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"It is the decree of this Council that the request of the City Watch be fulfilled and Merrick of the City of Manderia be raised to the position of Captain of the Watch. This decree shall be noted in the Book of Laws, and the Captain shall be writ in the Book of Names. So Be It."



"Well." Auristen leaned against the wall. "That seemed to go well."


"Better than I expected." Merrick took his pipe from his vest pocket and filled it from a pouch at his belt.


"You're either a genius, or out of your mind." Auristen shook his head. "No one's spoken to the Council like that in years. I don't know if they gave you the position out of respect, out of annoyance, or just to see what you'll do."


"Some of both, I think." Merrick lit his pipe. When it was smoking to his satisfaction, they started walking again. "What do you know about the quiet one? The fellow with the dark eyes and the look like a cat contemplating a mouse."


"Silverscale?"


"That's the one."


"Don't know much about him. He's a sorcerer, which is just as bad as a mage, only more secretive, so only the bad parts leak out. I don't know if the Sorcerers are as bad as what gets said around the pub at night, but they have something to hide, and anyone with something to hide is probably doing something I don't care for. People don't understand magic- I know I don't- and the Mages won't even bother trying to tell us, so the best we can do is extract a promise that they'll serve as a sort of balance for anything the Sorcerers might do. But officially, they're seen as the same. The Sorcerers used that- and a lot of other nonsense- as basis for their argument when they elected Coraelus to the Council, which is why a murderous bastard like Silverscale is sitting in the high seat."


"I thought you said you didn't believe the rumors. How do you know he's murderous?"


"Did you look into his eyes?"


Merrick nodded.


"Then you should already know what I'm talking about."


"I suppose I do." Merrick drew in smoke and let it run from his mouth. "Cold-blooded one, him."


"Cold as they come."


They walked in silence for a while.


"You go on watch soon?" Merrick asked.


"I've got another hour yet."


"Care for a pint at the Old Consecrator?"


"I could do for one, aye."



Ashenback was sleeping tipped-back in his chair when the door burst open. He came instantly awake, red eyes opening without a hint of sleep-fog. His bartender jumped, and reached for the short crossbow under the bar...then relaxed when he recognized the intruder.


"Mikal," he said. "Ah. And Jarek. Having adventures?"


"Something like that," Jarek said. "Still paying for information?"


"Always."


"Excellent." He and Mikal sat down across the table. The thief picked nervously at a dagger from which the blood had been mostly been cleaned.


Ashenbach leaned forward, close to the light of the table candle. He took up his glass and drank from it. "Gentlemen," he said. "You may enlighten me."


"We've been following a trail back out of the city," Jarek said. "Hints of old lore recovered and rituals being performed in a village just outside of town. We took a day off and went to visit. There's a cemetery set back of the far side of town, near the woods. A friend of ours- a mage- had advised us to go looking in the area. We found the groundskeeper, and persuaded him to direct us around the area. Near the back of the cemetery, there is a collection of old crypts. One of them had fresh scrape marks on it."


"Hmm." Ashenbach folded his hands. "What do you deduce it to mean?"


"Someone moved the stone slab recently. Maybe to break in."


"Or out," Mikal said.


Jarek nodded. "There was a rank smell about the area. Sometimes foul air comes out of old tombs, but all of the crypts of this age I've opened have had very little stench to them at all."


Mikal threw him a curious glance. "I didn't know you'd opened graves before,"


"There's a lot you don't know about me." Jarek turned back to Aschenbach. "We moved the stone only enough to see down into the grave."


"...lot you don't know about me, either..." Mikal muttered.


"Did you find anything?"


"The shaft goes down much further than it has any right to. I flashed a lantern around inside, and caught sight of a passage leading deeper into the earth."


"Not a crypt, then, you think."


"I doubt it."


"Well." Ashenbach rubbed his hands together. "I think that's definitely worth recompensation." He reached into the folds of his coat and brought out a cloth bag. He tossed it across the table to Jarek. It jingled.


"You have my endorsement to investigate further," their strange employer said. "Please bring me back any information you come upon." He paused. "Where is your third companion?"


"Des is consulting with friends in the Rogue's Guild."


Ashenbach's eyebrows went up.


"Not about this!" Mikal said quickly. "She's looking to join."


"I suppose that's her right."


"You're...not angry, then?"


"No."


Jarek stood up. "We'll bring back anything we find."


Ashenbach nodded. "Thank you."


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


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The following comments are for "Manderia - 21"
by Beckett Grey





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