As far as much of her friends and neighbours were concerned, Tiff was not a particularly complex girl.
Not to say she was shallow or unemotional, mind. On the contrary, she could be very emotional when she felt like being emotional and she wasn’t afraid to show it. And in some ways, that was kind of the point.
A few exceptions aside, Tiff tended to wear most of her emotions very openly on her sleeve. When she was happy, her grin was wide enough to split the clouds. When she was sad, her small body seemed to shrink in on itself. When she was angry, chances were someone was liable to end up with a fist in their face.
And when she was running down the street screaming her head off about being late, well…
“Laaaate!” Tiff screamed, sprinting as fast as her legs could carry her. “Late late late laaaaaaate!”
…chances were she was late. Badly late.
In Tiff’s defence, it wasn’t entirely her fault. Something had gone wrong with one of the devices in her mother’s Crafting room earlier and caused much of the furniture to start floating off the ground. The problem was that neither Tiff nor her mother could actually figure out what had gone wrong or with which device. Hence starting a indepth examination of every single minor quirky Craftwork her mother currently owned (which was a lot) in an attempt to find out which was causing the effect and switch it off.
Ultimately, they weren’t really able to find it, at least not before Tiff noted she needed to leave for squire work. So, in lieu of a proper solution, Tiff decided to resort to sticking all the important bits of furniture to the floor instead.
It was an elegant and refined solution that would almost certainly go wrong at some point, but as far as Tiff was concerned, that was a problem for Future Her to deal with. Present Her was already busy freaking out about being late.
“Good morning, Tiff.” Mrs Shacarti, the District’s baker said in a kindly voice, as the girl burst into her bakery. “You’re running a touch late today, aren’t you?”
“I’dnoticedthat!” Tiff said as quickly as possible, jogging on her feet. “Doyouhavemydeliveries? Ireallyneedthemtogetgoingrightnowplease!”
“Right right,” Mrs Shacarti nodded. With a gesture of her hand, three woven baskets gently floated down from a nearby shelf and stacked themselves on top of each other, before pushing themselves into Tiff’s outstretched hands. “Be careful with them. They’re still a little hot.”
“ThanksMrsShacarti!” Tiff said, heading for the door. “I’llseeyouthisafternoononceI’mdonewith-”
“Oooh, wait a moment Tiff!” Mrs Shacarti said, holding out her hand.
Tiff hesitated, still jogging on the spot. Her eyes glanced back and forth quickly between Mrs Shacarti and the door.
Mrs Shacarti made another small gesture with her hand and a small round pastry floated out of the open oven and towards Tiff. “I almost forgot. I had some ingredients left over that I needed to use up, so I made an extra Willow bun for you to eat.”
Tiff’s face lit up with piggish delight. Still jogging on the spot, she opened her mouth wide and wordlessly gestured for the floating bun to get in.
The bun seemed reluctant.
Tiff gestured again, more insistent this time.
The floating pastry seemed to almost sigh, before gently floating its way towards Tiff’s outstretched mouth. The second it got close enough, Tiff’s jaws seemed to pounce on it, like a shark, and almost sucked it into her mouth.
“Hrggksfrrmthhthrrrm!” She thanked Mrs Shacarti, before kicking open the door and taking off running down the street.
Mrs Shacarti watched her go with a look torn somewhere between fondness and bemusement.
“One of these days that girl is going to choke on something.” She muttered to herself.
Having three hefty baskets full of goods did, surprisingly enough, not slow down Tiff very much. She’d been working for Mrs Shacarti for nearly 5 years now, doing minor deliveries of baked goods for people who had put in orders at the bakery. As such, she’d been doing the job long enough to have a fairly good sense when it came to balancing pastry baskets on top of each other, even when the pile was nearly as tall as she was.
And, y’know, the lost of vision was barely a problem.
“Hey, watch where you’re going, brat!” A gruff voice shouted as Tiff barely managed to dance around someone, using her nifty footwork to avoid spilling her wares.
“Sorry!” Tiff shouted as she continued running along.
Fortunately, she knew more-or-less all of her delivery routes off by heart by now, thus it barely took a skip in her routine to dart to each and every stained glass house, phasing her hands through the door and delivering fresh bread as she went. A few people even gave her a friendly greeting that she barely had time to blurt a reply to before continuing on her way.
Within minutes, she’d cleared out two of the three baskets, leaving the empty woven things with neighbours that she knew could be trusted to return them to Mrs Shacarti. She’d also made impressively good time doing so, reducing her status from ‘running badly late’ to the much more palatable ‘running only very slightly late’. And she was pretty sure, if she pushed herself hard enough, she could reduce that to ‘not late at all’ before long.
Naturally, that was where things went badly wrong.
It started where her boot caught on something preternaturally sticky. Caught by a sudden stop mid-step, Tiff might very well have gone flying had her boot not held her fast to the ground. As it was, she instead almost faceplanted onto the ground as all of her forward momentum failed her and instead pointed her downwards. Fortunately, she had reflexes fast enough to catch her fall and a nice soft cushion of fresh bread and pastries to cushion her head.
Didn’t stop it from being embarrassing and painful as hell though.
A cackle of laughter caused a red-faced Tiff to lift her head from the slightly-squished basket and look upwards to where she knew her would-be tormentor was. There, perched on a nearby rooftop, was a pink-haired young boy in tattered clothing, around the same age she was, giggling like a loon at her misfortune.
“Better watch your step, Scrapper!” The boy said, in-between tears of laughter. “That was a knightly fall for a little squire!”
Tiff’s eyes narrowed and her voice turned harsh. “Gummy Cherrish… I should’ve known…”
Tiff did not consider herself the sort of girl to really go for overdramatics. As far as she was concerned, she always reacted as reasonably to a situation as she could and was overall very down-to-earth and mature for her age.
Hence why it was not an exaggeration at all when she said that she considered Gummy Cherrish to be the physical manifestation of all evil in the universe and her personal arch-nemesis.
A glance back at her foot told her what she already knew. Her boot was currently stuck in a sticky pinkish goop that had been been stuck on the floor. No matter how hard she tugged at it, it wouldn’t come loose and, judging from the pain that shot through her leg, she’d hurt her ankle slightly in the fall as well.
“What’s wrong, Scrapper?” Gummy said in a faux pitying voice. “Stuck? Do you need a hand?”
With that, he raised an open palm into the air, while biting down on the thumb of his other hand and beginning to blow. Before Tiff’s very eyes, the hand that Gummy had raised into the air began to expand in size with each blow, becoming large and larger and more and more distinctly pink until it was nearly twice the size of Gummy himself.
“Here.” Gummy said with a grin. “Let me help you out of that.” Then the hand begun to descend.
Tiff moved fast. Undoing the laces on her boot, she barely managed to wriggle her foot out just in time. Then, grabbing the pastry basket, she hopped for her life towards the exit of the alley as the hand descended upon her, turning into more and more pink goop upon touching the walls and floor. She ended up having to hold her breath for the last few hops, to phase through the pink goop, but she just barely made it out in time.
Good thing she did too. Behind her, the entire alleyway had been coated in Gummy’s thick pink sticky gum, coating every surface. She could barely even see her poor abandoned little boot in all that mess. If she’d been caught in that it wouldn’t have killed her- probably wouldn’t even have hurt her- but she would’ve been stuck there for several hours until the effect wore off. And that wouldn’t just have made her late, it would’ve made her terminally late. As in Sir Daring probably would’ve killed her for being so late.
“Hah!” Tiff laughed. “You missed! Suck it, you gum-chewing poopface!”
“Tch.” Gummy clicked his tongue, but he didn’t exactly seem all that upset about it. “Ah well, there’s always a next time.”
“Yeah, just like next time I’m going to punch your head in!” Tiff said. Honestly, she’d do it right now if she actually had her equipment on her and she wasn’t so badly la… “Shit, my boot!”
“Oops, did it get stuck in there?” Gummy said in a cheerful voice. “And you’re already running so late as it is. Better ‘hop’ to it, eh Scrapper?”
“I will end you one of these days, Gummy!” Tiff snarled, shaking a fist at him as she hopped off down the street.
Gummy didn’t answer. He merely smiled and returned a mocking wave back at her.
Tiff scowled as she turned the corner. She really didn’t know what Gummy Cherrish’s problem was.
…Well, okay, that was partially a lie. She knew exactly what his problem was and it was that he was pure malevolent evil given pink-haired human form. What he didn’t know was why he was so fixated on her in particular.
Seriously, for almost as long as she had known him, Gummy Cherrish had been an enormous in her rear. Sabotaging her work routes with booby traps, trying to steal her things, sticking his icky gum in her hair so she had to cut it short, he was a blight on her very existence. And, most irritatingly of all, wouldn’t stand still when she tried to punch him.
Still, there was little point in fuming over the injustice that was his continued existence when she had more important things to worry about. Like her missing boot for one.
After hopping a reasonable distance away from Gummy’s perch, Tiff reached into her pocket and pulled out a thick rubber shoe sole, along with a small roll of bandages. It was difficult to do while still hopping, but she wrapped her bare foot in the bandages and tightly tied the rubber sole underfoot. Then she took off once more running down the street.
Tiff was lucky that she’d remembered to bring her emergency makeshift tools today. It was often stressed to children living in the Fractured District never to go around barefoot. After all, the district was largely constructed out of glass and, as thick and well-constructed as it might have been, it was still glass and still liable to break and result in sharp shards being left around on the cobbled floors.
As such, heavy emphasis was placed on always having a spare pair of shoes or boots or any kind of foot-covering to stop the undersides of your feet from being potentially cut up something fierce. There was a reason cobblers were in very high demand here and why Tiff heavily suspected she wasn’t going to see that boot ever again. Fortunately, it wasn’t one of her floaty boots and she knew where she could get a cheap replacement, but it was an unnecessary cost nonetheless and one she really didn’t need right now.
Her eyes narrowed. She really was going to properly deck Gummy one of these days.
Still, she continued on anyway. Gummy’s distraction had cost her a vital few minutes, but it hadn’t slowed her down too much. Honestly, what was much more of a problem was the ankle that she had hurt in her fall. While it didn’t feel like it was a serious sprain, it still caused waves of pain to echo up her leg with each and every step she took. That cut down on her pace a lot more than she’d like.
Still, she managed to hobble herself at a good rate until she reached the District’s one and only library.
The Fortesque Library of New Haven was not exactly large, at least not compared to some of the others in the richer and more well-off sections of the city. After all, the Fractured District was hardly a bastion of learning or scholaryness, like the Grey Tower or something.
Still, it was small and it was cosy and it made a great shortcut, so Tiff entered in anyway.
The library was mostly empty, as was normal for this kind of hour. Bookshelves made from old worn wood were stacked up to the ceiling, leaving only small gaps and paths for people to follow. The room felt pleasantly cool and light filtered through the hundreds of shelved tomes and books.
Intellectually, Tiff knew that this building had only actually been here for a decade or two, but there was something about it that just felt ancient and worn. Or maybe it was just all the dust.
Poking her head past the door, Tiff glanced first left, then right. Good, nobody to be seen. She licked her lips and sprinted forward-
A book suddenly flew past her face with frightening speed, stopping her mid-stride.
“What have I told you about running in the library, Tiffania?” The smooth voice of Miss Fortesque echoed through the room.
Tiff immediately froze, like a cat picked up by the scruff of its neck. Plastering on a big fake grin, she turned towards the source of the voice.
“Good morning, Miss Fortesque.” She said cheerfully, ignoring the sweat running down her brow. “How’s the leg?”
Miss Fortesque, the library’s aged librarian looked away from the book she was examining and raised a single eyebrow. “My leg is just fine, Tiffania.” She snapped the book shut and threw it with almost terrifying accuracy until it slid precisely into one of the shelves. “Aren’t you running a little late today?”
“Ah!” Tiff jumped slightly and shuffled her feet on the ground. “Right, yes, I need to get to Andi’s really soon now. Um… can I-?”
Miss Fortesque rolled her eyes, but nonetheless gestured to the back door. “Go on. Try not to forget next time.”
“Will do!” Tiff saluted, before immediately sprinting out towards the back door, very nearly knocking over a pile of precariously balanced books as she went.
Miss Fortesque watched Tiff as she went, her eyes drifting to the single boot on the younger girl’s foot. The older librarian shook her head and clucked her tongue before reaching for another book.
Tiff let out a breath of relief as she pulled open the back door of the library and stepped out into the sunlight once more. Miss Fortesque was cool and all, but she could be frighteningly intense sometimes. Well, a lot of the time. Well, a lot of the time towards Tiff at least.
Personally, Tiff was almost certain she used be a free knight or secret assassin or demon lord or something in her youth. This wasn’t so much based on any paultry thing like evidence or anything, but you didn’t get to be a terrifying as that without practice. And in Tiff’s mind, it was the only option that made sense.
But that wasn’t important right now. What was important was getting to Andi’s house.
Tiff ran into the library courtyard, pulled open the back gate and sprinted to the house only a few feet away. This house was a relative oddity compared to most of its neighbours. Not only was it one of the few houses in the city not made from thick stained glass, but the courtyard around it was almost completely untouched. No footsteps, no splinters of glass, not even any stuff like bird or animal droppings.
It was almost completely untouched, aside from a few faded Tiff-sized footsteps leading back and forth to the front door.
Now normally, Tiff would’ve knocked on the door and waited for a reply, but she was still somewhat in a rush today so, throwing caution to the wind, she activated her phasing belt and sprinted straight through the door.
“Hey Andi!” She said, knocking on the walls as she stepped through the door. “SorryIdidn’tknockinarushdoyouhavemystuff?
The dark-skinned young woman blinked at Tiff’s sudden unexpected appearance, barely managing to keep herself from spilling an ink-pot across her desk. Across said desk, numerous papers, scrolls and books were piled on top of each other.
“Morning Tiff.” She said. A slight look of concern crossed her face. “Aren’t you running a little late today? Also, why are you only wearing one boot?”
“I’ll explain later!” Tiff exclaimed, sliding down towards a nearby chest of drawers and throwing open the bottom one. “Ack! Where is it? Where’s my stuff?”
“I put it out on the table.” Andi said, nodding to where a small pile of clothes were folded neatly on top of each other. “I figured if you were running late, you’d probably appreciate-”
“Thanks Andi!” Tiff said, snatching the clothes off the table and scrambling to put them on. “You’re the best.”
Andi really was the best, at least as far as Tiff was concerned. Not only had all her squire clothes and Craftwork equipment been properly cleaned, fragranced and dried to boot, not a single piece of clothing or Craftwork had been damaged ‘lost’ as would so often happen if Tiff tried the same in her own neighbourhood.
“If you say so.” Andi said. She watched Tiff shuffle her old shirt off with more than a hint of exasperation. “Are you really just going to get changed in the middle of my living room?”
“No time for decency!” Tiff shouted, hopping around on one foot as she tugged on a pair of light trousers. “I’m late. Very very very la- gyaack!” Thunk.
That particular sound effect came as Tiff lost her precarious balance and fell backwards onto the floor, banging her head on the table as she went.
Andi’s hands flew to her mouth in shock. “Tiff, are you okay?!”
“Whoa-hoa!” Tiff staggered to her feet, momentarily dazed. She stood for a few moments testing to see her balance was off. But no, aside from a slight ache in her head, she seemed to be fine. “I’m good. Can you pass me that clean shirt?”
Andi did so, albeit with more than a little hesitance. “Are you sure? That looked like a nasty bump.”
“Don’t worry about me.” Tiff said, pulling the shirt over her head and doing up the few top buttons. “I take nastier blows to the head than that for breakfast.”
That was less hyperbole than one might think. It had taken Tiff an embarrassingly long time to remember that the door to Mrs Pately’s bakery was ‘pull’ not ‘push’.
“That would explain a lot.” Andi muttered under her voice, but her concern seemed sated for now. “Speaking of breakfast, did you bring-?”
“Yup!” Tiff said, bending down and beginning to pull on her floaty boots. “Left the basket by the door.”
Andi really was one of Tiff’s closest friends and idols. Not only had the dark-skinned girl taught Tiff how to read and given her a number of minor copyist jobs when funds were low, but she was always willing to give Tiff a helping hand whenever she could.
However, while Andi was one of Tiff’s favourite people in the city, she also had her own ‘eccentricities’. For one, even though she was 19 years old, she absolutely refused to leave her house under any circumstances and didn’t like interacting with anyone who wasn’t Tiff or Miss Fortesque, both of whom took turns to bring her food and necessary supplies.
Tiff wasn’t entirely Andi was so opposed to going outside, but she’d stopped questioning it a long time ago. And, since whatever Andi’s Gift did made her house completely unreachable to anyone she hadn’t given express permission to enter, there wasn’t really much anyone else could do to change her mind on it.
“Good.” Andi said, heading over and picking up the basket of leftover bread. “I was beginning to get a little hungry.” She blinked and stared at the slightly crumpled basket. “Is there a reason your delivery is somewhat… squished today?”
“I was ambushed by the forces of evil on the way here.” Tiff’s eyes narrowed at the very memory of it. Or at the fact that her boot just wasn’t fitting on. Or both. “It was a terrifying and dangerous ordeal and I pulled through with minimal loss, but the basket ended up getting trampled in the process.”
Andi blinked as she attempted to translate this. “Gummy?”
“Gummy.” Tiff hissed with pure loathing.
“Ah well.” Andi sighed as she pulled out a slightly deformed bread roll. “At least I don’t have to cut any gum out of your hair this time.”
“One of these day, Imma stick gum in his stupid coloured hair and see how he likes it.” Tiff grumbled, finally managing to slip her last boot on. Lacing it up neatly, she jumped to her feet and began looking herself over. “Right, shirt, trousers, collar, Punchy Gauntlets, phasing belt, floaty boots, what am I missing?”
“Helmet?” Andi suggested, picking the horned thing up off the ground where it had been resting.
Tiff’s face split in a grin. “Hell yes.”
“I still think you could find a much more comfortable and fitting helmet elsewhere,” Andi said as she helped fasten the oversized helmet around Tiff’s head.
“Nah-ah.” Tiff insisted. “Imma grow into this one.”
“If you say so.” Andi sighed. She glanced at the sun outside. “You’re going to hurry to catch that last Crawler.”
“Right right right!” Tiff said, scurrying to her feet. “Thanks Andi, you’re the best. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Try not hurt yourself too badly, Tiff.” Andi said.
However, her words were more or less lost on thin air as Tiff immediately took off running, sprinting cleanly through the walls of her house using her phasing belt. Andi sighed and was about to take a seat in her chair when, suddenly, Tiff reappeared with a sheepish look on her face.
“Went the wrong way.” The younger girl muttered before taking off running again, this time phasing through the opposite wall.
Andi watched this display with no shortage of bemusement. However, once she was sure that Tiff was gone, she let out a breath of relief and sat down in her chair.
“That girl is going to be the death of me,” she said to no-one in particular.
The last stretch Tiff needed to run was in many ways the easiest. Not because the path was particularly straightforward, mind, on the contrary it was a practical maze of curving streets and narrow alleys, the sorts that one could very easily get lost in if you weren’t careful.
No, this part was the easiest because, now Tiff had her floaty boots on. And her floaty boots were awesome.
Propelling herself off the side of a wall with a hop, Tiff flew- flew– over a small back wall, before landing smoothly on the ground behind it and taking off running again. She moved with such speed and lightness that you could almost be forgiven for assuming she was flying down the streets.
In a lot of ways, she practically was. Her floaty boots increased her speed, reflexes and her jumping ability at the cost of making her body unbearably light. And while a lot of the time, that simply made her body incredibly difficult to control, in a glass jungle like this, it was practically a playground for her to test out her abilities. Jumping up walls, swinging off posts, climbing roofs, it was a thrill.
However, since today she was running somewhat late, Tiff had decided to take the more direct route this time.
Jumping onto an old plank that, in her experience, made an excellent springboard, Tiff turned the abilities of her floaty boots as high as they would go, making her body as light as a feather. Then, as she sprung towards the numerous multi-stories glass houses that were in her path, she took a deep breath and phased straight through them.
The first room she floated through was empty. The second room she passed though contained an elderly man who was distinctly unsurprised to see her. The third room had a middle-aged woman who was significantly more surprised. Her appearance in the fourth room delighted a small group of scraggly-faced children. As for the fifth room… she probably shouldn’t have floated through the fifth room. Because apparently two someones were very busy up there.
Eventually, a slightly red-faced Tiff emerged at the very top of the houses, having floated straight up to the roof. Taking a deep breath, she shuddered and tried to shake the thoughts of the fifth room from her mind.
The view helped.
From up here, she could see almost the entire scope of the City of New Haven, glass buildings glimmering in the sun like some sort of fantastical jewel. She could see the small airships lifting off from the Skies District, the regular seaships bobbing around in the Harbour District, the vast training fields and command centers of the Knightly District, the bustling stalls and shops of the Market District, the numerous strange buildings and workshops of the Crafter’s District, the gorgeous stylised buildings of the Arts District and right next to that, the enormous golden palace of the King himself. Even the Fractured District seemed to have a beauty of its own from up here, as cracked as imperfect as it was.
Normally, on any other day, Tiff might have paused for a moment to take in the sheer scope of what she was seeing. Even after all these years, it never failed to take her breath away. But she didn’t really have time to admire anything today and was pretty certain she wasn’t meant to be up there anyway, so instead, she charged forward and took a running jump off the edge of the roof.
And she flew.
Well, okay, ‘flew’ was a pretty kind word for what she was doing. In practice it was more like she was taking really really really big jumps. Using her floaty boots to propel herself through the air, only stopping every once in a while to activate one of her Punchy Gauntlets and punch downwards to get herself more speed or air, it was a pretty awkward way of flying at best.
It still felt great though. The wind in her face, the air billowing through her, the way the buildings shimmered below her… There was a reason that ‘learning to fly’ was pretty high up on her list of dream Craftwork items to create. Quite frankly, if she was one of the numerous lucky sods to be born with a flying-related Gift, she wasn’t entirely sure she’d ever come back down.
Still, all good things had to come to an end. And below her, she could see her target quickly begin to approach.
The Crawler Station was one of the main ways people got around between Districts in New Haven. Great multi-legged automaton Craftworks carried hundreds and thousands of people daily across the various District borders, providing a quick and convenient way to get around. And the one that Tiff was currently attempting to catch was the only one to the Knightly District for nearly another two hours.
She had to catch it and she had to catch it soon.
Taking a moment to judge her distance, Tiff slowly began to increase her own weight back to its normal levels. Immediately, she began to sink from the sky at an increasingly fast pace. Her current aim was to land on one of the numerous crash pads, large strips of flexible cloth tied to several higher rooftops. Said crash pads were scattered all around the city, both to help any Gifted fliers or to try and catch the occasional poor sod who slipped from an airship.
(Of course, the latter only really worked if said poor sod was lucky enough to fall from an area directly above one of said crash pads, but that wasn’t all that relevant right now.)
Normally Tiff could actually bring herself to a stop relatively simply, albeit with creative use of her Punchy Gauntlets, floaty boots and phasing belt, but that method tended to be a little more dangerous than she liked and it was much more convenient to use the crash pads, honestly.
However, as Tiff was beginning to fall, in the distance, she could hear the shrill sound of a whistle and the Crawler she needed to catch slowly began to take its first shuddering steps.
Shit! Tiff swore inside her head. If that Crawler managed to get up to speed without her, she’d never catch it, not even with her floaty boots.
That only left her with one option.
Doing a little bit of math inside her head, Tiff swerved towards one of the crash pads and began to increase her weight more and more, speeding up well past her usual safe falling speeds. Aiming straight at the crash pads, she rolled herself into a ball and made certain she was falling at just the right angle…
Sproing! She struck the crash pad with an incredible force, enough to send her hurtling back into the air and straight towards the lumbering Crawler. However, a wall of cloth rose up to block her path. It wasn’t too commonly known, but the crash pad had secondary pads that would rise up when the main pad was struck, specifically so that they could catch anyone who bounced out, like she had just done.
Fortunately, Tiff had planned for this and, taking a deep breath, she phased cleanly through these secondary pads, leaving her an unrestricted path towards the Crawler. It took a little mid-air finagling, but she managed to stretch her feet out and land directly on the Crawler’s roof deck, where several other New Haven were already seated and enjoying her day.
It was a bit of a jarring impact as her feet hit the wooden deck of the Crawler and she helplessly stumbled forwards, nearly tumbling straight off the other end of the thing. Fortunately, some helpful traveller’s arm shot out and grabbed her around the wrist, stopping her from falling.
“Phew!” Tiff said, wiping her brow. “Made it just in time.” She raised a triumphant fist into the air. “Suck it, Gummy! I am the champion of getting to stuff on time!”
“Ahem.” A familiar voice sounded from behind her. “Tiff, last time I checked that was not how you were supposed to board one of these.”
Tiff froze. Then winced. Then slowly turned around to face the person who had managed to grab her wrist and save her from falling off. A person who was very familiar to everyone who had ever lived in New Haven. “Heya Goose. Would you believe I was actually here all along?”
Goose gave her an unimpressed look. “Considering I saw your impressive little jump from three separate angles.” He pointed towards two other men on the Crawler, each completely identical in look and visage to Goose and all giving Tiff very unimpressed looks. “…I would say no. I would not believe that.”
Tiff winced a second time. “Well, at least it was an impressive jump?”
Goose sighed. But he released her wrist nonetheless. “I suppose it was that.” He paused. “Maybe not the most impressive leap I’ve seen today, but certainly in the Top 5.”
“Oh?” Tiff grinned and took a seat by the bench. “Tell me more.”
Goose, best known by his codename of ‘The Guardsman’ was a pretty infamous figure in New Haven. Mainly because his codename was surprisingly accurate. He was the Guardsman of New Haven. While the Free Knights dealt with significant threats to the city, both internal and external, Goose handled all of the much more banal sort of work, policing the streets, guarding outposts, everything minor you could think of, the sorts of things that would need hundreds of well-trained, well-armed soldiers to pull off.
However, in spite of technically only being one person, Goose also counted as hundreds. His Gift allowed him to multiply himself as many times as he wanted, meaning he could more or less create an entire army from scratch made entirely of himself. If it wasn’t for the fact that none of his clones could leave a certain radius, he might have been a serious worldwide force to be reckoned with.
Or then again, maybe not. After all, for as long as Tiff had known him, Goose had always been fairly sweet. More than willing to give her and her mum a helping hand when it came to moving heavy things or helping fix up the house or just a million and one minor things that he could help with. It didn’t really cost him much, since he could create disposable clones like scattering dandelion seeds, but Tiff appreciated it nonetheless.
“Actually, I’ve got to admit,” Goose said as he took back his seat on one of the numerous benches scattering the Crawler’s deck, “We were starting to get a little bit worried about you. You were running pretty dang late today.”
“Really?” Tiff said, rolling her eyes. “Had not noticed.”
“Was it Gummy again?” Goose asked. “Because one of my selves found a large patch of his gum… well, gumming up an alleyway.”
Tiff’s mood soured at the mention of her arch-nemesis. “He is a foul boil on the face of this great city.”
Goose made a face. “I think that’s a little harsh. He’s a prankster, but he hasn’t done anything all that heinous to my knowledge.”
“Nah, trust me on this one.” Tiff said. “He’s pure malevolent evil. Probably like a secret demon lord or something.” A thought suddenly occurred to her. “Hey wait, can you ask one of your clones to retrieve my boot?”
“Your boot?” Goose looked at her with curiosity.
“Yeah, it should be in that mess somewhere.” Tiff said. She paused at the strange face Goose was continuing to give her. “It’s a long story. And it’s all Gummy’s fault.”
Goose still looked somewhat bemused, but he didn’t comment. Instead he closed his eyes and made a face like he was concentrating for a moment. After a few minutes he opened his eyes and looked back at Tiff.
“Was it a small brown boot?” He asked. “Old? Fairly well used? One of the laces missing?”
“That’s the one!” Tiff exclaimed. “Can you… or, well, other you get that back to my house by this evening?”
“I can try.” Goose said. He paused and looked like he was concentrating again. “Brief warning though, someone seems to have poured half a bottle of red sauce into it so it may stink a little bit.”
“That villainous bastard!” Tiff scowled, clenching her fists. “He knows I hate the smell of red sauce. Does his villainy know no bounds?!”
The rest of the Crawler journey was relatively uneventful. Tiff chatted with Goose for most of it, sharing stories about recent goings-ons, up to and including Tiff attempting to worm out more information about what happened to Lash and his group, while Goose did his best to humour her without revealing any actually damaging information.
Eventually, however, the Crawler reached the Knightly District, where Tiff’s stop was and she departed the Craftwork craft. Via the actual exits this time, rather than jumping from the deck, after Goose gave her a very stern look and not-so-subtle hint.
The Knightly District was different from the Fractured District and the Housing District in a lot of ways. While the buildings were still primarily made from glass, as was the case with most buildings in New Haven, these buildings were made to different designs and specifications, more militarily and defensive based than those designed for simple living. If you paid careful attention you might even be able to just about make out the numerous steel or stone beams, barristers and support designed to strengthen the buildings.
But that wasn’t the all of it. Huge turrets and spikes and defensive walls were arranged around the place in tight formations to defend against enemies from every side, including above. Speaking of above, if one concentrated firmly, you could just about see the shimmering clear signs of an invisible forcefield, designed to discourage fliers and any offensive aerial attackers. Apparently, according the rumours Tiff had heard, there was a much larger forcefield designed to protect the city itself, but it was kept deactivated most of the time to allow easy back and forth of air traffic and merchant ships.
Needless to say, it was heck of a lot better looking and better defended than the Fractured District. There was even an outpost Tiff was going to have to pass by to enter the District itself. And while normally she’d just show them Sir Daring’s seal or her own official stamp of squiredom, her traveling with Goose did have some advantages as one of the Guardsman’s at the outpost recognised her as clear and fast-tracked her through.
This wasn’t something that always happened, mind, even with Goose guarding the gateway. After all, Gifted with transformation or mind control abilities were a thing. But Goose must’ve been sufficiently convinced that she was definitely who she said she was to avoid the inspection for today.
After all, it wasn’t like there were many other people stupid- wait, make that awesome enough to make a running leap onto a Crawler already in motion.
Still, it made things pleasantly simple. Tiff was shuffled past the bulk of the queue, given a customary once over by the various sensor-types at work and allowed to head straight for the Free Knights building where Sir Daring worked. There she darted up the multiple flights of stairs and knocked on the thick black door of Daring’s office.
“Come in!” A familiar shout answered.
Tiff pulled open the door, stepped inside and stood to attention before Daring’s desk, a big grin on her face. “Squire Scrapper here and ready for service, Sir Daring!”
Daring didn’t even bother looking up from his work. “Good morning to you too, Scrapper.”
Tiff didn’t react at Daring’s dismissive tone, although her smile took a little bit of a hit. “I am right on time as ordered, Sir Daring!”
“Yes, you are.” Daring noted, although still with that uninterested tone.
Tiff’s smile sank a little bit more. “Aren’t you happy I’m on time, Sir?”
Daring gave her a look. “Scrapper… Being on time is literally the very least I expect of you. Why are you acting like I should be rewarding you for this?”
Tiff’s smile vanished altogether. “But sir-!”
“Now, since you’re here on time like a normal squire, you can get to work on the day’s tasks.” Daring said. “My armour needs a fresh polish after that scuffle I was in last night, my horse could do with a grooming, I need you to sharpen my sword and dagger and then, once you’re done, we’ve got a patrol near the Crafter’s District.” He looked up at her sternly. “Have you got all that, Scrapper?”
Being a squire was hard work.