Here is Chapter 4 of the floating city, now with comments enabled, which I realized had not been the case previously. So now you can actually tell me what you think! If you're looking for the first entry of The Floating City, you could find a link to it in the about section, or click here.
The New Allies
Isa Velensi was bored, and when she was bored, nations trembled. Rika recognized all the signs: the way she was desultorily looking at the market stalls goods, the way she kept adjusting the colorful scarf she always wore over her brown, intricately braided hair, and the way she started to tap her foot as Rika made her own purchases. As soon as Rika finished buying the day’s supply of bread for their little group, she tried to head it off. “Do you want to see if the Boundless Books has anything new?” She suggested, trying to make it sound as exciting as possible.
Isa fixed her with a steely grey-eyed gaze and Rika tried not to swallow. “We’ve been in the air for three five-days now, and it’s another seven days until set down.” Isa said slowly. “What makes you think they would have anything new?”
Rika shrugged, trying to act nonchalant. “Syd said that people sometimes have to sell possessions to afford necessities while Volantis is in the air. Might be worth a look.”
Isa nodded. “Makes sense, let’s go and see.” She set off across the crowded marketplace without another word.
Rika gave a silent sigh of relief and trailed after her, not unlike a dingy being towed by a clipper ship, she thought. Physically, the two women were of roughly the same size, but Isa just took up much more space. She was brown, brassy, and bold, in sharp contrast to Rika’s own pale and unobtrusive blondness. Rika loved her for it, but Fòrsic Engineers were supposed to look after their Theorist counterparts, and not the other way around. However, in this case, the dynamic was reversed. While a brilliant Fòrsic engineer, Isa, when bored, had the tendency to create her own amusements. The last time she’d gotten away from Rika’s watchful eye during a mission, the resulting chaos had burned down the Hascillis city docks, destroyed several thousand crowns in trade goods, and sent a score of men to the medicos. On the other hand, she’d also rescued their informant, broken up the surveillance on their cell, and, apparently, saved an orphanage from the extortion of the Hascillis underground. All in all, however, it was better if Rika kept Isa distracted, for everyone’s peace of mind. In fact, their cell leader, Syd, had given her standing orders to that effect.
Trailing by a step, Rika followed in Isa’s wake across the crowded marketplace. She admired how Isa’s steady, straightforward gait forced the various patrons of Ater-Volantis’s main market to bend out of her way, like reeds before the wind. Isa chattered back to Rika as they walked, oblivious or uncaring of the wave of disruption their passage caused. “What time are we due back at the house?” Isa asked.
Rika shrugged. “Syd said the fourth bell past midday. Apparently a curfew is being enforced tonight, and she wanted to make sure everyone was back well in advance.”
Isa nodded. “Plenty of time then. Should we get some chicory after Boundless?”
Inwardly, Rika blanched. They barely had a bell to spare, half of which would be spent trekking across the city to their lodgings. Still, the covered plaza was cool despite the afternoon sun, and something hot sounded nice. “How about Rose-hips?” she suggested. The popular shop had the bitter beverage that Isa, and other Thesians from the south of Alis Dak favored, as well as drinks more suitable for Rika’s more northern palate.
“I prefer Salvenor’s, it’s less crowded. What do you think?”
“Vorchesny’s is similar, and it’s on the way home.” Rika allowed just the slightest hint of an admonishment into her voice. They had been late the last several times they’d been sent on errands, and Syd had threatened to keep them under house arrest. Rika would go crazy if that happened, let alone how Isa would react. They had been operating in the field for a long time, and every member of their five person team was feeling edgy from the increased security precautions they had to take to remain on Ater-Volantis while it was in transit.
“Fine by me,” Isa said, a brief smile acknowledging Rika’s tone. They had just reached the edge of the plaza and were about to turn onto the main avenue that circled up through the city’s neighborhoods, when Isa suddenly stopped and held up a hand. Rika stopped too, and was about to ask why when Isa hissed “listen!”
Rika strained her ears to hear over the background murmur of the market. Far off she heard a wailing noise, and then a crack, followed by the distinctive sound of crumbling masonry. “Oh, thank Alos” was all she said.
Grinning from ear to ear, Isa nodded. “We’re here to keep an eye on city. We’d be remiss in our duties to not… investigate that disturbance.”
Rika sighed audibly, knowing Syd would be angry regardless of what information they discovered, but even she had to admit that it would be better than seeing the old, familiar scrolls at the local booksellers. She turned to Isa and matched her, grin for grin. “After you,” she gestured, and the pair of them turned and made their way quickly toward the distant sounds of trouble.
Roshan’s afternoon was not going well. After finally making it off the university grounds, he’d headed down toward the seedier areas of the city. Because Ater-Volantis spent most of its time airborne, touching down every fourth five-day for resupply and repair, there was not a lot of movement in or out of the city. The crystal that powered the city’s lift was unique. There were very few other crystals near its caliber, and even fewer capable of sustained flight. Thus, while there was some short distance air-traffic to and from Ater-Volantis, there was not the type of continuous trading that would take place if Volantis was a more normal, grounded city. This meant that there were no bustling inns that Roshan would be able to slip into and wait out the remaining seven days until set down in comfortable anonymity. However, there were a number of seedy taverns, frequented by students and the other lower classes in the City, which offered dingy rooms for assignations and for people too drunk to walk home.
Roshan had been headed for Tipsy Turtle, his favorite of those establishments. When he had rounded the corner into its dingy alley, he’d come face to face with a pair of city watchmen resplendent in red and yellow. In retrospect, he should have pretended to be someone else with legitimate business there. Certainly his chosen tactic of standing in shocked silence and then turning and sprinting away had not been the best strategy. The watch had, predictably, given chase.
Half a bell of panicked, wheezing running later, they were closing in. Roshan took a hard right into a small alleyway, another pair of watchmen hard on his heels. He had been trying to stay off the main streets, but hadn’t been successful in losing them in the twisting streets that ran between the wide, circular boulevards of the city. The alley itself was grimy and greasy, and there were several piles of garbage that would never be seen in the nicer parts of the city.
Roshan ran towards the opening at the other end of the alley and skidded to a halt, cursing as two more members of the watch entered, blocking off his exit. Glancing over his shoulder, he saw the pair chasing him close in. Looking at the pair in front of him, Roshan swore again, loudly. The two watchwomen were both armed with Fòrsic Lances, heavy wooden staves that were iron shod, with a crystal embedded in the tip. The staves’ design meant that they could be used as bludgeoning weapons, or lowered and discharged, firing Fòrsa blasts with effects ranging from the unpleasant to the uncomfortably lethal. Roshan had visions of himself turning and running, only to be shot in the back. As the pair behind him carried only truncheons, he drew a deep breath and ran directly toward the armed pair, screaming incoherently as he went.
The two women’s eyes widened, and the smaller one took half a step back before both of them lowered their lances, the crystals in the tips beginning to glow with an eerie yellow light. Roshan reached into a pocket sewn into the lining of his cloak and pulled out two failed testing crystals from his and Aki’s experiments and with a crow-hop, threw them at the two women in front of him.
He shouted the activation word, “Lohjs!” meaning light in old Alisian, and as the crystals hit the cobbles in front the watch members, they began to emit blinding, flickering light and a deafening screech. Right before the crystals activated, Roshan shut his eyes and put his fingers in his ears and threw himself to side, landing with a splat in nearby pile of garbage. He felt a crackle of energy pass over head as one of the lances discharged followed by the sound of crumbling masonry as the blast impacted the wall above him.
Roshan rose wearily to his feet and continued to stumble blindly down the alley. Counting out the time between flashes, having previously memorized the sequence over the course of months of experimentation, he chanced a quick peek and saw the two watchwomen clutching their faces in stunned surprise, unsure whether to cover their ears or eyes. He dashed between them, eyes still shut, and burst out into the sunny street beyond.
As there were still two watchmen in pursuit, Roshan couldn’t stop to gloat at his presumed escape. He kept running, turning the corner and running down another alleyway further down the street. He had made it most of the way through the alley before he realized that it doglegged into a dead end. “Damn,” he said mildly, coming to halt.
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Isa and Rika made good time rushing through the crowded streets. Part of their time in Ater-Volantis had been spent exhaustively mapping the city’s byways, and so they dashed through alleyways and side streets with complete confidence, honing in on the source of the noise. Coming out of a dark, covered passageway onto a broad, sunlight boulevard, they spotted a pair of red and yellow-clad watchmen advancing down another alley cautiously.
Rika nudged Isa with her elbow and jerked her head towards the watchmen. “Reckon we should follow these fellows?” she asked.
Isa nodded, thinking. “I’ll go behind them, you take the roof tops,” she said, and then ran toward the mouth of the alley where the watchmen had disappeared, slipping a lead-weighted baton out from the small of her back as she did so.
Typical of her not to wait for me to agree, Rika thought, as she looked at the buildings lining the street. They were three stories tall, with sloped roofs covered in reddish clay tiles. Fortunately for her, they also lacked the spires and domes of some of the wealthier neighborhoods. The buildings were a combination of wood and artfully designed masonry and looked sturdy. She decided to go for it. Glancing back and forth to make sure that the street was clear, she stamped her right foot three times, pawing backwards on the last stamp like a bull preparing to charge. Rika then took three bounding steps, coming down with both feet on the last leap. There was a hum of released energy and a copper-colored flash as the crystals sewn into her boot soles boosted her up through the air. She landed with a clatter on the roof tiles, tucking her momentum into a forward roll perpendicular to the slope of the roof before popping up onto her feet. Moving forward and stepping softly as she could, Rika made it to the edge and looked down into the alley below.
The two watchmen were moving towards a third man, wrapped in a stained brown cloak. He was tall and thin, with his back to the wall at the end of the alley, and he appeared to be breathing heavily. As the watchmen approached, the man spread his hands in a placating gesture. “Greetings, sirs, how can I help you on this fine day?” He asked. Rika was impressed; his voice had hardly a quaver in it, although it was clear that he was scared.
“Roshan Orjuwani,” one of the watchmen called, his voice harsh, “you are wanted for treason against the city of Ater-Volantis. If you come quietly with us, you will not be harmed.”
“Much…” muttered the other watchmen, and both men advanced menacingly. Each of them outweighed Roshan by several stone, and one was tapping a black nightstick against the palm of his hand. Looking behind the watch, Rika met Isa’s eyes as she poked her head in around the mouth of the alleyway. Isa nodded and mouthed, “go” and darted in around the mouth alleyway, her baton in her hand.
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As the watchmen advanced, Roshan stood with his back to the cool alley wall, his hands in a defensive posture. Having lived the life of a sedentary academic, he was not expecting to be able to win a fist fight, but maybe he could get in at least one good hit.
Prepared to go down fighting, he took a step forward, before pausing in confusion. From the entrance to the alleyway came a startling vision. A woman was sprinting toward him, running silently on soft-soled boots. A brown cloak and an intricately colored headscarf streamed behind her, and she hefted a wooden baton studded in sparking crystals.
One of the watchmen must have seen something in his eyes, because he turned and looked over his shoulder. He had time to utter a startled “what…?” before the women reached him and clouted him across the head with her baton. There was a sizzling sound of Fòrsic discharge, and the watchman went rigid before collapsing in a boneless heap. The other watchman turned and raised his own truncheon, readying it to bring it down in a crushing blow. Roshan started to shout a warning, when another woman crashed into the fight. She was blonde and pale, in sharp contrast to the first woman’s rich sepia-toned beauty. As the blonde woman hit the watchman, her boots pulsed out a halo of Fòrsa with a whoosh, sending the guard to the ground, hard. The woman rose back up in the air, and executed a graceful backflip before landing in a crouch next her darker companion. Both watchmen lay on the ground in front of them, stunned and unmoving.
Roshan looked from one woman to the other and then asked, “Who in the name of Dar-Alos are you?”
The two woman exchanged a pair of leonine smiles. “Roshan—was that your name?” The one with the headscarf asked. Roshan nodded, still confused. The woman extended her hand. “I’m called Isa. Welcome to the other side.”
Chapter 5 can be found here.