Money lubricates the gears of the world. Until it doesn’t.
— Stalor Gimbol, The Adventures of Ramus Kain
Linsan walked along the street of New Brunil with a sense of dread and hope. She also was completely overwhelmed by the crowds that streamed along both sides of the road. There were people wearing work clothes, suits, and fancier wear that looked more like her mother’s outfits for the stage than something to be worn in the middle of the day.
No one was looking at each other as the chaos swirled around her. She kept bumping into people. Every time she found herself pressed against one of the many painted brick walls of the city, she wondered how everyone else could move without touching others.
Leaning against the sharp edges of brick that framed a shoe store, she let out a shuddering breath. Maril didn’t even give her a hint of how noisy and overwhelming it would be.
She clutched her violin case with one hand and looked down at a piece of paper in her other. The local Ralonix branch had helped her come up with a list of seven garages that were most likely to have serviced the murderer’s car. The banker’s reasoning was confusing, but apparently most vehicles had a guild affiliation with the current warring mechanical guilds. Most the guild-affiliated garages would hesitate to work with an outside car which winnowed down the list to only a few.
She flipped the paper over. There were also three names on the other side, all stables. It was her second task for the day, to find a way of catching up. A horse seemed like the best option. With her limited funds, she could only afford a cheap one.
Linsan dreaded the idea of going to the stables. She wasn’t comfortable around equines. Taking care of the mount was also outside of her expertise, which meant more expenses to pay for stables along the way.
She wasn’t sure if a horse was even an option she should take. It would require her to ask for more money from her parents. She hated to even venture to ask because they would try to give her what little they had remaining.
A vague idea that she could busk for the money didn’t help her either. She had only played for a single night to a small village in the middle of nowhere. She doubted she was good enough to earn enough for a horse.
Maril had given her three hours to find what she can. Linsan would decide about the horse then.
Linsan shook her head and turned over the page. She didn’t want to even think how she was going to leave town. Running her thumb down the alphabetical list, she picked one in the middle: Glorious Mechanics of Iron and Steel. It had a fancy name, maybe it would be a good choice.
At least until she found herself standing in front of a crumbling brick building with a fading sign. The place had originally been called “Mechanics” but someone had added ” of Iron” in one pain, “and Steel” in a second paint, and then “Glorious” with a third. The sloppy artwork and graffiti did nothing to comfort Linsan.
The front of the garage had two large doors but they were both closed except for a crack of darkness. She could see where they had been dragged through the rocks and dirt by the swept area in front of each one. A smaller door to the right had a small glass window.
Linsan made a face. If this was the best choice the banker could come up with, the rest of her investigation bode poorly. She rested her hand on her violin case and stepped forward.
“Get away from me!” screamed a familiar voice from inside the garage. Brook’s tone was infuriated and furious, a sound that Linsan had heard many times over the years.
Linsan stumbled to a stop. Her hand gripped on her case tightly as she stared in shock. Brook was here?
“I said stop!”
The front doors to the garage exploded in a explosion of sound and wind. Tools and men came flying out in a cloud, flung off the ground from Brook’s blast.
Linsan braced herself and ducked her head to protect her face. The concussion wave slammed into her, crushing into her chest for a moment as her body was pushed back from the force. She shook her head and looked up before her ears stopped ringing.
Brook stood to one side of the garage’s interior. To her back was a workbench heaped with tools but the rest of the room had been tossed apart. Her small hat was half caught in her hair and she wore a blue dress with a dark stain on one shoulder. There were more stains on her matching gloves as she pulled them apart to clap them together again.
Across the garage, four men stood up. One of them, the leader Linsan guessed, wiped his chin and shook his head. “That was stupid, Doll. Now I’m going to take a lot more than purse of yours.”
To either side of Linsan, the men who were tossed out of the garage were scrambling to their feet. She saw one of them flick his hands up and the rocks around his feet rose up in the air to orbit around him. Another one snapped his fingers and his hand burst into flames.
Inside, the leader held out his hand and beckoned toward Brook.
Brook crouched down but then a hammer launched itself from the workbench behind her and shot toward the leader. The iron head slammed into her shoulder, twisting her out of place, before the tool smacked loudly into the man’s hand.
One of the men behind the leader stepped up as his squat body began to shimmer. “I’ll catch the noise, Rab. You teach her a lesson.”
Linsan watched both men near her from the corner of her vision. She ran her finger along the quick release of her case and slid her hand to wrap around the warm neck of her Sterlig.
Brook groaned as she straightened. She clutched her shoulder as she looked around. When her eyes caught with Linsan’s, they opened wide.
Rab stepped forward and hefted his hammer. “Now, be a good girl and hand over that little purse of yours. While you’re at it, the key to your hotel because I’m sure you have a lot more with you. Rich dames like you never travel light.”
Brook’s eyes didn’t leave Linsan’s. There was a moment of rage, surprise, and then pleading.
Linsan wasn’t sure how to respond. Her heart beat loudly but then she concentrated on the strings that were strumming underneath her fingers. She nodded once and then spun around, dropping the case as she pulled out her violin. With practiced skill, she jammed it along her neck and brought the bow into position as she finished her turn.
The first note cut through the air with the sharp sound of the battle anthem from Death of the Butterfly King. It was a song that she knew Brook had heard, she only hoped it would help in some manner. She threw herself into the rapid crescendo of the second movement. Her body vibrated with power as the world around her shimmered with energy.
The man with the floating rocks turned with a hiss and threw his hand toward her. The rocks shot out with dizzying speed.
Linsan’s notes cut through the air, catching the rocks and tossing them aside.
Brook clapped her hands together, blasting the air around her. The concussion wave slammed into Cal’s shimmering body and split apart, tearing apart the back wall of the garage but leaving three of the men untouched. The fourth was slammed into the wall and he slumped to the ground.
Rab threw his hammer at her with a loud grunt.
Brook jerked to the side, but the tool swung around and came back with violent force. It clipped Brook again, knocking her to the ground as the hammer slammed back into his palm.
Linsan started toward Brook but heat blasted her. The other man’s flaming hand slammed into her shoulder and singed her hair.
Spinning away, Linsan sent a blast of music toward him.
Brook’s concussion blast destroyed Linsan’s sound before it could strike him.
Linsan frowned and then dodged more rocks. She couldn’t keep her music attacking if Brook interrupted her. They had to work together which meant their attacks had to synchronize. “Brook! Only on the beat!”
“What?” Brook dodged another hammer throw and clapped her hand again. The energy tore through Linsan’s music and tossed the telekinetic rocks aside but otherwise missed the man attacking her.
“On the Couple-damned beat!” screamed Linsan. Her bow brought out a quick flurry of notes to knock aside the rocks being thrown at her. She belted out an uplifting measure to slam into the flaming attacker before he could hit her again.
“Like hell!” snapped Brook. She brought her hands up to clap again.
Rab held out his bare hand. The tools behind Brook began to shudder as they were summoned.
“Just listen for once you, you stupid cow!” Linsan snapped. She twisted between her two attackers and then sent a sharp note screaming into the garage. The force smashed into the screwdrivers lifting from the workbench and threw them into the far wall. Their points stuck into wood as they shook violently.
“On the beat!” she yelled and then spun around with a kick that caught the fire wielder in the knee.
He dropped with a bellow of pain.
Linsan turned to see more rocks flying toward her. She couldn’t form the music to block them. Cringing, she steeled herself for the impact.
The music reached the brief pause where a beat would be. Hoping Brook understood, Linsan braced her foot against the ground.
There was a concussive blast.
Air slammed into Linsan, the two men, and the rocks. Only Linsan remained standing.
She couldn’t stop. Still playing furiously, she brought herself around as she thought through her song. “Brook, your part is coming up! Get out of the garage!”
Brook frowned but she backed away from the workbench and toward the door.
A hammer came flying.
Linsan knocked it out of the air.
There was a rhythm section in the song, a place where the drums beat with a steady beat. If Brook caught her cue and used it to attack, she would be vulnerable.
The mechanics were following faster Brook, shielded behind Cal. Rab was summoning more tools to his hand.
Linsan took a deep breath and let her body relax. She had to time her notes between the beat of Brook’s clapping. Grimly, she tensed herself.
“You better be right,” snapped Brook.
“Now!” Linsan brought the song into the bridge.
Brook screwed her face and beat her hands together, slamming wave after wave of concussive force into the garage. The blasts tore the doors off the hinges and caused the walls to shake. The workbench collapsed, spilling looks across the ground.
Rab threw screwdrivers and chisels at her with lethal speed.
Linsan’s notes caught them and tossed them aside.
Brook continued to pound her hands together. The walls began to crack and the ceiling sagged. With her back to Linsan, the noise was quiet but she could see Cal and the other man clapping their hands over their ears as they dropped to their knees.
Linsan saw the man with rocks getting up. She continued to play notes to block Rab’s attack as she hopped over and kicked him in the face. The solid impact caused her to miss a note but no tool flashed out to strike either Brook or herself.
Soon, they were next to each other. The air beat around their bodies, vibrating with the music and the steady pounding that tore the garage apart.
Brook’s face was screwed in concentration. Her hands were shaking. “This is really hurting.”
“Then one big one, bring it down,” gasped Linsan.
She shielded Brook as the other woman brought her arms far apart and then clapped them as hard as she could.
The concussive wave slammed into the garage, collapsing the front wall.
Rab stopped throwing tools when Cal grabbed him and all three of them sprinted out the door as the roof collapsed on itself.
Linsan grabbed Brook by her dress and pulled her back. “Run!”
Brook hesitated only for a second, then she turned and sprinted away.
Linsan snatched up her violin case and raced after her.