Ghosts’ Prey, Chapter Four, Part One

Harl stuck to the rooftops. Being up high let him peer down the various criss-crossing streets that emerged from the second crescent and wove up the slopes of the third crescent. The houses there were sturdier than those that were made of dead ships in the second crescent. Their roofs were flat or dire slopes, not the more gently rounded bottoms of ships’ hulls. Few sea-voln even ventured into the highest crescent. Its foundations lay on rock and everything felt too still and stable. Or so they said in the taverns in the second crescent. They also murmured about how the stuck-up city-voln of the third crescent had the arrogance to call it the first crescent, even though all knew that the city had emerged from the sea; the harbour had to be the first crescent. Harl was neither city-voln nor sea-voln, and this part of the city was the least welcoming to someone of his kind. So why in all the names of the bastard gods had Cole headed this way?

He knew he had headed up the hill of Emphon because a glimpse of the man’s long hooded cloak had caught his eye as Harl had searched the dispersing crowds. Cole had been walking fast after something, charging towards the third crescent as though the hood he wore was protection enough in the city-voln crescent.

Harl dropped down from one steep roof to another lower down and passed quickly by the amber light coming from an attic room. Curiosity brought him back for a moment and he saw a city-voln woman in a white dress of lace and silk having her hair combed by a young girl. Harl’s eyes took in the copper mirror she was using, the rings on her fingers, the fine materials of the curtains about the window. There was money like this in Bara too. And like there this was as close as he would ever get to it. But still… he stayed by the shadows and continued to peer in, even as his mind warned him that he’d lose Cole’s trail if he stayed. The small girl, no more than seven or eight, had a length of the same white silk tied about her neck. Servant or slave? Or both? Eris had worn something similar in Bara when she’d been with the priest.

The girl made her way to a fireplace where a short metal pole fitted with a short wooden handle was resting against the grate. Harl held his breath, waiting to see the girl hurt her mistress. But then she was gently laying the woman’s long dark hair over the metal part and twisting it about it. When she pulled the metal pole away the woman’s hair curled and twirled.

Harl was bemused, and moved on. Another house, another window. Inside this time was a man with the same elaborate facial hair as Captain Rickarn, but with a redder and plumper face. His large body was slouched in a comfortable chair as he slept. At another window of the same house he saw a young man in rich red velvets embracing an older but beautiful woman with streaks of white in her hair. At the next house there was a man beating a servant wearing a purple length of cloth about his neck as the man cowered next to a spilt drink. Harl turned from the city-voln in disgust and concentrated on finding Cole.

It became easy enough. The sounds of someone crying out in pain down a narrow alleyway led him to where Cole had ended his quick walking. One of the prophets was cowering on the floor as Cole bloodied his fists on him. Harl went to intervene, but stopped, hanging down from a waterspout as he saw the woods-voln work out his rage on the man. Golden robes ripped and muddied, the man was a pitiful sight as snot, tears, and blood mixed on his face.

“I’m sorry! I’m so sorry!”

Another crack as Cole’s fist made contact again with the man’s face. Harl looked about in concern, the noise of the man’s wailing was likely to draw the Emphon guard. But Cole seemed not to care. From where Harl was hanging he couldn’t see Cole’s face, only the hunch of his shoulders between punches as the anger in him waxed again and again after every hit. His long coat and cloak swirled with each twist of his maimed body. Sweat was flung from the dark lengths of his hair which then covered his face as he hunched his long form over the pathetic Mouth of Lios. He growled something that Harl couldn’t hear and pulled back for another punch.

“Please! Please!”

“Beg more.” Cole said in a deeper voice, rage tearing at his throat and making him sound far worse than he was. Or was this the return of the Cole from before? Had he been drinking? Could he have found his way here via some third crescent tavern? Harl dropped down lightly behind him. Cole turned and saw him, his green eyes blazing and his fists rising until he recognised Harl. The prophet tried to scramble away but Cole’s quick hand caught a bunch of golden embroidered robe and dragged him to the floor again.

“You aint going anywhere.” Cole looked to Harl, his hair matted to the sides of his face and his stubbled cheeks. “Is this one of them?”

Harl took a moment to realise what Cole was asking. He’d thought that maybe this was about what had happened at the gate with the hunters, but now he knew better. The man, who, now Harl was closer and could smell it, stank of piss, could have been one of the three who’d beaten him. It wasn’t only the robes that made them look alike; they were all city-voln of a similar age, all tall and thin from underfeeding. All of them had had the same wild staring grey eyes…

“Could be.” He admitted without conviction. “Is that why you’re-”

Cole ignored him and just pushed the man down to the floor and gave him a half-hearted kick. “Bugger off back to whatever shit hole you call home.”

But even with the man gone Cole still had a violent energy to him. He strode about the alley way, not deciding on a direction or a purpose. He looked at Harl and then looked away. And then looked again. He flexed his skinned and bloody knuckles.

“Was it a beating for a beating?”

“Forget it.” Cole rooted around in a deep pocket of his long coat and pulled out a gold coin. “Here. Go to the girl again.” His long fingered hand was shaking.

“Sure as blood is blood Captain Kranen aint letting me back aboard after the whole bloody first crescent saw a woods-voln beaten by his gang plank till his blood ran into the water about his damned ship!”

“Whores. Booze. Whatever. Just take the bloody coin!” Cole threw it down on the cobblestones and ran his red hands through his already dirty hair. “Please!”

Harl stooped to pick it up and Cole grabbed at his hand as he stood, as though he was about to charm him in Harl’s wyrd way.

“Please. Don’t be like me.” He whispered hoarsely. “Go. Take the gold and go back to Bara. Start a bloody firm. Go to the woods-voln and find a home there. I bought you with copper, be freed with gold.”

Harl remembered the girl gently curling her mistress’ hair. The broken glass on the floor near the man being beaten. The rich cloth about their necks. The golden cloth that Eris and the giant man had worn in Bara. He had no such cloth to wear about his.

“Don’t be so bloody daft.” Harl laughed, trying something unexpected to stop Cole’s jittery movements. “Come on, let’s spend the gold together. Not on whores!” He added quickly. “Booze then.”

“I don’t drink.” Cole muttered.

“Fair enough.” He was struggling. There had to be something that they could do with the golden coin…

“I’d like to have it.” They turned to see the three guardsmen at the mouth of the alley way. How bloody long had they been there? One of them was smiling, his eyes focussed on the coin. “So, we’ll take it off you once we’ve taken you in for beating on a Mouth of Lios. That’s what I’m thinking. I quite like the idea of spending a woods-voln’s stolen gold.”

Harl groaned. Even with their hoods they’d been recognised.

Then a sly smile spread on his mouth. “Sure. And when you pay the whore with our gold it’d be best to give her a few more coins to make up for the disappointment of not lying with two ‘oak strong’ woods-voln.” It was an innuendo he’d only heard since hanging about sea-voln, and they usually told it different; ‘oak strong, but acorn small’ they’d have said. Of course, sea-voln referred to their own parts as ‘great masts’. But Harl’s comment was enough to rile up the city-voln guard before Cole even had a chance to lay a warning hand on Harl’s shoulder. Swords were drawn quickly.

“I think I’ve got something hard enough right here.” Gloated the guardsman as he waved his short sword towards them.

“Seriously?” Harl said, scoffing. A flick of his wrist and his new sea-voln blade was in the man’s thigh. He stumbled onto one knee, but the other two came charging forward. They were as clumsy as the guards of Bara and both Harl and Cole easily side stepped them, tripping one and Cole burying the blade of his own dagger into the shoulder of the other as he passed him. Harl ripped it out of the man’s flesh, drawing out a scream, and darted around him to smack the back of his hand holding the dagger into the other guard’s nose-piece. Small bones cracked in his hand, but the man’s eyes fluttered as he tried to focus around the pain in his smashed nose. Harl tripped him, and then for good measure dashed his face against the cobblestones as well. The three were incapacitated well enough that Harl and Cole could dash up the alley way and lose themselves in the streets of the third crescent.

Laughter emerged from Harl’s throat as the beating of his heart calmed enough to allow it. “‘I think I’ve got something hard enough right here’!!” He scoffed again at the guard’s bragging.

Even Cole smiled. “You’ve been listening to the sea-von and their ‘mast’ stories, haven’t you? I wouldn’t believe all their tales. The city-voln in the tavern say the salt water shrinks them.”

Harl laughed loudly. The streets were quiet but Cole hushed him just in case.

Then they found themselves walking aimlessly about the third crescent; avoiding patrols of guardsmen when they had to but mostly taking in this part of the city with its gated stone buildings and cleaner streets. In the dark of early night they could almost pretend that they were wealthy gentlemen out and about for a gentle adventure that didn’t involve bloodied knuckles or stabbed guards. They settled into a steady pace of walking, and relaxed.

“I saw a city-voln as fat as the big fish the sea-voln tell tales of. He were sleeping while his wife were kissing some other man.”

“Aye, where’d you see this?”

“Through some window as I looked for you.”

“How did you know she was his wife?”

Harl shrugged.

“Want to find out?” Cole said suddenly, a dark mischief in his eyes.

It didn’t take them long to retrace Harl’s path and find the tall town house again. The woman and the young man were gone, the room they’d been in was now in shadow without the candles that’d lit their kissing. But the fat man was still there, and still sleeping.

“Come on. No more entertainment tonight.” Cole whispered finally and went to creep along the slates of the rooftop again. But Harl was struck dumb, staring intently at the man in the chair. He reached for the window and started to push it upwards, surprised that it was unlocked but more surprised by what he had noticed inside.

“What in the name of the-”

But Harl was swiftly inside, crouching as he walked closer to the man. He needn’t have crept. There was blood at the corner of the man’s mouth and his lips were blue.

“We have to go Harl.” But Cole had come inside as well.

“I thought they were just… they killed him!”

“Seems likely. He’ll have servants. We need to go!”

But Harl was already looking about the room, taking in the shining glass cabinets and mirrors, polished woods, and fine artworks. He started to fill his pockets with smaller things.

“I thought we left that behind in Bara.”

“Just a few things. It’s nice to take and not have to share with an arsehole like Jerekyn.”

“Just an arsehole like me?”

“You think I’m sharing?” Joked Harl.

Cole started to drop a few things in his pockets, sharing a smile with Harl instead.

A bookcase stopped him in his thief’s progress. Memories of Orinius’ study battered him, and then he started pulling the volumes from the shelves and spilling them on top of each other on the floor. A few he recognised as doctrine from the temples. Others were unknown. He stood and looked at the bent backs and spilled pages.

“What now? Going to piss on them?”

Harl shook his head. “I don’t know what… I just… remember all those books in the study?”

“Of course I do.”

“Imagine how much it’d pissed Orinius off if I’d pulled them all down?”

“He had a system.” Cole said softly. “He worked really hard at that system.”

“He was your friend.”

“No. No he never was.”

He watched Cole looking about the grand room. They’d made a mess and no doubt the intruders would get the blame for the death of the fat city-voln, and not his wife and lover. It didn’t matter Harl supposed.

But he suddenly reached down and ripped out a piece of paper from one of the books. He found a quill and ink in the man’s desk and set to work on the flat of it, shaping his letters carefully.

“What are you at, lad?”

Harl finished and laid the sheet on the dead man’s chest. “Pulling down the books again.”

The man squinted at the words before they made their way out of the window again, Cole smiling in slight amusement.

The sign read simply, The bastard gods saw this man’s wife and her lover kill him. Justice will find them.

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