A lighthouse in the middle of a misty city street, Telisa stands a head taller than the traffic that parts around her. Eyes glowing like lanterns and a black cloak snug about her shoulders, she is a mystery the locals whisper about but do not molest.
Dawn has arrived, and Telisa is lost. Reaching with fingers too long to be human, she traces grooves in a large oval sign. It was supposed to detail Titantale City, every street and block. Perhaps it did once, but generations of vandals have marred the oak, almost cutting through it with their graffiti.
“Hey there, pretty lady.” A shirtless blue man flies up to her and hovers on a swirl of smoke instead of legs. “I can direct you to interesting things.”
“I have been tricked and abandoned by rivals.” She brushes midnight hair away from pale cheeks and shining eyes. “Because I am an interesting thing.”
“Oh, then I’ll direct people to you.” He cackles and slaps his bare belly.
Telisa taps an armlet and whispers a sound that has the shape of a word but lacks an anchor for meaning. Her left cheek shimmers and skin evaporates, exposing muscle fibers that twitch and veins that glow with the same golden light as her eyes.
“I am not some beauty to be admired.” She grits teeth half-exposed by her missing flesh. “I am a servant of death and—”
“Hey, I’m young for a djinn, but my race are masters of illusion.” He smirks. “Without that arm jewelry, you’re just another bored olympian with dyed hair. Now, which house are you from, and what are you doing in my city?”
Telisa lifts her half-skinned chin and snorts. The man floats upward, keeping eye contact as he tugs at a braided beard. Muscular and decorated with piercings of precious metals, he is a girl’s fantasy given form. The djinn winks and snaps his fingers. A blade, long and curved, appears in his grip.
“Sudden as a sneeze.” He kisses the sword’s hilt. “I named her, Mother’s Tongue. Sharp enough to cut through flesh, bone, and ego.”
Telisa gulps and taps her armlet, returning her cheek to smooth unblemished skin. “Masters of air and sprites of novelty, I’ve studied your kind. Not trustworthy, but maybe time-worthy.” She pulls a scroll out of her robe. “This is a list of ingredients I was to fetch for my master before dawn. Failure now ends my apprenticeship. So, mighty djinn, I am alone and at your mercy.”
“This is breezy.” Grinning, he disappears his weapon with another snap and offers his empty hand. “I’m Slip, born of the Pyrrhonist School.”
She wraps her fingers around his smaller fist and shakes it. “I am Telisa Varien. I was adopted by olympikin humans. I don’t know the house of my true parents.”
“And your master?”
“A necromancer of the Obsidian Crusade, but he is my master no longer.” Telisa tosses her scroll into the street to be trampled under the wheels of a passing trade wagon. “I was too good for him anyway.”
Her eyes flare like flint meeting steel. The djinn flinches, and she slows her breathing, calming eyes to a soft yellow glow.
Slip strokes his beard. “How about I test you? I serve the Lords Under The Eye, a band of all colors. Imagine paladins standing next to necromancers and sea witches drinking tea with druids. We are a family of outcasts and hybrids. If you’ve got the skill to back up your ego, you’ll be welcomed like a fly to manure.”
Eyebrow raised, she shrugs. “Get me a zombie, and I’ll show you what I’m capable of.”
Slip points down an alley. “There’s some awakened ones wandering the slums. Go find your own.”
“Will you follow?” She frowns and turns, but the djinn is gone. “Hello! Are you invisible?”
She narrows her eyes. A shout of warning, and three men carrying a boat’s mast jog by.
“Fine. Oh zombie hunting, I shall go.” Tucking her fingers into billowy sleeves, she spins and ducks into the alley Slip directed her to.
Slip, mascot—immature djinn and concierge of Luted Inn
Telisa, necromancer—teenage olympian rebelling with morbidity