We’re back, after a couple of weeks of Gdaybloke enjoying his vacation at Pennsic and GenCon, and his somehow finding time amidst everything else going on to dole out to you, the faithful, the next chapter in Ben’s serial fanfic, Fear of Retribution. How much dialogue? So much dialogue!
A Nameless Tavern, Merywyn
Three Days Later
Ioryssa watched Louis drink and tried not to gag. The ugly information broker drained half of the tankard in one long chug, his throat bobbing grotesquely. He set it down and let out a satisfied sigh which turned into an even more satisfied belch. She grimaced. “So, Louis. You came all the way here to drink my ale and tell me you’ve got nothing?”
Louis held up a finger and belched again. Ioryssa’s fists tightened on the tabletop. Louis noticed and smiled weakly. “No, no, Yo-reesa. I came ‘ere to tell you dat in dis case, not’ing means everyt’ing.”
Ioryssa glared at him. He met her eyes and his smile disappeared entirely. He swallowed hard. “I mean to say, Lizzie Bullets leans on me even ‘arder den you do. When she’s lookin’ for somet’ing an’ I don’ hear from ‘er for t’ree days …” He shrugged. “Eit’er she found it or somet’ing went real wrong.” He shrugged. “Eit’er way, it’s good news fer you. She’s outta your hair now.” He tried another smile. Ioryssa ignored him. She looked down at the tabletop. He was right, it should be good news. It didn’t feel like good news. If Lizzie had disappeared, to the point where even Louis hadn’t heard from her, there was pretty much only one conclusion to draw. Her target, the Iosan Mage Hunter she’d mistaken Ioryssa for, had turned at bay. And Lizzie had lost that confrontation.
“Three days ago was the last time I saw her too.” Remembering their fight in the dark alley sent a shiver across Ioryssa’s hairless neck. Bullets had just been a shadow in the pitch black, but her voice had told volumes. Ioryssa shook her head, still gazing downwards. “I don’t think she’d found what she was looking for, but something was definitely different.” Her eyes snapped back up to Louis’ and he recoiled. “What were you selling her three days ago?”
He swallowed, throat bobbing again. “Um … dat’s confidential?” Ioryssa’s brows pulled together and she shook a coin from her sleeve onto the table. The ratty man didn’t look at her, but he swept it up. “I was tellin’ ‘er about anudder Iosan jus’ come inta town. A man. She was lookin’ fer a woman, so I didn’ t’ink it was what she wanted, but she wanted to know about Iosans.” He shrugged.
Ioryssa snorted. “So you put her onto Tovys. Might have helped me a bit, but not her. Tovys said he tried to put her off of me, but she didn’t believe him. Guess that was the last straw. She came after me looking to end it.”
“An’ since yer askin’ me about ‘er, you didn’ … yanno … end it yerself?” Louis cocked his head, his absurdly round ears flaring towards her. Ioryssa shook her head, nose wrinkling at the sight.
“No. We had words. Also punches. But we both walked away from it. We might be sort of on the same side now.”
Louis actually leaned forward at that. “Oh?” He caught her glare again and settled down. “Tell me more an’ I’ll owe ya?”
She sat silently. She didn’t want to tell Louis anything. Just on principle. But he did buy information as well as sell it. And wasn’t it in her best interests to have more people know she wasn’t actually the one Bullets as chasing?
Finally she sighed, spreading her hands. “Lizzie Bullets is chasing after someone she thought was me. That makes it someone I’m interested in. To keep myself covered, you know? I don’t want people thinking I’m a criminal.”
He chuckled. “Ain’t you?”
“Obviously. But I try to be more useful than harmful, you know?”
Louis nodded. “Fair enough. So you an’ Lizzie are bot’ lookin’ for de same Iosan lady, den, but now Lizzie’s gone poof an’ you’re worried dat dis Iosan lady mebbe got to ‘er? I guess dat also means you ain’t the one the Kayazy are huntin’ for?”
Ioryssa scowled. “That’s about it, yeah. The Kayazy got involved after the whole Kerenov thing.” She shot him a firm glance. “Which was also not me.” When he nodded earnestly, she shrugged. “Neither Bullets nor the Kayazy have been able to take me down yet. But they’re both pretty serious enemies to have. There’s someone out there who can hide from both of them. Maybe she made Lizzie Bullets disappear. That’s someone scary.”
“Got dat right.” He finished the tankard and looked expectantly at her.
She crossed her arms, leaning back away from him. “No, Louis. Now, you owe me.” She jerked her head towards the door. “Go do your job. Come back when you know something.”
He got up and stepped away from the table. He didn’t walk away immediately though. “’Ey Yo-reesa.”
“What is it, Louis.” She didn’t look at him, but scowled instead at the empty tankards arrayed in front of her.
“Ever t’ought about getting’ out o’ Merywyn? Seems like de city’s getting’ worse by de week.”
Ioryssa shrugged. “There’s money to be made. And the only people asking questions are businessmen.”
Louis grinned. He nodded, tugging at the sparse hairs on his forehead and wended away between the too-close-together tables. Ioryssa went back to the bar. She needed more ale. A lot more ale. In tankards Louis hadn’t touched.
Some Time Later
Ioryssa blinked. Wood filled her vision. Ancient alcohol filled her nostrils. Ah. A bar-top. Her old friend.
“Hey, boss! You awake?”
“Yeah, Thordok, I am now.” She got an elbow under her and righted herself. She blinked the fuzziness from her eyes. Two slim, goateed humans sat on the stools immediately to her left. The enormous blue form of a trollkin loomed over them, his enormous brow furrowed. He was wringing his hands like a nervous maid who’d just broken a glass. His concern made Ioryssa grin. It had been too long since she’d seen these three. Not since … her smile vanished.
“You … bastards!” She was on her feet, her fist flashing towards the nearest face – Tonio’s. The Ordicman yelped and lurched backwards. Leon caught him before he fell off his stool, and Thordok put out a thick hand to stop Ioryssa from doing the same. She shook him off, stumbling. Her scowl deepened. “What are you doing here? Shouldn’t you still be off bodyguarding that floozy?”
Leon winced. He and Tonio shared a glance. “Actually, it turned out she wasn’t as good a thief as she let on. First job she tried to pull had the three of us up against an entire gang of Kayazy. We got her out alive, but …”
“We quit after that,” Tonio finished. The two men shrugged in unison. They looked shockingly similar for being from different countries.
“Can we work for you again, Boss? We’re kind of dumb without you.” Thordok’s expression was so open, so familiar. She had to fight to keep her face from softening.
Ioryssa folded her arms. “I’m not exactly working a job right now, boys. Kind of wrapped up in personal stuff.”
“We heard there was some trouble with the Kayazy? There a story behind that?” Tonio leaned towards her. Leon nodded encouragingly. Thordok’s big hand gave her shoulder a sympathetic squeeze that set her bruised and battered torso into bright sparks of pain. She winced and chuckled.
“Of course there is. This Cygnaran mage has been after me because she thought I did some things I didn’t do. I managed to convince her that she had the wrong person, but now she’s disappeared. I think the person she was really after disappeared her. That shakes me up a bit.”
“Why you nervous, Boss? Isn’t it a good thing if she’s gone?” Thordok withdrew the hand from her shoulder, shrugging expansively.
“This other person, the one the Cygnaran’s been after. She’s also an Iosan woman. She looks kind of like me, and I don’t like that. She might be connected to the reason I left Ios, and I like that less. I don’t want any of that in my life here.” Ioryssa shrugged, then stretched slowly. She groaned softly, feeling all the punishment her body had taken over the past week. She was sitting in a crappy little tavern, and the Mage Hunter had taken out Lizzie Bullets, but still … with her boys around her again, Ioryssa felt safe. Safer than she’d felt since they left. She set her shoulders and fixed the three men with a firm stare. “I like my life here, boys. That means this other woman has to go. And if she’s taken out the Cygnaran, my best shot at not getting my hands dirty is gone.”
Leon reached his hand around Tonio. “Pay or no pay, Boss, we’re with you. Take this wench down and things can go back to normal, yes?” The Llaelese gunman’s face wore an open, earnest smile.
Ioryssa took his hand and gripped it. “That’s the plan.”
Thordok thumped his meaty palms together. “So where do we start?”
Ioryssa leaned back, one finger unconsciously tracing the tattoo beneath her eye. “Louis’s going to keep his ears open for any news. But there’s some other folks who might know things, and they already hate me so it’s not like I can make them any madder …”
Leon’s hand gently caressed the pistol holstered at his hip. “I do love shooting at Khadorans.”
Tonio swept up his tankard and lifted it high. His voice was soft, but his grin was wide. “Let’s go beat up the Kayazy!”