Along a clean, smooth gravel road, lay a well-groomed row of teal, orange, and baby blue flowers. The flowers (clearly of a closely related species) contrasted strongly against the dark green bushes on which they bloomed. They rose from the ground in tiered rows until the highest bushes appeared to be seven feet above the ground. On the other side of the broad boulevard, residential manor-estates, separated by intervals of trees, lined the road in pairs. Between each of the pairs, cobblestone avenues emptied scant traffic onto the main road.
Leah materialized from a hole under the tiered bushes directly across from a cobblestone intersection. There was a lot of traffic on the boulevard today, so she walked behind the bushes about 40 meters to the next (more heavily shaded) intersection. To avoid exposing her entrance, she waited for a break in traffic and slipped through a narrow gap in the bushes onto the sidewalk where she and Gizmo hurried along. Gizmo’s relatively small size made this possible, but that didn’t prevent the occasional raised eyebrow at the sight.
Most of the quattours driven by the upper class were furry lagomorphs or scaly reptilians and pangolins; each ornately designed and colored. Occasionally, along came a more expensive marsupial model or a very expensive raptor model (which were believed by most to be the only flying models). The elderly tended to prefer the lizard-like models since they sat lower to the ground and were typically the least bumpy rides. Soon, a long, limousine-styled reptilian quattour approached as Leah strode down the sidewalk. Most of the windows had been tinted so that onlookers couldn’t identify its passengers, but its operator eyed Leah with open derision as he passed.
She hurried along the sidewalk for another 20 meters or so until she came to an intersection marked with tall palms and sunflowers in thick clusters. Dashing across the road at an opportune moment, she proceeded down the cobblestone path until she came to a vast manor of lilac tinted stone behind a large barrier wall made of iron and granite. At the wall’s opening, the manor could be viewed through an iron gate exhibiting its familial emblem. Complimentary gate openings each held half of the emblem in their collective center where they met. The crest was a reptilian-like griffen inside of a top-sided trapezoid, with what looked like flames rising up behind it.
She passed the gate and advanced along the sidewalk until it split off from the main walk into a private path surrounded by trees and shrubbery. After turning that way, within a minute, she arrived at a tall gray door that seemed to be embedded in the granite wall. Directly right of the door, a square, metallic panel extended down outwardly from the wall, and a tiny red light shone in its upper left corner. Leah extended her arm until the back of her right hand faced upward under the panel. A pale, blue light flicked on under the panel and a glyph in Gaelic lettering appeared on her skin. There was a whirring sound, and the tiny red light turned green. A handle extended and Leah turned it and proceeded through the door.
She entered a gray, décor-less hall that opened onto a gated courtyard. This gate was quite simple; connected to a chain-link fence and only as tall as the hall itself (about 3 meters). The gate’s door was left open, but there was a buff, elderly man seated at a small table behind it. He was reading through a small stack of documents as she entered, probably the Koster City news reports. The sentry glanced up at Leah and, after recognizing her, nodded curtly and turned his attention back to his documents.
Leah moved past him without saying anything and followed a winding path to the manor proper. A ridiculously wide stair led from a lavish open courtyard to the rear manor doors, which were attended by two doormen dressed like Twentieth-century butlers. Once Leah was near them, the man and woman approached the center doors and opened them for her. She entered the rear foyer and was nonplussed by the elaborate sculptures and paintings placed in sumptuous symmetry. She moved directly to a maple wood awning center-left in the foyer and continued into an open office-like space.
A finely dressed woman sat at a desk at the far end of the room. The desk faced Leah and the room’s opening, but the woman sat with her back to Leah and facing the desk. She had her chair pulled up close so that she could scribble away at what looked like a ledger. Occasionally, she would hold up this paper or that and compare them to some other paper. Leah never stopped feeling the relief of having dodged this kind of life. The young thief approached quietly but, as she did, the woman extended a hand and tapped the chair next to her with her pen.
Leah approached steadily and took the seat next to the woman silently. The woman continued busying herself for a few moments before breaking the beginning, “What news do you have for me?”, she didn’t look up from her ledgers as she spoke.
After a sigh, Leah said, “Not too much out of the usual… The Freecs are about to be raided, but mostly the streets are quiet. My group is looking into Lord Valdes’ operation.” She grabbed a clear, semi-round paperweight from the desk and began to fiddle with it, “This is new…,” The woman said nothing and Leah returned to her report, “No one seems to know Valdes is behind it. They think it’s all on some merchant in the San Marco district.”
“Yes… James Marks. He’s the shop owner that runs the ins and outs for Lord Valdes.”
“Juliette and Zinf are doing recon this week. The plan is to hit the shop 2 weeks from now.”
“That could be useful, but not very. I’ll run it by your father.”
“From what I hear, he’s pretty busy these days…”
The woman stopped and turned to Leah. She had golden-brown hair pulled up in an elegant bun and wore two gold necklaces over her silver-laced maroon summer dress. The first necklace was a thick gold chain, while the other was hung with a ruby charm surrounded by tiny diamonds. Her eyes were deep green, and freckles decorated her pale cheeks. Her eyebrows seemed slightly fairer than her hair and they furrowed as she turned her head to observe the young thief. Upon seeing Leah, she seemed to hide a tiny, derisory gasp, “I do wish you’d clean up before coming here.”
“I have to stay in character, Mother. This day’s work isn’t done.”
“Yes,” she said with a decidedly heavy drip of sarcasm, “it’s perfectly normal for someone looking like you to be visiting House McNab.”
“After some of the visitors my father has brought here… My ‘siblings’…”
Her mother waved a hand as if to dismiss the conversation, “What was meant by that comment about your father?”, tossing the pen she’d been writing with onto the desk, she leaned back in her chair.
“One of my crew was picked up by the Patrician Force a few days ago. Some say they’re eager to get their hands on some stone.
“And you didn’t consider this news?”
“The word is that whatever they’re looking for is far from here… Not even in the city.” Leah shrugged, “Maybe they already have it. I would’ve thought you’d know more about all this than I do. All that’s in the streets are some unreliable scrapes of rumor.”
Leah’s mother eyed her suspiciously. It was Leah’s hope that she could get her mother to reveal something about the stone, but after this day’s events, she half wished she had brought the thing to be rid of it. Even now, she couldn’t think of exactly why she hadn’t. She felt some inexplicable need to keep it or …protect it? Why was anyone’s guess. Leah had peeked at it once, yesternight, before she fell asleep. Aside from that, she’d only felt its outline a few times in its smooth grey pouch. There was no explanation for the attraction she was just realizing she was feeling for the thing. After all, it had only been in her “possession” for a matter of hours. There was every reason, in her opinion, to learn more about it before turning it over to a Head Patrician Chief’s wife. Especially one that had commissioned its retrieval: her own mother. Unfortunately, Leah’s mom was careful not to give anything away. “A stone? What have you heard about this …stone?”
It’s probably some sort of …jewel? Some amateurs were after it and got busted by the Force. They say the stone wasn’t even there. The locals grabbed Kenneth because he just happened to be there. Of course, he’s still locked up now.”
“Yes… Yes, yes.”, she seemed to be musing to herself, “Kenneth Sayalero… Do you need him for anything?”
Leah instantly recognized the test in the question. Her mother was probing her daughter’s attachment to the deplorable city scum. Leah shrugged, “He’s not important to the current mark,” she humored briefly at the thought that the current mark was actually named “Marks”, “we should be fine without him.” The thief/spy returned the paperweight to the desk and glanced over at her mother. The woman was still eyeing her curiously, and this time, Leah furrowed her brownish-red eyebrows, “What?”
“Don’t you have something for me?”
“I’ve brought your meats if that’s what you mean.”, Leah produced the package from the butcher from under her vest, “That midnight mission you sent me on didn’t produce anything of value. They were just some scrappy boys out in the middle of nowhere.”
“Scrappy boys? I sent you to raid a safe in a merchant’s caravan.”
“The caravan was raided by some thugs in the wild. They didn’t just break into the caravan, they made off with the entire safe. They didn’t seem to have any way to open it.” Leah slouched backward in her chair and began rolling the paperweight back and forth across her fingers. There seemed to be a foggy mixture within the glass, sloshing around as it made its rotations. “Maybe they were planning to hand it off or they were just dumb. Either way, I snuck into their camp at night, but there was nothing of value in the safe, just some old maps and foodcoin.”
“Maps?”, Leah’s mother perked up. She eased forward in her chair.
Leah’s mild surprise wasn’t feigned, “They were common maps; they didn’t seem of value… When you sent me, you said I may not find anything worth bringing back.”
Leah’s mother was leaning forward now. She took the package of meat, stood, and reached over the desk to ring a small service bell. “Find these thugs,” she said to Leah, “bring me those maps.” As she spoke, a black-vested elderly woman in professional attire entered and approached the two. Leah’s mother handed the package off without even glancing at the butler, “Bring me anything else in the safe besides the foodcoin. I’ll be expecting you in no more than two days.”
Leah fought hard not to visibly roll her eyes, “Their leader is here. He’s roughing people up and asking about a green-eyed thief.”
“That should save you some time then…”
“I think I’m the wrong person to continue on with them. They’re looking for me…”
“They’re looking for a thief who stole nothing?”
“I knocked two of them out. I took their land coins. If they find me, they could figure out-”
“They’re looking for a shadow of you, not you. If they found the real you, imagine the danger they would be in.
“But… Mother, -”
The woman put a hand on Leah’s cheek, “Your father has his hands full, the Patrician Force has its hands full. Those running that caravan will be clamoring to explain how a group of juvenile thugs managed to overcome them. We need to know what we can about these boys and what else was in that safe.” She put her other hand on Leah’s other cheek and held the girl’s face close to her own, “Get close to them. Make amends if you need to. Find out all you can before your father destroys them.” She kissed her daughter curtly on the forehead and dismissed her with a gesture before Leah could object.
This is my first web-published story. Please let me know what you think in the comments below. To get the bi-weekly chapters I send out, just click here.
Special Author’s Note
This chapter certifies Leah as a spy rather than a common thief. Up to this point, I think it was implied that Leah comes from a humble background, but now it’s clear that she is a plant working for the very agency that her peers are trying to avoid.
My hope was to establish that while Leah’s relationship with her parents is strained, she still fears and relies on them. I thought it would be good to begin establishing how much Leah doesn’t realize her own independence in Koster City. The interest around the stone represents the first time Leah is considering actively working against her parents in any small way.
Along with Gizmo’s continued odd behavior, and Leah’s continued allowance of it (Why isn’t she riding her quattour through the streets like a normal person? Who takes their quattour on a walk?), I especially like the hints in this chapter about her father.