Thursday, 28 October 2010

Chapter 11

Chapter Eleven 

The Tower of Caerlyons

The Inner Crown


5th Bell of the Morning 
2nd of October, 1341

Faversham’s words hung in the air for a moment. I cursed quietly and glanced at Tess, who frowned. I could almost see the cogs turning in her mind as she tried to think of a way out. 

"How many?" 

"Too many," Faversham replied. "At least a full squad. They're being led by a woman." 

Shit! "Let me guess. Short? Red-hair?" 

Faversham nodded and I suppressed a groan. "De Vayre. One of Gielding’s Runners. She's the one who arrested me." 

"A Runner?” Tess glowered at me. “And you didn’t think to mention that?” 

“I didn’t exactly have time.” 

“Can I buy her off?" 

I shook my head. "I doubt it. She doesn't seem like the type." 

"Well then. We'll just have to get you out the old-fashioned way." 

Without breaking her leisurely pace, she headed for the bookcase that we had used earlier on. Selecting the same book, she pulled down on it and stepped back as the hidden door swung open. She looked at me and Faversham. 

"Timothy, you will have to lead him down to the docking bay. I trust you got the papers I asked you for?" 

He nodded, a frown on his face. "What about you?" 

"I will handle them." 

"De Vayre isn't like most of Gielding’s agents," I warned her. "You might not be able to handle her as easily as you have in the past." 

"He's right," Faversham said. "I should stay, you go." 

"And give up these fine accommodations?" She shook her head. "I can handle a little Runner. If I were to leave openly, though, our dear Queen would have every magician in the country on my tracks. Now go." 

Faversham looked as though he were going to argue further, but years of serving Tess had taught him when to give up on an argument. I remembered what that was like. I stood up and followed him to the opening. He vanished into the darkness, but I hesitated, looking at Tess. 

"Be careful," I warned her. 

"I always am." 

I stepped past her onto the slippery stairs. Faversham had already vanished. 

"Oh and Daniel?" 

I turned back to face her. "Remember what we discussed. I want to hear back from you in three days or I swear, I'll help this de Vayre woman track you down myself." 

I smiled. "Good to see you again, Tess." 

She smiled back. "And you, my Daniel." 

As she stepped back into the room and pushed the book back into place, sending the hidden door swinging shut, I gave her one last wink and then began to make my way down the steps. 

Faversham was waiting for me a few steps further down, but as soon as he saw me he turned away. I followed him, trailing my hand along the moist wall to avoid tripping and falling in the dark. 

I lost count of how many floors we passed by the time we heard a scream from above. Both of us shared a wry smile - that hadn't been Tess’ voice. Moments later, though, the silence was broken by the cracking sound of metal against wood. 


I followed Faversham's advice and we raced down the slippery steps, somehow reaching the bottom without breaking our necks. Our flight ended at a door. With the sound of pursuing footsteps growing louder, Faversham brandished a key he had taken from his pocket on the way down. Opening the door, he pushed me through and followed me in. He slammed it shut behind him, locking it once more and settling a wooden bar over the brackets. 

I turned to see where we were - a docking bay, much like the one de Vayre had brought me to the day before. A boat lay at moorings at the bottom of a set of steps. The smell of the river filled the air. 

"You need an invitation, brother?" Faversham snapped me out of my thoughts. "Quit your gawping and help me unmoor her." 

I jumped into action as the door behind me rocked on its hinges, one or more of the Tower guards throwing themselves at it. Jumping down the steps, I leapt into the boat and began to lift the anchor that hung over the side, pulling on the chain. 

Faversham finished untying the mooring ropes and raced across the bay to a large wheel. He began to turn it, every muscle in his arms and back straining from the effort. The wheel jammed, then began to turn, lifting the grill between the bay and the river beyond. Behind me, the door into the bay shook. De Vayre’s men were determined. 

"Get ready to go," Faversham shouted. I nodded and grabbed both oars. Turning away from the door, I kept my eyes on that slowly rising grill. 

Precious seconds passed. Sweat soaked my shirt, sending shivers down my spine. The grill inched upwards, so slowly I wondered whether it would actually ever rise high enough. Finally, though, something gave in the chains and it shot up. I turned to see Faversham running towards me. 


"Not without you." 

"Go, you damned fool! There's no point in us both dying." 


"Get out of here." 

I realised that we were running out of time. Scowling, I pushed off with the oar. The boat slid through the water. I turned back. 

"You can still make it!" 

"Here!" He threw something, underarm. I followed its trajectory as it arced towards me through the air. It landed with a thump in the boat behind me. 

"What is it?" 

"Your way out!" 

I didn't have time to ask any further. As the current caught the boat and guided it out onto the river, Faversham turned to face the door. The wooden board gave out with a cracking sound and the door exploded inwards, followed by two guards. Faversham had hunkered down behind one of the stone pillars and as the guards climbed over the ruined door, he lifted his pistol, firing once. The pop-bang echoed through the enclosed space and I saw one of the guards go down, clutching at a wound in his neck. 

"He's getting away!" 

I recognised that voice. De Vayre. She peered through the shattered door, past three guards, her eyes boring into mine. I couldn't resist waving a salute at her as the boat vanished through the arch and out onto the river. 

I was away. Somehow, I had escaped. But Iwasn’t yet free. 

The river caught up the boat and swept me downriver towards the far side of the Inner Crown. I had a moment to decide what to do next. Allow the boat to carry me to the Wall? The only way out would be through one of the gates, and all of those were held by guards. If the alarm had already been sounded or de Vayre managed to get the word out, I would be finished, papers or not. 

So, the Wall was a bad idea. The only other option, though, was to abandon the boat and try my luck in the city. The Cordeliers side of the river would soon be swarming with de Vayre and her men. I glanced to the other shore. Arvinhal. 

It seemed insane, but that might just be what I needed. De Vayre would never expect me to try my luck in the palace grounds. And at least those guards wouldn't be looking for me specifically. 

The water looked frigid. Would I even be able to get all that way, weighed down by my clothes? 

Before I could decide one way or another, I heard shouts from the other shore. Goddess!  How did they get out of the Tower so quickly? Lights were spreading out along the shoreline, held up to illuminate the fast moving water. 

"There's the boat!" I heard a female voice cry. It could only be de Vayre. "Spread out." 

The lights started to bob faster and more erratically as the guards followed her instructions. Soon, they would have the whole shoreline covered. I would have no chance of making land without being seen. That made up my mind. I would have to risk the water. Hopefully, the current would carry the empty boat to the wall, keeping de Vayre focused on the other shore long enough for me to get away. 

Reaching back for the bag Faversham had thrown me, I gripped it securely before sliding over the side and into the water. 

The cold was like a million tiny nails against my skin. I took a deep breath and ducked my head under the water, hoping I was facing the right direction. With the bag in hand, I couldn’t use my arms and so I began to kick, praying my feet wouldn’t break the surface. 

The weight of my clothes exhausted me. My lungs burned. The river water stung my eyes, but I kept them open anyway, terrified that I would end up turned around and swimming back towards the Tower. 

When darkness flickered around the edges of my sight, I kicked upwards and broke the surface. I gasped loudly, unable to hold my breath in any longer. 

Bobbing in the water, I turned myself around. I had not gone far, but at least I had gone in the right direction. My teeth chattering, I remained where I was, kicking my legs to stay afloat. I waited to hear someone shout that I was in the water, that theywere going the wrong way, but no one did. As far as I could tell, de Vayre and her men were still following the boat. 

Turning, I swam more slowly towards the other shoreline. I tried to use my arms, but the heavy bag made it almost impossible. I thought about dropping it, but whatever Faversham had put in it had been important enough for him to throw it to me.

Every kick of my feet and sweep of my arms seemed like my last. More than once, the weight of my clothes dragged me beneath the surface and I came back up spluttering and coughing. Every splash and every gasp set my heart beating furiously, and I was convinced that any moment I would hear de Vayre’s shrill voice screaming that I was in the water. 

The scream never came and, although the far shore didn’t seem to be getting any closer for the first few minutes, eventually I felt my feet kick against the muddy river bed. I stubbed my toe on a rock, but the pain only served to wake me up a little. The ball in my stomach untangled slightly, giving me an extra burst of adrenaline. I closed the distance with the shore, reaching a series of steps that led up to the quay. I collapsed on the bottom steps, my head dropping to the cold stone. 

Drained, I just lay there. I’m going to stay right here, I thought. Right here is good. Great even. 

- Don't you dare. Lucan's voice sounded in my head. You got us in this mess, you'd better get us out of it. 

I groaned through chapped lips. Leave me alone, Lucan. 

- Do you want to die, you bastard? Lucan snarled. ‘Cause I sure as hell don’t. I didn’t survive my own death just to die because you have the stamina of an old woman. Now get up and move. 

- I hate you, I thought back.

Still, his words got through to me. I forced myself to my hands and knees, and started to crawl up the steps, wincing at every move I made. 

I collapsed again at the top, sprawling on my front. Lifting my head, I looked around. A small path speared through a tunnel of trees and bushes before me, leading to an ornate metal gate. A single light hung from a hook above, illuminating another path on the other side. The palace grounds.

With another effort, I crawled and staggered to the gate, collapsing with my arms around the bars. I glanced through into the shadowed grounds of the Queen’s castle. 

Arvinhal Palace lay before me, carved out of moonlight and flame. I could see every window, every door, every balcony and set of steps, illuminated by enough glowglobes to replace every star in the sky above. The well-lit grounds, sprinkled with the bright glitter of starlight on ponds and fountains, surrounded the palace – white glazed keeps and tapering towers, sweeping courtyards and bold battlements. The whole glowed like a fairy castle – trust me, I know. 

I cursed. Too much light. Making my way to the far wall without being seen would be difficult, if not impossible. The only good thing was that the guards would be just as visible to me.  

-          Quit complaining and get in there, Lucan growled.

-          You’re trying to get me killed.

-          If I wanted to do that, I would have told you to stay in the Tower with the Black Bitch.  

I dismissed him, concentrating on the grounds again. I could see shadows moving in the darkness, far enough away that they wouldn’t be able to see me. Gathering all my strength, I scrambled up the gate and over, dropping down on the other side. I pushed back against the wall, breathing heavily, my chest aching, and looked around to check if I had been seen. 

Once I had recovered my breath, I began to creep along the wall. A handful of times I passed other gates like the one I had climbed, set into the wall and lit by hanging glowglobes. I crawled past these as fast as I could, then stood and continued to edge around the ground’s wall. 

It felt like miles, but it must have been less. Once I stumbled over a stone, and twice I was forced to press myself against the stone as a guard passed through the trees a few feet away. Finally, though, I reached the corner where the wall of the palace grounds met the Inner Wall. On the other side lay the City-in-Between. Safety. 

I moved faster, my eyes darting off into the forest to make sure no one was near. A glowglobe appeared in front of me. A door. Finally. My fears faded. Until I saw a single guard stood to one side, his eyes scanning the darkness around him, a musket in his hands. 

Ss’blood! I crouched down, trying to lose myself amongst the shadows. I studied him – he seemed young and inexperienced, wiping his moist hands on his trousers every few minutes, juggling the musket from one to the other. That should work to my advantage. They obviously did not consider the door to be an important one. 

Closing my eyes, I took a few deep breaths. Opening them again, I waited for him to turn away from me, then rushed forward.

As I neared him, scuttling like a crab, he began to turn. I abandoned any hope of sneaking up on him and leapt to my feet, throwing myself across the remaining distance. He saw me out of the corner of his eye, spinning round. He tried to bring his musket up, his eyes wide with panic, but I barrelled into him. We both tumbled to the ground. 

An explosion tore through the silence. Dammit!  He had managed to get off a shot. The bullet went wild, exploding into the wall behind me. I flailed at his hands, striking him hard enough to send the musket skittering into the darkness. 

As I struggled with him, I heard distant shouts echo through the grounds. A hand fumbled at my arm, and I lashed out with my elbow, slamming it down into the boy’s gut. His breath erupted from his lips. I tried to scramble away. He had wrapped his legs around my middle, though, and he hung on like a limpet to the arse of a boat. 

Squirming, I caught sight of lights approaching through the trees. Ss’tits! The guards were almost on us. I had to get free of this fool. Turning around, I slapped at his face, hoping to shock him into letting go of me. 

My open palm struck him a glancing blow, once, twice. I felt him go limp. I struggled out from his grasp and stumbled to my feet, my whole body shaking. That’s when I saw the yellow droplets on his lips.

No, no, no! Shaking slightly, I glanced down at my hand, and saw the tear in my glove where I had fallen in the forest. My stomach dropped. 

I had stolen the poor sod’s soul. 

Cursing myself for a fool, I dropped to my knees. Fighting back the urge to retch, I undid his belt and tore the keys free. As I stood, a sharp crack broke the silence and a bullet tore shards from the stone wall beside me. 

Fumbling with the keys, I tried two before I found the right one. Pushing the door open, I felt something strike me from behind. The impact forced me around just as the guard’s soul engulfed me. I tumbled backwards, my mouth open, the soul engulfing me. I managed to kick the door closed and stay on my feet. 

As the guard’s death screams echoed in my head, I turned away from the wall, cradling my injured arm, and started to run.

Sunday, 24 October 2010


Hi all. 

A quick update. I will be participating in nanowrimo as of 1st november, so I'm going to change the posting schedule to once a week during that month, on Mondays, starting last week. :) 

So more coming Thieftaker will be coming tomorrow! 

Cheers for reading, 


Monday, 18 October 2010

Chapter 10

Chapter Ten

This time, I dreamt myself back to Naevcastel, where I walked the corridors of Tess’ house in the darkness. I could feel the eyes watching me, her fae servants following me as I passed, muttering and giggling to themselves.

We’re going to eat you, they whispered to me. You’re never going to leave this place alive. Run, little boy. Run away. A candle lit my way, the flame flickering as my hand shook. I walked on down the corridor anyway, trying to ignore the darkness that closed around me like a shroud. I needed to reach the door. I could see it, always just out of reach. If I didn’t reach it before the candle died, they’d have me. They’d eat me. I wanted to call out, to beg for Tess’ help… She won’t hear me. Even if she does, she’ll leave me to them. She doesn’t love me, not really… The candle began to sputter and die. I fell to my knees, waiting for the creatures to take me…

A chair, hard beneath me. I shivered, the cold touching me even beneath the thick woolen blanket wrapped around my shoulders. I blinked once, twice, trying to make sense of what I could see. Flames. Flames, roaring in a fire place. A fire place set into a white washed wall. Two chairs before the fire place. Tess. Sat in one of the chairs. Staring at me. Smiling. Holding a glass of golden light. Mercury.

Dressed in a long simple robe the colour of summer corn, the fur of some unknown animal lining the collar, Tess didn’t look any different to the last time I had seen her. For an instant, the fire light refracted through the glass in a broken caleidoscope of light, playing across the reflective surface of her mask and twining in her raven hair streaked with white. My first conscious thought was how old she looked. And what happens when she’s gone?

“Good evening.”

I blinked. “What?”

“Good evening. You’ve slept all day.”

I tried to make sense of that and then the memory of that morning came rushing back.

Without even realising it, I shoved aside the blanket and rose to my feet. Fury dulled the pain in my chest, filling me with added adrenaline. I took a step towards her, raising a hand as if to strike her. She just sat there, swirling the mercury in her glass and smiling at me. Anger flared again, wave after wave leaving me trembling.

“You… You…”

“Bitch? Monster? Witch? Sorceress? Whore?” She snorted. “Please, Daniel. You know the names people give me. I’ve earned every single one of them, with blood. So go on. Slap me. Punch me. Call me names. Let it out so that we can get on with what is important.”

Important?! Irsys’ nails, she really didn’t care. She had as much as raped me, forcing her magic on me so that I would be at her beck and call whenever she wanted. She had almost killed me with that spell, dragging me back to her against my will.

Part of my anger, I admitted to myself, was directed at myself. I had always answered those summons without question. And if you had known? That question surprised me. I forced myself to think about it. If I had known? If she had asked me before putting those chains around my chest? I knew the answer. You would have said yes. You would have said yes to anything back then.

That hurt more than the betrayal. If she had only asked me instead of forcing it on me, I would have agreed to let her wrap her hand around my heart and squeeze. I had loved her, back then. As a mistress. As a mother. As a lover.

Cast adrift by my own thoughts, I stumbled backwards and fell back in the chair. I felt as if I had been struck by a piece of driftwood. My chest ached, though whether from the physical scars of the summoning spell or from the revelation of her betrayal, I couldn’t tell. I would need time to make sense of it all. Now wasn’t that time, though. I hated doing it, but I nodded.

“What do you want?”

“That’s better,” Tess said, her voice soft. “I do need your help, Daniel. And if it can make you feel any better, I have removed the spell. I’ll use some more Justinian’s seeds to show you, if you don’t trust my word anymore. You’re free.”

I almost asked her to do it, just to spite her. Instead, I shook my head. I was tired of games.

“No. I trust you… for now. Just tell me what you want.”

Instead of answering me, she stood and walked over to a small table on top of which sat a glass decanter and two glasses. She looked at me, quirking an eyebrow. I hesitated. Did she want to confuse me? Dull my wits with alcohol? I decided that if she wanted to, she could just use her magic to do that. Besides, I hadn’t had a drink since the tavern where this had all started, and my body screamed for a taste. I nodded. She took her time pouring a glass of gold mercury, then brought it back to me. I forced myself to take a just a sip, as she returned to her own seat and sat down.

“I need you to reap a soul for me.”

I swallowed, and shook my head even before it had finished burning its way down my throat. I took another moment to enjoy the familiar sensation before speaking. “I told you five years ago, Tess. I’m done being your assassin. I reaped enough souls to last a lifetime on your say so. No more. You want someone dead, you’re going to have to use a knife.”

“I don’t want you to kill a man,” she said. “He’s already dead. I want you to find out how he died.”

I settled back in my chair, cradling my glass in my palm to warm the potent alchemycal brew. Then I just looked at her, eyebrow raised. I didn’t expect her to laugh.

“You’ll never change, my Daniel.” She sounded almost fond. “Still looking for reasons, after all these years? After all you saw? Even as a child, you always asked why.”

“Not reasons,” I said quietly. “Just truths.”

“You should know better than most, those are dangerous things. They rarely match what we were hoping for. In this case, though, I think that this should interest you.”

She reached into her robe, rummaging around in those innumerable pockets and finally drew out an object wrapped in a white linen cloth. She tossed it to me, then steepled her fingers, looking over them at me as I unwrapped it. I folded the fabric back to reveal a silver cross, the crossbar curved into a crescent moon. A stab of fear pierced my chest at the sight. I drew in a deep breath and looked up at her.

“A Purifier’s cross.”

"Have you been following their sect since…?" She trailed off, unwilling to finish the sentence.

I allowed my thoughts to wander for a moment. The Purifiers were a fanatical sect of the Panthionist cult. They blamed King Harold’s breaking with the “true” faith for the unleashing of the Great Change that had covered the Breton Isles in the Wyrding Wood. As far as they were concerned, our very survival angered the Many-Gods. An affront that could and must only be remedied by fire. And those were some of the least colourful claims. Such as the rumour that the Queen is the whore of Saeth, that she consorts with the fae King and goes to wild orgies in the Wyrding Wood.

I nodded.

“I have.”

"I've been hearing whispers for the past few weeks about a group of them entering the city by sea. Sent by the Lord High Inquisitor himself all the way from Roma. Benjamin has been keeping his little spies busy, looking for some sign of them. I’ve used a few of my more ingenuous disguises to infiltrate the courts, when I have been able.” Tess could be a very free prisoner when she needed to be. “But I’ve found nothing beyond the mad ravings of the last few priests left in the Dregs. Until now.”

She stood up, putting the glass down on the table. I watched her move across the room to a bookcase next to the fire. After studying the books for a moment, she selected one seemingly at random and pulled. I heard a click, followed by the dry rumble of alchemycal machinery behind. Coming to my feet, I followed her over, stopping a few feet away. The bookcase swung open, revealing a dark passageway redolent with the smell of musty dust.

Tess paused before passing through the door, lifting a silver candle holder from the mantel piece. I hesitated a moment as she stepped into the darkness beyond. Tess would not kill a man in dark passageways. If she wanted you dead enough to do it by her own hand, she would look in your eyes as she did it.

Now there’s a comforting thought. I hesitated a moment longer, then followed her into the darkness.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Chapter 9


Sorry for the delay in posting - my internet connection went down on Friday morning and I have just got it back up. I'll have a new chapter up tomorrow as usual.


Chapter Nine

Now alone, I crawled across the floor to the cot in the corner, trying to ignore the things that squelched beneath my fingers or crawled over my hands. The fever seemed to be getting worse, wracking my body with cold sweats and shakes. I climbed up onto the cot, groaning with every broken motion, until I lay down. My head span.

As I lay there, I tried to take stock of my situation. Not good. Locked in a cell in the most secure prison in the kingdom, I had been accused of murder, had a new soul rattling around in my head, and the summons from my mistress would probably kill me by the morning. Actually, the more I thought about it, the more that last seemed to be the silver lining.

I drifted for a time, the fever leaving me light headed. Sometime later, it forced me down into scattered dreams. In one, I ran through the tangle of branches and roots in the Wyrding Wood, chasing a hat that would not settle. In another, two reapers pursued me through the streets of Waenchester and I knew that they were coming for my soul. In a third, I wandered through the empty corridors of the Three-Eyed Goat, following Tess' disembodied voice.

When I came to, I don't know how many hours later, a woman stood at the end of my bed.

Lizzy. It had been months since her soul had come out of hiding. Left weak by the fever, I could only lie there and stare at the woman I had loved. The woman I had killed and whose soul I had stolen.

Covered in blood, she held her arms out towards me, her mouth moving silently. I moaned and tried to move away, but in my weakened state I could barely even lift a finger.

She drew closer to me. I felt a cold draft wrap around my body, giving me chills due as much to her presence as to my fever. She clambered onto the bed, her body moving with erratic, jumpy movement. Slowly, she started to climb up my body.

I lifted my head and watched her draw close. Soon, her face hovered above mine. She still wore the same terrified expression on her face as she had the day I killed her. Even up close, I couldn't read her lips enough to decipher what she was saying. Finally, she lifted her fist and made a knocking motion on my forehead. Then she vanished.

Moments later, I heard knocking.

I lay there, unable to move. The knocking came again. I mumbled for whoever had knocked to go away, I wasn't in any state to have visitors. Besides, the dogs were still playing cards in the corner. Or something to that effect.

The knocking came again, louder this time, and followed almost immediately by a cracking sound. I turned my head very, very slowly and saw the floorboards a few steps away crumble inwards. Out of the hole appeared a candle, followed by an arm, then a shoulder. Moments later, a man's face appeared. He seemed vaguely familiar, with half of his face hidden behind a leather mask, from beneath which grew half a head of dirty blond hair.

The man who lived beneath the floor grinned when he saw me.

"Welcome back, brother."

I opened my mouth to reply, but instead I vomited over the side of the bed.

Then I fainted. Again.


When I woke up, I was sat in a chair. Great waves of pain rolled over me, descending from my head down to my toes and then back up. Over. And over. And over. I started to shiver. I couldn’t move anymore than that. My head rolled back against the cushions. The fire beside me held back the cold from outside, but the cold inside my body left my teeth chattering and my knees trembling.

I heard a door open behind me. Moments later, Tess appeared behind the chair opposite. My eyesight wavered, and the mirrormask she wore over her face seemed to ripple like water. Only her eyes were visible, green as the Slate Sea in the summer, but holding the cold passage of time locked in them like some ancient creature frozen in amber. At that moment, though, they were filled with fear and panic.

“Daniel? What is it?” She looked past me at the man who had appeared from below the floor of my cell, and who now towered above my chair. A man I now recognised. Faversham. Timothy Faversham. “Timothy? You didn’t tell me it was this bad.

Faversham shrugged. “I told you he was sick.”

“Oh by the… He’s going into a summoning trance. I knew I shouldn’t have used so much borbol oil in the blood mixture… We’re going to have to do something. Daniel, this is going to be very painful. Timothy, hold him.”

I doubted I could have broken his grasp even if I had been well, so Faversham easily wrapped his arm around my upper body, holding me trapped against the chair. Tess leaned forward and suddenly a knife appeared in her hand.

A low shout bubbled up from my throat and my eyes widened. Tess ignored me, cutting up the middle of my shirt, slicing it in two so that it fell away on either side.The cold night air bit into my skin. Moments later, the knife did as well. A single pin prick, followed by a droplet of blood that rolled down my chest and settled in my navel.

Please. I tried to plead with her in my head. Please. I don’t want to die. Not like this.

I tried to tell her, but again only a murmur escaped my lips. She reached into her dress and pulled out a vial of blue liquid. Golden dust swirled inside the bottle like a dance of stars, drawing the eye. When she pulled out the stopper, a smell of burnt grass and charred earth filled the room.

“What is that?” I managed to say, voice strained and foreign to my ear.

“A little water of Lethe mixed with Justinian’s seeds. It should reveal the spell work on your chest.”

The what? I wondered before she tipped the bottle upside down and let the liquid wash down over my bared chest. I screamed as the potion stung my flesh, the little golden seeds sticking to my skin and beginning to burrow into my flesh. As they vanished beneath the surface, lines began to appear on my chest, complicated patterns that swirled and dove and bloomed in blacks and blues and purples. After a few moments, a whole complex set of tattoos had appeared on my body, each one burning like a line of fire.

“What the fuck is that?” I choked out.

Tess refused to meet my eye. She gritted her teeth, sweat beading her forehead. In all the years I had known her, I had never seen her surprised or shocked or ruffled. Until now. Now, she looked absolutely terrified.

“How did you think I summoned you?” she snapped. “I had this put on you when you were a child, Daniel. I had no other choice.”

Something inside me broke. “You did what?” I screamed at her. Or tried to. “Who the fuck gave you the right?” She winced and Faversham tightened his hold on my shoulder. I didn’t care. Adrenaline raced through my body, giving me a little extra strength. I struggled against Faversham’s bonds. If I had gotten free, I think I might have torn her throat out. How could she? How dare she?

“The right?” Her mouth tightened. “No one gave me the right. I took it. After I saved you! Remember that? If it hadn’t been for me, you would have been sold to some slaver who would have had you bending over for some nobleman. I gave you a life.” She waved a hand. “This has gone on long enough. Ben, hold him down.”

I spat and cursed at her as Faversham complied, both arms wrapping around my upper body again like steel snakes.

“You bitch. I’m going to kill you!”

She scowled, muttering to herself as she began to rummage in her robes. She searched through hidden pockets, feeling at bottles then shaking her head. Finally, she lifted out a dark green bottle, the liquid inside shining with a silver light. I heard Faversham gasp when he saw it. My own eyes widened and I shut my mouth with a clap.

“Is that…” Faversham asked.

“Nightshayn. One of only three bottles. And now I have to waste it on him!” She looked at Ben. “Hold him very tightly. This is going to hurt.”

Before I could take that in, she pulled the cork and poured a good half of the bottle on my chest. The pain was… indescribable. A distant part of my mind imagined it felt like this to have someone peel your skin off layer by layer with a fine knife and then pour vinegar on the wounds. I screamed and screamed, my body going into uncontrollable spasms. At some point, Faversham let go of me. I found myself on the floor, looking up through teary eyes. My whole body burned, the lines of fire centred on the tattoo. Even when I had no more breath, I continued to scream in my head.

Finally, blessedly, the darkness closed in. I found myself falling away, away, away…

Monday, 11 October 2010

Chapter 8

Chapter Eight

As I had expected, the journey through the Crown-in-Between lasted for less than a bell, not including the time it took to see us through the Watergate, past the Inner Wall and back out onto the Groan. Once past the gate, the river changed around us - the magical cleansing of the water as it passed beneath the Inner Wall held back not only the last vestiges of the fae magic that poisoned the earth outside, but also the more mundane human waste - excrement, sewerage and dead animals. 

By the time we passed through the Queen’s Gate, I was switching between hot and cold every few moments and my shivers were becoming noticeable. My eyes began to scan the river bank to my right for a first glimpse of the Tower. I needed to get to Tess. 

Located on the very edge of Cordeliers, the Tower squatted over the river like a massive frog, casting deep shadows over the surface of the river. All of the privates palaces and houses we passed paled in comparison. Eighteen towers formed the complex, each one connected or separated from the others by two curtain walls. And every tower housed prisoners of the state, incarcerated there by the Lord Justice. 

As we drew closer, de Vayre’s man climbed into the back, settling next to the rudder. He began to guide the barge towards one tower in particular, and when I saw which one, I felt a surge of relief. Godling’s Tower. The Traitor’s Gate. Only one person had entered through that gate and lived. And luckily for me, she still resided within the Tower’s walls. 

As the barge pulled up to the gate, I began to hear the thrumming of machines, vast alchemycal devices designed by the Royal Society. Like most of the other machines installed throughout the Inner Crown, they drew their power from vast iron steam engines buried beneath the surface and surrounded by iron plating to protect them from magic’s effects. These machine pumped water from the Groan up to the top of the White Tower, providing running water for the noble prisoners. 

The gate creaked open as we drew closer and I glimpsed two guards waiting on the edge of the pool inside. Glowglobes reflected off the skull and moon clasps that kept their cloaks closed, and the drawn swords they held in their hands. 

Within a few feet of the gate, the current caught us up and began to draw us in. The oarsmen lifted their oars, stowing them in the brackets at their side in a single fluid motion. I closed my eyes as the gate drew nearer, preparing myself for what I feared came next. With a roar of running water, we burst through the gate and onto the small pool. 

I opened my eyes to see de Vayre’s man toss a rope to one of the two guards, who caught it out of the air and began to draw us in. De Vayre stood as we reached the edge of the pool, her gun trained on me. 

“Get up.” 

“I’d rather not.” I curled up in a ball, my back aching and my every muscle tense. “It’s really quite comfortable in here.” 

She cocked back the hammer. “Please. Just give me an excuse to use this.” 

Sighing, I stumbled awkwardly to my feet, swaying as the boat bumped against the steps. De Vayre waved her gun. “You first.” 

I walked past her and stepped off onto dry land. I felt light headed, and everything appeared througha  haze. Climbing a few steps, I reached a wide stone landing surrounded by a wall separating us from a courtyard and Godling’s Tower itself. I stood there, waiting for de Vayre and her man to join me, staring into space. 

The soldiers stood at attention as de Vayre and I filed past them and up. We passed through the door and out into the wide cobbled courtyard. The door banged behind us, carrying a sombre tone. 

“Come on,” de Vayre said, pushing the barrel of her gun in between my shoulder blades. 

I turned and scowled at her, then took a few faltering steps, barely needing to exaggerate my lack of balance. Off to one side stood the winged form of a godling. I pretended to stumble, my feet slipping on the cobbles. Reaching out as if to catch myself, I pressed my hands to the cold stone face of the godling and prayed that Tess’ magic still worked. 

De Vayre’s man reached down and grabbed me, lifting me back to my feet. He turned me around to face him, then smacked me across the face. “Don’t do that again.” 

Thrusting me out in front of him, he pointed his gun at my face. “Now walk.” 

I turned and started to walk across the courtyard towards a doorway cut into the tower stone. Had I actually seen the light flare in the godling’s eyes or had I had imagined it? I prayed the light had flared; if so, I might actually get out of this. If it hadn’t… 

Once through the door, we marched down a series of steps that spiralled into the underground heart of Godlings’. De Vayre and her man herded me down, flight after flight passing us by. Finally we arrived in a small circular chamber with a heavy wooden door on the other side. 

A gaoler sat at a broken table, eating nuts and spitting the shells at three mice who sood on their hindlegs in the shadows, peering at him with tiny pink eyes. He looked up at us as we arrived and farted. 

“What do you want?” 

“Prisoner for the cells.” 

“No more room.” 

De Vayre’s man sighed and pulled out a coin that he flicked through the air. The gaoler caught it in one fat hand, squeezing it between his fingers, then pocketed it. Dragging a leather bound log book across the table, he picked up a pencil and dabbed it on his tongue. 

“Name?” he asked, looking at me. 

By now I could hardly make a coherent sentence in my head, let alone out loud. De Vayre nodded to her man, who darted forward, pushing me back against the wall,. I banged my head against the stone, almost blacking out again. He leered at me as his hand reached into my coat, seizing on my leather wallet. Pulling it out, he glanced at my papers, then snorted. 

“Damn it all to hell! He’s a bloody thieftaker!” 

“Let me see that!” 

De Vayre stepped forward, accepting my papers from the tattooed man. She rifled through them, then looked at me. “You work for the Lord Justice?” 

I bowed my head, dropping my knee and almost collapsing on the floor “Daniel Therwood, at your service.” I slurred the words ; my tongue felt three times too thick. 

The gaoler noted the information down on his ledger while de Vayre stared at me. Finally, she sneered. “I always knew you thieftakers were bad news. At least now I’ll have some proof for the Lord Justice.” 

Her tattooed man dragged me back to the middle of the room, while with a heavy sigh, the gaoler picked up his lamp and struggled to his feet. 

“Come on then.” 

Limping slightly, he led us over to the door, pulling a set of keys from one dirty pocket. Sniffing, he turned one of the keys in the lock and herded us through, holding the lantern up to light the way. The mice watched us go. 

The wet stone beneath my feet smelled of piss. Every so often, huge metal doors appeared in the circle of light, each one leading to a different cell. With de Vayre’s man in front of me and de Vayre herself behind, I had no choice but to follow them to the door at the furthest corner. 

The gaoler stopped in front of the door and looked at de Vayre’s man, who nodded. Grinning, the gaoler pulled out a second set of keys, selecting one and turning it in the lock. Pulling the door open, he sniffed the air, then grinned at me. 

“Go on then. Put him in.” 

De Vayre had come up behind me and she stuck me in the kidneys with her pistol. I grunted, stepping forward until I stood in front of the cell. The overwhelming smell of shit and overpowering heat put me in mind of a chamber pot someone had left simmering on a fire. I took a step back, but the gaoler pushed me forward with one meaty hand. I tripped over my own feet, tumbling to the floor. My face hit the wooden boards, pain erupting along my sinuses. 

I rolled over and saw de Vayre stood in the doorway. 

“I’ll come back to see you tomorrow, Therwood. We’ll see how much you really know about the Ghost,” she spat. 

I opened my mouth to make some witty rejoinder, but she stepped back. The gaoler slammed the door. I heard the sound of the lock and the darkness closed in. 

I was trapped.

--> Chapter 9

Friday, 8 October 2010

Chapter 7

Author's note:

Well, it has been almost two weeks now that I have been posting this story here and I can see from the stats (and the comment) that there are people reading.  So this is a Hiya to all of you. Thanks for joining this little adventure, I hope you are enjoying this. If you are, please don't hesitate to leave a comment, I promise I will respond promptly. 

Chapter 7 is our first real introduction to the city of Caerlyons, the main city in this story. Most of the rest of Daniel's misadventures will occur in or very close to the city. That's why I have him explain a little about what Caerlyons is and why it is known as the City of Three Crowns. 

Thanks again for reading, 



Chapter Seven

The first thing I heard when I came to were the echoing sounds of water lapping against wood and the snake-like sound of a chain rubbing against metal. 

I opened my eyes. In the dim light of a dozen hanging storm lantern, I saw was what appeared to be the curved rib cage of some strange animal rising above me. Why are there storm lanterns hanging from a set of ribs? I frowned at the sight, trying to remember how I had gotten here. Just as I recognised the ribs as being the inner beams of a ship, my memory returned. The fake maid in the inn and the pistol butt to the back of my head. I grunted. I must be in the Dregs. Perfect. 

Lifting my head, I caught a glimpse of the red-haired bitch who had shot me, eyes fixed on my face, gun aimed squarely at my crotch, before a wave of nausea made me vomit over the side. I watched the rest of my supper float away in a mess of chunks and bits and bile. My whole body was shaking. Dammit all to hell! The damned summoning spell was starting to have an effect. With a groan, I managed  to drag my head back. 

"Feel better?" 

"Not really,” I croaked. The inside of my throat felt as if someone had rubbed it with a handful of sand. 

"Good,” the woman snapped.

 I smiled wanly. What wit. "Where are we?” 


I managed to lift my head again, without throwing up this time, and turned it slightly to look out across the water. My captor’s boat lay at anchor in the middle of a hollow created by an upside down frigate. A handful of other small ships - boats, barges and pinnaces – dotted the water around us. 

The frigate’s corpse narrowed to a point a few metres in front of me, the end sawn off to reveal a wall. A strange ethereal light flickered from within the blood red stone. My eyes fixed on a large gateway, the arch and its two copper doors filigreed with blood-silver faces, gargoyles with their mouths wide open to 'gobble' any fae that tried to enter the city. 

Great, I thought at the sight of Gobblers’ Gate. The Tower lay less than a bell’s boat ride further down river. Fantastic. 

I looked back at the woman. She scowled at me. For the first time I noticed that five men sat in the boat behind her – four laborers manning the oars, and the huge tattooed man in a cloak, still holding his pistol. The bastard who had clocked me. Despite an impending sense of doom, I forced a smile just to piss her off. 

"You do realise you're making a huge mistake?" 

"Please!” She rolled her eyes. “Don't bore me with your threats. The Ghost's men have been trying to scare me off for months." She leaned in towards me and suddenly a knife appeared in her hand. "I don't scare easy." 

I glanced down at the knife, which she just happened to be holding right in front of her ample breasts, placed on beautiful display by her plunging neck line. My smile widened. "I can see that." 

She saw where I was looking and gritted her teeth. She lifted her hand to slap me, but before she followed through, one of the men manning the oars spoke up. 

"There’s our opening, Ms de Vayre." 

Finally, a name to go with the face. I wracked my brains and tried to remember if I had ever heard the name before, but I came up blank. De Vayre obviously saw me trying, though. Scowling, she turned and cuffed the man. 

"What did I tell you? No names!" 

Though the man mumbled a vague apology, he glared at the back of her head the moment she turned away. De Vayre seemed to have a way with people. 

Despite her anger, she waved the barge forward. While one of the men lifted the anchor, the others dipped their oars into the water and began to propel us forward. Slipping between two larger boats carrying large piles of foreign wood for the Arsenal, we approached Gobblers’ Gate. 

Two rafts floated on either side of the gate, carrying three or four men decked out in the Wall Guard's orange and white uniform. Waving us to a stop between both floating platforms, one of them stepped closer, almost overturning his raft. His companions scrambled to correct the change in balance, glaring at him. 

"Name and business," the guard asked, his tone of voice bordering on the depressive. 

De Vayre’s tattooed man spoke up. 

"Runner’s business. You don't need our names." 

A Runner? I glanced at de Vayre again. I had heard of the Runners - the Lord Justice’s latest pet project. Former thieftakers for the most part, they had received special training and judicial powers, able to investigate any crime and bring anyone in for questioning. Even a nobleman. If de Vayre was a Runner, I was in more trouble that I had thought. 

The guard perked up a bit at the news. He peered more closely at the barge, taking in de Vayre, the oarsmen and me. 

"What you doin' with him?" 

"Taking him in for questioning. To the Tower." 

That seemed to give the man pause. He glanced behind at his companions for support, but they all looked elsewhere. He turned back to face de Vayre's man, his adam’s apple bobbing as he swallowed hard. 

"Uh... You got papers?" 

Rolling his eyes, de Vayre's man pulled a leather wallet from his jacket, handing it over to the guard. I clearly heard the clink of coins rolling around inside. The guard did as well, because his eyes lit up and he hugged the wallet to his chest. 

After emptying the coins into a pocket, he glanced briefly at the papers, then handed the wallet back. "These seem in order. You're free to go." 

Turning, the guard banged on the copper gates. Moments later, a series of clicks echoed through the enclosed space, followed by a deep metallic groan. The gates swung inwards and the current carried us through and into the city. 


A century before, de Vayre and her men could have carried me into Caerlyons in a carriage, over land down the old King's Road. That all ended the day Jon Marwood drowned the city to save it. 

Now the only way in lay over sea through the Outer Crown, also known as the Dregs, a hodge-podge of boats and frigates, rafts and jetties tied to the Outer Wall. Roping anything that could float to the things around it, they had created a constantly shifting shanty town. The Dregs had their roots in the bilges and cargo bays beneath the planking, and their branches in the ropewalks that stretched between mast and rigging. 

Once through the Seawall, for those few lucky enough to cross that threshhold, lay the Crown-in-Between. Freetown. A city of contrasts, where mud tracks meet cobbled streets amidst a confusing jumble of theatres and churches, market places and whorehouses, taverns and cemetaries. 

In the very centre of the city, secure behind the Inner Wall, the Inner Crown spread out across three islands split by two artificial rivers, the Groan and the Miradore. To the west lay the slopes of Caerlot, the Old City, overlooked by the golden towers of the Gyldencrest Magisterium. In the centre sprawled the labyrinth of Cordeliers, gold and silver streets paved with marble and smelling of spices. And to the east sat  the palatial wonders of Arvinhal, home to the blood and the nobility, nestled in the crook of the Inner Wall and the river Miradore. 

Caerlyons. The City of Three Crowns. My home for the past thirteen years, the place I had returned to a thousand times. 

Never as a prisoner, though.

--> Chapter 8

Monday, 4 October 2010

Chapter 6

Chapter Six

I jerked my hand away as if I had been burned, then froze, hardly even daring to breath.

The knocking came again. Ss’blood! Why now? I hesitated, wondering whether to just ignore it. When the knocking came again, louder this time, I realised that I would have to answer or risk whoever it was waking the whole inn.

Taking a deep breath, I pulled the door ajar and peered out. One of Langwin's maids – the same one who had served me the drink downstairs – stood there, red hair tumbling over her plunging neckline, her hands twisting her apron into a ball as she bit at her bottom lip.

"What?" I snarled.

The girl simpered and shrank away. She dropped her eyes to the floor. "I... I need to check your room, milord." She curtsied.

"I'm sleeping. Go away."

I went to close the door, but her hand darted out and stopped me, palm slapping against the wood. I looked at it, then at her, in surprise. I caught a glimpse of something hidden in the back of her eyes, then she smiled, revealing two dark gaps between her yellowing teeth.

"Please sir,” she whined. “It’s just we've had a vanishing and Master Langwin will have my ear if I don't do what I'm told."

A vanishing? Dammit. It couldn’t be a coincidence – someone knew about the dead man. I needed to find some way of stalling the search until I could get out. Putting on my sternest expression, I snarled. “I don’t care about Master Langwin. You tell him I’m sleeping.”

She shook her head. “Oh no, sir, he won’t allow that. Master Oaksgrave is one of his good friends and he wants us to check every room until we find him. I have to look in your room.” She started to push, her arm surprisingly strong as she tried to force me back and get the door open.

Oaksgrave. At least I had a name to go with the scream. Still, this little snippet was getting on my wick. Since I obviously wasn’t going to get rid of her, I did the only thing I could. Wrenching the door open with one hand, throwing her off balance, I reached forward with my other hand and grabbed her by the shoulder, dragging her inside.

Once she was in, I spun her around and pulled her back against me, one arm wrapping around her waist while my free hand clutched at her mouth. I felt her take a breath to scream and tightened my grip.

When her eyes fell on the old man's body, a soft sob escaped her lips.

"I'm not going to hurt you, you hear me?” I whispered in her ear. “This isn't what it looks like. If you promise not to scream, I'll let you go."

I felt her head bob against my chest as she nodded. I was taking a huge risk, but I knew that I couldn’t carry her out of the inn and make my escape, not without bringing half of the town down on me. Slowly, my whole body tense in case she decided to test my resolve, I pulled my hand away from her mouth.

She didn't scream. Instead, a low moan escaped her lips and her body started to go limp. At first I thought the fool girl had fainted, but as I gently allowed her to drop, she fell to her knees. I saw her shoulders begin to shake and heard her murmuring. Her hands fell into her lap and she started to play with her apron again. When I heard what she was saying, I rolled my eyes. She was praying to the Goddess for protection.

I left her where she was and went to the door, peering out into the corridor to make sure no one had been attracted by the noise. To my relief, it was empty. Closing the door as softly as I could, I turned back to find the girl on her feet. There was no sign of tears in her eyes. Instead, she held a pistol in her hand, pointed at my head.

I have to admit, my reactions weren’t what they used to be. I was so surprised that I froze, frowning. "What do you think you’re…"

"Shut up." Gone were the simpering tones of the maid, replaced by something altogether colder and harder and brimming over with anger.

I did as I was told, snapping my mouth closed. I followed her with my eyes as she stepped back, her own eyes never leaving mine until she reached the bed. She glanced down, then her hand reached out blindly and she fumbled at the man's neck. When she found the place where his pulse should have been, she pressed her fingers against the cooling skin. After a moment, she cursed again.

“Do you have any idea what you’ve done?” she demanded as she took a step towards me, cocking the pistol. As if from a distance, I recognised it as a Two-shot Jack. Not that she would need more than two bullets considering how close we were to one another.

"How much is he paying you, you bastard?"

I shook my head, lifting my hands. "Listen lady, I don't know what you're..."

"Don’t lie to me! I know the Ghost sent you!” She scowled. “Ss'blood, you've ruined everything! Six months of work, gone. Do you have any idea how long it has taken me to get any kind of a lead on your boss? Not that you care."

She took a deep breath, glaring at me. "I’ll just have to make the best out of it, I guess. I’d been hoping to trap the Ghost himself, but you’ll have to do instead.” She smiled, looking like a cat who has a mouse trapped between her paws. “I'm sure a few days in the Tower will loosen your tongue."

The Tower! This was getting out of hand. I needed to do something and fast. I glanced at her gun again, then took a step towards her. Her finger tightened on the trigger.

"Stop right there."

Slowly, carefully, never taking my eyes off her finger, I raised my hands higher and moved one step closer. "Listen, we don’t have to do it this way. I’ll tell you everything I know." Another step.

"I said, don't move."

I ignored her, my eyes still fixed on her finger, stepping a little closer. Only a few steps remained. I was taking a hell of a risk, but I had no other choice. Keep her distracted. I forced myself to keep on talking, not really paying any attention to what I was saying. “Please, this isn’t what it looks like. If you’ll just listen…”

Her finger twitched a moment before she pressed the trigger. It wasn’t much of a warning, but it was just about enough. I acted on instinct, leaping towards her instead of away as she had obviously expected. Her aim was high, but I felt the bullet graze my forehead with a flash of red fire before I was on her.

Gravity did the rest. We tumbled to the floor. Acting more from instinct that anything else, I clocked her, my fist catching her on the cheek. There was no strength behind it and the blow did little more than stun her. I didn't waste any time checking exactly how dazed she was, though - scrambling to my feet, I darted for the door.

The corridor was quiet and empty. I wondered vaguely why – if Langwin had ordered a search for Oaksgrave, there should have been more people about. Still, I wasn’t one to refuse small mercies. As fast as I could, I ran to the stairs, heading down to the common room. My head throbbed from the alcohol and whatever else had been slipped into my drink. Someone must have drugged me in order to slip the old man’s body into my bed. Why, though? And more importantly, who?

Down in the common room, the fire had died out, leaving nothing more than embers. The place looked dark and deserted, like one of those homesteads you sometimes find out in the Woods, abandoned by the people who had once lived there during the Change, and yet strangely untouched by the forest itself.

I darted right, throwing my shoulder into the door between the common room and the kitchen. I heard a snap of wood as the lock gave way and then I was stumbling through. I passed tables and cupboards in a blur of shadows. By the time I reached the door outside, my breath was coming in great heaving gasps.

The door was locked, and much heavier than the one between the kitchen and the common room. I had as much chance of breaking it down as I did of swimming all the way back to the city from here. My eyes scanned the nearby tables, looking desperately for something that I could use to pick the lock. A wooden fork hung from a hook on the wall, so I snapped off one of the tines, my ears pricked for any sign of movement from upstairs. If that red-haired bitch called for help, I would be done for. Nothing but silence. So far.

- Hurry it up, Daniel.

I dropped to my haunches, ignoring Lucan’s reminder and inserting the pick in the lock. I could hardly see anything, the only illumination the moonlight filtering through two windows set into the wall high above me. Sight wouldn’t help me anyway. I forced myself to take a deep breath and then hold it, the only sound the hammering of my heart. I pressed my ears against the door, listening as I twisted my self-made lock pick. A click as it caught on the lock, then slipped away. Biting back a curse, I tried again. This time the pick held and I heard a louder clack. Letting my breath out in an explosion of air, I twisted the handle and pushed the door open.

A man stood in front of the door, legs spread, one hand on the hilt of a dagger while the other held a pistol pointed at my forehead. This was no Two-Shot Jack, it was a proper pistol, probably an officer’s weapon. I stalled, just staring at him.


The man had a northern tang to his voice. His face was weathered and covered in tattoos, as was the little amount of skin I could see on his arms and chest. He smiled, his cold grey eyes glimmering silver in the moonlight.

I didn’t answer. The tattooed man waved the gun, indicating that I should step away from the door and place my back against the wall. I did as I was told. From behind me, I heard hurried footsteps and a moment later the red-haired bitch came barrelling out into the cool night air. When she saw me, held at gunpoint by the tattooed man, she stopped.

“You bastard,” she rasped. I tried not to smile at the bruise growing on her cheek.

“You lost him,” the tattooed man said.

“He took me by surprise,” the red-haired bitch replied, scowling at him.

He didn’t say anything, but the slightly raised eyebrow said enough. The red-haired bitch growled under her breath, then turned to me.

“That was a stupid thing you just did.”

I shrugged. “Not if I’d gotten away with it.”

She stepped closer. “But you didn’t, did you?” She looked up at me and smiled. “And I promise you, you’re going to regret it.”

I sensed the tattooed man stepping up behind me a moment before the butt of his pistol came crashing down on the back of my head. I just had time to see the red-haired bitch smile before I blacked out.

-> Chapter 7