Luckily for Parvo, the city lacked building codes, allowing structures to be built very close together and making it easy for him to leap across rooftops. The sound of shouts followed by the now recognizable sound of a door being battered down, caused him to crouch and crouch behind a chimney and gather his bearings. Patrols of police going door to door had forced a zig zag pattern towards the brimstone tower, or at least towards where Mokrado had assured him where it was located. He turned to look at her, and found her standing two roofs back, looking confused.

Mokrado’s belly felt sick and icy. She had left her axe back in the room. She had lusted after that axe since she was little more than a hatchling. Fifteen years she dreamt and plotted how to kill its owner and take it for herself.

She wanted to go back for it.  She couldn’t go back for it. She had to go back for it.

“What’s wrong?” whispered Parvo as he came trotting back up to her.

“My axe.” She hosted the unconscious witch off her shoulder and held her out towards the ‘fling. “Here, you go on ahead.” He pushed back on the girl.

“You can’t go back! They’ll kill you, and I can’t carry her –” he stopped himself, grimaced, and then let out the strongest expletive he knew1. “I left me quarterstaff back there.”

“I hardly think a stick is comparable to my axe. ” She tried to push the girl into his arms again. He pushed back.

“My name,” he started loudly before catching himself and adding lower, “is on the staff!” Her eyes grew wide. If they lifted off the leather wrapped grip, they’d find her name notched  on the haft.

“Oh, we gotta go back.” She said. Parvo nodded and then they both looked at the witch.

“What do we do with her?” Mokrado looked about and bit her lip.

“I wonder how far I could throw her?”

“But her, I don’t know what you’d call it, magical stink is going to be on us.” Without thinking, he pulled a long strand of his hair into his mouth and began to chew, nervously.

“Gak2.” They stood there, together in the totality of their screwedness.

“We could get to the silo, wipe the tracks and head back?” Parvo ventured.

“Or get to the silo and disappear.”

Parvo wiggled his fingers and waved his hands. “Disappear?”

“No. I mean, get out of the city, change our names.”

“And hope Phobos doesn’t come after us?” Parvo reached into his jerkin and pulled out a small vial filled with a black liquid.

“What’s that?” Mokrado asked.

“Maybe,” Parvo said, shaking the vial, “if we kill ourselves, we won’t get tortured?” She half shrugged, because the witch was on one shoulder. She twisted around, angling her butt towards him. It did not go unappreciated.

“In my belt, grab the book. I don’t want it on me when I die.” Parvo slipped it out of her waistband and flipped through it, hoping to find naughty pictures. Not only were there no pictures but it was full of footnotes3. “Throw it as far as you can.” He did, which wasn’t very. He unstoppered the vial. The little vial. He looked from it to the Orc. “What?” she asked, suspiciously.

“I’m not sure there’s enough. I mean, it’d kill me for sure, but you’re kinda big, and half a dose…” He trailed off, trying to calculate the potency of one drachm of an 8% solution of deathweed, and not remembering whether it was by weight or by volume, not to mention that the apothecary system divided the pound into 12 ounces rather than 164.

” I don’t even get to die right. Fine, you go ahead.”

“I’m not doing it without you!”

“The isn’t the time for…,” her world had no word for chilvarly, “stupid-dumb, man-elf, stupid-dumbness,” she substituted. He understood her.

“How do I know you’re not going to pin the blame on me after I’m dead?”

“I wouldn’t!” She totally would.

And then the witch woke up.

With a sound that could be described as variously as  “hrmphh,” “unghh,” “mmphl” and be equally as accurate, she began to come around. Parvo flinched, lost his footing, threw his arms out to catch his balance, dropped the vial, stepson the vial, and pitched backwards.  Mokrado grabbed him by the jerkin with her free hand as the Witch on her shoulder began to wriggle.

Falke, groggily raised her head, opened her eyes just as Mokrado turned to her, the one getting a face full of witch and the other a face full of Orc. Mokrado let go of Parvo, who fell backwards and slid headfirst off the roof just as she flung the witch off her shoulder in the opposite direction.

With considerable poise for someone who had only just regained consciousness and found herself being flung off a roof, Falke cast a levitation spell. Unfortunately for her, the Infernal Police’s cordon had negated5 all witchcraft in the area6. She fell 6 to 8 stories7. Luckily, her fall was cushioned by a policeman who was holding a book and rubbing a knot on his head where it had hit him.

Mokrado, unburdened, ran. She ran as hard as she could, leaped across to the next roof with all her power. And while the builder had admirably built the floors to standard height, his care did not extend to the construction materials, especially those of theroof. Mokrado crashed right through the tiles, and wedged there, undone by the size of her bust.

***

He had to of killed at least two hundred men, Jacek thought. He had tried to keep count. He knew he killed nineteen people upstairs, thirteen as he worked his way down the stairs, and had then started clearing out the ground floor. Two hundred easy, he thought.

This wasn’t close to accurate. At some point, just after he’d received his third cut, he had begun to count every blade strike that hit flesh, rather than just kills. A little while later, after taking a thrust (midsection, piercing the kidney), he had begun counting every hit, whether it hit home or was blocked. So all in all, he’d killed forty seven men. Definitely impressive, but not two hundred impressive.

More importantly, he had taken over thirty minutes8 to do so. His plan had been simple. Keep the police occupied and give the others enough time to get away. He’d be killed, eventually, interrogated, definitely, but he had been trained for that. He’d protect his clients, the girl would be someone else’s problem. Sure, it wasn’t ideal to die on a job, but it was inevitable and better to get it out of the way early. His resurrection insurance rates would go through the roof, though, but that was a small price to pay as long as the job was done. Messy, but done. It wasn’t about the money, it was about the gig. Assassination wasn’t his job, it was his vocation, his calling.

Despite his dizziness, his paid skin, glistening with sweat, he had driven the police out of the brothel and back out into the street. A thought began to itch in the back of his skull. What if he killed them all? He could get away. That’d be ideal. He wouldn’t have to die, which was good, and he wouldn’t have to spend money, which was better. If he killed them all, he wouldn’t have to change his appearance, either. Killing two hundred Heolseward was bound to make one famous, which wasn’t necessary the best thing for an assassin.

So he stepped out the door, the idea of killing everyone and escaping seeming a distinct possibility. Outside, however, Jacek got to see what killing two hundred men would actually entail, for that was how many were out on the street. He did manage to kill three before falling, bringing his total to an even fifty but there was no one to tally the number.

And most unfortunately for Jacek, he didn’t die. He slipped in some entrails (not his) fell towards a wall of shield, holding out a hand that he no longer had to stop himself. His stump slammed into the shield, and a searing pain came slamming back. It was so intense, it was as if the pain signals racing through his nerves blew a circuit breaker. A a bang and a flash inside his head, he passed out.

***

Stormpike walked over to his Shelf of Planning. Tales of Mythical and legendary heroes sat on one shelf while  quests of his own making filled the rest. Ten thousand years of meticulously planning the rise and eventual fall of heroes, anointed saviors, and “chosen ones”. He grabbed one, leafed through it. How many signs and portents, prophecies and foretellings had he been the secret author of? How many heroes had he sent to their doom9? He didn’t need a hero, he didn’t need one man10. In his experience, a man alone had the annoying habit of attracting large groups of comrades. It never failed, a single man, with allegiance to no one, save honor and truth, manages to bridge the animosity between implacable enemies, uniting them. It made him shudder (or perhaps it was the open window).

What he needed was a band, a small group. A group stays the group, and rarely grows larger. In fact, on those occasions when they do expand to take on a new member, it usually results in the death of one the previous ones11.  Groups tended towards self containment, and the fewer involved the better.  So a band of… of what? Not heroes. If fate decreed his downfall, it would be as he lived. As a villain. A band of villains–

–But which villains?

— A knock sounded at his door. “What?” He growled.

“A matter of grave import requiring your attention, m’lord,” came the nervous reply, the words muffled by the door, but not the anxiety.

“Not now!” he barked,  annoyed because he knew it was “a matter of grave import requiring your attention” because only matters of grave import requiring his attention could induce someone to take their life into their own hands and knock on his door. Of course, in any bureaucratic system, everything tended to become matters of grave import12. He took a breath, bowed his head. The messenger rapped on the door again.

–KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK–

“But it’s urgent–“

“Interrupt me again and and I’ll flay you alive, travel back in time and flay you yesterday, and so on, every day of your existence back to your birth. “

He was in high dudgeon, and looked at the small lever next to his desk that would open the trap door just outside his threshold, sending the annoyance plummeting into a pit of spider-diles13. But it struck14 him then. Wasn’t his anger at the interruption counter to his vow to Dame Fortune? What if fate had sent the person on the other side of the door? His dudgeon was uncalled for. He had to control it, to master it. He had to be the dudgeon master.

“Enter!” he bellowed, in that way only someone used to commanding armies can bellow. The door opened on its own15, revealing the young man who had already turned to leave. He stopped, spun around, and straightened his uniform, the red and black16 of the Corp of Gaolers, Turnkeys, and Middle School Teachers17. Stormpike stared at him, intently. This is whom18 Fate had sent?

“Sir!” The messenger snapped his heels19 together, put his right hand to his throat20. “My Lord–“

“What’s your name, officer?” He interrupted, the question mark at the end being merely traditional and in no way evident in his tone.

“Corporal Swerk, your Pestilentialness,” he said, stiffly (which was understandable, “pestilentialness” being hard to say any other way).”We’ve taken a band of malcontents into custody.” Stormpike gave him the “And?” shrug21 as he slipped one of his many hidden knives22 into his hand. Fate may have sent him this fool, but that didn’t mean he had be left unscratched, right?

“They killed over a hundred23 Heolseward,” with the slightest of changes, Stormpike turned his “And” shrug into a”So?”

“There were only four of them, but I think one of them,” He paused, dramatically24, “is a witch.25” Stormpike loathed dramatic pauses26. Normally, he would have killed the young corporal before he’d finished his pause. Then he had a moment. One of those moments when realization dawns on you, but you don’t want to show it, like when the eight of spades hits on the river or you’re in the middle of a meeting and you suddenly realize Jim from marketing is sleeping with Hazel from HR.

He had just sworn to accept his fate and here he was turning around and trying to second guess and anticipate her. This had been a lesson, and one he was glad to have learned early. Keep the course. Stay true.  Execute the plan. What plan? Exactly. That was the problem. Perhaps slitting this fool’s throat would clear his head. Then he could go back to figuring out the plan for a band of villains. Find a group of… Stormpike snapped the dagger in his hand in half with his considerable (yet somehow perviously unmentioned27) strength.

“How many, did you say?” Stormpike asked, excitedly.

“Witches? Uh, just the one, sir,” the messenger added, confusedly.

“Not witches, fool,  how many in total?”

“Including the witch, sir?” With an effort, Stormpike refrained from strangling the corporal. It was no easy task, millennia of torturing people for information had made him quite impatient with normal conversations. Swerk, being somewhat perceptive, and the signs hard to miss (Stormpike grabbed a glove and bit down on it), realized his mistake, “Four sir. Four,” he said, with what he hoped was confidence.

“Four,” Stormpike said, wonderingly. Could it be? Had he been handed his band of villains? No, it couldn’t be. Four people kill an entire regiment, the entire city would be talking about it, let alone one of them a witch, Phobos for certain would–

“Aye,” like a character in a Loony Toons cartoon blowing on his thumb, Swerk visibly puffed up. “No one else even suspected, but I knew there was something off about her,” that last he added smugly, like Joseph Gordon-Levitt in any movie. “And I figured the fewer people who knew about it the better, so I came straight here to you, my Lord”.

Something frightening happened to Lord Stormpike’s face, as if his cheeks were melting, but up and at an angle rather than down. The messenger stepped back and shuddered. Then from deep within, came a sound, a raspy, cracking sound. For Stormpike, this was what approximated laughter.

***

The Imperial Guard28 prided themselves on their ability to remain motionless while on duty. For the most part, it was easy, the abode of a despotic God-King not being known as a tourist attraction (except when there was a public execution). But one of the true tests of the Guard’s resolve came when a living person29 was tossed out of a window and came hurtling down, which was not an infrequent occurrence.

Stormpike, for his part, was somewhat disappointed with Corporal Swerk’s demise. As he walked with the young sycophant down the corridor, he slowly drifted closer. The young man naturally tried to maintain the proper space between himself and Lord Stormpike and thus drifted closer and closer to the wall. Dotted with full length windows, and like evil lairs everywhere30, not a railing or bannister to be found, Stormpike gave him a good shove.  If he did it right, the victim would pass right through, like a swish in basketball. He found this deeply satisfying. Add in a good “gasp” at the shove, a good scream on the way down, and a clear “splat”, and he’d be filled with that mixture of pride and contentment one gets when you trigger the left turn signal in what you know is the last possible moment before you’d have to wait for the entire cycle.

However, the Corporal’s shoulder grazed the edge spinning him around so he fell backwards. True, it was nice to see the shocked look on his face31, but Stormpike had found it almost always necessary that the person see the ground rushing up to meet them to get a good scream from them. Also, he was far too thin to make a good splat.

Luckily for Stormpike, he had four prisoners on which to improve his mood.

***

Parvo had been disgusted by the filthy conditions of the Capitol upon his arrival. Now he was thankful, for his fall had been broken by a mass of garbage piled in the street. Luckily for him, the garbage consisted of various body parts hacked up and placed into bags full of harpy feathers (to combat the smell) which cushioned his fall and saved him. Amazingly, the feathers also made the landing near silent. On the downside, however, was the giant cloud of feathers puffed into the air, alerting the police at the end of the street.

His affected elvish calm, however, did not survive the fall. He was mad at the gods, the police, the orc, the witch, the jerk with the one hand, but mostly himself. The shouldn’t have been there, the weakness of his flesh had betrayed him. He deserved this. The police ran towards him, those who hadn’t yet drawn their swords did so, while those that had sheathed their swords and redrew, because it made a really cool noise. Parvo stood and held up his hands.

A crossbow bolt was fired after which the shooter yelled “Halt!” As the bolt missed by inches, Parvo concluded, not unreasonably, surrender was not an option. From his jerkin he pulled what looked like a pan flute, lifted it to his mouth, and deftly fired blow darts, one after the other, each hitting its target in the neck. As they keeled over32, the survivors fell back. Parvo reloaded, angled his weapon high and let fly with arching shots. Parvo took off running, but not away from them, instead running right towards them33.

As the police strained to follow the darts trajectories and tried to dodge them as they fell, Parvo sprinted past them and out onto the main road, only to find reinforcements, preparing to do what reinforcements do, namely, to reinforce. He slid to a stop, and took off in the opposite direction.

He pulled out an elixir rom his jerkin and tossed it back, feeling it enter his bloodstream and boosting his speed (but this was just a placebo, the vile had sat in his jerkin too long and had expired). His natural speed may have been enough to lose his pursuers and escape but for one problem; Police Bats34.

The handler raised his arms and  lifted his cloak35, revealing six bats, three hanging under each arm. He gave the word to attack and his animal fell to the ground (bats needed some height to drop into flying, and as crying them around on a big pole mounted armature just wasn’t practical so they had to make due with a decided lack of coolness.

The bats quickly rolled over and launched themselves into the air and quickly overtook Parvo, swarmed and wrapped their wings around him and brought him to the ground. The worst part?

One licked him in the ear.

***

She begged for death. policemen and women36 mocked her as they stood on the roof looked down at her half stuck in the roof, while others poked and slapped her bottom half below. They seemed in no hurry to pull her out and take her into custody. She soon learned that union rules prevented the Heolseward from engaging in manual labor. Normally, if a perp got stuck in a well or drainpipe, or got caught up on a fence or some such, the Schleppenehmer Gilde would be called, but with Mokrado being an orc, there was some confusion as to wether they should bring in the Arbeitnehmer Verein who handled (large37) animals.

She knew what was coming, and she didn’t have long to wait. First, someone began caressing up her thigh. She bicycled her legs, getting in a decent number of hits while above, it started with one of the guardsmen mimed relieving himself on her38. Inevitably, someone put two and two together and realized that what one used for urination could be used for something else. Like the monkeys in 2001, they started to hop up and down, hooting and hollering.

Unfortunately for them, the roof had not suddenly become more stable since Mokrado dropped through it. In fact, it had become so unstable that it was at that moment it decided its existence as a roof was unfulfilling and empty.  It completely collapsed, Mokrado and the roof crushing those below, the police above falling on top of her, and then, finding existence so meaningless that its own destruction was not enough, the roof took out the floors below in a murder-suicide,  every floor collapsing down until the walls, suffering survivors remorse and unable to bear the loss, decided to follow the rest and threw themselves on the grave.

Orcs, although far more durable than humans, by the time Mokrado managed to crawl out from under the debris she was in no shape to resist arrest. This did not prevent her captors from beating her as if she were,  hitting her with their clubs as they stuffed her in a paddy wagon39.

***

Jacek had to hand it to them, they went all out. Skeleton chained to a rack in the corner? Check. Blood staines on the wall that looked like someone had attempted to clean of but failed? Check. The distant sound of whips and screams? Check. Rats? The only rat in the room was being eaten by the gnome in the corner. Or at least he was trying to eat it, but he was having a hard time fending off the roaches.

None of this frightened Jacek. He wasn’t thrilled with the roaches, but they didn’t frighten him. Neither did the bloodstained wooden table with the crisscrossed pattern of knife cuts, nor being bound with arms behind behind the back of a chair. No, what filled him with fear was the fact they had healed his wounds. 

They must know about the witch, he thought, but they can’t find her so they need me to… No, that couldn’t be it. Interrogate him? yes. Torture? Ditto. But why tend to his injuries? In dungeons, wounds aren’t dressed, they fester. Even the stump where his hand had been cut off was painless. Actually, it felt more than painless. They must have slathered on some powerful ointment because apart from a slight itch just below the elbow, his arm felt dead the rest of the way down. Ointment? In the dungeons? His mind raced, mostly on trying to figure out what he was in the middle but also whether the torturers had a secret supply of ointment or had to send someone out to get it when the sound of the door’s bolt being thrown made him stop.

As the door slowly opened, its rusty hinges creaked stereotypically40. An Apprentice Torturer shambled in and set an oilcloth covered tray and some scrolls on the table. He leered at Jacek, one eye rolling as an impressively long slobber of drool hung from his mouth, and as whipped the dirty cloth off the tray, revealing rusty torture implements. He was gratified by his prisoner turning his head in disgust, not realizing that it was because he’d placed the tray at an angle and triggered Jacek’s OCD41. The apprentice shambled back, adding the requisite menacing cackle before exiting and closing the door behind him.

But the latch didn’t catch, so he opened the door a little way, and tried closing it again, but it didn’t work. He tried a third time, before opening it completely and stepping in the room. He looked at Jacek, shook his head and shrugged. He tried closing it from the inside, but it still didn’t latch.

“Try lifting up one the door when you close it,” said Jacek. The apprentice looked over at Jacek, confused. “When you close it, sort of… lift. I think the door is, like, not square in the frame, s you lift up and straighten –” The apprentice’s eyebrows shot up and nodded with understanding. He pulled up on the door handle as he closed it, it giving off a satisfying click has the latch caught. He turned with a smile and a thumbs up for Jacek, before exiting the room and repeating the new door closing technique behind him.

Jacek sighed, rolled his neck and swept the room with his eyes. He startled in his bonds as he saw the gnome, roaches free and gnawing on the rat in peace. Jacek’s head darted around, looking for were the roaches had gone. Checking himself and the immediate vicinity most thoroughly. “Where’d they go?” he asked, mostly to himself, but the gnome answered him by pointing at a hole in the ceiling. “Why’d they –” before he could finish, the gnome suddenly dropped the rat and squeezed himself through a hole in the stone wall. The half eaten rat rolled onto its belly, looked left and right and made for the same hole just as the wooden door flew open, its rusty hinges giving a loud screech. Jacek tried to remain still and not swing his head at the sound, but his eyes darted involuntarily.

There was nothing in the doorway. Jacek slowly turned his head. Nothing. Then he tilted it, still nothing. He took a breath and was just about to start reciting the Poisoners Litany42 when Stormpike swept into the room, his cape whooshing as it trailed behind him through the door without touching the frame before billowing out with a snap and draping itself over his shoulders as he stopped on the other side of the table43. Jacek was unimpressed. Not with the cape, that he found quite impressive, but with the man looming before him, with his obviously affected air of fearlessness. Everyone in the world was afraid, and for good reason. Some just hid it better than others, and this guy wasn’t a good enough actor to pull it off44. And the patch? Come on, like he’d fall for that old gag? Lord Stormpike leading interrogations? Right.

“Well, you finally caught me,” said Jacek, with a weary smile. Stormpike raised one eyebrow (which was hard to tell with the patch) as he took the seat opposite and snapped his finger causing the door to shut (and latching securely) on its own. It had become cliche for anyone captured by the authorities to claim that they had been possessed and were therefore innocent of whatever crime they were accused of. How this had developed is a mystery, because in the case of genuine possession, the victim was executed as a matter of routine45. Instead, Jacek had decided on a different tactic. “To be honest,” Jacek continued, “I’m glad is was you who caught me. If anyone deserves to catch the ‘Coffee Breath Killer’46, it’s you.”

Amused, Stormpike said, “You’re the Coffee47 Breath Killer?” before sitting down. Jacek sighed and tried to look disappointed.

“Come now, inspector, I thought we moved past these games. I’ve nothing but the upmost respect for your abilities, but these schoolboy tactics are beneath you.”

“So if you’re the Coffee Breath Killer,” began Stormpike, deciding to play along, “Why are there a hundred men lying dead in a brothel.

“Hundred?” he asked, somewhat disappointed.

“Well, you know how people exaggerate. That’s not to take away anything from you or your friends.”

“Oh, I see, you assume I had help to kill so many! No, it was all me, so you can add whatever you assumed their totals were to me –“

“So your name isn’t …” He trailed off, pulled some papers from his pocket, and quickly paged through them before finding the right one, “Jacek Larkspur” (He didn’t need the paper, it was just a prop and a part of his patter)48. “You’re in a lot of trouble, killwright,” he said as he looked up from the paper49.

Jacek’s face tightened and clenched his jaw as he suppressed a shudder. He had always prided himself in his ability to remain cool and collected it stressful situations. In times of crisis, Jacek Larkspur not only kept his head, but he became more calm. All his senses would seem to enhance, time would slow and a serenity would come over him. But as it turned out, he’d never been in  stressful situation before. His whole life with the Guild had been regimented and meticulously planned, every contingency accounted for, as well as analyzed and categorized based on statistical probability (not to mention the level of “coolness”). There had never been a situation where there wasn’t a path that lead out of it. It may have been difficult or dangerous but he knew the playing field, he knew the rules, and he knew the score (and still had a challenge flag in his back pocket). Now he knew none of those things.  He found himself in his first stressful situation.

They should not know my name. Had Phobos read his mind? Had they found the witch and tracked down his clients? How long had he been out? And why was he still alive? Whatever the case, social conventions dictated that it was his turn to speak.

“All my actions hitherto have conformed to the precepts and teachings of the Guild of Death and Destruction both in letter and in spirit and as a member of said order, I intend to continue to fulfill my oath to them and to my client, even beyond death itself.” Jacek recited from memory (and sounding like it50).

“Ah,” Stormpike said as he closed his eyes and nodded, sagely (as well as thymely51). “You know, I for one, find your orders dedication to contractual obligations truly admirable. I know some may find notions like “vows” and “oaths” quaint. Some may even find them blasphemous, with their inherent appeal to honor and duty.”

“I didn’t know the Heolseward was known for their theologians. That’s the correct term, right? Theologian: someone who puts words in the mouths of Gods?” shot back Jacek,  defiantly. Defiant was good, thought Stormpike. It made the cold water he was about to pour the sweeter52.

Heolseward?” Stormpike asked, looking down at his doublet. “Heolseward? Do I look like a policeman?”

“Fine Tortur –” his words caught in his throat as his eyes followed Stormpike’s hand smoothing down his clothing. There were no badge of office, no brooch, no crest, no livery. Just an all black outfit, black cape, black eyepatch, black gloves, and a silver ring with a mummified faerie head–

–And the cold water came pouring down the back of his shirt–

It couldn’t be. Plenty of people wore an eyepatch, his beloved Nana for instance. This guy was a fanboy, a Stormpike cosplayer. Yeah, that was it.

“My apologies, Sir…?” He prompted, adding the “Sir” as the lowest style of address that wasn’t technically an insult53, figuring in for a sceat,54 in for a solidus55. Everyone knew Stormpike wore that ring, you could get cheap knock offs all over the city. Fingers crossed56.

“Stormpike,” he answered pleasantly57, not bothering to correct his honorific58, nor adding his various titles or epithets59. He didn’t need to, Jacek deflated at the first syllable. And not like a soufflé deflating, for that would imply that he had been full before. It was more like he was a helium filled balloon, not a cool mylar one60, but a regular rubber balloon that’s made it to the next day but has contracted, its skin shriveled, and floating just a couple of feet off the ground before finally popping. He deflated, he wilted, his heart sank, and the wind went out of his sails. These were not synonyms employed as some amateurish, stylistic device61, no, he did all of them at the same time.

What. The. Deuce62. Was Lord Stormpike doing here!?

“You’re probably wondering what I’m doing here,” Stormpike said as he lifted the tray of implements, propped one boot on the table, and began push the tools around with his finger as the sound of metal on metal echoed off the walls.

“I don’t know what happened, your unholiness, I think I was possessed by a demon.” Out of ideas, Jacek figured it was worth a shot.

“That would be too bad, Mister Larkspur, because then my offer would be for him and not you.”

“Offer?” was the best reply he could come up in his confusion, and his confusion was profound. Just watched 2001: A Space Odyssey confused63.

“Mm-hmm. An offer mutually beneficial to both parties, you pick the leeches off my back, I pick ’em off yours. For instance,

“What do you want?” asked a defeated Jacek.

“I want you to kill a god.”


  1. In his village, with their backward, country ways, it was still a vulgar way of saying “excrement” but in the sophisticated urban ways of Mokrado, it sounded like “dagnabit”

  2. Country or City, this Orcish word always meant “shit”

  3. Invented by London printer Richard Jugge (d. 1577), a footnote is an ancillary piece of information printed at the bottom of a page. (e.g. what you’re reading now)

  4. And don’t ask why an Ounce was made up of 8 Drachms, a Drachm was 3 Scruples and a Scruple was 20 Grains (or why Drachm is pronounced “dram”)

  5. This was performed by Scinnhæleð. While the Heolseward were tasked with combating mystical crimes, not that they solved mystical crimes, that was the purview of Verdoemeniswag, their sworn rivals. Neither of which used magic in carrying out their duty, that fell to the Scinnhæleð.

  6. The Scinnhæleð accomplished this by summoning a particular demon called an, Ungeist, which sort of  “sucked up” the available magic in the area for a short time, sort of how downloading a video sucks up your bandwidth. This meant that anyone in the area who relied on magic during this time was out of luck, resulting in many people who were using magic to keep themselves alive dropping dead. Also, in order to appease the demon and send him back, a human sacrifice would have to be offered. This was determined by a system in which each day was divided up into increments and with each increment being assigned to a particular member of a unit so that if a demon was called and it occurred at a such and such a time, such and such a person would be sacrificed. The members of the Scinnhæleð had a pool where much effort was expended in calculating most likely day and times that such an occurrence would fall on.  And, like all office pools, was usually won by the person who put no thought into it.

  7. Depending on whether you calculated the number of stories in the building (8) or how many there should be had they built them to a standard height (6) instead of squeezing in two extra by shortening them

  8. Our minutes.

  9. 32,372 to be exact (not including villagers, serfs, slaves, non-humans, talking animals or trees)

  10. It was not strictly misogyny that prevented him from thinking of women as heroes. As he saw it, men were either villains or heroes, and women were either damsels or sirens, and he despised heroes and damsels.

  11. The one with either a similar set of skills, abilities, personality, gender, or ethnicity as the now deceased member, who thankful, had just then completed their personal journey.

  12. Take a look at your inbox and note how many urgents, importants, and musts you see.

  13. Hairy crocodiles with eight arms, obviously. Spiders with crocodile skin and teeth are Aracodiles.

  14. He’s getting struck left and right here!

  15. It was enchanted, but the voice recognition was spotty at best, especially because Stormpike hadn’t done the manufacturer recommended recognition tutorial.

  16. Technically, per Phobos’s design decrees, it was “Torment Red” (Pantone Solid Coated 7622 C) and “Ash Heap Black (Pantone Solid Coated 7540 C).

  17. Let’s face it, they’re essentially the same jobs.

  18. Grammar Tip! If a question can be answered with a “he” or “she”, use “who” (who gave you that? He did.) If it can be answered be a “him” or “her”, use “whom” (to whom did you give it? I gave it to him)

  19. The second most evil salute

  20. The imperial salute, signifying that all life and loyalty belonged to the Drodkip, even to the point of choking oneself to death.

  21. Although annoying to be on the receiving end, society would be the better if it were the default response to things, e.g. twitter.

  22. 3 under the desk, 7 IN the desk it spring loaded hidden compartments (only 3 of which were accessible from his  current position) 8 in the drawers (2 unsharpened) and the 17 on his person

  23. The numbers had been quickly exaggerated, despite the underreporting by the detachment that had suffered the losses.

  24. He had taken rhetoric in school.

  25.   A “Dun dun-dun!” sting was implied by his tone.

  26. And not just dramatic, but every form; pregnant, for effect, comedic, expectant, not to mention waiting a beat, eclipses, and the pause de resistance: people saying, “Wait for it”

  27. As if the author lacked an outline and was making this up as he went along

  28. known as the BlæcWache or BlackGuard (Phobos loved sticking words together with capitalization). Ironically, their uniforms were a gray/brown color because the MetodscæftWeard, the DeathGuard already wore black so they had to settle for a black Karakul style hat (the Karakul, is the hat made famous by Hamid Karzai, Former President of Afghanistan*. In our world, it is made from the  wool Qaraqul breed of sheep, often from aborted lamb foetuses. Seriously).

    *Not to mention by the First Doctor when Barbara and Ian first enter the TARDIS.

  29.   While a dead body could be just as dangerous to those below, the fact that they were deceased preventing them from making much of a noise (apart from a kind of soft “whoosh”). And by “dead” I mean dead-dead (as opposed to undead).

  30. And Eric Clapton’s apartment. (too much?)

  31. See Alan Rickman in “Die Hard”

  32. The darts were tipped with Goblin Puss, just the smell of which was enough to incapacitate some men (much like brussel sprouts)

  33. He reasoned that it best to run away from the brothel, and therefore, it must be behind him. However, as he had fallen backwards off the roof, he was now heading towards it.

  34. The Chiropteran Corps

  35. Velvet (naturally)

  36. There were no rules preventing women  bearing arms in service, but there was nothing specifically allowing it, either.

    There were statues that could be (and had been in the past) interpreted in such a way that could get any women who tried, killed.

    The important thing was that the system engendered doubt, anxiety, confusion, and most importantly, areas rife for corruption and backstabbing.

  37. Small animals were a different guild, both of which only operated within the Capitol. Other cities had two different guilds, and outside of cities was an entirely different system.

  38. Without the invention of the zipper, it was fairly elaborate, involving the unbelting of his sword, unfastening his hauberk, lifting his tunic and holding up the bottom in his mouth while he untied his trousers and wriggling out of them.

  39. A term some may object to as a slur against the Irish, and furthermore, as there are no Irish in this world, it’s anachronistic, therefore “Black Mariah” should be used instead. To this I say; If I were to use “Black Mariah” some may not know the term, and would therefore have to add a footnote, and those just interrupt the flow of the narrative

  40. Which required constant monitoring to maintain just the right ratio of rust, dust, and grease to achieve the sound and even then, the formula had to be tweaked for each individual door.

  41. Worse, while the implements were evenly spaced, there was no organizing principal that he could discern, whether shortest to longest, diameter, grouped by type (impact, extraction, bladed, seated, etc.). It was possible that they were arranged in order of usage, but he somehow doubted it.

  42. A poem consisting of the lethal dosage for every known poison and its time of effect, the Guild taught the Litany to every assassin (along with the ballad of the Throat Slitters which taught how to kill without sound) who found recited it to calm their minds and steady their hearts. Unfortunately the author (unknown) had played a little loose with the dosages and time of effect to maintain his rhyme scheme, so it wasn’t entirely accurate (not to mention attempting to rhyme “immolate” with “entreat” which can’t be done, in any accent)

  43. Semi-sentient, the cape was made from Demonsmoke, the vaporous remains of a demon killed by a silver blade during a blood moon by a virgin whose feet weren’t touching the ground. The vapors then had be be collected before they dissipated, but not by the virgin, whose purity repelled the vapors  like two magnets with the same polarity, but by an undead ghoul. Needless to say, it was incredibly expensive (It was also unbelievably hot and would start to stink after just a few wearings but it looked amazingly cool. We’re talking Batman in the Arkham video games cool here).

  44. It should be noted that Jacek had never witnessed real fearlessness.

  45. Partly because they had shown a weakness for possession and killing them prevented any similar occurrences, but mostly, cells were located in the bowels of the keep next to the abattoir and freeing them would require escorting them up miles of stairs.

  46. Serial Killers were relatively rare in Eorðe. When murder wasn’t a crime and psychopathic tendencies were prized by employers, government officials, and clergy alike (not to mention the opposite sex), serial killing couldn’t compete. But the ‘Crab Breath Slayer’ had achieved something of a following recently mostly because he targeted those coffee drinkers who don’t eat breakfast and have horrendous coffee breath. You know what I’m talking about, it’s kind of like salami steeped in burnt coffee and then poured over some potting soil.

  47. The substance translated as coffee was called slijm (or briodarnach if you wanted to sound fancy) was made from Bloodgrain Smut, a fungus that grew on the normally poisonous Bloodgrain (obviously). Highly caffeinated as well as slightly alcoholic, it tasted a bit like an espresso made with burnt beans with a shot of scotch and artificial cinnamon (like someone dropped a Hot Tamale in that dissolved in the cup)

  48. In fact, it didn’t even contain relevant information, Stormpike feeling it unwise to have any traceable evidence.

  49. The scroll contained an iteration of a bouillabaisse recipe he’d been trying much of his life to recreate. As a young man, Stormpike had killed a particularly annoying chef who nevertheless, had made the finest fish stew he’d ever eaten. Stormpike had obliterated his soul before he realized that the recipe only existed in his head. This current version was number 832. This version contained carrots and clam juice, so you know he was just grasping at straws at this point.

  50. The line was actually “beyond even death’s embrace“.

  51.   And with just a hint of cumin.

  52. The water being both cold and sweet while not technically a mixed metaphor, it’s hardly elegant, but it is what Stormpike thought, and were all about truthful characters here.

  53. But almost always was.

  54. A sceat (1φ) was worth 1/12th of a solidus (φ1). You’ll notice the only difference is one placed the “phi” in front and the other in back (The symbol for their money was the first character in Phobos’s name, which looked like the wink emoji ;), therefore “φ” has been substituted).

  55. Their coinage at this time was:

    Quarter Bodle (1⁄16φ)

    Third Bodle (1⁄12φ)

    Half Bawbee (1⁄8φ) Bawbee (¼φ)

    Halfsceat (½φ)

    sceat (1φ or φ12 )

    Threehalfsceat (1½φ)

    Twosceat (2φ)

    Threesceat or Tremissis (3φ)

    Doublesceat or Tremis’n Sceat (4φ)

    Scixceat (6φ)

    Solidus (φ1)

    Solidusisis (φ2)

    Half Aureus (φ2-1/6)

    Double Solidus or Plang (φ4)

    Aureus (φ5)

    Half Phob (φ6-2/3)

    Phob (φ23)

  56. Which in this world involved crossing the pinkie and ring finger. It helped that everyone was double jointed.

  57. Or at least his version of pleasant, which qualified as such only in the contrast from his normally unpleasant manner.

  58. Besides, he never really liked them. Phobos had kept a little notebook since he was a boy where he collected interesting words and cobbled Lord Stompike’s titles from various languages, living and dead (I’ve painstakingly translated them into their nearest “Earth-1” equivalent). His titles were; Lord Stormpike (duh), Voivode Vražda (both words meaning “Duke”), Kŭnędzĭ Druhtinaz (the one word evolving from the other, meaning “War-Chief”), Fraujaz de ne Gruwel Bloedhoek (three different languages smooshed together intended to mean “Lord of the Horrible Blood Corner” to commemorate the “Battle of the Blood Pits” but he thought “hoek” sounded cooler. Also, he didn’t know  the word for horrible “aaklige”, so he went with “horror” figuring it was close enough), Margrave van die Voosveldt (another three languages, meaning “March-Lord of the Putrid Lands”, but “Veldt” means field but “land” was the same in both languages and he thought “veldt” was the coolest and used it a lot. Note: By “Putrid Lands”, he meant everything outside city walls, meaning “nature”, Dúnmharú Tighearnais (Murder Lord), and Ceannasaí Cogadh (intended to mean “Lord of War”, but meant “Chief War”).

  59. These he like much better (except for the last one) Phobos had named him; The Blade Lord, the Devil’s Dragon, The Right Hand of Fear, Heaven’s Doom, The Night Herald, The Terror in the Dark, The Black Angel, and finally, Phobos’s Butt Boy (he didn’t want the accoladed to go to Stormpike’s head, so he threw that one in).

  60. Like my parents would never buy me at disneyland, but instead I’d only get the regular (and cheaper) rubber Mickey one with the ears (but only after we were finished because you can’t take it on the rides. Even though the only fun of a balloon is walking around with it, not riding in car with one. Also, I only got my initials on the Mickey hat, because it was cheaper. Not that an extra letter would have broken the bank, but it would have meant four extra letters for my sister.

    And yeah, I know, I got to go to Disneyland and get balloons and a hat, and some kids don’t even get that. And you know what I say to that? First of all I try to look at all people as equal, and I don’t feel it’s my place to make such distinctions and judgements, but if you go right ahead. Secondly, I can’t bring myself to use the less fortunate to make myself feel better. But the larger problem is that realize that such a suggestion inevitably leads to envy. Meaning rather than experience anything as the thing qua thing, the thing should be experienced based on the differences and distinctions between myself and other people? And if one looks at the less fortunate in order to appreciate a thing, doesn’t it follow that one will inevitably look at the more fortunate? What happens then? I’ll tell you; look at the world. Envy. Resentment. Entitlement. Stop comparing. Stop with the “think of the kids starving in Africa”, or “Do you know how well off you are”, or any of that stuff. Stop comparing, try taking things as they are and you may find you start taking people the same way).

  61. ex. The rest of this novel.

  62. The curse word he used would be a directly analogous to our “F-Word”, but I’m trying to bring back “What the deuce?”.

  63. Or trying to figure out the purpose of Ellen Page’s character in “Inception”.