RESISTANCE Ficlet #5: Curiosity

Resistance CoverThis is a ficlet based on my novel, Resistance, out now from Inkstained Succubus Press! You can purchase Resistance here directly from Inkstained Succubus (support small presses!) or here from Amazon.

Rivvie was on a job the first time she saw Shandolin. It would have been impossible to miss her: she was the only red elf on the street. Rivvie was perched on the edge of a rooftop, tracking the nervous movements of her mark. He was some silver elf who was making too much money. The Arbiter told her it was a matter of City stability, and maybe it was. To Rivvie, it was payment for her father’s nurse and a willingness for the law to turn its eyes away from the doings of the Vinkenti Brotherhood. Rivvie knew she was a pawn in a broader political game, but she didn’t care so much about that.

Rivvie tracked her mark down the street. He was an unassuming man, dressed neatly but not conspicuously. From the corner of her eye, Rivvie caught a bright splash of red. The street was all grays: the pale gray stone of the buildings, the slate gray of the Semadran elves’ skin, the washed-out brown-gray of their rough spun clothing. The whole world was cast in a million shades of gray shattered only by the scarlet flash on the edge of Rivvie’s vision. The woman the hair belonged to was tall and sharp-faced. She stood on the landing of a third floor apartment across the way making a racket. She pounded the door. She ate an apple in enormous, vicious crunches. Under one arm she held a stack of crisp newspapers.

The red elf woman had a self-assurance, a boldness, that Rivvie thought was sure to get her killed. It was none of Rivvie’s business, but the woman drew her curiosity anyway. Why was she there in the Tinker’s Borough? Why wouldn’t whoever she was there to see open the door for her? She had such arrogance, the way she looked so comfortable there where she clearly did not belong. Rivvie, for whom stealth was a career and a way of life, found it off-putting and distasteful. She shook her head and looked back to where she’d last seen her mark. But he was gone—all it took was one second of squandered attention, and he was gone. She cursed. Her deadline wasn’t for another week, and her thighs ached from sitting too still for too long. She was hungry. The mark was gone, and there was little for her to do but return home and venture out again tomorrow.

Rivvie slipped down into the street. She stood cloaked in shadows and magic, obscured from sight, and watched the red-haired woman who had cost her the mark. The red-haired woman dawdled there on the landing for some minutes longer until her apple was completely eaten. She laid the stack of newspapers on the landing and dropped the apple core on top of it. Rivvie, curious and still caught in the thrall of her work, tracked the red elf. Rivvie tracked her to a clutch of musicians in Opera Street, to a print shop on the edge of the Inalan Quarter, to a table in a gambling den. The red-haired woman led her all over the City of Mages, up and down the streets, into the Main Square where the vagrants lived, and finally to a rundown bar in the Refugee Quarter.

Rivvie watched the woman enter from the roof across the way. All up and down the city streets and still Rivvie had no sense of what the woman did. How loud she was, yes, she knew that. How many people seemed to owe her favors, she had learned that. But everyone in the City earned their place in the City, even down to the drug addicts. The people in the City were like the cells of her body: minute, discrete units that came together to make an incomprehensibly huge whole. But this red-haired woman was a mystery to her. It was a mystery, Rivvie though, worth solving. Should this woman be up to something, should she be something of note, that information needed to be taken back to the Vinkenti Brotherhood. Rivvie followed the red-haired woman into the bar.

It was a red elvish bar in a red elvish neighborhood, and Rivvie was the only one in it who was not a red elf. It was she who stood out, now, and the red-haired woman who blended in. Rivvie found the woman at a table in the back, an ink-stained table littered with empty glasses. She felt the room grow quiet as she walked over, felt the way the eyes of the patrons glued themselves to her black hair, to her tattoos, to the weaponry she wore. The woman was stretched out on the bench, marking up a sheaf of papers with a pencil worn down to the nub. “Who are you?” Rivvie asked.

The woman smirked. The smirk disappeared when she glanced up. Her eyes widened; she sat bolt upright. “Are you an assassin?” the woman asked.

“Yes,” said Rivvie. “Who are you, and what do you do?”

“Fuck! Why are you asking? Why’s a fucking assassin asking about me?” A strange mix of fear and pride crossed the woman’s face. “It is because of the Arrow?”

Rivvie frowned. “There is no glory in getting yourself assassinated.”

“There’s glory in getting noticed,” said the woman.

“You’re a fool.”

The woman leaned forward. “So…are you here to take me out or what?”

Rivvie sighed. “What is your name?”

“Shandolin,” she said. She leaned back, supine and relaxed again. She looked at Rivvie with the thoughtless ease that spoke of safety, of that damned self-assurance. “Hey, you political at all? Could use a blue perspective in my paper. Pan-elvish solidarity means pan-elvish, you know? Haven’t been able to crack you all, though. Can you write?”

Rivvie found it infuriating. She left the bar. She hoped very much that she would not run into Shandolin again.