EVERY JOB IN DENTONHILL WAS sewage, so one might as well make a decent coin for doing the sewage, which was what Holder told himself about working for Fenmere.
Not that Holder ever saw Fenmere. He probably wouldn’t even know the man if he walked straight up and popped Holder in the face. The most important man in Fenmere’s organization Holder ever saw was Jullick, and that was only when something went really wrong in their count room. Usually he only saw Avi or Bobba, who dropped off product, picked up money, and checked Holder’s books.
Holder made damn sure his books were square. The last time he saw Mister Jullick, was when he had lost his most of his crew, and even though he hated breaking in new blood, it was what he had to do for this sewage job.
Tonight, it was bringing in the new seller—a twitchy fellow who just went by Nix. Not that Holder needed or wanted full names. The less he knew about these folks, and the less they knew about him, the better.
“This da new blood?” Nags, the black-skinned girl whose real name Holder never was able to pronounce, asked as she looked at Nix. He couldn’t ever place her accent, and when he had first thought she was chomie, she spat in his face and said, “Ain’t no tuk that I’m a kakla Ch’omik, sasa.” He had no rutting clue what half that meant, but he never called her that again. Nags was a solid seller, she knew how to make effitte move, and now that they were selling efhân, she was cleaning up. He was happy to have her on his crew, so he put up with her insolence.
“Yeah, well, gotta make the coin,” Nix said. “You know how it runs.”
“We know,” Burt said from the corner. Burt was usually Holder’s man for moving crates of effitte—arms like tree trunks, he had—but the efhân took up a lot less space in the den now. Weighed a lot less. But he kept Burt around, because Burt was exactly the fellow you wanted around when things went bad. Two words at a time was his usual mode of conversation.
“Yeah, so . . .” Nix said, rubbing his face. “Where’s the stuff to sell?”
“Ease it down, saddle,” Kam said, a wide, dangerous smile across his face. Kam was from out east, ranchland in Monim somewhere. Holder had no idea why someone would come across half the country—or half the world, in Nags’s case—to end up in a rutting hole like Dentonhill, working for bastards like Jullick and Fenmere slugging drugs to the burnheads out here. Holder knew this job was sewage, but at least he was born here and didn’t have any excuse.
“Sorry, sorry,” Nix said. “I’m just, you know . . . I’m really ready to get to work. Glad the window opened for me.”
“Yeah, you sakka why?” Nags asked. “You tell him, Kam?”
“Did I tell him about the guy?” Kam shot back. “Should I tell him?”
“Yeah,” Burt said.
“Who . . . who is the guy?” Nix asked.
“Pay them no rutting mind,” Holder said.
“No way, Holder,” Nags said. “We gots to tell him about the Thorn.”
“It’s . . .” Holder swore under his breath. “It’s just there’s a guy out there who’ll slap around dealers. Be aware of him.”
“Eyes up, you know. Be safe out there. Burt will have your back.”
“Not ’gainst the Thorn,” Burt said.
“Burt’s heard the stories,” Kam said.
“Yeah,” Burt said, taking a pipe out of his coat pocket. “I heard.”
“What stories?” Nix asked. He looked around nervously. “What is this guy?”
“He’s magic,” Nags said. “Got a rope like steel, they say.”
“Heard he tied up Miss Jads and left her in a water tower all night.” Kam chuckled drily. “You hear about that, hoss?”
“Enough,” Holder said. “Let’s just—”
Nags’s smile went as wide as the Maradaine River itself. “Oh, you know whatta I hear? I hear, couple moon back, dere was a whole row over in Seleth like? But not like just bar blokes having a tussle, no. A real ruckus, with monsters coming out of the ground.”
“What?” Nix asked. He looked incredulous at this.
“Monsters, sasa. Skin like leather, ten feet tall, hands like a bear’s claw. Tearing through the joint, except the Thorn, hesa fightin’ them. Knocking the monsters back down.”
“I heard,” Burt said real quiet, “that in that fight, there was a guy who magicked himself into a giant winged snake, breathing fire. And this here Thorn, he jumped on top of it, wrapped his rope around its neck, and dragged it down to the ground.” That was the most words Holder had ever heard out of Burt in one go.
“He kill it?” Nix asked.
Burt shrugged. “I just hear things.”
“And this guy, he knocks down dealers like us?”
“Boy already saying like us,” Kam said.
“Listen,” Holder said, going over to one of the crates. “You just do your job, and you’ll get paid. Try to keep a low profile, and you’ll be fine.”
“Right,” Nix said. “So, where’s the stuff to sell?”
“Burt?” Holder said. “Give him a bit to start.”
Burt opened up a panel in the wall, and dragged out the trunk. He opened it up and got out a couple vials of efhân and brought it over to Nix.
“You sell that, you come back with eight crowns, and you get to walk out of here with half a crown in your pocket.”
“And if I don’t?” Nix asked.
“Then you don’t walk,” Burt said, looming over the kid.
“Huh,” Nix said, looking at the vials in his hand. “You know, I think I heard a story about this Thorn fellow you’re on about.”
“Oh?” Holder asked.
“I hear,” Nix said, a slight grin appearing on his face, “that he is really good at disguising himself.”
“You—” Holder realized a moment too late. Nix’s whole body blurred as he threw the vials in Burt’s face, and suddenly he was wearing a flowing red cloak and hood, his face hidden in shadow, and he was holding a quarterstaff. Holder grabbed a crossbow off his desk. “Get him!”
But the Thorn—rutting blazes, it was the Thorn right rutting here—was already a whirlwind with that staff, knocking Burt two, three, four times. Burt stumbled backward as Holder raised up his crossbow and shot. But by the time he had pulled the trigger, the Thorn had already jumped onto Kam, and Holden’s shot went into Burt’s body.
The big guy dropped down.
“I am so glad the stories are out there,” the Thorn said as he sent Kam to the floor like a sack of potatoes. “Because it really warms my heart to hear them.”
Holder scrambled to reload his crossbow, his finger trembling. The Thorn’s attention was on Nags. With a flick of his wrist, his great rope whipped off from his belt and wrapped around her. He lifted her off the ground with ease.
“It all true?” Nags asked.
“Monsters, dragon, trash like you,” the Thorn said. “All in a day’s work.”
He casually tossed her across the room, crashing onto Holder. The two of them went tumbling into the wall. Holder cracked his head against the stone, sending his mind whirling into darkness.
“And I appreciate you all making it so easy,” Holder heard the Thorn say as his awareness turned fuzzy and gray. “I am a very busy man.”
* * *
Every pub in Aventil was terrible, but each one was at least terrible in its own special way. Colin Tyson hadn’t come to terms with the Old Canal’s brand of terrible, but the Old Canal was his pub now, so he had to accept that.
But the folks in this place couldn’t make a decent striker to save their lives. Colin had considered threatening to stab the cook just to test that theory, but he decided that would be bad for morale.
And since the Old Canal, and the block on Orchid around it, was about all the street that his pathetic scrap of a gang, The Sons of Tyson, had control over, morale was about the only thing he had to hold on to.
“You gonna eat that?” Sella asked him. He had to admit, of all the Princes he thought might walk with him, stand by him as part of his new gang, he never would have guessed Sella. When she was part of his crew here on Orchid—that whole crew was never loyal to him in the first place—Sella was about as useful as loose button. All she cared about was scoring doph off of the sew-up below their flop. But here she was, next to him all the same.
Sella hadn’t been the first to burn a scar on her arm, declaring herself one of the Sons of Tyson, but she had done it pretty early on. Same with Cober, Relly, and Cainey. None of them were the types Colin would have marked for street captains when they had all been Princes, but since stepping over with him, becoming Sons, they’d shown their mettle. He wasn’t going to turn any of them down.
“Nah,” Colin said, sliding the greasy striker over to her. “Have at it.”
“Thanks, chief,” she said, tucking into it eagerly. Her hand trembled as she ate. He had been paying attention, she hadn’t gotten into the doph for a few weeks. Looked like holding off was getting to her.
Two new kids came crashing into the place. “Boss, we got a donny.”
Colin didn’t remember their names—they were a pair who had been Kemper Street Kickers until the sticks had all but busted that gang up. Colin had collected a motley bunch of scrappers from all seven of the Aventil gangs since he had broken off—mostly the cast-offs and forgottens who hadn’t ever fit in with their crews—and most of his muscle had been Kickers. He was all right with that. Back in the day, Kickers and Princes, almost on opposite sides of Aventil, they had barely ever cracked skulls. No bad blood there.
“Who’s on?” Colin asked, getting up.
“Couple of Orphans running a dice roll where the Trusted Friend was. Les and Rik tried to push them out, and it got to shoving. We need some numbers to hike them off.”
Colin gave a whistle to the other Sons in the Canal. “Step up, friends.”
The others all got up, knives and knucklestuffers out. Sella took a last bite of the striker and was first out the door, howling as she went. Probably too eager for a brawl. Too eager to get hurt. Colin followed the new boys behind while his other scrappers closed in with him.
“Our friend gonna be a part of this?” Terker asked. A former Orphan who had gotten outs with his captain, and Colin could see why. Ornery, contrary bastard he was. Colin would normally want nothing to do with the tosser, but he had a solid haymaker with his left. And Colin wasn’t in a position to turn anyone away.
That was what the Sons of Tyson were, after all. The wayward fall-behinds of Aventil, gathered together under Colin’s eye for mostly one reason.
“If he’s around, he’s around,” Colin said. “Can’t exactly whistle call him.”
“Yeah, but I ain’t ever seen him around,” Terker said. “Word was, Thorn stood with the Sons of Tyson. Word was, he’s your blood.”
“That is the word,” Colin said. “And it’s the word for good cause.”
“That’s not you saying it’s true, boss.”
“I did notice that.”
Terker grabbed Colin’s arm, which was the sort thing that would have normally gotten a fellow a knife in the gut, but Colin knew he couldn’t be doing that with his folks over any slight right now. His leadership here, the folks he had, all of that balanced on the edge of a blade.
“Why are you playing with us, Tyson? Is the Thorn a Son? Is he your kin?”
“He ain’t gonna walk into the Canal and have a beer with us, that what you’re asking,” Colin said. “But he’s always in the air.”
Terker looked up at the roof. “You want me to believe he’s watching all the time?”
“No,” Colin said. “But you never know when he might be.”
“You really know him?” Terker asked. “Because I can tell you, only reason Yessa hasn’t roused up the Orphans and smashed through Orchid is because she’s afraid of him being on your side.”
“She should be,” Colin said. “You checking for her? You gonna run back and squeal to your old crew about us? That what it is?”
“Naw, boss,” Terker said. “But I need to know I ain’t gonna die for nothing when the hard hammer comes down on us. And Orphans are looking to bring it before the Princes do.”
Blazes. Probably why the Orphans were trying to stake a claim at the Trusted Friend right now, just to see if they could. See what the Sons would do.
I hope you are watching tonight, Vee.
He rounded the corner to the rubble of what had been the Friend, hearing the sound of laughing and hooting.
“You better run!” one of his boys was yelling. There were about six of them, plus the six who had come over with him from the Canal. All told, about a third of all the Sons right now. “You know what’s good for you! The Thorn is our guy, you hear!”
“What happened?” Colin asked as he came over. “Boys said there’d be a brawl.”
“Started to be one,” Cainey said. Colin wasn’t sure if he was anything remotely close to street captain material, but he had him flop down here by the Friend, keeping an eye on what was what by Cantarell Square. Cainey held a rag over his nose, blood trickling down his face. “We held ground, knowing you boys were coming, but there was nearly a dozen of those tossers.”
“Testing us,” Terker said. “Seeing where we yield.”
“Yeah, I heard,” Colin said.
“They were knocking us pretty good, boss,” Cainey said. “And then like lightning—thap thap thap—arrows came down on the three in the front. One of them yelled to hold fast, keep on it, and that one suddenly got yanked up off the ground, screaming. And the rest ran.”
“Did you see him?” Terker asked. “The Thorn?”
“Almost never see him,” Sella said. She cracked her neck, rolling on the balls of her feet. “If you do, it’s probably bad news for you.”
“But he’s our guy?”
“You saw those Orphans run off, hmm?” Colin asked. “He’s our guy. You won’t find him walking our blocks, or see him with a scald on his arm, but he’s here when he can be.”
“What’s the word, chief?” Sella asked. She was clearly looking for someone to hurt, or looking to get hurt. Better give her something to do.”
“Grab a few folks and do a sweep of the block to make sure it’s clear. Cainey, get somebody to look at your face. Rest of you all, scatter. Ain’t good us all standing about.”
They all went off separate ways, but Colin looked up at the roof, hoping he could see something in the moonlight. But if there had been sign of his cousin up there, he couldn’t see it now. Lucky that Veranix had happened by on his patrol.
But some night he won’t be here, Colin thought. What are you going to do then?
PURCHASE THE ASSASSINS OF CONSEQUNCE: