Chapter 2: An Explosive Meeting

Chapter 2: An Explosive Meeting

It was ever-present as the black fog, constant as the quiet click of clockwork, and dangerous as the glint in your enemy’s eyes.


Fear lined the streets.

Fear filled the air between one man and another.

Fear kept the children up at night, wondering what horrors the madmen would invent next.

Mineralites did not shake hands. They tipped their hats. Not for fear of germs, but so they could have their other hand on their weapon.

No one could say with any certainty when the seeds of distrust had been sown. Was it after the clockwork machines attacked the capital, or when the fog rolled in from the factories?

Was it the time the disease swept over the kingdom and no one would explain the strange peculiarities of how it picked its victims?

Any number of tragedies could have triggered the downward spiral of the Mineraliteinfo-icon society, and they were irrevocably different because of it.

It would not be easy to forge an alliance across the chasm, which the Mineralites created to insulate themselves from danger.

But Jaden would not let a black market ring selling weapons to the enemy ruin his kingdom’s slim chance of winning the war. He hoped the peace that would come after the alliance and resolution of the war would give his people a chance to heal their wounds.

The crisp air served as a relief from the last sweltering summer heat wave. He suppressed a chuckle as the Elementiinfo-icon around him drew their cloaks tighter, cursing the change of seasons. He was a Mineralite, and the cold was a welcome friend.

After spending his days wearing a light shirt and trousers, Jaden embraced the opportunity to don his vest. It made concealing his weapons and various personal effects much easier.

A flash of light on the roof across the street caught his eye. His Scarlet Society operatives were in place. The bag full of cash made his shoulder ache, and he couldn’t wait for this mission to be over.

He couldn’t risk scaring off the smugglers by sending in one of his operatives with a fake identity.

Few, if any, of the nobles sympathetic to the Scarlet Society would be willing to put their reputation on the line by buying black market weapons.

So tonight, he would play the part of a weapons buyer.

Belladonna stood at the entrance of the Blacksmith’s Inn. She wore a sleeveless blue tunic that showed her ebony skin. She put out her smoking reed when she saw him approach. “I’m Karmin. The big guy is waiting for us in the back. They will test your resolve before they talk business. The password is fireshot.”

“Subtle.” Jaden stepped inside and scanned the crowd.

Rough-looking men stared back. Whether it was the effect of the rare red moon or the depressing fact that they were losing after a century of war, everyone was feeling a little worse for wear. Dark eye bags and a little dirt underneath the nails were almost as fashionable as the hats they wore.

The barkeeper eyed them.

A Balar Republicinfo-icon Elementi woman and a tan Mineralite. We are a curious duo.

Jaden took a seat. “Nice bar. Real bloodwood is scarce. Must have cost a fortune.”

The barkeeper frowned. “You going to order something?”

“I’m here to try the 'fireshot'.”

“Even you don’t have the currency for that kind of top-shelf drink.” The barkeeper sneered at him. “Besides, we wouldn’t want your dirty Senkeninfo-icon hands to contaminate it.”

Jaden wished people would invent novel ways to insult him instead of falling back on trite remarks.

Belladonna rose to her feet, “How dare you insult my client!”

Before things could get ugly, an old man grabbed Belladonna’s shoulder, “Please forgive Alex, he gets protective of the liquor. Let’s get that drink for you, my lord.”

The old man had a limp. He was Elementi, but Jaden couldn’t place his republic of origin. He led them down a winding hallway until they found a door and knocked in a specific rhythm.

A slot opened to show a tough set of eyes.

The old man spoke, “Lord Jaden Calstein, future Lord Ambassador, is here to try the Fireshot.”

The clockwork door clicked and groaned as it opened.

An Elementi man opening a Mineralite door. The criminals succeed where the politicians fail.

Crates stood stacked in the corner, filled with weapons.

The door locked behind them, and a jolt of not-quite-fear shot down Jaden’s spine.

I need to get out more often.

The leader motioned for Jaden to take a seat at his makeshift desk. He was a Mineralite, genetically altered to have straight black hair, pale skin, and blue eyes.

The old man poured a dark black drink into two waiting glasses.

Jaden dipped a poison test stick into the drink. “One can’t be too careful.”

The man laughed—an unforgiving horse laugh that rattled his bones. “Senken or not, you are a Mineralite.”

The poison tester came back clear.

The leader raised his cup.

Jaden took a sip of the intimidating glass. As the drink rolled over his palate, he could pick up on the notes of the bitter juice of the toca podinfo-icon, hints of smoky mocaryainfo-icon and sweet dayriinfo-icon. He made a contemplative noise, and then the heat hit him like a wave.

Desseco peppersinfo-icon.” The leader set down his now-empty glass. “You haven’t tasted anything until you’ve tried something with desseco peppers in it. They wake up your soul.”

Jaden could not speak through the fumes making their way through his nostrils. This must be the initiation Belladonna alluded to.

He downed the glass, blinking back tears. His mouth burned, his ears burned, and the warmth traveled from his head to his toes.

“I’m surprised you could finish the drink.” The man chuckled again and took a sheet of paper from his jacket. “You are buying a stock of weapons that will give you the edge you need to keep yourself and your assets safe when the Animalianinfo-icon attack.”

“What type of weapons are we talking about?” Jaden picked up the document. “I don’t buy clockwork weapons, as they tend to turn on their owner.”

The man grunted in annoyance. “You get what you pay for, but we don’t discuss details. Karmin should already have given you a good idea of what we are selling here.”

Jaden set the bag of cash on the table and waited while the leader counted the currency.

The leader smiled.

Jaden returned his smile until he pulled a gun.

“That is precisely how much they said you would pay me to kill you.” The leader pulled the trigger.

With a blink of an eye, Jaden activated his powerstone, and a green crystalline exoskeleton poured forth from the pendant he wore around his neck. The bullet glanced off his head, and the floorboards groaned as they adjusted to Jaden’s extra weight.

The gunshot alerted the members of the Scarlet Society, disguised as civilians in the bar. Jaden could hear the resulting brawl through the clockwork door.

"Blackheart, we've been tricked! He's too fast for a Senken." The leader gapped at the bullet embedded in the wall, giving Jaden the opportunity to tackle him. 

"I'm flattered, but have you ever considered that maybe you're too slow for an assassin?" Jaden pinned him against the wall.

Belladonna stomped on the doorman’s foot with her pointed shoe and reached for the locked door. She used her nails to inflict as much damage as possible. She couldn’t risk using her fire element with the wooden crates of unknown weapons nearby.

The cuts Belladonna inflicted on the doorman turned an ugly color, speaking of his coming demise. 

"A little help over here?" The old man threw a series of daggers toward Belladonna.

Belladonna twisted and dodged until the old man ran out of weapons. She pulled a pin out of her hair and cut a slit in her leather belt. A dark, oozing liquid spilled forth, coating the sharp pin.

A single scratch is all she inflicted as they fought.

"That's all you got?" The old man scoffed.

Belladonna raised an eyebrow, "I didn't want you to suffer too much."

The man swayed and stumbled as the poison took hold, and he crumpled to the floor.

Waking from its dormant state, the red pendant around the leader’s neck glowed. The energy from the stone seeped into the man’s veins and traced a delicate pattern of geometric red lines over his body.

Of course, he has the only stone that can beat my durability stone.

The leader grabbed him by the back of the neck and tossed him against the far wall.

Jaden reeled from the impact, lying on his back.

The door creaked open, and Belladonna whistled.

Jaden blocked the leader’s sharp kicks with crossed forearms, but his exoskeleton could only hold up for so long. Cracks were already beginning to form.

The leader fell with a heavy thump.

A muscular man wearing a red leather mask stood behind him, holding a rather mean-looking stick.

Francis’ unmistakable smirk gave him away. He offered a hand to Jaden. “Sir.”

Jaden accepted the offer. “You couldn’t get here any sooner?”

"'Thank you for saving my life, Francis.' Oh, you're welcome, Jaden." Francis fought back-to-back with Jaden as the next wave of assassins came at them. "I have an agility stone, not a speed stone."

“We underestimated the men behind this. They were planning on killing me from the beginning.” Jaden wiped the blood from his nose.

“There is no way they could have seen through our front.” Francis frowned, his agility stone giving him the edge as he faced off against a handful of men.

“Then we must have a spy in our midst,” Jaden said, knocking out the last man.

Francis deactivated his stone.

Tobias walked through the door and over a body. “The rest of the building is secure.”

“Let’s see if there is anything in these crates. I’m hoping we’ll have something to show for this mess.” Jaden motioned for his men to open the crates.

The first Scarlet reeled back. “It’s a bomb!”

“Bomb?” Jaden asked in alarm.

Francis did a double take. “Did he just say bomb?”

“They tricked us! It’s active, it’s ticking!” The Scarlet ran for the door.

“We need to get out of here!” Tobias pushed through the men to the busted door.

“We don’t have time to make it out front!” Francis looked for an escape route. He pointed at the wall. “There! Jaden!”

This will hurt. He ran into the wall, using his crystalline exoskeleton to protect him.

As everyone poured out of the pub, it exploded behind them, throwing wood and stone shrapnel into the air. Most of them were lucky to find shelter; the others didn’t make it.


The red and blue moons shone down upon the eerie remains of the Blacksmith’s Inn as they pulled the corpses of ten good men out of the ashes and smoke.

The weight of their deaths was a millstone around Jaden's neck.

Francis grimaced. “An attempted assassination from beginning to end.”

Tobias started, “What do you mean? The bomb killed the men responsible for the smuggling ring.”

“No, those were just assassins sent to lure us away from the real gang.” Francis rubbed his forehead. "We must have a spy in our midst."

The Scarlet Society shared a moment of silence while they laid the bodies of their dead comrades to rest. Their souls left their bodies as light spirits, showing they had lived good lives. Any bad deeds they had committed before joining the Scarlet Society had been offset by the lives they had saved and the justice they had rendered.

The assassins did not fare so well in the eyes of the Creator, as shadows left their prone bodies. For their choices, they were forever cursed to stay in between life and the afterlife, banished to the lifeless Wastelands beyond the Outlandsinfo-icon

“Those Scarlet’s paid for our lives with theirs.” Jaden spat, “When we catch these bastards, they will taste the fire of our wrath. No stone will remain unturned. This is no longer a matter of stopping the weapons from falling into the wrong hands. They have spilled the blood of good men. Their souls will rest easy, and their deaths will not be in vain.”

Belladonna checked her timestone. “Jaden, it's twenty-three minutes until the King’s speech. You need to get to the festival, or the King will have your head.”

Jaden looked down at his tattered and dirty suit. “After a quick stop at the Ambassadorial Halls?”

Francis waved off the concern, “No need. Casper already has a carriage with a change of clothes waiting in the stables.”

A man wearing a muted red uniform climbed down the side of a building. “There’s a crowd forming. We should scatter before the Enforcers ask questions. Don’t take the main road.”

The Scarlet Society went their separate ways.

Using the alleyways cost him precious time, but it allowed him to avoid the Enforcers.

As promised, he found a change of clothes inside his carriage. Changing turned out to be more difficult than anticipated, with the driver thundering down the road.

The ride jostled the bruises on his body and his ego.

When did I get so soft that a few bruises bothered me? I used to think a day without a few scrapes was a day wasted. If only I could go back to the pleasant time when I played in the ruins of the ancient cities and didn’t have to worry about the fate of the kingdom.

But his uncle had ruined everything when he died and made his father the Lord Ambassador, the most powerful man in Minerale, second only to the king.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: This chapter was a blast to write and has survived SO many drafts. I have to give credit to my Dad who came up with the part where the Scarlet Society discover the bomb. 

Do you have a flair for the dramatic, love to collect ALL THE BOOKS, and think word play is the height of comedy? You might be a Book Magpie! Come join my group to find your bookish community.

Keep reading with Chapter 3: The One Left Behind

Let's go on a hunt with Mylo


Mylo had to prove that he was worth the occasional trouble he caused by bringing something back for the village larder. He would beg the village chief for forgiveness with a peace offering and an offer to hunt alone. They didn’t have to spend any time hunting with him, he’d risk life and limb for a place in the village.

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