This is the first in a 5-ish chapter short story. I hope you enjoy and if you do, please consider leaving a review.
He pulled the name into his mind, filling his brain with the new information and slowly but surely committing it to memory. Today, he was going to be Royd Bell. Royd Bell, a man who came from money; not enough to attract attention, but enough so that his expenses wouldn't look…incorrect.
Royd Bell. Twenty-four years old. Born in Lodo. Son of Marius and Leta.
Royd Bell. Visiting Banoi for a quick holiday before returning to his life in the north.
Royd Bell. The man who didn't actually exist at all.
He had received his mission just a few days ago, left on the bottom of his saucer at a coffee shop. The message was short, succinct, and told him everything he needed to know.
"Banoi. Police informant spilling Untarme secrets. Find and eliminate."
He hadn't known then what exactly the "Untarme" was, but that would be easy enough to find out. In fact, he had never been to Banoi at all. He was running out of those. As a Shull, he was sent all over the known world. Eventually, new places would run out.
The train came to a stop a little past midday. Royd Bell—or the closest thing to him—stepped out carefully onto the concrete. By all accounts, the man that strolled onto the platform, tall and thin with misty, grey eyes, was perfectly normal. His blue shirt, so dark it was almost black, shone in the hot sun. His hair, a deep brown, was growing a little too long for his liking—curling a little as it began covering his ears—but that was the fashion where Royd Bell came from, so it would have to stay for now. He even carried a small brown case with him, the thin material was peeling in the corners and the handle rattled and squeaked whenever he shook it.
Banoi stood before him, its wide, tiled rooftops and chiselled stone walls wound their way down a steady slope and towards the port to the east. Beyond that, Royd could make out the western tip of Jestin. At the northern tip, the Blijten stood tall and narrow. Its tip fanned out into many different platforms where Gemi-ships—large carriers hefted into the air using gas and magic—landed and took off almost constantly. Not here, he remembered. Here, they're called Aeroships.
The air smelled of salt and food as Royd ventured into the city. It didn't take him long to find the answer to the first of his questions. A young boy running a small newspaper stand on a street corner handed him a copy of the Banoi Bulletin. The article on the front page told him what he needed to know.
UNTARME ROBBERY THWARTED BY POLICE!
A robbery on Grisham street was prevented this morning when police apprehended three individuals carrying the tattoo of the Untarme on their wrists. Sources say that the thieves wished to rob up-and-coming nobleman Nestor Lint, who arrived in the city not two days prior. The burglary was stopped when police constables Adams Prenna and Brellah O'Hannasea noticed sounds of a break-in early in the morning.
Royd flicked through the rest as he sat on a wood bench near the docks. Aside from the front page, nothing else looked all too useful. He set it down next to him, putting the pieces together in his head. This Untarme is some gang operating here. Someone with them is a snitch, reporting their plans to the police. But why?
He thought for a moment, filing away the information he knew and separating it from the information he didn't. Motive, while not always important to know, would help catch whoever it was that was reporting to the police. Known enemies of this Untarme might shed some light, though in his experience, the enemies one didn't know were the most deadly. Everything I need to know, all hidden away in one city. In a way, he relished the simplicity of the mission. Finding and killing one man was much easier than some of the other jobs he'd had. Maybe this is my reward. The higher-ups want their toy spy to behave, so we give him an easy job.
Or maybe the job isn't as simple as it seems.
Royd found a room about two hours before sunset. It was larger than he'd thought it would be, with thick carpets and a double bed decorated with velvet cushions. The ceiling was indented with blue Gemites, the magical stone mined throughout the world; Its light shone on the room bright and warm.
"It's a hundred Li a night," the landlord, a large man with a bushy moustache, said. He stood by the door, waiting for Royd's reply.
"That's fine," he said, then reached into his pocket and pulled out a handful of coins, More than enough for a few days. Royd turned from the man, looking around the room once more, but he still felt the man's gaze on the back of his neck. "You can go, now." He heard the clinking of the coins as the landlord counted them. Royd tossed his case on the bed and crouched down, looking under the wooden frame.
"I'll…leave you to your business, then," the man said, finally satisfied with his payment. He turned to leave.
"Just one more thing," Royd called, standing back straight. The landlord froze where he stood. "That robbery this morning—rather, the failed robbery—that was close to here, wasn't it?" Royd moved closer to him. The man inspected him slowly, trying to find the malice in his words, his body language. A man appears from nowhere and starts asking questions. Why wouldn't they be suspicious?
Whatever he was looking for, he didn't find it. "Yes. Just down the road, actually."
"What was it like?" he asked, trying to seem less like the government agent and more like the nosy, gossiping rich man. "I mean, if they were making enough noise to get the police involved…"
Again, he scanned Royd—this time, less carefully. "Didn't really hear much, if I'm honest, sir," he told him, shrugging lazily. "By the time I realised what happened, the police were already there." He tried to look disheartened.
"Oh, well," Royd sighed, turning back to the room. After a moment, the man closed the door behind him. They pretended to hear noises but knew about the robbery already. If they're playing this off, do the Untarme even know they have a snitch?
Royd opened the case and pushed aside his clothes—neatly folded and separated by colour—then pulled out a semicircle of metal wrapped in thin strips of leather. One end of it had its own small Gemite, glowing dully. He shoved it into his pocket and closed the case back up.
Minutes later, he was in front of the building where the failed robbery had happened. The street was growing busier as the sun sunk lower beneath the horizon, filling the sky with pale pink splotches. The door to the whole building was blocked, guarded by police in their brown uniforms and metal masks. The faces, frozen in expressions of anger, stared into the crowd and barely noticed Royd among them. No getting in that way.
He turned, seeing an alleyway to his right, and bumped into someone. Royd stopped, seeing a thin woman with short brown hair back away slowly, her eyes wide.
"Oh, Bist! I'm so sorry!" she stammered. She looked down, her cheeks turning a little red.
"It's okay," he said calmly. She wore a dark, long-sleeved shirt and silk gloves. She smiled, then turned to leave. "It's just…" Royd grabbed her arm, snatching the top of her forearm and moving close to her. The girl tugged, trying to get away with a little more strength than he expected. "I'm going to need that back, please." She tugged again, a little harder this time, but still not enough to break away. He slipped his hand into the pocket at her side and took back his wallet.
She sighed. "You gonna report me?" her voice dropped a little when she spoke again. Royd chuckled.
"Probably not," he said. "It was a good trick with the blushing, I have to admit." He started walking, moving her arm so that it hooked around his. Her face stayed still, looking straight ahead. "Though your technique needs improvement." Up close, he noticed the details that gave her away. Her gloves, though made of rich fabric, were too big for her small hands and the material was coming apart at the edges. There was dirt and muck just barely hidden beneath the collar of her shirt, not a dusting of makeup on her cheeks, and she wore no powerful fragrance.
"If you lay a hand on me—"
"I'm not going to hurt you," he said. "You have my word."
"What're you? Police?" he felt her tense up. If he were, and he told her, Royd bet that she'd rather chew off her arm. He made a small noise, and she seemed to relax just a little.
The Untarme wear a tattoo on their wrists…
Slowly, Royd turned her wrist to face him, lifting the sleeve up until he saw it. A black circle broken into four segments, with rays of shining light forking out. She snatched her hand away almost immediately.
"So," he said after a moment. The girl said nothing. "What're you doing so close to where your own people were arrested?"
"What does it matter to you?" she looked at him through the corner of her eye. The sun was almost fully set now. "Who the hell even are you?" When he didn't answer, she pulled again. This time, he let her slide out of his grasp. She was surprised at that, he saw it in her eyes. She couldn't be more than twenty-one, but she was surprisingly thin and her eyes were so harsh once the rich persona was extinguished.
There they were, two fake noblemen, pretending to be something they're not. Something they could never, ever be.
"Your people have a snitch," he said eventually, quiet enough that only she would hear. He watched her reaction. The way her eyes widened slightly, the way she breathed in a little too quickly, the way her left hand closed then opened. Yeah, she doesn't know. "Let's say…I've been sent here to find out who that is." For a long few seconds, she didn't say anything, and he half-thought she would run.
"Come with me," she said then, straightening a little. "But first, who are you?"
He smiled solemnly. "My name is Royd. Royd Bell."