Chapter 16 (Following a drunkard)
Jekor glared at the page detailing tequila’s taste and the temperament of its spirit, Envy when something nudged him in the side. He ignored the annoyance and flipped the page. Why hasn’t anyone documented what Envy —
Something struck his arm, and a sharp pain lanced up his arm.
He squealed then dropped his book, the qualities of liquor. “What are you doing, Iiffar?”
She growled and pointed towards the bar. “The bastard is leaving the bar.”
A jolt of realization shot down Jekor’s spine, and he leaped off the crate at the alley’s mouth. “Which direction is he headed in?”
She shrugged. “Left?”
Foreigners … . He shook his head then peeked around the corner.
With his arms around his two women, Kkaj strolled away from the bar and towards the center of JimKar. He practically skipped with each step. What had changed? When Jekor and Iiffar had checked the bar earlier, Kkaj glommed over his cup of wine. Now, Kkaj chuckled with every other word.
Jekor’s eyes lit up, and he turned to meet Iiffar’s stare. “You think —”
“It has to be.” She balled her tiny hands into fists. “From the way he spoke in the library, Lucidity was the only thing he cared about.”
Jekor licked his lips. “You’re right.”
“So … ?”
“We follow him.”
“How? There’s like no one in this area. He’d spot us for sure.”
“We just have to run along the side streets that head in the same direction.” He waved before running deeper into the alley.
Iiffar followed on his heels, moving faster now that she had a full belly. She should have asked him for food sooner.
Right at the intersection and down a large road for a few blocks. Right again, turning back into another alley. After peeking out to make sure Kkaj was still moving in this direction, they returned to the center of the alley and squeezed between two buildings. Sideways, they worked their way through the narrow opening and came out on the main road, just ahead of Kkaj’s group.
“Moonshine. They’ve started walking faster.” Jekor grabbed Iiffar by the arm and dragged her into the alley four blocks down the road at a dead sprint. Both huffed as the pressed their backs against the purple-bricked building, and he retrieved the flask of water from his Drunkzard vest.
“What are you doing?” Iiffar asked between gasps for air.
He took a swig then offered it to her.
She pushed away from the wall, but didn’t take the flask. “I thought you said we should avoid using magic, so we don’t draw that bastard’s attention.”
“I also said it’d be good to avoid a hangover, as well. Just in case we have to deal with him later on. Though —” He shook the flask, spilling some of its contents onto the dusty street. “— this is water.”
She blinked. A surprisingly cute action considering her dimples. “Oh.” She took the flask and gulped the last of the water down. “Thank you.”
Jekor took the empty flask from her then returned it to his vest. I should have brought more water. Or drank more first. He glanced out of the alley.
Kkaj strode past, his women trailing behind. With his jaw set and his muscles tense, he looked rather frightening. Were Jekor and Iiffar really thinking about ganging up on this man? No, not a man. The man. The unbreakable arena champion. Lucidity. And its secrets. In the end, risking their lives would be worth it.
“Come on.” Jekor led Iiffar along a twisting path towards the palace. Every few blocks, they checked on Kkaj then returned to their run. With the palace’s western gate in sight, Jekor held out a hand.
Iiffar slid to a halt. “What is it?”
“He has to be going to the king’s royal feast. I know a shortcut that’ll take us to the main gate.”
“What good will that do us?”
“It’ll give us a good place to watch and wait for him. Maybe his bearing after the feast will give us a clue about when he plans to set off for the wastes.”
“Okay,” she said in a grudging tone.
Jekor bolted across the main street and into the bookshelf-sized alley used by food vendors during the day. Evenly spaced, large wooden stands lined both walls along the winding street. Grunts from behind. Ka-kaw! Was that a spiked-raven or a bird call?
Jekor slid to a stop as a hulking man stepped out from behind a spicy cake vendor. “Excuse us.” Jekor moved to the side, but the hulking man edged over to block the path.
“I don’t like this,” Iiffar said into Jekor’s ear.
Her warm breath sent a jolt across his skin, and he curled his toes. Four others joined the hulking man. Shuffling boots across stone echoed through the alley from behind. Jekor peered over his shoulder. Five more men approached from the other side.
“What are you two ladies doing out at night?” the hulking man asked.
Jekor gritted his teeth and reached into his vest. “For the last time! I! Am! Not! A woman!” He pulled out his pistol, cocked it and shot the hulking man in the chest.
Iiffar gasped. “What —”
“Boss!” The nine other men shouted. The four behind the hulking man glared at Jekor. “You’ll wish you never crossed the Buck-Beaked Brutes,” they said as one.
The Buck-Beaked Brutes? “I don’t really care about street gangs, but aren’t you lot the new one that has been vandalizing high class merchants in the noble’s district?”
“Yeah!” all nine said. “And you just crossed us.”
“Well, I guess technically, you’re right.” Jekor pulled out a second pistol. “Though, if you hurry up and take your boss to a doctor, he won’t die. My bullet probably didn’t pierce his lungs.”
“His what?” the bald gang member asked.
Jekor leveled his pistol towards the bald man. “Now if you’ll excuse us, we’re on an —”
Click-click. Someone cocked a pair of guns behind Jekor. Save for the bald one, the gang members blocking the path ahead drew pistols and cocked them.
“Moonshine!” Jekor grabbed Iifar by the waist.
Click. The gang members cocked their guns.
He pulled her between a pair of food stands.
Bang! A barrage of gunfire rang through the night. How long would it take the guards to come?
Jekor’s eyes bulged. If the guards came, they would be questioned. They would lose track of Kkaj. They would never reach the Lucidity distillery. Jekor swallowed the lump forming in his throat then stuck his pistol out into the open, firing blind.
Iifar did the same with her little pistol.
“Reload these.” He handed her the two spent pistols, a few powder charges and a bag of bullets. Then, he pulled out his third and final pistol. “We have to take care of them quickly.”
She arched an eyebrow. “Why?”
“Because if the guards come, we will lose our lead.”
A growl rumbled from her throat, and she ground her teeth. “I —”
Bang-bang-bang! Bullets ripped into the wood, destroying chunks of their protective barriers. Footsteps approached.
“Hurry.” He pointed his gun in the other direction and fired.
Someone squealed, and the snap of wood called out down the alley.
Iiffar stuffed a bullet into one of his guns and handed it to him.
He passed her the spent pistol and stood, aiming at the bald gang member who stood frozen over the hulking man’s body. Jekor fired, catching the bald man in the shoulder and dropping him. Jekor took cover just before a series of gunshots filled the night.
“This is taking too long!” Iiffar threw Jekor’s gun to the ground and grabbed the bag of bullets.
“What are you doing?” Jekor reached for the gun she had discarded. “Those things are —”
She pulled out a flask with a blue top. Whiskey. After popping the top, she took a swig and tossed the bag of bullets into the air. Her eyes glowed blue as the power of Rage filled her body. She released metal energy into the air and extended it into the bullets. The bag ripped apart in shreds of cloth while the bullets flew off in both directions. Screams. Violent screams. Silence.
Jekor gaped at her. What had she done? Killing, even criminals, was not the answer. Despite his trembling hands, he retrieved his powder charges and guns.
“What are you waiting for?” Iiffar stood. We have to get out of here before the guards show up, and if we don’t hurry, we’ll lose Kkaj.”
Slowly, Jekor nodded. “You’re right.” He climbed to his feet, and together, they sprinted away from the scene of the crime. When they reached the front of the palace, his hands still shook.
Kkaj was not there.
We took too long. Jekor opened his mouth to curse.
Kkaj’s big-breasted assistant stormed around the palace, moving towards the noble’s market and grumbling something about fools.
Next: Chapter 17