The Floating City - Chapter 32

The Final Fight, Part 2

Hi All, it's been a long journey and many thanks to you all for coming along with me. It's been fun! I knew more or less where I wanted to go, and despite some detours, i got there. Hooray. That doesn't mean it's over, just that things will now be a little different. I will be reorganizing this site, and editing the Floating City to send off to agents and hopefully be published. What is here is merely the rough draft (but a complete one). I'll let you know if it ever comes out somewhere (or I self-publish it on amazon), and there will certainly be a fair few differences. For now, stay tuned. Thank you. - Silas

As they neared the floor, the light cut out for a final time and the fell the remaining distance to the ground. Roshan landed heavily, Eithne beside him. Rika and Isa both rolled out of the fall and sprang to their feet. Winded, Roshan took a few moments to pull himself up and look around.

Despite the enormous shaft of light that had heralded their arrival, the attention of the people on the floor seemed to have stayed focus on the group of Resistance members bearing down on the central crystal. Though they were far away, Roshan could see the white shock of the Don’s hair, and he recognized the silhouettes of Syd, Simon, and Trentor. He reached down and helped Eithne to her feet.

“Stay behind us, yes?” He stared at her until she nodded. He squeezed her hand.

“We need to move,” Isa shouted.

“We’re ready,” Roshan said. Isa and Rika both turned and dashed towards the center of the room, and Eithne and he took off after them.

Bodies littered the floor. Most wore the black cloaks of the Choisant, but not all, and Roshan forbore from looking to closely. He didn’t want to risk recognizing any of the fallen figures.

     They were within fifty feet of the Don and his people when the last of the guards fell. Someone, it looked like Simon, skewered the man in a leaping lunge. The Choisant’s lance fell from nerveless fingers, and clattered to the smooth stones. Blood splattered the pristine white of the floor.

     As the Don stepped forward, Roshan yelled “STOP!” The echoes reverberated throughout the chamber. The group around the Don paused, allowing Roshan and his friends to close the gap. When they were about five paces away, Isa and Rika halted. Roshan stopped right behind them, a trifle winded from their sprint. The Don stepped towards them.

     “Roshan, Rika, Isa, and is that Eithne? I’m so glad to see you looking well,” His voice kept its usual urbanity. He didn’t even sound surprised.

     “Shocked to see us alive, Alistair?” Roshan asked, his tone bitter.

     “I was there when the ceiling caved in,” the Don shrugged. “I had hopes, but there was so little time if I was to make use of your gift.” He raised his own Foinse-rod. Unlike the rod clutched in Isa’s hand, this one was matte black. It looked like nothing so much as a long, dark hole held in the Don’s hand. The light around him seemed dimmer, as if the rod were drinking it.

     “Is that why you left us to die?” Isa asked.

     “I did not leave you to die, dear girl. Rather, think of it as me having confidence in your survival skills.”

     Beside and behind the Don, Syd frowned.

     “You told us they were dead,” Simon said.

     “Said the mountain came down their heads, you did,” added Trentor. “Said that it was by Alos’s own luck that you survived, and that they had perished.” The two of them flanked Syd, and if Roshan had been next to them, he would have hugged them. This was what they needed, to convince the other fighters to ignore the Don and call of this madness.

     The Don frowned. Before he could respond, Roshan pressed the attack.

     “Do you what he is doing here, do you know what he has planned?” He demanded of the other Resistance members. He recognized some of them, there were Hana and Bira, and tall, dark-skinned Dakian he knew only as Bolden. He noticed Harshun and glared him down. Harshun stared back, unblinking.

     “I am here to end the reign of the Prime and his minions, of course,” the Don said, smiling. “That has always been my goal.”

     “I meant here, in this chamber,” Roshan said. He wished he hadn’t given him such an easy line of questioning, but to change the subject would look weak.

     “This is the heart of Ater-Volante.” The Don made a grand gesture, indicating the room. “Control the heart, and you control the city.”

     “Except you mean to bring the city down around our ears,” Isa sounded calmer than Roshan. That was good. Calmness and reasonableness would be persuasive. In response, the Don arched an eyebrow.

“Whatever gave you that idea?”

     “You did.” Syd said. She spoke in a conversational tone, but her words cut through the air like a knife. The Don whipped his head around to stare at her in surprise.


     “How long have I known you, Alistair? Your actions this past week have been utterly out of character.” She waited a beat, then continued, “I won’t let you destroy this city. Kill the Prime, smash his government, yes, but I will not permit innocent blood to be shed.”

     “Innocent blood has already been shed,” the Don snarled. “My family among them. The Prime must go.”

     “I agree. But you cannot use the negator on the central crystal. I will not allow it.” She moved to stand between him and the crystal, Simon and Trentor still beside her.

     “Hold on, now, Syd,” Hana said. “What proof do you have of this.”

     “Yes, what proof?” The Don was still enraged.

     Syd’s calm was icy. “You’ve thrown years of planning away on this mission. You’ve thrown allies away today in the Committee and the people we left behind, or did you think I didn’t know you called the Watch on them.

     “It was necessary.”

     “It was risky, with no clear reward. Tell me, what’s our escape plan, what is our end game? When Striech crushes the Resistance members on the surface, and he will, however bravely they fight, what’s to stop him from rolling us up?”

     The Don lifted the negator again. “This.”

     “That is a wondrous device,” Simon said, “But it won’t stop an arrow. We few here cannot hold off an army. Why have we come here, if not for something beyond your stated intentions.”

     The Don took a deep breath and let it all out. His voice returned to its polished urbanity.

     “Suppositions and feelings, that’s all you know.”

     Syd nodded. “Yes. But, if you truly do not intend the crystal harm, then we have no problem here.”

     “Hand over the Foinse-rod, Alistair,” Roshan said. “There is still time for other plans.”

     The Don looked from Syd to Roshan and back again. “I do not abide traitors,” he said, his tone conversational.

     “I have yet to betray your ideals,” Syd said. “Let me guide you back to them.”

      “You are the one who has strayed.” He nodded at Harshun, who moved with several others to the flank of Syd’s trio. A second group moved to the opposite flank, leaving Hana and Bira and the Don in the middle.

     Syd looked back and forth between the two groups. “Will you force friend to fight friend, Alistair?”

     “It doesn’t have to be like this,” Roshan put in. “There’s still time.”

     “No,” the Don said. He repeated the word. “No. If you are not with me, then you are my enemy. Take them.” The scene dissolved into chaos.

     The two groups darted inwards towards Syd, Simon, and Trentor. The clash of blades sounded. Roshan looked on in shock, but Isa and Rika surged forward, their weapons lowered. He clenched his teeth, and followed on their heels.

     Simon was a whirlwind. His long blade was everywhere at once. He parried every stroke, but the other fighters were skilled as well. They pressed inward, and there was no space to counterattack. Trentor, on the other side, struggled.

     He was not the blades-man Simon was. A thrown knife took one fighter in the knee, he blocked a blade, and headbutted another. The man fell, and Trentor staggered back. Harshun leapt into the opening, his knife flashing. He sliced Trentor in the side, and he fell to one knee.

     “No!” Isa cried. She leveled her staff, and a burst of energy sizzled forth, only to dissipate as it passed the Don. She cursed.

     “The Negator,” Roshan said. “Fòrsic tech won’t work.”

     Without breaking stride, Isa whirled her staff out until she had it clutched above her in one hand. She crow-hopped and flung it like a Javelin. It slammed into Harshun before he could deliver the killing stroke, and he flew backward from the impact.

     The Don stepped forward toward the central Crystal, and Syd stepped out to meet him. A hand-axe slid forward into her palm. The Don stopped, and spread his hands, he was unarmed, except for the black expanse of the Foinse-rod.

     “Stop this, Alistair.”

     “I will not.”

     “Then you leave me no choice,” she raised the axe.

     “I will not be denied.” The Don stepped forward again. “Not by you, not by anyone.” He raised the Negator. A black nimbus surrounded it, and the air around them darkened further.

     Roshan yelled a warning. “Don’t let it touch you!”

     The Don struck. Syd dodged nimbly to the side, and swung her axe. The Don whipped the rod around and parried. There came a crackling detonation, and Syd was sent flying backwards. The head of her axe went spinning off into the melee. The Don moved forward once again.

     Roshan felt as if his limbs were moving through molasses. Everything was happening so fast. Rika made three lunging steps, and the crystals in her boots pulsed. She shot forward, delivering a vicious kick to a fighter about the stab Trentor on the ground. Isa was right behind her, she helped the Trentor up, and they turned towards Simon.

     Simon’s fight hadn’t changed. The fighters circled him like a wolf back, attacking from every angle. His blade whipped around to meet each of their attacks in turn, but they came too fast and too furious for him to strike back. A knife from Trentor took a woman in the back, and she fell. Simon darted out through the opening that made, and suddenly the remaining three men were in front of him. He whirled his blade.

     “One at a time now, lads.” His clothes were rent, and blood dripped from both arms, but he stood tall.

     “Simon!” Syd’s voice. The Don was forcing her backwards, the Negator held at the ready. He couldn’t hit her with it, but neither could she get close to him without a weapon. If she circled him, there would be no one between the Don and the crystal.

Simon’s head whipped around. One of the fighters lunged forward, and he barely stepped out of the way, the blade ripping at his cloak.

“Simon,” Syd called again. Her back was to the crystal now.

“Stop me, will you?” The Don said, his voice ugly with hate and scorn. “There’s no one alive who can stop me. I. Will. Have. My. Revenge.” He plunged the Negator at the crystal. Syd raised her arms in a defensive cross.

“Watch out!” Roshan called, helpless to intervene. But then Simon was there, his blade parried the Negator. The metal smoked, then cracked, shattering into thousands of pieces. The Don lunged forward again, and the rod pierced Simon’s chest and struck the central crystal.


A rumbling concussion threw everyone to the side. The lights flickered back on, the glow suffused with lines of darkness. They drained towards the crystal, the Negator, the Don, Syd, and Simon the center of a vast whirlpool of light.

“Simon!” Syd yelled for a third time. Roshan saw her take his hand as he toppled over, the rod burning a path through his body. And then the lights went out again.

The world went mad. Everywhere he heard the sound of falling stones and crumbling rocks. The earth shook. It was difficult to maintain his footing.

“What happens now?” Isa asked, shouting to be heard over the noise.

Roshan shook his head, still in shock.

“Fall to our deaths, I expect,” Trentor said, grimly. “What else is there to do?”

“We have to get the Negator,” Roshan said finally. “I don’t know what changes the Don made to my runes, but maybe we can reverse it.” The fight around them was forgotten, and he, Isa, and Rika charged forward again.

The Don was screaming. Black smoke roiled and poured forth from where he had scarred the crystal. He kept trying to jerk his arm back, but everything was stuck fast. The only light came now from Isa’s arms, and they glowed brighter and brighter as she hurdled towards him.

She hit him in a flying tackle. The Don screamed again, a piercing cry of anguish. Roshan saw fingers still clutching the Negator, pressing it against the central crystal. His hand had been left behind! Roshan wondered how he was supposed to adjust the runes on the rod if he couldn’t touch it. Then, he had an idea.

He fished into his pocket until his fingers touched a rough-hewn crystal. It was the sleep crystal, the unbroken one from so many months ago. With his pen knife, he modified the central rune, adding a few lines and scratching out another until it became a different glyph entirely. One of reversal. Without pausing to consider whether it was a good idea, he activated the crystal and slammed it against the end of the Negator. The crystals touched with a deep thrumming noise. The air began to shake and tremble with violent abandon. The black lines swirling in towards the crystal sped up, visible even in the flashing darkness. His wild instinct hadn’t worked, and Roshan let go of his crystal despondently. The crystal didn’t fall.

He blinked in surprise. It began to glow with a malevolent light, and everywhere the shaking ceased.

“Something’s coming!” Isa shouted. “I can feel it. Get out of the way!”

Roshan dove to one side as a blinding flash lit the room. An intense beam of light shot forth from the Negator and slammed into the far wall. He heard an earth-shattering roar, and felt a bloom of heat that scalded his face and crisped all the hair on his head. His cloak combusted, and he rolled desperately to put it out. That distracted him, and when he looked up he gasped in astonishment.

The beam had carved out a circular tunnel in the wall, wider than Roshan was tall. The rocks glowed with a molten red light.

“What in Alos’s name was that?” Rika’s voice sounded muffled. Roshan realized his ears were ringing.

“I don’t know,” Roshan started to say, but a shattering sound drew all their attentions. Black lines no long suffused the glow of the central crystal. Instead, there were cracks. As Roshan watched in shock, pieces started to flake off. There were more and more and larger and large pieces until, at least, the crystal shattered. The lights went out again.

“Oh no!” Eithne breathed. “No, no, no, no, no…”

Roshan heard Isa curse. Light flared from her arms, illuminating everyone’s shocked, white faces. The remaining Resistance members seemed to have vanished out into the darkness. There was no sign of Harshun, Hana, or Bira.

“We have to get out of here,” Rika said. She and Trentor stood by Syd and Simon. Simon lay on the ground, unmoving, his chest a lump of charred flesh.

“And go where?” Eithne asked. “The city’s going to crash into the desert.”

“Some place where we’re not going to crushed by falling rock.” A chunk of the ceiling crashed down out in the darkness, emphasizing her point.

“I don’t want to be trapped underground again,” Roshan said, “Not ever.” He looked around. Other than the lift shaft, there didn’t appear to be any entrances or exits. There was one large hole in the wall, however. He could see light at the end of the tunnel.

“Will follow the path of the beam,” he said, pointing. “At least there is daylight at the end.”

The floor had started to list. They had to scramble to stay upright on the smooth stone, but they managed it. Roshan helped Rika and Syd drag Simon. With Trentor wounded as well, no one was strong enough to carry him over the shoulder. Roshan was sure this wasn’t helping Simon’s wound, but the Negator rod did appear to have cauterized it. If they could get him some where safe, he might survive. If the fall didn’t kill them all, of course. The pitch in the floor was becoming more pronounced.

They stumbled into the tunnel. The stones retained some of the heat from the blast, and Roshan instantly began to sweat. There was nothing to do but keep dragging. Isa and Eithne supported Trentor now, his legs unable to support his full weight. They continued onwards. The tunnel seemed endless, although they could see daylight growing at its opposite end.

Roshan thought they might have been walking on the walls now. The pitch of the floor had become very steep, and the city swayed from side to side, shaking like a drunkard.

After a seeming eternity, they reached the edge of the tunnel the beam had carved. Roshan gazed out over empty space and his heart sank. Outside, there was nothing. He could see blue skies and wisps of cloud, and an empty desert landscape, canted at a crazy angle. He didn’t know what he expected, but it was clear they could go no further.

They set Simon down.

“Not a bad place to die,” Trentor said, puffing. “What a view.” They all stared in silence, looking out at the expanse. Roshan took Eithne’s hand and held it fast. She squeezed it in return, but said nothing. There was nothing to say.

The creak of leather on leather made Roshan look up. His jaw dropped open.

“Don’t you all look glum,” Aki said. She, and Maz, and several others were hovering in mid-air above them. Crystals in their chests glowed and they wore the strange suits Aki had mentioned. The group was battleworn, more than one of had bandages or bloodstained skin showing, and all of them had deep circles under their eyes. A group of people had never looked so beautiful.

“Aki!” Roshan called. “You’re alive! What are you doing here?”

“Saving you, apparently. I knew you had to be the cause of that beam of light. She looked at the group. “Where’s the Don?”

“Who cares,” Roshan said, suddenly glum again. “We failed.”

Beside him, Syd nodded. “We failed, but it is not yet over.” She looked up at Aki. “Can you carry us to safety?”

Aki looked around at her group. “Yes, I think so.”

“Then let us go. Staying here is dangerous.”

“Too right it is,” Isa muttered.

Roshan stared out at the landscape again as Aki and her friends descended towards them. He tried to think of all the people on Ater-Volante, terrified as the city began to fall. They had failed to stop the Don. But Syd was right, too. This was far from over. Even if the Prime and the Don both died, Alis Dak and the Resistance would still survive. With Ater-Volante gone, there would be chaos, and the failing of Fòrsic crystals loomed large over everything. There was still work to do. He took Aki’s hand, and stepped out into space.

The End.

The Floating City - Chapter 31

The Final Fight, Part 1

Aki ducked sizzling blast of energy. It slammed into the wall above her with a crack and chips of brick flew everywhere. A second blast hit the wooden armoire in front of her and the smell of wood smoke intensified. Everywhere she could hear shouts and screams, the blast and clang of Fòrsic weaponry, and the moans of the wounded and dying. The siege could have been going better.

She peeked back up, and leveled a stolen Fòrsic lance along the top of a cabinet. The blast struck a guard in the chest, and he burst out a window to fall to street below.

“Nice shot.” Maz grinned, as she hunched behind her own pile of crates. She and Aki had been pushed back, separated from the other groups of fighters. Once the Stripies had broken through the front barricades the situation had devolved into a confusing melee. They’d paid in blood and bodies to do it, but Aki’s forces had been too few to stop them forever. She known that, which is why the next stage called for a room by room defense of the building. She’d underestimated the situation.

Aki had envisaged an orderly retreat, from room to room and from choke point to choke, making the Stripies pay for every step. Instead, chaos ran rampant through the halls. And the Stripies kept coming.

Another squad raced to the top of the stairs, and Maz and Aki hosed the area down. The crystal in the tip of her lance shattered. She tossed it towards the guards with a curse and looked around for another weapon. She couldn’t see one.

“I’m down to just the suit,” She said.

Maz nodded. “About time we were leaving anyway.”

Their furniture barricades lay almost flush to the back stairway, commanding a view of the long, narrow hallway. However, the stairs behind them were wide open. Aki shot them a dubious glance.

“We’ll have to be quick.” The last time they retreated up the next floor, three Engineers died.

“I’ve got an idea,” Maz tapped the crates in front of her.


“This barrel here?” She tapped the barrel in question. “It’s filled with flour.”

Aki arched an eyebrow, “Oh?”

Maz smiled a wolfish smile. “Oh, indeed.” She handed her own stolen lance to Aki. “When I give the word, shoot the barrel with everything you got.”

Aki nodded, and Maz shifted positions, careful to keep herself below cover. She wiggled backwards until she lay horizontal against the stairs. Once in position, she kicked the barrel out of the barricade with three focused blows. The barrel tumbled onto its side with a heavy thud and Maz dove to get behind it. Once there, she set her shoulder against its middle, and heaved. Aki could see her feet scrabbling for purchase, but she dared not leave her own cover to help. Maz grunted, heaving against the wood once more, and the barrel began to move. It made one slow revolution, and then picked up speed down the hallway’s slight slant. Maz flattened herself to the grimy floorboards.

“Now!” She cried, covering her head with her arms. From the other end of the hallway the watchmen shouted in alarm as the barrel hurtled toward them. Aki leveled the lance. A huge gout of flame burst forth, and she yelped in alarm. The fireball impacted the flour barrel with a crash. For a second, nothing happened, and then the barrel detonated with a deafening boom.

The building shuddered. Aki worked a finger in her ear in a futile attempt to stop the ringing.

“What in dar-Alos’s name was that?” She said. Her voice sounded muffled. At the other end of the hallway, guards lay strewn across the ground. Some twitched, but most lay deathly still. A jagged hole, it’s edges blackened and burned, stood where the barrel had been, and across everything lay a fine patina of white powder.

Maz chuckled and sat up. It sounded like she was speaking through the other end of trumpet, not from right near Aki’s feet.

“Did you like my modifications to the lance?”

Aki frowned. “Fire’s a little risky when we’re trapped in a dry, wooden building, don’t you think?”

“Got the job done.”

“It did at that,” Aki sighed. “Let’s go.” They trotted up the staircase before more Stripies could arrive to reinforce. Aki spared a look back at the scene.

“A barrel of flour did that?”

Maz nodded. “Flour’s flammable, we had to be careful about it the granaries back home. If there’s enough heat and pressure, it’ll explode.”

“Kind of like this City,” Aki muttered.

Maz grunted, but didn’t reply. They climbed on in silence.


The world dissolved into a blur.

They took new positions on the fourth floor, covering the stairwell. Around them rushed other Engineers and Resistance members, intent on their own tasks. Aki tried to impose order, but the situation was too chaotic. She took a deep breath, letting it out slowly at the center of the hurricane. The fight continued.

The Stripies were making another push. Coruscating energies rippled up the stairwell, almost drowning out the sounds of tramping feet. The Engineers threw everything they had back down it. Aki saw one man, a Thesian laborer by his clothes, rip a kitchen sink out of a wall and hurl it down. It thudded to the ground with a heavy crash, followed by a cut-off scream. A Fòrsic blast struck the laborer in the face a moment later, and he fell, his hair and beard ablaze. Someone else dragged his body out of the way. The fight continued.

Pounding at the wall of their flank drew attention needed elsewhere. Aki left Maz and two Engineers to continue guarding the stairs, and went to look. Cracks widened in the wall as someone on the other side slammed it with sledgehammer-like blows. A chunk of wood flew out, narrowly missing her. Darius’s face was behind it. He looked tired, his face was drenched in sweat, and there was blood on his cheek. Aki reached forward and ripped at the edge of the gap, while he did the same to the other side. The hole widened, and she pulled him through.

“We’ve lost the tunnels,” Darius said once he regained his feet. “This was all I could get out.” Behind him were men and women that Aki knew, all of them injured. Everywhere she saw bruises, blood, and scorched flesh. She reached out and cupped Darius’s cheek, then turned away.

“Let’s get them through,” She said. “We’ll have to fall back.” The fight continued.

Later, she found herself back to back with Darius as they retreated. The shields of their suits hummed, and the crystals in the chest plate burned hot enough to scorch her skin. Around them the stairs began to give way, and Aki screamed in frustration. Darius grunted as a blow slammed into his shoulder.

“Shield’s down,” he said.

“Get behind me,” Aki ordered. They shifted slowly, trapped on the narrow staircase. Above them, Maz stretched forth a helping hand. The fight continued.

Bleeding and battered, Aki and Darius leaned against a door, holding it shut as it shuddered in its frame. Behind them, surviving fighters hauled those too injured to climb up a ladder to the roof. The building burned in earnest, now, and the acrid smoke made it hard to breathe. Ora popped her head in through the trapdoor.

“That’s the last of the injured,” she said. “We’ve laid down a plank and got them across the gap to the next roof.”

Aki nodded. “Good. The council?”

“We have Sephina and some of the others, they’re across as well.”

Beside her, Darius said “I saw Lothar being carried off by a group of Stripies, screaming his lungs out until one of them punched him in the gut.”

“What a useless bastard,” Aki muttered. Darius cracked a smile. The door they had wedged themselves against shook. An axe blade appeared in between their two heads and was just as quickly withdrawn. The door shuddered again under another impact.

“Hurry!” Aki said, her voice hoarse. The last of the Engineers scurried up the ladder. She looked at Darius.

“I’ll hold the door, go!”

“You got to be joking if you think I’m leaving you behind,” he said.

“Someone’s got to do it,” She retorted, her eyes filled with a fierce determination. “No more of my friends are going to die for me, today.” Darius held her eyes for a long moment. When the intimate gaze grew too intense, Aki winked.

“I’ll be fine,” She said. “I promise.”

     Darius took her hand and gripped it hard. “I’ll hold you to that.” One last squeeze, and then he dove for the ladder. Aki waited until he had started up in, and then leapt away from the door and raced to the ladder herself.

     The door slammed open, and she turned to face it, her hand on one of the rope rungs. The splintered doorway framed the Magnus. Fire writhed behind him, and smoke billowed out into the room. Aki coughed.

     “It was hard fought,” he said. Aki had expected a stentorian bellow, but his voice was as calm and refined as ever. “Hard fought, but it’s over now. You stragglers have nowhere else to go. This rebellion is over.”

     “It’s just beginning,” Aki shot back. “You can destroy this building, kill our members, but by no means is it over.”

     “My dear girl, don’t be naïve. Rebellions take men, and they take money. You have neither. It is done, surrender, and I shall make your deaths easy.”

     She laughed. “You don’t even know. You’ve been manipulated right along with me.”

     He frowned. “Explain.”

     “Where did the tip off come from, huh? How did you know we would be here? This has all been nothing but a distraction.”

     “What are you talking about?” Striech’s expression hadn’t changed, but he sounded perturbed.

     “Alistair Gaunt,” she said, and smiled as the Magnus’s eyes widened. “He’s here, in the City.”

     “You lie.”

     She laughed again. “Why would I lie? By now your precious Prime is already dead.” Along with the rest of us if Roshan doesn’t stop him, she thought. But Striech didn’t need to know that.

     The Magnus flinched. He frowned, muttering to himself. “He would come after me, not the Prime. What is that man up to?” Aki listened, interested. Did the Don and the Magnus know each other personally?

     Striech’s eyes snapped open again. “The crystal,” he said. Aki’s eyes widened in spite of herself. How had he guessed? Another beat passed, and then Striech pulled himself together.

     “Truth or not, this is immaterial. One thing at a time, after all. Now, I believe we were discussing your surrender?” Aki shrugged mentally, to have distracted him this long was a bonus. It was only her know, and him.

     She spat, her teeth felt gritty. “Make me.”

     Striech smiled. “With pleasure.”

     He started forward and Aki prepared herself for battle. She could feel the heat of the flames, feel the sweat and blood smearing her face. She gritted her teeth, her shoulders set.

The ladder she was hanging onto jerked upwards, and she found herself towed upwards. She let out an exuberant laugh at the Magnus’s startled face as she sped up and away. Beneath her, fire roared and the building shuddered at the start of its flame fueled collapse. The fresh air never tasted so good.


     “Isa!!!” Rika cried. The darkness was total, but Roshan lunged forward anyways, heedless of the edge he knew was there but couldn’t see. His hands stretched desperately towards Isa’s last position, but they closed on air and he went sprawling.

     “What happened?” Rika demanded, “Where is she?”

     Roshan opened his mouth to say, something, he didn’t know what, when the feel of the air in the shaft changed. The stale mustiness disappeared, replaced by a hot breath of air. It smelt of fire and smoke, and blood, but it was fresh air. A glow came from further down the lift shaft. It was faint at first, but grew quickly in intensity. Roshan stared at it in puzzlement. Something was coming.

     A beam of pure light shot up the shaft, illuminating all the crystals studded into the walls. They burst into life with a sparkling radiance, and Roshan heard Eithne gasp. The beam of light vanished as quickly as it had come, but the glow of the crystals remained, revealing Isa floating in the empty shaft ahead of them. She sat cross-legged, her skin suffused with sweat, hands still clasping the Foinse-rod. It lay dormant, now. Her eyes opened, and she winked.

     “Piece of cake,” she said, panting.

     Rika smiled, Roshan noticed her eyes were watery. “You scared me half to death,” she said.

     “Uh, Isa?” Eithne said. “Why are you floating in mid-air?”

     Isa looked down and around her. “Is this not how lift shafts work? I’ve never seen one before.”

Eithne shook her head, her eyes wide in wonderment. “There’s, uh, supposed to be a platform.”

Isa shrugged. “I guess this one doesn’t need one anymore.”

Roshan stared at her, agog. So much energy, she must have supercharged the entire structure. He shooed his thoughts away from his amazement and cudgeled them back into focus.

“We don’t really have time to talk about why what you just did was impossible,” he said. “Or why your head didn’t just explode. Does the lift shaft work, now?”

Isa’s brow furrowed in concentration. Slowly, she bobbed upwards in the shaft a few feet, and then down a few more. She nodded.

“I think so.”

“Can we use it?” Eithne asked. “Maybe it’s just you.”

“Only one way to find out.” Isa held out her hand. Rika pushed forward past Roshan and Eithne and took it.

“If you drop me, I’ll kill you.”

Isa laughed. “Wouldn’t dream of it.” She pulled Rika out into space. Despite her clutch on Isa’s hand, Rika still yelped as she stepped onto nothing. She didn’t fall. Like Isa, she hung there, suspended in the pillar of light. She looked around.

“This is the craziest thing I have ever done.”

“How does it feel?” Roshan asked.

“Feel?” Rika closed her eyes to think. “Kind of ticklish,” she said after a moment. “It’s not empty air, it’s viscous.”

Roshan nodded. A physical manifestation of Fòrsic energy? Was that possible? He shrugged, the evidence before him did seem clear. It must be taking an enormous amount of energy, though, which meant they were running out of time. Just as he thought that, the light pillar flickered, and Rika and Isa dropped several feet before halting.

“Time to go,” Isa said. Roshan agreed. He couldn’t quite bring himself to step off the ledge, however safe it might be, so instead he leapt. He plunged downward, and then stabilized. Rika was right, it was a pleasant, ticklish sensation. It was more than air, he waved his hand and felt resistance, like very thin water. He concentrated on moving upward, and rose a few feet. The action came with a slight mental drain, like using Focus, and he nodded to himself. That made sense. He held out a hand to Eithne.

“You coming?”

She bit her lip, but clasped his hand and he pulled her out like Isa had done. They all floating, looking at one another.

“Well, what are we waiting for? Let’s go!” Isa said, and shot downward. Grinning, Roshan followed.


The glowing walls of the corridor shot past. The light flickered, and the sensation of speeding downwards was replaced with one of panicked falling. Eithne screamed. Then the pillar of light reappeared, and their descent slowed once more to a manageable speed.

“We’re running out of time,” Roshan said to Isa.

“I know, but there’s nothing more I can do. We should be almost down, just got to hope it holds up.”

Roshan gritted his teeth and concentrated on increasing his speed downwards. Below them, a white light glimmered, different from the yellow glow of the pillar.

“I see something!” Rika said.

“The Chamber!” Roshan replied. The glow brightened. He could see the sides of the opening now, growing larger as they flew towards it. A few more seconds, and they were through. They descended into chaos.

The shaft opened into an enormous chamber, a massive hemi-sphere that must have been the size of the Eolas Library. Unlike the passageways above, the walls and floor were all smoothed flat, and they shone eye-blinding white, the combined effect making them almost seem to glow. The bodies on the floor dampened the effect.

Everywhere there was fighting. Black clad bodies littered the floor, and the sizzling sounds of Fòrsic discharges and the clang of weapons filled the air. Roshan heard the shouts and screams of men and women locked in deadly combat, and his eyes focused on a knot of figures pushing forward toward the center of the chamber. There, set in the middle of the floor in the exact center of the hemi-sphere, stood a crystal. It stood nearly two man-heights high, and it would have taken a group of ten people to encircle it. It glowed with a scintallting rainbow of colors, ever shifting, and beneath the clamor of the fighting he heard it. A bone deep thrum suffused the space. Calm, mellow, and comforting, it stretched on like a low bass note, just at the edge of his range of hearing. It was beautiful.

“That’s it,” he cried, and pointed.

“I see it!” Rika said. “Look!” The knot of people still approached the crystal. In-between it and them, stood a ragged line of black-cloaked figures. It was too far away to see the stripe of red trim, but Roshan recognized the type of cloaks.

“The Choisant bar the way still,” he said. It felt strange to feel relief at the sight of them, but it was there. “We’re in time!”

Chapter 32 can be found here.

The Floating City - Chapter 30

The Central Chamber, Part 2

“You would think that the tunnels would mirror the streets above,” Roshan said, as he carefully wedged a crowbar in behind an ornate iron grating.

     “Uh huh,” Isa made a get-to-the-point sound of agreement. She, Rika, and Eithne stood watching him. They were dressed for a fight, Isa and Rika wore leather armor embroidered in runes sewn with spun crystal thread and had their weapons in their hands. Roshan had nothing so fancy, but before they had left Alsce he’d dug up an old dark green surcoat that he thought looked quite fetching. It might stop a slash from a dagger, if he was lucky, but it was more protection than Eithne had in just her cloak and blouse. He was worried about her. She’d never have let them leave her behind though. He’d tried.

     “You’d think that,” he continued, working the crowbar in deeper. “But you’d be wrong.” Once he’d wedged the bar in deep enough, he leveraged it backwards and the grate popped out. He caught it, and gently lowered it to the cobbles.

     “And why would that be?” Eithne asked, playing along. Roshan grinned at her, and she smiled back. If she was nervous, she was hiding it well.

     “Because doing it that way would have made sense,” Roshan wiped his forehead of sweat and stood up. “And nothing the Volantean government has done has ever made sense.” He gestured at the hole.

     “In we go.”

     “Are you sure?” Rika gave the hole a dubious glance. It was about three feet wide, a circular hole of yawning darkness set into the side of a building. A trickle of some indeterminable liquid shimmered in the sunlight.

     “It’s not very deep,” Roshan said, feeling a trifle defensive. “We used to use it as a shortcut to the taverns during the winter. It’s an air duct that connects right to the main thoroughfare.”

     Eithne patted his arm. “I’m sure it’s fine tunnel.”

     “Er, yes.” Roshan struggled to regain his trail of thought.

     “The tunnels,” Rika prompted, smiling.

     “Right, the tunnels. The city has six central avenues, plus various boulevards and smaller streets and alleys in the districts. The tunnels have one central corridor. Just one. Everything else either connects on to it, or doesn’t according to the whim of its builders. It spirals up from Cliff’s Edge all the way up to the Prime’s Palace. Supposedly, anyway, the upper portions beyond Eolas are blocked off. Something about thieves.”

     “Thieves?” Isa asked.

     Roshan waved a hand in a dismissive gesture. “It doesn’t matter. What matters is that students at the University spent a lot of time and effort mapping the secondary passageways. The useful ones, anyway. There are several guard posts down there, too, so normally I wouldn’t want to poke around, but if Aki is acting as bait…” he shrugged. He face creased in worry for his friend, but he shook it off. They had more important things to worry about.

     Rika was nodding along with him. “The corridors will be clear, we can rush right through!”

     Eithne pursed her lips. “Not to be discouraging, but we still don’t know where we’re going.”

     “The central chamber is a blank spot on all the maps,” Roshan said. “But it’s got to be there somewhere. I figured once we were in the tunnels, we’d make our way in the right direction and listen for sounds of combat. I’m sure not all the guards are gone.”  

     Isa clapped her hands together decisively. “Right, let’s go. I’m tired of waiting.” She knelt down and started to clamber into the tunnel.

     “After you then, I guess.” Roshan sighed, and knelt down to climb in behind her.


 They plopped one by one into the wide avenue of the main tunnel, and Roshan took a moment to regain his breath. The ventilation shaft had run upwards into the side of the Ater-Volante, and though they had only travelled a short distance, crawling uphill on hands and knees was always tiring. He looked around to orient himself. To his left and right, the smooth cut walls of the tunnel curved away into stygian blackness. The only illumination came from the undulating glow of Isa’s arms, pulsing in a steady heartbeat rhythm. Someone had put out the lights. Under normal circumstances, Forsic lanterns lined all the main tunnels, providing a comforting orange glow, but no longer. As Roshan peered into the blackness, he could see those crystals now, lying dead and cracked in their sconces.

“How welcoming,” Isa said, looking around herself.

Eithne shivered, “Is it always this dark?”

Roshan shook his head, his expression grim in the darkness. “No. The Don’s been through here.” The darkness swallowed their whispered words. Other than the slight noise made by their movements, the area was quiet, possessed of an utter silence that seemed very final. Roshan felt goosebumps rise on his arms and the back of his neck.

“There used to be a checkpoint further up,” he said. Like Isa and Eithne, he kept his voice low and quiet.

“Lead on,” Isa said. “I’ll be right behind you. Eithne, follow me. Rika will watch our backs.”

Rika nodded and slipped back behind them, her eyes darting back and forth in a watchful silence. Being underground again so soon escaped from his last ordeal made Roshan’s heartbeat tick upwards, but he strode up the tunnel with a confidence not entirely feigned. He felt his friends behind him as a comforting weight in the darkness.

They moved within a sphere of light, soap-bubble thin. The shadows cast wavered and fled, returning in greater numbers only to flee again with the next brightening of Isa’s arms. The effect had a trancelike quality, and Roshan forced himself to keep his mind on the task ahead of them.

The checkpoint was just where he had remembered it, at a crossroads beneath the border where Cliff’s Edge blended into Brickbottom. When he was a student, the members of the watch stationed there had been uninterested in anything other than the largest ruckus, although many a drunk student made the point of detouring around them anyway. Now they were dead. Their bodies had been moved beneath a shadowed alcove, but streaks of blood decorated the stone floor of the corridor.

Isa knelt to inspect the corpses, the glow from her arms brightening.

“No signs of a struggle.” she checked the bodies with a casual thoroughness. “Throats were slit, they never saw it coming.”

“Who would do such a thing?” Eithne asked, her eyes wide.

“The Don, obviously,” Roshan said through gritted teeth. “This is all his fault.”

“In this case,” Isa said, flipping one of the watchmen over, “It was probably Harshun. Syd said he had a knack for this sort of thing.”

Roshan’s blood ran cold. “Wait, Harshun? The Engineer in Alsce who helped me with my research?”

“Why do you think he was assigned to you?” Isa said. She didn’t look up. Instead she traced something on the stone floor in front of her with her hand.

“The Don probably wanted one of his killers to keep a close eye on you. Come look at this.”

Roshan shook his head, the sudden reconceptualization of his time in Alsce a punch in the gut. His head swirled.

A whispered, “I thought he was my friend,” escaped his lips. Eithne caught him in a hug, and he started to lay his head down on her shoulder. Then, he stopped. He drew in a deep breath, and let it out all at once, and pulled his mind back into focus. Gently removing Eithne’s arms, he went over to crouch next to Isa.

“What is it?” If his voice sounded hoarse, Isa didn’t mention it. Instead, she pointed at a patch of blood beneath the lifted body. Someone had shaped it into a rune.

Roshan read it out loud, “Seek? Seek what?”

Isa pointed, “Look closer.” One of the lines of the rune made an arrow, pointing off down the passage way to the left.

“I see.”

Isa wiped her hands on the dead watchmen’s clothes and stood up. “Probably a small team, relying on stealth and speed over strength.”

Roshan nodded, that fit with what he had learned of the Resistance’s methods. Isa would be familiar with their tactics, Syd’s group having relying on similar.

“Who left the sign?”

“Trentor or Simon, Syd wouldn’t have been tasked with moving bodies, no matter how small the group.” Isa looked around.

“Where’s Rika?”

“Here,” came a whisper from the darkness further up the tunnel. “I hear something.”

Roshan’s head snapped around. Together he, Isa, and Eithne made their way towards Rika’s voice until she was back in their bubble of light. Isa grabbed Rika’s hand and gave it a quick squeeze. Rika smiled at her, and held her free hand to her lips in a quieting gesture.

“Listen!” She pointed out into the darkness. Roshan strained his ears, but all he could hear was his own breathing.

“What is it?” This time all three women shushed him, and he subsided, growing frustrated. He still couldn’t make anything out.

“Sounds like… metal clashing on metal,” Eithne’s breathed.

“That’s what I thought, too. Is this the passage the rune pointed at?” Rika looked at Isa for confirmation. She nodded.

“This way does lead deeper into the hillside,” Roshan said, musing.

“Well, what are we waiting for?” Isa asked. “Let’s go!”

They set off down the tunnel, once again in a diamond formation. This time, Isa lead the way, with Roshan and Eithne in the middle. Roshan spared a moment to reach out and squeeze her hand in what he hoped was a reassuring gesture. She returned the squeeze and smiled at him. She looked less nervous than he felt, and he was glad of her presence.

As they moved down the tunnel, Roshan started to hear the sounds the others had picked up on. There was a ringing sound of metal and metal, along with an occasional shout. They passed several more desolate checkpoints, each with their own small, sad pile of bodies. They stopped to check each one, but no messages were in evidence until the last one. There, Isa found another rune arrow, which directed them off the main passageway at last.

The darkness grew more claustrophobic with the narrowing walls. There was no longer space to move as a group, and so they walked in single-file, Isa’s lights now augmented with a glow-crystal in Rika’s hands at the rear of the line. Roshan was glad of Eithne’s hands on his back. The close and narrow walls and the darkness brought back unpleasant memories of the last time he was under a mountain.

As they followed the twists and turnings of the path, the sporadic sounds of conflict ahead continued to grow. The increase in volume did not feel reassuring. Although Roshan took it as confirmation they were on the right track, the sounds echoed strangely along the rock walled corridors. One time the clamor seemed as near as the next corner, but when they crept with utmost caution around the bend the passageway remained empty. Another time, the noise struck them as they rounded a sharp twist in the trail. Everyone reached for their weapons, but once again they could see nothing and no one. Still, the noise continued to grow. Roshan could almost make out individual voices when Isa stopped abruptly and he walked straight into her back.

“Hey, watch it.”

“Sorry. What is it?” Roshan whispered. He felt Eithne and Rika halt behind him as well. He supposed they had been paying closer attention.

“There’s a shaft…”

“Is there a rune?” Rika asked from the back of the line.

“No,” Isa said, “I mean there’s a shaft. A vertical one. It bisects the corridor.”

“Oh,” was all Rika could say.

Oh, indeed, Roshan thought. He peered over Isa’s shoulder, and muttered a curse at the sight. Isa had chosen the correct descriptor. The corridor they had been following opened into a great, square void, perhaps six feet to a side. The smooth stone of the walls glimmered disconcertingly in the light, and the wind whistled up and down in eddying gusts. The far side disappeared into darkness. He couldn’t see the bottom.

“This isn’t on any of the maps,” he said, half to himself.

“I want to see,” Eithne said from behind him. Roshan and Isa crouched down to give her a good look at their predicament. She gazed at it in silence for several moments. Roshan’s knees started to burn, and anxiety grew in his heart. How could they be stopped here? He glanced back at Eithne, and saw her brow creased in thought.

After another moment, she said. “I think I know what this is.”

“Really?” Roshan asked.

She smiled. “Hey, give me some credit at least. I think it’s a Fòrsic lift.”

Roshan sucked in his breath. A lift? He’d read about them, but he hadn’t known one could be this large. Lifts were things wealthy nobles used as flashy accessories to their houses.

“Think about it,” Eithne continued. “There has to be a direct service route to the central chamber, and what better way than this? I’ll bet the Don took it down, and pulled the Fòrsa out behind him.”

     Roshan nodded. It did make sense. He looked closer at the walls. Ahead of him, Isa trailed her fingers around the shaft’s edges.

     “There are crystals here,” she said, a hint of wonder creeping into her voice. “The walls are studded with them.”

     “Roshan,” Rika said from the back of the group, “Could the Foinse-rod reactivate them?”

     Roshan slapped his head. Of course! “I should have thought of that.” He smoothed the stubby hairs on his chin, thinking. “Maybe. The crystals have to be linked together, somehow, but guiding just enough energy to reactivate them without blowing them up is next to impossible. If I had a week to work the calculations, maybe, but on the spot?”

     All four of them went quiet, thinking.

     “I’ll do it.”

     “What?” Rika asked.

     “I’ll do it,” Isa repeated.

     “No. You’re an engineer, you don’t have the knack,” Rika sounded adamant, a hint of defensive panic creeping into her voice.

     “I’ve been practicing,” Isa’s measured, matter-of-fact tone was not one Roshan had heard from her before. Usually she was much more declarative, and he realized with a start that he and Eithne were stationed right in the middle of an argument. He pulled Eithne down so that Rika and Isa could glare at one another.

     “And besides,” Isa continued, still in a calm and persuasive tone. “I have these,” she flexed her arms.

     “Whatever’s happened to you is no substitute for years of training.”

     “Rika, I can feel the flows of Fòrsic energy. I can sense them! If we doused all our lights now, I would still be able to see. Would you?”

     “That has nothing to do it,” Rika’s voice grew stricter, and more worried, angry at Isa landing her points.

     “It has everything to do with it, and you know it.”

     “What if something goes wrong?”

     Isa shrugged. “Then something goes wrong.” Her voice softened. “You can’t protect me from this forever, Rika.”

     “I know, I just,” Rika struggled with her composure. After a moment, she cleared her throat and said in a husky voice, “I love you.”

     Isa flashed a grin. “I know.” She winked, and said, “I love you, too.” She looked down at Roshan and Eithne, “Oh, stop smiling like idiots and hand me the Alos damned Foinse-rod.”

     Roshan gave it up, not without feeling some trepidation, but if Rika believed in her then he could do no less.

     “The runes on it allow it to charge other crystals, but if you put too much Fòrsa out, they will explode,” he said by way of warning.  

     Isa sat cross-legged at the lip of the pit and held the Foinse-rod out with both arms. Both she and the rod began to shine with pearlescent glow. Roshan held his breath. The light continued to grow in intensity, pouring out from Isa in rippling waves to fill the shaft around them. He blinked watering eyes, peering closer. Were those… lines? Shifting black streaks had appeared, wavering in and out of sight. They swarmed like ants up and down the sides of the corridor, a mighty river that writhed out from Isa and danced out into smaller tributaries.

     Roshan reached out to touch one, and felt a familiar tingle in his fingers. He exhaled slowly, almost unable to believe his eyes. Theorists had long been taught to envision Fòrsic flows as they worked with crystals. It was part of the Focus training essential to their discipline, but it was all in the mind. He had never thought he would be able to see them with his eyes. To concentrate that much energy together… he shook his head. Isa had not been exaggerating her abilities.

     As the light brightened, the crystals that studded the walls came to life as well, yellow flashes almost invisible against the milky glow emanating from Isa.

     Sweat beaded on her face. The light around her began to shimmer, pulsated in time with her now trembling arms. Roshan reached out a hand to steady her, but then thought better of it. Breaking her concentration could be fatal.

     “Come on, Isa,” he heard Rika mutter. “You can do it.”

     Isa’s shoulders tensed; she seemed to be gathering herself. For what, Roshan didn’t know. The muscles in her jaw clenched. The timbre of the air changed, stillness replaced by a static buzzing that itched Roshan’s skin and hurt his teeth. Isa screamed. More light poured forth from her in a sudden burst, rocketing through the side corridors and up and down the lift shaft like a dying star. Blackness followed.

Roshan blinked his eyes in desperation, trying to regain his vision.

“Isa?” Rika said, her voice tremulous.

Roshan reached out, trying to find her, to touch her, only to feel the edge of Isa’s leather armor as she slipped, soundlessly, over the edge.

Chapter 31 can be found here.

The Floating City - Chapter 29

The Central Chamber Part 1

     “What do we do?” The air in the room twanged with tension. Aki could smell stale sweat and real fear.

The leaders of the committee had gathered on the request of the Don. Knowing his plans, Aki could not very well say no, and she had come along like everyone else. But when she arrived there had been Lothar, Sephina, and the other Committee leaders, as well as some various members of the Resistance, but no Don. She had been sad to see that Darius was missing, too, and she hadn’t recognized any of the Resistance members. The whole situation made her feel very uneasy, like a tickle at the back of her neck she couldn’t reach. Now, it seemed she had been right to be worried.

     They had waited, not quite patiently, for the Don to arrive. The minutes lengthened in grumbling discontent until a frantic knocking snapped everyone’s heads around. The door opened to reveal Ora, clad in one of Maz’s suits. She went straight to Aki and whispered in her ear.

“We’re surrounded.”

Aki stared at her in shock. “What?” Their meeting places shifted constantly to avoid detection, this one was in the middle of an old tenement near the city’s edge that connected to the tunnel network. For them to be surrounded meant…

“Above and below?”

Ora nodded.

“We caught glimpses of teams moving into positions on the rooftops and the streets. We barricaded the tunnel entrances, just in case. There must be hundreds of guards out there.”

“Now see here,” Lothar called loudly from across the room. “What’s this about?”

Aki ignored him. The world seem to whirl, her thoughts swirling about as they coalesced into action. She looked around to identify the other Engineers in the room, there wasn’t time for anything fancy. She barked orders.

“Padraig, take a team and make sure the doors are barricaded. Ora, do the same on the roof. Maz, with me.” She stood up. The other Engineers scattered from the room.

“Aki, what’s going on?” Sephina asked, worried.

“We’re in trouble,” Aki said. “The Choisant found us. They’re here.”

The room erupted into pandemonium. One of the academics fainted. Sephina’s face turned into an anxious frown, while Lothar’s paled until it had the complexion of congealed porridge.

He kept repeating “what? Impossible!” to himself. Aki turned on her heel and left the room, Maz right behind her. Aki noticed that the Resistance members looked worried, too. Interesting, perhaps they hadn’t known ahead of time. Whatever the case, she needed more information. The meeting room opened up onto a dim, narrow hallway, lit at either end by fading sunlight through cramped windows. Aki hurried down the corridor to the window, and peered out. Ora had been right. The window looked onto a narrow, cobbled street, but Aki could hardly see it, covered as it was with rows upon rows of Stripies.

“dar-Alos, it must be the whole guard,” Maz breathed from her position next to Aki. Something clicked in Aki’s mind.

“It’s a diversion,” she said back, her voice barely a whisper. Maz shot her a sharp look, and Aki completed her thought.

“It’s a diversion,” she repeated, more firmly. “With the Stripies here, the Don has a free shot at the central crystal. We have to warn Roshan!”

Maz nodded. “I’ll send a bird.”

She turned and hurried back the way she had come. The meeting room was still in the throes of chaos, with no one making an effort to calm down people down. Aki thought it an apt metaphor for their whole movement.

“QUIET!” She bellowed. The room hushed, many of the committee members freezing in an absurd tableau. Aki wished she’d had time to have a picture painted.

Dropping her voice to a more conversational tone, she said “Good news, everyone. We’re surrounded.” The chaos started up again. Aki shouted for quiet several more times and eventually had to resort to banging on the table top before everyone settled down again.

“We’ve been betrayed!” was the last thing she heard before the room subsided, and she smiled.

“Maybe, maybe not.” She started to pace, warming up to her speech and tapping on the table for emphasis. “I do know a few things though. One,” pace, turn, tap, “I know the Don isn’t here.” Tap. Turn. Pace. “I know that we are here, along with all the Stripies in the City. But, I also know that they’re outside, and we’re inside.” She stopped suddenly, and grinned like a hungry wolf at the rapt faces staring back at her, “And I know that as long as we have breath in our bodies, it’ll stay that way. This building is old and strong, and we have the entrances covered. This is our time, and the longer we make a fight of it, the better our chances of changing this city and this country for the better.” Aki ended the speech with her palms flat, staring back at the crowd.

The room applauded. It was much less than she expected, but still more than a smattering of individuals. The support seemed to be coming from the remaining Engineers, Theorists, and the now-orphaned Resistance members. The merchants were silent. Predictable, Aki thought.

“We should discuss this further,” Lothar said. Several of the wealthier merchants nodded in agreement.

“What’s there to talk about?” Sephina said, scorn dripping from her voice. “We’ve been rebelling against the Prime for weeks, and now he’s sent his people to shut us up. I don’t think talking,” she spat the word, “will solve the problem.”

Lothar flushed, his face florid and angry. “Do we know what they want? Maybe we can send them on their way?”

“They’re not here to shake your hand, Lothar,” Darius drawled from the doorway. Aki jerked her head around in surprise.

“Darius!” She exclaimed. She felt happy and surprised to see him. She’d thought for sure he’d be with the Don, and she hadn’t realized how that had been weighing on her.

“The Don’s not with me, I’m afraid,” he said, stepping into the room. “I bring grave tidings.”

Aki could guess what those might be. “Later,” she said, and when he cocked an eyebrow at her, she added, “we have to agree on a course of action and see to our defenses, first.”

He nodded in puzzled acquiescence.

Lothar was still sputtering. “But…” he started to say, but Aki whirled, and snapped.

“Silence!” She started him down, pinning his eyes with her own. Lothar looked away after only a moment, and Aki spoke, her voice filled with deadly intent.

“You wanted a rebellion, Lothar, and now you’ve got one. You’re either with us, or I’ll throw you out on the street with the Stripies. From the roof.”


After she had seen to the disposition of their meager forces, the next thing Aki did was catch Darius alone. The first words out of her mouth were:

“I know what the Don has planned.”

He started a bit, and looked a bit off balance. “How do you know that?” Before Aki could answer, Darius seemed to regain a little of his equilibrium.

He frowned and said, “Wait, what do you think his plans are?” They were back in the now empty meeting room. The central table had been pushed to the side and stood ready to block the doorway. If the guards broke in, they would make them fight for every inch of space. In the meantime, it was the perfect spot for a whispered conversation.

Aki frowned herself and stepped closer to him, “Well what did you think his plans were?”

Darius smiled, “This is a bit circular, isn’t it?”

Aki grinned back, as always, she was put at ease by the man’s wide grin. The feeling only lasted a moment though, as she returned to her business-like tone.

“Let’s say that I think his goals will lead to a negative impact for everyone in this city.”

Darius nodded. “I see,” He sighed. “You’re better informed than I thought.”

“How did you find out?” Aki asked. “For that matter, how did you get here?”

“Through the tunnels before they were sealed off. I wouldn’t want to leave that way though.”

“Lots of Stripies, eh? That’s fine, I wasn’t planning on leaving, anyway.”

Darius’s eyes narrowed. “You want a siege,” he accused. “You know the Don is using us as a distraction, you know what he has planned, and you’re just going to go along with it?”

Aki put a finger to his lips. “Hush. Have faith.” She took her finger away and smiled. “There’s a third player in this game. Keeping the Stripies and the Choisant occupied benefits them, too.”

Darius eyed her skeptically. Aki stared back, a note of challenge in her eyes. He held her gaze for several moments, and then showed his white teeth in a wide grin.

“Alright, then. I’ll trust you.”

Aki nodded. “Thank you.” They looked awkwardly at one another for a beat, then Maz knocked on the door frame.

“The Stripies want to talk.”


Aki surveyed the scene from the second story window of the tenement. The street below was packed with rows of regimented city guards, with the occasional black and red cloaked Choisant solider to break up the striped monotony. She had to admit the sight was intimidating, to herself if to no one else, but she was determined to ignore that effect.

Besides, the street itself was quite narrow, it wouldn’t take many people to fill it end to end. Aki’s tenement occupied part of the winding stretch of buildings that made up the laborer’s neighborhood of Cliff’s Edge, and, worryingly, she could see people looking out the windows in the buildings opposite. The risk to innocents if a confrontation took place here was high, but it wasn’t her that had chosen to make a fight here.

Out in front of the mass of guards, near the now barricaded entrance to the building, a smaller knot of black cloaked figures stood. Aki recognized one of them.

“Oi, Magnus,” she called down. “Missing your valet? It must be a struggle to dress yourself after I blew a hole through him.”

“Why hello, Aki. I’m shocked to find you here causing trouble.” Striech’s voice was as controlled and inflectionless as always, but Aki thought she heard a hint of anger underneath.

“What do you want, Striech? I’m late for an appointment.”

“Your unconditional surrender. If the leaders of your little group give yourselves up, we’ll let the rest go free.”

Aki laughed. “Am I really supposed to believe that?”

“Believe what you like. I’m simply trying to save myself some trouble.”

“I’ll bet.” She let her gaze drift sideways towards the window next to her. Behind a tattered curtain, Maz, Padraig, and Ora were laboring over a massive, mechanical contraption. It had a great curved bow of polished wood at the front, and an intricate system of pulleys and gears behind it to draw it back.

“A few more moments,” Maz said in response to Aki’s glance. She kept her voice very low.

“Are you sure this is a good idea?” Darius asked from behind her.

“We needed a diversion. I can’t imagine anything more distracting than this.” Aki retorted. Raising her voice, she called “Let’s hear some guarantees.”

“On my honor,” Striech started to say, but Aki cut him off.

“Let’s try swearing by something more believable.”

Aki saw Striech take a deep breath and then exhale it slowly. “You could have avoided all this if you had simply listened to me months ago.”

“And you could have avoided all this if you and the man you serve weren’t fatuous, greedy bastards.” Aki was enjoying the back and forth. Perhaps it was unwise to use the Magnus as a scratching post for her frustrations, but what was he going to do, kill her?

Striech seemed to be deriving no such enjoyment. “Give yourselves over, and I swear by the Two Moons that you’ll have a quick death, and your followers will go free. If they divest themselves of their weapons and Fòrsic equipment.”

“What’s the matter, don’t feel like killing all of us?”

Even from far away, Magnus’s shark smile sent shivers up her spine. “I have every desire to kill all of you,” he said. “But it is politically expedient to show mercy at this time.”

“Now that I believe.” She glanced at Maz again. The woman nodded back. Aki looked to her left this time, where Jos had stabilized a stolen Fòrsic lance on top of a tripod. He made a ‘ready’ gesture in response to Aki’s attention.

“On my mark,” she whispered. Aki turned back out the window. “I’m afraid I am going to have to decline your generous offer, Magnus.” He frowned up at her, and she continued, “you see, you are an untrustworthy snake, a poisonous serpent, and it’s high time you were treated like one. FIRE.”

Jos’s Fòrsic lance flamed outwards, blowing the window pane outwards in a shatter of sparkling glass fragments. The blast slammed into Striech, and dissipated into a puff of smoke as it met a glowing-blue shield.

“Do you think anything you do is surprising?” He called up. “Your Fòrsic gadgets won’t work on me.” Then the ballista Maz had been working on fired. The sound was a deep, reverberating THUNG that rattled Aki’s teeth. The bolt punched through the window and arrowed straight down into the crowd of guards. It slammed into the man to the Magnus’s left, slicing through his neck and into the chest of the woman behind him before it struck, shivering, into the cobbles. Blood and viscera flew, and both were dead before they hit the ground.

Aki cursed. They’d missed. At the last possible second, the Magnus had thrown himself to the side and out of harm’s way.

“Keep firing,” she ordered, and Ora and Padraig rushed to load another bolt.

Meanwhile, Striech had regained his feet. “Forward!” He shouted at the guards. As the great mass of men and woman moved towards the barricades on the first floor doors and windows. He paused a moment to look back at Aki.

“Too bad,” he shouted. “You could have been reasonable. Lives could have been saved.”

“Too many lives have already been ruined by you and yours,” Aki called back. “Now stand still so that I can skewer you.” The Magnus shook his head and disappeared into the crowd of guards rushing the door. Other ballista and various Fòrsic weapons began firing from the windows and roof. Guards and the back and sides of the mass began to return fire with their own Fòrsic lances, and Darius pulled Aki away from the window.

“Happy?” He asked her.

“Disappointed we missed,” she said. “Are you ready?”

     Like her, Darius had donned one of Maz’s remaining suits. Now, he flexed his fingers and Fòrsic fire glimmered in the palm of his hand.

“Let them come.”         


Two days after Trentor’s revelation, Rika still wasn’t sure if they had a satisfactory answer to the question he had posed at the end of their all-night discussion. To be sure, keeping the Don from killing everyone was high on the list of things to do, but the how was proving difficult.

     “Aki’s late.” Roshan was pacing back and forth in their room above the Turtle. The room wasn’t wide, so he had to turn often. “She should have checked in by now.”

     Isa shrugged. “It’s not like we have a lot of progress to tell her. We might have the replacement Foinse-rod working, but there’s still a lot more of them than us. On both sides.”

     “Dear heart, sit down.” Eithne deftly snagged one of Roshan’s hands as he passed by the bed she was sitting on and pulled him down next to her. “You’re making the rest of us crazy.”

     “Sorry,” Roshan muttered. Rika noticed his foot start to tap, but she smiled her thanks at Eithne anyway.

     “We have been going around in circles about all of this,” Eithne said. She rubbed Roshan’s back with one of her hands. “I think we need to take break.”

     “There’s no time!” Roshan said. His tone sounded pleading.

     “Make time,” Eithne’s reply was sympathetic, but firm. “We need a plan, and all of us are no good to anyone if we fly off into a panic.” She leaned his head against hers. “You’ve been hitting your head against this wall ever since Trentor left. Take a deep breath and try to relax for a bit. Here, have a biscuit.” She passed him one from a plate on one of the end tables.

     Roshan let out a deep sigh and took the proffered biscuit, but he didn’t it. He didn’t protest either, though, so Rika thought maybe Eithne had gotten through to him.

     “I still think that if we can disable his way off the city, the Don will see reason,” Isa said.

     “You’re assuming he’s not a fanatic,” Roshan replied, and Rika sighed as they started around on another cyclical argument. From her place next to Roshan, Eithne shot Rika a commiserating glance. This same back and forth, or similar, had been happening constantly over the last few days. Roshan argued that they needed to move against the Don directly, while Isa remained convinced that they could still persuade him to call off the attack. Rika wasn’t sure which side she fell into, Isa had always been more devoted to goals of the Resistance, and to the Don personally, than she had been, but she wasn’t ready to take up arms against her former colleagues, either. Eithne had been quiet too, but she generally kept the arguments between Roshan and Isa from getting out of hand.

     A knock on the door interrupted Roshan and Isa’s back and forth, and Rika sprang up to answer it. She cracked the door a tiny bit, and peered through into the dim hallway.

     “Mistress Reira,” Rika said with surprise, “What can we do for you?

     The woman held up a slip of parchment. “A clockwork bird pecked at my window until I could get this off it,” she sounded grumpy and bored, but Rika caught the glint of interest in her eyes.

     Roshan perked his head up at the word ‘clockwork.’ “Aki!” he exclaimed, and jumped to his feet. “She’s used a bird as a messenger before.” He hurried to the door and plucked the note from Reira with a “Thanks!”

     Reira turned to go, but Roshan held up a hand as he scanned the note, “Wait!”

     “What is it?” Reira asked.

     “What did the note say?” Rika said.

     Roshan passed the note to Rika, “Was this the only note?” He asked Reira.

     She shrugged. “Only one I saw. Why do you ask?”

     Rika stared at the note, her heart sinking. Her stomach twisted itself up into a knot. The writing was simple, terse.

     The Committee’s the bait. Go at once. Find the Don.

     “Aki’s in trouble,” Roshan said.

     “I think we all are,” Rika said. She passed the note to Isa. Isa glanced at the note herself, and then looked up.

     “What do we do?” Eithne asked.

     “What the note said to do.” Isa crumpled the paper in her hand, and let it fall to the floor. “We find the Don.”

Chapter30 can be found here.

The Floating City - Chapter 28

The Last Respite

Aki had tears in her eyes, and she squeezed Roshan as tight as she could.

He returned the favor, and it was a long moment before she could gasp out “What are you doing here?”

“Why are you here?” Roshan asked at the same time. They grinned at each other.

Maz stepped forward, “Questions later,” she said. “Someone undoubtedly heard us. We need to leave.”

Roshan looked back at his own group, who nodded at him. “We’re at the Turtle,” he said. “Meet you there?”

Padraig appeared on the second story balcony. “Wait,” he said, “What about the rod the Don wanted us to grab? Why did you take it?”

Roshan, Aki noticed, looked uncomfortable. So did the rest of his group. She didn’t know them at all, but she knew Roshan, and she recognized the expression as a guilty one. Just what, she wondered, was going on?

“It’s a long story,” Roshan said after a moment of awkward silence. “One we don’t have time for, but I promise to explain everything at the Turtle.”

Aki nodded. She trusted Roshan still, at least for now, and there weren’t many left outside of her Engineers that she could.

The dark-haired woman stepped forward, and Aki cocked an eye at her. Much to her surprise, the woman was still glowing. It was faint, but her arms glimmered with what looked like traceries of Fòrsic runes. Aki had never seen Fòrsic technology like that before, was it a woven sleeve? But no, it looked to be her actual skin! The woman cleared her throat, and Aki realized with a start that she had been staring, and looked away. She hadn’t meant to be rude.

If the other woman cared, however, she didn’t say. Instead she said, “My name is Isa. Could you get a message to some Resistance members? Quietly?” She pitched her voice low enough that only Aki could hear, and Maz.

“Maybe,” Aki hedged. “I haven’t met many of them yet, but I know a few.”

“There are three of them,” Isa said. “A tall, silent woman named Syd, a taller red-haired man named Simon, and a loud, short man called Trentor. You’ll know him because he’s so annoying.”

“I have heard of Syd,” Aki said, “She’s one of the Don’s advisors. It shouldn’t be difficult to slip her a message.”

Isa nodded firmly, “Good. If you can, tell them Rika and Isa want to talk to them at the Turtle. And give them this,” she handed over a sealed envelope. “Don’t let anyone else know. Especially the Don.”

“I…” Aki wasn’t sure if she could promise that. Her suspicious nature had perked up its head at that last bit. Why shouldn’t the Don know?

Isa pressed her, “Please?”

Aki glanced over at Roshan. He met her eyes and nodded. Aki sighed. She would continue to trust Roshan. She looked back at Isa, “Fine, I will do my best.”

Isa flashed her a smile, “I think that will do.”

“If you two are done whispering,” Padraig said from his perch, “We really do need to leave. I see lights approaching.”

“Drinks are on me,” Aki said, looking at Roshan.

He smiled, “Good luck,” he turned back to Isa and the rest of his group. “Let’s go!” They vanished out the other side of the chamber. Aki turned to Maz.

“You okay?” There was a blackened scorch mark on the front plate of Maz’s suit, about the size of Aki’s head.

Maz shrugged. “I’ve had worse. Impressive group though.”

Aki nodded. How did Isa throw around energy like that? She didn’t have any visible equipment. Presumably, Roshan would tell her when they caught up with them. Now, though, it was time to be gone.

“Is the way prepared?” She asked Osta.

The girl nodded. Aki waved the others in, and they headed up the stairs. Padraig met them on the landing.

“The staircases are over this way,” he said, waving his arm towards the back of the room, behind the balcony he had been standing on.

Aki and the others trooped after him, taking care not to make any noise. That had doused any Fòrsic lights, and the chamber was just as dim and dark as it was before they arrived. She thought she heard the outside doors creak open, but they were around the curve of the staircase by that point. As long as they kept moving, they would be fine. Maybe.

The third and fourth stories were pitch black. Aki knew the interiors to be filled with books, but she could barely see the stairs in front of her. They spiraled upward, all in a line, until they stumbled out onto the broad, open roof. The sides were crenellated in artful, arcing curlicues of grey slate and stone. Plenty of places to affix a grappling hook. The roof tiles themselves were slick, requiring careful steps. Heedless of the rain, Aki went to the edge and looked out. The night was a swampy morass, she couldn’t even see the curtain wall of the University, somewhere out below them. It was the wet season in the desert, and the city was still passing through a low cloud.

“Can you make it?” She said to Maz.

Maz stepped up beside her and peered out into the darkness. She nodded.

“Good,” Aki said. “Now where’s the rope?”

As Aki had requested of Sephina, Osta’s compatriots had left a coil of rope and an iron grapple on the roof. They found it wrapped around one of the crenellations, almost invisible in the dark. Maz took the hook and affixed it to the side facing the lower city. The other hand she tied around her waist, and clambered up to the top of the low wall surrounding the roof. Without saying a word, she engaged the crystals in her suit and leapt outwards. She glided down and away, and was quickly swallowed up by the rain.

“And now,” Aki said, “we wait.”  As Ora and Padraig kept a wary eye on the stairs behind, Aki watched the rope-line play out. Her nerves were taught, listening for any sound outside the wind and the patter of water and rock. A movement caught the corner of her eye, and she looked to see Ora waving at her. Once she was sure she had Aki’s attention, she made several quick, sharp signals with her hands.

“What is she saying?” Osta asked, her voice a nervous whisper.

“They’re coming up the stairs,” Aki said, and turned back to look at the rope. Still slack.

“What? They’re coming?” Osta tried to sounds as nonchalant as Aki’s, but Aki heard the fear in at anyways.

“Yes. I don’t think they know we are here yet, but they will soon.”

“What are we going to do?” Osta’s mouth trembled.

Aki checked the rope again. It was taut, the line stretching out down and away from them. She gave it an experimental yank. It didn’t budge, but she felt two answering pulls. Aki smiled.

“We’re going to run away.” She waved Padraig and Ora over.

“What?” Osta said as Ora and Padraig joined them. The two engineers pulled out pieces of thick silk from the small packs they wore. Ora handed one of them to Aki, and then looked at Osta and cocked an eyebrow. Aki understood the unvoiced question.

“I think you better come with us,” She said.

“Re..really?” Osta stuttered.  

“Yes,” Ora said. She handed her another piece of silk. “It’ll be too dangerous to stay here, you’ll be safer with us.”

“Safer, but not safe,” Padraig added. “Aki, we have to go, the guards are coming.”

Aki nodded. “Go,” she said. Without hesitation, Padraig climbed the crenellation next to the rope. He swung himself into place, holding the silk above it, and launched himself into space. He sped out and down along the line, leaving only the whisper of silk behind him.

“You’re next,” she told Osta.

“I can’t do that!” The girl protested.

“Maz and Padraig will catch you on the other end,” Aki said. “No time to argue, just go.” She and Ora helped Osta into place. The girl looked back piteously, but Aki didn’t have time to console her.

“Don’t let go,” she said, and pushed Osta forward. With a yelp, the girl zipped away down the line. Ora was next, climbing up right on Ora heels. She waited a beat for the girl to get further away, then followed herself.

Aki risked a glance back at the staircase. She could have sworn she saw a glow approaching. No time to hang around, she thought to herself as she climbed the crenellation, and laughed. Once she was in position, she launched herself into space with a whoop of her own.

** **

                “Hey, Aki! Have you had the soup?” Roshan suggested as Aki entered the private room at the back of the Turtle.

                Aki laughed. “You do remember that I introduced you to the Turtle, right? You can’t get me that easily.” Roshan grinned, and rose, and they hugged again. “It’s good to see you,” she said more seriously.

                “The feeling is mutual,” Roshan said. They lapsed into a long moment of silence.

                One of the woman with Roshan, a redhead, broke the quiet, by clearing her throat, “Uh, Roshan, why don’t you introduce us?"

                “Oh, right,” he said, and Aki smiled at his awkwardness. He had seemed very self-assured in the fight in the annex, and afterwards, but she found it reassuring to see that he was still the absent-minded type. She recognized the people in the room from earlier. The room itself was dominated by a round, wooden table. Like the rest of the Turtle, the top of the table was sturdy, yet pitted and scarred from years of use. The wooden chairs placed around the outside were much the same. There were no windows, just sparse, wooden paneling on the walls. Aki thought it felt homely.

                Roshan made the introductions. The red-haired woman, Eithne, was seated to Roshan’s left, while Rika and Isa were to his right. Isa had a big bowl of the mock-turtle soup in front of her, and she grinned when Aki cocked an eyebrow at her.

                “It’s actually pretty good,” she said, “for a mystery broth, anyway.”

                “Just don’t ask what’s in it,” Aki said. She introduced Maz, who was the only one of her people she had brought. Aki had decided to keep this meeting as quiet as possible. Maz raised a laconic hand in greeting from her position near the doorway, and went back to leaning against the wall.

                Someone knocked on the door. Everyone flinched. Roshan especially looked nervous. A jumpy bunch we have here, Aki thought.

                Maz slid the door open to reveal a squat, hairy man.

                “Trentor!” Rika and Isa exclaimed, and hurried up to welcome him into the room.

                “My lovely ladies!” He clasped them both in a tight hug, “news of your survival fills me with, if not surprise, then with gladness.”

                Isa’s eyes narrowed. “You mean you knew we were alive?”

                “We didn’t know, merely hoped. I’m happy to see we were correct in believing in your prowess. But,” his tone turned serious, “I find myself saddened by your presence here.”

                Rika and Isa exchanged a glance. Roshan spoke up from the back of the room, “it sounds like you have some explaining to do.”

                Trentor heaved a theatrical sigh, “So Isa’s note said.” He turned and dipped his body in a bow towards Aki, “And thank you, kind lady, for delivering it to me.”

                Aki nodded back, faintly bemused by the whirlwind of his entrance. She and Maz had detoured by the new headquarters of the Resistance on their way to the Turtle, while Padraig and Ora took young Osta off to settle her with the other Engineers. Aki had managed to hand off Isa’s message to Syd directly, but she hadn’t expected this loud-mouthed man to show up.

                “I think there are explanations due all around,” she said. “And I think we best begin. As happy as I am to see you again, Roshan, I am not looking forward to explaining to the Don why I have failed in the mission he set me.”

                “Understandable, perfectly understandable,” Trentor said. “Why don’t we start with how the four of you,” he indicated Roshan and the rest of this group, “survived, and got here from Alsce so quickly.”

                “How about you tell us why you left us to die?” Isa interrupted. Trentor opened his mouth to respond, but Roshan cut in ahead of him.

                “I think we all have our stories to tell,” he said, glancing around the room. Aki noticed he made sure to make eye-contact with each person in turn. “Let’s lay out everything we know, and then we can decide what we need to do next.” His gaze rested on Aki last. “Aki, why don’t you start? I’ve never seen Ater-Volante so riled up.”

                Aki nodded. She figured it was as a good a starting place as any. “Well,” she said, “After you left, I…”

** ** **

The little room had grown increasingly staid and uncomfortable. They had talked all night, and Aki felt a grainy tiredness behind her eyes. She shifted in her seat. You really needed alcohol to make these wooden chairs acceptable to sit on for long periods, but the night had been spent instead in sober, and sobering, conversation. Roshan’s tale had been interesting, even exciting, and Aki was looking forward to getting the rest out of him. If they survived, anyway. Because Trentor had gone last, and it was his news that was the worst.

“The Don plans to bring down the Prime,” Trentor’s tone was harsh, in a match to his grim mien.

“Excuse me,” Aki said, “but this isn’t exactly news. He said the same thing to Maz and me earlier today.”

“My apologies,” Trentor tipped an imaginary cap towards her. “I should have spoken more literally. The Don plans to crash the Prime, his whole council, the Choisant, AND the City of Ater-Volante itself into the Dakian steppes.”

There were shocked gasps from around the room. Aki’s belly seized in a heavy knot. There were nearly twenty-five thousand people in the city, and however corrupt the Prime was, most of them were innocent. What Trentor suggested was monstrous, and yet…

“How,” Eithne whispered, “how can this be?”

“Syd didn’t know his reasons when she told Simon and me, and I didn’t either. I’m not sure I care either, as I doubt they would be sufficient. As to the how,” Trentor looked at Roshan, “I think you know.”

“The Foinse-rod,” Roshan said without a trace of uncertainty. “If he could bring the negator to the City’s central crystal, then that’s it, it’s over.”

“Are you certain?” Rika asked. “The crystal has been running without mishap for centuries.” Roshan shrugged, his eyes were bleak. Eithne reached over and squeezed his hand, but he didn’t appear to notice.

“Even if the Rod doesn’t drain all the energy, it could still cause the crystal to crack, or even explode. It wouldn’t take much before we all wish we knew how to fly.”

“What I don’t understand,” put in Isa, “is why Syd and the rest of the Resistance members are going along with it? How could they be okay with this?”

Aki nodded, she had been wondering that too. She doubted the rest of her Committee would be so eager to support the Don if they knew what he planned.

“They don’t know,” she looked at Trentor for confirmation. He nodded, and Aki repeated her thought. “They can’t know. It would be suicide. Your Syd must have figured it out. But it’s such a terrible idea, and the Don is such a revered figure. Who would believe her?”

“Right the first time,” Trentor said. “Syd has no proof. She’s not even sure she believes it herself. She’s known the Don a long time. He’s a hard man, but this seems crazy. I think she’s going along with it because, if it is true, then she can knock him on the head at the last second and keep him from being stupid.”

“That may be what she thinks,” Maz said from her position near the door, “but what does everyone else think? He can’t reach the core crystal alone, no matter how powerful a Theorist he is.”

  “I was just getting to that, you Fòrsic practitioners are all so sharp. The stated goal is to take over the core crystal, and use it as a bargaining chip and or bludgeoning device. If the Resistance controls the crystal, we control the city, see? It’s a decent enough aim, if the Don didn’t mean to blow it up at the end anyway.”

“They’ll have to go in through the tunnels,” Aki stated with certainty, just as Roshan said,

“They’ll be using the tunnels, I presume?” They smiled shared memories at one another, and Aki felt the chill from Trentor’s words lessen. She had her friend back, her partner. He might be harder and more cynical, but together they would find their way out of this mess.

Trentor nodded vigorously in acknowledgement. “Right again, my friends. The attack is scheduled in three days, at dawn.” He looked around the room, taking care to meet each person’s eyes in turn. “The question is, what are you going to do about it?”

Chapter 29 can be found here.