Chapter 38:

Skirmish at the Harbor - Part 1


Three spots were checked after the trio left the temple, but the three locations ended up being duds. A canned-goods factory, a subterranean parking lot, and the construction site they had visited weren’t 100% clear of suspicion, but they had no signs of weird activity or abnormal magic.

It was a different case on the fourth location visited by the patrolling girls though.

“Right beneath our noses, eh?” Col noted in a hushed tone to her two companions pretending to be focused on a ‘surprise security check’ at the storage area of the harbor. “We’re going in?”

Dawn was coming and the seafront now had little more than harbor workers and ship crews, so the trio of girls was somewhat eye-catching right now. Still, their actions should hardly raise questions with Karim around.

The plan of pretending to be investigating the imports for ‘safety reasons’ was hers to begin with. It wasn't as if she wouldn't do something of the kind from time to time too, so none seemed to be suspicious.

“Nay. I can feel somethin’ similar to those dolls there, but we can’t blow the cover yet..." Annabeth answered while opening a nearby crate to match its goods with the manifest in Karim's hand. And for the fourth or fifth time, she found something. "Look! Some illegal booze ‘ere. Should I try it?”

“Get your hands out the evidence!” And Karim slapped her hand away from the good-looking bottles, also for the fourth time now. “Also, you’re not even old enough to drink this.”

“Aren’t you both a little too into this check?”

“I’m a law enforcer. Leaving this goes against my principles even if doing this much wasn’t the original plan…”

“I like takin’ things people can’t complain ‘bout later, y'see? Smuggled goods are perfect for that.”

The two answers on opposite ends of the lawful spectrum made Colette grimace, half in confusion and half in amazement. She was much keener on charging on already now that they had a target than on checking some minor problem like this one, but that was that.

“Anyway, how long do we need to keep this shit up?” She asked again while also participating in the checks. “I have a feeling that this place has way too fucking much smuggling either way…”

The number of hidden goods inside the sorting area was impressive indeed. They hadn't even entered the warehouses yet and there was already enough to arrest most captains docked at the moment.

Almost every single one of the pieces they found was some consumer good trying to avoid customs though. There was barely anything actually dangerous or that couldn't be solved with some fines.

There was a reason why ‘surprise checks’ were common enough to not gather any unusual attention in the end.

“We can’t control all the illegal goods, but letting them run rampant would be bad too. It's also an important source of funds to the force...” Karim answered in a slightly resigned tone and then finished the markings on her notebook. “We care more about the dangerous things than about a bunch of bottles anyway.”

“Hells! A bunch of Aster White-Cola bottles ‘ere. These are limited edition, y’know? Couldn’t find any of ‘em in mah’ earlier passes.” Anna exclaimed again, breaking the serious tone as she took a bottle of silver-colored carbonated liquid and opened it. “The pure taste of chemical death. I luv it.”

“For fuck’s sake, Anna…” Col held her head with the amount of shared shame she was feeling due to her friend’s conduct. “You’ve been hunting smugglers every night or something?”

“Kinda. I try to focus on the more dangerous ones, but not always…”

“Losing sleep for something as stupid as a carbonated drink... You’re unbelievable sometimes.”

“Carbonated drinks are not…!”

“We’re done here, you two.” Karim interrupted their banter with a meaningful gaze before closing the documents she had in hand. She was also using a not-that-high but far-reaching voice to say so. “What about we go return these to the harbormaster? My aunt already knows that we would be closing soon, so it’s time to stop the check.”

Noticing what their archipelan companion was trying to signal, the two inquisitors nodded and closed the crates they were working at. They then moved closer to each other and shared a few eye signs before going back to acting normal.

“I didn’t see the lad ‘round ever since we got the docs with him, so we’ll probably have to look through the area. Any ideas where he should be, shorty?”

“Not sure… Let’s split up and look for him. We meet in front of that warehouse right there, okay?” Karim pointed to one of the many storage buildings close to the harbor. One that seemed emptier than the others even though it still had lights on differently from most. “We can also leave the papers with the people there if we need to. The warehouse chief should still be around since the lights are on.”

“Gotcha. See y’all later…” The redhead answered as she moved to her trolley bag left by the side and got ready to depart.

Their conversation which could weirdly be heard from a good distance ended naturally and then the three split up. Right after leaving her companions, though, Anna had already left the perception one anything she could feel around.

It wasn’t as if she had some special skill to stealth or was using a spell to hide her moves, but Annabeth was almost impossible to spot.

The effects of being able to instinctively avoid gazes as long as she could feel from where they came combined with a body that, by itself, gave little to no presence wasn’t something to be trifled.

In fact, if Anna wanted to, even someone capable of feeling spiritual energy like herself would have a hard time spotting her. It was hard to argue that the price for such was worth it though…

Either way, it was now just a matter of timing. The trio's plan was very barebones and now Annabeth only knew an approximation of how her companions would move around, but that was enough.

As long as they followed their natural instincts and the overall plan they made, it shouldn’t be a problem at all.

For starters, though, she got her anti-material rifle out of its trolley bag form and strapped it around her body. And with the weapon ready for an emergency, she removed the engraved tube that acted as the weapon’s optics.

Using it as a spyglass, the red-haired sniper marked the guards in her mental map and started to approach the warehouse. She bid her time, calmly moving from cover to cover to be sure she wouldn't be spotted.

All her focus was on the task at hand, so all but her targets became white noise. Hearing, feeling, tasting, all became meaningless as her sights locked on watching the warehouse.

Some workers left it, opening the door as their turns were over and letting Anna see the small truck loaded with crates inside. Other than them, a group of nocturnal guards passed by, likely starting their shifts right now, but there was nothing abnormal about them too.

All small fry. Half demons that couldn’t even be classified as a C-class threat, but it was only what she could see outside. She still had to move a little closer to be able to spy the inside of the building.

The closer Anna got to the warehouse, though, the bigger the lump of spiritual energy she could feel. It wasn’t hard to be sure that she had the right place now, even if its camouflage was way too good.

There was more to it still…

“Now this a real trouble...” She whispered to no one while using the removed scope as a spyglass to see through the warehouse’s windows. “At least we have an explanation on why this place can stay hidden though.”

And, from the window she could barely spy into, and that seemed to be the office of that warehouse chief, the man the trio was pretending to look for was talking with a few others.

Four of the five other people were unknown to Annabeth. One was a young man in a cheap suit, the other was a dock worker, likely the warehouse's overseer, and the two remaining were cops.

It was hard to be sure why those two cops were there, but it didn't feel as if they were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Having cops involved on the other side was less of a problem than the last figure Anna could see though...

"I think it's time fer a rematch, ay?"

Annabeth had her eyes once again on the sleepy ifrit from many days prior.