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Enlightened Empire 255 Opponents Far Apar

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Earlier, when the apprentices had entered the manufactory's hall, the street outside had been almost empty. By the time they returned back to the light, the roads were packed with people. However, the crowd of Saniya wasn't in its usual constant flow. At this moment, the entire city had halted, and everyone had come outside, to stare across the river. Despite the ma.s.ses, Kizco could see the two n.o.ble ladies through the crowd, across the street where he had seen them earlier. Again, a feeling of discomfort overcame him. However, this time again, he didn't have the time to care about two spoiled n.o.ble girls.

Once he had become part of the crowd, his sight followed the countless heads to the east. Over there, across the Mayura and two islands, a stack of black smoke rose up into the sky to join the white layer of clouds up above. Once he had glanced around to make sure no one was watching him, a tiny smile rose around Kizco's lips.

Part one of their plan had been a success. Chukru Island was on fire. When he looked over to Zirao, his colleague nodded his head and slowly stepped back, before both of them left the group of confused apprentices and disappeared into the crowd.

A fire was considered a worst-case scenario for any city. Right now was when Saniya's defenses would be at their weakest. If at all possible, they would use the confusion brought about by a burning city to cross over the bridges and steal themselves onto Chukru Island. Soon, both of them had disappeared from everyone's sight.

__________________________

"Mother, why are we back here again? Is there anything special about this restaurant? What is there to do here" Tama asked her mother and boss, Lady Antaya di Pluritac.

"There is no need to do something all the time," Antaya sighed. "I just like this spot. We get a nice view of the river, and whenever we get bored of the panorama, we can watch life pa.s.s us by on the streets. Life has been harsh on our family, so why not enjoy the early sunlight here now that we can?"

Around them, the birds had been singing their songs since dawn. Across from the street, vendors had set up their stalls to sell all kinds of goods to the workers and strolling couples for the afternoon. Right beside them, the dark gray of the street made way to lush green gra.s.s, which sloped down towards the slow waters of the Mayura River. Indeed, the outdoors portion of this restaurant was a good place to sit.

"Sure, but we have been here too many times in the last few days," Tama insisted. "Mother, I know you are not this frivolous, or boring. Rather than string me along, could you please tell me what it is we are trying to do here?"

Of course, Antaya hadn't come here only for the nice view. The first time she and her children had walked past this area, she had spotted some suspicious figures around the new manufactory. At that time, she had already suspected foul play. Those suspicions had only become more manifest the following night, when she tossed and turned without sleep. Somehow, she simply couldn't forget the eyes in the dark alleys around this building.


Although she had learned to trust her instincts over the years, at this point she had little more than a hunch to go on. Even more, she didn't want to get involved in issues which weren't part of her official orders, at least not in the southern kingdom's capital. Her master wasn't someone who took kindly to that sort of power grab.

At least that much Antaya could tell after she had heard stories from her children, and after meeting the grown-up Corco herself. Since she couldn't and shouldn't answer her daughter's question for now, Antaya focused on the pleasant scent from the steaming cup before her instead.

"Is this not a lovely tea?" she said with a smile.

However, before she could put the city's representative lavender tea to her lips, a loud bang from across the river made her flinch. Somehow, she didn't spill a single drop, something only her impeccable education allowed her to do. However, there was no time to feel pride in her juggling skills. Confused people charged out of their homes and workplaces and congregated into a crowd on the street. Soon after, a second, smaller explosion followed the first one and elicited a few shrieks from the stunned crowd.

"What was that?" Antaya asked and jumped out of her seat as well.

"It sounded like it came from across the waters." Both mother and daughter turned towards the river besides them. As soon as they did so, evidence for Tama's words presented itself. In the distance, across the Mayura River, a large plume of black smoke rose up into the sky.

"d.a.m.n, that's an explosion on Chukru," Tama said in a very crude manner. However, Antaya had more important issues to worry about than proper etiquette.

"What manufactory could explode like that?" she asked in confusion. Although she didn't know the details about all the city's secret projects, she was sure that most manufactories wouldn't contain anything explosive enough to create such chaos.

"Maybe it's the lab?" Tama mumbled to herself in worry, before she turned to her mother. "No way to know for now, but we should get back to the castle and make sure everything's under control"

Just as Antaya was about to agree with her daughter, she was reminded of the reason for their presence here, in this scenic spot right across from the new manufactory. When she turned, it didn't take her long to find a group of young craftsmen huddled outside the streets. With a frown, she searched for the faces she had seen on her first visit here, and seen again earlier this morning. When she failed to find them anywhere, it only intensified her bad feeling. Shouldn't all the apprentices be together? They looked quite complete, yet the suspicious faces were missing from the crowd.

"Tamaya," she said in a stern tone as the two of them stood up. "Do you trust me?"

"Of course, mother." Although her daughter looked confused, she nodded, before she tried to follow Antaya's stare into the ma.s.ses.

"In that case, I need you to call together the ghosts in the area, to guarantee no one sets foot onto the main islands. And I want to stress 'no one'. Even if everything burns to the ground, watch the guards and the sh.o.r.es and make sure no one slips through."

For a second, her daughter stared into Antaya's serious face, before she produced a hidden weapon from somewhere within her clothes. The ornate pistol was as short as its barrel was thick. Without a word, she began to load, as the people around them backed away from the scary weapon.

"I hope you know what you're doing," Tama said once the gun was loaded, and pointed the weapon into the air. With a short bang, the barrel unloaded its cargo into the midday sky. "I don't feel good about this."

"Neither do I," Antaya mumbled, while her eyes left the crowd and followed the bright white star her daughter had conjured into the clouds. "Neither do I."

__________________________

Like fish in the sea, the northern spies swam with the stream. To make sure they wouldn't be spotted, they traveled apart from each other, though they didn't have any choice in the matter anyways. The crowd was so dense and chaotic that they would have struggled to stay together either way. Thus, all they could do was follow the ma.s.ses, ever closer towards the source of their curiosity.

Without any trouble, they managed to make their way over to Sillu Island with the rest of them. On all other days, Sillu would be blocked off by guards and only accessible for those who lived there or had business there or in the castle. However, today the guards were preoccupied. Just keeping order within the crowd was already difficult enough. One wrong move could spark a panic among the people, so they didn't have a chance to fulfill their usual duties. Although more and more policemen rushed over to help out the castle guards, they were still overwhelmed by the sheer number of curious spectators.

Like this, the spies drifted ever closer to their goal. Once they were on Chukru, they could disappear into alleys or empty houses and wait for nightfall. However, when they had reached the bridge from Sillu to Rapra, a solid wall of black blocked off the stream of people like a dam in a river.

Right before them stood an army of police, three solid rows armed with s.h.i.+elds and wooden sticks. Although people still pressed a bit from behind, it seemed like the stream had lost power at the most crucial moment. He couldn't believe that the ones behind had stopped because of the police. They couldn't even see them.

When Kizco looked back, the crowd in the back was already dispersing under the pressure from the local law enforcement. They had waited in the side streets and now slowly coerced the curious ma.s.ses back towards the main city. This wasn't the response they had expected. Why didn't the local forces prioritize the fires instead?

At this speed, their crowd would soon disappear, and with it their strength, and their anonymity. Before he would be forced back like the rest, Kizco pushed his way through to the front of the line. Towards the edge of the road, the police men didn't stand quite as close together as they did on the front. Even so, a break through would be suicidal and pointless. Thus, he had to use a more nuanced approach. The spy picked the one police farthest away from his colleagues and decided to try his luck.

"Excuse me, master. What happened over there?" he asked in the weak tone of an overwhelmed commoner.

"Stand back," the serious police man barked as he extended his s.h.i.+eld towards the spy. At least he still left his stick at his hip, so Kizco was secure enough to try again.

"Please master," he begged. "Everyone can see the smoke and everyone could hear the bang! Did something catch fire on Chukru Island?"

"I won't repeat myself." This time, his hand hovered over the baton.

"Master, please don't hurt me," Kizco cried out, as he s.h.i.+ed away half a step. "I really need to know! Please, you do not understand. My brother works on Chukru. I only want to know if he's okay. Is that not possible?"

Although the police man's face lost some of its sternness, he still didn't budge.

"That's a real shame. I mean that. But there's nothing I can do. In all this chaos, I can't just send someone to check, and we're not allowed to let anyone through here."

"Please. I can't think about anything else. My brother's all I have. I won't bother anyone. So please. I'll be grateful too." As he was speaking, Kizco flashed the folded two-sila bank note in his hand.

If there was one good thing he could say about the southern kingdom's strange new money, it was easy to bribe people with. However, this time, he was bound to be disappointed. For a second, the officer stared at Kizco's hand with undisguised greed, before he began to look conflicted.

"Excuse me, this really isn't allowed," the police man said in a weak tone, before his posture firmed. "Please step aside."

As he spoke, his eyes flitted over to a figure who stood behind the crowd with a green headband to hold back his long hair. Although he didn't wear the uniform of the police, his position gave him a perfect overview over the crowd, and his stance made him seem like their overseer.

*They're really well prepared.*

Despite the fire, it appeared as if the castle still had some amount of control over the streets. As the crowd behind him disappeared, several people pulled wagons with strange barrels of wood and copper through the ma.s.ses and through the police, who let them pa.s.s after some thorough controls.

With this level of security, they wouldn't be able to sneak or bribe their way onto Chukru, at least for now. However, there was no reason to despair just yet. After all, this first attempt of theirs had only ever been a hopeful one. Their real plan was to follow soon, and this time, he was sure to make his way onto Chukru, into the heart of Saniya's secrets. Without another word, the fake apprentice disappeared into the crowd again. For now, he would have to play his role a bit longer.


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