King Vulture

A New Score

Akara walked through the streets of his city in the black of night. He moved through alleys like a ghost, moving like a dancer. He wore an all-black suit. It wasn’t as high quality as the suits of the political and business elites of Nokor City, where they wooed the Emperor and foreign ambassadors in the pristine palace, but it cost an elf like him a pretty penny. The black gloves that adorned his hand were different. He wore a bowler hat. Aivintian fashion. Which is to say, Staynish fashion, but darker. Much like Akara, Aivintis was globalist, and highly dedicated to imitating the elite of the world in order to find its place among them.

This was his city. Ty Rithy was King of Banteay but Akara was King of Nokor City. The overcrowded sidewalks were his palace. His army was tougher than any of Ty grunt. Akara stepped out of the darkness like a shadow peeling off a wall. Even at midnight, Nokor City was alive. It was always alive. He walked past a building that was at least two thousand years old, its stone weathered and battered, and then by a tacky imitation of that same building. Angular roofs all around, the vague image of a temple barely visible underneath the cheap paint of every building in a five block radius. The tourists loved this shit.

He tipped his hat to a Cukish man, smiling underneath the brim, winking at him when the hat rose. The man blushed and, in the process, Akara ran into an unassuming tourist, pale enough to be Aivintian but not quite unhappy enough to be. The tourist wore a large button-up shirt, and khaki shorts. Summer vacation from work, must be. He looked like someone who worked, Akara noted with concealed disgust. He widened his eyes, one green, one gold, and put his hands up innocently. Despite being a little tall, Akara looked rather young. He was, really. Only twenty years old. Young even for the shorter-lifespan species.

“Apologies, sir, many apologies,” Akara muttered, putting on the broken Staynish of the average Banteay citizen. Knowing the language was different to understanding it. Staynish was complicated.

The man frowned, but didn’t get angry. Definitely not an Aivintian. He was on the phone. He mouthed, “All good,” and went on his way.

Akara thrust his hands into the pockets of his pants, clutching the man’s wallet. Easy mark. He continued walking, opening the wallet and cleaning it out in full view of the world. That was the thing about being in public in Nokor City. There were so many people, no one paid attention to anyone. You were just another face in the crowd. Akara dropped the brown leather wallet — how cliché — on the ground, with the South Hills ID and credit cards still in it. Cards were tricky. He had cleaned out six hundred mkod, crisp bills very clearly received from a currency exchange office maybe that same day. Fool.

He walked only a few more blocks before he turned sharply left into a small alleyway. The moon was covered by the tall buildings on either side, but the starlight shone well, and the businesses the alleyway was wedged between kept electric lights on in the little side street. Next to a large, but practically empty, dumpster, as the trash had come earlier that day, stood an elf in the dim light, smoking a cigarette. Smoking was rather common in the poor, urban areas of Banteay. It only made them poorer and lowered the quality of living. Akara didn’t partake. His father had died of lung cancer. His grandfather had died of liver failure. Substance abuse ran in his family, and he wasn’t going to give in.

The elf wore a blue button-up and slate jeans. He squinted his eyes, one brown and one green. The most common eye colours in Banteay. Kaohlat Elves had a 3 in 4 chance for heterochromia. Some strange genetic mutation developed centuries ago. The elf’s auburn hair was long, covering his pointed ears and reaching just beyond his shoulders. That was a common enough practice for the Kaohlat, although Akara himself kept his hair, which was dyed black, short and styled. His ears were always visible. Made hearing better.

“¿Noche tranquila, eh?” the elf asked, by way of greeting. In pleasant society, there were standards for greetings, but criminals didn’t work quite the same way. “Pero hace un calor del demonio.”

“Staynish, please,” Akara responded in perfect Staynish. “It’s the language of diplomacy and wealth. Keep to it.”

“You don’t even know your own language,” the elf scolded. He thought being a few decades older than Akara made him better. Wiser. Too many did.

“Impelanzan isn’t my language. It is the language of colonisers and oppressors.”

The elf raised his eyebrow.

Akara shrugged. “Morstaybishlia didn’t colonise and oppress us.”

The elf shook his head. “How practical.”

“Munny, we’re not here to debate the finer points of my language choice.” The elf held his hands up innocently. The same gesture Akara had made to swindle a man on the street. He narrowed his eyes now. “Whatever. Tell me what I’m here for,” he ordered.

Sok Munny was a poor elf dock worker who had turned his life around — although in the opposite direction to what the government promoted — and now made a pretty penny in Akara’s crew, gathering information through bribes and intimidation. He wasn’t the best bruiser Akara had, but he was good enough. The real muscle wasn’t put on spy duty. He nodded. “New ship in port. Goes by the name of Crowning Glory.”


Munny puffed a cloud of smoke in the air. “The manifest lists only steel and rubber, but I counted them, and there’s ten undocumented crates.”

“Smugglers?” It was a fair guess. There were a couple operations like that. Customs was easily bribed by existing operations. Getting in on it, however, was far harder. Akara had only ever managed to sneak cargo out of the country, and only in small quantities. The big players, though, brought stuff in.

“We think so.”

“We?” he asked sharply.

“Uh, yes,” Munny stuttered. “I talked with Soriya.”

“Hm. Did you send her to see what was inside?” Choem Soriya was the best lockpick Akara knew. She was BnE hall of fame. She could look through every drawer and safe in your house and leave without you noticing so much as a speck of dirt on your rug.

“No,” Munny replied. “Thought you’d be the one to make the call. Not my place.”

“Where is she?”

“I don’t—”

“Well, find out. Go to her flat if you have to. Tell her to find out what’s in it and who’s bringing it in. I’m itching for a score.”

Munny nodded. “Alright, boss. Anything else?”

Akara hesitated. “No.”

The elf shrugged. “Alright.”

Akara nodded as Munny left. He was now alone. Well . . . He sighed. “You can come out now.”

A slender form emerged from the far end of the alley, where some of the lights had been extinguished. Its access to the fire escape had taken Akara’s note when he had first entered the alleyway. It was very convenient, he thought. The female elf who stood before him had the same eye colours as Munny, but her hair was a little darker than his, pulled back in a ponytail.

“Monstruo,” she teased as she approached, stepping into the light.

Akara smiled. “It’ll keep him busy. I’ll text him in a bit and say I found you.”

“¿Y si quiere dormir?” she challenged.

The thief snorted. “Come, now, Soriya. People like us don’t sleep.”

“Yo sé que tú duermes. Demasiado bien, creo. Puedo matarte taaaaan fácil,” she sang.

“El día que lo hagas, la piedra del palacio imperial se desmoronará. Now, can we please speak in Staynish? It’s hardly fair to force everyone to do it but you.”

“But it makes me feel special,” she said. Soriya was only a few years older than Akara, and they had known each other for about five years now. They made a good team.

“You heard Munny?” he asked.

“Ship. Steel. Rubber. Ten crates of smuggled goods.”

“And you heard me?”

“Find out the what and the who.”

“Good. When can I expect to hear back?”

She slipped her phone out of her pocket and checked the time. “Two hours for what. Who might be longer.”

“Let me know if you need Munny to lean on someone,” Akara said. “I want updates, too. Just . . . not when you’re evading ship security.”

Soriya nodded. “Don’t worry, I can handle myself.” She turned and walked towards the fire escape in the back without a goodbye. As she climbed towards the roof, she called back, “Tell Munny you found me.”