by David Rauenzahn
available on Amazon
It feels as if I’m carrying the weight of the world on the coin that I am balancing by its edge on my thumb. I’ve been holding it there for about a minute now. The pressure of the load has been steadily increasing. It would be even more intense if I had drunk any of the Thaum in my holster, rather than just using whatever residue has built up in my system.
My face is beaded with sweat that has started dripping down my nose and shaggy black hair, nearly falling into my eyes. The spring’s night breeze washes through the trees that stand along the cliffside I’m sitting on, as well as the edges of the valley below. The wind feels like a cool river even with my black reinforced overcoat on and my cowl wrapped around my neck. I’m grateful for the relief, even though I almost lose my composure as the coin starts to wobble in the breeze. I force myself to breathe calmly and slightly adjust the positioning of my finger so the coin is parallel to the wind, minimizing the chance it will fall.
A few seconds later, I feel like I can’t hold the load anymore.
“Heads,” I say, and flip the coin in the air.
The coin disappears into the night sky, and for a brief moment I worry about whether or not I have to catch the damn thing for this to work. Then, I see the coin shimmering in the moonlight as it falls back down to me, spinning so fast it looks like a miniature moon.
I catch it slightly to the right of where I had flipped it and slap it down onto the back of my left hand. Trembling, I move my right hand back to reveal the coin.
“Slag me,” I curse under my breath.
“Ha!” Breth laughs as he sits next to me. My cousin is also sweating in his overcoat and cowl, the top part of his undercut brown hair plastered to his broad face. Even though he’s smiling, his brow is twisted in concentration as he holds two magnets just apart from one another. “Told you that wouldn’t work.”
“Fifty-fifty chance, boyo,” I say as I pretend to roll my tight shoulders and stretch behind me. As I do so, I partially open the switchblade clipped to the back of my belt and run my forefinger along the edge, creating a shallow cut. I quickly clean the blade on the inside of my overcoat and then reach out and touch one of the two rocks resting on the edge of the cliff in front of my cousin and me. I make sure to press my blood to the side of the stone Breth can’t see, and I immediately feel my mental connection to the stone amplified to be even greater than during my previous attempt. Once I feel my focus anchored there and have directed the stone’s potential energy out over the cliff, I sit back, re-balance the coin on my thumb, and channel a little more Thaum into it.
Breth snorts. “You must be desperate, if you’re actually bloodmarking it.”
“Hardly,” I reply. “You’ve bloodmarked your flips innumerable times. I’m just evening out the playing field.”
“Mmm. Fair enough. I still say it’s crazy to use a ‘flip’ that you actually flip,’ Breth says and narrows his brown eyes, intensifying his focus between the magnets and the rock in front of him, causing the air to almost crackle with the tension. For a few more moments, the pressure continues to build in the air, as if the world were starting to bend ever so slightly toward the line between his flip and the stone.
Then, Breth lets the magnets click together.
The stone in front of him arcs into the night, shooting out over the cliff. It takes about seven seconds before I hear it thump onto the dirt road near the middle of the valley below.
“Not bad,” I say as I continue to focus on the coin. The first attempt took a lot out of me, but that will just make the look on Breth’s face all the more satisfying when I succeed.
“Not bad,” Breth repeats. “I just shot that thing a few hundred meters, and you say ‘not bad’.”
“Cuz it wasn’t,” I reply. My hand is shaking more than last time and the wind is starting to pick up. I wait as long as I can, and just as the coin starts to tip over, I flip it and call, “Heads.”
Once again, the coin disappears out of sight until it tumbles back close enough to reflect the light of the quarter moon. I catch the coin again and flip it onto the back of my left hand.
Nothing feels different, except for a slight tingling running across my skin. But that could just be from carrying a load for too long.
“Let’s see it, then,” Breth says as he leans back on his hands.
I struggle to maintain my intention of having the rock shoot out over the cliff without releasing it, waiting until the tension is at the breaking point. Then, I lift my hand to reveal the coin.
As I see the Queen’s face shining in the moonlight, I realize the tingling is my body resisting the pressure of the heaviest load I have ever felt.
“Ha!” I yell, but in my excitement, I lose my concentration. The rock in front of me suddenly glows and explodes upward at an angle instead of going straight out as I had intended. It soon looks like a star in the sky before disappearing into the inky void.
“Slag me sideways,” I mutter as I lean backward to rest my hands on the ground. My thickly woven and multi-layered overcoat designed to disperse the force of a bullet usually makes me feel safe, but right now the multiple layers are suffocating. Steam rises from me into the air, and my button-up shirt, vest, overcoat, and holster feel like an oven. I pull the first few buttons of my shirt loose as I breathe in the rich smell of rain carried on the wind. The armpits of my shirt are soaked through, and the wind now cuts through me like winter’s chill.
“You better hope you didn’t just give away our position,” my uncle says as he monitors the road from an overhang a few meters to our right. His black overcoat, hat, and mask make him seem more a gargantuan shadow than a man. He doesn’t look at us with his eyes that glow ever so slightly from the small dose of Thaum he took to enhance his senses. “But I admit, that’s a creative way to exponentiate potential. Glad you’ve been paying attention in school. Now save your energy. You’re gonna need it.”
“I doubt we’re gonna be much use, Uncle Rawk,” I say as I pocket my coin and lay back in the damp grass to stare up at the cloudless sky. Glittering stars wink back at me. “You’re leading Father’s best and brightest. We’re just gonna get in the way.”
“Your experience, or lack thereof, isn’t the point,” my uncle says, pulling down his mask and looking at me with cold, glowing gray eyes. “We need all hands on deck.”
Father is getting too used to having his Creeps do his killing for him, I muse to myself with a smile. Though I doubt anyone here has half his body count. Except maybe Uncle Rawk. “If this smash-and-grab is so important, Father should have just come here himself instead of to that slagged party.”
“He’s being watched tonight,” Uncle Rawk says as he pulls his mask back up and continues watching the road in the valley below the cliff we wait on. “We need to at least keep the appearance of being at peace with the Pulsers. You two are only here because you’re supposed to be asleep and getting ready for finals tomorrow.”
“You better grade us on a curve, old man,” Breth says with a yawn.
“How about for every box of Thaum we loot, you spike our grade a color,” I suggest. “Ten boxes and we get gold.”
“I’m going to be just as tired as you proctoring the exam, if not more so,” Uncle Rawk replies. “Besides, we’re not just going after vials tonight.”
I groan and rub my eyes with my hands which are wet from the dew in the grass. “If we’re not lifting Thaum, then why the-”
A loud crack sounds off behind me. Breth and I bolt to our feet, and I pull out my coiler and magknife from my holster. Magnets in both handles hum apart, and coils in the barrel and blade begin to glow, casting light only slightly brighter than the moonlight falling on the grass and trees around me. The coiler only has five shots resting in the clip jutting from the bottom of the barrel, but each shot is more than enough to punch a hole through someone not wearing protective gear. Even so, it takes time for each shot to charge up with the coiler’s magnets, and I would need to drink some Thaum to make any use of the quick-charge modifications. With my knife hand, I reach into my coat to my holster and rest my hand on a row of small vials filled with the glowing blue-green liquid. All around me, men and women under my father’s payroll, all clad in shadows, appear throughout the copse of trees and raise their own coilers.
The sound only came from a few feet away, and the first step forward I take sends a chilling pulse through me.
“Raign, wait,” Uncle Rawk hisses as he quickens his pace toward me.
I continue walking, taking careful steps and scanning around with my coiler raised in front of me. Even though I can’t fire rapidly, I have to make whoever is out there believe I can fire as many rounds as it takes.