Children of the Night
Toilday, 12th of Lamashan, 4707
It was supposed to be a simple job. Just a simple job he said. But was it self defense or murder? And why do I feel set up?
Tumis and I were eating a late dinner at Stews of Yore when tall man in a fine but worn overcoat slid down at our table. He was lanky and had a beard of a few days growth. He looked familiar but I couldn’t place him. With a wink at Rhia he ordered two cups of the house grog and before I could decline slapped me on the back and told me I was just the man he was looking for. He said his name was Bartholomew but I could call him Barker. Turns out he is the husband of Ania, the smith working on my glaive design. He said he had seen me around the shop and wanted to hire me for a job. The job was an easy escort, no complications expected, maybe just a show of force. I told him I was happy to help out family of Ania’s and would do the work for free but he insisted he would pay me 20 gold on completion of the night’s work on the condition I didn’t bother his wife with any of this. That should have made me suspicious. It wasn’t until later that night that I realized he had added a bowl of stew and two more drinks onto our tab before he left for the night without paying. Tumis called me a stupid mark when I settled up with Rhia for the whole bill and said next time she would skip out too if I was going to be so generous.
The next night I sat outside the Gateless Tower for about an hour before I saw the woman emerging. I had time to contemplate the squat, windowless prison as the light faded. I’d been told about this place. A dark, dangerous prison in the middle of a dark, dangerous city. This is where the worst are sent and very few leave. I could not imagine being confined like that. Say what you will, I live free.
When she came out a lone guard handed her a pair of sandals at the door. Gone was the boorish rudeness he had harassed the passersby on the street with. Did he look fearful? Whatever it was he clearly wanted to be quickly done with her. She put on the sandals and moved forward wrapped in a wool shaw. She was old and moved slow. It was going to be a long walk to Ashtown. Her name was Esra Finch and she all but ignored me as I introduced myself as her escort. She looked around and past me into the darkness muttering a handful of names before grumbling in Varisian that after three long years imprisoned her family had abandoned her to be raped and robbed by some half breed. When I countered in Varisian that I had been hired to guard her, not assault her she nodded slowly before amending her statement to ‘some half breed with a bad accent’. I started to hail a carriage but as Barker had warned me she would the old woman cursed at me to shut up insisting no civilized person trusts horses. It was going to be a very long walk to Ashtown.
We stopped for questions immediately as we were moved into the city’s prosperous center. The guard snicked as he noticed my sneer at the toll. “River lander, eh? Walk any road, take what you will.” he said misquoting the River Freedoms. “From you we’ll need a crown extra. You’re lucky to be out of that bandit’s den. Behave or we’ll send you right back”. The guards laughed.
South of the Majesty and the big granite bank of Abadar Barragaro road starts to turn sour. In the next few blocks the grand manors of the wealthy give way to a mashup of buildings. A towering tenement sits across the street from a small collection of regal but decaying buildings that house the city courts. I collected a bounty on an enormous rat I killed there just a few months ago. Wealth still sparkles here and there in polished old money homes fighting a losing battle to hold the dignity of the Hawthorn Row. I’ve heard the mayor lives down one of these streets. The wide road spills onto smaller roads here reminding me of the rivers of home and I miss the water very much. We pass beneath the outdoor deck of a rotted tavern and the jovial tone above us turns quiet, then rustles with whispers as eyes follow us on by. In the shadows I think I see the old woman smile.
Once we left Barragaro the roads became tighter, street lamps fewer, and buildings taller and more ramshackle. Out of long shadows people emerged and approached Esra Finch. Some were angry, most deferential and not a few looked frightened. The old woman nodded dully at each of them appearing to note their faces but did not speak. An unusually seriously looking gnome came forward and after bowing handed Esra a small bag adding “Mr. Low offers his regards”. She took a handful of something from the bag and started chewing it as we walked. In the next few blocks the crowd thinned out until it was nearly gone when we rounded a corner.
A dozen feet in front of us a handful of tough looking street types stood leering. I counted three with short blades and another two with clubs. They were too relaxed and cocksure to be professionals and only two of them wore some kind of cheap leathers for armor. Their unarmed leader smiled broadly as he greeted Esra. He appeared to have some orcish blood in him. “Welcome back luv. We’ve missed you but I’m sure you’ll see things have changed. We’ve made some improvements.” Esra responded with a coughing fit and I noticed her manner had changed to that of someone sick and tired. Had I not seen her so unaffected by the walk just moments ago I would think she was exhausted. The orcblood proceeded to explain to her “the way it is now”. Esra nodded and asked him who backed him while appearing to nervously look around. The boss expounded about his allies and the conversations they had had about her territory. He ended his gloating with “You shouldn’t have come back here Esra. You know I can’t let you leave” and came towards her producing a long dagger with a curved wet blade. I moved to intercept and his cronies jumped forward. The old woman surprised us all by blowing a burst of blue fire from her mouth. The orcblood lit up like a lantern and screamed as he was consumed. One of the others caught less of the fire but dropped his weapon batting at the flame licking his arm as it slowly spread across his chest. I struck at the others. They fought like children and fell quickly. I’m not sure if I killed any of them but I doubt they will be fit to fight much again.
The witchfire burned longer than a natural flame should have and left little of the two victims but ash and charred bone. Esra resisted my urge to flee the scene continuing at her slow pace along our prechosen route. We arrived at the back of a small business where the door was waiting open for her. A bullish man with missing teeth and greased back hair was standing at attention in the middle of group of young perfumed and painted women. They looked malnourished and had the brown lips of flayleaf addicts. They were dressed to advertise their bodies, not to keep them warm in the damp fall air. None of the group looked happy to see the old woman and they greeted her without making eye contact. Slaves then? Or near enough to it. What then was the line between slavery and allowing another to make you a slave? This city is a dark place. I longed to get back out into the woods.