Blood in the Water by Alex Lindsay

It was just another day, waking to scratch the week’s stubble on my face, and then shortly after falling into my cups, drowning myself in darkness and mist. It all dimmed, like a cave swallowing a lone candle. I didn’t hear them whispering. I didn’t hear the screams. I didn’t have to care for right or wrong. All I had to do was be devoured and to let myself fall prey to the drink.

The dull thud of my heart in my ears disguised his footsteps on this most inauspicious day. Captain Jaen Weimar, Absalom’s finest, mucking with the rest of us sewer rats down in Puddles. All I recalled was a paper with a name and face and a bag of coins falling with a heavy thud onto the bar in front of me. I pulled the paper toward me, fingers numb, scraping it across the worried wood. Mathias. The poster had a picture of a cruel looking man with a sneering scar that bit up through his eye and crested his short shorn hair. I heard about him, wicked with a knife, cold as a corpse, and it looked to me like he’d finally angered the wrong person. Some thieves’ guild or crime lord didn’t like a loose blade like him running around and they turned him over to the watch, just like that, but then the watch turned to me. Brogan, just Brogan. Weimar left my gloom the same way he came in, masked by my thuddin’ beater. I took the job. Don’t ask me why, you listen to your heart enough, and it reminds you how things used to be. What they could be. My heart was the best liar I’ve ever met.

My search began with people. Someone’s heard something, it’s all a manner of finding that someone, and encouraging them to speak. I started with the regulars. Ananias Belfleur the pimp, Hess Mainer the thief, and Jade Stern the enforcer, just to name a few. All of them old faces, old friends, from the old days. They all spoke to me; they remembered what I used to be. They remembered the look I gave them, my gray eyes gazing into them, through them, understanding them and knowing them better than any friend, family or lover. They remembered me pronouncing their guilt.

To my misfortune I learned that there was in fact quite little to be learned about Mathias and all accounts pointed him to be a very slippery fish. And a slippery fish can be bloody near impossible to track in Puddles. Belfleur came through though. He told me a story, he told me about his girls, how someone had been taking liberties with them, permanent liberties. His men had been telling him that what they did find of his girls, made them near impossible to identify. Fancy blade work, he reminded me, wicked with a knife, carving with an inhuman hand and a demon’s mind. It made sense, no one would mess up Belfleur’s game, too much to lose and no one liked lighter purses. Mathias doesn’t care about profits though; he doesn’t care about the working order, just carving. It wasn’t much information, but it was enough to plan on.

The streets of Puddles were unfortunately, as the name implied, wet. The rain probably wasn’t helping either. Night had fallen and I found myself wading waist deep in my used hauberk, my sword propped on one shoulder. The more rust I could avoid the better; made me glad I sold my plate armor a while back. Although I did miss the inch of steel covering the space between my shoulder blades.

I positioned myself on the corner of Sally’s Street. With its lower water levels and lack of street lamps it was a decent set up for the cheaper and more desperate of disreputable women. I imagined his options for victims had steadily decreased thanks to Belfleur and his boys. This was his best and only option. Hopefully. I never really frequented such places.
Hiding behind a stack of filth, I was able to watch the comings and goings of men of ill repute. Creeping and slinking amongst the pools they came and went. All were brigands, but none was my brigand. A few hours of watching my fellow lowlifes and I was beginning to lose faith in the plan. That is of course when things got interesting. A scream echoed across the moldy planks a moment before being cut off. How did he get by me? I ducked from my cover and pulled out my sword as I ran through the mud and water, working very hard not to slip on a slick cobblestone. Midways down the street a rope hung from a building and swinging on the rope was a darkly dressed man, with shorn hair and an unmistakable scar marring his features. An unmoving woman lied across his shoulder. I yelled for him to surrender and only got a curse in reply as he quickened his pace up the rope. The clever devil, using the rooftops.

I caught up and was able to begin scrambling after him; again I was thankful for my lack of plate armor. I wasn’t as skilled at climbing as he was, but he was carrying a whole person, I slowly gained ground on him. With a grunt of effort he hurled the woman atop the building before pulling his own self up. A chill ran up my spine as I saw the knife in his hand. He started hacking at the rope. Panicked, I worked my arms and legs, pumping and pulling furiously to reach the top. I’d just reached the edge and I saw a look go across his scarred milky eye. He raised the knife once more and stabbed it through my shoulder, a cold pain lanced into my arm and my grip weakened on the rope. I grabbed at his wrist and managed to take hold of his cuff, and without hesitation pulled him overhead. The sudden jerk and weight caused the rope to snap and I found myself plummeting with him.

I didn’t remember the impact. All I remembered was hauling myself from the shin deep water, and gasping for a breath as my whole body burned numb with pain. I saw him, stumbling, knife in hand, he sputtered and cursed, blood coursed down his face in rivulets, a new scar I reckoned. His glazed eyes focused on me briefly then became alert and he limped toward me with a mad grin on his face and eyes that burned with manic fire. I stood, my legs shook but held and I reached for my sword only to realize it wasn’t there. Fine by me.

He surged forward, knife raised, and I grabbed a nearby bit of flotsam. His attack was cut short as I swung the heavy plank upwards; I heard a pop of the impact dislodging his jaw. He spat blood and reeled back, nearly falling over. I felt a surge of satisfaction until the plank cracked and fell to pieces. I cursed and rummaged in the water for my sword. Then he was on top of me.

He pounced and latched onto my throat with his spare hand and began to bring his blade down. I lost my balance grabbing for his knife hand, and I fell, my hands managing to stop the advancing blade. I coughed and growled as he shoved my head under water. I could feel the heat rising in my face, the pressure building behind my eyes, and my lungs burning. I grunted as my head impacted a cylindrical object… my sword. A flash of hope caused my heart to ache as I threw one hand back in a wild grab. My weakened arm stopped the knife short as I whipped the hilt across his face. I felt his hand on my throat loosen as he recoiled, and roaring from the water I bore upwards, air filling my lungs, swinging my sword in a downward arc. Warmth splashed my face; a shudder ran up my blade, then stillness.

I knelt for a moment, breathing heavily, my body a single dull ache, the copper tang filling my nostrils. I didn’t worry about someone finding me there like that, or raising an alarm. It wasn’t that kind of place. It was a kind of place where despite the money in my purse, despite the woman lying alive on the roof, there is no justice. Just blood in the water.