Book reviews, art, gaming, Objectivism and thoughts on other topics as they occur.

Nov 6, 2007

Cold Blood: Session 3

The three blood-covered travelers staggered their way towards the inn, which sported a jaunty sign naming it “Chirper’s”. When they opened the door, the proprietor took one look at them and declared, “Baths, that way!”

“Thanks,” Talan mumbled as they tried to figure out how to change directions. That was Sheen’s last clear memory. She woke up the following morning in a warm, comfortable bed. She felt a bit weak still, but managed to stand. That’s when she discovered she was naked. Her clothes had been cleaned, scrubbed, rather, and laid in a neat pile with her armor and weapons. She dressed hurriedly and went looking for Joris and Talan.

It didn’t take much of a search to locate them. The cheerful sound of a woman’s voice tripped from the room next door. Sheen peered in to discover a tall, slender blonde doctoring one of Joris’ injuries. The cleric’s skin was red and swollen and he shivered violently.

“What’s wrong with him?” Sheen demanded. The woman turned and smiled, a bit vacantly in Sheen’s opinion.

“He has the red ache, probably from these nasty bites. I can cure it, but it will take a few days for him to recover fully. I’m Thea, by the way.”

“I am Sheen. Where is Talan?”

“The half-elf? He’s mostly all right, but he’s looking a bit peaky so I told him to stay in bed.” Thea finished her ministrations and rolled Joris over carefully. She patted his face, then giggled. “He’s cute. Or, well, he would be if he wasn’t all puffy at the moment. So, you’re Clueless, eh?”

“What does that mean, exactly?”

Thea giggled some more. “It means you don’t know apples from arseholes, around here, anyway. That you’re not conversant with the local conditions, I mean.”

Sheen shrugged. “I suppose that is a fair enough description. Crude, though.”

“Ah, well, you get used to that around here. Let me tell you . . .”

It was at least an hour before Sheen managed to escape, and that only because someone called Thea away. Her ears ringing, Sheen left the inn and went on a walk, trying not to gawk too much. She could see the presence of the factions Thea had mentioned on nearly every street corner. “This isn’t much better than the guilds,” she muttered. “It will take time to find work here.” Tired and somewhat discouraged, she returned to the inn.

Joris was much improved the next day, but Talan proceeded to come down with a fever and swollen joints of his own, so a couple more days were spent hanging around Chirper’s before everyone was fully convalescent. Thea bustled in while they were all eating breakfast and trying to decide what to do.

“Oh, don’t you all just look so much better,” she announced. “I have good news for you!”

“You do?” Joris asked, startled.

“Oh, indeed. I found you a job! That way, you can afford to pay me!”

“If I may ask,” Talan said. “Just how much do we owe you? Not that I’m complaining.”

“Whatever it is, we’ll pay it,” Sheen said. “It may take some time, though.”

“Well, you both came down with the red ache . . . plus you were all weak from blood drain . . .” Thea’s lips moved as she calculated. “Nine hundred gold pieces.”

Sheen tried not to wince.

“It’s nice to know Joris and I are worth so much,” Talan said, smiling. “All joking aside, we greatly appreciate all your help.”

“My pleasure,” Thea said.

“So what kind of job did you have in mind?” Sheen asked.

“One of my superiors in the Society is looking for someone, and I figure we could use your help.”

“Well, I have some experience in looking for people,” Sheen said. “Granted, not necessarily in finding them. But if you’d like some unknowns to wander around and ask questions and snoop in questionable places, you can’t go wrong with hiring us.”

Talan scrutinized Thea for a moment. “Would you tell us why you are looking for this person? And what will happen to them after we find them?”

“Well, I don’t have the whole story,” Thea said, “but he’s supposed to know something that my boss is trying to find out. If you can bring him in, they just want to ask him some questions. He’s barmy though, and he was last seen in the Hive . . .”

“If we bring him in, will our debts be paid in full?” Talan asked.

“Yep, and I’ll pay you a thousand gold on top of that. Pretty sweet, huh? Total, not apiece.”

“That is generous,” Sheen said.

“Could you give us a moment, please?” Talan asked.

“Sure, sure,” Thea said, and bustled out of the room. Talan climbed out of his chair and pressed a pointed ear to the door. Hearing nothing, he resumed his seat.

“Well?” He said.

“I’m in favor of doing it,” Sheen said. “This ‘hive’ can’t be any worse than Avernus.”

“Yes,” the half-elf said. “But who pays 1900 gold just to talk to someone?”

“Someone who stands to gain a lot more than that from doing so,” Sheen said.

“I don’t like it. There’s something wrong about this, but we may not have much of a choice. Sheen, Joris and I are the ones who incurred the bulk of the debt . . .”

“No. Share and share alike. I would never have survived to get out of Avernus without your help.”

Talan looked at Joris. “Any thoughts?”

Joris held his hands up helplessly. “Debt or no, my purse is empty. I need something if we’re going to stay here.”

“Taking the job doesn’t mean we have to complete it,” Sheen stated. “If it turns out to be questionable in some way, we can take steps after we discover that.” Talan nodded. “So we’re agreed, then?”

Sheen stood and opened the door. Thea was standing near the stairs conversing cheerfully with a halfling. Sheen approached them and waited patiently to be noticed. Thea was quite wrapped up in the conversation, but the halfling tugged on her skirt and pointed in Sheen’s direction. His expression was almost grateful.

“We have decided to accept your commission,” Sheen announced.

“Oh, good!” Thea chirped and bustled back into the room. Sheen followed and resumed her seat while Thea closed the door authoritatively. “So, the fellow’s name is Eliath.”

“I feel I should warn you that we will not consider ourselves bound to do anything immoral,” Sheen cautioned. Thea blinked in surprise.

“What, you haven’t been here a week and they’re already feeding you lies about the Society? We’re not all a bunch of wicked hedonists, you know.”

“Pardon?” Sheen asked. Joris stared. “My apologies, it was a general caveat, not an accusation.”

“But now that you bring it up . . .” Talan began.

Thea giggled. “I’m just having you on! The Society believes that experiencing the universe is the only way to achieve Truth. We want to see it all, taste it all . . . but a lot of berks join up just to indulge themselves. So, we have a reputation, but we’re not all like that. So, anyway, I don’t want you doin’ anything bad.”

Sheen made a face. “Well, there are deviants in any organization. So this Eliath is supposed to be in the Hive somewhere? Can you tell us anything more about him? What he looks like, that sort of thing?”

“Well, he was in the Hive last anyone saw him. I can describe him as he was described to me. He’s a short, wiry fellow who’s missed a few meals too many. He was last seen in his tattered blue robes, of course that was a few months back. He’s got white hair, and he squints cos he’s nearsighted.”

“Does he know you’re looking for him?” Talan asked. “Or, rather, is he actively avoiding you?”

Thea giggled. “I think he’s pretty barking barmy. I don’t know if he knows much of anything. I doubt he’s got any reason to be peery.”

“So how do you know he’ll be sane enough to answer your questions?” Talan asked.

“Hey, that’s the factor’s problem.”

“Any known acquaintances?” Sheen asked. “Hangouts?”

“And should we bring him back here?” Talan asked.

“Eh, he’s been seen all over the Hive. If you want to meet here, that’s fine. The Bleak Cabal runs the Gatehouse down there, that’s the asylum. You might check with them.”

“It’s something to start with, anyway,” Sheen said, standing up.

“Just be peery,” Thea said. “It’s pretty dangerous down there. The Hive is kip for the Xaositects, they consider the whole Ward their turf.”

Sheen sighed. “A great many people consider a great many things. Frequently, they are mistaken. Not always though, so it pays to be careful.”

“Just be polite, mostly,” Thea said.

“Shall we head out?” Sheen asked.

“Might as well,” Talan said. They packed their few belongings and set out on the streets. It was chilly outside, and the air was full of mist that vaguely threatened to become rain. They walked for some time, pausing to ask directions periodically.

Without warning, the sprawl of the Hive Ward surrounded them in a gray warren of rundown buildings, filthy streets, and desperate people. The cold drizzle drove many of the street people to take shelter in rickety, condemned tenements that glowed with cooking fires. Haggard faces peered at the them from every window.

Cheap alehouses abounded, and the cracks were well-filled with ratty inns, gaming halls, and decrepit pawnshops. The shopkeepers watched in silence, their suspicion plain. The only friendly people appeared to be drunks, crazies, prostitutes and beggars, who swarmed as thick as locusts. The streets were a maze; it would obviously take a long time to canvass the Hive.

“So where do we start?” Talan asked, staring around while drumming his fingers on the hilt of his short sword.

“Well, if Eliath spent his time wandering the streets, the street people have probably seen him. Let’s just start asking around,” Sheen said. After a turn or two found themselves in an open area crowded with merchants and shoppers. A rusted metal sign proclaimed it the Night Market. Sheen tried to catch a merchant’s attention to ask him some questions.

Talan jumped as a loud croaking sounded to his left. “Alms, alms for the poor!” a sad-faced old man cried, holding up a tin cup in a shaking hand. “Please, sir, alms for an old man whose luck has run out?” Talan dropped a gold coin in the cup. “Bless you, kind sir, oh bless you!”

The half-elf smiled. “I was hoping you could tell me about a man named Eliath.”

“No, no,” the old man said, backing away. Talan was rudely jostled and lost track of his quarry in the crowd.

“Excuse me, young man, but you appear to have dropped this.” Talan blinked as his own purse was thrust in front of his face for inspection. A tall, slender man with very pale skin was scrutinizing Talan closely. One of his eyes was blue, the other red. His hair was black with white streaks.

“Ah, well met, sir. I should have been more careful,” Talan said, taking the purse and replacing it in his pocket. The man leaned in, overtly friendly, and grinned. His teeth seemed a little too sharp, and he had small horns that were almost hidden by his hair.

“You want to be careful in these parts, friend, at least, if you want to hang onto your belongings.”

“Thank you for your assistance, Mister . . .?” Joris said.

The stranger bowed with a slight flourish. “My name is Haden. So what brings such a trio of fine Clueless out in the Hive this morning? Looking for someone, hmm?”

“Is there a problem with that?” Sheen demanded.

“Oh, no problem,” Haden said smoothly. “I just thought you might have a use for the services of a . . . guide.” Fresh air swept down over them briefly as a djinni floated by.

“What would give you that idea?” Talan asked.

“Well, someone around these parts has been killing bubbers and barmies—that’s drunks and crazies to you. Anyone vulnerable, really. And that includes you.”

Joris frowned. “I’m not sure we can afford your services, Haden.”

Talan’s gaze encompassed his two companions. “You wouldn’t happen to know if any of the people killed had white hair and were skinny?”

“I tend to avoid personal involvement with that sort of, well, person. So no, I don’t know. But I’m not so expensive. It’s not money I’m after.”

“So what do you want?” Sheen demanded. Haden seized her hand.

“Why, my dear lady, I’m just looking to amuse myself. When I saw you I thought . . .”

“Get your hands off me!”

Talan’s hand went instantly to his sword. “I would listen to the lady if I were you.” Haden seemed unperturbed, but released Sheen’s hand with alacrity.

“Ahem. I thought that nothing in this sordid pit could possibly be more amusing than three Clueless wandering around looking for someone. So, am I hired? Cheap at any price, my friends.”

“He might be right about that, at least,” Joris said. Haden shot him a dirty look. “Sorry, I meant that we’re amusing, not that you’re cheap,” the cleric explained, smiling slightly. Sheen glanced at Talan, attempting to suppress her own grin.

“So you’ll hang around and generally make a nuisance of yourself, provided we keep you amused?” she asked.

“Exactly,” Haden said.

Sheen looked at Talan again. “Frankly, I don’t see any way to prevent him from following us, and at least this way he’d be out where we could see him.”

“Capital,” Haden said.

“I don’t trust you,” Talan said, “but Sheen’s right.”

They continued asking around the Night Market for a while, until finally one of the shopkeepers suggested irritably that they try the Blood Pit.

“Haden, what can you tell us about the Blood Pit?” Talan asked as they walked.

“It is where the gentlemen with more muscles than brains go to exhibit that fact. And where people with more money than is really good for them go to remedy that situation.”

“Can you lead us there?” Talan asked.

“Of course. The Pit itself won’t be open this early, but maybe the bar will be.”

A series of rundown warehouses concealed a fighting ring with seating for hundreds of spectators. It was empty and silent, but a dirty-looking gnome appeared to be manning the bar. Talan approached and sat down.

“Mornin’, sir. Care for a spot o’ bub?” the gnome asked. Haden selected a stool and unfolded a black silk handkerchief onto the seat before sitting down almost daintily and crossing his legs. Sheen and Joris perched on their own stools. Talan looked over the menu and winced at the prices.

“What do you have to drink?” Sheen asked, curious.

“I’ve got bub from all over the planes, m’dear. Are you working on a drunk, or just wanna dive in? M’name’s Felgar, friends. Welcome to the Blood Pit.”

“Nice to meet you. I am Sheen, and these are Joris and Talan. It’s a little early to be getting drunk, but we would be more than happy to spring for some information.”

Felgar’s beady eyes glowed with excitement. “Are you askin’ around about the lost berks? The bubbers and barmies and what-not?”

Sheen shifted her weight, uncomfortable with the gnome’s intense stare. “Possibly. We’re looking for one particular, uh, barmy, is the problem. If he’s, uh, lost, then the situation becomes our problem, yes?” Haden snorted with laughter at hearing Sheen try to speak the cant. Felgar scratched his head, causing a small dust cloud.

“I dunno, mebbe.” He leaned forward and Sheen got a whiff of strong tobacco. “But I know WHY they’re gettin’ writ in the dead book!”

Talan tapped on the bar as Sheen recoiled. “You’re the second person whose mentioned all the dead crazies,” he said, glancing at Haden.

“Why are you looking at me?” Haden asked. “I’m not killing them.”

“We only have your word for that so far,” Sheen said.

Felgar grinned. “Word hasn’t got out to the rest of the Cage, but it’s all anyone talks about in the Hive.”

“So why are they getting killed?” Sheen asked.

“Because a shadow demon is eating their SOULS!! It’s a Guvner who found a way to gain power by feedin’ on the life force o’ the innocent! Soon he’ll be strong enuff to unseat the Lady of PAIN! It’s the only explanation that MAKES SENSE!!”

Joris began backing towards the door. Halen took one look at the cleric and burst out laughing. “Oh, Felgar, you are too much.”

Felgar appeared puzzled. “What?! I got the dark of it, right enough!”

“Next you’ll be trying to sell them that story about the mechanical chicken.”

Felgar’s smile faltered. “I tole ye, that mechanical chicken was PRIMUS in DISGUISE!!! The boss modron was goin’ through me garbage one night an’ no one believes me . . .”

“Care to let the rest of us in on the joke?” Talan asked pointedly.

“Felgar has a bit of a . . .reputation around these parts as a conspiracy theorist.” Shadows flicked across the bar as some rough-looking men walked in. They wore the colors of the Bleak Cabal openly. Their boss, a hard-looking woman in her forties, surveyed the bar with a grim expression.

“Greetings,” Sheen said. The woman stared down at her.

“Tell me what you’re doing in the Hive if you want to walk out of here still breathin’.” Sheen’s expression froze.

“Mornin’, Derioch,” Felgar said cheerfully.

“Not now,” the woman snapped.

“I beg your pardon?” Sheen said at last.

“Barmies are the Bleaker’s charges, an’ someone’s killin’ them off. What are you lot doin’ in the Hive?”

“Do you ask everyone this in that insulting manner?” Sheen demanded, standing up. She barely came up to Derioch’s chin. Derioch looked as though she’d just been slapped. Her toughs tensed and began to finger their weapons.

“From what we’ve heard, the killings have been going on for some time, and we just arrived,” Talan said, fingering his own sword hilts. Joris glanced over at Haden, who was beginning to look extremely worried.

“I beg your pardon, madam,” Haden said. “They’re Clueless. Especially her.” Sheen inhaled to add something scathing, but Haden insinuated himself smoothly between her and Derioch, who tried to eye Haden and keep an eye on Sheen at the same time. “I can assure you that they’re no trouble. I mean, look at them.”

“I’ve seen you before, haven’t I?” Derioch asked, scowling at Haden. “You know Bendon Mawl, I think.”

“Ah, yes, I have been around once or twice. My name is Haden.”

Joris leaned over and whispered to Talan, “All right, now I’m glad he’s here.” Sheen was obviously fuming, but thus far restraining herself.

“I don’t think we’ve met, Haden. Derioch Ysarl.” She offered a bony-fingered hand. Haden took her hand and bowed over it elegantly.

“A pleasure. If there is any way we can assist you . . .?”

Derioch composed herself. “Let me see if I can do this again. Politely,” she snarled, glaring at Sheen. “Why are you lot in the Hive? Please.” The thugs relaxed, but only a little.

“Please forgive us our poor manners,” Talan said. “We were hoping to find someone and we were told that he was seen last in the Hive.

Derioch sat down and Felgar put a fuming drink in her hand. She took a sip. “Oh yeah? Anyone I know?”

“Being unfamiliar with this area and not knowing you, I am not sure, but the individual we seek is named Eliath.”

“Can’t say as I know the name. He owe you money or somethin’?”

“No,” Talan said. “We’re just repaying a debt.”

“He’s a madma—a barmy,” Joris said, stumbling over the unfamiliar word. Derioch smiled at him. It was scarier than her frown.

“You’re lookin’ for a barmy? The Bleakers keep records of every sod who chucks off his mind in the Cage. I’ll drop by the Gatehouse later, see what I can scratch up.”

Haden cleared his throat. “If I may ask, do you have any idea what is causing all these mysterious deaths?”

Derioch’s smile fled instantly. “No, but I’d give about anythin’ to find out. If I help you, you keep an eye out for anyone unusual in the Hive.”

“Of course,” Talan said. “Thank you for your help.”

“Good. I’ll be at the Butcher’s Block after dark, if I don’t see ye before then.”

Haden tugged on Sheen’s sleeve. “We’ll just leave you to enjoy your drinks in peace, then.” Derioch waved a hand dismissively and they all headed for the door a bit more quickly than was absolutely necessary, Haden pulling Sheen along behind him. They nearly ran into a tall, red-haired man in a battered brown waistcoat.

“Baphomet!” He declared. “Pazuzu! Malcanthet! Juiblex. Of course, Juiblex. Zuggtmoy!” His long limbs jigged up and down like drunken spiders.

“Is there some reason you’re shouting the names of the great evils?” Haden asked. “Do you want them to show up?”

“I tell you, I’ve seen! I’ve seen! The flies take your mind!” the man cried. He stared Haden right in the eyes, then jigged sideways and lurched into an alley, still shouting. “Pale Night! Adimarchus!”

“Looks like a barmy to me,” Talan said quietly. Sheen frowned.

“Let’s follow this gentleman,” she said.

“Demogorgon, Pazuzu!” they heard faintly. Then, “N-no! Get away! The flies . . . ackk!”

As one unit, everyone drew weapons and charged into the alley. They raced around the corner to find the red-haired man lying dead on the ground without a mark on him. After a pause they put their weapons away again.

“That’s it,” Talan announced. “The next barmy we see, we’re sticking to him like glue.” Haden frowned and chanted briefly, his fingers making a complex gesture. A group of six ragged men entered the alley from the street. They wore mismatched clothing that looked as though it had once belonged to wealthy people, and carried themselves with a strange semblance of dignity.

“Um, hello?” Sheen said, raising an eyebrow. They peered at the corpse.

“’e yours, then?”

“Ours? Uh, no,” Talan said. “Why do you ask?”

A man in dark glasses and a moth-eaten top hat stepped forward. “So, we cans Collect ‘im?”

“Collect him for what?” Talan asked.

“He appears to be deceased,” Sheen said uncertainly. “We heard him yelling so we came in here to see if we could help. Um. It’s probably best if you take him away decently.” The man in the hat approached the corpse and opened a dusty book.

“Give ‘im the business, Tom!”

“O, whatever power this poor sod worship’d,” Tom intoned, “look kindly upon the departed spirit of—anyone know this sod’s name? No? Oh well, the departed spirit of yon servant!” He finished and snapped the book closed. “Ooh, looky, are that a gold tooth?” The other collectors descended upon the corpse like so many vultures and began methodically stripping it. When they finished, they sewed the man up in a sack.

“Have you been collecting a lot more lately?” Talan asked.

“Yeah, we finds quite a few like this, dead wi’out a sign o’ what kilt ‘em. It are like they lies down an’ falls asleep an’ don’t wake up. Peaceful, that.”

“If you’ve collected a specific person, how would we find out?” Sheen asked.

“Dunno, we sees a lot of deaders. They keep records at ther Mortuary, if they gots a name.” One of the bigger Collectors heaved the sacked corpse over his shoulder. Joris stared, transfixed by the strange ‘ceremony’.

“Let’s go,” Sheen said, and left the alley. They leaned against a wall until the Collectors were long gone.

“Now what?” Talan asked.

“That was foul,” Sheen remarked.

“I have to agree,” Joris said.

“They certainly showed up very quickly, too,” Sheen continued.

“How common is what we just witnessed, Haden?” Talan asked. Haden shrugged.

“The Collectors always move fast. Better pickings that way. And you don’t want dead people cluttering up the alleys, after all. Disease. People are crammed together here. A plague would be a horror. I wouldn’t care to wager a guess as to how often people drop dead around here, though. Should you be curious, I detected a slight necromantic aura around the poor mad dead gentleman.”
“Someone used magic to kill him?” Joris asked.

“That’s fairly powerful magic, then,” Haden said.

“What for, though?” Talan asked. “Maybe we should check at the Mortuary, see if there’s a pattern.”

“Felgar’s obvious eccentricity aside, there are a number of uses for dead people,” Haden explained. “For example, some fiends will grant wishes if you contract to kill a certain number of people. It corrupts the soul or some such. That is only an example, though.”

Joris blinked. “We did have some experience with fiends on our way to Sigil.”

“We came to the city through Avernus,” Sheen explained. “It was an accident more than anything.”

Haden smirked. “I wouldn’t let Derioch hear you say that.”

Joris shivered. “I’d rather not have her hear me say ANYthing.”

“She seemed a bit high-strung,” Talan remarked. “Are all the guards around here like that?”

“Well, Derioch is looking for the killer, of course, so she’s more than a little frazzled at the moment. Standing around in the street isn’t very interesting. I suppose we could go look at the Mortuary records, at least. The Dustmen are usually good for a laugh.” Haden waved up the street. “Shall we?” Haden smiled slightly. “Ah, silent place of unlamented dead/where neither light nor beauty ever come/only dust and shadows long forgot/hidden from the sight of distant home.” He muttered as they walked.

The streets were crowded, so it was a long slog to reach the Mortuary. The great dome erupted from the ground, flanked by squat towers. Six guards wearing ragged black robes halted them as they approached the wrought iron gates.

“What’s your business here?” a guard demanded. “Who’ve you come to bury? All of you are still on your feet.”

“You, if you don’t keep a civil tongue in your mouth,” Sheen snapped. The guards exchanged pleased glances.

“Oh here she goes again . . .” Haden sighed. He looked at Talan. “Is she always like this?”

“Yes,” Talan said.

“We would like to examine your records,” Sheen continued when the guards didn’t react.

“It doesn’t work that way. We can check records FOR you. What did you want to know?”

“We would like to know if a man named Eliath was collected recently. He has, er, had? Um. White hair, was thin, and usually wore the remains of blue robes.”

“Are you family?” the Dustman asked.

“Maybe, it’s a big universe,” Sheen announced. “I doubt it, though.”

“That was almost a joke,” Haden said.

“Don’t hold your breath,” Talan told him.

“I doubt he had any family,” Joris said. “He was barmy.”

“Then it’s Toranna you should see. Any nameless sods come in, she’s the one in charge of interring them. If your sod came in recently, she’ll know. Trouble is, she’s out of the office at the moment.”

“When will she be back?” Talan asked.

“An hour, maybe two. Personal business of some sort.”

“What kind of personal business?” Sheen demanded.

“I don’t know. Personal. Not my business, in other words,” the Dustman said, his tone flat and hostile.

Haden stepped forward and said brightly, “Let’s come back later, shall we?”

“Sounds good to me,” Talan said. Haden threw an arm around Joris and Talan’s shoulders.

“I don’t know about you gentlemen, but I am famished. Let’s go get something to eat.” Haden glanced at Sheen. “And I’m sure you can tag along if you like.”

Joris shook his head. “I wish I’d asked for some coin up front,” he said as they walked. The crowds remained thick, so they ducked into another alley.

“Don’t worry, I can cover you . . .” Talan said just as Haden spoke, “No worries, my friend, I have you covered. I know just the place.” They grinned at each other.

“I’ll flip you for it,” Haden offered. He let go of the half-elf’s shoulders to dodge a pile of refuse, then turned, hearing footsteps coming down the alley behind them. Joris stopped as two figures stepped out in front of them, weapons drawn. They wore Xaositect colors and looked nasty.

“Is there a problem?” Sheen demanded.

“Easy way or hard, choice yours it is,” rumbled a massive fellow carrying a greatsword. “Weapons drop! Best is surrender. Collectors you’ll meet otherwise, two smiles you’ll have!”

Sheen leveled her spear at them, bracing it against the pavement and crouching slightly. Haden looked over at her.

“You know what? I think I’ll let you handle this one,” he said.

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