Ellison left Matilda with her dinner. His dinner. All three of them. Afterwards, she would check in on the mercenaries they’d hired to watch the newspaper, just in case the Nightingale showed up. Then she’d go and recruit some assassins, starting with a couple of people they knew from a previous job for the Paladins of Death. The trick was to make sure that word didn’t get out that they were having Benjamin Goldberg and Griffin the Squint followed. If anyone knew how to keep people from talking, it was Matilda. Even the assassins were afraid of her.
The Barley Mow Inn was conveniently located. The central post office was across the street and a block down, where Leadenhall met Banking Street. He turned right on Banking and the central square was just a block ahead, along with city hall and the King’s Arms. He considered stopping in at the King’s Arm’s for dinner as he walked past, but he could see by looking in through the front window that the place was packed.
The central plaza was packed too, mostly with tourists, but he could see the faint blue glow of the main gate at the far end. He’d be on FacePage soon enough and all thoughts of work were replaced by the taste of friend potatoes. He was deciding between spicy curly fries and potato soup when he felt someone bump into him from behind. He stepped to the side to get out of the way in case the stranger behind him was going to kill him, or throw up on him. On Krim, it could easily go either way. He didn’t recognize the man who pushed him, who was now shaking a fist in Ellison’s face.
“We don’t want your kind around here,” the man said. It looked like he was wearing a noob fighter outfit, but Ellison didn’t focus on the man’s appearance. That was too easy to change. His aura, though. That was something Ellison wouldn’t forget.
“What kind is that?” Ellison raised his hands and backed away. The fighter leaned in towards Ellison and glowered and before he could say anything else, he was pulled into the dark, narrow alley behind the King’s Arms.
“The kind who’s about to die a slow, painful death.”
Ellison felt the cold edge of a knife at his throat as the second attacker pulled him deeper into the alley.
“We want you to leave Krim and never come back. We’ll know if you try, even if get a different avatar. We’ve got people in grid admin.”
Ellison didn’t believe him. Anyway, wearing a different avatar wasn’t an option, since his clients wouldn’t be able to find him if he did that.
“Oy! Working here!”
The three of them turned to find a mugger holding a dagger on a tourist.
“Sorry, Midge,” said the second attacker. “Didn’t see you there.”
“Please save me!” the tourist squeaked. He was holding a hand tight around his upper arm, blood seeping between his fingers. “This really hurts. It hurts so much.”
“It’s just a scratch,” said Midge. “Now give me all your gold.”
“We’re just passing through,” said Ellison’s first attacker.
Midge squeezed up against his victim to let the three of them past. “Next time, pick your own alley,” he said. “Everyone knows this one’s mine.”
“You’re right, I should have remembered that,” said the second attacker. “I’ll keep that in mind next time.”
“The one across the way, by the yarn store, is usually empty,” Midge called after them. “Now, where were we?”
“I don’t have any gold,” said the tourist.
“I could hear you jangling,” said Midge. The tourist screamed and Ellison involuntarily glanced back. Midge had sliced the tourist’s breastplate off. The default armor that the tourists liked had little benefit for close-in fighting.
“Did you hear how that noob was squealing?” one of the attackers growled into Ellison’s ear. “You’re going to be screaming ten times as loud. And this is Krim. Nobody’s going to come help you.”
“You don’t have to tell me,” said Ellison. “I’ve been killed on Krim before.”
“Well, this time it’s going to be worse,” said the attacker.
“Really?” asked Ellison. “I was tortured by the Armforge Guild once. Can you do better?”
The attackers looked at each other.
“Maybe if we had some tools,” one of them said.
“I’ve got an idea,” said the other, and dragged Ellison around the corner. They were behind the King’s Arms now. “I bet there are all kind of things in their kitchen. Boiling oil, hot pokers, those kind of things.”
“You think they’ll just let you walk in there and take them?” said the first attacker.
“I’m just going to borrow them for a little while.”
“During dinner rush?”
They were near the back door when it opened and an assistant cook came out with a bucket of scraps and opened the lid on the trash chute next to the rear entrance. Then he glanced up and saw the attackers in the shadows and shrieked. The second attacker was closest and got a bucket of scraps in his face. He roared and chased the cook into the tavern.
Ellison took the opportunity to jump into the open chute. He’d had to do this before and had the technique down. His cloak ripped where the other attacker was holding on to him, then he was free and diving head first down the narrow stone-lined shaft.
The attacker caught his foot and Ellison’s forward motion stopped with his head and upper body hanging down but his legs still up and outside the chute. He jacknifed and pushed against the wall. It was slippery and there was nothing to grab onto but the push gave him just enough extra momentum. At the same time, he kicked out with his feet and he was free.
The stone walls were covered with slime and rotting remains of years’ worth of kitchen garbage. Ellison held his arms wrapped tightly against himself as he fell into the dark. If he flailed, there was a good chance he might rip an arm off in the descent.