“In the Wind”
Written by Aaron McQueen
Illustrated by Rachel Mrotek
Copyright November 1st, 2017
This story is dedicated to my family, my friends, and my most generous subscribers, whom I have listed below. Without their help, support, and contributions, this production would not be possible.
Azarelle looked at the table, piled high with rotting wooden boxes and loosely-nailed crates.
“They don’t look like much.”
“That’s the point. They’re glamoured. Their appearance isn’t even skin deep. Watch.”
He waved his hand over the nearest crate and whispered. Azarelle recognized the incantation: a standard dispel. No components needed. All you needed was to know how the original spell was strung and spoken. Then you just ran it in reverse. It was a basic skill, though far easier to describe than to perform. She still remembered how her professors had described it: an enchantment is like a burning flame; it can only be snuffed out by one familiar with the match.
A little poetic for her taste.
The glamour disappeared. The rickety crate was replaced by a tough wooden box, nailed tightly shut and reinforced with iron fittings. The symbol of Tormar was burned into the top.
Polly examined it, searching for any sign of tampering.
“I’d like some time to look these over.”
“Stay as long as you like, but I can’t replace the illusions after you’ve finished. I don’t have the resources.
Polly looked up, suspicious.
“You want us to take delivery without examining the merchandise?”
“This isn’t some underworld contract, Ms. Toffel. I will be counting on your help. I have no reason not to fulfil my end of the bargain.”
Azarelle cut in.
“Speaking of which. You still haven’t been entirely clear about what you want us to do.”
Valis went to a chair and sat down.
“I’m still waiting for my plan to be approved. But don’t worry. I’m confident it will be; otherwise they wouldn’t have sent the first shipment.”
“These crates represent only half of the components you requested. My orders will arrive with the second half in another couple of days. I’ll send for you when they’ve arrived. Until then, consider these a gift from the government of Tormar.”
Polly furrowed her brow. She turned to Azarelle.
“We can’t keep these at your place. Rias and the others will find out.”
Her friend was right. Disguised or not, the sudden appearance of a mountain of magical materiel would be impossible to explain away. They’d been buying supplies, but they hadn’t given her that much money.
“Do you know somewhere we can keep them?”
Polly scrunched up her cheek.
“Maybe. They certainly won’t fit at my place, but I can probably find somewhere bigger to squat.”
She turned to Valis.
“Can we leave these here for a few hours?”
“Of course. We’re all on the same side now.”
Azarelle frowned. She didn’t like the sound of that phrase. Valis had delivered on his word, but there remained something about the man that made him impossible to trust.
Polly waited to talk until they were down the street. She kept her voice down, even though there was almost no one around. Fewer and fewer people lately. Just another grim reminder.
“You’re still comfortable with this?”
Azarelle took a long breath. In truth, she didn’t know.
“I’ll have a better idea once he tells us his plan.”
“We’ll be into it pretty deep by then. If Rias finds out, or Lon, or any of them…we’re dead.”
“Lon will let me explain.”
Azarelle was forced to agree.
“Just get the supplies tucked away somewhere. In a few days we’ll make our decision. If there’s no hope for the city, we’ll help him; otherwise, we’ll turn him over to the Jaspers and that will be that.”
Polly nodded slowly.
“Alright. A few more days.”
They kept walking. Azarelle changed the subject.
“Any word from your alchemist friend?”
Polly gave her a sidelong glance.
“She said to give her some time. I figured I’d swing by in a day or two.”
“A few more days it is then, for both of us.”
Polly looked away. She wasn’t convinced.
“I’m not convinced.”
Nathanius leaned forward.
“Come on, Lon. You know me.”
“I’ve been with you since the beginning. We worked together for goodness sake. I helped you take this town. You and your brothers.”
Lon leaned back.
“And then your little fiasco cost us ten-thouand ingots. Do you have any idea how much money that is? We trusted you.”
“I do, but you and I both know it wasn’t my fault. Not really.”
“Didn’t look that way.”
“We had bad information.”
“You mean you had bad information. You know we had to make a deal with him after you ran off.”
Lon shook his head.
“He wanted a building.”
Nathanius raised an eyebrow.
“He’s still in the city? I figured a man like Del Rossi would have skipped town by now.”
“He said he wanted good seats.”
Nathanius rolled his eyes.
“Whatever that means.”
“Who can tell what goes through that man’s head. And I don’t care, as long as he keeps his business as far away from ours as possible.”
They shared a brief laugh.
Nathanius looked back over his shoulder. The others were waiting at the next table. They’d used a messenger to contact the Jaspers just in case the whole thing blew up in their faces. He was glad it was Lon who showed up. He was always the most level-headed of the bunch.
Still, it was a tall hill to climb.
“Lon, you’ve got to put us up. I know Macara bought my debt. You know what I’m capable of. Surely there must be some way I can work off the difference.”
“And your friends?”
“More than worth the rations. I know they don’t look like much, but the woman is the best musician I’ve ever seen. She’ll be great for morale, and the man…Lon, you have to believe me when I say I’ve never seen anyone fight like him.”
Lon sipped his drink. He was having coffee. It was probably some of the last in the city.
“I don’t know.”
Nathanius frowned. Time to play the trump card.
“We also have a favour from the blind-deaf ladies.”
Lon lifted an eyebrow.
Nathanius nodded back at Ellyn.
“They owe her. It could be useful when the time comes.”
Lon sat quietly, twisting a tuft of his beard between his thumb and forefinger.
“Alright, I might have something for you.”
Nathanius relaxed for the first time since he’d sat down.
Lon shook his head.
“Don’t thank me yet. You’re still on the outside. Rias isn’t just going to forgive you.”
He slid a key across the table and stood up.
“This will get you into one of our buildings off the square. Find a room and don’t talk to anyone until I get a chance to smooth things over; then I’ll find some work for you to do.”
“Thank you. You’re a true friend.”
“And you’re a manipulative son of a bitch, but you’re in luck. That might be just what I need.”
“What’s the job?”
“I can’t tell yet. There’s too much in the wind. Just get your stuff together and stay out of trouble. I’ll send for you.”
Lon left. Nathanius went back to the others.
Ellyn regarded him sceptically.
“He didn’t sound very certain.”
Nathanius shook his head.
“Lon’s a good guy. He wouldn’t put us up unless he was on board.”
Asterious raised his hand.
“What if he just wants us to stick around so he can kill us later?”
“I guess he could, but I didn’t get that feeling. We’ve known each other a long time. If he couldn’t help he’d have told us to get out of town.
“So we’re just supposed to trust him?”
“For now, yes.”
He took a breath and picked up the key. It was tied with a bit of string to a marked wooden slat. He knew the building.
“Either way, we should keep our heads down for now. Something’s not right.”
Asterious raised an eyebrow.
“What makes you say that?”
“Something Lon said.”
They walked out into the street. It was cold and dark. The snow fell thickly from the sky. Nathanius looked up into the freezing wind. Only thin wisps of light shown through the clouds. It was as though someone had painted over the sun.
Too much in the wind.
Lon didn’t say he couldn’t tell him yet. He said he couldn’t tell.
What the hell was going on?
Valis sat in the dark. A fragment of smooth white stone rested on a cloth in front of him. Its plain appearance concealed its purpose. Great power dwelled within it.
Is it proceeding?
The professor must be removed.
He shook his head.
She has not joined you.
“She will do as she’s told. She only awaits instructions.”
Obedience is not loyalty.
“She will see reason.”
A great force resonated within the stone. It shuddered invisibly, unmoving, as though it had been struck by the fist of gravity itself.
It is not your place to make such judgements.
She will choose to fight.
This was always a possibility. It was the reason he delayed reporting in. The gods were difficult to satisfy. They did not suffer mortal concerns
And they did not take risks.
There was only one answer.
“It will be done.”
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