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  from Smoke and Gold by Mackenzie Seidel

Chapter 1

Storm warning sirens wail around me as I run through Arling’s central market. The wind whips the sand up into my face and it cuts into my skin as I plow forward through the crowds pushing to get inside, away from the storm. I glance back for just a moment, adjusting my scarf over my nose and mouth. The two precinct security officers are gaining on me, and with people trying to flee the storm I start to lose the advantage that hiding between people gave me. It doesn’t help that I only have the use of one of my hands—the other clutches the package stolen from Baron Anders’ estate.

I face forward again and sprint headlong into the oncoming wind.

The sirens and panicked shouts of people grow louder around me. I can just hear the officers ordering people out of the way as they chase me through the alleys between weathered concrete houses.

This was too much of a risk. My father’s only condition for doing work for Demos was that I don’t do anything to incriminate myself. Now here I am running from guards of the estate of the baron himself. My father is going to be furious. Of course, that’s only if I make it home alive.

A steady stream of people flows towards the outer edges of the market, some too far from home to take shelter from the storm. All of the restaurants and shops will be full. It would be the perfect place to hide... if it weren’t so obvious.

I slip into the crowd moving into a brightly lit Mexicana restaurant, slow enough that I know the officers can see me. If I think it’s an obvious place to hide, they might too. They might try to follow me in. The crush of the throng trying to get to safety pulls me in towards the doors.

The sun is blotted out by an encroaching black cloud and a child next to me shrieks.

Finally pushing my way through to the other side, I press against the wall and slip behind the back of the restaurant. The wind pulls at my scarf, and I fix it once more with both of my hands. I freeze, eyes going wide for a split second until I’m forced to narrow them against the onslaught of razor-sharp sand.

I had dropped the package somewhere. It was just a bunch of papers; damage wasn’t a concern. But if I lost it, we’d lose months of work. and if one of the guards got ahold of it, they would have grounds to execute me on the spot.

I plow back into the crowd, staying as low to the ground as possible as I retrace my steps. There, dirty and trampled, was the flat package from the baron’s servant who had met me out the back to deliver it. Files from the baron’s own office. As my fingers curl around the package, a hand grips my arm, jerking me backwards.

“I’ve got her!” The officer shouts and within a moment, I’m being dragged out into the windswept street.

The other officer frowns. “Where’s that…thing she was holding?”

“What?” The first officer turns to look at me.

“I didn’t have anything,” I say, “I was visiting a friend at the Water Baron’s estate, he’s a servant there. When I heard the storm sirens I knew I had to get home.” The lie slips easily between my lips, not too articulate, not to hesitant.

“Then why did you run from us?”

My heart beats a little faster but I will the shaking in my hands to stop. “I’m…I’m not supposed to be out. My father would kill me if he knew I was out right before a storm.” It is true and there will be hell to pay if I get home but I have to get home first.

The grip on my shoulder relaxes. The second officer shakes his head. “I swore she was holding something.”

My hand goes to my pocket, and I almost sigh in relief as I pull out the thick, folded piece of paper. “He gave me his work schedule so I would know when to see him again.”

The one holding me snatches the paper from my hands, scrutinizing it, but it is indeed a work schedule. I needed some way of knowing when our contact within the estate would be ready for me. He swears under his breath and lets go of my arm.

“What’s your name?” The second officer asks.


He narrows his eyes and for a moment I think he’s going to demand my surna...

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