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The river Rune flowed wide and straight through the heart of Manderia. A long, green boulevard followed it, bounded on the river side by a wide stone wall with tall black streetlamps set into the stone. Merrick and Tabby were approaching the massive stone arch of Eastbridge, the gateway between the river and the harbour. Merrick could see the blue line of the sea, somewhere beyond.


"I lived by the harbour when I first came here," Tabby said. "I thought I wanted to be a sailor."


"And you didn't?"


"No, sir. I wanted to do something dangerous. And I loved the sea."


"Doesn't everybody?"


Merrick's voice was thoughtful, distant. Tabby looked over and noticed, for the first time, that the older man's eyes were the same color as that line of blue on the horizon.


"You like the sea, sir?"


"Very much," Merrick said. "Since the day I was born." He let his gaze linger a moment longer, then turned to Tabby. "You called me out here for a reason, sergeant. No, not sergeant. That doesn't matter. Tabby. What is it you need to tell me?"


"Is this the best place, sir?"


"As good a place as any," Merrick said, and now Tabby could hear the thin strand of impatience in his voice. "No one watching or listening here. No walls to put your ears to. Now tell me, lad. What's in your head that's got you so worried?"


"You said something earlier, sir."


"Did I?"


"Yes, sir. You said we were watchmen."


"So we are."


"Yes, sir. The others- the others you met- and I, we...I shouldn't like this to leave us, sir."


"You have my word."


"We've been watching, sir. We...we made a list of who can't be trusted. We know who they work for, sometimes. While most- not Captain Auristen, sir, don't think that- while most have been turning a blind eye, we've been watching and writing down, and remembering. Just in case the time came where we can do something about it. Do you understand me, sir?"


"Very well," Merrick said. "And it may comfort you to know that Auristen came to me for just that purpose. At least, I think he did...that's why some members of the Rogue's Guild are joining the watchmen. Auristen needs the help to channel the City Watch into something worth supporting. I've known folk like him before, He knows what he wants, and what he believes in, and will search for it his entire life. In this case, however, we might actually have a chance..."


"Yes, sir?"


"Hmm? Sorry. Like I said, we might have a chance," (if I throw in my lot) "But the likelihood of coming to harm for it is good. Is that something you and your friends are willing to sacrifice?"


"Yes, sir. Our safety and our lives, if necessary."


"Let's hope it won't be."


Merrick understood, then. He saw himself through Tabby's eyes, and was ashamed. This is how he thinks of me. This pillar of justice. This capable man. I dread the day when I prove him wrong.


"Tell me, Tabby. Of your list, how many do you know, for certain, take no bribes from anyone?"


Tabby barely hesitated. "Sixteen, sir."


Merrick supposed he must have looked shocked, because Tabby said quickly: "We haven't finished the list, sir, and we don't know about some. There may be more. There may be."


Merrick grinned. "Tabby," he said. "Sixteen is far more than I would have believed. With sixteen honest men and women, I could conquer half the city. With the compliment of Rogues coming, I could finish the other half. We really might have a chance."


Tabby's long, red-bearded face broke into a smile- for the first time since they had met- and it warmed Merrick's heart.


Oh, my traitor heart.



It was under cover of night that the stranger came into the city. He was seen by no one of importance, and his passage was not marked. He passed the gates like a shadow of past travellers, and made his way up quiet streets. His hooded cloak was not black as Mikal's had been, but the gray no-color of stone at night. When he stood still, he seemed to disappear into the murky darkness. Very soon, he left the main streets, and made his way into the alleys.


He followed many paths, and came before long to the doors of a guild. Black, they were painted, and scrawled upon them was the flowing, blade-like rune of the Assassins. They stood closed, but two figures could be seen on the narrow path leading up to the entrance. One was tall, elvish, and proud. The other was pale as a ghost, clothed in ivory silks and white boots.


"Hail," said Spectre.


"Hail," said Talon.


The stranger did not respond, but threw back the hood of his cloak, and returned the gazes of the guildmasters.


Talon was old, and wise, but even he felt a chill as his eyes met those of the strange man in the soot-colored cloak. That they were the yellow rings of animal eyes was only incidental. This man bore all the marks of being human, but looking into his eyes, Talon saw something alien and terrible looking back.


The stranger's eyes did not waver. He waited.


"You've come, then," Spectre said.


The stranger said nothing.


"We've heard rumors of you. We are honored to have your services."


Nothing.


"You will honor your contract with us, then?"


"Yes."


A flat, toneless voice. Cold as the lightless shores in the north of the world, where the ice never melts.


"Good, then," Talon said. "We look forward to seeing your work. Fare thee well, Saros Rimilia."


The stranger turned and walked away.


Spectre coughed. "So that was him."


"That was him."


"Are you certain this was a good idea?"



And so the dark figure came also to the courtyard of the Guild of Sorcerers.


Silverscale strode forward and held up a hand. "Hail, Saros Rimila."


"You have it?"


"I do."


Saros looked at him evenly. "Name your terms."


Silverscale smiled. He began to speak.


------
"Quit this world, quit the next world, quit quitting!" -Sufi proverb.


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The following comments are for "Manderia - 17"
by Beckett Grey





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