Only five days after the fire in Saniya's flintlock manufactory, regular operations were about to resume. At first, there had been an extensive investigation, with police everywhere in and around the building. In the end however, the fire had been declared an accident by the police and any further investigation was suspended.
Even so, the fire had left behind some problems. The building had been in use when the fire started, so many of the apprentices inside had been injured. Some had suffered from burns or blunt trauma from falling debris, but most only had horrible coughs and trouble with their breathing.
As a result, the crown had decided to give their valuable young workers enough time off to recuperate. Though of course, the rifle workshop was one of the city's most important manufactories and couldn't lay dormant for this long. Even less since the city was training a new batch of soldiers for the king's army. Thus, several newer apprentices had been called upon from less important workshops to fill in the gaps. Due to a lack of workers, some had even come over from the central city.
Three such apprentices now stood before the door of the workshop, together with their master. Unlike most in the city, they were quite happy with the outcome of the fire. Though maybe they were not quite as happy with the man who brought them here.
\"Just remember, barbarian: Don't make trouble for me here,\" The master in the front said. \"All you need to do is pretend you're a mute for a day or two. Your friends should be able to get a good ship in position over the next few days. Only three days and all of us can leave this blasted place. Don't blow this for me. And don't you dare forget about my compensation.\"
Kizco stared at his ill-tempered – though at least just temporary – master with a sour look.
\"Of course, Master Xander. I will be careful.\"
*If anything, you are the one who's blowing things.*
Although he was dissatisfied with his fake master, Kizco would never say it out loud. The middle-aged Xander was just as mean, cheap and greedy as he looked. Even after he had formed a partnership with their secret forces, the foreigner had never shown them any level of respect.
*Maybe he will provide me with another trophy once I make it out of this damned city. This is one whose screams I will relish.*
Even worse, the grumpy man wouldn't shut up about his reward, and about their plans, even though they were out in the open, with enemies all around them. Still, there was little Kizco could do. They had tried to warn the foreigner in the past, and as a result, they had only received more sneers and nasty comments about barbarians and savages. His tirades would only attract the attention of those around him, so at this point, it was best to just concede and hope the idiot would shut up by himself.
Rather than focus on the nuisance, Kizco preferred to focus on his work. After the fire, old workers needed to be replaced with new, and him and his fellow spies were perfect candidates to do so, at least on the surface. With all the apprentices in this manufactory out of commission for now, the crown was forced to hire people from the outside, which had finally given them their chance to enter Chukru Island.
Usually, the people on Chukru rarely left their island homes and were always under supervision when they did. Yet Master Xander had never been valued by the crown and had never been made privy to any valuable secrets, so he had become an exception. After he had lost his disciples, he had gone to the main city for a round or ten of drinks. There, he happened upon one of his fellow spies who soon came to understand Xander's unique position. Thus, they had come into contact and hedged the plan to pose as apprentices and then take on roles inside this manufactory once the chance arose. After the 'accidental' fire, the chance was finally here.
Since their clock maker 'master' was working on the special wheellock guns for the kingdom's commanders inside this manufactory, they had been a natural replacement for the injured former workers. Though he and his fellow spies were inexperienced and mostly unknown within the city, some false testimony and a few bribes went a long way. Even better, they were only temporary workers and thus didn't suffer from the same kind of intense scrutiny the regular apprentices had. Now they were finally here, in the heart of Saniya, ready to extract all of its secrets.
While his master spoke with the manufactory's foreman to arrange his and his fellow's places, Kizco looked around and observed his surroundings, like he had been taught by his real masters back home. Although work within the hall had resumed, it was more proper to say that the workers had returned.
For now, the new apprentices had only come to clean up the leftovers of the destroyed building and restore everything to working condition. At the moment, even the roof was temporary. Only some strange machines stood there new and sparkling, clearly replacement for what had been destroyed by the flames. However, unlike the manufactory he had worked in before, there were many stations without anything on them, not even stools. Clearly, much of the important equipment was still missing and in the process of being replaced.
\"Hey, brat.\" Xander's shout returned Kizco's focus. \"For now, you'll help be clean up my work station. Follow along, and don't dawdle.\"
\"Yes master,\" he said and clenched his fists inside his long sleeves. As they walked through the hall, he stared at the back in front of him with malicious intentions. For a second, he played the scenario through in his head.
*Two quick steps forward and press the old bastard against the wall to bind his arms and fix his position. Then I stab him through the skull from below. Leave the knife in case it gets stuck. Turn to exit the building...*
As he thought, he looked around the room again in search for an exit strategy for his fantasy scenario. However, something was strange. Wherever he looked, all exits – like windows and doors – were blocked by at least two apprentices. This one worker had already been sweeping the same piece of floor when he had come in earlier, hadn't he? Even if he was lazy, someone would have said something by now, right? Either way, weren't some of these workers too old to be apprentices? Halfway to their work station, Kizco got more and more nervous. As his tension mounted, he saw two apprentices flash their eyes towards him across the room, a deep glimmer in their eyes.
\"Scatter!\" he shouted, and shoved the hapless Xander out of the way as he bolted to the side. At the same time, all hell broke loose inside the workshop. From behind, he could hear his fellows rush away in opposite directions, as angry shouts and calls came from the apprentices in the workshop. As for Kizco, he had opted for the closest window, to his right.
*Only two in the way, far apart.*
The apprentice before him tried to draw something from his clothes, but before he could, he had already been shoved to the ground by Kizco.
*Strong ones, but still just mortals. One left.*
These people were bound to be part of the city's new police force. No wonder he had gotten such a strange feeling from all the workers in the hall. The second obstacle had already drawn his weapon, a wooden baton. Easy to disarm or kill within ten moves, but Kizco had no time to lose. His dagger already in his hand, his arms flashed and fired the projectile from the hip.
The police man's eyes widened as he jumped to the side to escape. Even so, the hidden attack struck his flank. With a loud cry, he went to the ground. Kizco was already past him by the time his former obstacle hit the floor.
Now the path to the outside was clear. A single leap through the window shot Kizco out of the building, but halfway, something entangled his legs and made him tumble. Somehow, he managed to avoid a nasty fall on his face, but he still landed on his belly. The dark alley behind the workshop was dimmed by a shadow from the man-height wall before him. A look back revealed that a bola had wrapped itself around his legs and immobilized him, while two more hung out of the window he had just escaped from. These people were well prepared, and they intended to catch him alive.
His face darkened as he retrieved a second knife from his sleeve and cut the rope that held him. He didn't have much time. A sudden bang in the distance made him flinch, shortly followed by a scream. Others were waiting for them outside the building, and they were much better armed than the ones inside the hall. As tension mounted, Kizco leaped over the wall in the little alleyway. For now, the main objective was to get away, no matter where to.
Antaya looked around the empty yard they had been positioned in to get a feeling for its dimensions. This place was right besides the city's flintlock manufactory, the focus of their operation. Any time now, the traitorous Master Xander would make his way into the building, together with his 'apprentices'. They needed to be ready for that very moment.
While many teams were stationed all around the hall, there were multiple targets this time and they could split up, so there was a good chance they would be called upon as well. She took a deep breath and looked back at the dozen police officers who were there to support her. For such a crucial operation, they carried not only batons, but also bolas, nets and even some rifles, though they were loaded with shot – pellets of hemacite in a paper cartridge – rather than solid ball ammunition.
Over the past few days, they had done their best to restore the burned-down manufactory to a presentable condition. Even more, they had sent all of its former apprentices home for a full ten days, even if they had only suffered from minor coughs after the fire. Since then, many masters had tried to place their apprentices into such a coveted position. However, none had been near as persistent or been near as generous with their bribes as Master Xander.
Since he had been described to Antaya as stingy, such behavior was already strange. Yet further, Xander was considered a loner on Chukru Island, someone who didn't make contact with others. Finally, his mal-treated apprentices had run away from the nasty old man not long ago and had been replaced by three youngsters unknown in the city. Thus, they had found their prime suspect.
At that point, they had only needed to observe the clock maker's apprentices from a distance to confirm that they were the same people Antaya had been suspicious of before. Now that all of them were about to enter the manufactory, they could be held captive and interrogated on the bribery charges alone. Whether or not they had been involved in the fire or other illegal activity remained to be proven, but the lady felt more certain of her earlier hunch than ever.
A sudden bang in the distance made Antaya flinch and returned her focus to the task at hand.
*From the front entrance. That was Tama's spot.*
Although she was worried about her daughter, the lady of the ghost warriors didn't have time to take care of others. Before she had regained her full composure, a slim figure vaulted over the wall across from her position and landed smoothly on the ground. As he looked up, their eyes crossed, for the third time since she had entered the city.
Again, there was the suspicious apprentices from the new manufactory, but this time there was no suspicion anymore. For a second, the upright lady and the crouched apprentice stared at each other, before a shout from behind her broke the peace.
Once the police officer behind Antaya shouted his command, everyone began a mad dash towards the fake apprentice, who launched up and charged away, along the wall he had just crossed. Several bolas were thrown, but all fell short of the sprinting target. None of the police had anticipated the opponent's inhuman speed.
As she realized the spy's identity, he came to a corner between the wall and an adjacent building. With two swift kicks against opposing walls, he launched himself up to the roof and continued his escape. Antaya was surprised, but not shocked. Of course a spy would be a cultivator, but it didn't matter much. Now that he was trapped on Chukru Island, all they had to do was remove his options for escape and make sure he wouldn't escape their sight. All the while, the net they had woven would tighten up, until he would have nowhere left to run.
With a determined face, Antaya rushed into the building to follow the spy onto the roof.