In which we continue the serial tale of a hard bitten gunshoe, done wrong by a dame, in a world gone mad with Mr Big running the Speakeasy and… okay, not quite… but if you’ve read parts 1 and 2, then you already knew that. Continuing Ben’s tale of arcane murder and pointy-eared homicidal tendencies…
Part 1 can be found here: Link!
Part 2 can be found here: Link!
A Different Alley, Merywyn, Capital of Khador-Occupied Llael
The Next Morning
“Lizzie, no, don’t, Lizzie please …” Brick dust showered the top of the little man’s balding head, making him squeal. Liz let the runes fade from her outstretched hand. She glared at the man from under her hat. He stumbled back into the brick wall behind him and whimpered. Liz crossed her arms, keeping him fixed with her eyes. The little rat deserved to feel every ounce of her displeasure. “I told you what you wanted to know, deedn’t I?” The whimpering made Liz’s jaw tighten. The way he spoke Cygnaran, with that ridiculous accent, was like running her blade across slate. “Why are you so angry wid me?”
Liz didn’t answer immediately. She let him squirm. Finally she tipped her hat back and looked at him down her nose. “Tell me the rest.”
“What do you mean, Lizzie? I told you everyt’ing you asked me for …” His eyes flicked back and forth, refusing to meet hers. The worst part of espionage work was the necessity of horrid little men like Louis. The pleasure of making them writhe under her glare really wasn’t enough to make up for having to deal with them in the first place.
She sighed through her nose. “Really, Louis? I’m looking for an Iosan assassin. Someone quick, stealthy, intelligent. Rather like me, you know?” Liz lifted her eyebrows for emphasis. Louis tried to shrink even smaller. “The woman you pointed me to was Iosan, to be sure, but she was no assassin. Tough as a troll, with about as much finesse. No way she’s the one I’m looking for, but she’s the one you sent me after. So I’m going to ask you again.” Liz slowly unfolded her arms and extended a palm towards Louis. Strike, she thought, holding the word in her mind and watching the runes begin to swirl about her outstretched hand. “What aren’t you telling me, Louis?”
His hands shot up in surrender. “Ioryssa! ‘Er name is Ioryssa!”
Liz let the word fade from her mind and the runes fade from her hand, but she kept it pointed at him. “Yo-reesa?” she attempted. Damn Iosan tongue-twister names. Louis nodded frantically. “All right, Louis. Tell me about Yo-reesa.”
Louis slid down the wall to sit at its base. Puddled rainwater from the previous night began to soak into his pants but he didn’t seem to notice. He let his breath out in a long relieved sigh. Liz re-folded her arms and re-focused her glare. Louis caught her eyes and flinched. Good. “Mercenary,” he said. “Been in Llael for a few years now. She came into Merywyn wid ‘er boys a few months back. Front lines were getting too ‘ot for a little group like dem. Started working security for de bigwigs, Llaelese and Khadorans bot’. Deed some enforcement for de Kayazy too. Odd jobs.” He tried a weak smile, but Liz’s scowl melted it fast. His gaze settled on her boots instead.
“She’s good wid a sword, but like you said, she’s most known for being impossible to keel. She’s got lots of enemies. In a business like dat one, ‘ow could she not. But she never goes after ‘em, just lets ‘em come to ‘er. Lots of folk t’ink dey’ve killed ‘er. Real experts at killing people, too. But she always turns up again.” He shrugged, still looking between Liz’s feet.
“You knew all this, and still you sent me after her? What part of all that sounds like the person I’m looking for, Louis?” Liz spoke softly, biting the words between clenched teeth.
He looked up again, eyes full of hurt and anger. “Well, Lizzie, we could start wid de fact dat she’s Iosan. She’s bald. She’s got a tattoo on ‘er face. ‘Ow many people you t’ink dere are in Merywyn dat look like dat? You can find an expert assassin be’ind every streetlamp, but none of dem look like Ioryssa! You don’t forget a face like dat. An’ yanno, I figgered if she wasn’t de one you were lookin’ for you probably couldn’t keel ‘er anyway. Cuz no one can.”
Liz grimaced. Unfortunately he was right. There weren’t many Iosans outside of Ios to begin with. Narrow it down to just Merywyn and just a specific set of distinctive physical features and it was pretty unlikely that there’d be two of them. Yo-reesa had disappeared into thin air after their fight, so maybe she was stealthier than Liz had first thought. She’d clearly been no crack shot with her pistol, but the wizards had been killed by a crossbow. Good with a sword, but no evidence of blade work at Rochester’s estate. Liz hissed in annoyance. Yo-reesa was either the best lead she’d find in Merywyn or a dangerous complication.
She crouched down, putting her face very close to Louis’s. He tried to shrink away, but the bricks wouldn’t allow it. “All right, Louis. If anything new comes up about her, or you hear anything at all about other Iosans in Merywyn …”
“You’ll be de first ta know, Lizzie, I swears it! On … on Menot’, Morrow and my Mama!” His squeaky whimper threatened to break into full-on sobbing.
Liz stood and turned her back on him without another word. She stalked off back towards the main streets. For now, it would have to be Yo-reesa. She was the only lead Liz had.
Too many questions. Liz liked questions.
She liked answers even better.
A Disreputable Bar, Merywyn
A Few Hours Later
“Yo-reesa! Yo-reesa, zis is important!”
Ioryssa groaned into the scuffed wood of the tabletop. “You’re interrupting my drinking, Louis,” she growled, lifting her chin from the surface. She didn’t look up at the secret-peddler. She couldn’t handle that much ugliness right now. “It’s been a really awful couple of days. What do you want?”
“Lizzie Bullets is looking for you!”
Lizzie Bullets. Ioryssa had no idea who that was, but no way it was a real name. She groaned again, levering herself upright using her empty tankard. She braced herself and looked at Louis. With an effort, she held down her gorge. He had a worn, wrinkled face with the largest, roundest ears and largest, pointiest nose she’d ever seen. He was the worst of humanity, and he knew it. His eyes, as always, protruded as if in terror. His lip quivered like he was about to weep. He was standing and Ioryssa was sitting, but she still felt like she was looking down at him.
She blinked twice, trying to clear the fog of drink from her brain. Lizzie Bullets.
“Who’s Lizzie Bullets?”
Louis leaned back in shock. He exaggerated things. Ioryssa’s headache got worse just watching him. “Lizzie Bullets! Da mage lady? Comes ‘round Merywyn sometimes to break ‘eads?” Ioryssa just stared at him. “She’s always looking for t’ings. Dis time it’s you!”
Ioryssa raised her tankard. Empty. Right. Her frown became a scowl. “Okay, that explains some things. Why is she looking for me, and why are you telling me?”
His face paled, a skull-like smile pulling itself across his features. His eyes started to dart from side to side. Ioryssa’s eyes narrowed. “I dunno, Yo-reesa,” he said. “She’s looking for an Iosan woman wid a bald ‘ead an’ a tattoo on ‘er face. Nobody like dat in Merywyn but you, right? I figger, knowin’ dat someone like Lizzie’s lookin’ for ya’s gotta be worth somethin’, ya?”
Ioryssa stared into the tankard, blinking again. She wasn’t the only Iosan in Merywyn, but she hadn’t met any others. They wouldn’t wear the marks of the Fanes openly like she did, anyway. Religious Iosans tended to stay in Ios. With certain notable exceptions.
Ioryssa’s scowl evaporated and her eyes widened. She swore, softly and intensely, mixing Llaelese and Shyrr and Cygnaran and Khadoran and not really noticing. Lizzie Bullets wasn’t looking for Ioryssa. She thought she was, but she wasn’t. The problem was, Lizzie’s real target very well might be looking for Ioryssa. And that was bad. Very bad.
“Tell me where to find her, Louis.”
“Now, Yo-reesa, dat’s a dangerous idea.” The skull-grin relaxed a bit, turned more rodent-like. “But I t’ought you might want to do dat. ‘Ow much is it wort’ to ya?”
Ioryssa looked back up at him, scowl returning in a flash. “You tell me where to find her, and in return, I won’t break your face for telling her about me.”
“Me? But I deedn’t …” He met her gaze and went quiet. He gulped, throat bobbing, and nodded. “Okay, okay, fine. De Lily. A dive bar, but better den most. Better den dis one. Dat’s where I find ‘er when I ‘ave somet’ing to sell.”
“Alright.” Ioryssa rose from the table. “Congratulations on being useful for once, Louis.” She pushed past him towards the door.
“What are you gonna do, Yo-reesa?” he called after her.
“Something really stupid.” Like going to talk to the woman who’d tried to arrest and kill her last night. She’d said she was chasing a Mage Hunter, and Louis said she was looking for an Iosan woman with the marks of membership in one of the Fanes. Ioryssa shuddered, and it wasn’t from the cold. Mistaken identity was bad enough.
The Retribution of Scyrah being in Merywyn was much worse.