The King’s Armpit was one of the more disreputable bars in Krim City. It was only a few minutes walk from the city center and the main teleportation gate in and out of Krim but few people stumbled into it by accident.
Lawless Alley was a narrow, forbidding passageway just off of Upping Street and didn’t look like it led anywhere particularly interesting. The King’s Armpit was about a third of the way up. There used to be a sign once, but it was long gone.
The bar’s patrons liked it that way. It kept away the tourists.
Matilda Scarletstrike sat at her usual barstool, drinking her usual ale. She was a large woman, with short dark hair and a heavy sword across her back. Many other weapons were located elsewhere on her body, including an anachronistic trench knife, daggers, stilettos, and a gut hook skinning knife.
Her neighbor at the bar was Shanwei O’Griffy Lamusa, whose primary income source was pickpocketing but who freelanced at other tasks as well.
“I followed your guy to a boarding house on Knots Hollow,” he said. “He went up to the third floor, entered a room at the northeast corner of the building, then left again less than a minute later.”
“Good.” She surreptitiously passed him a coin, keeping her hand below the lip of the bar. She didn’t need to, since the bar was already badly lit and most of the other patrons too drunk to notice. Those that were still sober also already knew that Shanwei was on her payroll.
“What did the guy do, anyway?”
“Delivered Chinese food,” she said. “I was mostly interested in who he delivered it to.”
“And who was that?”
“Some guy named Norman.” Matilda lowered her voice. “He skipped out on his kids.”
Shanwei slapped the bar top. “I hope you catch the guy and send him packet.”
“We will. Now talk to me about the Royal Season.”
“Sure. I followed them out to the battlefield today and back. Very lucrative by the way. Thank you for the head’s up.”
She shrugged. “Did you see anyone stalking them? Or asking about any of them them?”
“Hey, you’re looking for the Nightingale, aren’t you?”
“I can’t tell you who are clients are,” she said. “But I can confirm that some parties have been disturbed by the newspaper reports and want them to stop.”
“Well, I hope you don’t catch them just yet. It’s just getting interesting.”
“I’ll try to dawdle.” She smiled in what she thought was a friendly way but which caused Shanwei’s hair to crawl. “So tell me what you saw.”
“Nothing too overt,” he said. “Their guards, of course, were observing everything. But they were paid to and I couldn’t see any of them acting particularly suspicious. But there were a few people gossiping about the royals.”
She took out a notepad, a quill, and a bottle of ink. “Tell me everything, no matter how minor.”
Shanwei was deep into a discussion of an argument over dress patterns when someone at the other end of the bar played a guitar chord.
Matilda jerked her head up. Halfway down the bar, the bartender dropped his rag and turned around looking for the source of the sound.
At a table behind them, someone exhaled. “For a second there, I thought I heard someone play an A minor chord on a guitar.”
Matilda stood up and glared down the length at the bar. At the far end, the bartender was already whispering something to a drunk guy with a lute.
Matilda caught the drunk guy’s eye and drew a finger across her throat.
He turned away, repositioned the lute, and started playing.
The bartender said something to him, then swore loudly and walked away.
The drunk guy threw back his head and started singing. “There’s a lady who’s sure…”
The rest of the bar grew quiet and the drunk guy took that as encouragement to continue.
“…all that glitters is gold…”
There was a sound of knife steel on leather.
“… and she’s buying a stairway…”
Thwack. The singer stopped, a knife handle protruding out of center of his Adam’s apple, then, with a gurgle, slid off the stool and landed on the floor, the lute beside his now-dead body.
“You kill, you clean,” said the bartender, walking towards Matilda.
She glared at him and he stopped. “Fine, I’ll dispose of the body. But it’s the last time, I swear.”
“I want my knife back,” Matilda called after him and sat back down. “Now where were we?”
“I’m good,” said Shanwei. “I think we covered everything.” He gulped down the rest of his beer and scurried away.
Matilda put away her pen and ink and was waiting for the ink to dry on the sheets of paper in front of her when someone else came into the bar and headed straight for her.
Ellison Davo was wearing his usual assassin outfit. He’d finally had a real suit made, but found that he preferred the default assassin outfit because it had many convenient pockets and, unlike custom tailored suits, was easily available. In fact people often mistook him for a newcomer to the grid because of it. No long-time Krim resident would be caught dead in a default avatar costume. As a result, people often underestimated him.
“I thought I’d find you here,” Ellison said. “We’ve got a new job.”
“You already told me. Norman. I found him. He’s at the rooming house across from the Butt and Oyster.”
“No,” said Ellison. “I mean, yes, thanks, good job, that was fast. But I was talking about a new job. Have you heard of the Royal Season?”
“I might have seen something in the papers.”
“They just sent someone over to hire us to find who’s been writing stories about them in AviNewz.”
“Well, that’s a funny coincidence,” said Matilda.
“I was actually just telling someone that I was curious about that same thing,” she said. “Asked him if he’d seen anybody nosing around.”
“Shanwei, right? I saw him leave. Did he tell you anything?”
She gathered up the papers in front of her and folded them up. “No. Not a thing.”