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Chapter 8

It had been such a long time since Isha had anyone to rely on.

There was a strange, unspoken camaraderie between all the street kids, but none of them were to be trusted. They’d cut you for nothing more than a loaf of fresh bread if they were desperate. Even having joined the Whispers, it was still something she needed to get used to. Not everyone seemed the most trustworthy of folk, but there were a number she knew she could rely on. One in particular stood out above all the others.

“Thanks for running interference back there.”

“My pleasure,” Sev replied with a smile.

She hadn’t been able to speak to Sev until they were both long gone from the pawn shop, both keeping a safe distance away from one another until several blocks later. She had wanted to run across the street and throw her arms around the boy, but that would have been much too obvious. For Cheem and Sev. Keeping certain things secret was important for both matters of espionage and matters of the heart.

A little mystery goes a long way.

“Oh, your pleasure indeed,” Isha said with an accusatory tone. “I could tell how much you were enjoying yourself, just hanging back with a smile on your face while I practically shit myself when he demanded to search me.”

“Hey, don’t let that ever actually happen or you’ll earn yourself a nickname you’ll never live down,” he teased. “Besides, it wasn’t like I could tell you. Wasn’t about to wave a sign about and shout at you from across the street. Even if you might not have known it at the time, I had your back.”

“Yeah, I guess you did.” A coy smile surfaced on her lips as her gaze dipped away from his. “Either way, you really saved my ass back there. I owe you.”

“I feel like you’re the kinda person who doesn’t like having debts looming over her, am I right?”

“That you would be.”

“Then I know just how you can make it up to me.”

“Yeah?” Isha asked with a hopeful, inquisitive smile. Her eyes met his again, pools of green that seemed alight with life. Sev may have only been a couple years older and barely taller than her, but looking up into his confident eyes made her feel so safe with him, like she could trust him with anything.

“Got any dinner plans for tonight?” he asked. She could sense an unease behind his confidence. He put up a good front, but she knew him well enough to see past it. He was nervous. She just hoped he couldn’t see how much more nervous she was.

“Sounds like I’m about to.”

“There’s a spot in the Strip, little storefront run by an old married couple, the woman at the front taking orders, her husband at the back slingin’ lamb shawarma. The place looks like it was jammed into the alleyway between two other shops. Not the easiest place to spot if you aren’t looking. Almost like a hidden gem. No tables or chairs outside, but it’s got an awning out front that’s starting to turn brown. The woman complains constantly about it. Her husband swears he’ll get around to replace it, but honestly? I doubt he ever will.”

“Sev,” she stopped his rambling. He might actually be more nervous than he initially let on. “What’s the place called?”

“Actually, I don’t know if the shop even has a name. The sign on the awning just says ‘Doner Kebab’ and nothing else.”

“I think I’ll be able to find it.”

“Okay, cool. Uh, meet me there at sundown?”

“It’s a date.”

Lyria was waiting outside of Faerris’ office, a disappointed look of exhaustion on her face. From behind the closed door, Isha could hear yelling, a mostly one-sided argument. Lyria perked up as Isha rounded the corner.

“She’s back! We’ve been expecting you. Good news I take it?”

It was obvious without saying a word. Isha doubted even Jessa could possibly hide the feeling of satisfaction. She wore it like a badge of pride.

“Went off without a hitch. That Cheem fellow’s awfully irritable.”

“And not very trusting. I wonder why...” Lyria gave her a sly wink. “But you got the needed info?”

“Yeah, more or less.”

“Wrote it down somewhere?”

“Hell no. All up here.” She tapped the side of her head.

“Atta girl.”

The yelling within the office subsided and the door burst open, Jatham stomping his way out, looking like a child whose parents had given a stern talking to.

“What are you lookin’ at?” the man threatened, puffing up his chest and purposefully bumping his arm into Isha as he walked past. He trudged off down the hall, his hands clenched into fists, not another word spoken.

Faerris let out a long sigh and beckoned both her and Lyria into his office. He seemed to relax, switching from whatever ill mood he had been in to one that welcomed the change in audience.

“Isha, glad to see you’re back in one piece. I was just talking about you.” Lyria shut the door behind them and joined Isha at her side. “Lyria? I take it we have some good news to share? Need something to go right today.”

“I believe we have just the thing,” Lyria said, motioning for Isha to take the spotlight.

Issian. Glass sand. 26th. 16 gold.

“Unsure who the shipment came from, but it was going to someone named Issian.”

“We know that name.”

“A Sage,” both Faerris and Isha said at the same time. Faerris smiled and gave Isha a proud nod. He continued. “Engineering and... alchemy are his areas of expertise, I believe. He’s been extra secretive as of late. So naturally we want to know what he’s been up to. Isha, what else do we know about the shipment?”

“Went out on the 26th. This Issian fellow paid a whopping 16 gold for it.” Faerris whistled at the price. An amount of coin like that was hard not to be impressed by. “Not really sure what he was buying, but the item was listed as glass sand?”

“Glass sand?” Lyria asked, apparently just as confused as Isha. “Could that be code for something? Drugs, maybe? Some alchemical compound?”

“Really?” Faerris asked. “Have neither of you heard stories of the Glass Desert?”

They both looked to each other and shrugged.

“Across the sea to the east. Supposed to be a swath of the desert where the sand randomly turns to glass. Stuff stabs through the ground like icicles when it does. Either that or the tiny shards get picked up by the wind, cutting through anything soft like piranha in the water. Dangerous fucking place.”

“I didn’t think anyone has seen trade from outside the empire in centuries.”

“You’re not wrong. Not since our friendly neighbors exploded in a three way civil war. Who knows what the fuck’s happening over there anymore, but they certainly don’t seem to care about some potatoes from Tiller’s.”

“So how did anyone get their hands on glass sand or whatever it is then?”

“That’s what we need to find out.” Faerris turned his gaze to meet Isha’s eyes. “Isha, you came through for us today. Damn good job. Keep this up and you’ll earn your hide in no time.”

She was already feeling quite proud of herself, but hearing the words made it all the more concrete. Freamon had been the closest thing to family she’d had in some time, a surrogate father figure of sorts. Now, the people she looked up to the most, her mentors, were beginning to fill that void. Praise from them carried a weight worth so much more than just words.

“Does this mean I get some kind of reward?” Isha asked, only half-joking.

“Yes, actually!” Faerris replied. His enthusiasm was infectious. “You and Lyria get to go train now.”


Lyria placed a hand on Isha’s shoulder. “Shall we?”

“Jab.” Lyria thrust her arm forward. “And twist.” She twisted the wooden practice dagger like a corkscrew. She was only stabbing the cold air, but it was clear the woman knew what she was doing. The sparse room was illuminated by only a couple small lanterns, stretching the woman’s shadows across the floor and onto either opposite wall, giving her movements an even more sinister feel. “Now you try.”

It wasn’t the first time Isha had held a dagger in her hand, wooden or otherwise. It wasn’t even close. It was, however, the first time she’d done so under the scrutiny of someone who actually knew what they were doing. With a tight grip, she thrust the dull, wooden blade forward. The sound of her feet brushing against the stone floor echoed in the near-empty room.

“You’re stiff. Don’t let yourself feel too loose, but be fluid with your movements. Like you’re cracking a whip, but the whip is your wrist. And it extends all the way to your shoulder. Bring the shoulder forward, let the power come from you, not just your hand.”

She did it again, throwing her shoulder into the jab, her body twisting with momentum. She couldn’t explain why, but it felt somehow shy and unsure. An improvement, but still not quite there.

“Better,” Lyria stated, still not quite pleased with her pupil. “You understand the basics at the very least. Let’s try something more practical. Maybe it’ll help solidify the movement for you if you’re, you know, actually moving.” Lyria stood before Isha, several paces away. “You will rarely, if ever, engage in a knife fight while you and your opponent stand motionless in front of each other.”

Lyria leapt forward, covering the distance between them in a heartbeat, and sent the blunt end of her training dagger into Isha’s chest.

“You don’t have to keep making your point so literally.”

Lyria ignored her complaint and continued with her lesson.

“Don’t be afraid to get close to your opponent. Striking first and being on the offensive offers a surprising amount of defense. Besides, if you both have knives in your hands, don’t expect some masterful back and forth clashing of swords. Knife fights end quick.”

Lyria stepped back into place, holding her knife out towards Isha and giving Isha a little ‘come hither’ motion with the blade. Isha leapt forward and jabbed. The motion felt more natural, but there was still something off.

“And twist.”

“I don’t know what it is, but something about this feels... I dunno, unnatural?”

“Like the act of stabbing someone doesn’t make you feel great?”

“I mean, sure, that too. But physically, I dunno, it’s like I’m holding a pencil or something left-handed.”

“Woah, wait, are you left-handed?”

“No, it’s just...”

Isha tossed the practice dagger into her free hand and pulled her concealed knife from the sheath on her back.

“See? I always held it like this.”

She held the blade with her thumb near the pommel, holding the blade like you’d use for a downward stabbing motion.

“Interesting. Most find that hold less natural, but if it feels more comfortable to you, let’s run with it.”

Lyria moved behind Isha and held her arm by the elbow and wrist, adjusting her stance. She turned her arm sideways, brought the elbow up and positioned her forearm straight across.

“There,” Lyria continued. “Hold the blade straight out, but keep your arm like it’s shielding you. Don’t actually use it as a shield. Unless you’ve got one of those silly-looking buckler shields the Everguard use, your arm is a poor replacement. Better than getting stabbed in the face, but a last resort if you don’t have a choice.”

Lyria moved to stand beside Isha, taking up the same stance.

“This is a reverse jab. Roughly the same thing, leap in and stab. And try to bring your feet together as you move. Right foot forward as you jab, then bring the left foot up to resume your stance. Like so.” Lyria demonstrated the attack, slow at first, then fast the second time. “And maybe we do it with the training dagger.”

Isha replaced her knife back in its sheath and took the training dagger in her hand.

She leapt forward, much more fluid than before. She felt the power behind the thrust. Coming from her small frame, the force she was apparently capable of surprised her.

“And twist. Pull your elbow down.”

She did, and suddenly understood just how devastating the twist could be.

“Very good, very good. Reverse grip seems to suit you much better. I want you to try it again, but this time, instead of the twist, follow it up with a flanking strike like so.”

Lyria leapt forward, jabbed, leapt forward again, but off to her left, and jabbed again.

“Your opponents may know to leap back, but continue to push the offensive and vary your angle of attack and they stand no chance. Put pressure on them, don’t relent, and drop them quick before they get a chance to charge at you.” She turned to face Isha, readied her stance. “Now come at me.”

Leap. Jab. Flank. Thrust.

Of course Lyria knew exactly what to expect, but Isha could tell it didn’t leave the woman much space to retaliate. Against an unprepared opponent? That kind of pressure?

Knives are fucking dangerous.

“Holding a blade like this is also a great way to conceal it before you strike. Drop your hands to your sides and hold the blade up against your arm.” Lyria demonstrated, her wrist slightly bent to hold the wooden dagger behind her arm. It still seemed fairly obvious, but Isha knew what to look for. “I’ll admit it works a lot better in crowds or if your target is distracted.”

Isha was being taught how to use a knife to help defend herself, but this was starting to feel like the work of assassins. One doesn’t defend themselves against unaware targets. Concealing a blade in your hand is by no means an act of protection; it’s preparation.

“Doesn’t sound a whole lot like self defense.”

“Like I said, sometimes the best defense is a strong, surprise offense. And don’t worry, the guild will never task you with murder. That’s not what we’re about. But sometimes plans go awry and you have to do what you have to do. Better to have it in your back pocket just in case. Think of it as a last resort.”

She thought back to Cheem’s shop, and how she might have very well been dead had Sev not intervened.

“Yeah, I guess you’re right.”

“So if you find yourself in a situation where the need arises?” Lyria paused, letting the weight of the hypothetical situation fully settle in. Just in case. And only when no other option exists. “Bring the blade across like so.” She slowly hooked the blade towards Isha’s throat, her whole arm carrying the maneuver. “Like you’re throwing a punch, aiming your fist for just under their chin so your blade gets the throat. A quick and, more importantly, silent death.”

Isha followed the motion, slowly mimicking the motion.

“And then what do you know,” Lyria continued, “you’re back into your reverse jabbing pose.”

The thought of premeditated murder as a last resort weighed heavy in Isha’s gut, but she had to admit the maneuver was pretty slick.

“You know what? I think that’s about enough for today. It’s gonna start getting dark soon. You’ve got some good foundations to practice on your own. Focus less on the power and more on the movements themselves. We’ll pick this back up in a few days.”

Lyria took the wooden training dagger from Isha’s hand and replaced them in the rack hanging against the far wall. When she turned around, she seemed confused that Isha still stood in place.

“You can leave now, Isha. Unless you wanted to ask me something?”

“Uh, yeah, actually. Advice.”

“You wanna know what my first kill was like? You really don’t need to worry. Outside of training, most go without ever touching a blade much less using one.”

“No, not that. I, uh...” Isha suddenly felt herself too shy to ask.

“Spit it out.”

“How, umm... How do you know when’s the right time to kiss someone?”


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Posted by Matt on 03.03.21
Quick little update! I'm going to be slowing down posting chapters and switching to a bi-weekly update schedule. I've been pouring most of my time into work lately and just don't have the drive to focus on the book as much. I'm also preparing to move soon, so my attention has been drawn less and less to writing.

At the end of the day, this is a hobby and as much as I hate to say it, I have other hobbies (and life in general) taking precedence. That said, I'll still be finishing the novella AND a full follow-up novel, so the Leeches Loom isn't going anywhere any time soon, so don't worry about that!
the empire
The Howl
The Mazewilds
The Shelf
Shaded Seed
Wayfarer's Ridge
A Gentle Scar
Tiller's Hamlet