Chapter 1 Falling Out (continued)
They were still tiny motes in the sky far above. But Anira recognized the sky blue glint of their crystalline armour and could make out how they were accelerating towards the ground, towards her, with no heed for the approaching ground. That she had just left one giant glowing arrow pointing more or less in her direction did not help her situation in the least but it was better than stealthily smashing her body on the hard cobbles below. No matter. She would take care of one problem at a time. She had now almost reached her destination and was forming her hand seals with the thoughtless precision of muscle memory that had been honed for centuries expanding her presence out of her body, interlocking it with the being of the building in front of her as she landed on the wall. She open her self up to gravity and repaid her what she had owed her to accelerate her down again and cushioning her impact to the wall. By now her pursuers had detected the still red hot trail of partially molten rock on the other building and were closing in with great speed. By now Anira could make out their bodies and their streamlined helmets that resembled the head of a hawk. While they now knew exactly into which part of the city she had fallen their eyes were pointing in the wrong direction. This bought her enough time to arrive at the bottom of the street unharmed and make her escape. If she made it to the safe-house she was free.
The wall she was sliding down now was perfectly sleek had the slightest inclination, the architect was obviously trying to show off, and free of any protruding bits of masonry. It was perfect to slowly break her descent to a leisurely pace without leaving a burning trail behind her. By now the bodyguard of the ambassador had come dangerously close, they were now sparkling in the soft light of the midnight city but they had also come close enough to the ground that even they in their high-magic armour had pay their respects to gravity who would not be denied. They spread out the broad majestic wings of their armour to break their fall. When the first guard arrived at her first point of impact she had only ten or so storeys to so while her pursuer was flapping his magnificent wings positioning him in front of her cooling trail that was by now only a soft orange glow, she decided to speed things up a bit again. She changed position and in stead of sliding she was now starting to run down the wall while furiously chaining one hand seal to the next in order to pull of what she hoped would be her finally stunt of the night. After a short sprint covering most of the distance between her and the ground she jumped off used all of her atrophied shell-art skills to harden her body for to coming impact and as she slammed into the floor released all the energy that lady gravity demanded into one big gust of wind.
This should have blown up enough dust and small debris into the air to cloak her hasty retreat from her pursuers, but instead it simply passed over the slick enamelled cobble stones of Dahiri's more affluent district without any resistance. The only thing that was in the way was the donkey drawn cart of a pan maker making his way through the street to some part of the night market. Anira lost her balance as her body failed to absorb all of the remaining shock from her impact and while she could avoid planting her face squarely into the ground she did a very undignified somersault leaving her lying on her back sliding for a few more meters, while seeing out of the corner of her eyes the most curious sight of a cart full of pots and pans tumbling through the air spilling its contents all over the place and dragging behind it a scandalized donkey and an understandable surprised old man behind it. This quickly changed her original plan of closing her eyes and dying of shame to scrambling back on her feet as fast as she could and to run followed by the deafening crash of hundreds of pots and pans, the screaming of an angry donkey and the rather loud lack of sound made by one very surprised potmonger and several elite soldiers.
Sometimes the best strategy is to simply run like the wind and that is exactly what Anira did. Where magic fails one if often saved by the ancient art of sprinting. The next corner wasn't far and as she slid around it one could still hear the the noise of metal lids rolling over the cobbles or getting comfortable on the floor after doing some circles over the spot that had caught their fancy. She did not wait for the bodyguard to land and was already around the next corner when their commanding officer was barking orders to his men telling them to spread out and find their target.
Anira had to slow down partially because she was already looking out of place in her, admittedly fabulous, evening gown but also because she was by now out of breath and feeling the twangs of pain that always came when magic was cast without much caution. For everything she willed she had to find a proper source of power and if she did not or if it was not enough to pay for the effect that she had created the power she owed was taken directly from her soul. The amount she had lost was harmless she was a professional who knew her limits exactly. She could also cast by the ear without overestimating the power at her disposal. But she had been running and falling and crashing all in a panic and the exertion was taking its toll.
She had to force herself form not doubling over as she felt another spike of pain in her gut when she finally knew that she might make it through the night. At first it was just a faint smell of spices, quickly followed by the sound of voices talking, arguing and haggling. She had found one of Dahiri's fabled night markets. Giant celebrations of commerce forming a giant web covering dozens of streets stretching over several quarters and in some places extending up several storeys. Once inside one of them she'd be able to shake her pursuers for good. She moved into a stereotypical dark side alley containing large trash containers and even a sleeping bum at the end of which she could see a constant stream of people strolling past. Perfect. She decided to prepare a last goodbye message for the men behind her in form of a invocation strip. She took a slender bit of paper out of a well concealed pocket, pricked her left index finger with hairpin and wrote sigils of evocation unto it. She attached the strip onto a wall with a determined wipe of her hand. She placed a gold sansen into the half open hand of the bum as way of apology for what would happen once someone activated the invocation strip and vanished into the crowed.
Ten minutes later Anira was clad in the bright colours of a cloak in the local style and wearing a rather pretty headscarf decorated with all manner of sparkling stones which were reflecting the earth-lights of the market with enthusiasm. While her shell-art might be crap she was perfectly able to change the colour of both her skin and her eyes on a whim, it had cost her a lot of pain and frustration but this was a skill that was far to helpful for a spy like her to neglect. It also came in very handy when sent on assignments to country where the sun came uncomfortably close to the inner limit of the skyshell. She took the medallion that hung half hidden from her neck into her hand, it had the form of a simple opal disc, putting it against her forehead. She closed her eyes, carefully inching with her mind into to the artefact until she made contact and it showed her in golden lines and hues her way to her extraction point. As she opened her eyes the images projected by the medallion were still hanging in the air slowly slotting into place overlaying the real world she was seeing. She put it back careful that it kept touching her skin. Now she only needed to follow the golden dust road and all would be fine. Well until the debriefing when her boss senior executive handler Kelsheron would chew her out for her lack of subtlety. But Anira could not have cared less. Her holidays were due pretty much now and she had only taken this assignment only because free agent Suladrin had been almost killed during her last assignment and was still recovering form her injuries. He would scream, she would let the words rush past her like the autumn wind and then four weeks of blissful laziness.
"There she is!"
At first Anira did not realize that they meant her. She was still picturing herself in her home deep in the wilds doing mostly nothing followed by eating sumptuous meals followed by sleeping maybe interrupted by some sporty activities with some of her more intimate friends to liven things up a bit. Then she saw three large men in shining blue crystal armour with a pair of enormous wings folded neatly behind them all of them looking at her and already half into a sprint. The man in front furiously signing orders to his men. While Anira was not fluent in the sign language of Nomad Elites she did know enough about tactics that they would not simply run after her like three morons chasing a panicked chicken.
Now though it was back to basics. Running.
As soon as she had reached the next crossroads she got rid of her cloak. What ever they were doing to track her it was obviously enhanced with magic. Her little disguise would not help her at all to evade them. But the cloak could still be used to her advantage. As it billowed out behind her, she started weaving threads of power with her hands expanding the cloak causing its bright colours to shift in mesmerizing patterns. A cheap parlour trick, but it was fast and effective. Of course it did not work against her pursuers. Their helmets protecting their minds form such cheap mesmerism, but it worked pretty well on the everyone else on the street. The streets she was moving through was not crowded but busy enough for her pattern to attract enough people to bumble into the way of the soldiers leading into a rather neat pileup. It would take her hunters a while to force their way through the mass of undulating people, long enough for Anira to escape. The safe house was well protected against all forms of magical tracking and as long as no one saw her get inside she'd be gone.
She took great care to stay well under the awnings of the stalls lining the streets. She might be tracked by magic but she did not have to help the ambassadors men by staying in plain sight. She was pretty sure that at least part of the people trying to get her had taken to the skies again and were looking out for her from above. For some reason the idea of being stalked by human vultures made Anira enormously uncomfortable. She did not like to be reduced to a scared little animal close to death.
Just two more blocks and shed be free. Luck threw her a bone in form of an alley that was formed by two ancient squat buildings which became wider as they rose towards the skyshell, meeting some thirty meters above forming a high ceilinged tunnel. Once inside she paused for a moment to create another invocation strip like the one she left in the other alley. This one she planted squat in the middle of the way, for a moment she thought about hiding it under her headscarf but then she decided against it, she really liked the way it looked and if she was being pursued the people behind her were probably to busy to scan the floor of a dark side street for traps. If they did they would find it with scarf of with out if they didn't they were in for a colourful surprise. She kept running. No one appeared behind her. Perfect. Only one and a half blocks left.
She came to a skidding halt almost falling when a large blue figure cut out of sapphire with the body of man and the head of a hawk landed in front of the alleys exit. The figure stood up slowly turning to face her and, folding his beautiful giant wings behind his back started moving towards her. Finding her footing again Anira was half turning following her instinct for flight when she saw that the creature in front of her puled out a thick compact onyx rod form his belt. She recognized it the weapon and new that running was not really going to help this time. She also noticed that she was sick of running. And that she actually wasn’t afraid but rather very angry. The evening had gone so well, everything was perfect until that stupid idiot of an ambassador had decided to impress two pairs of breasts with his office instead of being the good host he was supposed to be. And not only did he just throw open the doors announcing his arrival with a loud "tadaa", it was also pretty much the only thirty seconds where she could not possibly hide or talk her way out of the situation. And now she was being hunted like a rabbit through a city by a bunch of idiots dressed up like animal men. No. This would end now.
"Out of my way boy." she growled.
The soldier in front of her ignored her. Instead he started to sing in a deep resonant voice some ancient hymn of incantation. The rod in his hand reacted to his voice, sigils starting to glow golden on its matte black surface.
"I did warn you." she said suddenly changing her stance into that of a runner in mid sprint. She inhaled pulling in the power of the air and the heat of the night city into her body, her fingers started moving in complex patterns moulding the energy she was drawing in.
Now lines of power started to converge on the rods surface. Little sparks dancing over its surface while the soldiers voice slowly grew deeper and steadily louder.
Anira was still drawing in breath, the air around her body now starting to waver in the heat haze of the power she was accumulating.
Then with one powerful shout she released the energy she had drawn in, exploding into motion running towards the soldier, striking the space directly in front of his breast plate with a smash of her elbow releasing a shock-wave of energy and moving past him in a blink of an eye.
She stood still. behind her two parallel lines were gleaming in fading radiance where her feet had slid over the floor as she decelerated. Behind her the rod in the hand of the soldier quivered and fell out of his hand. The sigils fading. Only when the weapon had hit the floor with a loud clinking noise did the soldier move. He was caught by an enormous force sent flying into the air his brilliant blue armour exploding into a million tiny pieces as he spun around showering the alley with the remnants of his priceless uniform that had taken months of work by the most skilled grand high master sanctificers of the Nomad Empire. Anira exhaled.
Two other guards had appeared at the far end of the alley. They only hesitated for the shortest of time when they saw what had happened to their comrade before they started to run towards their target. One of them sang a powerful short incantation extending his wings lifting off while the other kept running on the ground as there was hardly any place for one of them with fully extended wings in the little street as it were. Anira looked at them inclining her head a bit, the grinned an asymmetric smile, flipped them the bird and walked away. The enraged soldiers doubled their efforts to catch her stepping into Anira's with reckless enthusiasm.
The invocation strip exploded into a wall of light, nothing that would not be filtered by the helmets of the artefact armour of the bodyguards, but the the shaking ground sent soldier on the ground rolling in form of a magnificently armoured ball of disoriented arms and legs right into the next wall. While the one in the air was surprise and shocked by the stone hewn sentinels stepping out of the walls unsheathing their four meter swords. A second rate illusion that only lasted a few seconds but long enough to shock the airborne man into an ill advised evasive manoeuvre that ended with an intimate moment with a building and a crumpled heap of soldier on the ground.
By the time the two man had regained their footing and some of their dignity Anira had entered a small inconspicuous building which had folded it self neatly into the ground when no one was looking, leaving nothing behind but a dusty street corner. Anira followed a one way, one use underground tunnel which left behind nothing but solid rock. On thing the Free Agency was quite proud off was the near perfection of their safe houses. Inside it Ailu Leyka an old friend of Anira and long time handler was waiting for her.
"Back already?" Ailu asked.
"Yes things did not quite go according to plan." Anira answered.
"Did you complete the assignment?"
"Perhaps?" Ailu gave Anira a look that was half question mark half exasperation. "What exatly is that supposed to mean?"
"Well" answered Anira now looking a bit like a child caught stealing biscuits "technically I should have gotten the information..."
"Technically?" hope left Ailu's voice to die quietly in a corner.
"I did not get to sift through the ambassadors memory crystals and copy the information that I should get. But" and Anira's face lit up, "I grabbed all of the Ambassadors memory crystals and took of with them."
"That means we certainly have all the information our client requested, our target has no idea why we where there and the Agency gets to sift through all the rest of the information we got out of the mission. See everybody wins!"
"You know that Kelsheron will have your head on a plate for this right?"
"Phhh. He will do a lot a screaming. I will go into my holidays and no one will stop me because they will think that I am slipping. And once I am back it will be all water under the bridge."
"That easy... eh?"
"Sure! What's the worst thing that could possibly happen?"