The World Engine
When an explosion tears through the docklands of the port city Grand Gateway, guardsman Jor T'Lesse wants nothing to do with it. But when the investigation is buried and people start disappearing, he finds himself drawn into a conspiracy that runs to the core of his world. Pursued by an enemy that will go to any lengths to silence him, he must survive long enough to answer two questions; Who are they? And What is the World Engine?
Jor glanced about him, wincing as the salt air touched his stitches. He resisted the urge to raise a hand to it, as touching the scarred ruin of his left jaw only made the pain worse. Focussing elsewhere, he turned his attention to his surroundings. Even at night the docklands were busy, though it didn't compare the full on throng of the day. Ships still docked and unloaded cargo, stevedores still bellowed orders to one another, and the taverns and bars still rocked with the songs and shouts of sailors enjoying their time ashore. The Grand Gateway wasn't so named for nothing. A pity it wasn't as welcoming to outsiders as the name suggested. In the distance, the beacons of the guide towers pierced the sweltering air, illuminating the rocks of the bay for the unwary, and chasing the gulls that still took to the air. He loosened his collar, wishing that the chainmail hauberk of the watch was less constricting, and eased his sword in its scabbard. The other seven members of the patrol shifted their positions and spoke in hushed tones, sensing the mood. Though music poured from every other doorway, the threat of thieves and gangs never waned here.
He caught a bar or two of a tune he recognised from the Isles, but a motion by the doorway caught his eye. There was a man relieving himself by the doorway. That wasn't it. He raised his lantern, stepping closer. What was...?
The voice was more urgent. He started and turned quickly, immediately wishing he hadn't as his jaw flared up again. He swore under his breath and looked to Shen, who was staring at him expectantly. The others had stopped too, and Guardsman Herric's bald head was turned in his direction. Wonderful. He glanced back down the alleyway again, but save the one drunkard he saw nothing. He narrowed his eyes, signalling the all clear, and moved off reluctantly. Anyone could be moving in those alleyways, from a cat to a cutpurse. So why was this bothering him? A sharp clatter behind his ear brought a swift end to his train of thought and he swung out instictively, punching Shen in the ribs.
It was painful to speak, each word coming out haltingly. Shen grinned harmlessly, enjoying Jor's discomfort.
"I'm not the one lost in mindless contemplation..."
"And here I was thinking I was doing my job," Jor said, rolling his eyes.
"...of the myriad possibilities of the docklands at night," Shen went on, as though he hadn't heard.
John grinned, shaking his head.
"Look at you with the big words."
"Your eyes should be moving more than your mouths, gents."
The two friends touched their forelocks as Herric's voice cut in. The man hadn't turned around, but it was force of habit. Jor raised an eyebrow, wincing slightly again, and continued in an undertone.
"Three nights a week at the House of Three."
"Jenna still onto you to get a new gig?"
"Every damn night."
The two laughed, earning them another look, which they saluted dutifully.
"She's too smart for her own good," Jor continued.
"Figured I might put in with a merchant house once my term's up. You?"
Jor was silent for a moment. The extent of his injuries didn't exactly open doors when it came to careers.
"I might re-enlist."
"Yes! Why not?"
"You know why not."
All too well. The city was still reeling from the war and the guard especially was horribly understaffed. Under the Stepladder Iniative background was immaterial when hiring for the rebuilding work, if not for that Shen and Jor would be fighting an uphill battle to get a job in the inner city. It didn't bother Jor much, he'd just go back to guarding taverns or debt-collecting. Anything to stay off the ocean. His eye twitched and he raised a hand to still it.
Anything to stay off the ocean.
Shen was looking at him again.
"You never know," Jor said, "I put in my time during the riots. I work every hour Ora sends. Maybe they'll give me a break."
"Maybe. Why you'd want to give this up is beyond me."
Shen didn't look convinced. Jor found it hard to argue with him.
"How're the kids?"
"Still breaking my heart," Shen said, looking glad for the change of subject, "any sharper and they'd cut themselves."
"And you were never as bad? Sh'e'el Kaareth un."
Shen shook his head, turning to eye up a ship loading its cargo. Jor caught another glimpse of motion but when he turned his head it was gone.
"Look," Shen went on, "come over for dinner tomorrow. The kids love you and it'll get Jenna off my case for a few hours."
"We'll even cook that disgusting fish you like."
"Gods, alright, whatever."
"So who do you fancy in the cage fights?"
"That blacksmith with the eyepatch...Koorth?"
There was a spark down the next alleyway.
"You say that now, you just wai..."
There was a flash like a thousand sunrises, a wall of heat hit him and he saw no more.