(excerpted from Weird Luck, book one in the City of the Watcher trilogy)
…Aleck approached the Circus. A smoky haze thickened in the air. Distant sounds gradually resolved into innumerable drumbeats, cacophonous shouting, and the throbbing chant of hundreds of Herax voices. Big black crows perched at every street corner, cawing out to one another in their enigmatic counting-code. Occasionally Aleck heard screams or weeping echoing out from the buildings around him.
He passed the burning shell of a small mansion, a broken Herax warship leaning out the roof to hang its stern over the street. A dying bonfire of stacked furniture and Herax corpses smoldered in the front courtyard beside a pair of upside-down longboats. Here, finally, corpses. Aleck hurried past, averting his gaze from the burnt bodies.
He neared the end of the street. Crows crowded the rooftops, croaking into the eastern sky as though barking at the ascending moon. Herax boats and ships swarmed over the Circus like carrion flies on a hot day. Aleck walked past the carcass of a dead dog, its ribs splayed open to reveal a charred, empty husk. A sickening smell of burnt flesh and fur hung around it. Aleck gagged at the stench. Further along lay another exploded dog, with the burnt, broken corpses of several Herax warriors sprawled beside it. Aleck frowned and felt his eyes water.
Akaz walked up and nuzzled the dead dog’s head. “Good boy,” he whispered. “May you come back as a dog.”
“Akaz,” said Aleck.
Akaz looked up, cocked his head. He sniffed the air in Aleck’s direction. “Oh, it’s you!” he laughed. “Jesus, you must have really messed yourself up with that Token, kid. I thought you were Old Aleck.” He looked closer. “I guess you only look twenty or thirty. The white hair threw me. Old Aleck is more like forty.”
“I’m pissed off at you for dragging me into one screwy situation after another,” said Aleck, “and never telling me what the hell is going on.”
“Sorry,” said Akaz.
“And frankly,” continued Aleck, “I’m suspicious of your politics.”
“Whatever,” said Akaz. “I’m a vanguardist, whaddaya want from me.”
“I don’t know what that means,” said Aleck, “but you seem kinda fascist to me.”
“I’m not fucking fascist!” roared Akaz. “I’m just heedless!”
“You son of a bitch,” snapped Aleck.
“Dig, son,” said Akaz, “it’s over. As good as over, anyways. Still not safe, though, especially this close to the fighting. You should get back to the God-Dog. Whoa—” He trotted into the alley nearby. “Come on!” he stage-whispered. Aleck followed, ducking with Akaz into the shadows. Moments later, a Herax longboat floated past, hovering low like a huge, wheelless wagon.
“I still don’t understand what’s happening,” said Aleck. “The city’s like a ghost town. Where is everybody?”
“Hiding, I guess,” said Akaz. “Or ran away.”
“I saw blood everywhere,” said Aleck, “but hardly any bodies.”
Akaz did something that must have been a shrug.
“Where’s Blood Eagle?” asked Aleck.
“He took the Circus!” said Akaz, unable to contain the excitement in his voice. “The Cannibal-King has weapons even beyond what I’d hoped. Those telepathic bastards will retreat to the Herax Zone before long.”
Aleck looked towards the Circus. Crashed Herax boats littered the plaza outside the gates, some of them burning brightly. “I want to see what’s happening.”
“No way,” said Akaz, stepping in front of Aleck. “Bad idea. It’s a done deal now, chief, so you need to lay low. If you get messed up, you mess up your future self, and we lose all of this.”
Aleck heard what sounded like a machine gun echoing inside the Circus. “What was that?” he asked, walking briskly past Akaz.
“Nothing,” said Akaz, pacing him. “Come on, turn around. Get back to the God-Dog.”
A motorcycle engine revved inside the Circus, followed by more gunfire. “Are you kidding me?” said Aleck, breaking into a run. “What’s going on? Where did the guns come from?”
Akaz loped alongside him. “The Cannibal-King brought them with him from his Earth. Look, kid, I really don’t think you get it. There’s nothing for you to see in there. It’s over!” He began shouting. “The only thing that could go wrong, at this point, is if you do something stupid! Like wander onto a fucking battlefield!”
“I have the Nymph’s robe,” said Aleck. He stopped. “Plus, honestly, I don’t care what you want, O Great Akaz. I’m not your pawn anymore.” He gave Akaz the finger with both hands and ran towards the Circus….