The Other Side
Roshan stared incredulously at the two women. “Er… what?” He asked. “The other side?”
“The other side of the war.” Isa said, already losing patience with their new companion.
“…What?” Roshan said again, becoming annoyed himself at his repetition.
“We’ll explain later,” the other girl said, patiently. “You can call me Rika. Now, we need to get out of here. The Stripies have cordoned off the entire area.” She used the pejorative for the Ater-Volantis city watch.
Roshan shook his head, slowly. He had a lot of questions bubbling in the back of his brain, not least of which were where in Alos’s name these two women had come from, and what did they want with him. As far as he knew, Alis Dak was not at war with any of its neighbors, he couldn’t even think of any nearby countries large enough to war against. Still, if he stayed with Isa and Rika, the potential for bodily harm seemed much less immediate. “Fine, but I hope you’ll answer me more thoroughly later.”
Rika nodded, a comforting tone in her voice. “When there’s time, we’ll answer anything you want to know.” Isa said nothing, just turned and made her way toward the entrance to the alley. Rika made a face. “Her heart’s in the right place, she’s just a trifle… well, you’ll see.”
Roshan said nothing, but he did bob his head in acknowledgement. Isa was back a moment later. “The Stripies are advancing from all sides,” she said to Rika in a soft, hurried tone. “Too many for us to comfortably fend off, almost a full company.”
“You think you can fight off thirty of the Watch?!” Roshan interjected in amazement.
Rika gave him a look and said, “She does. I don’t.” She flicked her eyes over to Isa, and then to the roof. “Up and over?”
Isa shook her head. “I’ve got a better idea,” she said, and began to run her baton through her hands, her fingers pressing an intricate pattern on the crystals embedded along its length.
Roshan knew an activation sequence when he saw one, and evidently Rika did too, as she turned to Isa and whisper-shouted “No, stop!” She tried to protest further, but it was too late.
Isa finished whatever pattern she was working on, and the baton began to hum with Fòrsa. A malignant silvery-red light laced with blue poured out of the activated crystals and into the narrow alley, giving the whole scene an odd purple sheen. Before Rika could utter another word, Isa swung the baton with all her might at the wall, and the world exploded into fire.
Her ears ringing, Rika seethed inwardly she and Isa supported Roshan’s body out of the wreckage of the alley, while members of the watch ran in. He had one arm slung over each of their shoulders and while his legs hadn’t quite stopped working, he had been stunned by the blast and was mostly unresponsive. A blessing in disguise, Rika thought, as the shroud of water that Isa had wrapped them in hid only their images, and not any noises they might make. That was certainly the only reason she wasn’t tearing a strip off her friend right now. Rika was lucky that she recognized the glow of Isa’s all-purpose escape method, and therefore avoided the worst of the explosion. Roshan hadn’t been so lucky, and half of his long, black hair was decidedly crisp.
As soon as they were far enough away from the alley that Rika judged that they would not be overheard by the many watchmen fighting the towering inferno that Isa had left behind, she turned to her friend and snarled, “What was that! You could have gotten us all captured, or killed!”
Isa shrugged nonchalantly, difficult to do with Roshan’s arm weighing heavily across her back. “We escaped, no one knew we were there. Besides, with the flames, they’ll probably think Roshan here is dead, and we will all get away clean.” Her tone was reasonable, but Rika swore she could hear smugness deep within it. “I’d say that that was a victory, all in all.”
Rika had to admit, although not to Isa, that there was a certain genius in the simplicity. Isa’s get-out-of-trouble rune was a veritable glyphic alphabet, comprising a multitude of different crystals and modifications. It caused some sort of fiery distraction, and then wrapped Isa and anyone else she wanted in mists of concealment, allowing her to escape while anyone pursuing her was forced to deal with whatever had just exploded. “You could have warned me” Rika said, feeling a bit petulant. “Besides, Syd will be mad that we just announced our presence for anyone who cares to look.”
Isa shrugged again, supremely unconcerned. “We’ll be gone in seven days, and it’ll be easier without the Stripies checking the exits for Roshan. If they think he’s dead, they’ll stop looking, and it’ll make the next five-day and our leave-taking much easier. Not to mention,” She gave Roshan’s limp arm an explanatory wiggle, “we have ourselves a potentially priceless information source here.”
“We don’t even know why they were chasing him!” Rika said, exasperated. “Maybe he just called the Prime of the council a fat tub of lard.”
“Then Syd will want to meet him to shake his hand.” Isa responded calmly. “But if that’s not the case, then he could be anything. He could even have the potential to be another field agent, like you and me!”
Roshan let out a soft groan, and Rika gave him a sideways glance. “Him?” She said, incredulous, “I doubt it.”
“We were green too, once. As the Don says” Isa’s voice took on a recitation-like quality, “Judge someone not on their beginnings, but on their ends.”
Rika rolled her eyes. All members of the resistance were fond of repeating, and occasionally vulgarly modifying, their leader’s many sayings. It formed a vast network of inside jokes that made infiltration by outside forces difficult, even if she did find it annoying, especially when Isa used them to win an argument. “Do you ever get tired of being right?
Isa smiled beatifically. “Not so far,” she said.
It took Roshan another third of a bell until he had regained enough of his senses to be able to wonder what had happened. First he was conscious of trudging in a haze alongside two, brown colored forms, before they gradually resolved before his eyes into the two women he vaguely recalled knocking him unconscious. “What… happened? Where am I?”
The blonde one… Rika, he recalled dimly, turned at the sound of his voice. “Oh, glad to see you back with us, Roshan.” She said, warmly, “I’m sorry for Isa’s… enthusiasm, but it was necessary for our escape. Apparently.” She glared at the other woman.
Isa turned her head towards Roshan and grinned. “The important thing is that you’re safe, now. We’ll get you out of the city, and to wherever you want, unless you want to sign on….” She trailed off.
Roshan shook his head to clear the fog pervading it, and was dismayed by the wave of throbbing pain that went through it. “Sign on for what?” He asked, “who are you people?”
“Your head hit the ground pretty hard,” Rika said by way of answering. “I wouldn’t shake it about too much.”
“You may have knocked me senseless, but not enough that I would think that an answer to my question.” Roshan said with a smile.
Isa smiled back, her expression lighting up her face. “You’re a sharp one, aren’t you? We’ll explain everything in a bit, I promise. We just have to get to a safe place first.”
Roshan looked around. They were in a warehouse district on the lip of one of Ater-Volantis’s outer rings. Around them, large wood and stone buildings cast broad shadows in the setting sun, and the cobbled streets were mostly deserted. Orange lights flickered in a few of the buildings, but everything was quiet and still, the noise of the living city muted by distance. Taken all together, it had a decidedly eerie feel, made worse by the fact that this was not a part of the city he had often visited, if at all. “What, out here?” He asked, confused.
Both women nodded, but it was Isa who spoke. “Merchants who are using the city as transport often station men out here with their goods, or stay themselves. Several of the warehouses are set up with living quarters.”
“So… you’re merchants?” Roshan knew that many traders, especially those dealing in heavier goods, preferred the security of the city’s warehouses to travel overland. Trade on the ground could be chancy, as roads, outside of the main highways, had a tendency towards mud even in the best of weather. The city took one turning of the gold moon, Alos, to travel between cities and as it traveled in a set pattern between the six major cities of Alis Dak, merchants who caught it on the right leg could even make the trip faster than an overland journey. Still, it seemed unlikely to him that mere merchants would rescue a fugitive from the city watch using sophisticated Fòrsic equipment.
“Of a sort,” Isa said, seeming to revel in being mysterious. Roshan wanted to press for more concrete answers, but he did not think it was likely that he would be successful. He also had a sneaking suspicion that if he asked too many questions, as friendly as the two woman had appeared to be, they would have no problem knocking him unconscious again and carrying him the rest of the way.
Instead, he merely said “I see,” although of course he did not, and let the subject be dropped. The trio continued down the increasingly shadowed street in silence for several more minutes, before Isa asked, “So… why were you being chased?”
Sensing a chance for payback, Roshan said only, “It’s a long story.”
The two woman waited expectantly for several moments before Isa prompted him: “And…?”
Roshan smiled broadly, “and when you tell me your story, I’ll tell you mine.”
Isa looked petulant for several moments, but Rika gave a short chuckle. “Seems fair,” she said. “We can wait. We’re almost there.”
They reached the end of the street, which opened up into a large, dark square, completely surrounded by tall warehouses. Rika pointed to a stone building on the left with an ornate blue door and said, “We’re here!” As she said it, the Fòrsic street lamps clicked on, bathing the whole area with a soft, orange glow.
“Excellent timing,” Isa said.
Roshan looked from one to the other, confused. “Never mind,” Isa said, looking at him, and then she turned and marched up to the door, Rika and Roshan trailing behind her. Isa rapped on the door with her baton in a complicated sequence of knocks.
Roshan flinched, ever so slightly, at the first rap, but then settled down and waited expectantly for Isa to finish. “So… is this a pass signal or something?” He asked Rika.
She shrugged. “We have a sign and countersign system for our quarters. Isa just likes knocking dramatically on the main door.” There was a pause after Isa finished knocking, and then the door slid open on soundless hinges. The three of them had started up the stone steps when Rika put her hand on Roshan’s arm. “Let us do the talking at first,” she instructed. “Your story will come later.”
“Is it dangerous?” Roshan asked apprehensively.
“Not to you, probably,”
“Well, that’s comforting.”
Rika smiled at his sarcastic tone. “It’s just that our purpose here was for surveillance only. We were told not to actually do anything.”
She nodded as he trailed off. “Right, you’re a complication. Mostly, though, they’ll be angry at Isa for charging off, and me for not stopping her.”
Roshan thought for a second. “Who are you people?” he asked again.
From the darkened hallway beyond the entranceway, Roshan heard the muffled sound of Isa’s voice, followed by another in a harsh soprano. There was pause, and then Isa appeared again in the light of the plaza lamps, “Hurry up, they’re waiting. Syd does not look happy,” she said.
“And whose fault is that?” Rika rejoined rhetorically. She patted Roshan on the shoulder and smiled, “Come on,” she said, “You’re about to find out.”
Chapter 6 can be found here.