Boss Ivan’s vassal gang held their council in a district known as the Giant’s Quarter. That’s about a day’s ride from Ivan’s home at Muninn Point. I was sentthere to forge an alliance between the greatest human crime organization in the city: the Murder of Crows, with a small-time gang knock-offs calling themselves the Gathering of Ravens.
The Giant’s Quarter is where a lot of the infirm are housed after debilitating injuries. It’s one of the poorest districts in the city. So poor that Boss Ivan didn’t even consider it worth his money and resources to take it into his empire.
That was a mistake. And it ends today. The Giant’s Quarter, as it turns out, is so poorly funded that a bunch of amateurs can make a killing through protection rackets and illegal tariffs on imports from other districts. And since it’s only the Giant’s Quarter nobody in the Crown is going to raise an eyebrow.
The little things add up, in these instances.
The district reeks of old people and something of gin and tonic. Some say it was a drop site during the Great Detonations. That’s why everyone there is sick, they say. It used to be a place of great importance in the Old World. Folks here built high and strong. Huge statues have been battered down over the centuries, scattered across the district. Their remnants are what mark the border to the Giant’s Quarter. It’s where they get their name in the first place.
That’s to say nothing of the towers, whose skeletons, some say, still scrape at the sky. Few are willing to climb them to see how far up they go. But during the Great Detonations they took their fair share of battering that sprawled them across a block or five. I had to be careful not to run my two-wheeler into their loose rubble as I rode in. I had to keep always for stray metal, or rock—or listening for worms and bugs burrowing homes underneath the stone. Took half a day of riding to get to the Gathering of Ravens.
They had a drawbridge where the weathered stone made a steep, deep ditch separating them from the rest of the district. Their base was built from old wheelers they’d stripped for parts and reassembled. I smelled at least a dozen different paint jobs. Most like it was pretty motely, to hear tales of how many colors those Old World’s wheelers came in. The drawbridge with the use of cranks that smelled like they hadn’t been oiled for a few years.
By the sound of the gears and gyros, make was similar to the clockwork-mechs that have roamed the world since the Great Detonations killed half the world. Someone probably disassembled a few of them in order to build the drawbridge.
Everything nowadays is built from the scraps of the Old World.
As I flipped down the kickstand, I heard a blade hiss out of a leather sheath.
To my left, a woman said, “Identify yourself.”
“I’m here on business from Boss Ivan of Muninn Point,” I told her.
Her fingers tensed on the grip. “We’ve been expecting you. We’ll need your blade.”
I wrung my hands on my handlebars, let out a low whistle. “I can’t do that,” I said.
“It is customary to prove that you are defenseless when meeting with a gang Boss,” the woman said.
“It is insulting to disarm yourself for the sake to pacify your Boss’s ego,” I told her. “You are a fledgling gang, trying to impart orders on the messenger sent to represent the most powerful crime empire in the city. You’re in talks to be a vassal gang. Really? Really? Are we doing this? Really?” I revved my engine. “’Cause if we’re doing this, I can just go. You guys want me to go? Because I can go. If you want.”
She took a step forward, breathed, “No!”
I turned off the engine and leaned over the handlebars. “Let’s talk with your Boss. Where are they?”
I heard fingers the woman’s fingers dig into her palm. She stopped breathing. And a moment later she sheathed her sword. “Follow me,” she said.
I dismounted my two-wheeler and followed her down the length of the tunnel. It grew increasingly chillier as I went. So much so that I had to hug my cloak over my arms to stay warm. Every few minutes she would tap my arm to indicate which way I needed to turn. Every now and again she would double back around. She played her game for about ten minutes before I was led into a new room that smelled of sweat and rust.
The floor was an iron grate, and something (or somethings) skittered beneath it. A quiet noise. Rats, most likely. Not that I wanted to find out.
My footsteps echoed across the grate. The sentry told her Boss, “Steffron, we’ve got a crow here to see you. Says he comes with news from Boss Ivan about vassalage.”
“Welcome to the Gathering of Ravens, Mister…” Boss Steffron began. His voice sounded from the other end of the hall. He was short of breath, and I heard a cheesecloth slither across his forehead. His voice was deep and loud.
“Silas Cord,” I said, and sketched a bow, tapping the floor three times so that he could discern its depth. “The Murder of Crows sends their regards.”
“He’s kept his blade, Boss Steffron,” the woman told him.
“You wish to treat with me after such insult?” Steffron said. Cloaks flapped aside and hands touched leather hilts.
I shrugged. “I thought you might like to meet early. I figured this was generous,” I told him. “The Murder of Crows has only so much time to spare. Boss Ivan sends me on many missions. I wished to cut down on time, so that I might better serve him. You understand, yes?”
Boss Steffron hrmed. And then: “What can I do for the Murder, Mister Cord?”
“As a start? Dismiss your audience, Boss.”
He was silent for a moment. If he reacted, I didn’t hear it. After a momentary pause, he said, “Leave us,” and one by one his ravens filed out. I listened for an extra scent, an extra heartbeat—anything to indicate someone else was in the room. When it was only him and me, he said, “What can I do for the Murder now, Mister Cord?”
“We both know what you will do for the Murder. Let’s not pretend you’re not all too eager to join us as a vassal-gang. Let’s talk about what you can do for me.”
“Oh?” There was a goading edge to his voice, barely sheathed. “Do tell.”
“I need a spy.”
“And why is this?”
“I have…disappointed my Boss. I’m sure we both know what that’s like. We’ve all had our failures. The problem is that my particular failure has made me somewhat expendable, in the eyes of some crows back in Muninn Point. I would like to know just how expendable he thinks I am. I’d like to change that.”
His lips smacked in a parted smile, and his feet slapped along the grate as he half-waddled in a circle around me. “Do you know the kind of reward that would be on your head if this information reached the wrong ears? I could charge so much for your head that it’s almost insulting that you’ve told me this. Are you even aware what kind of bounty the Fangs already have on you?”
After the trouble my spearheading of the border-bases and New Mech program had caused them, I could imagine. But I kept my tongue still.
“It’s almost a compliment, Mister Cord. If I killed you now, would anybody even know?”
I said nothing. I let him perform his laps around me. When I did not speak Steffron waddled closer, his belly pressed up against mine, breath hot and moist on my face. “Silas Cord, are you brave or foolish?”
He snapped, and I a new pair of footsteps joined us. They sounded familiar. “This is Nyssa. You met her on your way in here. She is my bodyguard.”
I reached for my blade.
“Don’t make this difficult,” Steffron told me.
“I make no promises.” I unsheathed my blade sending it whistling in a deadly arc towards Steffron. I stopped it just shy of his neck. “You a betting man?” I asked. He laughed. Whether out of nervousness or not I couldn’t tell. “Interesting…I believe we will be great friends, Silas Cord.”
“That’s better,” I told him. “Now, I need you to listen carefully…”
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