By Paul Smith.
Back Track: A Meeting of Spies (To Walk the Path 12)
Copyright 2016 Paul Smith
This is a work of fiction. Any similarity to people, places or events is purely coincidental, and bears no malicious intent.
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‘For the underdogs.’
To Walk the Path is the final instalment in my cyber-fantasy series The Star Plague Journals. Anyone who enjoys this chapter and wants to keep up to date on future releases (or who fancies trying some of my other work) should check out my galleries on Shakespir or DeviantART:
Timo had not initially put the pieces together. Mikael had been aboard for a full day before he realised that this was the man he had spied on for the Wind Chasers, up at the Emperor’s Summer Residence in the Vale. The revelation left him feeling as if he’d had the proverbial rug pulled out from underneath him…
It was a chance comment of Clarissa’s over breakfast that finally tipped the balance, presenting the disparate bits of information he already possessed in a meaningful light. On some level he’d already known, but his conscious mind had apparently relegated the information into the pile marked ‘for later appraisal’.
Careful (and he hoped surreptitious) study of Clarissa’s brother had suggested that he was completely unaware of the connection. Which was unsurprising, given that he had no way of knowing Timo’s place in current affairs. Yes, he could obviously tell ‘the boy’ (as he’d overheard Mikael referring to him) was Sighted. But there was no way Mikael could recognise him. He’d been wearing a wolf at the time…
Timo had caught the Myson snatching odd glances when he presumed Timo wasn’t looking. There had also been a very discreet inspection of his ice that he suspected he’d have been unaware of if his protective shell wasn’t of such sophisticated origin. It had occurred in the middle of the night, his ice waking him from odd dreams about his parents at night round a camp fire. After an initial bout of panic he’d decided to let matters play themselves out, placing his trust in the sanctity of his glacial walls. It was a trust that proved well founded. He’d spoken quietly to Farn about it the following day (not wishing to risk a call to Ikari) and the Isshjarta had confirmed he could find nothing malicious lurking about Timo’s person.
He’d managed to make it as far as late morning before the need to say something became an unbearable pressure. After which there followed a further hour or so of trying to work out how to broach the subject.
In the end Fate had intervened, as Mikael walked up to lean against the rail next to him at the ship’s prow. Timo almost had a heart attack when he realised who’d come to slouch indolently in the bright sunlight, the wind of their passage wiping his hair about. There was no denying the Soone scion cut a striking figure, even given his battered shape. There was an easy confidence about him, coupled with an assurance in his casual pose at the rail that spoke of years at sea. Here was a man confident to stand with the creaking deck of a ship beneath his feet.
“So, my sister tells me you and her raided the Hothouses together.”
Timo straightened slightly, pleased at least to find they were of a height, even if the muscles cording Mikael’s arms and shoulders rather put his wiry frame to shame.
He nodded, fighting down his nervousness at the other man’s frank appraisal. “Yes. With Lyse and one of the Nym.”
Mikael grinned, shaking his head. “Lyse Soltais. A genuine living legend…” he smiled at Timo’s enquiring look “…she’s famous, in my line of work. Done so many amazing things in her time. And she’s not even Sighted.”
Timo smiled, feeling that at least here he was on safer ground. “I’ve only ever known her as Grandma Soltais. She used to live down the Vale from us, just outside Peshra.”
“Yes, so Clarissa tells me. Still can’t believe they put someone like that out to pasture. But then I guess that’s politics for you.” Mikael offered a ‘what can you do’ smile. “So, what’s your story…?”
Timo swallowed, screwing down his resolve. Now or never… “Well, it’s funny you should ask…” he glanced at the other man, who’d paused in filling his pipe, seeming to realise his question had opened an unexpected door “…technically this isn’t the first time we’ve met.”
There, you’ve done it. He tried for an easy smile, uncertain how successful he was. Ikari had warned him he should never play cards. Come on Timo, you’ve dealt with Drakes and escaped from the Myson. Twice! This is a walk in the park…
Mikael had raised an eyebrow, expression slipping to a polite enquiry. But Timo was canny enough to see the tension lurking in the man’s stance.
“You won’t remember,” he added. “It was at your Uncle’s Summer Residence.” He stopped, resolve faltering before the look on the other man’s face. “I spied on the two of you for the Drakes, when you came to report on your search for the Wraethi in Kharpal.” He forced it out in a rush, before the lump in his throat rendered him incapable of speech. He was very aware of the fact his ice was reacting, puffing up like hackles about him, but found he couldn’t do anything about it.
The moment hung for a second, Mikael’s hands poised about his straight pipe. Then suddenly his expression cracked, and he was laughing, head thrown back in hilarity so genuine it couldn’t fail to disarm Timo’s worry.
“… It was you!”
Timo stood at the rail, watching this release of tension with a mixture of relief and confusion. A discreet ping against his ice brought his attention to one of the hatches below, where Grifarne’s head had emerged. He shook his head minutely at the Skuigr, offering a quick smile of thanks for the other man’s concern before turning back to the man next to him at the rail, who seemed to have gotten control of himself again. Shaking his head he reached out to clap Timo on the shoulder, grinning from ear to ear as he raised his pipe to his lips, lighting it. “So, you’re the one whose been eluding my boss.”
Of course. He’d have heard through the Fang’s information network. It made sense. Timo nodded, grimacing. “Yes, it was me.”
“Do you have it? Here?” Mikael held up his hands, palms splayed in a disarming gesture at the look on Timo’s face. “I’m not going to try and steal it! You’ve earned it’s use fair and square from the sounds of it.”
Timo relaxed somewhat. Hesitated for a second… but the Wraethi’s policy of open trust amongst allies came to the fore. “Yes, I have it.”
Mikael shook his head again, still grinning. “So it was you I smelt that night. I’d thought I was just tired and imagining things; it’d been a long day, if memory serves.” He inhaled deeply from the pipe, offering it to Timo, who shook his head. Mikael exhaled gustily, the smoke snatched away in the wind. “So, you’re the Chaser’s informer.”
Timo grimaced. “Not so much any more.”
“Oh, yes. Clarissa mentioned something about that.” The man’s expression turned serious. “For what it’s worth I’m sorry. I don’t know what’s gotten into my people.”
Timo shrugged. “Not your fault. But thank you. I’m sorry about your Uncle. He seemed like a good man.”
It was Mikael’s turn to grimace, though the expression was tinged with fondness. “He was… difficult. Complicated.” He inhaled again, sighing it out. “But yes, a good man. And kind, at heart. It was politics that brought out the darkness in his soul. Never afraid to do what he deemed necessary, Uncle Railu. Not if it served the bigger picture.”
Timo nodded grimly. “Politics seems to do that to everyone.”
“Yes, indeed.” Mikael turned to lean against the rail, looking out to sea. “Power warps people. Like money. Changes the way they see the world.” He shook himself, straightening again. Visibly made an effort to dispel his mood, flexing his neck and shoulders. “So… what about this.” And he gestured at Timo, hand waving in circles.
“Ice, Sight, the works. How’d a talented young man like you slip through the recruiter’s fingers?”
Timo grimaced. “My mother, I think.”
“Ah… the bane of all our lives.”
“Oh no!” Timo shook his head vigorously. “I don’t blame her. Never regretted not being picked up.”
Mikael raised an eyebrow uncertainly, but seemed to decide Timo was telling the truth. “Ok, but then how… when…? Was it before or after…” he took another drag, fiddling indecisively with the pipe and then placing it between his lips to make pointy ears above his head with his hands.
Timo’s turn to laugh. “After.”
The Myson nodded. “Most accounts suggest the cloak will work for anyone.”
“Black Claw’s very… accommodating.”
“Black Claw…? You mean…”
Timo nodded. “The wolf’s ghost is tied to the cloak.”
“The legends are true!” Mikael crowed, grinning again. “God, Desan’ll be beside herself when she finds out…” his grin died. “…hmm.”
Timo offered him a sympathetic look. “Yeah.”
Mikael made a visible effort to rally. “So, the ghost is… aware?”
“Very much so. The Virgins made him manifest separately when we visited the Dragon’s Graveyard.”
Belatedly Timo realised he may have said too much. “Um…”
Mikael held up his hands again. “I’m with you guys.”
He nodded, but decided a change of tac was in order nonetheless. “Clarissa really broke you out of the Kuan’s library?”
Mikael took the hint with equanimity. Grinned at the suddenly eager look in Timo’s eyes. “Yes. Yes she did.”
Timo shook his head. “What I wouldn’t give to have seen that…”
Mikael’s expression went thoughtful. “Then let me become the latest in what has apparently been a long and distinguished line to offer you a new trick?”
The other Daiku (Timo still found thinking of himself in such terms odd) took a final drag from his pipe and knocked the ash from its bowl over the side before turning to offer Timo his palms. “I can show you, walk you through my memories, if you’d like?”
“I’ve done a little of this with Ikari…”
“In which case it’ll be old hat.” Mikael smiled, showing there were no hard feelings behind his words. “Only if you want to?”
Trust is a two way street.
Timo held out his hands, felt the other man’s ice touch his own…
A Meeting of Spies is the twelfth installment of 'To Walk the Path'. The revolution moves one step closer.