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Adventure Fantasy Urban Fantasy

The hospital room was cold, and the smell of antiseptic was far too strong for the small space. Electricity pulsed through the air. Pulling the rough cotton sheets off, I slid my legs over the side of my bed, the bones of my feet snapping and popping under my weight. I had been stuck in Arcānum public hospital for the better part of a year. The doctors said it had been a miracle that I had woken up so soon and that people who took half a dozen bullets into their chest didn't just walk out of the hospital, but I guess I've always been lucky like that. I had been the youngest recruit to join the constabulary in two decades and to think the constabulary Chief himself had called me an honest man. It was a sad joke, really. There were no honest men in Arcānum, and after a decade in the constabulary, I had yet to meet one. As far as I was concerned, they didn't exist, but then again, only a fool would choose to believe otherwise.

After shrugging on the pair of fresh black slacks and a blue button-down that had been left out for me by a friend, I took a quick assessment of my belongings. My hands were blissfully void of any wedding ring, and to my satisfaction, the pen I had stolen off of Councilwoman Egbertina’s desk was still in my pocket. A beautiful fountain pen that was engraved with her birthday, which also happened to be my birthday. Reaching into my coat pocket to pull it out, I was surprised when my fingers brushed against a stiff piece of paper. Pulling it out, I found a torn polaroid. Fuzzy and water warped; it was a picture of me. Hmm, how did that get there? Flipping the photograph over, it had a wash of blue scrawl written on the back, the words see you soon were written clumsily on the back. Odd. I wonder who put that there? Pocketing the photograph my head snapped up when the door swung open to reveal a woman dressed in plain black slacks and a matching blouse. Her emerald blazer blew open to reveal a pair of firearms holstered at her sides.

“Your late Schaeffer,” Anisha declared, holding a wrinkled coffee cup in one hand and a file in the other.

“It’s not even seven o’clock.” I pointed to the clock that confirmed my statement; it was six thirty-seven, and I wasn't supposed to be discharged till eight.

“We are supposed to be out of here in ten. The Chief said it's a high-profile arson investigation, not high tea, so walk with some life.”

Taking what I presume was the case file from her hand, I gave her my best scowl. Anisha had been my partner for years, and if it weren’t for that dinosaur of a constabulary Chief and the Merchant Council, she would have been Chief by now. Hands down the best detective in the unit, she never lost a case.

Scanning the papers, I almost dropped them when I saw the victim's name― Aleksandr Ivanov. Son to the wealthiest oil baron in the city. A well-connected man, he would have had a minimum of a dozen targets on his back on a good day, but this, this was messy. Resisting the urge to chuck the file in the bin, I scanned the rest of the file. Photographs of charred flesh and scorched furniture littered the page, along with the coroner's report that stated the time of death as midnight.

"Did you call in a warlock or witch to… analyze the spell work?" I asked, irritated that we had to ask someone from the alchemy for help, but that’s what the protocol dictated. It was moments like this I wished I was a magic-user or even chthonian born, but I was as ordinary as grass, mortal and uninteresting. Then again, so was most of Arcānum. I guess that’s why the government had allowed profit and commerce to breed monsters of men; they just needed a field to excel in.

“No, the alchemy unit is busy.”

"What are we supposed to do? Neither of us has magic or can manipulate it? How are we supposed to know if they have wards?”

“The old fashioned way, I guess?"


-


The East quarter of the city was deceivingly quiet; the familiar hum of traffic and buzz of people were gone; it was like something had stolen their breath. Thunder cracked over the horizon, and the grey sky made the stones of the townhouses look even more prison-like than usual.

The street blocked off and the crime scene marked off, Anisha had gone to question Ivanov’s former neighbours while I scouted the ruined building. I still felt bad that the suspect had gotten the jump on my during the last case, but there really want much you could do with half a down bullets in you. Honestly I was happy just to be able to work again, but from the moment I had crossed the threshold, it was like someone had poured ice water in my veins. The forensics unit had left hours ago, but the smell of something acrid lingered in the air the scent of made the hair on my arms raise. The front door had been ripped clean off its hinges and now lay on the foyer floor. Walking down the narrow hallway I stopped at the foot of the stairwell marvelling at the gaping hole in the ceiling. A chunk of the winding staircase was also missing and the ironwood banister was in splintered charred ruins, a fight must have broken before the fire, but who would be string enough to break the wards?

Dusting a stray flake of ash off my shoulder, I continued to search the rest of the ground floor, but only ashes filled the space. Now standing in the middle of what used to be the kitchen, I could feel an odd pressure around me, pushing against my skin.

“You alright?”

I snapped my head up to find Anisha staring at me.

“I am fine. What did the neighbours say?”

“Are you sure? This is the first time you've been out in the field since you were shot. Maybe it's―"

"I said I am fine. Now, what did the neighbours say?"

Making a show of rolling her eyes, Anisha gave me the rundown. Apparently, the townhouse had been warded, which wasn’t unusual for the wealthy to hire sorcerers or witches to put up protection spells, but from the acrid smell of magic in the air, the wards must have failed. She pointed to the scuffed archways and, walking over to the nearest one, I ran a gloved hand over the semi-destroyed wood; no remnant of a rune or talisman, marked the wood.

“You know, I don’t think that the fire that burnt down the townhouse was any ordinary fire,” rubbing the glittering ashes in-between my gloved fingers, “the ashes sparkle.” A far off thought pulled at me then, almost as if I had seen this before.

Anisha’s brow creased for a moment as she held my gloved hand up to the light. The action sent rainbows flickering across the room a stray splinter of light catching in her raven hair. Anisha smelt like salt and citrus, and as she studied the sparkling ashes, a lock of her hair escaped her braid and Curling delicately in the wind I wanted nothing more but to tick it behind her ear, the last thing Anisha needed was another unwanted lover.

The crunch of glass beneath boots sounded down the hall. Followed by a thud and then a soft curse. Whipping our heads towards the stairwell at the back of the hallway, Anisha dropped my hand. Taking the guns from her holsters, she shoved a pistol into my hand and signalled for me to approach from the hallway while she advanced from the kitchen.

Halfway down the hall, the intruder was in sight. “On your knees,” I yelled.

The slight figure didn’t so move as I advanced, but instead took one step forward. Blink again, I was surprised to find a young woman standing before me, dressed in Fae fighting leathers, a dangerous smirk pulling at the corner of her lips.

“Niklaus, you need to shave,” she said, staring right at me. “You look like a mess. Where have you been?” The woman looked too young, and by the tone of her voice, my guess was that she couldn’t have been older than seventeen.

“He said, on your knees,” Anisha called again, her finger fiddling with the trigger as usual, as she pressed her gun into the girl’s back.

“Where is he?” she demanded, kneeling to the ground, an emerald studded dagger materialized in her hand.

“Who?” Anisha asked.

“Volker.” The woman spat, spinning the dagger between her fingers.

“Volker?”

"Yes, your brother. He said he made contact with you six months ago. Where is he, it’s time to go.” Sounding irritated, she rolled her eyes at Anisha and then looked back at me. "This is taking too long. Didn't you get my message?"

Wrapping my hand around her wrist, I flinched at the way she smiled at me, but before I could reach for the restraints at my side, an explosion of light arched between us and in a flash of white something cold smashed against the crown of my head, silver dust pooled around me. Stumbling backwards, blood, warm and wet oozed down my face, the side of my skull cracking deftly against the floor. The world went black then; the breath sucked from my lungs.

A face as rough as granite came into focus and two large eyes black as liquorice blinked back at me. It was me―my face that stared back at me. He held a gun to my chest and fired; emptying half a dozen bullets into my chest. Blood gurgled up my throat, and the unusual sense of drowning came to mind. Volker please, I begged, but my brother never seemed to care about what I wanted, or even about me; he only ever cared about himself and what was most convenient for him. Memory seared the corners of my eyes. The world had fractured and been remade. Volker ripped the memory drive from my shaking hands and raced into the dark, leaving me too bleed out on the warehouse floor. It was like a piece of my mind had come slamming into place. Snapping, my bones were snapping in and out of place, my head pounded as clicked into place; the name of the woman on my tongue.

Asena

Whipping my head around, I searched for Asena. Peals of laughter filled the air. Rolling over, I pushed myself up onto my elbow into a sitting position. My slick hands stained my skin red. Anisha now lay on the floor just a few feet away from me. Her head was also bleeding but the gash in her side was bleeding too fast, the blood pooling beneath her too quickly.

Not taking my eyes off Asena, now smirking like a cat, I crawled to Anisha's side and peeled back the hem of her blood-soaked shirt. Damn it. The gash in her side was only a couple inches long, but I was deep and just below the ribs. Appling pressure, I couldn't find any other injuries, but if she didn’t go to a hospital soon, she'd bleed out.

“How chivalrous,” she droned, pulling a black bead from her pocket. Tossing it in the air and catching it again, she returned her attention to us, breathing an overly dramatic sigh. "But, if you insist on making such a fuss, I guess I’ll just bring her too.”

Asena smashed another glass bead on the ash-covered, a cloud of silver flames erupted around us. Pulling Anisha closer, I cursed as darkness wrapped around us.


-


My name is Niklaus Wolff, and I am are a member of the fuchsteufelswild unit, a spy, and an undercover agent. Sent under deep cover as a detective in Arcānum twelve months ago as Hraban Schaffer to collect information on the Ivanov family. After that, the details got a bit hazy, but that much I knew, I was a spy, a soldier, not a detective. The life I had been living was a lie, but Anisha… she was real, that flitter in my chest was real. Wasn’t it?


-


Laying on my back, the breath was knocked out of me as the world simultaneously swallowed me whole and spit me back up. Out of the corner of my eye, a fire roared to life in a hearth. Rolling over, I found Anisha next to me, shaking. Her side was still bleeding, but her eyes were wide as she reached out to me, taking my arm in an iron grasp.

“It’s okay. You’re okay.” Now sitting on my heels, I took in our surroundings one more. Cracked golden filigree lay shattered on black marble. We must have been in an old open-aired pavilion of sorts because the stars winked down at us. The acrid scent hung heavy in the air, and without thinking, I knew where we were. The Little Palace―the backdrop of so many of my dreams. Oh, gods.

"Where are we, Schaeffer?”

“The Little Palace,” I swallowed, my hands trembled, and in response, Anisha gripped my arm, digger her nails into me. “Home of the first people, and that place I go to when I fall asleep, minus all the fire.”

"Oh, so you remember this place but not me?" Asena stood next to hearth, filled with strange chartreuse flames; the light flickered across half her face, casting an eerie jade hue over her pale skin.

“No, I remember you, but I also remember telling you to stay at base,” I barked.

Asena let out an exasperated sigh, “I only came for you because Volker has gone missing, and you were off playing detective. What other choice did I have? You were supposed to leave the city six months ago. No one’s been able to find you for months. Volker thought you were dead. I thought you were dead. But no, you were just off playing detective.”

Falling back to the floor, the world began to spin again.

“Prove it,” Anisha demanded, her hand still wrapped around my arm, “tell him something that only he would know.”

“Look under your elbow on your right forearm. There's a small scar in the shape of an x. I gave that to you when you tried to tell me who I could and couldn't sleep with." Asena smiled at that last bit as she reached into her leathers and pulled out a ripped polaroid, the twin to the half in my pocket. "Here, see for yourself."

Taking the crumpled-up bit of paper in my hand, I took the other half out of my pocket and held the two next to each other. It was a photograph of me, Asena, a man who must have been Volker and another woman with ice white hair. I was sitting on an examination table in what could have been a hospital room, and it was like I was falling all over again. The sting of antiseptic and the scent of rust came rushing back to me. Closing my eyes, I was there again, with my shirt half off Asena was suturing my arm in the infirmary, while the woman with ice white hair― Cäcilia― held my hand, her red lipstick stained my cheek. Forcing my eyes open, I stared at the two halves. Volker's head was the largest, so she must have taken the picture. Head spun with a million questions, all hinging on the singular question of who Asena was.

“What are you two?” Anisha asked, more hurt than confused.

Asana moved to stand in front of me. Crouching down to my level, she jabbed a finger at the pieces of polaroid.

“He’s my half-brother, dumb ass. We share the same father, but Volker and that one have the same mother. He’s his half-brother, and I am his half-sister, and that one,” she said, tapping Cäcilia’s face, “is his wife. Now where’s the data drive?”

“I don’t have it,” I confessed.

“What do you mean you don’t have it―”

“Volker took it from me, and left.”

Asena’s face blanched, “But Volker―”

“Volker shot me in the chest and left me for dead.”

“That bastard,” Asena cursed, “The Lord Commander will hang him for this. I guess that’s why you didn’t remember me back there, he must have put a hex on you.”

“Oh.” It was the only words that I could muster.

“Well come on, we need to tell the Lord Commander what’s happened, he’ll be pissed but just be happy you weren’t the one who ran away with the data. We’ll deal with your friend there later, but we should go.”

Asena stood to her feet, and gestured for us to follow. Turning to Anisha the silent protest in the crease of her brow told me that even if I had asked Asena to send her back, she would just come back for me. So instead of bickering in the dark, I grabbed her hand and together, we walked into the black night. It was time to go back home. I had let my brother go to the devil in his own way, and now it was my time to pay, to answer for my abandoned heart. It was my fault he had gotten away with the data drive and that he had lived to run away, but it was also his fault that I now had blurrily memories and an unsteady heart. Letting the night air kiss a cold breeze against my cheek, I knew only one thing for certain; Volker and I had a score to settle, his heresy would not be forgotten or forgiven.

July 24, 2021 02:51

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13 comments

Tommie Michele
06:37 Oct 12, 2021

Hey Elizabeth! I love this story, and your characters are done very nicely. I read your bio, and as a fellow aspiring author, I felt like I had to say this: First drafts are hard, but worth it. I've actually taken to calling my first draft the "zero draft"--it's the one I write just for myself. Having that knowledge, that nobody else will ever read my very first attempt at a cohesive story, enables me to write so much more freely. I'm currently knee-deep in editing and publishing my first novel and it's absolute chaos, but when you're writ...

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Elizabeth Inkim
19:57 Oct 25, 2021

Hey Tommie! Thank you so much for reading my stories. Honestly, I think I am actually the worst writer, but then I get comments like this, and it makes me feel so much better. Yes, the book journey is HARD, IMPOSSIBLE even, but so far, I've written 4 chapters out of a 40 chapter book, and it feels great. I wouldn't have it any other way. Also, I love calling the first draft "DRAFT ZERO" I do the same thing too! And I LOVE long comments, so don't feel bad at all! Leave as many long comments as you want. Thank you for your words and passin...

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Tommie Michele
01:28 Oct 26, 2021

That’s awesome! Wow, forty chapters—I aspire. Just curious, do you work in word counts? And if so, how long is your current draft/how long are your chapters/how many words are you shooting for? The book journey is absolutely SO hard (especially with school—I feel you there, friend) but let me tell you, finishing a project like that feels incredible—honestly, the journey and the heartache and stress your characters are going to give you when they decide that they want to stray from that nicely-laid-out plot is the best part of the writing pro...

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Elizabeth Inkim
08:20 Oct 26, 2021

Well, I am idiotically ambitious, so the 40 chapter book is part of a 7/9 part book series (cue nervous grin), and I too am a sucker for enemies to lover, so naturally, I have one. It's a slow burn too, so it goes: Stranger to Enemy to Enemy to Mutual Allies in a time of crisis to concealed growing fondness to hurtful betrayal to Slow reconciliation to casual Friendship to Strange but solid Friendship to unexpected feelings in a time of crisis to Denial or feelings to Denial of feelings to epiphanies of love to rejection to strained Friendsh...

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Tommie Michele
13:35 Oct 26, 2021

Oh wow I love that! I also have an enemies to lovers thing going on (except one of the characters may have to die at the end of book three, which is killing me but unfortunately necessary :( ) but it’s more of a you're-the-reason-my-parents-are-dead-but-I-need-you-to-help-me-survive-because-I’m-suddenly-on-the-wrong-side-of-the-law kind of thing—very, very long story there. If I had to compare my book to stuff (it’s YA dystopian, by the way) I would say a mix of Legend by Marie Lu (one of my all-time favorite books) and the show Arrow (one ...

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Rayhan Hidayat
16:54 Aug 15, 2021

Hello hello! I left a comment on “Ourborous” over on your website. And I hope you’ve been doing well btw :)

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Elizabeth Inkim
14:42 Aug 16, 2021

Oh hey, yeah, it's been a while. I just started The Stormlight Archive by Brandon Sanderson, and it's great! I am three chapters in, and I don't think it'll be long till I finish it. Also, I checked, and I didn't see any comments under “Ourborous”, so I don't know what happened there; I have my comments setting open to allow anonymous comments from around the world, so... I haven't seen anything, sorry. I am the line right above, okay; I am honestly still really bummed about the fact that you now have to pay to enter the Reedsy competitio...

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Rayhan Hidayat
23:06 Aug 18, 2021

Yay, I hope you're enjoying TSA so far! Oh dear. It did say that my comment was "awaiting moderation" so maybe that's why it's not showing up? Anyway I just wanted you to know I was very satisfied with Beom's tale, it had a cathartic ending and I appreciated that she sacrificed her own mortality for the good of her people. Don't worry, that makes perfect sense. It looks like Reedsy is returning to its earlier days of late 2019 with how much submissions they're getting. I'm doing decently enough I suppose :) Trying to secure my first ful...

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Elizabeth Inkim
00:52 Aug 19, 2021

I am! It’s living up to the expectation! Oh my! That’s something, I thought I had "awaiting moderation" off but I’ll go look for it again. Maybe it’s lost somewhere on the backend 🤷🏻‍♀️. I joined in mid to late 2020, so that’s a shame. I really fell in love with the community and contest, cue heavy sigh. Don’t even get me started about jobs, the struggle is too real for those entering their desired field, what’s your career/field of work? I am a graphic designer. I thought about leaving Reedsy altogether, 25 seems like a nice number to ...

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Rayhan Hidayat
07:06 Aug 20, 2021

Your iPhone case designs are neat! I have a degree in bioscience, so I’ll probably be stuck in a stuffy lab filling test tubes with weird stuff. Obviously my dream career is to be an author, but gotta put food on the table :P Actually, I wanted to ask if you’d be interested in being part of a critique circle of around 5-6 people? It would be a great way to get feedback on our personal projects while we work on them. Me and A.G. Scott will be there, and I’ve invited Yolanda Wu. Let me know if you’re interested :) I’m not big on social media ...

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Elizabeth Inkim
16:11 Aug 20, 2021

Awe thanx, I am really trying to build it as a secondary income kind of thing, so maybe one day I’ll be sustainable, but who know 🤷🏻‍♀️. Bioscience… now that’s a mountain to climb, I mean if you love it it’ll all be 1000% better than if you hate it. I get the dram job thing, design is my passion and where I found joy, writing is where I feel safest to fall apart or go wild. It’s crazy that of the two design is what pays my bills 😆 but books take years and designs take days/weeks/months different time lines. OMG, that sounds great! I didn’t...

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