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“A Boot?” Ramin raised an eyebrow.

“No, a Bhut,” Ali said. “At least that’s what I think it is. This way.”

They took a sharp turn into the main road of Aleddah. It was crammed with people, carriages, and market stalls. Ramin scowled at the traders who attempted to garner his attention.

The scowl dug deeper. “When I became a disciple, I never expected to fight a creature named after footwear.”

Ali frowned. “This one harassed our contractor every night. It shook the house, rattled pans, and tipped the furniture. If left unchecked, a Bhut can easily drive someone to insanity.”

Ramin’s eyes widened. “Wow.”

“Having said that, I have no doubt that our contractor is a bit sleep deprived so at least try to have some patience.”

“Yeah, yeah.” Ramin rolled his eyes.

Ali held back an exasperated sigh. They had been working together for two years now under the Sun’s Disciples. The number daunted Ali, especially when reminded of his partner’s irksome personality. Yet his proficiency with elementals was commendable; which was something unexpected from a man with robust muscles and a short temperament. Two years of working as a disciple of the Sun, of scrambling around Aleddah to exorcise their next spirit.

“Look out!” Ramin said as he pulled Ali out of the way.

He had been so engrossed in his thoughts that he hadn’t noticed the crowd parting for two men robed in white on camels. These men were flanked by foot soldiers in grey armor, two scimitars strapped to their belts.

“Make way for the Shining Clerics!” the man at the front waved his scimitar.

“Does he want to cut somebody?” Ali grumbled.

The Shining Clerics were a bunch of conceited half-wits. They had the money and resources to exorcise the more dangerous spirits, thus giving them more coverage in the news. That left the weaker spirits in the hands of the more underfunded wards such as the Sun’s Disciples. Ali had no doubt that the real reason the clerics left the spirits to them was not out of courtesy, but laziness. He himself had spent many hours in dusty attics and cramped wells, waiting for the spirits to show up.

“Let’s go before they notice us.” Ali tugged at Ramin’s sleeve.

“Well, if it isn’t the Warders from the Sun’s dunceheads,” a voice said.

Ali cringed and turned around to face one of the clerics. The man’s cheekbones were taut against his skin, adding to his malicious smile.

“Where are you going?” The man asked as he steered his camel over to them.

“That’d be none of your business, Shining Dimwit.”

The man put on a strained smile that quivered at the edges. “Well, our Ward is always in business. When do you get contractors? Every other full moon?”

Ali noticed Ramin had clenched his fists and gave him a tight pull on the sleeve. He cut in before Ramin unleashed a flurry of insults.

“We’re actually going to one of our contractors now. Where are you going?”

The man sneered. “We’re going to a meeting with the minister of the town.”

“I suppose you wouldn’t want to be late to that.”

The man raised an eyebrow. “That’s the smartest thing I’ve heard you disciples say. I hope I don’t have to see your ugly mugs again.”

The two clerics guffawed as they continued down the street. The swarm of people who had stopped to watch the debacle went back to their own business. Soon, the progression was swallowed by the crowd.

Ali recited the checklist of items to occupy himself. He carried the satchel with their copies of the bone and soul books. Ramin had the keychain with all the spell tags around his belt and slung across his shoulder was a small leather pouch that carried the runes. Ali froze.

“Where’s the chalk?” Ali asked.

“The chalk? It’s right-” Ramin patted his cloak pocket. “Drat.”

Ali looked at the sun which had started its descent behind the jagged line of houses.

“We shouldn’t keep our contractor waiting any longer. You go get the chalk and I’ll meet up with him.”

Ramin grumbled. “Fine.”

Ali let a sigh escape his mouth when Ramin disappeared into the crowd. It was hard to establish a respectable repute when they mucked up such simple things. He daydreamed often about what life would be working for a more prosperous Ward. Maybe then he could afford incenses and herbs for his pounding headaches born from the many sleepless nights he spent working.

Ali grumbled. They were dreams and were going to stay that way unless he got himself together.

He turned around the corner and the street’s bustle faded into the distance. It was like he had stepped into another world. He knocked on the door, the sound echoed through the silent evening. Ali tapped his foot and turned to the setting sun. Shadows poured into the streets, curled and twisted tendrils of darkness. His concentration was broken by the creak of the door.

“Hello, sir,” Ali tried for a smile.

“Who are you?”  the man replied. Sagged eyes stared at him.

“I’m the Warder you requested for.”

“Ah yes, come in, come in.”

The man stepped aside and gestured into the dark recesses of his house. Ali rubbed his arms to calm the goosebumps that surged across his skin. This must be one very strong creature to have sensed his presence already. As he stepped into the man’s house, he hoped that Ramin would return with the chalk soon.

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