Lithe and lightfooted, she made no sound whatever. A shadow, her outfit a shade too bulky to be a catsuit. Black leather. Armoured. She carried five weapons in easy reach – a lot, but not so many that she clanked when she walked. She moved neither slowly nor quickly, but steadily. Progressing from shadow to shadow. Unseen. Undetected. Except …
A light cough. An “ahem”.
She spun, weapons appearing in her hands. Daggers. Left hand regular grip, right hand reversed – icepick grip. A nasty fighting style – the style of someone confident of a quick kill.
“‘Allo Betts. Long time.”
“Aw Betts, no need to be like that – yer can still call me ‘uncle’, I won’t be offended, promise.”
She remained silent.
“So they’ve taught yer ter keep yer lip buttoned. More than I could ever do – good on ’em. Nice leathers. But if yer wants some advice, scuff ’em up a bit. Seems a shame to do it ter new gear wot looks good, but bein’ vain will get yer killed.”
He stepped out of the shadows. His outfit mottled dark greys and charcoal. “I see you don’t wear yours anymore”, she said. “Naww. Too old fer it now.”, he replied, “Way I see it, if somone is goin ter stab me, they’re goin’ ter stab me.”
Which was nonsense, she knew. Uncle Korgul was still horribly strong, and fast. A deadly fighter. She could count on two hands the people she had ever met who might be as dangerous. She sheathed her daggers.
“So Betts – where are yer off ter, eh? The docks? The palace?” “Yeah” she replied. “Wot a coincidence!”, said Korgul. “I was ‘eaded that way meself. Ow about we do a bit o’ catchin up, eh?” They fell into step – she instantly falling into the old pattern: one watching the left, one the right. Covering one another.
“I ‘eard you was working for the King these days. Naah – don’t deny it. Not a lot of places dress yer in flash body armour like that. ‘Eard yer might even be trainin’ as one of the specials.”
She said nothing. If uncle Korgul wanted to say something, she was willing to let him say it.
“So tell me: yer done a murder yet?” He step faltered. “Naww, I can tell yer ‘avent. Oh, they dan’t call it that. But when yer gots ter shut someone up, an innkeeper wot as ‘eard sumthing ‘e shouldn’t, a clock or candle maker, sum noble wot has committed treason but they can’t afford ter put ‘im in the dock an giv ‘im a fair trial. Oh, they got ter be shut up, maybe they deserve ter ‘ang – well and truly. An it’s your job ter kill ‘im. Or ‘er. But yer know it ain’t a fair fight. Yer know they ‘avent got a prayer. Well – that’s wot a murder is, even if it’s fer a good cause.”
“I remember my first”, he continued, “first time I looked at anuvver bloke wot I knew had nuffink, and said ‘right – I’m going ter kill yer’, and then went ahead and did it. Oh, I been in fights before yer know – undead an constructs an fights wot could ave gone either way. But the first time it wos a murder, wos different.”
She broke her silence. “So, are you going to tell me a story again?”
“I reckon I am, girl”, he said. “I reckon I am”.
It wos abaht free weeks inter the stone war. The whole city wos in a uproar, riots on the street. Bad fer the King, not bein able ter keep order in the capital. Arf of us wos wanted fer theft, murder, arson, you name it. Sum of it might even ave been legit, but mostly it wos Preston spreading bullshit. Sum of it stuck.
Our gaff ‘ad just been turned over. Rob wos dead. Biggles and Jimmy wos missing. It was time ter leave. My dad wos in town wiv ‘is ship, an it seemed the likeliest way out. We’d ave ter pay ‘im passage, of course. Ships can’t sail fer free. Eight of us went ter sort that out, the rest of us went ter
The eight of us were – I have the names written down in my book, which is at home. We had five at the table, and and Pickles the npc. Thingy and Whatsi turned up late, so we retconned that by way of a leaky taxi.
We decided on a water taxi – better than chancin’ the bridge. Some of us would be recognised. Straight over the river to the docks and blimey if there weren’t pigs all over it, checkin’ documents, questioning people. We paid the rat extra ter go in quiet. E’ tried ter gouge us, but I suggested that the water at the docs wos way deeper than a ‘arfling is tall, and ‘e saw reason.
Two of us wos in a leaky taxi, making slow progress over the river.
Four of us snuck rahnd the back o’ the ship, nipped up an in over the gunwhale nice as yer please.
Bayedryn and the worforged just docked and walked up ter the guards, on account of they wouldn’t be recognised. Bayedrin ‘ad actually done a bit ‘o work for ’em, so they wos all friendly-like. Then one of ’em takes a closer look at ‘is documents and says “Harf a mo'”, an I knew it wos abaht ter turn ter shit. Me ‘an the warden moves up the ship, quiet-like. There wos two guards. I could jump the closer one, and the warden ‘ad some magic an could get the the further one. We ‘ad ter take ’em dahn fast.
I jumped the closer one. ‘It ‘im. Then ‘it ‘im again wiv the flat. ‘E went danh. The warden wos a bit slower, and her bloke blew ‘is whistle an raised an alarm. I took ‘im dahn out of principle, but there wos guards coming from everywhere. So we orl ‘opped in the drink. The two guards wos unconscious, so orl that wos needed wos a simple “they went that way”.
Well, dad wos a bit surprised by us turnin up orl of a sudden, but ‘e kept ‘is cool. “They went thataway!”, ‘e said. But dad’s pretty orcish and gets a lot ‘o prejudice. The guards decided they didn’t like the look of ‘im and decided to arrest ‘im. ‘E wos still cool – been in prison lots ‘o times. But one cowardly fuck of a sailor, ‘is nerve breaks an ‘e yells “They’re here! They’re under the dock!”
I didn’t fink it orl out, Betts, but when yer in business yer can’t let someone grass yer up like that an get away wiv it. That prick wos a liability, and ‘e ad ter die. I came up out of the water, onter the doc, and split that poor fucker clean in ‘arf.
An then it wos on. Dad got back on ‘is ship. I fink ‘e wanted ter see wot sort of son ‘e ‘ad. An ‘e started makin ready her sail – ‘is crew ad ad plenty of practice at making way quick. So it wos five of us (Pickles wos drunk, the useless fuck) against a dock full ‘o guards. Most of ’em just blokes wiv a breastplate an a badge an a sword that they didnt know ‘ow ter use. And the captain of the guard, ‘oo – I shit you not – wos ridin’ a fuckin warbear.
But a dock ain’t the best place ter be ridin a warbear. I faked it out an got it ter the edge of the dock. One of us tipped the captain inter the drink, and then I faked the bear out again an tipped it in too. Captain sank like a stone. A dock also ain’t the best place ter be wearing ‘eavy armour. Use yer environment, Betts, is wot I am sayin.
But even wivout the captain, we wos goin ter get mobbed. The guards ‘ad bows, and I wos gettin shot up. It wos only a matter of time. Then this fuckin ship in the ‘arbour starts firing cannon. Why? Fuck knows. Maybe it wos part of the guild war. Maybe the navy was bored, or wanted to ‘elp out. Yer got a ‘ammer, everyfink looks like a nail. We’re fighting, the warforged fuckin shoots out of the water, seaweed all over ‘im, flies over the dock and takes a couple of blokes inter the water wiv ‘im. The other two of us finally make it ter the fight an starts layin in. The ship fires again, an then – well, it’s a long story, but we ‘ad this pig wot got subjected ter certain scientific experiments and got blew up ter five times its size and weighed a couple ‘o ton. It comes up out o’ the water an attacks the navy ship an basically breaks it in two. A real victory fer science. We’ll be seein more of them things, nah that they ‘ave proved their effectiveness in battle.
Anyway. Cannon, buildings on fire, magic an fighting an the usual – screamin’, shoutin’ – an the captain of the guard comes up out of the water, missin ‘is breastplate an ‘arf drowned. ‘Ees my job. I smacks ‘im ‘ard and breaks somethin. An’ then I pulls back fer swing ‘an eyes ‘im an says “I don’t want ter kill yer. We’re leavin tahn. Save yer men.”
“Save yer men.”
They said an ancient general, when ‘e invaded somewhere or other, made ‘is men burn the boats they came in. Burn ’em dahn ter the waterline. They knew that it was victory or death. If yer fightin someone, Betts, and yer not specifically there ter kill ’em, leave ’em a way out. Dahn’t corner em. But a bloke like the captain, yer gotta give ’em an escape wot lets ’em keep their honour. An escape wivout that is nah escape at all.
“Save yer men”.
It wos bullshit. Troof is, ‘is will broke. I knew it. ‘Ee knew it. ‘Is men knew it too, sum of em. It wos a shitty fing ter do. But I didn’t want ter die on that dock, an neiver did ‘e. Or is men eiver. Orl right of them ter grumble abaht their captain turning coward, but would any of them want ter face me? Fackin ‘ypocrites.
We orl stood dahn. The other ‘arf of the guild arrived – they’d done fer Preston. Wish I’d been there, but I did my bit. I told Lorne that dad ‘adnt ‘ad a chance ter take on cargo, and I ‘ad told ‘im that I ‘ad a ship full of payin’ passengers for ‘im. Baedryn jumps in an’ offers ‘im a ‘undred fackin gold each. Lorne must o shat imself. Dad goes “A undred each? I wos goin ter ask fer a bag ‘o sand, but seeing as I like yers orl so much a undred will do.”
There wos some bovver wiv the animals, but dad’s used ter makin a quick exit. After a minit we casts of an sets sail dahn the river.
There was silence for a minute. She said nothing, knowing that he had not made his point yet.
“I can still see that sailor’s face, when I stabbed ‘im”, said Korgul. “Ad ter be done. ‘Ee ‘ad grassed me up ter the pigs. I could ‘o been killed, although it worked out orlright in the end. Bloke like that, wot are yer going ter do? Ave ‘im back on yer ship? Let ‘im loose ter tell stories to any fucker wot asks? Naah. Only one way out fer a coward ‘oo works in the business too long ter let loose.”
“Yer fink it will change yer, killin someone. It does an it doesn’t. Yer still you, but you’re you wot as killed a man in cold blood. It isn’t eiver a good fing or a bad fing, exactly. It’s not orl it’s made up ter be, but it’s not nuffink, eiver. An yeah – it’s a line yer can’t go back an un-cross. Every day, it sets yer apart from all the good people arahnd yer, wot ‘ave never killed.”
“If yer working for the King, Betts, I dahn’t disapprove. Gotta work fer someone. But dahn’t be fooled by them jools an furs and girly little swords an fancy talk an manners. They is ‘ard men. ‘Ard as my dad, gettin’ is ship ready ter sail while ‘is son wot ‘e ad known fer a month fights fer is life on the dock. You already know too much fer them ter just let yer go. If yer can’t be useful in the field, wot use are yer? Wot are they going ter do wiv yer?”
“So when yer time comes, dahn’t ‘esitate. Dahn’t pretend you got a choice. You made yer choice when yer signed up.”
“If yer ever need anyfink wot yer old uncle can possibly be any ‘elp wiv, I ain’t ‘ard ter find. But take my advice abaht yer armour. Shiny black is stupid, out ‘ere.”
The walked on a few steps more, when Korgul softly said “What the fuck is that?” She turned, knowing even as she did that it was a trick. There was nothing there. Turning back, her uncle was gone – as she knew he would be. She stepped back into shadow, feeling just a little less invulnerable than she had a few minutes ago. Her armour would be scuffed up by morning.