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The world is partly based on the background of an unpublished Steampunk game that I worked on with a few friends, which has grown in my mind over the last couple of years.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.

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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.

<>

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.

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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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Rotblossom Rose (1.27R)

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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For several days after rescuing the woman and her child from the Wrongblood Ghouls, Rose is deeply conflicted. Helping others was a fool’s game in The Scab, especially for someone like her. People that she did not know were a risk that she could not take; the woman would talk, and word could get back to Lawch.

Her enemy has eyes everywhere. He is not as entrenched as The Spider in places like The Hive, but Lawch has amassed a staggering amount of money and influence in the years since he killed Rose’s family. He has enough to afford skilled bodyguard, and a small harem of women kept young with yearly doses of the clear. People in The Hive would turn Rose over to him in a heartbeat, just to win his favour.

Worst of all though, is that while Rose fades away slowly, ravaged by a disease barely held in check, hard living, and simple, human aging, Lawch is as young and strong as he was in the prime of his life. Time is not on her side.

To beat an adversary like Lawch, Rose needs to control the flow of events. She needs to plan meticulously and execute flawlessly. There is no room for mercy, and feeling sudden compassion for a woman beset by random misfortune, however worthy is a distraction.

No, worse than that. Compassion is a weakness; it is what would have driven that insipid girl in the house with the forge on the road to Avalain to action. At least before everything was ripped away from her by Lawch and his band. Rose hates that girl.

She cannot afford a mistake now.

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“Green G: A, M: 15+”

Rose examined the note. The hand was that of The Spider; even his penmanship seems strange, with tall letters all bunched together like the legs of an alphabetic arachnid.

It revolts her to think that he was here, in her room. She has to remind herself that he is her ally, and that she needs him, and that she can only defeat Lawch with The Spider’s help (reminder for later repetition). Even then the thought of him sours her mood considerably.

The note makes sense to her. The Spider wants Wraithbone, energized to green. The ‘G’ stands for grade, meaning that he wants an A grade shard, which is one that it is at least 80% pure. The ‘M’ is short for Measure, as in the measure of how energized the Wraithbone is. 15  is very high, impossible to come by outside of The Depths.

Rose has no idea what The Spider wants with the stone. Green Wraithbone is used to heal and grow; a stone of that type could cure a major disease or help regrow a lost limb. Of course, it is valuable, and it is possible that he wants it to use it for trade. It might not even be related to their efforts to attack Lawch. The Spider is not always forthcoming.

Rose takes the note and tosses it in the fire.

“Leave it to The Spider to start off with a big ask,” she mutters, pacing. After a moment she sighs and begins to think.

Where can she find Wraithbone of that quality and measure without putting together a full team?

She can only think of a few places, none of them easy or safe…

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Rotblossom Rose (1.26R)

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 Depths were a revelation to Rose.

Though she was born in the The Scab, she had always imagined the depths to be caves but there were signs of older civilizations crushed down by the endless succession of their descendants. On her first day she found mortared stones from an ancient wall and stairs carved right into the rock, leading to a passage choked by rubble.

“Down deep you can find the kingdoms of the Azir, the Dwarves,” said Geb. “Their halls were built to last, and they are intact even now. Those who make it down that far and come back whole are wealthy beyond imagination.”

“Have you ever been?” asked Rose.

“No,” said Geb. “I had the chance of joining a deep expedition once. I always regret not going.”

“They came back wealthy?”

“No,” said Geb. “But they might have, had I been with them. I will never know.”

Rose could hear sorrow in his voice. She later learned that his brother and sister were lost on that venture.

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Light was precious in The Depths. Everyone carried two simple torches as part of their kits, in case of emergencies. The ‘Torchbearers’, Harmony, Jimn Lowrock, and Undothu of Skarm, actually used heavy hooded lanterns that burned refined Wraithbone Oil [trying Wraithbone instead of Wraithstone here]. These impressive sources of illumination were resistant to shocks, wind, and even being immersed in water for brief periods. The hood of the lantern could be adjusted to throw enough light to fill a decently large cavern, muted or hidden, or concentrated into a bright beam.

Light was important. Light was the difference between life and death on most delves. It was something that Rose had taken for granted, even in the slave mines.

Later on, Rose would learn that being a Torchbearer was dangerous, like putting a target on yourself.

They are also expensive to use. Wraithbone oil was not cheap.

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“How long have we been down here?” Rose asked Geb on one of their stops.

Ferret chuckled. Scarab made disgusted sound.

“Almost eight hours,” said Geb. “You feel tired because you are not yet used to the bleed down here. Its stronger. It disturbs the rhythms of your body. You’ll learn to adjust and tell the time.”

“If she lives long enough,” said Scarab.

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There were a large number of insects in the depths, particularly worms and grubs. Fungus and mushrooms were thick in many places, and there were other stranger flora. Rose was told to touch nothing without asking first. Even the moss could be deadly.

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They stopped frequently for Miriam to consult her maps.

Ferret was their scout on that delve. He would venture somewhat ahead of the group, with an eye for potential danger.

They were nearing a place where Miriam said that they could camp for the night when Rose saw Ferret’s lanky form tense in the passage ahead of them. She was about to speak, but Geb put a finger to his lips. Beside them, Jack Rumbarrel lowered his pack to the ground and took grabbed his axe, creeping forward until he was close to Ferret. Rose did not understand what was occurring, but she could see that the others were tense.

For a moment none of them moved. Rose could hear every shift in position and every breath her companions took. The light dimmed as the Torchbearers used the hoods on their lanterns to focus the light into beams, pointed at the side of the passage they were in. That, too, baffled Rose.

Ferret, barely visible now, wiggled his fingers.

Geb lifted his shield.

Ferret moved, throwing himself against the side of the tunnel. As he did so the entire side of the tunnel opposite him seemed to fly open and something big came out. At that moment the three concentrated beams of light swung onto it.

Rose glimpsed a many legged nightmare, covered in brown chitin, with slavering jaws and four eyes.  It was the size of a horse. It seemed blinded by the beams of light and as she tried to make sense of it, Jack Rumbarrel stepped in and planted his axe squarely in the middle of its head. Ferret jumped back, as did Jack, leaving his axe in the beast’s head. It shook and scrabbled and then died.

“Fucking Grabbers,” muttered Scarab, spitting. Several of the others followed suit.

Geb chuckled. “Well Rose, tis time to earn your keep. We need to cut it up and get the Wraithbone out.”

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Rotblossom Rose (1.25R)

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 waits patiently for The Spider, attending her own business while he weaves a web to catch the enemy they share. He is the only being still living who shares her hatred of Lawch, it is part of what binds them together.

Pushing the Spider from her mind, Rose considers her current predicament. She is in the Lowdown Ward, a residential district buried under the upper city. Glimpses of the city above can be seen through metal gratings and the occasional set of stairs leading to the streets above, but it is a whole different world down here.

The streets are cast in shadow, but well protected from the vicious winds, rain, and dust storms that seem to perpetually lash the surface streets of The Scab. It is quiet down here as well; Rose thinks that it is because the buried streets with their ancient houses only attract the sort of people who do not like making too much noise.

Rose visits Lowdown Ward, not for the quiet but for the artisans. There is a doctor here who can care for even her ravaged, battle-scarred frame. There are also other mendicants, like the one she has just visited who can make wondrous balms and ointments for those who have Wraithstone and wealth.

She carries a special salve infused with green and blue Wraithstone, the purest, most energized stuff she has found. The salve, made with proprietary ingredients, can actually heal skin infected with Skankrot. Rose does not want to return to high society as a freak; she will always be scarred and broken, but perhaps with this cream she can reverse the rot on her face enough to look respectable.

Besides the Salve dims the pain and the anguish of memory. Perhaps it is just another way to feed her addiction to Wraithstone, but it is a more constructive one.

Because the Lowdown wards are so quiet, Rose is startled when she hears the distinct sounds of a desperate struggle. She stops and looks around, then puts on her Silver skull mask before proceeding. She does not want to be identified, if she needs to intervene.

Following the sounds, Rose creeps down an alley between two ancient houses half set into rock. The Lowdown was one of the few places in the city where one could afford a house of such size, since most people did not want to live down here, in the shadow. One of the houses had a back-yard, fenced in, the sounds of the struggle came from within. Rose approaches carefully, her coilsword drawn.

There is a breach in the fence. Rose approached it swiftly and quietly, utterly without fear. First Lawch, and the Depths had blunted her capacity for terror. Coilsword at the ready she peers through the breach.

She sees two naked humanoids, pale and bald, pinning a woman down and biting chunks out her flesh while she struggles. Wrongblood Ghouls. They were once people, but the bleed had warped their minds, turning them into feral cannibals. As the bleedwarpt go,

Rose moves swiftly running into the yard and lunging. The tip of her coilsword slides into the Wrongblood Ghouls kidney, enough to take it out of the fight without unleashing the coils. The second ghoul catches sight of her and tries to bear her to the ground. Most feral creatures try to pin their prey and then kill it, and the ghoul is no exception. It is a big male, and much stronger than Rose.

Sharp teeth clamp down on her arm, and then break because her arm is metal. The ghoul backs away, drooling blood. Rose thrust her coils sword into its gut, flicks the trigger dial and turns everything between its hips and ribs to bloody ribbons. The ghoul dies looking quite shocked.

The woman on the ground is sobbing, and bleeding from her arms and shoulder. She looks up at Rose as stops, eyes going wide at the sight of the mask.

“You’re her,” she says, her voice quivering. “… thank you for saving us.”

“Us?” asks Rose.

“My son managed to get in the shed before they got him. I lost my head when I saw they’d gotten through the fence. If you had not been here…”

“I’m no friend of ghouls. Take some of this ointment and rub it on your wounds. The green wraithstone will kill any disease that the ghouls have infected you with while the blue will ease your fears.”

The woman stares. Rose leaves. She feels uncomfortable about helping strangers, but today, for some reason, she just could not stop herself.

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Rotblossom Rose (1.24R)

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 can clearly remember the names and faces of everyone who was with her on her first delve into The Depths. She can even remember the faces of the Liftwardens if she jogs her memory with a swallow of The Blue.

The lifts, most of them at least, are built into rails that descend along the side of The Wound and its innumerable tributary crevasses. Once they started descending the need for the rails became obvious: it prevented the lift from swinging about in the wind. Enormous wheels slowly lowered the lift platform on lengths of chain. It took quite some time to reach their destination and Rose had ample opportunity to examine her new team-mates. There were ten of them, a medium-sized crew as far as most Scabbers are concerned.

Geb was the Captain. He had more hair then. Tall and broad-shouldered, with keen eyes and an expressive face, Rose felt an immediate, visceral attraction to the man. Perhaps it was because he smelled like sweat, leather, steel, and smoke; just like her Morn. Geb carried a huge metal-faced shield among his gear.

Scarab was Geb’s second. He was average height, but thickly built, and his dark eyes were constantly moving. Scarab was foul-mouthed and mean, even with Geb, but the others treated him with deference and so did Rose. He spent much of his time on the way down checking equipment.

Jack Rumbarrel was even bigger than Geb, almost Gengan in size. He was bald, but sported an enormous red mustache. He carried an axe and a spear that was as long as he was tall that had a sturdy crosspiece and strange slits like the gills on a fish. She later learned that those held poison. Jack went over strategy with Geb as they descended.

Miriam Sprout, ‘Tracker’ to most, was the oldest among them; she looked like someone’s gran with her white hair and wrinkled skin. She was good with her blades and the best Rose ever worked with at navigating in The Depths. She came by her knowledge as a student and a teacher, but found more money in delving. Miriam scrawled in a notebook on the way down.

Ferret was tall and lean with wisps of blond hair. There was something furtive about him. He moved quietly and could squeeze through tights spaces and had a laugh like a donkey braying. He carried a small crossbow, and a hacksword. Ferret lounged.

Darling was a woman, the same size as Rose, though heavier. She smiled a lot and bantered with those around her with genuine affection. Darling was a skilled mender, both with green wraithstone, bandages, and needle. She carried a hacksword.

The others, Harmony, Jimn Lowrock, and Undothu of Skarm, were all torchbearers responsible for keeping the lights going and helping the others. They were all hale and strong, and tended to separate into their own group and talk amongst themselves.

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Some time later the lift ground to a halt. They were in shadow now, and far enough down the side of the crevasse that Rose could not see much of the city above, just some of the bigger buildings, the Silverthread span, and the other lifts crawling up and down the rock face.

The Liftwardens raised their weapons and shone bright lights into the dark while Roses’s team got ready. Once they were satisfied that there would be no attack, they opened the gate to the lift and allowed Geb’s crew to depart.

“Right everyone,” said Geb. “We have a long trek ahead of us. Miriam has it all mapped out. Stay alert and keep quiet.”

And with that, he turned and walked into the tunnel. Rose, not quite knowing what to expect, hurried after.

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Rotblossom Rose (1.23R)

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.

<>

“If you can get me close to Lawch, Spider, I can do the rest,” says Rose, pulling her eyes from the metal strings he constantly weaves with his fingers. She knows that he does it to distract her; perhaps he realizes how odious people find his presence.

“Lawch has survived a dozen assassination attempts, from myself and others,” said the Spider irritably. “Thinking you will succeed because you are emotionally invested in the idea of revenge is foolish, Rose. We will only get one shot, and I do not want a failure that leads Lawch and his pet Bleedweaver back to me.”

That was the rub. As certain as Rose was that she could kill Lawch, the Bleedweaver was a dangerous complication. Rose could still picture the woman standing by Lawch’s side as he presided over the carnage, like she was the aide to the Lord-Mayor and not a partner in torture, rape, and murder.

“What do we know about the Bleedweaver?” asks Rose. “She has been with him for a long time.”

“I think it is safe to assume that they are lovers, or have some similar bond,” says The Spider. “I have tried hiring her away from him for a sum that he could never match, both as myself and through intermediaries and the answer has always been no.”

Bleedweavers use the energy contained in energized Wraithstone to invoke magical effects. Unlike other uses of Wraithstone, Bleedweavers are not reproducible. No one knows how they interact with the weave, and no two are exactly alike in what they can do. The only thing they have on common is power.

Rose hates Bleedweavers; it is very hard to plan against capabilities that you cannot measure or otherwise account for.

“Why didn’t you hire Bleedweavers of your own?” asked Rose.

“I gave up after the first two,” said The Spider with a sneer. “Neyrika killed them both… what?”

“I did not know her name until now,” said Rose. “She was there, but none of the others spoke to her.”

“She’s probably not right in the head,” said The Spider.

“That doesn’t stop you from flapping your gums,” joked Rose.

The Spider turned red, and trembled with anger. For a moment Rose wondered if she’d gone too far, then he seemed to get a hold of himself.

“We need to find a way to  kill her,” said The Spider. “I have a few ideas of my own, but first we will need to get you into The Bedrock Wards. I have a list of the things we will need to make you acceptable to the elite of High Society in The Scab.”

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To cleanse herself of the bilious aftertaste that seems to come with spending time with her boss, Rose waits until dark and then creeps out of a well-hidden window. Dressed in her black leathers, bearing both the skull mask and her coilsword, she drops to the street below, her feet barely making a sound as they strike pavement. From there she moves erratically through Meryn’s Tangle, avoiding people, making certain that no one can follow her. Then she heads west, climbing the wall of The Hive and skirting The Syndicate Fief. Despite the distance she can still taste the alchemy in the air. Still, even the best lit streets were empty here at night; there were rumours that The Syndicate abducted the unfortunate for experiments. Likely just wild theories… likely.

After that she climbed up an old tower that used to be part of a city wall in ages past, and pulled out a small spyglass.

As always at this time of week, her brother Edward is sitting down with is family for an evening meal. It comforts Rose to watch him. She fantasizes about one day revealing herself to him. Edward had been working to mend the relationship between Rose and her father after she married Morn and moved to the little house on on the road to Avalain. Edward was a good brother.

They are eating mutton pie, and since little Stethrey does not have school the next day he is allowed to stay up late and eat a late repast with his parents. As Rose watches, Edward says something to Stethrey, who replies with an earnest expression, at length, which in turn causes Edward and his wife, Jillia, to burst out laughing. Rose smiles. She will have to content herself knowing they are happy and safe. She does not want to reveal herself to Edward, not while Lawch and his Bleedweaver still draw breath.

After she leaves, Rose spends all night awake, wondering what serious little Stethrey said to make his parents laugh.

At least she doesn’t dream.

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