"May all the gods damn your fish! May they stink five minutes out of the water!"
Customers browsing in Lou's Fish Store stared at the man waving his wallet at the proprietor as he continued to roar at the unimpressed Lou.
"May they be impossible to clean, and may their bones stick in the throats of all your best customers!"
This was greeted with some trepidation, as the dissatisfied customer was a local mage. A few of Lou's best customers surreptitiously replaced their selections. One went further than that.
"Here now," she barked at the mage, "Watch how you curse. What's the matter, anyhow?"
Even mages don't care to offend certain housewives, women who are matriarchs of their extended families and, lacking a broader kingdom, rule their houses and terrorize their neighborhoods with more efficacy than their noble counterparts could ever hope to utilize in their provinces.
The man gave her a sullen look and explained, "He raised his bloody prices. ' could barely afford them before, and now there's this thrice-dammed mage tax."
The woman hmphed. "That's no reason to cause the rest of us harm."
"Oh yeah? Well, you ain't exactly helping me."
She stuck her nose in the air. "The fates help those who help themselves."
He snarled and advanced toward her.
"You don't scare me, Jed Tailor. You're just a charms-master."
Lou, in an effort to avert a fight in his shop, called out, "Hey, now, no need to fight."
Jed spun back to face him. "Yeah, we should all be ganging up you, you price-padding middleman."
"Jed's right, you know," piped up someone else. "Not that I support violence or anything, but these prices are rather high."
Lou shrugged. "'s not my fault. I'm buying them at a higher price, too."
"And why is that?" snarled the dissatisfied mage.
Lou shifted uncomfortably. "Well, you know how much the fishermen rely on spells for safety and to ensure a good catch..."
"Yeah. Yeah, I rather thought so. It's this *fucking* mage tax. Bet you got mages doing your transporting, too."
"Well, we're a long way from the sea, and I do pride myself on the freshness of my fish, eh?" He looked around at his customers as if expecting applause. They looked back at him blankly. He sighed. "Look, nobody likes it, but I gotta charge this much or lose money."
"This way, you just lose customers. Brilliant." And the man turned and stalked from the shop. The door shuddered as he slammed it. The hot-metal smell of an angry mage battled the pervasive scent of dead fish. The bold housewife sniffed carefully and pointedly left, followed by most of the other customers. Its rusty hinges screamed as the last one closed it in a more decorous fashion. Lou sighed.
"It's enough to make you support Lord Roderick," he said, mostly to himself, and looked up, startled, as a girl materialized from the corner she had ducked into to avoid the agitated crowd and approached the counter holding a crab. "Excuse me," she said politely, "But do you eat these?"
She didn't seem to believe his assurances that, contrary to appearance, crabs were indeed edible, and wandered around the store poking the merchandise. She finally settled on a couple small trout.
"Ah, good choice. Locally caught, so it's one of my freshest fish."
She smiled at him, yellow eyes happy under that shock of silver hair, and asked, "Who's Roderick?"
"Lord Roderick. You said the price stuff made you want to support him."
"Oh, well, I mean, I was just, you know, I'm really a firm supporter of our esteemed Authorities...."
The girl wrinkled her nose in confusion. "But you said...."
Lou looked down at the coin she'd given him. It was old, foreign, solid gold, and about equal in worth to the entire contents of his cash box. He dropped it in and gave her a handful of shillings in change. When she stuck them in her pocket with another brilliant smile he put his elbows on the counter and explained, "Roderick is a lord from another province with a reputation for being a little more fair to the commoners than most lords and ladies. He moved into an old castle near the city. Rumors are a bit contradictory about that-- some people say it's an old family castle of his, and others insist that the peasants in the area fixed it up and invited him to move in. Anyway, there's hope that he can lower the taxes. There's even talk that he'll be the next lord of Ilsarya. But that's just talk. Of course."
"I saw wanted posters up for him."
Lou chuckled. "Yeah, he's not too popular with the Authorities. What, you planning on capturing him singlehandedly, girl? You'd do better to go help him."
She nodded thoughtfully and turned to go. When she was almost out the door, he called, "Oi, d'ya want some advice on cooking those?"
She turned, her vivid, inhuman eyes astonished. "Cooking these?"Damien Dies
Damien was wrapping something lethal and sparkly in nice anonymous brown paper and telling the customer what excellent taste she had when the door swung open in a distinctly menacing fashion and a pair of large coppers strutted in.
He smiled nervously at them, at the wall of weapons, and at the ceiling. His customer tucked her package under her shawl and scurried out. The officers ignored her. They were giving all their attention to the man smiling nervously at the floor while sidling slowly toward the back door.
"Damien St James?"
Damien looked around. "Oh, me?"
"Are you?" growled the smaller of the coppers.
"Am I who?" He looked momentarily thoughtful. "Or could it be whom? No, no, I don't think so."
"Damien St James," continued the talkative copper, clearly unimpressed by this English lesson, "We have a warrant for your arrest."
"Oh. Are you sure? Er, yes, silly question. What for?"
The larger one, quiet till this, smiled. It was not a smile that communicated any sort of friendliness. "Resisting arrest."
Ice paused on a corner a few streets away from the shop to try to balance her purchases. The oranges had dug an escape tunnel through the flimsy basket and were making brave leaps, hopping nervously down the street, each orange calling as it got free to its fellows, encouraging them to make a break for it. Emboldened by their example, the long, slender loaf of bread started to inch slowly forward, intent on shifting its weight enough to tip itself out of the basket. The frustrated werewolf was hugging the basket under one arm while she tried to recapture the oranges when the wind changed. She stood stock still for a moment, then, dropping the basket, shifted into wolf form and bolted down the street.
A line of oranges rolled unheeded down the gutter.
Ice stood perfectly still in front of the burning bulk of the building which had housed the shop. People were running about, trying to set up a bucket brigade, trying to get things out of the surrounding buildings, trying to find the best spot to see the spectacle. They oohed and ahed as something exploded, sending colored sparks into the air, and again, seconds later, as the roof collapsed. The air was full of smoke, searing Ice's lungs, stinging her nose, making her eyes run with tears.
She stood for a long time before turning and walking toward the mountains. N'gartha
N'gartha left Lord Radmyr's castle somewhat confused. She had been due to have another session with Roderick, but she'd been turned away with no explanation. How rude. Perhaps he had died. But surely she would have been told. And besides, if the torturer, who was really quite skilled, had continued on as he had been, the dear boy would have lasted quite a long time. With her expert assistance, of course. She took pleasure in rendering what help she could to poor souls such as Roderick. Maybe he had escaped, then? No, surely not.
When she got back to her comfortable little room in the inn she packed her bags, just in case. And when news came that Roderick was back in Ilsarya, taking his place in the foolish new government, she decided it was high time to retire back to her little cottage in the mountains. She was, after all, working on certain projects which she had only interrupted because Lord Radmyr was such a dear. She made sure to send him a note of condolence before she went home. Blade
Blade soon tired of the student revolutionaries, with their schemes and their ideals and their constant tangental conversations on every subject except the matter at hand. Besides, they never seemed to want him to kill anyone. Possibly best, he mused. Rutherford was quite firm on the subject of killing people. And for the first time since his childhood, Blade cared deeply about what someone else wanted. Cared deeply enough to change his life.
He climbed to his favorite spot on the roof of the Library and sat for a while, watching the clouds go by, thinking.
When he came back down he went straight to Alidon's theater and asked for a job as a techie.
Alidon was delighted. "What, Mr. Assassin," he asked playfully, "Don't feel like killing people any more?"
Blade answered in a sardonic drawl, "I thought I'd try something new for a while."Alexi
They were all lined up as the judges read the verdicts. Alexi only heeded two. His own--freedom, in recognition of his long service to the city, and pending his oath of loyalty to the Lady Consort. Myrissin's--death. Death, for her close position to Lord Roderick.
He stood, the blood beating loud in his ears, jaw set hard. In the silence following the last sentence, he stepped forward, shifting unconsciously into parade rest. "Permission to speak."
There was a small, startled pause. "Granted," someone said reluctantly.
"As you may know, Myrissin and I have been keeping each other's company for some time." He swallowed an continued, his voice clear and painful. "If you let me live while killing her... You wouldn't be giving me life. You'd be giving me a torturous semblance of life in death." He looked down. "That sounds like something out of a ballad, doesn't it? But, maybe sometimes we in the real world feel the same as bygone heroes. And deserve the same happy ending?"
The three judges looked at each other, nodding and muttering. Finally, they turned back to the figure standing tall and miserable in the center of the room.
The head judge peered at him over her small eyeglasses. "You speak compellingly."
"Your request is granted."
There was more, conditions of loyalty, restrictions, the threat of reverse. But Alexi barely heard. His mind was filled with the promise of a future.