Before leaving, Ellison and Matilda had a chat with some of Rodge’s security team.
They weren’t happy that Rodge had brought in outsiders to deal with the problem.
“It’s almost like he doesn’t trust us to do our jobs,” said Two Teeth Tom, newly back from the dead. “Just because someone got the drop on me, stabbed in the back, and stole all his stuff.”
“Well, we can do things that you can’t,” said Matilda.
“Like, I can go to a bad, and get drunk with my friends, and find out if they heard anything,” said Matilda. “They’d tell me stuff they won’t tell you.”
“Well, fine, I can kinda see that,” said Tom. “But what about him?” He pointed his thumb at Ellison. “I can’t see anybody telling him anything.”
“He finds people,” said Matilda. “Once we know who we’re looking for, he’ll find them.”
“And when we do, you guys can do whatever you want to them,” she added.
Tom perked up.
“So did you find anything when you searched the servants?” asked Ellison.
“Just a humorous drawing of Rodge,” said Tom. He dropped his voice. “But don’t tell Rodge. He’s a little sensitive about his eyebrows. But the girl is good. She should be an artist or something.” He gazed pensively into the distance. “She was… ethereal.”
“Donna, she was doing the catering.”
They left Tom and the other guards searching the entire guild property yet again, just in case they missed something the first time, and headed down the street to the rooming house where the drunk mercenaries from the night before were known to stay.
“Being covered with vomit is a great way to keep people from looking too closely at you,” Matilda told Ellison as they walked.
“I don’t see how they could have snuck anything out, though,” said Ellison. “Didn’t they leave their clothes behind?”
“Okay, here’s my thinking,” she said. “They had accomplices on the roofs of two tall nearby buildings, and stretched a zipline between them. Then someone slid down the line until the were over the back area, somewhere out of sight. The accomplices loosened the line, letting the other guy drop down low enough to grab a big bag of all the stolen loot. Then the accomplices tightened the zip line again, and the guy slid down to the end.”
Ellison stopped and looked back at the mercenary guild compound. “What tall nearby buildings?”
The wall around the compound was at least 20 feet high, with spiked overhangs facing both in and out. The two buildings on either side were low, and set well away from the walls.
“I’ll need to work on that,” she said.
“Maybe they tunneled in,” said Ellison. “Or maybe that scepter the thieves stole has actual admin powers and they opened a portal and just carried the loot out.”
“I really doubt that,” said Matilda. “Krim’s owners are pretty strict about the no-magic policy. I must have heard a million rumors about power items, but nobody’s ever found one. I’m sure it’s just another meaningless artifact like the dozen others that Krim sprinkled around the place when they launched the grid. It’s all a little childish.” She sniffed. “Grown men playing make-belief soldiers on a make-belief world with a make-belief history.”
Ellison wouldn’t have expected her to feel that way. He looked over at her. “Isn’t that what you do?”
“Well, yes,” she said. “But I don’t take it, you know, seriously. Now let’s go talk to some alcoholics.”
Hellcut, Gorehair, and Rainbow Squirtle were still asleep when Matilda kicked open their door.
“Get up, you fakers!” she yelled, walking into the room. The three men were sprawled across three narrow cots with barely enough space between them for her to stand. She kicked at one of the cots then took a deep breath before kicking the other and immediately gagged.
“I don’t think they’re faking,” she said, backing out of the room.
The sick stench of vomit followed her out and Ellison put a hand over his nose.
It eventually took a couple of buckets of cold water to get the three men up and out of bed and a promise of free drinks to get them out of the room and into the bar across the street.
At first, none of the three could remember anything about the night, other than the fact that there had been a party.
“Do you remember the fireworks?” Ellison asked.
“Sure, there were fireworks. Must have been.” Hellcut turned to Gorehair. “Do you remember fireworks?”
“What about the musicians?” asked Ellison. “Do you remember those?”
“Most assuredly, I remember the musical entertainment,” said Gorehair. “Rodge Bannister is a firm believer in period-appropriate soundscapes. I distinctly remember the madrigals.” He touched his index finger to his chin and stared up at the ceiling. “I’m a big fan of complex polyphonic vocal music.”
“Right, sure. Musicians,” said Hellcut.
“And food,” added Rainbow Squirtle. “There’s always food.”
“And wenches,” said Rainbow and smacked his lips.
“Incontestably, the wenches,” said Gorehair. “Beyond the shadow of a doubt.”
“Lucylicious was there,” said Hellcut. “And Lovely Lora.”
“And Derek the Wench,” added Rainbow.
“I don’t remember seeing wenches on the guest list,” said Ellison, pulling it out.
“And nobody mentioned anything,” said Matilda.
“Well, that’s odd,” said Rainbow. “How could anyone have forgotten the wenches?”
Gorehair took a sip of his beer, leaned back in his chair, and steepled his hands. “It’s a common defect in society to undervalue the individuals who provide the most intimate of services.” He shook his head. “I’m invariably disappointed but never surprised. The grande horizontale is the world’s oldest profession, but its representatives are considered fallen souls.” He raised his glass. “A toast to the slattern!”
“Hear, hear,” his buddies answered, and lifted their glasses. “To the wenches!”
“To the ladies of the night! ” said Gorehair. “The lads of lays! The filles de joie! To the strumpets and the courtesans!”
They all drank, and then Hellcut and Rainbow broke into a spirited chorus of “Camptown Ladies.”
“I think it’s time to see the wenches,” said Matilda.
- 1. Perchance a missive“World of Battle doth have much to be admired.” The speaker raised his flagon of ale, spilling some on the bar patrons around him. “To the World of Battle!” Someone tossed a fried skirret at his head.
- 2. Mayhaps a petty chareEllison walked away, not glancing back. If Usman was going to stab him in the back, Ellison wanted it to be a surprise. He didn’t want to see it coming. It was the anticipation that was the worst.
- 3. Back from the deadOne benefit of dying, Ellison thought, was that he got a fresh new avatar. A washed avatar. An avatar wearing new, clean clothes.
- 4. The oldest artifact“The man had me kidnapped and tortured.” Ellison tried to dig his heels in but Matilda easily dragged him out of the Barley Mow Inn and onto Leadenhall Street.
- 5. All fun and games till someone gets their throat slitRodge Bannister led them to the other side of the room, where heavy curtains hung across the entire back wall, a guard at each corner. Rodge nodded at the guards to open the curtains.
- 6. The list of suspects“Well, I’ll leave you to do whatever it is you need to do. Let me know when we can move the body.” Rodge frowned at the corpse. The flies had found it, and were beginning to buzz around it. “Hold on, what do you expect us to do?” Ellison asked. “Well, you know,” Rodge waved …