The badge was new as the young pilot removed it from the collar of his chestnut leather bomber jacket. Slightly warm, too, the heat of the engravings still glowing from under his touch. A smirk pulled at his lips as he set it aside on the console of his airship.
He knew this would happen. Join the airforce and within a few months, he'd get promoted to the elite squad. Captain Gil Hawkes, himself of the Argentum Air Force, had told him personally that he had high expectations for the young pilot. Saw big things from the young man he was constantly calling a “son”. Of course, with a high Lieutenant status came the high-ranked missions. He just never would have expected a mission like this.
The badge glimmered as the sun's rays caressed each gold-encrusted ridge of the silver medal. The silhouette of the oncoming city was visible against the glorious faded pinks, pastel oranges, and lavenders of the sunset painting the sky. He sure as hell never saw quite a view like this back home. Such a shame that in the course of a few months, smoke and a raging fire rising from the depths of hell will be the only thing visible against the sky's natural work of art - as Hawkes had lovingly described it.
How exciting to imagine. How enthralling the view would be to see plumes of fog, burning crimsons, and gold rising from the once "pristine" and "magnificent city." It made him gag. A little bile rose up to the back of his throat at the thought. Gold, the city was anything but gold.
But the city still didn’t deserve its impending fate.
“Breaking and entering into residencies and shops. Robbing a considerable amount of jewelry and troys from homes -”
The Captain droned on and on with his absurd list of crimes she recently committed, and she could only stand there with a lazy smile just barely lifting the corners of her mouth. However, her attention was split as the officer’s palms holding her tight in his grip behind her started to sweat, creating a slimy-like texture against the dirt riddling her own skin.
She flinched, eyes glazed over with attention immediately switching to the Captain who raised a brow towards her.
“Am I boring you, Miss Fane?”
Lottie feigned a yawn then, always deriving in immense pleasure of messing with the Captain.
“Oh, not at all Quinn.” She fluttered her eyes as if she were struggling to keep them open, going slightly limp in the officer’s grasp. “It’s just - that’s such a long list you’ve got there, how is it that you’ve only managed to catch me now?” The smirk to bite her lips was just an added twist to the dagger lodged in the man’s ego.
The twitch to his eye was obvious, and a tad comical with a giggle bubbling to her throat once she saw it.
“You’re an especially slippery character, Miss Fane. I’m honestly a little honored to have you in my custody at the moment.” His own smile made her skin crawl, the man possessed a grudge against her lasting the last few years, and this moment was rare for the both of them.
Lottie clicked her tongue, glancing down to the gun protruding from the Captain’s holster, then trailed her eyes up to the rooftops arching above them in the alley, mocking a dramatic eye roll.
Captain Quinn then continued with his list of offenses, hoping to drill into her exactly how much trouble she was going to be in once taken to the station. However, with her head now tilted slightly back and above, she could get a good look at the fire escape ladder to her left. The thing was rusted and looked as if it was coming apart from the building’s brick siding at the top near the roof, but solid enough to potentially hold her weight. She knew that just on the other side of that building, half a mile or so away were elevated train tracks that circled the city. Hearing the train’s whistle in the distance cracked another smile on her face, and she tilted her head down, biting the inside of her cheek to hide it.
It was too easy.
“ - and finally, theft from the property across the street.” It was a local bank, so what? Some poor bastard always had their personal lockbox unlocked and open next to hers. “You’ve been busy recently.”
A scoff puffed under her breath with her head lifting back up, tonguing the inside of her cheek where she may have bit it too hard.
“Alright, Quinn -” Lottie stood straight, “what’s the damage this time?”
The man lowered his gaze to the list in his hands and hummed, seeming to take his good ol’ time in figuring out the most damning punishment he could give her at that moment.
“A seven hundred troy fine -” He looked back up to her with a twinkle in those gray eyes, a hand coming up to stroke the calico scruff patching his chin. “and fifteen years in prison.”
The prison part honestly shocked her, a surge of adrenaline forcing her to lash out with the sweaty officer behind her yanking her back against his front. “What?!” Lottie grunted and wrestled a bit with the officer to allow her some breathing room. “Come on, Quinn - I know we’ve had our disagreements, but isn’t that a bit much?”
Quinn lifted a brow. “It could be worse, couldn’t it, Miss Fane?” He patted the holster at his hip with a satisfied grin to help solidify his point.
Lottie felt her heart pounding in her chest, realizing the man wasn’t going to dream about going easy on her this time, not after he finally had his hands on her after the recent months of endless chasing. Panic started to seep through the uninterested mask she had been wearing, and the officer behind her started to push her forward to follow Quinn. She forced her breath to calm and glanced back at the ladder she’d been scoping out earlier.
She wasn’t sure about Quinn, but she wouldn’t mind a few more months of running.
Planting her feet to the ground and stopping abruptly caused the officer behind her to collide with her back. As soon as she felt the contact, Lottie raised a foot and rammed the heel of her boot down on the man’s toe. He let out a painful howl, hands instinctually releasing her own to cradle his foot, and she took no time in turning to swat a fist at his nose for good measure. Hearing a crunch split under her fist, the officer fell to his knees, hands reaching to shield his nose and face with eyes scrunched shut in agony.
With both hands now free, a second passed as other surrounding officers caught up to what was happening and moved to tackle her. However, Lottie was just a tad smaller than them, flinging herself around, and through the gaps between the huddle of officers and towards the ladder. The rusted metal hung a few feet from the ground, and she used all momentum she had from the sudden sprint from the doubled-over officer to leap from the ground. Tattered gloved palms just barely made contact with the bottom rung, the whole thing shaking violently from the sudden weight and she sucked in a breath; praying to whatever god to please not let the ladder crumble!
Swinging her legs, just barely missing kicking an officer in the face, she was able to grab the next bar up with her opposite hand. Her biceps were screaming at her like they never had before, twinges of sharp pain just barely felt under the surge of adrenaline as she started climbing. The cries of outrage below her and the sudden deafening twang of metal bullets hitting the ladder sporadically only encouraged her to move quicker with an uncontrollable, wild grin splitting her features.
Once the view of the sky broke above the edge of the roof, she pushed through those last couple of bars before hoisting herself up and over. Tumbling over the edge, her knee scraped the side of the brick and tore her pants, blood almost immediately pebbling along the abrasion as she let out a groan.
Rolling onto her back, Lottie gripped her knee, a burning sensation blooming from the scrape only for her attention immediately being torn to the sound of metal whining against weight. She scrambled to the edge to peer over, watching a few officers try their hand at scaling the ladder, but it shook too much under their weight. Some bolts holding the metal to the side of the building even popped from the brick and she chuckled at their attempts. If another person tried, the whole thing would come crashing down.
The smile was back as she moved to stand, her knee obviously sore but the excitement coursing through her veins numbed everything other than the immense feeling of success.
Cupping her hands around her mouth, she called down to the scrambling group. “Must be a new record, Quinn!” The man whipped his head up towards her. “You almost had me for twenty minutes there!”
His scowl could be seen from space, the string of curses spilling like dripping flames from his mouth only spurred her on, and Lottie was quick to salute to the increasingly enraged Captain before ducking behind the ledge again.
Another chuckle bubbled from her chest as she moved across the rooftop, taking it slow at first to make sure her knee was okay. Once her limp started to disappear, Lottie let out an exhilarated shout towards the sky before taking off running.
Her feet carried her swiftly across the roof, leaping to the next with only a slight waver as her knee adjusted to the action. The cooling evening air carried a breeze that raised goosebumps along her arms, the wind carding and curling its fingers through her curled and cropped hair; enticing her to spread her arms like wings.
The raised train tracks came into view after she scaled the rooftop of another building, looking down and out across as she searched for the perfect place to hitch a ride. The serrating trill of the train’s whistle echoed, and she turned to see it a couple of miles behind, plumes of white steam frothing up from the engine. The train was moving fast despite the groaning strain from the several decades this train had seen. Lottie calculated its route and followed the tracks it was traversing toward the downtown area of the city. She would need to move as far as possible from Quinn, if he was still bothering to chase her at this point.
Regardless, the train was approaching fast; and if she still wanted that ride, she needed to move quicker.
Mapping out a course from the roof she was on to another adjacent to the tracks, her feet sprang back into action. Kicking up some dirt and rubble, Lottie hurdled herself from one rooftop to another, struggling for a second on the sloping shingles of another bank that was so close. A frustrated grunt huffed past her lips as she almost lost balance walking the center of the sloping roof like a tightwire, the second jarring whistle from the train almost startling her if she wasn’t already watching it pass right by.
“No!” She yelled with a hand outstretched as she finally made it to the adjacent rooftop.
Luckily, it was a passenger train, as there were a few more cars than there would be compared to the only resource train that rounded the city. When she finally scrambled to that last rooftop, Lottie barely had time to register where to jump and where to grab for the train, her body on autopilot as she launched herself from the roof.
A tuck and a roll had landed her just on the edge of the second-to-last train car roof, a hand shooting out to grab at the air vent just inches from where she collided with the car. It nearly knocked the wind out of her, but that last little wave of adrenaline was able to pull her up and onto the top of the car, fingers clinging to the small air vent shaft. A huff of disbelief sagged her shoulders while she regained her balance on the knee that wasn’t scuffed to hell.
Giving her injured knee another once-over, the trail of blood now staining her pants caused a groan, but it was nothing serious. Ripping at the band of cloth she always kept around her arm, for such occasions as this, she was quick to wrap it around her knee; bandaging the area until she could get it cleaned.
Boy, what’s Myra gonna say about this? Nothing short of how completely idiotic she was, no doubt.
Once satisfied with her work, Lottie scoffed at how the hell that all ended up working, now that she had a chance to sit and think about it. The train turned a corner then, right into the South Valley of Aestor, passing the poor district again and she trained an eye between buildings and along the streets. Just knowing Quinn and his directionless rookies would be scouring the streets for her. While the idea started to sit like a rock in her stomach, the train turned the corner again going left towards the Center District. A chill ran up her spine once the view of the District started filling the horizon, alleviating the weight to drop to her stomach.
The city of brass - Aestor - never glowed, never shone, never sparkled in the rising or setting sun. The mismatched buildings never sang with a homely chorus while the streets never laughed with unabashed joy. It did, however, charm its inhabitants in an unusual way. The city’s brass, as scarred and rusted as it was still added color regardless of the buildings withering away in the harsh acidic rains, the copper-like smell something many citizens simply adjusted to. Along with the discolored mist that always hung just feet above the roads. With vast and towering structures that pointed towards the clouds, to the northern hemisphere where the airships traveled to and fro. Where balloons dared to venture to great heights, observing the city below.
Lottie became nostalgic upon remembering climbing aboard one of the netted balloons as a child with her family. Everyone gazed down at the triangular walls separating the districts and bustling life from the valleys of the surrounding rocky and jagged mountains. The dry and discolored mountains themselves and the cracking land beyond the wallers were, unfortunately, not much to look at.
She remembers stories about how there was a drought that lasted summer after summer long ago, forcing the growing city inside the walls as the citizens hoarded what food and water they could. Trees and plants were slowly starting to wither away then, being replaced with robust brass tubes and thin delicate brass wires. Emerald glass hanging from the branches of the flimsy and odd-looking vegetation, acting as leaves nature had failed to regrow in the years following the consistent drought. It was a peculiar beauty, the glass shimmering and glinting under the setting sun each evening as it would catch and reflect beams of light from the sun and airships droning above.
The train’s whistle pierced the air again, Lottie’s ears ringing at the sound as she noticed they were approaching a bustling station. She flexed her hand and fingers that had been clutching the air vent shaft, rubbing at her bandaged knee once she started to feel the stinging from the scrapped-up skin.
Worn tracks started clicking underneath the slowing train with more steam sputtering and blooming from the vent she had been clutching. Taking the chance to hide herself amongst the thickening cloud, Lottie jumped from the train car once they came to a stop at the station. Dusted boots meeting the scuffed concrete with an angry thud, she wobbled a bit to try and keep her balance, her knee feeling the impact for sure. Noticing she was just a few feet from another officer, she quickly toed to join a near grouping of people distracted by something up in the sky.
Airships, everyone pointing up to airships coming into the ports just along the corners of all three Districts. One of the airships, that she was able to get a glimpse at, looked slightly different. It might have been her imagination, but the glint of silver from the sun’s rays catching the trimming along the ship was definitely interesting.
Someone from Argentum would have to be completely insane to fly over, let alone land here in Aestor during the cold war the two cities seemed to have plunged themselves into. She didn’t know the details but was familiar with the conservation efforts within the city to keep any Argentum spices and forces from infiltrating and taking anything back with them. Anything to keep Argentum from melting the entire city of Aestor for their own misplaced ego.
The Silver City, always in second and never satisfied.
Instead of staying to gawk any longer, Lottie slipped from the group once noticing the officer she had nearly missed started making his rounds. And she was better running than trying to stay hidden as she was.
Weaving her way between people, she made sure to keep a careful hand on the pouch by her side. Even if she had only managed to get her hands on several troys from her neighbor’s lockbox, it would be enough to feed her mother and younger brother this week. Lottie strolled through the station then, her gaze lazy and nonchalant as she passed Aestor’s elite with tall hats and pressed jackets, and canes with fitted and decorated brass heads. Only to be greeted by the lowest of life hanging around each corner with tattered pants and scuffed-up faces. Their hands outstretched for anything, food, troys, brass, the kindness of someone’s heart.
They were fools. If Lottie had learned anything over the years, it was that thievery kept her from sitting on her knees with hands outstretched like these poor saps. It kept a bit of her pride intact too.
However, the next face to appear around a corner, once outside the stuffiness of the station, was a far more welcomed one. And while she tried to not sneak up on her best friend, most times she couldn’t help it.
With a mischievous smile, she stood there in front of her friend with hands behind her back. Rocking a bit on her heels, she tried to remain as quiet as she could with Myra’s attention down towards something in her hands.
“Lottie, you best have a good reason to be sneaking up on me.”
The smile stretched wider with Myra turning to look up to where Lottie was standing.
“How’d you know it was me?”
A scoff as Lottie stepped a bit closer and out of the way of the others passing by.
“I know your color anywhere, Red.” Mrya pocketed the few troys she also appeared to have come across. “But, I also couldn’t help but notice the bit of a limp you’ve got.” Precise fingers gestured down towards her left foot.
It was her right, but Lottie will give her credit at least.
“It’s a long story, I’ll tell you if you help me get my leg cleaned up?” She grabbed for Myra’s forearm then, pulling her along and her friend went willingly.
Myra could only chuckle as Lottie, much shorter than her, guided her past the increasingly bustling crowds just outside the station.
“It better be a damn good story, Lottie.” She held her hand now and gave it a playful squeeze. “If patching you up is gonna take long.”
“Oh, I promise -” Lottie felt the childlike energy add a slight skip to her step as she tugged her friend along.
She started guiding them down to one of their secret hideouts atop a roof near Myra’s home, wading through the slightly orange mist that tended to blanket the Center District. Any other time, Lottie would find the mist annoying and unbearable to try and navigate through. However, with Quinn still probably tracking her, she welcomed the extra coverage.
“You’d be proud of me, Myra. Almost got fifteen years from Quinn.”
Lottie hushed her friend and guided her to lead them into the building where their hideout was located; both giggling as they ascended the makeshift stairs to the roof of the abandoned place. At this point, the sun had already set beyond the high walls of the city. The sky just outside of the crumbling walls of the loft they called a temporary home was painted a dark navy; not quite pitch black as the light from Aestor and its two neighboring cities filled the horizon with an ember glow. A few stars speckled on the darker canvas there was overhead, the ceiling of the loft - or what remained of it - giving a view of the crescent moon and those few twinkling stars.
Once Myra was able to find the gauze used for their little excursions - and by they, it was mostly Lottie - she was able to address her friend’s wound. Cleaning it with a bottle of alcohol they neglected to finish the previous night and trying to scrub as much of the blood that had dried along her skin.
“So, what the hell did you do for almost getting fifteen years from Quinn?” Myra asked, her attention still towards her leg, dabbing the cloth as gently as she could.
Lottie inhaled sharply through her teeth as the alcohol stung against the exposed cuts along her shin and knee. “I, uh -” She chuckled. “So, you know that bastard that keeps his lockbox unlocked an’ open next to mine at the bank in the South District?”
Myra nodded in response, humming and undoing more of the bandage Lottie had wrapped around her lower leg.
“So, I snuck a few troys an’ I guess the teller saw me. I ran, and he threw a freakin’ paper-weight at my back.”
Faded sea-gray eyes lifted to her with a raised brow and Lottie could only laugh. “I know! He nailed me right in the back an’ made me stumble out the door. He called Quinn soon after an’ there was an officer just outside the bank doing his rounds. Damn rookie tackled me then an’ dragged me into an alley to wait for Quinn.”
“I take it you weren’t there long?” Myra shook her head at the same time in disbelief, dark curls bouncing with the movement.
Lottie shrugged, “He only had me for about twenty minutes or so, I was able to get away but scrapped my knee in the process.”
“So it seems.” The smirk lingered on Myra’s face as she turned Lottie’s leg from side to side. “Is there any blood left? It’s too dark for me to make out any blotches.”
Lottie shifted her leg as well and nodded in confirmation. She didn’t do a bad job. “It’s good. You got everythin’.”
“How ‘bout that?” Myra grinned wide and proud as she reached for the gauze to start wrapping her leg; Lottie aiding as well in getting everything bound tight and secure.
A comfortable silence fell between them then, the sound of the train’s whistle and bustling along the road below them otherwise filling the background with a form of white noise. The distant clanking of the mines, the consistent whirring of gears and machines running the city, even into the late night. It was all a lullaby both had become accustomed to over the countless nights spent lying on the floor of the loft with Lottie describing the stars.
“Might have seen an Argentum airship today too.”
She didn’t mean to blurt it out so suddenly as they were both lying on their backs, heads side-by-side. But it was a little detail she thought Myra might like to hear from her ventures today.
“You sure it was Argentum?”
Lottie shrugged, part of her shirt snagging on a sliver of wood jutting up from the floor, and she raised an arm to fix it. “It had enough silver along the trimming, can’t imagine an Aestor or Aurum airship to have so much silver, not since the resource cutoff law.” She tugged her shirt and cursed under her breath when she heard a slight rip. “Looked like it was going to land at one of the ports.”
“You know, my mother mentioned yesterday during the city council meeting that the Argentum councilman was actin’ a little tense,” Myra spoke up towards the sky. “Guess he didn’t talk much during the meeting or input a lot like he usually does.”
They both let that statement simmer between them for a second before Lottie hummed. “You think somethin’ might happen? I can’t imagine Argentum keeping things secret for long, at least from Aurum.”
“Mom doesn’t like the silence from them. She’s told me multiple times about the cold war potentially boiling at some point.” Myra rolled over onto her side with her hand supporting her head. “If that airship you saw was actually an Argentum ship, it’s hard to tell if they might be a spy, or maybe someone important come to talk with the President.”
Lottie turned to Myra as she talked, admiring the woman’s beautiful and almost flawless dark skin that practically glowed in what little light there was in the loft. The dancing flames from the few candles surrounding them created shadows along her friend’s face; causing the scar to run down Myra’s left eye to both darken and lighten in the shifting light.
“Based on Quinn’s forces being rather…forceful recently? I’d assume the ladder.” Lottie chuckled and shifted also to rest on her side facing Myra. “Of course, if we’d leave then we wouldn’t even have to worry about this.”
The scoff to shake Myra’s chest was just as startling. “Here we go again. Lottie, we’ve talked about this. Where would you go if you left?” Lottie rolled her eyes, yet the smile betrayed her as she rolled onto her back again. “You wouldn’t last a week outside the city walls. Besides, what would your mother do? You’d leave her here with your younger brother to fend for themselves?”
“Ok, ok -” Lottie lifted a hand to settle on Myra’s upper arm. “I hear what you’re sayin’. I was just jokin’.”
The unamused look was sharp on Myra’s features, “Lottie, I can hear it in your voice when you’re joking.” Her own voice lowered. “And the more you talk about leaving, the more you fantasize about finding Adamas - the closer you actually get to jumping the city walls.”
It was getting too late for Myra’s scolding, Lottie finding herself already exhausted from the day. Scaling multiple buildings, and roofs, and catching a ride on a train really took it out of her. Maybe she was starting to lose her edge. Staring up at multiple holes in the ceiling above, she counted the stars and found there to be a few more than there usually were. Of course, not without being obstructed occasionally by an airship or balloon. Lottie hummed to herself, the archive of thoughts revolving around Adamas and finally being able to leave the city suddenly bombarded her.
“Plus - “ She turned back to the soft lilt of Myra’s voice. “You’d be leaving me behind. And -” There was a slight tremble. “I’m my own person and can get around just fine but, you’re my best friend Lottie.”
There was a welt to climb up her throat and Lottie gently lifted her hand to round behind Myra’s head, pulling her closer until their foreheads were touching.
“Myra, what on Aestor’s roach-ridden soil makes you think I’d leave you. I wouldn’t last a day without you, outside the city walls or not.”
The huff of laughter was felt against her cheek, and Lottie couldn’t help but chuckle as well.
“Lottie Fane, whatever am I going to do with you?” Myra muttered, eyes open and searching, just barely seeing her friend’s own in the limited light. And yet, those unmistakable dark orbs, spotty and fuzzy, were undoubtedly Lottie’s - and they both found immense comfort in the other.
There was a heavy silence to sit between them before Lottie whispered back, “Help me when I need the other knee patched up?”
She wasn’t sure if that was the right thing to say at the moment, but the sudden burst of giggles caused a warmth to spread throughout her chest.
The lost city or not, Adamas could certainly wait a few more months. Lottie could be a fool, but rarely was she ever ignorant, especially with the threat of war hanging over their heads.
About the Creator
Young, living - thriving? Writing every emotion, idea, or dream that intrigues me enough to put into a long string of words for others to absorb - in the hopes that someone relates, understands, and appreciates.