Rotblossom Rose (1.34R)

Welcome to the space where I experiment, my weekly serial. It is written raw, not edited at all, and mostly unplanned.

The world is partly based on the background of an unpublished Steampunk game that I worked on with a few friends, which has grown in my mind over the last couple of years. The story is a take on those ultra-violent revenge epics of the eighties where a man’s family is abused and killed, but he survives and seeks vengeance. Needless to say it is a grim, bloody tale, that deals with bad people doing bad things, so be warned.

Here is the first post of this series.

Here is last week’s post.

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“Moving, what do you mean– aaghhh,” Ferret somehow evaded the massive snapping jaws that seemed to materialize in the tunnel in front of him, but was thrown against the rock wall.

“NO!” Geb’s voice cut through Rose’s shock. She threw herself out of the way as the tunnel-filling bulk came down on her. She flattened herself against the wall in an alcove.

“ROCKWYRM!” shouted Scarab and then the bulk was passing over Rose. Even with her near-dead sense of smell Rose’s lungs filled with the scent of deep earth and wrongblood corruption. This, she knew, was something powerful, something from the real depths, like the monsters that climbed up the gash to assault the city or the bones deep down that no one could reach.

“Heeeppp meghee!” Rose looked up to see Ferret, his body squashed between the bulk of the creature and the tunnel wall. His face was squashed and one eye had burst. Blood was coming from his mouth. Rose had seen men squashed my rockslides in the mines like this; somehow Ferret was still standing, reaching out his hand for her help.

Rose hesitated, then decided she could afford to lose the mechanical arm if she had to and reached out to grab. He grasped her hook and she pulled with all her might, bracing herself against the little alcove. She pulled and pulled, digging in her boots and howling above the din.

Somewhere, beyond the massive thing in the tunnel, there was a battle going on. Rose could see dim flashes of light and heard shouts and screams, and bangs. She could smell blood.

And then she pulled Ferret into the alcove with her. He flopped against her feeling boneless and flat, and she realized that he was dead. She didn’t even have all of him.

For just a moment despair dropped over Rose like a funeral shroud, as inescapable as death itself. She’d gone and buried herself down here. There were easier ways to make the money she needed to get to Lawch. What the fuck was wrong with her, throwing it all away on a desperate gamble in the depths? She wanted to cry.

But before she did, the other part of her took over. The real her. The one who survived that day, who lived through the mines, who laughed at Kragorr, Nave Au’Sixthstreet, Grime Downbridge, and Blackeyes as they died. If she died, it would not be from despair in the dark.

She pulled Ferret’s short hackblade from his belt and began to stab the body of the thing thrashing in the tunnel. The first three swings bounced off the thick flesh, but the blade was quality and it held, biting deeper and deeper as Rose swung into it in a frenzy. The massive body thrashed, pushing her against the walls of the alcove, but Rose was small and skinny and it could not crush her there. She hacked and hacked, until the blood was flowing around her ankles. Then the beast pulled ahead and she fell out of the alcove  into a pool of gore covering the tunnel floor.

Rose ignored it. She needed light. All of the scabbers had emergency lights. She felt around until she found one of hers, listening the wyrm thrashing ahead of her, hoping it would not turn around.

She swore, swore again, twisted the lightstick. It immediately bathed the tunnel in ugly red light. She saw a trail of red leading back toward the group and followed it. The sounds of battle could still be heard, so there was a chance she could survive this.

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Rotblossom Rose (1.33R)

Welcome to the space where I experiment, my weekly serial. It is written raw, not edited at all, and mostly unplanned.

The world is partly based on the background of an unpublished Steampunk game that I worked on with a few friends, which has grown in my mind over the last couple of years. The story is a take on those ultra-violent revenge epics of the eighties where a man’s family is abused and killed, but he survives and seeks vengeance. Needless to say it is a grim, bloody tale, that deals with bad people doing bad things, so be warned.

Here is the first post of this series.

Here is last week’s post.

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The entrance to the Kisvavi ‘dungeon’ is much easier to find than that of The Spider’s Lair. After surmising that the family will not want to suffer the embarrassment of having to drag their slave victims through the streets, Rose decides to begin her search in the parts of the ward where the Kisvavi receive their goods. She finds a small cellar with a porter door, on the back of their compound. Reasoning that they will not want to expose their slave on a long walk up an open staircase clinging to the outside of the ward’s wall, she slips through the door and follows it down.

After a few steps she lifts the skull mask and binds it tight; you never know when you might bump into someone, even on a dark stair in the middle of the night.

The bottom of the porter’s stair is a platform guarded by a pair of bored guards. Rose slips past them quietly, glad that they do not have watch animals. A half dozen stairways converge on the platform, each leading to a different family’s compound. Rose backtracks finding a hidden doorway out of sight of the guards. She smiles; it has taken her less than a candle to find what she needs.

Of course the door is designed to only be opened from the inside, but Rose has learned quite a bit about doors as a Scabber and a skull-masked skulker. This door is held closed by a latch which is released by a handle on the other side of the door. Rose gently pushes around the edges of the door, listening. She hears the latch rattle exactly where she expects it to be.

Rose pulls out a flat metal bar, almost paper thin and feeds it through the crack of the frame toward the latch, then she takes a rod with a flat angled end and pushes it along the bar. She uses the rod to move the latch, bit by bit until she can feed the bar between the latch and the frame where it rests. Then she pushed the door inward and slips inside.

As she gets her bearings, Rose is greeted by the crack of a whip and an agonized whimper. She draws a long blade and creeps down the hall toward the sound, cursing her luck at finding the dungeon in use.

Rose hears the whip crack twice more. She sees light spilling out from under a door and drifts toward it, kneeling to look through the keyhole.

A large, muscular man wearing a mask fashioned to look like some tusked beast and nothing else, stands over the bleeding form of a smaller man, fine featured and sleight of build. The smaller man has been bound to a half-stock. Rose realizes that she is watching the aftermath of a rape.

The whip is red with blood as is the smaller man’s back; his breathing is shallow and he has lost consciousness. The big man steps forward and pulls out a green glowing stone, stepping forward to ease the damage so that his sick game can last a little longer.

The stone is exactly what Rose needs. She slips into the room and is halfway to them before the big man turns, raising his whip. She anticipates the movement and flows with it, planting her long blade deep in his throat just as his eyes widen at the sight of the silver skull mask. He jerks twice as the tip of the blade bursts from the back of his neck, severing the spine, tries to scream, and dies.

Rose takes the stone from his hand. It feels good. She is about to leave when the slave begins to stir. The Kisvavi will torture the man to find out what he knows. She doesn’t want that, but she does not think that she can get the man out with her.

Cursing herself for being soft, Rose cuts his bonds. His eyes flutter open.

“Come with me if you want to get out of this place,” she says.

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Rotblossom Rose (1.32R)

Welcome to the space where I experiment, my weekly serial. It is written raw, not edited at all, and mostly unplanned.

The world is partly based on the background of an unpublished Steampunk game that I worked on with a few friends, which has grown in my mind over the last couple of years. The story is a take on those ultra-violent revenge epics of the eighties where a man’s family is abused and killed, but he survives and seeks vengeance. Needless to say it is a grim, bloody tale, that deals with bad people doing bad things, so be warned.

Here is the first post of this series.

Here is last week’s post.

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Rose felt a nudge in her ribs. Normally a light sleeper, she was surprised and came up snarling, knife in hand. Scarab stepped back and laughed.

“Fuck you Scarab,” she growled.

“Yer lucky I wasn’t a campspider, Rotblossom,” said Scarab. “Deep sleepers don’t last long down here.”

“Most women would rather wake to a campspider bite than you in their bedroll, Scarab,” interjected Harmony as she walked past, carrying water to the fire. Jim Lowrock, Ferret and Geb all burst out laughing while Scarab rolled his eyes.

“Breakfast, Rose,” said Geb. “Ignore the local Rock Troll and come enjoy some of the finest hot oats you’ve ever had.”

Rose was thankful for something soft to eat. Her jaw still ached from ‘dinner’s’  ration of dried meat, a tough meal for someone who could only chew with one side of her mouth. The oats were warm and nourishing, and the spice and cinnamon were pleasant even to someone with Rose’s damaged sense of taste. She devoured her bowl.

“No seconds,” said Scarab, smirking. “Food is strictly rationed down here.”

“You can have half of mine if the haul is as good as yesterday,” rumbled Jack Rumbarrel, oiling a hackblade.

“Alright, clean up and pack, we are moving to the next camp. Today is a travel day, and unless you fancy a belly-crawl shortcut we have a long walk ahead of us”

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“Why are you stopped?” asked Ferret. Rose was moving with, him Geb just behind her. Part of a Sniffer’s duty was helping the scout and Rose was watching Ferret, learning. The man seemed to have supernatural senses, and his hyperactive fidgety behaviour seemed normal when he was performing his role. He did not even turn around as he questioned, just kept scanning the dark.

“What is it Rose?” Geb was right behind her, silent and watchful. He was not as big as Jack Rumbarrel, but he was a solid, reassuring presence. For a moment Rose wished that she was pretty again, free of disease, and able to beguile men with a smile and a quip. She banished the thought angrily as quickly as it came; that girl was dead, her weakness having killed her family.

“I don’t know,” said Rose. “I just feel something when I am near Wraithbone.”

“What do ye mean?” asked Ferret.

“Back in the mines I would get these feelings,” Rose started to Rasp, she was not used to doing so much talking. “I would find Wraithbone there either that day or the next, always.”

“You could sense a bloom?” asked Ferret.

“I don’t know what that means,” answered Rose after taking a bit of water from her canteen.

“Some can,” said Miriam Sprout. “I worked with two. It might sound miraculous good, but it could also lead us to a Killy Bleedwarpt.”

“A bloom is a vein of Wraithbone,” said Geb. “They appear quickly, usually not so near The Gash.”

“Killy means right fucking dangerous,” added Jack Rumbarrel.

Rose felt her sense shift. It was a new sensation and left her feeling disconcerted for a moment.

“What is it Rose?” asked Geb.

“Weapons up,” said Scarab.

“Its moving,” whispered Rose.

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Rotblossom Rose (1.31R)

Welcome to the space where I experiment, my weekly serial. It is written raw, not edited at all, and mostly unplanned.

The world is partly based on the background of an unpublished Steampunk game that I worked on with a few friends, which has grown in my mind over the last couple of years. The story is a take on those ultra-violent revenge epics of the eighties where a man’s family is abused and killed, but he survives and seeks vengeance. Needless to say it is a grim, bloody tale, that deals with bad people doing bad things, so be warned.

Here is the first post of this series.

Here is last week’s post.

<>

The Kisvavi areold, a remnant family that had survived the fall of The Orikal Protectorate, and all of the many times that The Scab had changed hands since. Rose respects that kind of commitment to survival and power; it speaks of ruthlessness tempered by cunning and controlled ambition.

These are very dangerous people to cross, but when it comes down to it, she wants to cross them. The loss of a quality Wraithstone will irk them, but the Kisvavi had dozens, if not hundreds of such stones at their disposal. They will kill her if they caught her, as horribly as they could, but it is unlikely that they would pursue the stone all the diligence they can muster; the other families and powers in The Scab would take that kind of effort as a sign of weakness.

If she can get in and escape, Rose will bloody their nose and quite possibly get away with it.

Despite being in one of the most secure wards in the city, the Kisvavi compound on The Pinnacle boasts impressive security. Rose supposes that it makes sense, considering that rival houses were not above violence. The Kisvavi compound is a small fortress with a tall outer wall and an imposing inner manor house.

The grounds are patrolled by Orikalean Hunting Cats, vicious felines with the loyalty and sharp senses of hounds. These are better wards against thieves and assassins than a battalion of guards since they can detect intruders swiftly and attack, letting loose a horrible yowl to sound the alarm. Simply moving silently is not enough to evade such creatures; she will need to distract them or evade their scent altogether.

The first few levels of the manor house have small windows of alchemically hardened glass secured by steel bars. Those are the levels that are in danger of being attacked if the compound is attacked by force. They are also where the servants live. Sneaking through there would be foolish, although Rose thinks it might be possible.

The upper levels lack barred windows, but the alchemical treatment on the glass is enough to resist an arbalest bolt. Rose could cut her way into one of those rooms, but the family who live within them do not trust each other. She would find herself in a maze of heavily guarded chambers, many of which had securely locked doors. It would be a stupid endeavor.

But Rose knows the Kisvavi. Slavery is illegal in The Scab, and yet they own a slave mine not too far from the city. The Kisvavi are old and powerful, but they are arrogant in their ways. The scions of the family made frequent trips to the mines and Rose remembers their viciousness. She is banking on them having a secret cache of slaves within the city, in a secure dungeon beneath their compound where they can engage in rape and torture in the comforts of their won home without fear of discovery.

And of course that little dungeon will have a discrete way in and out, and they will have some good green Wraithbone on hand for sure.

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Rotblossom Rose (1.30r)

Welcome to the space where I experiment, my weekly serial. It is written raw, not edited at all, and mostly unplanned.

The world is partly based on the background of an unpublished Steampunk game that I worked on with a few friends, which has grown in my mind over the last couple of years. The story is a take on those ultra-violent revenge epics of the eighties where a man’s family is abused and killed, but he survives and seeks vengeance. Needless to say it is a grim, bloody tale, that deals with bad people doing bad things, so be warned.

Here is the first post of this series.

Here is last week’s post.

<>

Rose could see forms, a deeper dark in the shadows beyond the light, behind the shining eyes. The group backed away from them, slowly.

“Easy now,” intoned Geb. “If we don’t give them reason to attack, they will be happy to feast on the kill. Just back up slowly and do not make any sudden movements.”

“Running is bad?” asked Rose.

“Aye, if we run, they chase,” said Geb.

“We might also bumb into more danger blundering around,” added Scarab,

Breathlessly, the group retreated. The deep wolves stayed at the edge of the light. The Scabbers kept their weapons ready, tensed against sudden violence. Rose almost started when a low growl seemed to sound from beside her, but she kept her cool and moved back.

At last the edge of the light reached the grabber corpse, hacked and bloody. As soon as the darkness washed over it, Rose heard them rip into it with gusto. She caught the flash of teeth as a huge hairless muzzle jumped into the light biting a fist-size chunk out of the meat and chitin. It was dog-like and yet warpt and rose shivered to think of its ferocity.

Once the frenzied sounds of feeding eased, the tension ran out as the group relaxed.

“Get our bearings,” ordered Geb. “I’ll do a headcount.”

Rose was puzzled by this, but kept her mouth shut while Geb called out names.

“The deep wolves are smart,” said Scarab from seemingly just behind her. “They’ll come at you loud from on direction and snatch one of your crew while your looking the other way. They might even drive you toward something much worse, in the hopes of cleaning up what’s left of ya.”

“Lovely,” muttered Rose. She could feel the hairs standing up on the back of her neck. Strangely, she felt more alive, more awake than she had since killing Nave and Blackeyes.

“Darling?” said Geb, sounding nervous.

“I’m here Geb,” said Darling. “Over by Harmony.”

“Right, that’s everyone,” said Geb, teeth showing a smile in the dim light. “Miriam, you have our bearings?”

“I do.”

“Good, good, Scarab drop a stinker as we leave. I would rather not have that pack of wolves on our heels.”

Scarab pulled an object the size of an egg from a belt pouch, twisted it twice, and tossed it on the ground.

“Let’s go,” he said to Rose, grinning. “You don’t want to be caught in the cloud when it goes off.”

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They arrived the campsite shortly thereafter. Rose was impressed with the caution the Scabbers took in approaching the camp. Apparently chance meetings with othersin the depths were rare, but often hostile.

Geb breathed a sigh of relief as Ferret Gave the all clear.

“‘I’ll gather water,” said Jack Rumbarrel as they marched into the campsite.

Rose’s eyes were immediately drawn to a post near the centre of the site.

“That is a waymarker,” said Miriam Sprout as Rose approached it. “They mark stable spots in The Depths and also help with bearings. This little compass here, helps me find them.”

“Tarnish check before dinner,” called Geb.

Rose pulled out the silver disc resting against her chest. It was only slightly tarnished. Metals like copper, silver, and gold drew the dark energies of the bleed away from living flesh, tarnishing the metal in process. The Syndicate purchased tarnished coins, and apparently knew how to remove the bleed from them. It was closely guarded secret; one they would apparently kill to keep.

After that, Rose looked around the campsite. Geb was starting a fire using stonewood and crimson Wraithbone oil while the others move about the cavern lighting the various lamps and crystals left by Scabbers over the years. Others seemed to be hunting down insects and making sure the places where they would pitch their bedrolls were secure.

The campsite was on a kind of plateau in an old natural cavern. There was only one easy path up to the top level, which was partially sheltered by low, unusually regular walls. Rose smiled when she realized that they were sheltering on the remains of some ancient tower.

“Hey,” said Geb, coming to stand beside her. “You did well today.”

Rose smiled. “Thanks.”

“This place is relatively safe. Most of the things down here stay away from fires. We set three watches, yours is first up after we eat.”

“Got it.”

“I mean what I said Rose,” added Geb. “Everyone is happy. We rarely get lucky like that on bloody grabber. Had you not pulled it out quickly, we would have lost that Wraithbone to the wolves. You did well.”

Rose slept well that night. She did not dream at all.

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Rotblossom Rose (1.29R)

Welcome to the space where I experiment, my weekly serial. It is written raw, not edited at all, and mostly unplanned.

The world is partly based on the background of an unpublished Steampunk game that I worked on with a few friends, which has grown in my mind over the last couple of years. The story is a take on those ultra-violent revenge epics of the eighties where a man’s family is abused and killed, but he survives and seeks vengeance. Needless to say it is a grim, bloody tale, that deals with bad people doing bad things, so be warned.

Here is the first post of this series.

Here is last week’s post.

<>

She crosses the Silverthread Span at midday, distracting herself by staring at the faintly visible bones of long dead titans jutting out of the rocks below. The bones are visible only on the clearest of days for a brief time when the sun is poised above The Gash. They mark the edge of the abyss, where the bleed is too intense for any living creature to survive. People cannot even make it to the bones, but simple organisms, like worms had been lowered and retrieved, though they were always bleedwarpt.

The bones were beautiful, and tantalizing; there was likely enough pure wraithbone down there to provide everyone in the city with a bottle of The Clear.

A few enterprising engineers once created machines that scraped the fossilized Titans for Wraithbone, with some success. But the expense of such an endeavor is immense, and it is also currently outlawed after the last attempt attracted a massive bleedwarpt worm, which then attacked the city.

The Silverthread Span hangs above this abyss, the only bridge that joins the two sides of The Gash and the city around it. Rose hurries along, weaving through the crowd, avoiding as much notice as possible. Thousands of people crowd onto the bridge, which looks like it lacked the structure even to hold its own weight. There are no records of its miraculous construction, or even the materials from which it is made, thought is obviously a Wraithbone infused alloy.

Rose does not like the Span since it limits her freedom of movement to two directions; it would be easy for her enemies to corner her upon it. She’s done the same, in the past.

The thought makes her smile. Fucking Arthrin.

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Part of the joy of having her sense of smell mostly destroyed by the rot, Rose muses, is that it makes climbing through a cesspipe much more bearable.

The pipe is leaves her only a few inches to move. It is a lonely climb, punctuated by torrents of wastewater. She still remembers the first time she did this, a two hour ordeal that had left her

It is also the only way for Rose to get into The Pinnacle, one of the most heavily guarded and exclusive wards in the city and the surest place for Rose to get the Green Wraithbone that The Spider needs.

The Kisvavi live in the biggest compound in The Pinnacle Ward. They are wealthy. They very likely have at least a dozen green stones of the grade and measure that The Spider needs. The Kisvavi are powerful and have deep roots in the city. They are not to be trifled with, by common wisdom.

They also own the slave mines where Rose toiled and Janiye died, so they owe her, she figures.

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Rotblossom Rose (1.28R)

Welcome to the space where I experiment, my weekly serial. It is written raw, not edited at all, and mostly unplanned.

The world is partly based on the background of an unpublished Steampunk game that I worked on with a few friends, which has grown in my mind over the last couple of years. The story is a take on those ultra-violent revenge epics of the eighties where a man’s family is abused and killed, but he survives and seeks vengeance. Needless to say it is a grim, bloody tale, that deals with bad people doing bad things, so be warned.

Here is the first post of this series.

Here is last week’s post.

<>

The ‘grabber’ was vaguely spider-like, with eight limbs and a body covered in chitinous plates. Four of the limbs ended in strong pincers like the claws of a crab. And the jaws below its four cat-like eyes was filled with rows of serrated teeth. The sight of it gave Rose pause.

“That’s a big one, but male,” said Jack, cleaning his axe. “He almost got ya Ferret.

“Fuck yer mother in the arse, Jack,” said Ferret haughtily. “Ain’t no grabber, nor creeperjaw, nor any wrongblood that can get the drop on me.”

“Don’t get arrogant, Ferret,” said Geb. “You’re the best scout down here, but everyone makes mistakes. Get cocky an you’ll miss the next one?”

“Wait, there are more like this down here?” asked Rose.

“Yes,” answered Miriam, looking up from a map that she had rolled out on a rock near their kill. “They are a common hazard in the upper levels of the depths. They feed off Deep Wolves, Wrongblood Ghouls, and unfortunates who wander a little too deep.”

“This is lovely, but we should carve the kill and get moving,” said Scarab. “The scent of blood is bound to attract something.”

Rose felt a kind of vertigo as she looked at the grabber. She recalled now how many men went missing in the remote parts of the slave mines in her time there. No doubt old Kragorr and the other overseers could not be bothered to warn them; no doubt the bastards though it would  lower production if their ‘workers’ were looking over their shoulders at all times — better to let the guards take the credit and have them be the source of any fear.

“The Sniffer does the carving,” said Geb. “Wraithbone deposits are usually found on the spine, the upper part of the inside of the skull, and the heart-side ribs. Grabbers rarely have a lot of stone in em, so it isn’t worth getting covered in blood and wasting time unless the sniffer thinks it is.”

“Covered in blood, as in a magnet for predators?” asked Rose.

“She’s not stupid,” said Scarab. “That puts her ahead of the last three.”

“Fuck yerself, Scarab, Bloody Bowb was our finest Sniffer,” growled Ferret. “I bought me house with his runs.”

“Bloody Bowb attracted Deep Wolves like ripe shit brings flies,” responded Scarab. “Besides Ferret, your house ain’t that grand.”

“I’ll fucking gut yeh,” said Ferret, drawing a knife.

Scarab responded with a rude gesture.

Rose barely noticed them. All the talk of Deep Wolves and dead Scabbers made her want to get on with the task and move out. They weren’t going to crack the ribcage or the skull, and that, she guessed, left the spine. There was Wraithbone on the spine. How different could it be from finding it in the veins of stone in the mines?

Rose knelt and examined the spine. She heard Geb say something to Ferret and Scarab, heard Darling add her voice in agreement and then she tuned them out as she leaned over the Grabbers back, running the wicked carving knife over the back of its spine, trusting to instinct, like she learned in the mines.

The knife seemed to plunge of its own accord, tough chitin parting before steel and skill. Blood welled out of the wound, so acrid that even Rose could smell it. Rose dug the knife in a little deeper, prying up a plate, and digging a coin sized lump from the spine. Underneath the blood, it glowed.

The group was silent.

“Sweet Jalba’s Tits!” exclaimed Jack.

“That was efficient,” said Geb, sounding amused.

“So much for Bloody Bowb being the best,” said Scarab.

“Fuck yerself regardless,” retorted Ferret.

Rose cleaned the Wraithbone off on the Grabbers hide. It glowed a faint red. She handed it to Geb.

“Nicely done,” he said.

“Thanks,” said Rose, smiling.

Geb opened his mouth to say more, but Ferret and Scarab both held up their hands.

“Deep Wolves,” said Ferret.

“Weapons out, lights low and centre, move out slowly,” said Geb.

And then, at the edge of the light, in the dark, Rose saw eyes.

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