The Microscope, part 4
This is the fourth part of a short fiction work, planned to be about 25k words long, set in my unique world. Updates should be coming on Wednesdays, but this one is a day late due to other unavoidable commitments this week.
If you are new to this story, check out the previous installments here:
Felix was dreaming. He was running down a long stone corridor. Cold sweat was drying from the wind of his spring pushing over his bare skin. There was a thudding sound behind him. Something was coming for him, and he couldn’t spare a single stride to turn his head and see his pursuer. The thudding turned to loud crashes.
The knocking sound returned.
“You dead in there, mate?”
Felix opened his eyes. In his ear he heard soft breathing. Marta, that’s right. The canvas shade above them was bright yellow with the light of day.
“What is it?” He rasped. Marta moaned in her sleep beside him. He felt her body adjust against him.
“Vic sent me over to tell you we’re breaking camp mid-day,” Jeffrey said.
“Mid-day?” Felix said, pulling his head off the pillow.
“Who’s yelling?” Marta said softly from beside him.
“Jeffrey,” Felix said. “Sorry.” He slipped himself out of the small bed of the caravan wagon, letting Marta’s arm flop down on the straw mattress. He realized he was still fully clothed, and found his shoes nearby on the floor.
“You figured out a plan for the meeting thing?” Jeffrey said.
“I’m working on it,” Felix said. He looked over to see Marta, leaning on her arm, her black hair falling in dense curls around a sleepy face. She stared at him with soft eyes. “I’ve got to go attend to some business I’m afraid.”
“You don’t think you have business right here?” She said, then yawned.
He looked back at her, frozen with one foot in the air, a shoe pushed half-way onto it. “Um…Now?”
Marta gave him a confused look.
“Let’s go skinny!” Jeffrey called. Felix shrugged at Marta. She sighed.
“Just see me before you go off and do anything, will you? This conversation is long overdue.”
“Sure thing,” He said, and stepped out the cabin door.
Marta watched him go, then chuckled to herself after he left. “Men are such simple machines.”
“Hey Vic, why are we breaking camp so early?” Felix said, favoring his left leg, as he strode up to Victor, now dressed in a leather jacket and pantaloons and looking hung-over.
“Because the city guard told us too. Big, fat, angry man calling himself captain came up with some sort of official document this morning.” Victor spit into the nearby dirt as he watched a few hands struggle with toppling the large center pole of the big tent.
“You’ve never let them push you around before,” Felix said.
“We’ve never had to camp inside the city walls before.”
“Where else would we park?” Felix said. “Other than this bare patch of park here, there’s not a flat acre of land for twenty miles.”
“It’s their city. If they want to run out the entertainment that’s their prerogative.”
“About what?” Victor smirked as Shera, looking under the weather herself, approached with a few half-finished bottles of wine.
“Found these in the stands,” She said. “Got to be pretty rich to forget to finish your wine.” She handed him a bottle and they both took a drink.
Victor looked at Felix again. “I’m guessing you still haven’t cleared up that little mess, then.”
“How was I supposed to do that when I know nothing of the other thief?”
“That’s your problem,” Victor said. He took a sip of wine and looked at Shera. “That ought to put the knocking to sleep for a bit.”
“Listen, Vic,” Felix said. “I’ve got a meeting with the girl at noon-”
“How’d you get a meeting with her?”
“She dropped a note into Jeffrey’s pocket.”
Victor’s eyes widened. “She was here and you didn’t kill her?”
“I didn’t see her,” Felix said. “Neither did Jeffrey.”
Victor shook his head, and looked down at the dirt. “I can slow the march out of town a bit so you can catch up, but I can’t have us just wait around.”
“Thanks, Vic,” Felix said, a sarcastic tone creeping into his voice. “You got any advice?”
“It’s all I can do for you.”
Felix opened up his old leather backpack, set it beside his heavy locking trunk, and started packing. He threw in his extra set of black clothes, since his black hooded shirt from the previous night now hung in shreds below his left elbow. He set aside a few casual pieces for walking the town during the day, and packed a few tools of the trade he couldn’t easily walk around with: two fuse-lit grenades, a powder horn, another paper-wrapped gas bomb, some .50 caliber balls, and a set of lock picking tools. He opened up the false bottom of his chest and withdrew some coins: A handful of copper cyprals of various origin and a stack of Datalian Argents (notable for the fact that the face side depicted the emperor rather than the church mandated profile the god Denarius, which made them both dear money or cheap, depending on the faith of the recipient). These he put into a small cinch-top purse and then stuffed into his backpack. He stuck five gold Aurals into his pocket. Just in case.
Lastly he set aside his set of throwing knives, rusted and dull from lack of recent use, but sharp and deadly nonetheless, and his old, well-worn pistol. He began pulling off his shirt, noticing as he did so dozens of tiny sore points in his muscles that hadn’t presented themselves in the events of the night. He groaned as he struggled to get his shirt over his head and shoulders.
“Need some help?” Marta said. The door swung shut silently behind her.
I should do a better job listening, Felix thought. The shirt was wrapped around Felix’s arms and shoulders, looking like a great cloth cone extending from his shoulder blades. “Sure,” he said and pointed his arms at her. He yanked hard on the tight garment and it slipped over his shoulders and head. She threw it to the side.
“Never seen these scars,” She said, and ran her hands along his back. Several old cuts crossed over his spine, like the lashes of a whip. He wriggled under the light touch.
“Prefer not to show them around.”
“I thought men took pride in their scars.”
“Battle scars, maybe,” Felix chuckled. “I was just about to come see you.” He felt flushed, partly out of excitement and partly out of embarrassment, as he thought about Marta’s sudden pursuit.
“Sometimes you have to take things into your own hands,” She said. She sat down casually on the end of the bed and smiled at him. He smiled back and rubbed his hands, nodding. “Are you going to finish getting dressed?”
Felix paused in confusion. “What?”
“Aren’t these your street clothes?” She asked as she held up Felix’s peasant shirt. “I thought you were getting ready to go into town.”
“I w-was,” Felix stammered. “But I thought we were going to…um…” he rubbed the back of his neck as his excitement turned into embarrassment.
“Your pants are making your intentions obvious,” Marta said, leaning back on her palms and nodding toward Felix’s crotch. Felix quickly turned away to hide the bulge. “You can have it, but I’m not just going to let you bed me; you’re going to have to work for it.” She laughed.
“Well, what did you want to talk to me about?” Felix said, turning back and pulling his shirt over his head.
“Us. This.” She looked around.
“How attached are you to it?”
“It’s just a means of work to me.”
“Is that all?” She crossed her legs, letting her knee-length skirt fall back a bit and reveal the flesh of her legs. Felix made no attempt to hide his gaze
“I guess I’ve made a few friends.”
“Not like you.” He chuckled. “Well, you of course, but also people who aren’t like you. Like Jeffrey. What are you getting at?”
“Just wondering if you would leave, given the right offer.”
“Possibly. Now might be the time, if you can’t get this job squared away. It’s just an idea, not an offer yet.”
Felix nodded. “More circus work, and not the other thing?”
“Circus work. I figure you know how to do the other thing well enough you wouldn’t need a ring leader in on the whole thing taking a cut.”
“Alright, I’ll think about it.”
“Good. And don’t tell Victor.”
“Wouldn’t dream of it. Now, turn around.”
“Turn around? Not going to let me see the goods?” Marta said with a smile.
“As long as I’m working for it, you’re waiting,” Felix said. Marta turned her head away to the canvas shade on the window, much like her own. As soon as Felix dropped his pants she cast a quick glance to see his buttocks, and smiled.
“Listen, I’m going to stay behind for a bit to take care of this ‘K’ business-”
“Oh, that’s how the girl signed her note.”
“I see.” Marta stood up as Felix began to buckle his belt. “Well, if it doesn’t turn out, or if it does, try to catch up with me first, and we can talk more.”
Marta walked to the door and smile softly at him. “See you soon.” She closed the door.
“Damn you’re confusing,” he said to the door with a frown. “Beautiful, but confusing.”
“I heard that,” She called back from beyond the door.
“It’s true!” he shouted back.
Felix looked up at the sky. The sun was still in the east. Few hours to spare yet, he thought. He sat on the back of his caravan wagon, huddled in the shade, and opened the diary. Who are you, K? Quickly he found a passage mentioning wine, and he thought of the fat sleeping man from the night before:
Thank Althius for his gifts, he makes men even stupider than usual. Tested my belief today- that even a light alcohol like beer or wine can hide the flavor of sleeping powder- a few bar patrons. Quick results:
1 spoon, 1 beer- man complained about the
bitter taste. Drank anyway. Passed out.
½ spoon, 1 beer- man did not seem to notice. Became drowsy and slept in a booth a few minutes later.
½ spoon, 1 glass of wine- likewise
undetectable; woman drankand fell asleep
To poison a whole bottle of wine it should
take about 2 spoons, maybe a bit more.
Hmn. Doesn’t seem to know what chemical she’s actually using. Felix flipped through a few more pages. This is like a little list of bad experiments, only their all concerned with drugging or hurting people.Felix flipped through a dozen more entries to another page:
Master would not show me the technique I wanted. He said I was too inexperienced. Prying it from his second was quite easy. If I get a moment alone I will practice it:
Head strike for debilitation.
-Striking instrument should be no more than an inch and a half in diameter, and no less than an inch, or the impact will either be too spread out or too concentrated, and result in death.
-Ideal is a pole or stick, smooth, with a flat-sawed end, about 2 feet long.
-Place one end in right palm, place other end between thumb and finger of left hand.
-Place palm on back of the victim’s skull, placing the thumb on the soft spot of the neck below the skull- this will find the correct strike location
-Quickly tense left hand into a fist and push stick through with immediate force
-If done correctly, the brain strike will knock the victim unconscious, but not kill them.
Below there were some poorly sketched pictures that attempted to diagram the maneuver. Not a bad sap in a pinch, Felix thought. I should copy some of this down. I wonder who “master” is. He’s probably not an actual spymaster, or this diary would be encrypted. Felix stood up and went back inside his own caravan wagon, intent on gleaning at least a few more secrets before the meeting and placing them safely inside his own diary.
Felix watched from the shade of the patio as people emptied from the great doors to the church. The bells above rang out a sounding chord. He knew that each god had a particular set of chimes that called to the faithful a service in their honor. Despite the remote location of his upbringing, his profession (which often dealt with the exchange of inventions quite outside the legality of church’s deities), and his general distaste for the religion of the cities, Felix had become rather good at recognizing the music for each god, chaotic though it might seem. This particular parish was dedicated to the teachings of Ferral, god of iron and fire, and it’s exterior was crowded with scenes of the stories surrounding him; stained glass crowding the buttresses and sharp stone statues depicted the gifts of his many crafts. However, the chord of the ringing bells was the light and ethereal seventh chord of Metearala, the goddess of wind and weather, who gave no gifts to man but the sails of his ships and the compass to guide them.
Odd to have a sea-centered sermon in a mountain town, Felix thought as he sipped his tea. Might be a holiday. He occasionally looked through the window to his left and watched the young serving woman, with covered shoulders in the fashion of the country, as she went from table to table, smiling. The sun was high above him in the sky. His eyes scanned the church courtyard in front of him, but he expected to meet the mysterious K as she approached from behind. He reached under his jacket and positioned the muzzle of his pistol, hanging in a hidden thong around his shoulder, so it would fire directly behind him. He pulled back the hammer. The old spring moved easily. I hope it can still push though a few inches of cloth and make a spark. Minutes ticked away as he sipped the tea.
“You’re easier to sneak up on than that great oaf at your little circus,” a familiar cockneyed voice said softly from behind him.
“Just waiting in good faith. Or do you intend to assassinate me?” Felix didn’t turn his head. He glanced down at the shadow cast from behind him, taking in the gentle curves of a young woman. Her body position revealed to him the presence of a weapon- a knife most likely- held away from prying eyes.
“You speak of good faith, but I don’t see a microscope.”
“I’m not stupid enough to walk around in front of the church with something like that.”
The woman moved past and sat in the chair across from him. She was wearing a deep forest green dress, long sleeved in the custom of Minalay. It had decorative cream-colored lace across the midsection below a ruffled neckline which revealed youthful round breasts, pushed up on display. The face above the soft white chest made Felix pause mid-sip, sending drops of hot tea into his short beard. She was a woman of the Northmarch, pale and white with platinum blonde hair that was straight as an arrow. Blue eyes splashed with green stared at him calmly, their whites still slightly red from Felix’s gas bomb. Beautiful lips smirked arrogantly between blushed cheeks.
Felix realized it was the first time he had seen her in person. “What’s your name?” he asked her calmly as he wiped the tea from his lips.
“Why does a name matter?” She said. Without a word, the serving girl placed a cup of tea in front of her. She acknowledged the young woman with a glance, then turned her stare back to Felix as she picked up the tea cup.
“Just something to call someone by. I’m-”
“Felix,” She said. “I know. You may call me…” She paused for a moment, as if considering the which name she would give. “Kay will do for now.”
“I assume when you say that I can infer you also use a false name.” She grinned at him.
“Assume. Infer. You won’t confirm.”
“It’s fine. I rather like Felix. Sounds exotic.”
“Thanks. My mother would be proud.”
“Now that’s a lie,” She said. “So, where is the device?”
“It’s safe. The journal?”
“Also safe. I won’t make the same mistake again.”
“Indeed. Would you like your diary back?” Felix tossed the book out on the table.
Kay snatched it up. “Did you read it?”
“Liar.” She gave him an insincere smile.
“What answer would you prefer?”
“The truthful one, of course.” She flipped through the pages quickly then threw the little book into her leather satchel.
“You’re in the wrong business if you’re looking for truth.”
“The truth is always hidden. How will you find it outside the business of the hiding?”
Felix shrugged. “What do you propose we do?”
“You give me the device.”
“And that’s it. You live.”
Felix chuckled. “That doesn’t work for me, I’m afraid. I’m not the sort to pass out death threats, so why don’t I give you some more amenable alternatives?”
“Amenable to you, you mean.”
“And you.” Felix sipped his tea again, his hand steady. “How will the condition of your life be if you fail to deliver on this job?”
“What is that supposed to mean?” She frowned.
“Will your employer kill you if the job doesn’t pan out?”
“Should I say yes and invoke your sympathies? You just said this wasn’t an honest business.”
“What I’m proposing is that we split the payment from one of our sides. Which side depends on how vengeful each employer is, and how high the pay, of course.”
“You’re asking for a whole lot of truth right there,” She said and raised her eyebrows.
“It’s always hidden, isn’t it?” He put down his tea and folded his hands. “I’m willing to pay you for the journal. Right now: an honest fifty percent of what I anticipate.” He set two gold coins out on the table.
“If that’s honest you’re awfully low paid,” She said. Felix added two more to the stack, and put out a small stack of silver coins. “I might be inclined to believe that.” Felix put out the fifth gold aural. Her eyes widened at the sum of money stacked on the table in the open.
“What do you say?” Felix said. “I can wait here for you to bring it to me.”
“Or I could just rob you.”
“If you think you can,” Felix forced a chuckle. “Are you getting paid more than double this? It’s pretty simple, Kay. Whoever pays most gets all.”
The young woman stood staring at the large sum of money, sitting on the table out in the open. “I have to deliver the goods,” She said. “I don’t have a choice.”
“I don’t carry around cash like that.”
“Then you’d better start,” Felix said. “I’ll see you at sunset. North corner table of the Bailing Inn, just east of the castle gate. Bring the journal, or bring your money.” Felix swept the coins into his pocket and stood up.
“The castle? Are you crazy?” Kay said with a frown.
“No, I just don’t want to worry about being murdered,” he said with a smile, and walked off, slinging his bag back onto his shoulder.
Thanks for reading! More coming next week.