Word count [4263]


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The bicycle’s brakes squeaked as Kit halted behind a line of onlookers. A green cord had been strung across the road ahead of them, the air around it shimmering and distorting to his magic sensitive eyes.

Beyond that, no more than a block away, the old wall rose higher than any of the buildings around it, a firm obstacle between him and the flower shop.

Long ago, when Carmine had been governed by a foreign empire, the wall had been built at the western edge to keep out the countryside and its inhabitants. As time went on the invaders were ousted and the city had sprawled beyond the wall, making the bulk an inconvenience as it’d blocked thoroughfares and channelled all traffic through two gates.

Defensive and structural spells on the wall made removing it nigh impossible, so instead the citizens had tunnelled through it. The same spells that had prevented its removal now helped it to stand as it had been undermined in so many places.

But the tunnels did little good when he couldn’t reach them.

“What’s going on?” he asked the bystanders.

“Fighting on top of the wall,” said a woman wearing a head-scarf, pointing to a small commotion atop the structure.

Following her gesture Kit swore to himself.

“Do you know how far the barricade reaches?”

She shrugged, “Haven’t checked.”

“Thanks anyway.”

Retracing his course Kit took the next street northward. The High Street gate had been one of the original two, and still served as a main thoroughfare through the wall. He hoped it was open.

At least he didn’t have any flowers wilting in his backpack, having finished his morning deliveries. Bike couriers were the fastest way to get anything across Carmine at any time of day, which his Uncle, the florist, relied upon to deliver fresh flowers to his customers.

The main disruption to his work, the only disruption he would insist in moments like this when he forgot about the occasional parade or street party that blocked his way, was the fighting between super heroes and villains.

The land was flatter here west of the wall, and the yards around the houses larger. A flock of geese hissed at him as he passed beneath the eaves of their orchard while the luscious scent of honey spilled from bee hives in a corner of the yard. The happy insects returned from the flower strewn city, laden with pollen.

An ancient and massive fig tree sprang from the centre of a cross-roads ahead.

Finding the gates open at High Street, with no magical cordons to prevent approach, Kit dismounted to join the slow flow of traffic.

Very few motorised vehicles were brought within the city limits where the streets were often too narrow for their bulk. Only the most western of roads were built to accommodate them, and those ran mainly between farms. The tram system was the notable exception, but it was slow and occasionally broke down from ambient magical interference; the emergency brake feature activated at the slightest hint of a power surge.

The idea of an out of control tram ploughing through the city made him shudder despite the spring sunshine. Kit much preferred his bike.

Unlike the tunnels that the citizens had dug through the wall, which were typically low ceilinged and dimly lit, the gates that had been built into the structure featured high archways which allowed for the passage of air and light as well as traffic.

Extricating himself from the flow of people on the other side Kit ducked down a side road and began weaving his way back to the shop. A sharp turn took him down a wide stairway, his bike bouncing down the short steps of the gentle descent. Someone had lined the southern side of the stairway with potted plants, one large pot to each step, where they caught the midday sun as it peeked over the rooftops.

Azaleas and hibiscus nodded to Kit as he passed, geraniums waving from window boxes overhead.

The stairway terminated less than a block from his Uncle’s shop, and Kit pulled up out the front with a squeak. Wheeling his bike he entered via the side gate and let himself into the multi-tiered garden wedged between the shop and the apartment where his Uncle lived with his partner.

Uncle Rul stood before the lemon tree, one hand in the pocket of his cargo shorts while the other held a glass of juice. The silver strands in his hair caught the sun, as did the creases at the corners of his eyes as he squinted in the glare. Sometimes people found it hard to believe that the large, broad shouldered man was a florist; he had the build of a smith.

“Hey, what you doing?” Kit asked as he approached.

“There’s a tree snake in the lemon tree,” Uncle Rul took a sip of his juice, “It’s beautiful.”

Grinning, Kit stepped closer and followed the older man’s line of sight. A long thin reptile slid easily across the branches of the tree, its bright yellow belly making it easy to find. It followed a meandering path upward to the top of the tree where it paused, face in the sun.

“Lunch is ready,” Ed called from inside, pushing open one of the stained glass windows and letting out a wave of tantalising aromas. Roast fish with garlic and ginger mixed with the closer scent of citrus blossom, making Kit’s mouth water.

Uncle Rul’s partner was the best cook Kit had ever met.

“Come on,” Kit grabbed his Uncle by the elbow, “I’m hungry.”

“But the beauty of nature.”

“Hungry.”

Kit dragged him inside.

“Are you working this afternoon?” Uncle Rul asked once they were settled at the dining table.

Kit paused with a fork of food halfway to his mouth, “Have you forgotten mum’s dinner thing?”

Most evenings Kit would freelance as a courier down at the docks, but not when his mother was throwing a party.

“Was that tonight?” Uncle Rul asked, frowning as he tried to remember the date.

Kit sighed and looked at Ed, who was studying a flake of fish speared on his fork with great fascination.

“You forgot too, didn’t you?” Kit accused him.

Ed slumped in his chair, “It must have slipped my mind.”

Shaking his head at them Kit returned to his meal.

~

It had been a busy morning.

Kit always found it odd that despite the number of flower gardens throughout the city, bought flower arrangements were still so popular. Some people grew the very flowers that he was delivering to them, presumably unable to bring themselves to cut the blossoms from their own plants.

The streets themselves were lined with colour; Jacarandas carpeted the ground beneath their branches, their purple splashes dotting the hillside; fruit blossoms and the first red callistemon blooms hummed with insects; the northern cliffs were crowned in tufted acacia gold.

Honey bees buzzed around a fragrant star jasmine vine covering an archway over the road Kit was following. Leaving his bike at the front of a small apartment building he climbed the stair to the second floor balcony and rang the small brass bell next to the appropriate door.

“Flowers,” he called.

The deep boof of a barrel chested dog replied, quickly followed by the muffled scrambling of someone trying to control the beast.

“Hey there, she’s friendly,” the dog’s owner reassured him as they opened the door, “Just very excited.”

The dog, while large, looked to be little more than a pup as she wiggled between her owners knees where she’d been placed for safe keeping.

“Flowers for you,” Kit said, holding out the small bouquet. Silver bell flowers tinkled as he passed it to them.

“Oh, thank you.”

The pup, still watching him, whined as he made to leave. Kit sighed.

“Can I say hello?” he asked, nodding toward the dog still trying to escape.

“Sure,” they placed the flowers on a side table and wrapped their arms around the dog’s neck, “This is Daisy.”

“Hello Daisy,” Kit said, crouching to cuddle the excited animal.

“Folk don’t always want to pet her, she’s so big,”

“She’s beautiful.”

Brushing black and brown fur from his clothing Kit returned to his bike.

As the sun crept ever closer to the line of mountains in the west only one bouquet remained to be delivered. He hadn’t had lunch yet, but the last address was a familiar one and he knew a bakery nearby. The thought of buttery pastries made his stomach growl and he pedalled faster down the empty street.

The house he was headed to belonged to one of his Uncle’s friends and was surrounded by one of the sparsest gardens Kit had ever seen. A multi-armed cactus rose from the rocky yard, surrounded by clusters of small boulders sheltering the occasional succulent. Kit recognised a plant called pig face spreading across the top of the largest boulder, its bright pink flowers spilling down the sides.

The gravel path crunched underfoot, radiating captured heat up at him as he crossed to the door, sheltered under the wide eaves of the house.

“Flowers,” he called as he knocked on the hard wooden door-frame.

Hasty footsteps could be heard coming down the internal stairs. The door opened to reveal a woman, middle aged and slightly out of breath.

“Flowers,” Kit repeated.

“Thank you,” she said, raising the roses to her nose. Her bushy brown hair was pulled into a loose knot at the back of her head, the silver streaks at her temples distinguished even as she buried her face in flowers.

Declining her offer of a cold drink Kit agreed to pass on her thanks to his uncle. His stomach was grumbling.

Sitting at a shaded table outside of the bakery Kit ate a cheese and spinach pastry, relishing the flaky and the cheesy. A small flock of happy birds hopped around the gutter nearby. He was sure they had a proper name, but he’d only ever known them as happy birds. About to throw them a few crumbs he stopped when something moved at the edge of his vision.

Moving with a slow confidence the bakers child walked out of the shop front, a seeded slice of bread in hand. They approached the birds without hesitation, an action that Kit thought would scare the creatures away, but they just cocked their small heads to the side and watched the advance.

Crouching within a metre of the flock the child began to break apart the slice, eyes still intent on the birds. The air between them began to wobble.

Kit’s skin prickled as the child wove their spell, lips twitching with unspoken words. The magical distortion thickened as they tossed the bread crumbs to the birds, who instantly fell on the treat and presumably agreed to whatever deal the young magic user had just offered.

Satisfied, the child ran back into the shop while the birds finished off the crumbs. Once they were done they took flight as one to fill their end of the bargain.

~

Kit kept his eyes on his beer glass, watching the condensation collect and roll down the side rather than look at his drinking companion.

Shrouded in a heavy coat despite the warmth of spring the Captain wore many scarves and shawls about her neck and the lower half of her face, with a brimmed hat pulled down to her eyes. Gloves concealed her fingers.

He’d made deliveries for her before, but she still unnerved him.

“Do you remember where to go?” she asked in a voice like the crash of waves over reef.

“Marine studies department, third floor.”

“And give it to no one but Dr. Cyn,” she said, pulling a small cloth wrapped package from an inner pocket of her coat and passing it over the table to him.

Her fingers brushed his as he reached for it, their damp oozing through the gloves.

Glancing up to meet her gaze Kit repressed a shudder. No eyes looked back at him over the bundled fabric, but the watery void therein still watched him intently. He could feel it.

“I’ll place it in her hands,” he promised. A faint wobble moved the air before his mouth as he said the words, the barest of magical disturbances. Whatever he was transporting must be valuable for her to enchant the transaction; nothing good would come of breaking that promise.

The package disappeared into his backpack.

Nodding with satisfaction she sat back in her seat and downed the last of her whiskey through a gap in her wrappings before hailing a server to bring another. Kit got to his feet.

The bar they were in was built on the wharves, out over the low tide mark where low-keeled boats could pull up to its docks. For some, like his client who could never truly leave the sea, places like this were compromises on that rule, a loophole that allowed her and others like her to conduct business on land without ever setting foot upon it.

It also let them drink themselves silly after business was done, and Kit left her to it.

Unchaining his bicycle from the end of the pier Kit rode into the city as the street lamps, large light-stones atop poles, began to glow. Circling around the dockside water gardens the scent of night blooming flowers drifted to him on the salted breeze as the pale blooms started to open. Angry shouting echoed distantly.

Kit hoped that whatever the disturbance was, it was away from him. A foot bridge took him across a canal and as he started up the uneven rise toward the University he smiled to himself, the pleasant spring evening closing around him. Turning off of the wider road before it curved back toward the water he made his way through a maze of service roads and side streets.

Skidding around a sharp turn Kit almost flew over the handlebars as he hit the brakes. Something heavy had just crashed into the empty brick office building ahead of him, sending a shower of rubble and brick dust to block the road. The crash rang in his ears.

“The fuck?” he steadied himself, trying to ignore what would have happened had he been there a moment sooner.

A figure burst from the small pile of broken building materials and took flight.

Yelling rang out above and Kit scowled to find three figures floating in the purpled evening sky. A cape billowed behind one of them as they darted toward their foe, another of the floating forms, reaching into empty space as the other person translocated themself a metre away.

Awkwardly turning his bike in the narrow street Kit skirted around the destroyed building, seeking a different route. Midway down an avenue lined with sprawling mango trees he swore to see guards setting up a barricade a short distance away.

“Why are you blocking this off?” he asked, stopping in front of them.

“There’s a fight going on, we can’t let anyone get hurt,” a young woman in the green uniform of the city’s protectors tied off the rope barrier, activating the magical energy field around it.

A shimmering pale green flash spread out from the cord, blocking his path.

Looking up Kit saw that another super powered individual had joined the fray and was slinging fireballs at the caped being. His stomach sank. This degree of fighting would be contained on all sides; there would be no way through and to get around it would take twice as long.

The crowd thickened as he turned onto Green Street, with many people standing in the road and watching the escalating fight above. He hadn’t wanted to come this way.

Brushing damp curls from his face Kit spotted a familiar restaurant, and ducked into the gap between it and the theatre next door. With a sigh of relief he left the crowd behind, following the narrow footpath between the buildings to the canal that flowed behind them. A thin stonework lip lined the canal on either side, wide enough for him to ride along.

Following it he could reach High Street, hopefully beyond the evacuation zone.

Picking up speed Kit squinted into the darkness ahead of him; lamps hadn’t been added to the canal system. Focused on the ground immediately ahead, he didn’t see the person sitting on the lip until too late.

With a curse he swerved, hitting the building to his right and ricocheting into the canal. Extricating himself from the bicycle in mid-air Kit tried to land on his front to protect the package in his backpack.

His knees buckled and his feet slipped on the smooth bottom of the canal, pitching him forward onto his hands. Water rushed by beneath him as he held his torso out of it.

“Ouch, are you okay?” a voice called from the bank.

Spluttering as water splashed into his mouth Kit struggled to his feet, bracing against the slippery stones and the current.

“Still alive,” he said once he’d gotten his balance.

“Well that’s something.”

Kit felt the air around him squeeze strangely before he was lifted into the air and deposited next to the person he had nearly run into. His legs wobbled as they took his weight. A moment later his bike, wet but undamaged, arrived beside him.

He grasped the handlebars.

“Little bit shaken?” the young woman standing before him asked, squinting through the holes in her mask. Black velvet covered the top half of her face, the lower half was pursed with concern.

“Yeah, didn’t see you,” he muttered, shaking his head briefly before deciding it was a bad idea. Pain shot through his skull with the sharp movement.

“Come sit down,” she said, gesturing down a footpath alike the one he had taken to get to the canal.

“No, I have to go.”

“Whoa, hold up,” she grabbed him by the shoulders as he made to mount his bike, “I don’t think I should let you go riding off after you just crashed like that.”

“I have to deliver something,” he insisted, trying to shake her off. Her grip was stronger than he’d expected.

“Right now?”

“Yes.”

She scowled through the mask, “Well, can I do it for you?”

He shook his head before he remembered that moving it hurt, “I have to do it myself.”

“In your condition I’m sure whoever you’re headed to will understand if I explain-”

“I have to deliver it myself,” he cut her off.

Making a tutting sound she propped her fists on her hips, looking him up and down, “Well that sounds rather unreasonable to me, but if you insist. Where are you going?”

“To the University, but there’s a fight in the way.”

“So I saw,” she sniffed, “Best chain your bike to the drainpipe there, just in case.”

Taking a breath to snap at her, frustrated with the whole evening’s turn of events he met her eye. Something swirled deep within them, like the turn of myriad galaxies.

Kit chained his bike to the drainpipe.

“Thank you, now don’t squirm,” she said, scooping his legs from beneath him in one smooth movement, easily holding his weight.

“Aren’t I heavy?” he gasped.

“Super strength,” she said before bending her legs slightly and leaping into the air.

Instead of going up and falling down again they rose smoothly above the rooftops and into the sky.

“Oh,” Kit said.

Rising slower now that they were above the buildings she took a wide arc around the flashing light show of the super battle. Kit twisted in her arms to watch as the figures fought in mid-air. More seemed to have joined the fray since he last checked, at least one individual was shrouded in what looked like purple lightning and was flinging it around indiscriminately.

“Could you stop squirming please? I don’t think you’d like to fall from this height.”

His stomach plummeted and his grip around her shoulders tightened.

“That’s not great either,” she said, voice strained.

“You scared me,” he muttered, loosening his grip only a little. Looking down at the tree tops and roofs he swallowed tightly.

A dark band below them was woven through with a single string of golden lights, the path leading through the University gardens.

~

Carmine Castle perched on a rise north-east of the city, another remnant of rulers since passed. Built as a home and power base for long dead royalty the castle had long since been re-purposed as a place of learning. The main courtyard rested between the inner wall and the castle proper, smooth dressed stonework shining red in the glow of the many light-stones around the yard. There the super woman had left Kit.

Walking quickly he headed inside and caught a glimpse of himself in the glass doors. He must have hit his head in the crash, because one side of his forehead was starting to swell. The overall effect of dry torso, wet limbs, and sweat streaked, bruised, face made him look as though he’d just done some enthusiastic, and perhaps a little violent, shellfish hunting in the shallows.

Wiping a somewhat dry shoulder across his face he caught the elevator up to the third floor. Thankfully he’d been there before so there was less likelihood of his being kicked out.

The lift opened into a reception area, where the front desk was little more than a stand for a large aquarium. Green slime coated the bottom of the tank, coalescing in places to form balls of emerald green in varying sizes that swayed softly in the gently cycled water. The largest of the balls was over a metre wide; it pulsed with a dim light and hummed gently as Kit walked past.

A long hallway lay beyond. Complete and incomplete skeletons of small cetaceans hung from the ceiling, swimming through the air until he looked directly at them. They didn’t seem aggressive so he kept his eyes on the floor in front of him. Hurried footsteps tapped out a quick beat on the linoleum floor.

“Hello, can I help you?” a lab assistant called as they ran down the hallway toward Kit.

“I’ve a delivery for Dr Cyn,” Kit said as the other man joined him.

“She’s working on something at the moment, I will take it to her.”

“That’s not how it works I’m afraid,” Kit kept walking, “I know I look like shit, sorry about that, but there’s a magical contract involved and I can only deliver this to the doctor, you understand.”

Ignoring the half coherent protests of the assistant Kit let himself into the lab.

The roar of churning water greeted him as it cycled through the large aquarium within. A glass wall almost as high as the ceiling cut the room in half, beyond which a reef scape flourished.

Many coloured corals climbed in tiers over each other while seaweeds and the fronds of anemones swayed with the current. Fish, striped, blotched, and solid colour, peeked from between coral branches, emerging from the reefs shelter in the occasional small school. A three finned sea turtle slowly circled the aquarium, the patterns on its back shifting constantly as it swam.

Dr Cyn stood at the top of a ladder beside the tank, scooping small amounts of water from it to fill test tubes. Her creamy cloud of hair drooped around her face as she peered down at her work.

“Delivery from Captain Rosh,” Kit called, sliding his back pack from his shoulders. It was mercifully undamaged.

“Ah, I’d hoped it’d come today,” she said, setting down the tubes in a rack and climbing down the ladder.

Kit held out the package to her and watched the air waver briefly as she took it. The conclusion of the spell.

“If you’d just sign here,” he handed her the receipt, “I’ll be on my way.”

“Of course, oh,” she looked from the bloodstain on the edge of the paper to his scratched palms. Blinking as though to clear her vision she looked him over, “What has happened to you?”

Kit shrugged and tried to smile as he waved away her concern, “Nothing, a small accident.”

“Go to sick bay before you leave, they’ll patch you up,” she said.

“Sure.”

It was a lie. Only once had he made the mistake of visiting the University sick bay, and never again did he want to see what studying magic could do to the body.

Never the less he smiled and assured the good doctor as he left. Walking back beneath the moving skeletons Kit looked around for the lab assistant, but he seemed to have disappeared once Kit entered the lab.

Passing the humming orbs at reception he felt his energy drop now that he’d completed the delivery.

Once in the courtyard he remembered that without his bike it would be a long walk back. At least there was a tram station just past the gardens. Feeling his left knee begin to ache he was even pleased at the prospect of a tram ride rather than pedalling

Wandering down the paved pathway between the trees he glanced upward at clear skies. The battle had passed and cleaning and repair crews would be making their way through the damaged areas. Roads would soon be reopened.

Lightning flashed out to sea and he stopped to watch a bank of clouds roll toward the shore. The summer storms were coming, and he for one welcomed them. The rain didn’t interfere with his work.

Copywrite © 2017 W C Hill (wchwriter) All rights reserved.

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