Rotblossom Rose (1.3R)

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The world is partly based on the background of an unpublished Steampunk game that I worked on with a few friends, which has grown in my mind over the last couple of years.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 present comes down to three names waiting to be crossed off, the last on a very long list.

“Is she really that ugly under the mask?” asks Green Jim, the youngest man on their dive. “I mean… the way she moves…”

“Ask her yourself, kid,” says Scarab, smiling as Rose steps out of the dark.

“Captain, I…” stammers Green Jim.

Rose meets his eyes and holds, letting the moment stretch uncomfortably. She has a reputation for severity. There are rumors about bad things happening to those who cross her. She lets her hood fall back, revealing the mask that covers the ruined half of her face and lifts her metallic arm. Green Jim swallows hard.

“I’d gladly bed you, boy,” says Rose, sitting down slowly. “As long as you don’t mind the rot.”

Everyone else around the fire laughs as Green Jim relaxes.

It is the third day of the dive and Rose is running a crew for Nietch, the man they call The Spider. She is the best sniffer outside The Syndicate, bringing in hauls of Wraithstone that have made her boss into the most powerful man in the Southside Hive. Deep Delving is a dangerous business, far less sure but far more profitable than mining Wraithstone blooms in the badlands further away from The Gash, at least for small outfits.

As always, Rose seats herself across the fire from Geb. She likes looking at him, and does not mind that he knows it, The big man is often smiling, even in the deeps, even with the company he keeps. It does not hurt that Geb handsome in a rugged kind of way, confident, and even-tempered. He even smells nice.

Today though, her choice of seating has more meaning. She is careful to make certain that Chris Cackles is seated to her right, fearing hat if she can see him easily, she might give herself away. It is important that he does not know that she recognizes him, and thinks that she trusts

Like Green Jim, Cackles is new to her crew. Unlike Green Jim, he is an old hand to the deeps. In spite of his grey hair, he is an agile climber and a sharp-eyed scout. The men respect him already and he has already eased into his role on their expedition with little fuss.

“Listen up,” says Rose. “Geb, Scarab, Cackles, I want you to make sure everyone is prepared. Tomorrow we are going after a live one, near the underside of Syndicate territory, bounty on it and everything. You all know what that means.”

“Sure thing, Rose,” says Geb.

“Yes, boss,” say Scarab and Cackles.

“What’s a live one?” asks Green Jim.

“A bleedwarpt thing,” says Scarab, rolling his eyes. “Why the fuck d’you think we need an extra Lancer, boy?”

“I though you just liked my company, Scarab,” says Green Jim, acting hurt.

Most of them chuckle as Scarab gives the younger man a dark look.

“Bleedwarpt have some of the best Wraithstone inside ’em,” intones Cackles. “Not a lot, but potent stuff, full of power. The stones you get from them make the strongest juice… I’ve got a furnace in my shack that still runs off a Red I got from this Bleedwarpt rat-thing fifteen years ago. Have I told you the tale?”

As Cackles spins his tall tale, Rose is only half-listening. Her focus is on the day ahead, and how she intends to cross another name off her list before they leave the depths.

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Rotblossom Rose (1.2R)

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.

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The past is a cesspool.

After escaping the mines, it took Rose almost a month to reach her home on the road to from the city to the kingdom of Avelain. At least that’s how she remembered it: counting the sunrises, travelling only early in the day and just before sunset, trying to avoid predators both wild, and civilized. It was a journey that would have taken her three days walk in better times, when she was whole.

The stump of her arm still bleeds if she moves too quickly, but it does not seem infected, thanks to frequent applications of a bit of the green. In truth, Green Wraithstone is the only thing keeping her ravaged body from breaking down, though it is not what keeps her moving.

Rose stayed away from even the friendliest of places along roads, well-traveled and not. No one takes kindly to a crippled woman whose face has been half-eaten by Skankrot, not in this world.

Aside from the Wraithstone, which she stole from the mines as she escaped, , she also carried a shiv that she fashioned from a broken iron wedge, and the small one-handed pick that she used while she toiled in the mines. Both are excellent weapons, and well-cared for. The shiv had served her well over the last year, even with her arm.

Just before she sighted her old house, she was thinking of Kragorr, her crew boss in the mines. He was a prime bastard, tall and lean with eyes hard as flint, and a mean streak as deep as The Gash itself. Anyone who did not meet their quota in Kragorr’s crew did not get their rations the next day. When those that failed died, he laughed. Death was the only thing that made Kragorr smile.

By the time Janiye died, Rose had thought tears were impossible for her, but they came nonetheless. Kragorr had roared with laughter.

“She killed herself, Rotblossom,” he said between chuckles. “You know what I think? The little whore was probably sad that her looks were fading and the boys were losing interest. Better to slit her own throat than end up here with–“

Rose had launched herself at him then, blind with rage. It had not gone well. She had lost half of the remaining teeth on the good side of her mouth. Kragorr had laughed at that too. That night had been one of the hardest. Rose should have died from the beating or the thirst, let alone the sorrow for poor Janiye. Seeing Kragorr’s surprise in the morning at finding her still breathing had been a victory of sorts.

Slitting his throat had been better. His foot got caught in the cave-in. She had found him trying to dig himself out after she had freed herself. She came at him slowly, letting him see her, she the shiv that she had been sharpening for him for so long. He had his pick, but her old training was with her that day and she ducked under his swing and slipped around him.

By the time he recovered from his swing, it was already over. His throat was cut and she was out of reach, watching. She savored the sight of those flint-hard eyes, wide with panic as the blood ran through his hands, a flow that could not be staunched.

“For Janiye,” she had rasped as he faded.

That was what she was thinking as she crested a familiar little hill and caught sight of the old house, or rather what was left of it…

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Rotblossom Rose (1.1R)

Hello friends, this week I am starting up a new serial.

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.

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Most of us see what we want to see.

The optimist sees opportunity and good even in places where others see only ruin and rot. The pessimist sees danger and ill-intent even in sources that others see as benign and pure. The poet seeks to find the mythic in the mundane while the rationalist seeks to understand the systems behind existence itself.

Both the drunken aristocrat and the two killers see what they want to see.

The drunken aristocrat, a man nearing his fourth decade, sees a path that is safe and familiar. Shadows that would seem dark and threatening to others are simply ignored as his mind fills in the details the solid, clean stones of the familiar houses beneath automatically. His sword hangs at his hip, a empty wine bottle dangles in his hand. This is his territory and he has walked this path a thousand times or more. He is too close to home to think of danger.

The two killers see an easy mark, a man who has grown careless and arrogant because of position. They have planned this attack, watching his route for days now. They see a fat coin-purse, rings of gold, and a genuine coil-sword worth a small fortune by itself. Better yet, the man carries a small pouch filled with vials wraithstone distillate. They do not see that the aristocrat  is in remarkably good-shape because they have been taught that all those born to wealth are soft. They are too busy thinking of the joy of killing him and spending the spoils.

The drunken aristocrat’s perceptions are coloured by a life of wealth, good health, and fifteen deadly duels won. Moreover a night of dice and drinking have left him in a happy mood, one that he wishes to preserve instead of chasing away with grim alertness.

The drunken aristocrat stops on the familiar bridge. He knows that it is but a few moments from his house. The chasm underneath the bridge is one of those lesser tributaries of The Gash, the great rift around which the city is built. It is a dire drop, and every man know their are dangers in the depths; it is not unknown for Creeperjaws or other things to snatch people off such bridges. But the drunken aristocrat is more worried about what his wife will say if she is awake and worried. He wants to preserve the mood, not to quarrel. He stops in the middle of the bridge, sends the bottle spinning into the dark of the depths and pulls down the front of his trousers to send a golden arc of piss into the dark after it.

The drunken aristocrat gives a satisfied sigh and begins to do up his trousers just as the the two killers begin their well-rehearsed attack. The first killer is conspicuous as he steps out to block. He is big and he is young and he does not try to hide his movements. Most men would run, but he knows that his quarry will not shirk from a fight.

“Drop your coin, and your sword, softborn, and I will let you walk away,” says the first killer.

The second killer is a smaller, swifter man. He is the older of the two, and a veteran of the shadows. He knows that taking an aristocrat like this is a risk, but he was worked hard to maximize their chances. His job is to sneak up behind the drunken, distracted aristocrat and kill, stun, or cripple him. Their is no intention of a fair fight, or of letting the man walk away if he complies.

“Never!” says the Drunken Aristocrat, drawing his sword and dropping into a fighting stance.

The first killer sees his partner emerge from the shadows as the drunken swordsman advances toward him. See the coilsword glitter in the light of the ghostlamps makes him suddenly glad that he does not have to fight this man fairly.

“Come and get it, softborn sod!” says the first killer, stepping forward with his knife and truncheon, making certain to distract as he sees his partner raise his knife behind the man’s back.

“Have at you, mongrel!” says the drunken swordsman.

The first killer is so shocked as a second shadow appears behind his partner, that he is distracted and fails to parry the coilsword. The razor sharp tip pierces his chest and then a thousand tiny wires uncoil within him, liquifying most of his internal organs.  He dies instantly.

The second killer feels cold steel, a silver in his heart from behind, and the stumbles as the first killer collapses. The drunken aristocrat, alerted by the scrape of boot on cobble turns and smoothly drops into a lunge, ramming his blade into the second killer. He does not notice that the man is already more or less dead, having been stabbed in the heart, and then the wires of his coil blade scramble the second would-be killer’s insides. Nor does he see the other figure, the one that foiled his attack, who has already retreated into the shadows.

In the morning, after the constables investigate, tales of the aristocrat’s prowess and heroism circulate. No one mentions the other figure, the one who saved him and no one bothers to investigate enough to uncover that other presence. After all, with a local hero besting two vicious thugs, they already saw what they wanted to see.

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The Shadow Wolf Sagas: The Whores’s War 3.55

This is my weekly serial, written raw and uncut!

You can find the first post in the series here.

Last week’s post is here.

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Kingshall was unfamiliar to me now. I kept recognizing bits of the place, but twenty years of prosperity and peace between the clans had shifted much of what I once remembered. The mountains, the hall, and the ocean remained the same at least.

I spent much of the next week drinking with Thyra, telling tales to fellow Nordan, and exploring the city. At some point the realization that I was just a visitor settled on me. The North would always be my homeland, but even if my exile was ended, it was no still not my home.

I longed for Myrrhn, for the people I knew, and for my life there. What was there for me here? My kin were dead or strangers to me, while my clan still resented me because of Wolki,

Once my mind was made up to return to Myrrhn, I began to enjoy my time in Kingshall, experiencing everything that I could, and savouring the tastes and sights without reservation. The rest of the time passed quickly.

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The ceremony was better attended than I was expecting. Thyra and the remaining handful of old Siggurd’s Kingsguard stood at the fore. They were heroes one and all and their presence signaled that they supported my return to their number.

Thyra looked bright and proud at their head, the most loyal guardian of a favoured king. Her heroism was true in my mind, even if that of the man she once served was tarnished.

Jarls, Karls, and others of the nobility of Nordan lands were present, along with those warriors of note and priests to the gods who were willing to attend. They lined the sides of the hall, watching as I passed. Wolki glared at me, but since the cancellation of my exile restored some lost honour to our clan, he could not forgo attendance. I smiled at him. The gesture was not lost on those present and a ripple of laughter passed through the Sea Wolf contingent, with the sons of Harald Magnisson standing proud behind their clan lord. I recognized a few other faces, most of them much older than when I last saw them.

Berkhilda was there, standing proud among the contingent from Clan Furis. I stopped and nodded to the fierce, fiery haired warrior, earning a small smile. No doubt she would want to hear how our battle with Cinder led to the recovery of Garmsbita.

I carried the old High King’s blade in my arms, the burnished decorations of the massive scabbard glinting in the sun. As I approached Athelbjorn on his dais, Svana at his side, I knelt and held out the blade.

“I, Ragnar Skyggesson, called Grimfang, Exile and Twiceborn have returned carrying a lost treasure of the king whom I failed to protect. I present to you, King Athelbjorn, Garmsbita, your father’s sword, lost when he fell at the battle of Drajinskyg, on the Spearmarch, twenty years ago.”

Athelbjorn looked at the blade for a moment, then descended and drew the weapon, leaving the scabbard in my hands. As he held up the blade, shining in the sun, the people gave a great cheer. I remained kneeling until it died down, thinking of the old days and what I knew now.

When the cheering died down, Athlebjorn spoke. “Ragnar Skyggesson fell on the field at Drajinskyg and later clawed his way out of the grave. He was branded a coward, cursed by the gods for failing to protect my father. But today he has proven those accusations wrong. He has, after twenty years of exile, long after lesser men would give themselves over to bitterness, returned to Kingshall in triumph, having recovered the lost sword of his king. In doing so he has proved that the yoke of exile was placed upon his shoulders wrongly, for no coward could have faced what he faced to recover this blade. Rise Ragnar Skyggesson, your exile is over. Your name will once more be honoured among those who served my father and also among those who have served me. There will be other honours paid to you, but now is a time for celebration. For now let us feast, drink, and tell tales in your honour!”

I rose, clasped hands with the king, and the merriment began.

 

 

The Shadow Wolf Sagas: The Whores’s War 3.37

What a week! There is so much going on around the world with Trump, The French Election, and South American politics I almost feel like it has been a month since our last post.

This is my weekly serial, written raw as a writing exercise.

You can find the first post in the series here.

Last week’s post is here.

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I knew who had driven the fatal blow into Old King Siggurd, but until I knew why I could not share that knowledge.

But the treacherous blade was only part of the question. I still did not know what was behind the ambush in which the king had fallen. The sudden presence of a Skraeling army spoke of a much larger conspiracy than a knife in the back. I burned to know and lay the matter bare at last, but caution was in otder.

Once, I would have charged in, accusations flying from my lips, but the wisdom of my clan had sunk in me exile, and I knew it was best to be prepared with all of the facts when I came before Siggurd’s children.

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I slept well that night, better than I had in many years. I would have been content to drift in and out of sleep for the whole morning, but Eiskra jumped on me shortly after The Twins woke.

“Back for more?” I asked, mock serious.

“I wish, we have business to attend to, Old Wolf,” said Eiskra. “We are meeting at the Union Hall. The time has come to clear your name and dispel the rumours that you murdered Rake.”

“Hmmmm, yes… that,”

“You forgot didn’t you?”

“In my defence I have had a busy few days. Are you certain I should show up like this, I look pretty battered and broken. I might limp.”

“We want heroic Ragnar who suffered grievous harm in the pursuit of justice rather than intimidating Ragnar for this meeting. The Carriage will be here soon; Get up or you’ll miss the bacon.”

As I considered complying or stealing a few more moments of sleep, my sensitive ears picked up another presence downstairs.

“Is Carmen here?”

“Yes. She is still playing the part of our new apprentice,” said Eiskra. “She stays downstairs though; we need to get moving…”

“Point made, can you help me with my armour then?”

Eiskra nodded. With her help I quickly donned padded clothing and a suit of black studded leather armour. It was uncomfortable and impractical in a long carriage ride, but I knew that that it looked impressive. As Eiskra finished with the last buckle and stood we kissed and lingered for moment.

“Its the leather, always does it for me,” she said.

Chuckling, I pulled my weapons from the shelves, frowning at the empty space where my greatsword should hang. Instead I pulled down my axe and the elegant truncheon that I used in my days as a doorman for Madame Glorianna; a symbol of my connection to the guild.

“I wish you’d let me do your hair,” said Eiskra.

“I have an image to maintain. One which does not involve fine Myrrhnese braiding.”

The smell of thick slices of bacon had me salivating by the time we hit the bottom stair. Vethri was talking to Carmen, discussing some intricacy of empathizing with a client while selecting their punishments. Carmen, dressed seriously and solemnly, nodded at us.

“Did you give up the Assassin’s life Carmen?”

“You wish, Old Wolf,” she said, breaking character a little. “The Guild has business with The Doxies’s Union still. I am here to observe.”

“Are you the only one of your brethren watching this?”

“Officially, yes. Unofficially, I’m sure you know that several of our members are also part of the Union for their own purposes.”

“Yes, we can respect that,” said Vethri. “So why did they send you?”

“I can’t say,” said Carmen. “But it involves Lily Gemarkand…”

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The Shadow Wolf Sagas: The Whores’s War 3.20

Hello! this is my weekly serial, written raw as a writing exercise. This week as a bonus I was sick and exhausted to boot!

You can find the first post in the series here.

Last week’s post is here.

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It was foolish to trust Carmen. She was beautiful, she was smart, and she was a nightblade. Still, the information that she gave me about Wolki looking for a sword was nearly as tantalizing as her flirtations. As we walked toward the looming bulk of Night’s Finger itself, my mind danced between thoughts of her lithe form in my arms and what sort of sword Wolki might be be after.

Magic weapons are, as one might expect, considered the greatest of treasure among the Nordan. My people are very fond of their arms and armour and most of the clans have armaments dating back to their great heroes and even the divine founders of the clans. Wolki would certainly kill to recover the lost sword of Skygge, for example, or even a blade from one of the other clans, which could be traded for a favour from a grateful Jarl.

Of course there were other blades that had been lost over the years. I knew one, the Blade of High King Siggurd, lost in the battle where I died my first death. It seemed unlikely that Wolki would care enough about that blade to risk the wrath of the Nightblades though.

“You’re quiet all of a sudden. Nervous?” said Carmen.

“Not at all, I am just thinking.”

“Regretting not taking me up on my offer I hope,” she said with a wicked smile.

“That goes without saying.”

Carmen led us through hidden alleys, past fountain squares, and even over a thin metal bridge between two building. We made rapid progress toward Night’s Finger. I saw a familiar figure waiting for us outside the only visible entrance in the massive building.

“Murith, it is good to see you.”

“Likewise, Old Wolf. Who is your friend?”

“This is Carmen. She is with the Nightblades.”

Carmen smiled. Murith looked her up and down and then nodded.

“How was the meeting?” I asked

“The watch presented our case to a high ranking guild factor and her assistants.”

“Factor?”

“Most of The Guild havenothing to do with assassination, Ragnar,” said Carmen. “A Factor in the Nightblades performs the same function they do in a merchant house. Think of them as an accoutant or a financier. Can I ask the name of this one, Murith?”

“Octavia.”

“I thought so,” said Carmen. “That is a good sign for us. Come on, then. I’ll explain on the way. Octavia handles accounts for the City of Myrrhn itself. She understands the politics  of the city and the world and what needs to be done to keep the peace. If you met with her, it means that The Guild is seriously considering acting against Ulfgorr.”

“That is welcome news,” I said.

Carmen led us into the cavernous foyer of the tower, a room bustling with activity. It looked almost like a bank or a place where commodities were traded. Money changed hands. Transactions were recorded. Deals were made. The only difference was that in this place they sold death and protection.

As she walked, Carmen’s dexterous hands greeted people she passed with rapid hand-signals. I doubt many outside of the guild would notice her signing, let alone be able to read it.

“I’m asking for directions,” she said before I could ask.

She led us up to a fourth floor and along on an elegant balcony overlooking the famous board where the largest contracts were listed and then into a meeting room decorated in brass and dark wood where a bookish looking woman was sitting in a leather chair sipping a glass of wine while she examined reports. She looked up as we entered, and stood.

“Greetings. It is nice to meet you Ragnar Skyggesson. I am Octavia, senior Factor with The Nightblades of Myrrhn.”

“Well met, Factor Octavia,” I said.

“I know Carmen, and I have already met with Watch Sargent Murith. You may be wondering why you are here and what the Guild’s has decided to do about the actions of Ulfgorr of the Shadow Wolf Clan. I will explain everything.”

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The Shadow Wolf Sagas: The Whores’s War 3.18

Hello! this is my weekly serial, written raw as a writing exercise. This week as a bonus I was sick and exhausted to boot!

You can find the first post in the series here.

Last week’s post is here.

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I drank with Birgir and his men late into the night, long after Wolki and his men left. There was no doubt in my mind that the current master of the Shadow Wolves would seek out his henchman, Ulfgorr. Later, when the beast was healed, he would seek me out again, Wolki would make certain of that. I would have to ready myself for that encounter.

I set those thoughts aside and enjoyed my time with the Sea Wolves. Birgir listened to my tales of Myrrhn and repaid me with a wealth of news from Nordan lands. I found it hard to conceal my hunger for news of my homelands and old friends.

It was dark when I left Cassander’s Shield, I doubted that Wolki and Ulfgorr would dare to attack me so close to protected ground, but I kept to well lit and well-trafficked areas on my return home.

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Vethri and Eiskra greeted me as I returned home. Eiskra seemed amused as I related my exploits at the Nordan stronghold, while Vethri rolled her eyes.

“Did you remember to ask about who killed Rake?” asked Vethri.

“As soon as Wolki spotted me that line of inquiry was scuttled. Given his surprise at my presence though, he could not have been involved.”

“Are you sure he wasn’t faking, Ragnar?” asked Eiskra, her face taking on a comical expression of surprise.

“Wolki never fakes something that would make him seem less knowledgeable or less in control of the situation. His reaction would have been different had he expected me there. He seemed genuinely surprised that Murith and I bested Ulfgorr as well.”

“Speaking of which, with Murith’s testimony you could take news of Ulfgorr’s attack to The Nightblades; they will not look kindly upon an outside assassin acting in Myrrhn,” suggested Vethri.

“I don’t know…”

“Well, it might be worth visiting Night’s Finger regardless,” said Vethri. “If Lily Gemarkand is nervous, she might have a price on her head.”

All active assassination contracts are displayed in Night’s Finger, a process that allowed the potential victim to outbid the person who placed the contract, often creating a bidding war of sorts.

“Couldn’t she just buy it out?”

“Not if her available money is tied up in some other pressing venture,” said Vethri. “It is worth checking…”

“…And asking about Ulfgorr while you are there,” added Eiskra, grinning.

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Night’s Finger is one of the most recognizable structures in Myrrhn. Visible from several islands away, it thrusts arrogantly into the sky, crooked and irregular looking. Its odd appearance is due to the fact that it is actually several adjoining towers that have been built into and atop each other over time.

Night’s Finger dominates the Bonemarket, a small district island in the middle of the Myrrhnese archipelago. The tower itself is off-limits to most, save for the foyer at the very bottom where the public can access various records related to assassinations and buy contracts.

More important clientele can arrange meetings with representatives of The Guild at one of the Luxurious hotels or brothels on Bonemarket, or elsewhere in the city.

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I arranged to meet Murith at the bottom of Night’s Finger, but shortly after entering the Bonemarket I sensed someone was following me. Rather than trying to throw them off my trail, I merely stopped and waited.

After a moment an old woman approached me.

“Ragnar, how did you know?” said a familiar voice; Carmen, once an apprentice to my enemy, Sildus.

It took me a moment to see lithe, beautiful Carmen through the wrinkles. I laughed.

“I had no idea, actually. Just though I was being followed. You should have been more patient my friend.”

“Ugh,” Carmen’s wrinkled prosthetic face took on a sour look briefly. “Your friend Murith arrived early with a watch delegation. They are meeting with Guild representatives. Since this disguise is now useless, I want to change. How about you follow me?”

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