This is a micro-story to set the tone for the second part of the dead god trilogy, "The Dead God's Puppet-Show", up soon at Flashing Swords. Part one, "The Dead God's Destiny", is here; there is also a prologue.L
ol cursed and tightened the wool scarf around his neck. He could hear the rush of the river Prescience behind the squat wooden buildings to his left, and suspected that the river had sucked the last few degrees of heat from the already bitter night. His pipe did little to warm him, but he puffed it again and watched the fragile tendrils of smoke drift toward the towering Jengao skyline.
“Where is he?” he asked, kicking at a piece of driftwood that had somehow made it so far from shore.
“Patience, Agrag,” said Spatterbrood, stepping from the shadows. As always his face was a bland mask, except for the slightly mocking grin. The eyes were black and lifeless. “He is your man, after all.”
Lol nodded. “The most hopeless cur I could find. Still, if he is questioned--” Spatterbrood sucked loudly through his teeth and glanced upward. Lol caught a shadow on one of the nearby roofs and relaxed immediately. “Good idea,” he said, “though there could still be trouble when they investigate his death--”
Spatterbrood sighed, a clearly disappointed sound. “You must stop thinking like a thief, Agrag. You’re the head of the Fourth Family now.”
Lol nodded, drawing strength from the words, and sighed when Garluss came into view. “Do you have it?” Lol demanded when the thief came near.
“Yes, Master,” said Garluss, frowning at Lol’s tone.
“Then give it to me and begone,” said Lol.
Garluss gave his head an all but imperceptible shake, but fished around in his pocket anyway. Gemlettes glittered in the light of the waning moon. “Full guild privileges,” the cur said, holding the bracelet out of reach. “That’s what you promised.”
Lol snatched the bracelet from his hand. “You’ll get what you deserve,” Lol said, and the lesser thief’s eyes went wide as he took Lol’s meaning. The man’s face was an open book: no wonder he couldn’t cut it as a thief.
Garluss glanced furtively at Spatterbrood, fearing he might attack, then let resolve wash over his face. Clearly, he intended to alert the authorities.
“Begone!” Lol yelled, and had to suppress a laugh as the little man broke into an ungainly trot. He ran like a dog. A poorly bred dog.
“That,” said Spatterbrood, stepping forward once more, “was unwise.”
“Why?” Lol demanded, turning to face the smaller man. Spatterbrood’s advice had grown quickly tiring. The cold eyes stared for a measure, and Lol swallowed. “What can I improve, for next time?” he asked.
“Next time?” Spatterbrood repeated. “Next time save your ignorant bullying for your whore of a wife. If Garluss should escape, he could cause many problems for us. Play along, next time, until everything is certain.”
Lol had never been addressed in such a fashion before, but staring into Spatterbrood’s dead eyes buried his wrath. The man seemed a mere puppet: paper skin and bird bone, but the sight of him without his perpetual grin put the fear of death into Lol.
Lol nodded and turned away, focusing on the sound of the river and considering the secrets it contained. He shivered again, then wrapped his scarf even tighter.__
* * *
Garluss scuffed the toe of his shoe on the road and stumbled forward, such was his haste. He would find the nearest magistrate and tell him everything. His standing in the guild was minimal, and he felt no loyalty to Agrag Lol, its Middle Master. He’d have to leave Jengao of course, but that hardly mattered. Maybe he’d head out to the wizard coast. He loved water, and had always wanted to become a sailor. It was his mother who insisted he stay respectable and join a guild.
Garluss stopped. A shape approached through moonglow river mist. The shape of a goddess. Wild hair struck out at every angle atop a slender, perfectly curved silhouette. Moonlight danced along delicate features, revealing a sweetly pointed brow and the top of a black eye-mask. Garluss’ heart skipped a beat. It was the Medusa.
Steel glinted and he heard a popping sound as the knife punctured his chest. Blood poured over him, providing a momentary respite from the cold. He crumpled to the path and watched her walk away on the ceiling. I’m upside down, he thought. Steam rose. Steam from his perforated chest.
Thinking to write his killer’s name in blood, Garluss struggled to his side, but his thoughts grew sluggish. The feet returned and he felt himself pushed off the path and over sharp rocks until coolness took him.
The river, he thought thankfully, and surrendered his will to it.