“The job is straightforward, but not simple. Mr. Jackery wants you to hit the Dicer’s Laggers in their base early in the morning, just before sun up. The Driftwolves will be running back up but they’ll stay outside to kill anyone fleeing. The killing inside will be left to you, and they’ll be plenty of it.” The muscular Dorian Bull squints his eyes at the assembled BellRow Troubleshooters and coughs before continuing. “The Laggers are hurting badly tonight, half their ranks is still on Hospice warring with the Cripplers. Of the rest at their base at least half are injured and exhausted. This is the time to hit them. This something you all can handle or am I talking to the wrong people?”
Opifera’s eyes move around the room. Apu, Fabrizio, Sister Helga, Natalia, and Vaun give her a quiet nod and she turns to Dorian. “We’ll take it”.
The room erupts in chatter about weapons and equipment and whose shop might be open tonight for some last minute purchases. Vaun takes Sister Helga aside and holds a brief, muted conversation. With a grunt Dorian pulls the duffle from his shoulder and opens it onto the BRT’s worn table. Inside is a collection of goodies. “This is for the job. Keep what you don’t use.”
Inside is an old carbine, loaded plus 2 extra shots, a rusted blunderbuss loaded with iron shavings, a small gem, a tin of salve, and two blackpowder grenades. “These…” Dorians points to the grenades with emphasis, “should be used with restraint. No fires. Something burns down you don’t get paid. Mr. Jackery insisted I be clear with that. Got it?” Complete the job and Mr. Jackery will contact you tomorrow for payment. After a few more questions Dorian leaves the group to prepare.
It’s cloudy and drizzling as the BRT picks their way through the sleeping predawn streets towards Crucible Alley. There’s a breeze coming strong off the water that at first smells salty but turns to rotting fish as they near the middle of the island. Cod Row is several blocks to Riverside but when the wind is reversed the stench can carry all to the guildhouse. Passing under the shadow of Dicer’s Cathedral the troupe slides into Crucible Alley beyond and slows to a more cautionary pace. Down four blocks and turning a corner the street ends in three stories of stacked cheap apartments. They look welded together by a poorly trained smith. The bottom flour has suit stained windows the size of arrow slits and a large cargo door. This is their destination. Across from the doors something darts into an alley and out of sight. The group moves forward to get a closer look while Fabrizio hangs back in the shadows. Vaun takes the lead and slides around the corner blade in hand threateningly. He meets the barrel of a rifle pointed at him by a frightened thug. Both spit angry whispers demanding to know who the other is and when it is learned that this is one of the Driftwolves Vaun steps back out of the alley to the flustered man’s whispered cursing.
The BRT crosses the dimly lit courtyard and approaches the door. Natalia looks through a crack and her eye meets another. She tenses, her body tight as coiled wire and the door is slid open with a quiet creak. “Come inside, quickly but very quietly” comes a scratchy whisper. The voice comes from a small sweating man with spectacles. He frantically waves off attempts to speak. The large room beyond him is crowded with sewing tables, bolts of thread and spinning wheels. A single candle burns beneath a glass cover, the only light in the dark room. Through the far wall the stairs begin and then turn abruptly to the left. To the left lies a doorless room carpeted with old blankets and at least a dozen sleeping women. The sweating man waves the troupe to the back stairwell negotiating the tables and stools with familiar ease. He cringes at every creak and bump made and once he reaches the stairwell he splits his nervous attention between the group and darkness above. Opifera tries, she really does, but hooves on wood just aren’t very quiet. From the adjacent room one of the sleeping women, almost an adult opens her eyes and drinks in the strange sight. Her expressionless gaze meets Opifera’s and she watches the group cross room and enter the stairwell. Fabrizio hangs back in the sewing room near the door one with the dark.
Flaking plaster walls contrast with the sturdy wooden stairs that lead up to an iron bound oak door branded with two daggers in a circle, the Dicer’s Laggers’ symbol. Your man unlocks the door with a click, almost loud in the dark silence. Wiping sweat from his brow he catches a glance before squeezing past and bumping down the steps not quite as careful and quiet as he had been coming up.
“Harris, that you?” a voice from the other side of the door. Vaun stands in front with Opifera next. The door is pulled open by a thick hand revealing a thick man in light armor. His right hand rests on the hilt of a small sword and he wears a pistol. Suddenly everything goes completely silent. It feels erie and wrong to move without sound but Vaun and Opifera take immediate advantage slicing the startled guard’s head nearly off. Fabrizio rejoins the group.
Beyond the bloody mess that used to be a man is a small room dominated by a table dressed and set up with fruit. A single oil light hangs from the wall shedding a dirty light. Checking a door to the left they find a closet and move quickly to the exit to their right. Creeping down a carpeted hall the BRT follows the snores, groans and snorts into the main sleeping room of the Dicer’s Laggers. Fabrizio falls easily into the task and crosses the room to set to business. Vaun, Opifera and Natalia soon join him and the four move carefully through the room punching blades gruesomely through an eye of each sleeper. Some stir, a few shake convulsing but most just jerk rigidly and die quiet. Sister Helga abstains from the gore but waits ready to support her team should they need her. Apu is gone, nowhere to be seen since shortly after he cast the blanket of silence that made this work possible. Inside of a minute the assassins have ended nearly a dozen Laggers.
Down below Fabrizio has finished off the horrified wakening Laggers with a cold percission that resembles flourish. Natalia gives him a wary eye and meets the others coming down the ladder. Sister Helga, Fabrizio, Natalia and an unusually quick Vaun push through the room’s nearest door and into an alcove. Running right they catch a Lagger trying to squeeze down the shitter. Vaun meets his gaze for a moment and warns, “Leave and you die,” then turns on his heels. The crew takes the other passage and finds the Dicer’s Lagger’s infirmary. Rows of dying men lie on hard slats most unmoving. A handful of beds are empty with signs of recent use. An ugly man in smudged doctor’s apron stands and raises his hands to show he is weaponless. I’m unarmed. Recognition crosses his face as he looks at Fabrizio. His expression turns to relief and confusion when the swordsman barks at him “You are one of us now, in our guild got it?”
“You want to live, right?”
“Yes! Please Fabrizio yes!”
“Then you are a BellRow Troubleshooter now!”
“Yes, yes. Okay.”
Vaun turns his back on the dying as Fabrizio gets his hands dirty speeding them along. Sister Helga averts her gaze and the doctor stands by silently.
In the next room Natalia begins rooting through the possessions of the dead. Opifera objects “We are not looters Natalia” but she is ignored. Vaun and Helga join the two and gather up guns and blades, as many as they can carry. Bristling head to toe with awkwardly carried weapons the BRT leaves the building through the blood splattered infirmary and jogs down the alley into the streets. They get a hundred feet on when Opifera in the back pauses to answer a call from a man with a rifle. He draws up nearer and she can make out the jagged line of a poorly healed scar traced across his entire face. A chunk of his nose is missing. “You remember me?!” he spits half in rage and half in joy as he raises a large rifle to aim between her eyes. Loaded down with gear Opifera struggles to pull her sword but is unable to. The shot BOOMS in the crisp chill air but Opifera, no stranger to gunmen, jerks aside anticipating the shot. The bullet grazes past Natalia before rickocheting off the brick alley wall. Murderous rage fights with reason as the scarred man’s face fills red. Only when Natalia raises a rifle in return does he gather the sense to run and this time Natalia’s shot does not find its mark. “A story there?” Natalia looks to Opifera. She grunts and turns with her heavy load. It is a long walk to the guildhouse. The BRT tries to stay out of the mainfaires but some crossings are inevitable. Once they lumber out of the unnaturally quiet Crucible Alley and away from the massacre the traffic of morning begins to pick up. The troupe is greeted with an equal share of averted eyes and dead eyed stares but no one stops them or even talks directly to them. Almost an hour later soaked in sweat and stinking of soured adrenaline they push through the guildhouse door to find Toad and Ano holding the battered body of Apu, dried blood spurted from his nose and crusted across his lips.
“We found him like this…” Ano sputters.
“He’s dead” completes Toad.