Day of the Parade
It was six in the morning and Philomena was already awake and out the door. Her dad was still asleep in his room, and by the time he got up, he would assume she left to go to the parade. It was just as well, because she could hardly explain to him what she was doing.
Well, she could tell him, but she wasn’t sure what would happen to her if she did.
She walked leisurely down Cyremont Avenue, hoisting her backpack up on her shoulder, heading in the general direction of the University. She would look, for all intents and purposes, like a normal student headed to the library to study, which was exactly what she intended.
The dawn sun was valiantly struggling past the mist that clung to the city every morning, bringing with it the tang of salty air and the sharp scent of the docks. It smelled like home, but that wasn’t enough to relax her.
Philomena hadn’t relaxed in two weeks.
The streets were empty, which meant there were no crowds to slip into. That was inconvenient. She wondered if she were better off doing this later in the day, because maybe there’d be more people out. But there were rarely crowds in Port Drebon, not unless everyone was gathered in one area, so it probably made no difference.
Several wagons were heading towards the Loop, probably to prepare for the festivities surrounding the parade. And she didn’t want to think about that, because then she’d think about what she found on her dad’s desk two weeks ago, and that she wasn’t carrying books in her backpack.
Watchmirrors were on every street corner, and the investigators who studied the recordings would be able to pick her out of a crowd easily, so she kept heading towards the library, maintaining a cheerful and relaxed expression on her face.
In truth, she often kept the fake pleasant look on her face. She couldn’t remember when she first started doing that- probably after her dad mentioned once that the people who monitor watchmirrors red-flagged people who always seemed nervous as potential trouble makers.
Philomena was one of those people who always looked a little tense, and she guessed that her dad didn’t want her to get in trouble. And now it made so much sense that her dad knew the details on watchmirrors, and why he’d be concerned she might be targeted.
Her stomach lurched. This was exactly what she never wanted. Her life was supposed to be normal, safe. That’s all she ever wanted, good friends and a loving family. And now she had to give it all away, because her dad was stupid and left those papers out on his desk, and because she was stupid enough to look at them when she’d come into his office looking for an ink bottle to refill her pen.
She ducked into the clothing store. No one was shopping this early in the morning, and the salesclerk was dozing at her counter. The girl, who looked to be in her early teens, gave Philomena a glance when the bell chimed above the door, and then went back to staring out the window. It was terrible service. Philomena certainly would never shop here if that was how they treated their customers.
Her stomach gave another lurch when she thought how she wouldn’t be here to refuse to shop at the tacky clothes store. She wouldn’t get to see any of them, ever again. Wouldn’t even get to send them a letter, because if she did they’d be in trouble, too.
She made like she was browsing the racks of clothes. They were tacky, the sort of cheap clothes that were made in a factory. The clerk was dozing off again, so Philomena slipped past the changing rooms and towards the back, dropping her backpack on the ground. She knelt down, opening it, and tugged out the long hooded cape and some cheap clothes she’d bought a few days ago from another tacky clothing store.
She ducked into a changing room, quickly shucking off the clothes that would identify her as a member of the upper class, and slipped on the cheap clothes and heavy cloak. The mostly-empty bag was filled with her old clothes. She tucked it under her arm. It wouldn’t do to be identified by her backpack.
She left the changing room and walked towards the back door, leading into the inventory. It wasn’t locked, and she hadn’t considered that it might be.
She mentally kicked herself. This whole thing could’ve gone wrong in the first five minutes. She wasn’t cut out for this. Sneaking around and getting into trouble was Jeptha’s skill, not her own. Amalia would ask something ridiculous, like let’s ask the clerk to open it for us! and Jeptha would shrug and what was she thinking, imagining that her friends would be okay with this?
Jeptha, son of General Harland, would hate her, and Amalia, daughter of Judge di Danti, would look at her like she was some kind of odd specimen.
She looked around the back room for the exit. Stores like this always had a back entrance that lead to an alleyway, but usually the back door was monitored by watchmirrors so people couldn’t do exactly what Philomena was doing.
According to her dad’s notes, this one’s watchmirror wasn’t working. He had a list, actually, of different stores where the backdoor watchmirror was broken. How he obtained that list, well, she didn’t want to know.
Just like she didn’t want to know what she’d read on those papers, though the very thing that damned them saved her, because scrawled between notes on the Lothar Czako’s unlawful imprisonment and execution was a note that read:
‘Benjamin J. Mordecai (BM??) Smuggles people out of country. Contact through Dominic at Tikkany Bazaar.’
She guessed that BM meant Mordecai was a black mage, and that Tikkany Bazaar was in Old City.
She walked out the backdoor, also unlocked, and one had to wonder at the sense of the proprietor for doing such a thing, because you were asking to be implicated in a crime by keeping the door unlocked. That ignorant clerk girl- even she might get in trouble, thanks to the thoughtlessness of her boss. Not that she wasn’t grateful for that particular idiot, because she needed to get out, but it was the principle of the matter.
People aiding the rebellion like this, they were stupid. They put their families at risk, their friends at risk. Then they did stupid things like leaving documents out on the table or leaving back doors open, and fucked things over for everyone else.
And for what? Did they really think they could change things, stop people who can force you to tell the truth and betray everyone you love with a single spell, people who watched every street and knew where you were all the time?
No, you can’t; it’s that simple.
So instead, the smart people just smile pleasantly when they walk down the streets, and they don’t ask questions. That way, their families don’t get sent off to who-knows-where and they don’t end up in jail or worse. The naive followed their lead, because they didn’t know any better.
But the really stupid, they fight back. And their families and friends pay the price. Philomena refused to let her or her family be among that number.
She walked down the street, hood low over her face, and felt free. Because she was walking with a scowl, face twisted with grief, and no one could see.
She joined the wagons crossing New Recham Bridge into Old City. New Recham Bridge crossed over the Cyremont River, which served as the physical barrier between the good part of the city and the bad.
Well, to say that it was the bad part of the city would be a misnomer. It was run down and poor. No one put money into fixing it, and the only people who lived here were people who were desperate, and that desperation lead to crime.
And crime lead to black magic.
Not that Philomena really cared about black magic. She didn’t care about magic at all, really. That was Amalia’s shtick. It was math, functions and graphs, all of which were boring and complicated. If she wanted to bore herself, she’d go read the accounting books for the Press. At least that was remotely useful.
Entering Old City was like entering another world.
The streets were narrow, with ramshackle stalls propped up outside apartment buildings, selling baubles, clothes, and food. The sides of buildings were covered in graffiti. Some of it was unintelligible, and most of it made no sense, like ‘Remember the Old City 23!’ which was written in caps next to a rather well-drawn rendition of a bridge.
This part of the city smelled foul. She wondered if they had working sewers, because the further she went in, scent of human waste became almost unbearable. The only good part about it was here she didn’t stand out with her hood; most people had one on. Once she’d walked a few blocks into Old City, mindful of where she was going, she stopped in front of a ratty looking stall with a fat man sitting behind it.
“Could you direct me to the Tikkany Bazaar?” She asked, keeping her face in the shadow of the hood. She thought about trying to speak in a lower tone than usual, but knew she’d only sound ridiculous, and sounding ridiculous was more memorable.
The man removed the pipe from his mouth, blowing out smoke through his nose. She coughed.
“Got money?” He growled.
She scowled at him, but withdrew a couple rhasi. It was the lowest denomination. Two rhasi would buy someone a pound of potatoes. It was more than generous, given that the information wasn’t exactly a secret.
The man glared at her. “Four blocks down, turn right. If you miss it, you’re blind.”
She nodded, and elbowed her way back into the crowd of people walking down the street. She kept her head down, focusing on where she was going. Philomena was doing her best not to gawk, but everywhere she turned, there was something to see.
Most of the time it wasn’t pleasant.
There was a woman slumped over on the corner of the street, hair matted, hands shaking from constant tremors. She considered giving the woman a few rhasi, but then stopped herself. They’d only get stolen the moment she walked away.
A few stalls had owners that were shouting the prices of their wares, while the guy at the stall next to him shouted that his were better. It would be almost amusing, if it all weren’t so intimidating.
It never occurred to her before, that people could live like this. She never wanted it to occur to her. What she wanted was to forget this entire experience, forget the woman on the corner and the man who was muttering to himself on the street, turning to stare at things only he could see, laughing at thin air.
Four blocks down, she turned to the right, where a small alleyway opened into a large archway, packed with people. It was actually shocking, seeing this many in one place.
The building under all the fabric and glittering goods was probably an old government center, or perhaps the abandoned home of a noble. It had high ceilings and marble columns. The floor was concrete, and through the dirt you could see the old marks from when the floor was covered in slabs of expensive tile. They’d probably dug it out and sold it.
That said, it was filled with stalls, selling everything from spices and pies to long rolls of fabric and clothing. The man in her father’s note, Dominic, would be behind one of the stalls. She realized she hadn’t planned this well. She didn’t know where she was going, or which stall he was at. Mostly she just let herself be jostled and walked in the general direction the crowd was going, taking it all in.
At some point, it crossed her mind that Cousin Basileia would totally flip if she found out Philomena was wandering around in this part of town. She grinned under the hood. Pissing off Cousin B was a delight, and she always aimed to aggravate the old biddy. That old bat was miserable and rotten to everyone.
Dad wouldn’t let her attend classes with the woman, but Amalia had to, and Philomena had grown up listening to the stories, both horrified and amused at the same time. But Cousin B always said that Philomena was a part of the family, however distant a cousin, and therefore must be brought up the proper way. It involved a long fight between the bat, her dad, and her mother.
Her mother, if she recalled, wanted her to continue the lessons with Cousin Basileia. It had happened before her parents got separated- a young Philomena had crouched at the top of the stairs, straining to hear the hissed conversation.
Her mother said it was better for her two children to be taught the old ways. They would have an easier time fitting into the culture surrounding nobles. Lawrence skived off most of the lessons and alienated himself from noble culture, so he couldn’t teach them. The Head of House Pelorian had all but disinherited her dad’s line- they had to go to the di Danti’s when they needed help- so they couldn’t ask an aunt or uncle to teach the two children.
To eleven-year-old Philomena, this was all news. She’d known her dad was the “black sheep” of the family, and that they were closer to their cousins, the di Danti’s, than they were their family members in their House, but she hadn’t known it was this bad.
But her dad said that they couldn’t go to the di Danti’s for help that time, and that he couldn’t tell her mother why, only that it wasn’t safe. Her mother had become furious, asking him what he’d done and all a manner of accusations, but he denied them, before finally screaming that it wasn’t what he’d done, it was what Amalia’s dad did.
Philomena never forgot that argument, partly because it was so strange, and partly because she’d always wondered if her immature behavior- avoiding lessons in etiquette- had hastened her parents separation. When she got older, she stopped blaming herself, because her parents were adults, and perfectly capable of sorting out their own problems. And her dad was happier since Paige, her mother, left. As far as she knew, her mother was happier, too.
In the end, Amalia’s parents and Philomena’s dad had patched things up, and whatever Titus did was forgotten. Philomena never asked. So they maintained a relationship with the di Danti’s, and Amalia complained about lessons and how Philomena was so lucky to get out of them. And whenever Philomena visited the Manor and ran into her Cousin, the old bat would pull her aside and give her a lesson on the way nobles did this or that, saying that she simply couldn’t survive unless she knew the proper way to greet a noble from a new family versus an old family.
The grin faded when it crossed her mind that she wouldn’t get to see her cousin much longer. No more impromptu lessons on etiquette or how to be a proper noble. She squirmed. You know what? She wouldn’t miss that one bit.
Philomena spotted a friendly-looking man behind a stall. He didn’t have many people there, so maybe he wouldn’t feel uncomfortable giving her directions.
“Hi. Sorry if this is an odd question, but would you mind directing me to Dominic’s stall?” She said with her most winning smile, not that he could really see it under the shadow of the hood.
His face closed up, and he looked around them, before scowling at her nastily. “He’s gone, lady.”
“He’s gone? Gone where?”
“I don’t know, you tell me.” he shrugged. “Couple days ago and he up and disappears. Probably rotting in the limelock by now.”
“Wow. You fucking think I’m stupid? Get out of here. We don’t want your kind here.” Kind? What?
“I asked you a question. Now I expect an answer.”
“The Limelock. You lot call it the Drek Pit, Port Drebon Prison, local tourist attraction, fuck if I know.”
“Oh.” Dominic had been arrested. Shit. How was she supposed to find Benjamin Mordecai, now?
“Right. Now fuck off.” He pointed, aggressively, away from his stall. But she figured if he was going to do something, he’d have done it already.
“One more question. I was going to Dominic to speak to a Benjamin Mordecai. Would you know where to find him?”
“Really?” He raised his eyebrows, looking at her like she’d suddenly turned into a new person. “Well, I have no idea who that is, and frankly, I don’t wanna know. He sounds like a shifty fellow, with a name like that.” He was very obviously lying.
“Do you know anyone who might know who he is or where he is?” She pursed her lips. “It’s important, and kind of urgent.”
The man considered her for a few moments. “Get out of the bazaar and go south until you reach the tower. There’s an alley to the right of it. Go down it until you see a pub- it’s called the Red Roost. Someone there might be able to help you.”
“Thank you.” She turned around, and quickly exited the bazaar.
It wasn’t like she was doing this solely for herself. She was trying to save her family. Well, she was trying to save parts of her family. She couldn’t really do much about her mother or her dad.
Her mother wasn’t living with her dad. Last Philomena knew, her mother was in Harkow city living with a man called Jerome. Her dad wouldn’t divorce her, but they were separated, and had been since she was twelve.
Dad probably was to blame, though. Philomena’s mother was shallow and self-serving, dad kept leaving in the middle of the night and wouldn’t tell mother where he’d go. Mother had thought her dad was having an affair. The arguments ended with Paige Pelorian walking out the door, with Philip, Philomena’s older brother, taking up the rear.
Philomena had stayed behind with her dad.
Two months later Philip returned, disillusioned. She hadn’t really asked what had happened, but it was after that when Philip started calling his mother Paige and stopped calling his dad Lawrence.
The Red Roost was a tiny tavern scrunched between two tall apartment complexes. Inside it was dark and smoky, with a few patrons slumped over their bar stools. There was a woman at the front with bright canary yellow hair, but no bartender.
“Excuse me, but could you tell me where either the bartender or Benjamin Mordecai is?”
The woman lazily swung around on her seat. Philomena immediately grasped that she’d made a grave error. The woman had a necklace of teeth- human teeth. What was her father thinking, dealing with people like this?
“Oh!” She squealed, like an overexcited child, “Look, an itty bitty baby. What’re you looking for Badname for?”
She didn’t bother to ask what she was talking about. “I’m sorry for bothering you. I’ll ask elsewhere, leave you to your-” she glanced at the bar, “-beer.”
The woman laughed, loud and long. She picked up her beer, lightly stroking the side of the mug, grinning.
“Don’t be grim, little cowl girl. I promise I won’t hurt you.” Her lips curling into a vicious grin betrayed her true intentions. Philomena started slowly backing away.
“Jubilee.” Said a voice from the back of the bar, in a warning tone. “No fights in the bar.”
The canary blonde woman, Jubilee, pouted.
Philomena quickly turned to the man, another blonde who was coming from behind the bar, carrying a crate of wine.
“Hi. I’m sorry. But I need to find Benjamin Mordecai. Do you know where he is?” If her voice came out strangled, she wouldn’t be surprised.
His eyes narrowed. “Ben’s sick. Come another day.”
“It’s important. And urgent.” The same line she’d used with the bazaar guy. If it worked then, it might work now. Maybe it was a codeword for something with these people.
“Is someone dying? Because one of Ben’s people is dying today, and I don’t think he’s taking clients.” Dry sarcasm. Right.
“My family and I will be dead soon if we don’t get to talk to him.” She wasn’t coming back here. She refused. It was bad enough walking past those people on the street. She couldn’t do it.
The man looked at her, rolled his eyes, and pointed behind him. “Backroom. He’s drunk.”
She nodded, went around the bar and entered the narrow hallway leading to the backroom. The lights were dim, and there were no windows.
Sitting on the floor next to a bottle of cheap whiskey was an old balding man with a pot belly, scowling at the wall. He looked up when she entered the room.
“Did yeh find Harvey?” His voice was slurred.
“Sorry. No, I’m a… client.”
Mother had thought her dad was having an affair, though now Philomena knew better. Because on her dad’s desk had been a half-written article that would never be printed in The People’s Press.
‘There is a fierce battle raging in Port Drebon, right below the surface. Regardless of your stance on ritual magics, those of us on the streets will agree that the tyranny of the state has reached an ultimate high. Lothar Czako is just the latest victim.
Czako, 37, lived in Old City with his adopted son and family friend. While he was not a prominent activist, he helped the less fortunate find safer shores in Luwanna and Sutanni, providing refugees from Pankhurst the means to get out of Jaborre. By all accounts, he was not guilty of the recent rash of bombings targeting Port Drebon factories. *According to sources, the groups responsible were the Free Mage Armament acting in conjunction with the Bonedolls.
While providing false papers and passports is illegal, it is not a crime deserving of death penalty. With nowhere to run to and the requirement that people be mind raped to be able to apply for a decent job, people turned to those like Czako, who provided them with the papers they needed for a fraction of the cost.
This situation has been made worse in recent times, due to the devastation in Pankhurst after the tsunami that crashed into the city three weeks ago. Refugees have been…’
The People’s Press would never print an article on Lothar’s innocence and the tyranny of the state. Somehow, her dad thought it was a brilliant idea to write for some kind of underground newspaper. It wasn’t that she disagreed with him, exactly. She just wasn’t about to go out and shout it from the rooftops. Yes, it was tyranny and oppression, and that was exactly why she didn’t go around complaining about it.
Among the notes for the story, written in her dad’s untidy scrawl, was a circled note containing the information on Benjamin. She’d thought for a moment that maybe he was considering leaving Jaborre and going back to Luwanna, like any sensible person would, but the information on Benjamin wasn’t pertaining to his business of helping people emigrate, but on his connection to Lothar.
She only knew that because there was a letter shoved under the stack of papers, addressed to Benjamin J. Mordecai, asking whether or not the information he was presenting in the article will put him in more danger. A copy of the information he planned on including in the article was attached with a paperclip.
The letter was crumpled, like he’d thrown it out then retrieved it from the trash and flattened it out, after. It was signed Writer at the Free Voice, which at least showed her that her dad had enough sense not to sign his own name.
There was a stark difference between the dad she knew and the person writing the article. Her dad was a disillusioned man who paid lip service to the hatred of black mages, but never seemed moved by it. He was the man who locked himself in his office every Winquar the 45th and Sumquar the 60th, and got drunk on cheap whiskey that he bought from a specific store off of Finner Bridge. On those days, he didn’t want to be interrupted by Philomena or Philip unless either of them were dying. It was just one of those quirks people had, she’d thought.
He’d taken her to the Moral Restoration Society once, like it was required of him, but not one more time. He’d said he didn’t feel it was necessary, and that both his children were responsible enough to recognize danger and stay away from it. She wasn’t about to argue because it was boring, but she always thought that he just couldn’t be bothered to walk with her. Knowing that he was a member of the rebellion or resistance, whatever they called themselves, was enlightening. He hadn’t wanted to take her because it was against his ideals.
She hated this. It was like a nightmare from the darkest part of the abyss. She was speaking to someone who smuggled people out of the country, to smuggle her and her family out. She didn’t think she’d get her dad to leave, because if he was doing what he was doing then he was probably neck deep in it, but her brother? her mother?
Well, her mother would probably just report them for the cash reward, the cow, but Philip and his fiance were definitely not involved and she could get them out. He was her big brother. He’d go with his fiance, and they could start over again. It’d be terrible, but it was better than being dead.
“Unless you can tell me where Harvey is, I don’t care.” He rasped.
“My brother, his fiance and I- and maybe my father- need a way out of Jaborre. The Republic of Luwanna would be ideal, because we have family over there, but the Sutanni Empire is acceptable.”
“Are you deaf? I said I don’t care.”
“We can pay you the full sum for passports and papers.”
“Then go to a fucking immigration office and get out.”
“Look, I’m sorry- I heard your friend is dying today, and I’m sorry for your loss, but my family might die, too.” She wanted to say you can’t save your own family but you can save mine but she was pretty sure the man would throw his bottle at her if she tried.
He looked up, studying her with bloodshot eyes. “You know what my boy is doing right now?”
“Sorry.” The word escaped her mouth without conscious control.
“He’s going out to get himself killed. The little shit idiot’s gonna die and then who will I have?”
Philomena looked away, staring at an uneven table that was missing a chair. “And you know it’s only a matter of time before they’re coming for you.”
The man snorted. “Been comin’ for me for years and never found me, the idiots.”
“How did you do it?”
“Not your business.” He lifted his bottle in an imaginary toast, and drank.
“You’re going to die if you keep doing that.”
“You sound like a bastard I knew once. Look like him, too.” He frowned, blinking. “Pelorian’s kid. You’re Pelorian’s kid. Why the fuck are you here?”
He knew her dad. What?
“To get my family and myself out of the country.” She said absently.
“Lawrence? Why the fuck do you need to leave? Them hoity toities got him all set up. He don’t need to leave. Hasn’t done jack shit for us. Watched him die and did nothing, the fucker. Coward.” He spat.
It seemed pointless to lie when he already knew her name.
“My father writes for The Free Voice, I think. I found some papers of his. He’s involved, and he’s going to get caught. We need to get out.”
The man lowered his bottle and stared. Then he barked out a laugh. “You found papers twenty-five years old, kid. He quit, ran out.”
She practically growled. “It was a half written article on Lothar Czako’s false imprisonment and the tsunami in Pankhurst.”
He looked like she’d bowled him over. “Ol’ LJ’s workin at the paper?” He whispered.
“Yes, which is why we need to leave. We’re in a lot of trouble.”
He put down the bottle and rubbed his eyes, muttering. “Gonna die by tomorrow?”
“I don’t think so.”
“The end of the week?”
“Um-” She didn’t want to say no, because he’d probably turn her away.
“Come back in a couple days.”
She breathed a sigh of relief. They’d be safe.
The man staggered to his feet. “Tell that bastard of a father of yours to write old Bennett, would you?”
“Sure.” What else could she say?
“Gonna get those kids- shoulda been back by now with Harvey.” He muttered.
Philomena was dismissed.
She wasn’t saying a word about Benjamin- Bennett, whoever, to her dad, especially not if he knew the guy. Now she’d just need to figure out how to tell Philip and Tom they couldn’t stay in the country. At least that conversation wouldn’t require her to wander through streets full of criminals.
And you know what? She wasn’t going to that stupid parade, either. She was going to lie down, and forget the entire day.