Starset Logistics, Chapter 1

The warehouse's electroplasm lamps cast a harsh blue-white light over the shipping crates and people below. A meeting between an Akarosi dandy and a group of five brigands clad in heavy black coats. Approaching the meeting uninvited was a woman and her brawny attendant.

Her fashion was a uncommon breed in the city of Duskwall: fitted dress and subtle finery, exuding wealth and authority without the gaudiness and waste of the local aristocracy. Perhaps the dandy was aware of the trends of the capital, but the woman thought not after glancing over him.

One of the black-coated men stepped forwards, "This here is private property. You and your Stranger friend are trespassing." She had not been in Duskwall long enough to pick out the particulars of the man's accent, but it was unmistakably that of a Duskwall criminal.

The woman stopped with an obvious sneer and unfurled an ornate fan, obscuring the lower half of her face. The leaf depicted a great tentacled beast emerging from the Void sea. The waves upon the fan's surface roiled and the beast's appendages squirmed unnaturally.

"I am here to speak to Mister Danfield here regarding the Lady Irimina," the woman enunciated clearly with a refined Akarosi Capital accent. "You five, the Lampblacks, are dismissed."

One of the Lampblack brigands stepped to her taunt, matched by The Business, her attendant. The Business was a head taller than the tallest Akarosi present, with rough grey skin stretched over rippling muscles. He dressed like a bouncer for a middling establishment and bore no obvious weapons. Not that anyone here would assume he needed one.

"Mister Danfield," the woman repeated, interrupting a Lampblack who had just opened their mouth to threaten the two. "This is a rather pressing matter." Her eyes bore down on the dandy.

A Lampblack drew a dull cutlass and ran towards the woman, throwing his weight behind a thrust. Her sneer faded as her muscles tightened. Training took over. She stepped towards the thrust with her fan extended. It pierced the leaf of the fan. She twisted sharply with both her wrist and body, snapping the cutlass with the rotation of the reinforced guards of the fan. With the twist she stepped back, letting the man stumble back in shock. With a flick of her wrist, a small palm pistol appeared in her right hand. She fired and the man fell back, clutching at his bleeding neck.

Mist moved deftly across the rafters above the blinding electroplasm lamps. She hadn't been ready for events below to escalate so quickly, but by the time the man her boss had shot hid the ground she was in position. She pulled a cord, setting off a spring-loaded axe that cut the power to the lamps. The room fell into an immediate, chaotic, darkness.

The small lurk secured her goggles tight around her face. The utilitarian goggles consisted of a pair of black lenses set into a brass frame, secured by a buckled strap. The special lenses were made of a thin layer of black leviathan blood pressed between pieces of glass. Through the goggles Mist could see smoky, colorless outlines of people and objects in the dark. They were easily the girl's greatest treasure.

Mist dropped straight down from the rafters between two of the goons in the back. Her legs slowed her descent and helped transition the momentum of the fall into a roll, Mist's head protected from the ground by her arms. During her roll her leg made contact with the back of one of the goons, a swift kick to the back of the knee destabilized them briefly. That moment let Mist spin herself around to throw a knife towards the lantern on the table that a goon was feeling for.

Back on her feet, Mist ducked blind cutlass swings from two Lampblacks. Beyond the two in front of her she saw a third one raise into the air, clutched around the neck by a large meaty hand, before being brought down hard into the stone. She hadn't seen what had happened to the other one The Business was dealing with. The boss had moved out of danger and was calmly standing and waiting for the sound of combat to stop. The envoy, Danfield, had managed to stumble to a door at the back of the warehouse and out into the alleyway.

Now that she knew where all the actors were, it was time to go to work. Between all the shouting and the sudden crash of The Business throwing a man into the side of a heavy crate, Mist's movements were all but inaudible. The Business bellowed and one of her Lampblacks turned towards the sound. Mist lunged at the man's exposed torso with her short dagger, putting it neatly into his gut, just below his ribs.

He grabbed Mist by the back of her blade harness before she could pull away. Mist didn't hear what he shouted to the man now behind her, but she was suddenly overwhelmed by his presence. She wanted to scream, to run, to scurry among the boxes in the dark away from danger. But she couldn't. What was available to her to get out of this situation?

She had an iron grip on the blade jammed all the way down to the guard in this man.

That's enough, she thought. She grabbed his belt with her open hand and pressed herself into him instead of trying to pull away. She jerked the blade to the side and forward - into him. She didn't hear what happened afterwards.

A gunshot echoed in the distance, hollow against the thin wood of the warehouse district. A small draft of air caught the smoke from the cigarette and brought it out into the street. Song's head tilted out of the alley, cigarette dangling limply from his mouth. A sharply dressed man stumbled out the back door of a warehouse, tripping over himself. The envoy, just as the boss had planned.

"We're up," Song sighed. The Skovlander took a long drag before dropping what was left to the stone, grinding it under a heel. A mutt raised its head, first looking to Song, then following his gaze towards the man running.

Song pulled on a leather cord around his neck, pulling a silver whistle out from under his collared work shirt. He gave two short, shrill, blows into the whistle and the dog took off sprinting and barking at the frightened courtier. Song waited for a moment, the whistle now dangling between his lips like the cigarette was a moment ago, watching and rolling his shoulders. The envoy took off down a side alleyway, and Song took off in a similar direction.

Song unbuttoned his vest as he ran through side alleyways and down streets. He followed the distant barking. Every ten or so seconds Song would give another signal with the whistle. A stack of crates made an easy jump up to a low-roofed warehouse from which he could get a sight line on the target.

The mutt had driven the now visibly terrified man back in Song's direction. Song sprinted across the roof and onto the next, blowing the whistle for the final time. The last thing he saw of the chase was the dog picking up speed and going wide, driving the man into the alley on the other side of the warehouse.

Over the ledge and into the alleyway himself, landing on the stone below with a thud. The envoy, dressed in a grey waistcoat and tall boots, stumbled to a stop between Song's hunting dog at the mouth of the alley and the new presence. Song adjusted his cap over his messy rust-colored hair and drew a polished two-shot pistol from a harness under his vest.

"Don't hurt me," the man stammered, backing away from Song briefly before freezing at the sound of a low approaching growl behind him. "I know powerful people, they will..."

Song rubbed the back of his neck, shifting his weight from one side to the other. "Yeah, I think that's the idea," Song trailed off as he glanced over his shoulder, listening for any signal from the others, "The boss wants to talk with you."