"Kanastrixa!" The curse was a little louder than I wanted; I can feel the heads turning, the sneer and stink eyes already formed. "Yeah, yeah, 'Lo There' and all that..." I utter the rest under my breath, or maybe it's all in my head by now, but whatever the sentiment, at least the half-orc in full-plate isn't wearing the 'you-will-die-screaming' face.
Satisfied with the mutual feeling of contempt, I set back to work on my hand. There's a blasted spike through it.
I examine the wound, turning my hand around enough to get both angles. Yep. It is INDEED all the bloody way through my hand. Lucky for me, the nerves in this hand are shot anyway. Bogeys hate my right hand; every job, every time. Sometimes it's a spike, often a sword...one time it was a handshake-turned-fireball. Magic is the worst best friend of my right hand.
"Here ya' go, Izzy." A young lass appears at my right, sliding a shifter of firewater over to me with a wink.
"Thanks, Liv." I give her confident grin and a nod, which seems to brighten her face a bit before she walks off. I count the beats in her step, the grin fading. This is going to hurt.
I take a swig of the firewater, swishing it around my sore gums. It helps to numb the bruises; it's a good taste tonight. I feel my eyes glaze a bit, focused on nothing in particular. I make sure to focus my breath instead, exhaling in a thin and even column; the monks might say I was trying "dance the flame without snuffing it" if there were candle in front of me. I just do it to distract my brain from what I know is coming.
As I take one more swig of the hard booze, practically ignition fuel, I fish into my coat and pull a leather twill roll from within. Holding my hand aloft at the elbow, I unroll the twill quickly and carefully, checking to see if my Ashers and Strains have mixed; nope, no punctures, no cracks. We're good. In the far pocket I draw a small, thick rod of glazed oak. Fresh tooth marks already on it, I set my jaw and clamp my teeth onto it, calming my nerves.
As if ahead of my own courage, my left hand pours the remaining firewater unceremoniously into my grizzly wound. The feeling of guttural betrayal catching in my lungs, I rip the spike from my palm, warm blood pouring from it and lacing down my arm. Still seething, I slam the fresh spike - it's got bloody barbs on it - onto the table, as Liv rushes back with a fresh glass of firewater, worry painting her face stoic.
I stare at the hole through my hand only a moment longer, pulling a vial of Red Ash from the twill. I pop the cork and pour it into the hard liquor. The flecks of red begin to spin as I agitate the liquid, tiny pillars of choking smoke beginning to cyclone around fits of flame at the rim. With another sharp intake of breath, I neck the Asher.
The effect is instant. Infernal fire licks the roof of my mouth and sulfurous smoke leaks from my flaring nostrils. As the edges of my vision go red with chaos, I breathe. I breathe and watch...as the flesh, as if I were staring back through time of my own immolation, reforms from the edges of the hole in my hand. It is as if the devil himself has set my veins aflame, and it feels about as much, but it's over pretty fast. The hole disintegrates, new flesh and a fresh scar forming at the palm. With what I hope to be a manly grunt or two, I clench my hand into a fist, cradling the wrist to my chest and wait for the devil's sight to fade.
"That one looked like it hurt..." Something heavy sits next to me, and I wipe the manly tears from the edges of my vision as he passes me a cold glass of ale. The entity who bears my company wears a similar dark leather duster to my own, but with armored plates sewn across the arms and shoulders. A dark navy bandana holds back long tendrils of matted hair, beads, and feathers; marks of his tribe, he says, though I'm not sure what pack the mighty Rayph Hughes calls home. It seems to change every couple of months.
Never one out of his uniform, Rayph adjusts his black gloves, tan skin fading toward the shadows at the edges of the tavern light. After his icy eyes scan the room but for a moment, he pulls back his coat; always the intention to flash the Arcslinger fastened to his hip - an expensive endeavor that probably cost him a rib or two, but worth it to wield the wizard's bane.
I cough up the last of the smoke from my lungs, the infernal ash fading. "How's pickings?"
Rayph's gruff baritone slips out, like hard whiskey across heavy sapling, "Slim. The knights are moving, and Feathertongue just put up another gatehouse." He pauses strategically, measuring the shared privacy of mutual contempt in the room. A band of brothers, sure, but none that wouldn't turn for the right coin. Rayph sighs, pulling a bit of parchment from his coat. He pours Ash into its center, meticulously measuring - practiced, and precise - before rolling it tight and tying it off. He regards it with thought, like a piece of art, letting it dance between his fingers lazily.
I watch with a mask of indifference, then get bored. "Anything to pass on?" Anything no one else wanted.
Rayph snaps to, shoving the cigar into his coat, and pulls a fine duskweave envelope from within. Fresh trails of black displacement still fresh at its edges, he passes it to me.
I snatch the envelope eagerly. Duskweave means high brass, which is good coin. The fabric alone will pay my rent. ...I try to dodge Hughes's eyes as I tear open the seal and study. The ink is still wet.
"Shut up, torky. We can't all have an allowance..." Description's good, seal is legit. Looks like I'm cloak hunting tonight - and I'm the only one.
"You might have a rush on this, boyo."
"Oh?" I ask as I pull on my gloves, checking the rune thread on the back of the hand. The left one is fraying; piece of backstore junk...
"...I hear there's a Shiver that's picked up his scent."
I try to stop the chill from running up my spine. Appropriate, I know, but no bloke takes a decent job without some risk assumed. A Shiver means serious coin is involved, and though I'm one mean Sai in a dark alley, I'm not one to choose my death at the end of one of their blades. I'll have to move fast if I want to get ahead of his wolf. "What's the score?"
"Fifty hours. Fifty plat." Hughes whistles.
"Then what am I talking to you for?" I pocket the twill, donning my hat and sending a confident nod to Liv. She winks good luck; I'm gonna' need it.
When we publish our first book, its Link will be HERE!