of an eggshell. He ran the stone over Zephyr, the same way they had with Jerome. He tried not to make eye contact with the man. Instead they lingered on the pool of blood left by the beating. He felt a cold droplet run down his back but the inspection was done in no time. An ache settled into his bones as he stepped out of the mine and into Crater proper.r
Zephyr had to shield his eyes. Light filtered down, reflected off the walkways and metal towers that made up the city. It wasn’t much but it was brighter still than that of the lanterns in the mine. Once his eyes had adapted he spotted Joulan and Mitzy who waited for him off to one side. They waved him over. “You’re lucky that wasn’t you”. Mitzy said pointing a finger at Zephyr.
He shrugged and said “Wasn’t me who was fool enough to steal a rock and try and take it out the front door” in reply.
“Mitz is right, Zep. That bastard Jayr already gave you one beating. If it wasn’t for Jerome he might have taken it out on you either way.” Joulan added.
“Why’d he do it anyway? Must of known he’d be caught!” Mitzy said.
“Desperate,” Zephyr said. “They were gonna make him work the mines soon. What else was he gonna do?” He continued.
“Wouldn’t of been as bad for Jerome if you hadn’t of an...antag.. pissed off the overseer. You know not to mess with Jayr, out of all them he’s the only one who put a stick up his own arse.” Joulan said.
“Wasn’t my plan” Zephyr said with a pause. “Jerome shouldn’t of got caught.” He continued with a shrug.
“What was that about anyway Zep? I never knew your ma had left you a keepsake?”
Zephyr looked up at his friend and finally a smile crept across his lips. “She didn’t.”
Chapter 2 - Into the Cat House
During the construction of Crater the merchant guilds contracted Geomancers to apprise and inform them on their find. What they found was a wealth of exotic and more common minerals alike. Rarest and most valuable amongst them was the Skiilite, which is key in the construction of Airship engines. Whereas they also found Glowstone on mass. The substance makes up the majority of the chasm walls. It soaks up the light from the sun and releases it slowly during the darker hours. This means that the lower levels of the city tend to be brighter during the night than they are at day. All ores are mined and exported to neighbouring kingdoms for quite the profit. - Tinkers Note #
Dusk began to creep into the depths of the city. The flicker of light from above was replaced by a soft blue glow from the great cliffs that ringed the city. Lichen replaced the grass of the upper world, roots in place of trees and mushrooms grew where water trickled down from above. To anyone used to an open sky and daylight it would have come across as quite eerie but to those who spent their life here it was simply the norm.
Of course we would be able to see the sky if it were not for the hideous metallic towers the fat merchants lived in. Pondered Zephyr.
Zephyr, Joulan and Mitzy had begun their daily trek home. In quiet contemplation as they all thought upon the day's excitement. They lived with others in a place for children without any parents. Of which Crater had many. Other miners, workers and breaker boys took their own paths back toward Shanty, a sprawling slum town and their own little corner of civilisation. A mechanical lift that led to the upper world was the center of it all. All other buildings spiraled from there as well as a few maintenance lifts for businesses and ore transportation.
As the track split Zephyr veered off from his two companions. Joulan and Mitzy stopped and stared at him.
“What’s the plan then Zep?” Mitzy said as she looked at her friend expectantly.
“I’m going after that necklace Mitz, I need your help.” Zephyr replied. “Both of you” He added as he glanced at Joulan.
“This is mad.” Joulan said as he took a step towards Zephyr. “Don’t you think you’ve pissed him off enough already?” He continued.
“Not yet, Joul. And I do have a plan.” Zephyr said as he threw Mitzy a smile.
“Let’s hear it then!” She replied with a glint in her eye.
Together the three stepped to the side and began to conspire. Mitzy leaned in close, ears perked.
“So, I know where he will be and when he will be there. We just have to sneak in and get the necklace without him noticing.” Zephyr said.
“Oh, that easy?,” said Joulan
“Ow where?” Said Mitzy.
“Madame Boswells.” Zephyr said.
Mitzy back straightened in an instant “No.” Came a short reply. The spark from her eyes had retreated.
“Come on Mitz, I need you, you’re the one that…” Zephyr began
“Stop it. “ Joulan said to Zephyr as he placed a hand on his shoulder. Mitzy had turned around at this point and taken a step toward home.
“Avril will need help with the younger ones.” She said in a low voice.
Zephyr opened his mouth to say something but Joulan threw him a look that said he would regret it.
“See you two at home.” Mitzy said as she turned around briefly to wave them off and was on her way.
“Come on then. I’ll help.” Joulan said and began down the road towards Shanty.
The duo made their way towards the center of town in relative silence. Hut’s and lean to’s made up most of the structures on the outskirts. As they drew inward the residents became shacks and even some real buildings. Labourers left their homes with little other than soup in their bellies to find their nearest watering hole. Most were simple lodgings that brew mushroom-shine. There were only a few real taverns in Shanty town and those cost a full day's earnings. Yet rumour was, up above they drank liquor from all over the known kingdoms. Back down here youth roamed the streets. The lucky ones who had families tended to stay together. There were those like Zephyr and Joulan who had communities they could go to. And then there were those that had plain run out of luck, you avoided those ones.
Zephyr pulled Joulan to the side as they approached the only road in Shanty that could really be called a street. Most of the town’s nighttime activities took place in this thoroughfare. The boys kept to the shadowed alleys that ran parallel to the main strip until they reached their destination. Madame Boswells, the only Cathouse in town. They leaned against a couple of crates as they waited. Joulan glanced back and forth to the building, his cheeks grew flush as he did. He was the one to break the silence. “You know you’re a real bastard for what you did to Mitzy”. He said to Zephyr.
“How?” Zephyr replied.
“You know why she does what she does. Why she hides who she is” Joulan replied nodding towards the Cathouse. “It ain’t easy being a girl.” Joulan continued.
“It ain’t easy for any of us” Zephyr retorted. “Having her would have made this a lot easier.” said Zephyr as he crouched down and looked away from his friend.
“Easier for you, this is the one place she wants to avoid. You think I want my sister even seeing a whore house let alone setting foot in one?” Joulan continued.
“Fine, fine, you’re right.” Zephyr said, trying to end the conversation. He wasn’t good at this stuff.
“I’ll work my arse off until we’re out of this pit.” Joulan said.
“Yeah until the mines get you, they get everyone eventually.” Zephyr said his eyes focused on his friend.
“Yeah well you’re not the only one with a plan, I’ve been working with….” Joulan began but was cut off by Zephyr’s hand wave.
“Get down, he’s here.” Said Zephyr as he pushed his friend to a crouch.
A carriage pulled up outside Madame Boswells. It wasn’t especially fancy, wooden with a few brass ornaments. Carriages and wagons were used often to shift material. What was unusual was the horse. The creatures hated it down here in the dank. Normally they just used mules. A horse would have cost down here in the slums as there was very little wealth to spread around. That was intentional. A way to keep people working the mines. There were only a few that took on administrative tasks for those above that could afford them. It was a literal hierarchy of wealth. Shanty was the rock bottom so to say. A driver hopped off the carriage and opened the door. Out stepped Jayr. His Overseer uniform was still crisp despite his ‘work’. A look of disgust swept over the man's face for a brief second as he stepped onto the mud. Then the doors to Madame Boswell swept open and a heavy set woman appeared to welcome the Overseer inside. She took his arm and Zephyr noticed the same look again as the woman touched him. A moment later and they were inside and the affair was over.
“See?” Zephyr said to Joulan as the Overseer stepped into the building.
“I’ve got eyes, how do we get in?” Joulan replied.
“Not yet. We’ve got another stop to make.” Zephyr said. He guided Joulan out of the alley and onto the main street avoiding the traffic as men sought the quickest way to their drinks. Their destination was a tavern a good distance away. The Mellow Moss. Several patrons stood outside and enjoyed a smoke, some sort of dry herb. Zephyr hated the smell of the stuff. It burnt his nose with its foul stench. Together they made their way round back. Empty bottles and barrels littered the backstreet as Zephyr navigated to a hefty wooden door at the back of the pub. Then proceeded to pound on the doors with his fist. It took a second but they swung open and the air wafted with the smell of beer and stew. Out stepped a large man, he wore a grimy apron and sported a thick mustache. “You’re late!” He said as he gave the boys a look up and down. “And what’s this young Zep? You brought a friend? Lovely. Don’t be expecting any more coin’ out of me though.” He huffed.
“It’s alright Con. Long shift today. He’s just here to help me out.” Zephyr replied.
Con huffed again. It seemed to be his typical response. He then disappeared back into the tavern. A few grunts later and the man was back. He produced two wooden barrels. One under each arm. He placed them at the their feet. “Right.” He said. “Get outta here, lucky I didn’t get someone else to do it.” Said Con.
“Thanks, Promise we won’t drink it all.” Replied Zephyr.
“If you did I’d drown you. Those would be your caskets.” Con said but with an open smile. He flicked a penny at Zephyr then drew a piece of bread out from his apron and lobbed it to Joulan with a grin. Then the man hauled the two wooden doors shut. A clunk indicated he’d locked them again.
Liquid sloshed inside the kegs with each step. Combined with a longer return route, to avoid the ale ailed men, it made the journey more of an endeavor. “So this is what you’ve been doing after shift?” Joulan said to Zephyr.
“Yep, took a while for Con to treat me like one of his boys but it's a penny a night,” Zephyr replied. “Sometimes a stale piece of bread too.” He continued. That drew a smile from his friend. It faded when Joulan noticed movement in front of them. Shadows before them coalesced into the shape of three youths. One in the middle stepped forward.
“Drop them, leave em ere’.” Said a low, lethargic, insouciance voice. A girl Zephyr saw. Hard to tell with the straggly short hair. Off to each side a boy stepped in line, each holding a crude club.
“Can’t do that. You know the brewers don’t take kindly to thieves.” Said Zephyr.
“I said leave em.” She replied.
The ring leader motioned to one of the boys and he took a step forward. Weapon raised.
“Arielle!” Joulan intervened.
Her gaze shifted to Joulan with a blank stare. “Arielle, it’s me Joulan. Mitzy’s brother.”
“So, what of it?” She replied.
“You were friends before..” Joulan said then he realised his mistake.
“Before they kicked me out?” Came a curt reply.
Ariella rushed forward and grabbed the rags of Joulan’s shirt.
“Like the dregs?” She pushed hard.
“No!” Shouted Zephyr. One of the lads blocked his path.
Joulan pitched backwards. His grip on the barrel waned and it tumbled with him. He hit the ground with a solid thump. With luck the drum had fallen on top of him and he now cradled it in his arms. Ariella moved with a rabid ferocity. She raised her bare foot to kick the downed boy.
“Stop, stop! I have coin!” Zephyr said. This paused the attack.The girl turned back to him.
“Give it to me.” She said.
“Wait. “ Said Zephyr as he put his own cask down.
“I do this five times a week. If you let us go now I’ll give you one in five.” He said eyes locked between her and his friend.
“Two.” She said as she took a step away from Joulan. “Two in five.” Ariella said with a mocking grin.
Zephyr’s brows furrowed. “Fine.” He dug a coin, the one Con had given him, out of his only pocket and lobbed it to her.
“Hey, that’s just one!” said one of the club wielding boys.
“I’ll give you another tomorrow. “ Zephyr said, speaking to Ariella rather than the boy.
She halted for a moment but then nodded her agreement. “Tomorrow, here, or else I’ll find yous.” She said with a drawl. With one last hard look at Zephyr and Joulan she and her minions backed away into the night.
Zephyr let out a full sigh and walked over to his friend. He moved the barrel and then offered his hand. Joulan took it eagerly. Freed from the weight he tried to get his feet under him but had to perch on the keg to catch his breath. He swept his long hair from his now sweaty brow and then eyed the unlit parts of the alleyway. “Remind me not to run errands with you again.” Joulan said. Zephyr had picked up his barrel and had it over his shoulder.
“Coin’s hard to come by though, a bloody nose would have been cheaper.” Joulan said as he mimicked Zephyr.
“Would of taken too long.” Zephyr said. “We’re late as it is, come on.”
“Yes, Boss.” Joulan replied.
They rose and made their way to their destination. Madame Boswells.
The Cathouse grew busier as the evening drew on with patrons flowing in and out of the main entrance. Fortunately there was a service entry that Zephyr led them to. He gave the door a knock a good half dozen times. An irate but soft voice shouted various insults through the wooden door. A slit opened to reveal a pair of hazel eyes framed by a blend of pink and blues. They bounced from left to right through the horizontal slit until they finally came rest upon Zephyr.
“Zep!” Came a high pitched screech. The door swung open and light poured into the street silhouetting the two boys. Inside the doorway stood a slender woman covered in paint, powder and other various makeups that gave her a bright complexion. “And you brought a friend! You lazy brute, you made her carry the Ale for you?” The woman said with a cheery smile.
“Hey Camile.“ Zephyr replied. “We’re splitting the coin.” He said, not correcting the mistake.
Joulan opened his mouth but before he could object Camile gestured that the casks be brought inside.
“I’ve split a lot of things but never a penny.” The lady gave a chuckle as the boys brought in their delivery.
Wafts of savory spice filled the room as they were led from the entrance into the kitchen. A cook sang to himself as he prepared meals for the patrons. The aroma of fresh food was enough to set Joulan’s stomach off. A loud rumble came from the youth followed shortly after by one from Zephyr. Camile gave a laugh.
“Two birds of a feather,” She said. “What’s your name?” She said looking at Joulan.
“Joulan. Ma’am” He replied.
“Ma’am? Ma’am? Do I look like a Ma’am?” She teased, which drew a bright flush from the boy’s cheeks.
“No, sorry I mean.” Joulan tried to explain. Camile just laughed.
“No need, I’m just teasing ya, hun.” She said. “Jo’s a nice name though.” She turned and gave Zephyr a wink. Joulan just lowered his head. Cheeks still rosey.
Camile took the pair into a small pantry where they dropped the wooden barrels off to one side. Joulan rubbed his shoulder. It had grown stiff on the journey there. They exited the room and made their way back into the kitchen. Two small plates of food were made up upon a small wooden table there. The cook shot the boys a smile and returned to his work.
“Right, you’ve got a quarter turn. Eat up love.” Camile said with a wave to the food. “Meantime I’ve got some other appetites to fill, see yourself out Zep.” She said. The boys nodded their agreement and were steered to the table by their stomachs. Both dug into the food. Camile left through a curtained doorway leaving them on their own with the cook engaged in his work.
“Does everyone feed you?” Joulan said with half a mouth full. Zephyr just grunted in reply taking a small bite from a piece of cheese. “No wonder you're getting fat.” Joulan jested but Zephyr’s eyes were on the drapes.
Without warning Zephyr jumped to his feet and strode over to the hanging cloth. It was split down the middle and he opened them just enough to peek out.
“Horse Dung, they're not there.” He said.
“Who’s not there?” Joulan replied as he snagged a piece of fruit from the plate in front of him.
“Come on, let's go.” Zephyr said to Joulan as he pulled his friend to his feet.
“Go where?” Joulan said as Zephyr dragged him in tow.
“Upstairs, The Overseer. He’s taken a fancy to one of the new girls.” Zephyr explained as he led Joulan to a narrow stairway behind the table they’d sat at. The servants entrance. Joulan figured. There was barely enough room for the two young boys to maneuver the stairway let alone an adult. “Cherry, her name is, pretty thing. Too pretty for here at least.” Zephyr continued his explanation in a decreasingly low whisper. It was more of a climb than a walk up the stairs. They traversed two flights before they reached the third floor. No building had more than three floors in Shanty.
They hid behind the service entrance curtain as a lady escorted a half drunk customer into a room at the end of the corridor. A strong odour of perfume assaulted Joulan’s nostrils. Zephyr waited for the span of three breaths before he checked to see if the coast was clear. He lifted a finger to his lips and made a “shhh” sound to Joulan. A cocktail of grunts and moans came from different directions. In Joulan’s mind he heard the hard slap of rock being deposited before him in the mines. Over and over again. Together they tiptoed down the hallway. Dim lanterns spaced far between each room. It made it difficult to see ahead. The walls were a scarlet red with a floral pattern that ran across the skirting board. A carpet lay across the length of the passage. Joulan realised his gaze had drifted downwards, as if he were trying to hide, and so raised his head.
Outside a room Zephyr peered -
No leered, Joulan thought, through a keyhole. Joulan’s mouth dropped but before he could protest Zephyr had turned towards him, eyes wide with quick breaths. “Mists, they're not there!” Said the boy before he raced over to another doorway. “Quick, check them.” He said as he pointed to the other half of the corridor. Joulan had never seen his friend in such a panic.
“No..that’s..” Joulan tried but the words wouldn’t come out. The noises were bad enough. He simply did not want to see who or how those sounds were being brought into existence.
“Hurry, I need that necklace Joulan.” Zephyr said as he squeezed past his friend to check another keyhole.
Joulan’s steps were reluctant but he moved to a door that stood on his side of the passageway. He leaned over and squinted as he pried into the room. A man, no thicker than a toothpick was bent over on his hands and knees as a heavy set woman sat on his back and bounced. It looked like the man would cave but he stood strong. It wasn’t Jayr. Joulan stepped back and a shiver ran down his spine. Followed by an acidic taste in his throat. He continued to the next door. Opposite the door Zephyr had originally spied upon. A scantily dressed lady walked across the room with light footsteps, lithe with pink hair? Joulan had never seen hair dyed as such. In the corner sat a copper bathtub filled to the brim. A man relaxed surrounded by foam. It was him. He stepped back and motioned over to the other boy with a wave. Zephyr noticed and ran over. He took a look for himself and then cast his eyes around.
“In here.” Zephyr whispered then pulled Joulan into a suite.
Ascent of iron lingered inside the room. So much that Joulan could taste it. He glanced around for the source and found it. Blood stained the bed from one corner to another. Not enough to come from a whole person but a decent amount. Joulan thought. Not that he knew for sure.
“This is where they were meant to be.” Zephyr said. “See that door” He pointed towards another entrance to the side of the room. Joulan nodded. “It would have been easy to sneak in and get the necklace back.” He continued. “That was the plan.”
“What the hell happened here?” Joulan said more bothered about the maroon splatters across the bedding.
“Just a mess. Some like it rough.” Zephyr said with less concern than Joulan would have liked. Joulan scrunched his face at that thought. “Right, we can still do this.” Zephyr said as he made his way over to the dresser. He flung clothes onto the floor as he riffled through the draws.
“You’re going to dress up as a lady of the house now?” Joulan said with a little laugh. Zephyr turned to his friend holding a dark green garment.
“No, you are.”
“No.” Joulan said as he balled his fist. Zephyr straightened out the dress. It revealed the slender shape and very low neckline. It was inexpensive and made more to be torn off than shown off. “Joulan, it has to be you. He’d know me at first glance. And you’ve got…” Zephyr began.
“Long hair? This isn’t a joke Zep, this is too much.” Joulan said as his friend threw the garb at him. He ripped it from the air. Zephyr then went to a cabinet, picked out two glasses and set them on a silvered platter. He began to pour from a bottle of wine that had sat inside the cabinet.
“Look, go in, put the tray down and pick the necklace up. They won’t even get a good look at you.” Zephyr said as his eyes pleaded with his friend.
“This is what you wanted Mitz for isn’t it Zep?” Joulan accused.
“Yes.” Zephyr said. His eyes drifted down.
Joulan stormed up to his friend and grabbed him by the shirt. He was taller and had slight more muscle too. “You bastard. Fine, I’ll do this but that’s the last help you’ll get from either me or Mitz.“ Joulan said as he jostled his friend back. The act nudged the tray and a few drops of wine spilt upon the board parodying the spots on the bed.
In the shadows and low light the dress changed Joulan’s lanky figure into a petite pale pole. There was not enough time for powder or paint, not that either of them knew there use. Zephyr peeked out of the door. He heard the steps before he saw the origin. A girl walked towards them armed with a bucket and other cleaning tools.
“Quick, hold the door.” Together they propped themselves against the wooden frame. A moment later the handle jiggled and there was pressure against them. It subsided and steps moved away to the neighbouring room. “Mists,” Zephyr said. “We got to do this now”. Another jiggle and then a door opened and then shut. Zephyr opened their rooms door and held it for Joulan as he stepped out into the hallway. Tray and glass goblets in hand. Their door shut as they heard the adjoining one open. Zephyr leaned down and peered through the keyhole to the overseers room. “Go, it’s laying upon a table to the right of the room next to his trousers.” Zephyr said.
The sound of laughter was cut off as Joulan made an abrupt entrance. Inside the chamber he saw that the tub now had two occupants. The lithe girl had joined Jayr in the bath.
“Hey!” Cherry said. “I got this room tonight!” She complained. Joulan just bobbed his head and made his way towards where the necklace lay in the opposite direction of the two.
“Refreshments!” The Overseer’s lusty growl came as he noticed the drinks. “Bring them here, girl.” He said. Water splashed against the tiled floor as the man sat up. The glasses rattled while Joulan decided what to do next. He chose to follow the command. With his head down he walked over to the couple . A vanity table sat next to the bathtub. Joulan placed the tray on top of it. A damp hand slid up the backside of Joulan’s dress as he turned to go. Joulan froze.
A wet slap resounded not a moment after. Followed by a “Cheeky!” from Cherry. “You’ve got enough to handle.” She said. The hand slid away but left drops running down Joulan’s thigh. His body shivered but he was free. He made his way across the room and scooped up the pendant. Murmurs of pleasure resumed as he left. Light greeted him as he exited the chamber. Zephyr stood to the side just out of view of the entrance. Joulan held up the necklace and could see his friend's eyes grow wide and a grin appeared. It was infectious. It was that same grin that had gotten them into trouble many times before but it only worked to an extent. The door to the room opposite opened. A girl with a mop stood in the doorway.
“What?” She said.
The boy’s bolted. Followed by incoherent shouts behind them. Joulan trailed behind Zephyr as they made their way down the narrow staircase and into the kitchen. The dress restricted his movement and made it hard to run but adrenaline coursed through both of their boy’s veins and they were young. They burst out of the kitchen and into the alleyway but didn’t slow their pace. Joulan glanced behind him. No one had followed them. Likely no one cared enough to give chase in the hallway but to a couple of young boys up to mischief it felt as if they were pursued by demons. Joulan got several weary looks from less than sober men as they crossed main street. Finally once they reached the lane opposite The Cathouse they stopped.
Heavy breathing filled the alleyway. Zephyr crouched whilst Joulan leaned against a wall. Nervous laughter rose up from Zephyr and reverberated in Joulan. Both boys were still weary as it had been a tense evening but parts of that tension melted away in part now. They rebounded in each other’s joy.
“We did it.” Zephyr said as he got to his feet.
“We did it.” Joulan echoed.
Joulan raised his hand and opened his fist. The necklace dangled from between his fingers. Zephyr reached out but Joulan moved it away.
“Promise,” He said as he adopted a serious tone. “Promise, My sister won’t be involved in your schemes.” Eyes locked onto his friend as he said it.
Zephyr nodded. “It was the last time Joul. Mitzy won’t be involved any more.” Zephyr said.
Joulan sought something within Zephyr’s gaze but whatever it was, hid well in the reflection. He dropped the necklace into his friend’s waiting palm.
“What is it anyway?” Joulan said to his friend.
“A key.” Zephyr replied as he opened the locket. The picture was no longer there. It had been replaced by floral petals which he let float to the floor. It took a second of fidgeting but he finally unlocked a concealed compartment. A soft glow lit Zephyr’s face as he revealed the piece of ore that had been hidden inside.
“My key to getting out of here.”
Chapter 3 - The Job
Captain Bacchus stood upon the deck of The Glee and oversaw his men as they made claim to not one but two weighty coffers. An unmarked wagon and some burly men had unloaded the chests just after the first rays of dawn broke through the night sky. Of course Bacchus himself had been abed at the time. Sleeping off the beginnings of a gnarly hangover. And, of course, in his haste to drink himself into a stupor he had forgotten to tell his crew about neither the job nor the recompense being delivered in the morn.
The two idiots on watch that night. Waldwick and Claxton had stood there for hours as they gambled upon what the contents of the trunks were. Neither of them had the forethought to check for themselves. So for hours; Enough treasure to buy half a Kingdom, albeit a small one or maybe just a township, sat on the city docks and waited for anyone just to saunter by and take them. As it happens that’s exactly what had happened.
Drunk as an old man's fart. A drudge from the docks had stumbled upon the boxes. Literally stumped his toe. The man then tried to pilfer one. Which according to Waldwick and Claxton was quite the show. It wasn’t until a failed attempt resulted in gold being flung across the walkway that the two men took action. Apparently they had to fight off the rabble. The drunk fellow was the only one who managed to escape, a single coin in hand.
Good on him. Thought Captain Bacchus. Mind you if I see the bastard I’ll teach him how to fly.
Awoman accompanied the two men and guided them across the gangplank. Treasure in tow. She ordered them to place the chests in front of the Captain. Bacchus gave a look to the two of them. An old trick had taught him silence was the best way to break a man. It worked. Claxton’s nerves gave way and he bumbled.
“Quite the morning there aye Captain? Funny thing it was,” Said Claxton. Waldwick could see his companions' mistake and tried to rescue the situation.
“Not funny so to say, more like, good thing we were there, like? To save the coin and all that.” Waldwick said to no avail.
“Karya,” Bacchus said as he turned to his first mate. “How do you think we should reward the lads?” He continued. She stood tall and erect. Her hair was secured at the back but the tail of it still blew in the crisp morning breeze.
“Captain?” She said accompanied by a twitch from her right arm. “I think a month in the bilge will do them good. All this fresh air has gone to their heads.” She said with a smile.
In union the pair complained.
“Aw, Cap’n.” Came a moan from Claxton.
“I’m airsick enough as it is” A complaint from Waldwick.
Karya clapped her hands together in their direction and they were both off on their duties.
Bacchus dipped a hand into one of the open coffers and pulled out a bunch of coins.
“We should bank this at our next stop.” He said as he examined the currency.
“Captain?” Came an inquiry from Karya.
“The coins, there's an even mix here, not all from the same place.” He answered.
“Makes sense. Too much coin to gather from just one Kingdom.” She replied.
“No, it’s too equal. As if it was done on purpose.” He said
“Who would do that?” She asked.
“Someone who doesn’t want to be known.” He said as he flicked the coins, one at a time, back into the chest. Then closed the lid.
“Gather Gunny, Mave and the rest of The Bosun. We’ve got work to do.” The Captain said to his first mate.
“Aye, Sir” She said with another convulsion. Bacchus smiled.
”Never will be.” She replied, glanced around and then gave in to a brief salute before she ran to fetch the rest of the officers. Bacchus gave the order to another crewmen for the gold to be taken below deck and secured until they could deposit it.
The Captain made his way along the ship’s deck. He basked in the elegance of the vessel. The Glee was Captain Bacchus' pride and joy. It was more than that. It was his soul incarnate. The ship soared through the sky like no other. Engineered by one of the greatest artificer’s this side of the known world and a relic to a time past. Sails designed for speed that sat at an angle which allowed them to break the wind rather than catch it. At the same time they sheltered the crew from the sun and air currents. Situational hull that could be morphed. Twin engines that did more than just propel them forward. Blades and rudders that were his limbs. To him it all equated to freedom.
It would take time for Karya to gather the officers together so Bacchus spent a moment playing the role of Captain. Which meant pretending to be doing something. He inspected the crew at work as they tightened lanyards, scrubbed the topside and added fresh powder from the kegs. Thirty five airmen in total made it so the ship was always in motion even when it was docked. He was proud of the crew they had assembled. And in turn he and the crew had made a name for themselves.
Doors on the quarterdeck swung open and a summons came for the Captain. Karya’s voice carried just as well in the wind as it did in the tavern. Bacchus made his way past the crew quarters to the auditorium. It wasn’t the bridge, that was the room above where navigation sat. Instead it was a room with a view, and a world map. They conducted most of their meetings that didn’t involve some kind of liquor in here and even some that did. Inside the room sat the five officers or Bosun. First Mate Karya, Gunny the Weapon’s Master and Chief Powder Monkey, Mave the Navigator, Holden the Quartermaster and finally Big Ned, the Chef.
“What are we in for this time then MAD TWATTER?” Gunny shouted more than said the last two words. He had some kind of nervous speech ailment yet his hands were steady as stone when it came time for shooting. “I mean Cap.’” Corrected Gunny.
“Can’t be as bad as the last job. I had sand in every crevice for at least a week” Said Mave.
“Ha, Crew kept complaining that there was too much salt in the stew. Thing is we’d run out of salt a few weeks before. The sand added a nice bit of grit to it” Ned said joining in the conversation.
“Enough!” Holden and Karya chimed in at the same time. They shot each other the same dirty look.
“What’s the job then, Capt?” Holden said getting in before Karya.
Captain Bacchus stepped up to the map. It was a masterpiece. Hand Drawn by the Cartographers' Guild, it had cost a fortune. A small wooden replica of The Glee lay upon it. He picked it up and placed it on the board.
“Our destination is, Crater.” He pointed to the location.
“The Devil’s Arsehole?” Said Gunny. Bacchus ignored the comment.
“Our client wants to remain nameless. Our job is also a mystery.” Bacchus said to the group. This drew their attention. Backs straightened. Fidgeting lessened.
“Please could you elaborate, our dear commander?” Mave said as she drew closer.
“Taskmaster.” Interrupted Gunny.
Captain Bacchus drew a piece of parchment from his jacket pocket. The one that the man who called himself Chandler had given him. Once unrolled he pinned it on the wall using a letter opener.
Everyone gathered around. Upon the scroll was a simplistic illustration of a bee. Below it, written in fine script, read.
“Yet another child from one so old,
Red of hair, sweet and bold,
On their shoulder ere their sold,
Sits a bee of lacquered gold.”
“So we’re looking for a kid then?” Ned said.
“Bloody nobles and their misting puzzles.” Gunny added.
“There’s not a lot to go on,” Said Holden with a glance at the poem.
“We, however, are in a bit of luck,” Said Captain Bacchus as he interrupted the chatter. “There’s a man in the depths of the city. A friend. He’ll know everything there is to know about it’s goings.” Bacchus said.
“That is marvellous and all,” Said Mave. “Crass as it is. Gunny is correct in regards to the particular moniker given to the City.” She continued.
“Devil’s Arsehole.” Gunny reminded everyone with a smile and a nod towards Mave.
Abrief silence overtook the room as each of The Glee’s officers secluded themselves in thought. Apart from Gunny. He was not very good at silence or stillness. As the others racked their brains he sat on the map table, drew a dagger and began to pick his teeth. The auditorium had a sizable glass pane. He liked to sit here often and watch the clouds go by. He would spread his arms and pretend they were wings. Kick his feed out to feel the rush of air. It made him feel like he was one of the birds that soared through the sky.
It wasn’t long before the lull was broken.
“I think it’s time for a masquerade.” Karya said.
“Disguise? The city is run by merchants. They won’t buy that we’re traders.” Said Bacchus.
“Go in as a troupe and put on a show?” Said Ned.
“We’ll draw too much attention. We need to be subtle this time.“ Countered Karya.
“Ran by merchants right?” Holden Said. “What do they sell?” He asked.
“They trade in people and ore.” Karya said with a scowl.
“People?” Holden questioned.
“Long story. They buy in people and children to work the mines.” Karya answered.
“So if not traders, then how about traffickers?” Holden said.
“Technically, they pay the miners. Just not enough to leave the city. “ Ned interjected.
“Slavery is bad business but it might just work.” Bacchus said. “No we’re not going to enslave anyone.” He shot a look at Gunny before the man could open his mouth.
“We’ll go in. Feign interest in providing them with new labourers whilst we get what we need from our informant.” Bacchus continued.
“Makes me sick but it’ll get us a couple of days there.” Karya said.
“I don’t like it either but we’ve already accepted the job.” Bacchus then turned to the rest of the crew.
“Right, Holden, get the ship dressed. Make us look like raiders.” He ordered. Holden nodded.
“Gunny, prepare for if things go south.” He said and the man grinned in way of a reply.
“Mave, set course for Claybar Commons” He said and she performed a slight curtsy.
“Karya and I will work on the details. Let’s get to it!” Captain Bacchus commanded.
Chapter 4 - To Catch a Thief
There has always been a labour shortage in Crater. Originally the Merchant Council tried to employ men to work the mines. Production was not able to meet demand. So they had to turn to less savory methods. Slavery. Not in the true sense of the word. At first they simply paid to take on criminals of other nations. They promised those men and women that they could earn off their debt. Even then the quotas fell short. At some point they stopped scrutinising who could enter the lower depths of the city and instead simply focused on who could leave. - Tinkers Note #
Zephyr strolled down the center of the street. To each side of him traders called out to the hustle and bustle of the crowd. A siren’s call to a sea of men, women and children alike. For the market was the heart of Shanty. Made up of nearly one hundred cramped alleyways and streets; Like veins and arteries. The people were the lifeblood of course. For when they were not spilling their own sweat in the mines they joined their families to barter what little they had.
A whiff in the air caught Zephyr’s attention. He followed his nose until he found where the aroma came from. A man had set up a cart in which he roasted mushrooms on. They were skewed on a stick and wrapped up in purple nettle. Zephyr tossed a man one of his precious copper coins in exchange for a kebab. The nettle had a sweet herby flavour whilst the mushroom felt meaty as he bit into it. Though it had been some time since he had tasted actual meat, it was scarce and people made a living hunting even rats.
Shanty was built upon the very floor of Crater which meant none of the streets were truly flat. The market square was built atop rock formations that made up stairs like an amphitheatre except they were always going up and down instead of a steady gradient. Zephyr sat on an unbroken slab as he enjoyed his meal. He watched the world go by whilst he ate. Buyers and sellers alike moved amongst the crowd. It was rare for someone to make a living purely by trading goods but some people managed it. Those were the ones with proper stores or carts.The lucky ones.Zephyr thought to himself. He considered anyone that avoided labour in the cramped, closely packed caverns of the mines to be fortunate.
He finished his last bite then jumped to his feet and continued on his tour of the market. Wares were spread across rags, rugs and even the odd table or two. They were not true merchants here.Unlike the bastards from the city proper.Zephyr mulled. Each of the pedlars was a member of a household simply trying to get by. They exchanged food harvested from the land which existed inside of Crater, it was surprising but life found a way down here. There were several waterfalls that flowed into the chasm in which growth bloomed around. Wallgrass, insects, lizards and fungus were all the staples of a healthy diet here. There were also items that fell from above.
Scraps from their masters. The necklace Zephyr owned was one such treasure.
Zephyr made his way out of the food area and into the bits and bobs section. He had to navigate as he made his way against the flow. It felt like he was a rock wading through a stream. Many of the pedlars eyed him suspiciously. A youth on his own was usually up to mischief. He stopped at one hawker to check out the merchandise. A fork, two hammers, half a dozen nails and one good knife. Not a bad haul. The woman behind the stall gave him a narrow gaze until he jiggled the few coins he had in his pocket. The noise summoned a smile upon the haggard looking woman.
“Good morrow son, what’s a youngling like you looking for then? A knife? All good boys need something sharp.” She said. Zephyr smiled in return and examined the blade. It had an edge but was serrated at the tip. For cutting meat?He thought as he reached down to pick it up. The woman snatched the knife away.
“Don’t be hasty. You can look but if you want to touch I’ll want to see what’s clinking in your pockets there boy.” She said. Zephyr stood up and took out a coin.
“It’s a nice blade. I’ll give you four coppers for it and a bit of information.” He said. Five was the total amount of coin he held. She gave a soft audible hiss.
“Make it seven alone for the knife son. No deal.” Said the woman. “What are you after?” She continued. Zephyr’s eyes flicked to the sides.
“Do you know anything about the Bucks?.” He said coin in hand.
In an instant the woman grabbed each corner of the rag that held her stock and scooped it up into a bundle. She then took a few steps back before her eyes bore into him.
“Lump off! Now would’cha.” She said a nervous twitch flickered across her brow.
Zephyr stepped away and merged back into the crowd.
A glance behind him showed the woman had moved on. So he too continued on his way and hoped the incident had gone unnoticed. Carpets gave way to tabletops as he walked further into the market’s depths. The merchandise became more plentiful and of higher quality. A small building drew his attention but he was dissuaded by a large man who stood just outside the door. The club he wielded might have had something to do with that. So he kept going
.Finally Zephyr found what he was looking for. Back towards the slum of the market a woman hawked out to the crowd. Jewelry sat upon her table but only a few that had a shine to them. One or two women stood around and pined at a few of the pieces. Zephyr waited a moment for the punters to move on and then strode over to the booth, necklace in hand. The seller locked eyes with him as he approached.
“Turned you down did she?” The woman said with bright eyes.
“She said I was too young.” Zephyr replied head lowered, shoulders hunched.
“Well ain’t that the way of things,” She laughed and then eyed the necklace. “Suppose you’ll be wanting your coppers back?” She said. Zephyr shuffled in the dirt.
“Would you buy it back?” He said. The woman stood in silence with her hand on her chin for a moment.
“I’ll give you half of what you gave me for it. Need to earn a livin’.” She said.
“How much was that again?” replied Zephyr which earned him a smile from the lady.
“You paid ten. I’ll return five. Pretty little thing it is.” She said. Zephyr’s eyes roamed the table and he pointed to a raggeded leather pouch.
“Would you throw the purse in?” Zephyr haggled and the woman’s smile grew into another laugh.
“Be this dogged with the girl and you may win her over yet.” She put the coins into the pouch. Zephyr handed over the necklace in exchange and then was on his way.
“Good luck heartbreaker boy!” She called out with a wave.
Footsteps made a constant beat all around Zephyr. He stepped into the crowd and went with the flow. Coins clinked as he fumbled with the leather pouch. They felt heavy against his palm. He counted each one. Five in total. Six, after he added another coin from his stash. It was a good haul and would keep him fed for a week or two. Of course the ore he had stolen from the Overseer would have kept him fed for nearly a quarter cycle. If only he could find the right buyer for it.
Sunshine filled him with warmth. Rays beamed from up above which indicated midday. Zephyr peered up through the gaps between the towers. It was the only real time you could see the sun in Shanty. The rest of the day you only got light that had been reflected from the metallic structures above. They were lean, angular and numerous like a burnished forest. Each branched off and joined the others via walkways the higher they climbed. Zephyr felt menaced by them. Like they loomed down over him. Taunting him. I’ll be free from them one day. Once I earn my way out of the city. I’ll be able to see the sun and the sky whenever I please! He thought to himself.
A jostle to the hip brought him out of his musings. It was a light touch, subtle, but he noticed. His hand darted to the side. Only a piece of string remained where the purse had hung. Alert, he scanned the area. A boy, younger than he, zig zagged in the crowd in front of him. Zephyr dashed forward. The boy noticed straight away and bolted. The chase was on
The youth nearly ploughed into a family as he raced away with Zephyr in pursuit. The kid was fast but so was he. At first the chase took the pair through the crowd as they both danced around obstacles. Zephyr was no longer the rock. Instead, it was as if he were a leaf spinning in the wind, riding the currents. He loved this. He lived for this. The brat had no way of knowing that Zephyr had played this game a thousand times with his friends. Only Mitzy had been able to keep up with him.
.It wasn’t a game though. The child had Zephyr’s money and fled with it. Punters jumped out of their way as they barged through the crowd. One or two of the men made grabs for them but all were much too slow. Zephyr dogged the child as instructed by the pedlar woman. At any point he was only three or four steps behind him and he had to stop himself grasping at him until he was within reach. People gave way to open ground and Zephyr could see panic in the boy’s features as his longer strides brought him ever closer to his prey.
“Stop!” Shouted Zephyr as they neared a deadend.
With a great feat of agility the thief sprung up onto some crates and climbed onto the roof of a nearby building. Zephyr followed though not quite so practiced. The course took them across the rooftops. Sheets of metal rattled with each step. It was a surprise that the rickety dwellings could hold either of their weight let alone both. Out of the slum market led them into higher structures. Footing became more solid. Zephyr was a handbreadth away. He reached out but the boy hopped to the street.
“Suck it!” Came a small voice from below. Zephyr spurred on and scrambled down after him.
They rounded corners, took twists and turns that led them into the Fabricator’s district. Real buildings with dark smoke that flew from chimneys. Zephyr’s breaths came more rapid now. He could feel sweat drip down his brow as his lungs grew heavy. Then at last the boy made a mistake. He sidestepped into an alleyway and Zephyr sprang after him. It stood between two stout factories with sheer walls on each side. Debris littered the passage. There was no other entrance or exit in sight besides the one they had entered through.
“Fleet little bugger,” Zephyr said with his head bent over, hands on his thighs. “Gave me a good chase, you did.” He continued. “Now give that back to me.” He said as he pointed to the leather pouch, clutched tight in the boy’s hand.
“No chance.” Said the kid. “Go suck a pickle!” He shouted as he backed further into the alleyway.
“Maybe we can make a trade then?” Zephyr said as he took a few steps forward.
“Doesn’t look to me like you’ve got anything to trade.” Replied the youth as he threw the pouch into the air and caught it again.
“Keep the coin just tell me what you know about The Bucks.” Zephyr offered as he took another step closer.
“Nah.” Was the only reply. The thief turned around and plunged into a pile of junk stacked against the building. Zephyr set off after him. He could see a break in the wall that had been obscured by the waste.
“I’m going to brain you, you little..” He called after the boy. The space was tight and he had to go on all fours as he rummaged through the trash. His heart constricted but he was through before the shakes began. He poked his head out the other side and cast around for his quarry. As he rose to his knees he felt a cold weight come to rest upon the back of his neck.
“Whom is going to brain who, now?” Came a deeper voice.
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