LORE ARCHIVE – Written in Red

Kell shuffled through the dwindling late afternoon Red Market crowd, slipping in and out of the dusky red shadows created by the crimson awnings overhead. Skirting a small group at the kebab stand, he heard the boys snigger and girls giggle. He knew what he looked like to them: an old man on his way down. It was part affectation, part life. He was an old man. His bones told him so every morning these days. But that was what made him perfect for this job—for all the jobs he currently worked.

Still, he had his vanity. He wanted to go back and push his way through the crowd to the front of the line and demand to be served first. But no, with his thinning gray hair, scraggly beard, and tattered clothing, he was just as likely to be turned away by the vendor as he was to be set upon by the market boys needing to prove themselves to the girls.

Also, he had a job to do.

And now that he knew what he was looking for, even the pungent smells of old food, trash, and unwashed bodies didn’t bother him. It was simple once you saw the signs. But you had to look with a keen eye, and that was one part of him that had not lessened with age.

He trudged along the market’s wide, main lane, aware of the dark, damp flagstones underfoot that gave the avenue its nickname: “Bloody Boulevard.” Nowadays, the street ran with the leftover liquids that were by-products of the dyers’ section. In days past, however, this same street ran with an altogether different liquid that had given it its colourful nickname.

Kell knew the story; everyone who came to the Red Market knew of the underground battles that had been fought over the marketplace. First, there had been the Alum Wars, between the various merchant houses to control the lucrative alum and cloth-dying trade that stretched from Adriel to Summit and beyond. Then, once the various trade houses had carved up the market to their liking, the Military Order had tried to step in to “restore order”—in other words, control the Market and its vast trading income. The crackdown had soon turned into a pitched conflict that the Order had, surprisingly, lost, although how was still shrouded in mystery. Since then, they had been permanently banished from the Red Market. Not that that didn’t stop them from trying to infiltrate the bustling marketplace however they could. Kell shook his head at the idea; all that would gain the unlucky individual who tried was a quick death.

Pausing by an alchemist’s shop, he glanced down into his hand, then around at the endless red canopies and awnings fluttering limply in the weak breeze of the evening. When he found what he sought on the loose flap of the alchemist’s sunshade, he murmured, “Two crossed, one down.”

Across the street and into an alley led him to the next sign; one he was familiar enough with to follow without hesitation. From there, he walked down a long row of domestic wares—a pot seller, a tinkerer that fixed anything metal, wooden utensils, dull-coloured dishware next to a colourful drink vessel seller. Most of these shops were in the process of closing, but one or two proprietors watched him walk by with a hopeful air for that last sale of the day. Kell ignored them and their disappointed faces.

Dusk was the transition between the daily shopping and the market’s nightlife and entertainment. Even though the Red Market had a couple permanent shops built of wood and metal, the temporary dealers and aisles changed so much that it made it seem like even the most enduring stores moved around. This was never more true than in the growing shadows as day faded into night.

At the end of the aisle, Kell had to sneak a look into his hand again before making a decisive turn right. This hesitation got him bumped and grunted at. Even in the lessening crowd, he was never alone. Shopkeeps and other day workers closed up and headed home while other establishments opened and began their night trade early, startling passersby with strong, fresh voices to entreat people to their delights, some legal, many not. The stale smells of the day were beginning to be replaced with the heady, more tantalizing scents of the night market—perfumes, cooking delicacies, and here and there the whiff of illicit drugs.

Kell marvelled that even after decades of life, certain things could still surprise him. The Red Market was always an adventure. He’d typically stuck to the well-established areas until now. The fringe aisles were too chaotic, too fluctuating for his comfort, and he didn’t want to find himself crossing from the safer areas into Chaser territory without warning. That could get you robbed, or worse. It was why the signs—their myriad shapes almost mystical symbols to the properly initiated—were so important.

One more turn, and Kell blinked at the blank wooden wall in front of him. His heart dropped as he looked up, then left, then right. Had he lost the way? In the fading light, this would be a bad time to have to start over.

Scanning all around, he examined the edges and seams at his feet. There, on the bottom hem of a tent, was a garbled message in bright red thread against the striped black-and-white tent. Comparing it to the small paper in his hand, he studied the code stitched into the heavy canvas before backing out of the dead-end alley and walking around to the front of the tent.

There, he found the door to “Adara’s Alterations.” This had to be it. He’d found the place he was looking for.

Now he just had to survive what came next. 

Kell stepped back into the alleyway, tucking the paper with the cypher thread code under his belt. How his masters had gotten the information, he didn’t know. He just knew that he could not fail them. Any of them.

He touched his inner pocket containing the other piece of paper. All he had to do was get what was on this paper and report back. He’d never done anything like this before, but he would not let that stop him now.

With a confidence he didn’t feel, Kell pushed the cloth door open and strode into the seamstress’s shop.

The transition startled him. It was brighter and cooler than outside—smelled better, too—but cluttered in a way that rivalled many other businesses. On the wall to his left was a large wooden rack filled with bolts of colourful fabric. The wall to his right was covered in a myriad of pins, threads, notions, ribbons, buttons, and a thousand other bits and bobs related to the making and mending of clothing. The back wall was covered in hanging clothes.

In the center of the room was a worktable with a foot-pedal sewing machine. It was a bulky thing made of gears, bobbins, and metal that looked like a small torture device when it was in motion. A long metal ruler was affixed to the table, and next to it was a wood block holding five pairs of large-to-small shears in descending order. A lantern affixed to the tent’s ceiling kept the cool room lit.

This wasn’t a traditional sales shop. It was a workroom where you could buy things made to order.

Behind the table, working the sewing machine, was a middle-aged woman with long black hair pulled back in a low ponytail, dark eyes, and a fierce scowl of concentration. She pushed a thick blue fabric under the sewing machine’s stabbing needle, turning it until it rounded the corner of the fabric in a neat semi-circle. Once it was well away from the corner, the woman ceased her work and looked up. “Hello.”

Kell half-nodded, half-bowed. “Good evening. You are Adara?”

The woman gave him a slight smile. “Yes. How may I help you?”

He stepped forward and pulled the worn piece of paper from his inner pocket. “I’ve come for this,” he said, showing it to her. It was covered in an intricate series of icons that lived somewhere between letters, runes, and pictures.

Her brows furrowed as she held out a hand. With reluctance, Kell handed the paper over.

The seamstress studied it for a few seconds, her scowl darkening even further. “Are you sure that you have the correct shop?” Adara put the paper on the table between them.

He nodded. “Yes.”

“I don’t recognize this.” She eyed him. “I don’t think you do either.”

Kell stepped closer to the table and touched the paper. “I do. I followed the signs. I’ve come for my goods.”

She raised her head and called, “Norval?”

The hanging clothing on the back wall shifted, then swung out as a heavily bearded man with long hair came out a door hidden by the clothes. “Hmm?” he grunted at Adara while staring at their visitor.

She pointed at the paper. “Did you write this?” 

Norval shook his head. “Not one of mine.” His voice was low and musical.

Adara smiled politely at Kell. “I’m sorry. You have the wrong shop.”

Kell frowned and shook his head. “No. I don’t. I followed the signs. Now I want my goods.”

Norval and Adara exchanged a wordless glance. “Signs?” she asked.

Kell let out a frustrated sigh. The afternoon had started so promisingly. “Signs.” He grabbed a nearby bobbin of red thread and gave it an emphatic shake before placing it on the table. “Written in the stitches of the fabric that covers the top of the market and adorns support poles, tents, and stalls all around us. This is where they told me to come get my goods.”

“Ah,” she said. “Signs. I see.” Adara flipped over the worn paper and drew a simple stitch pattern. “What’s this?”

Kell looked at it. “Right.”

She drew another one next to it. “And this?”

“Safety. Why are you testing me? I know what I’m doing.” He didn’t like the way the conversation was going. He also didn’t like the way Norval looked at him. There was no expression on the other man’s face, and that made him dangerous.

She drew a third image. “And this?”

Kell hesitated, feeling his cheeks flush. “Nearby…down?”

Adara shook her head. “It’s a darning stitch designed to close a torn flap with a missing bit of fabric. Sometimes a stitch is just a stitch, and nothing more.”

“No.” Kell shook his head. He glanced at Norval, who leaned against the comfort of the hanging clothing, his hands hidden behind his back. 

The front door to the shop opened, and another dark-haired older woman walked in. She was not Adara’s twin or even sister, but the two could be related by the shape of their noses. Her dark hair was shot through with a true silver that shimmered in the shop lanterns.

“Busy?” the newcomer asked.

Adara stood up and smiled. “Jessalyn. No, but I was just about to call for you. I seem to have a problem that you might be able to help with.”

“Oh? How so?” Jessalyn looked between Adara and Kell. 

“I think we need a weighted Ballast.”

“Ah. I am a Ballast.” She showed both of them her Ballast symbol—an unusual gold and ruby pendant. It was in the shape of a “U”, with the bottom third bisected by a semi-circle. The enclosed area created by the two lines was filled in with a large cabochon ruby.

Ballasts were the official—and unofficial—law of the Red Market. Unless an actual crime had been committed that needed the Order, the Ballast was the law, and their judgements obeyed by all parties—even the Chasers. All official Ballasts wore the symbol of their office. Some Ballasts had it tattooed on them. Some carried a metal badge. Others, like Jessalyn, wore them as jewelry—though they were usually simpler and made of wood. For her to wear a badge made of precious gems and metals meant she was highly regarded.

Kell scoffed. “I’m not here to bargain for her place in the market. I just want my goods, and then I’ll be gone.”

Adara and Jessalyn exchanged a puzzled glance. “You don’t want a weighted Ballast to render judgment?” Jessalyn inquired. 

Kell shook his head. “No. I just want what’s owed to me.” He flipped over the paper and pointed at the written message. “That.”

“Ahhh.” Jessalyn nodded. “I can see why you’d want your goods. You have payment, of course.”

“It’s been paid for already. This is the receipt. That’s what Hobb told me.” Kell crossed his arms. “And I’m not leaving here until I get it.”

Adara’s eyebrows rose. “Hobb?”

Kell nodded with a smirk. “Everyone knows Hobb.”

“Hobb isn’t here.” Adara turned back to Jessalyn. “I’m calling on you, then, as we have a disagreement that needs resolution. This man—” she indicated Kell with a sharp jerk of her chin, “believes we have a shipment of something for him. I say he is mistaken, and that he has the wrong shop, but he refuses to accept that—”

“The directions I followed were correct!” Kell broke in, then restrained himself under the steady glares of the two women and Norval, still standing at the back of the tent. He took a calming breath and wiped his damp forehead. “The signs directed me here, the shipment I have come for is here, it is paid for, and I would simply like to collect it and be on my way, please.”

“Unfortunately, it is not that simple,” Jessalyn said, her hand drifting down to her belt and a dark blue suede pouch there. “In a case like this, given your relatively weak standing compared to Adara’s, normally I would simply rule in her favour and have you cast out of the Market.”

Kell opened his mouth to protest, but was silenced by Jessalyn’s upraised finger. “However, you have presented enough evidence to indicate that you may—may—have a rightful claim to the goods at the heart of this dispute. Now, as neither of you seem willing to relinquish your position, we must find another way to settle this disagreement. I am open to suggestions.”

“But it is simple,” Kell protested. “Just tell her to give me the goods I came here for, and that is that.”

Jessalyn shook her head. “Merely saying you have a claim on something here isn’t good enough, especially not when the shopkeeper claims otherwise. That paper you’re presenting could be a forgery. When the rightful owner of it appears to claim their package, Adara would be in trouble with them, wouldn’t she?”

“But I’m here on behalf of the owner!” Kell spluttered. “What do I have to do to prove it?”

Jessalyn glanced at Adara, who shrugged a shoulder. “I will play you for it.”

Kell frowned. “I don’t understand. Play what?”

Jessalyn removed the dark blue pouch from her belt. “Adara is offering to play a round of Airship of Fools against you. If you win, you will receive the goods indicated on that paper, and be allowed to leave. If you lose, you will not receive the goods, and you will leave the Red Market immediately. Do you agree to these terms?”

Kell looked from the seamstress to the Ballast, brow furrowed as if pondering his answer, but he was really reviewing the odds of Airship of Fools, a common chit-drawing game that relied on as much skill as luck. He knew how to play the game—practically everyone in Adriel did, it was common knowledge from Gelspar to Wingspan—but how you set the game up could play an important factor in who won and who lost.

Finally, he nodded. “Seems I don’t have much of a choice. So yes, I will play you on those terms.”

Adara unhooked something under the table, and swiftly rotated the entire sewing machine out of sight, replacing it with a smooth section of board that was flush with the rest of the surface.

Meanwhile, Jessalyn had opened her bag, and was counting out the draw tokens for the two-player version of the game. Soon she had two separate rows of eight tokens apiece lined up, four pairs of two, one set black, one set red.

“A set for each of you; ship, captain, crystal, crew.”

She swept the rest of the tokens into a pile on the far side of the table, then offered the bag to Kell. “Please examine the bag to ensure that there is nothing else inside, or nothing unusual about it.”

Kell took the pouch and turned it inside out, feeling every inch for hidden seams or pockets. Finally, he handed it back to her. “It seems fine to me.”

Jessalyn offered the bag to Adara as well, who gave it a cursory pat. “I accept it.”

The Ballast swept the two sets of tokens into the bag and shook it thoroughly as she looked at Kell. “As the challenged party, you will complete the red set. You also have your choice of first bid or first draw. Which would you like?”

Again, Kell hesitated. There were advantages to each. Airship of Fools was a relatively simple game: each player took turns selecting one, two, or three tokens, trying to complete their own set. Players could choose to keep an opponent’s tokens if they wished for trading, or return them to the bag. A player could not repeat the same number draw on successive turns, and could trade an opponent’s tokens for their own at a rate of two to one, which the opposing player had to accept if they were able to.

The obvious strategy was to try to hold at least one of the opponent’s tokens while completing your own set first, but the element of chance made many strategies for doing so a gamble, as the wrong draw could spell disaster for the best-laid plans.

 “First bid,” Kell finally replied. “I choose one row.” Typically players both played to complete both their rows, both for increased strategy and to make the game last longer. That, however, was the last thing Kell wanted. The downside to choosing one row was that now he could not draw three tokens at one time, but had to alternate between one- and two-token draws, slowing him as he tried to complete his row. 

“I shall draw first.” Adara took the bag from Jessalyn, shook it in her hand, then reached in and withdrew three tokens, her gaze never leaving Kell. She opened her hand to reveal a black ship, black crystal, and red crew. She set her pieces down in front of her, and Kell’s piece off to the side, then set the pouch on the table between them.

 Kell nodded—she also seemed to be trying to complete her two rows as quickly as possible. Luck would have to be with him. He pulled the pouch over and thrust his hand inside, groping among the identical pieces for ones he hoped would speed his game along.

Pulling two out, he opened his fingers to find a pair of captains; one red, one black. A decent first draw, if not exactly ideal. Kell hid his disappointed reaction, knowing it was still early, and that he could still win this if he played the next draws correctly.

For her second draw, Adara removed two tokens, a red crew and black ship. She had completed her ship row, and could get her captain row started if she wanted to give Kell his crew—which would put him halfway to winning. She seemed to consider it for a moment, then set the red crew token to the side. Now she had Kell at a disadvantage—he couldn’t complete his row without a crew token, so he had to get two black to trade her for it.

A throat clearing from behind Adara made both her and Kell glance up as he was reaching for the pouch. Norval still stood in the same spot he had upon entering the room, now with his arms folded across his chest. The four fingers of his left hand drummed on his right arm. Scowling at the interruption, Kell returned his focus to the table and put his hand inside the bag for his one token, hoping to draw something to bolster his line.

When he opened his hand to reveal the red crystal in his palm, Kell couldn’t keep a smile from appearing on his face. He was halfway to victory, and with so many red tokens still in the bag, the odds were that Adara would have more trouble completing her rows than he would.

Adara’s third draw was three tokens again: black captain, red captain, and black crew. She was filling in spaces quickly, and was also amassing a decent cache of red tokens as well, although she put the red captain back into the bag. Kell nodded in approval—with his captain row already filled, if he drew another red captain, that draw was basically wasted.

With an effort, he stopped his fingers from trembling as he reached inside for his third draw. He could not fail his mission; the Merchant Lord he worked for would be most displeased if he returned from the Red Market empty-handed.

About to close his fingers on two tokens, Kell swished his hand around inside the pouch one more time before grabbing a pair and drawing them out. He uncurled his fingers to find a red ship and a black crystal. Relief flooded through him as he set the ship token at the end of his row, then put the black captain and black crystal together for his next turn.

Adara’s lips had thinned at his fortune, but she wouldn’t give up. She drew two more tokens from the limp bag, revealing a black crew and a red ship. It was all over, except for Kell’s final turn.

He pushed the black captain and crystal tokens toward Adara and pointed at the red crew token. “I’ll have that, please.”

With a resigned nod, she pushed it over to him, and Kell completed his row, struggling not to heave a sigh of relief in front of these three.

Jessalyn leaned over to inspect his row, then nodded. “You have won the game, and are therefore entitled to receive the package you came here for.” She regarded Adara, who stared up at her evenly as she raised a hand and signalled to Norval, who disappeared behind the row of clothes. He returned less than a minute later with a small, securely wrapped parcel under one arm. Walking to the table, he set it down in the center without a word.

Kell reached for it, but was stopped by a slim finger on top of the package. He looked up to find the Ballast regarding him sternly. “You do realize that if you are caught with this in your possession, you will not reveal where it came from, yes?”

“As long as it is exactly what I came here for, there should be no problem.” Kell drew himself up with an indignant huff. “Even if I were to get caught, which I won’t, I know better than to reveal what happens anywhere in the Red Market.”

He grabbed the parcel and pulled it out from underneath Jessalyn’s hand as he rose to his feet. “While I wish I could say this has all been entertaining, it in fact has not been, but has been a terrible delay on my time. I shall be fortunate enough to get out of the Market in one piece now.”

“And here I thought you could handle anything that life threw at you,” Adara mused. “Would you like an escort to the Sunset Gate? Norval would be happy to provide his services—for an appropriate fee, of course.”

“I will find my own way out of here, thank you.” Tucking the package securely under his robes, Kell glared at both women as he backed up toward the entrance. The moment he was outside the seamstress’s tent, he spun on his heel and headed off down the darkening street.

* * *

“Norval, make sure he gets out of the Market unmolested. Be discreet,” Adara said.

Norval nodded and slipped out the front, heading off in the same direction as the old man.

Jessalyn opened her mouth, then she stopped and sniffed the air. “Do you smell that?”

Adara breathed in, and caught the scent of tangy, spiced meat. “Smells like…kebabs?”

“It’s not the kebabs you should be concerned about, but the person holding them,” a new voice said from the back of the tent.

Both women turned to see a nondescript man standing there, neither short nor tall, neither young nor old. He had the round, ruddy cheeks of a child, but the flint-hard eyes of someone long-accustomed to living on the edge of the law. In his hand he held a thin wooden skewer loaded with smoking chunks of roasted meat and vegetables. He popped the end piece into his mouth as he strolled over to the table and sat down in the still warm chair recently vacated by Kell.

Movement at the back of the room drew Adara’s attention. She turned just enough to see a large man with dark brown hair and wearing a dull, battered breastplate, the haft of a two-handed sword jutting up over his right shoulder. He nodded to her—the gesture saying he knew he’d been spotted, and didn’t really care—as he settled into position where Norval had been standing. A few moments ago, she’d had her own bodyguard there, and now he was gone, replaced by someone who definitely wasn’t on her side. Adara resisted the chill that ran down her spine as she turned back to the first newcomer, forcing a smile to her face.

“I didn’t expect to see you today, Hobb. To what do I owe the pleasure?”

The man called Hobb finished his bite of kebab and swallowed noisily, smacking his lips. “They are doing some wonderful things with jelis spice nowadays. Have you tried this latest version, Adara?” He waved the skewer around. “Or perhaps you would care for a taste, Ballast?”

“Thank you, no,” Jessalyn said, folding her arms across her chest. “I wouldn’t dream of coming between you and your dinner.”

“My reputation precedes me, don’t it?” Hobb grinned, his teeth filled with scraps of meat. “Oh sure, I could have said I was just in the neighbourhood at my favourite kebab stand, sampling the latest style, hot off the grill.” He stopped waving the skewer around and pointed it at Adara as he leaned forward. “But it would be more accurate to say I came here to ask you why my package of f…” his eyes flicked toward the Ballast, “…brought in at considerable risk, just walked out of here, but not in the possession of my own streetlegs?”

Adara felt sweat bloom on the back of her neck, but kept her voice steady as she replied. “Because that’s exactly what you told me to do. You were already here, watching, and gave Norval the signal to pass on to me to make sure that the old man won the game and received the package.”

Hobb stared at her for a long moment, then the wide grin reappeared as he leaned back in the chair and snatched off another bite of kebab, chewing noisily. “Correct, Adara! I knew I picked the right person for this little…task. Good to know that my faith has been rewarded. It’s almost as good as this wonderful kebab here.”

He seemed lost in the delights of his snack, and Adara was content to let him enjoy it in silence. After all, there was no telling just what the mercurial man called Hobb might do from one moment to the next. Widely regarded as everything from a struggling blowhard scratching out a living on the fringes of Adriel society to the grand master of all criminal activity in the city, Hobb was all things to all people. 

Adara knew the truth lay somewhere in between those two extremes, but she had no interest in finding out which part was more true than the other. All she knew was that when a market gang had taken an interest in the location of her shop, and demanded exorbitant fees to ensure it remained in one piece, it had been Hobb who had brokered a deal for the gang to leave her alone. He hadn’t charged her a gold coin for the service either…but two weeks later, a package had arrived at her shop by way of the maze of underground ventilation shafts beneath the Red Market, and the next day a young woman had arrived seeking it.

From that day forward, at least one or two packages passed through Adara’s shop every month. She’d never asked about them, or tried to open one, just moved them along using the thread language in the Market’s awnings, pennants, and tent walls. She didn’t care what was in them, didn’t know where they came from, or where they went after leaving her shop. She just knew that moving them through her shop allowed her to stay in business, and that was what mattered.

That, and the fact that there had never been a problem with any of them. Until now.

“So, what happens next?” Adara asked.

Hobb finished his bite, swallowed, and belched. “For you, nothing. Life goes on here, just as it always has.”

He pointed at the tent opening. “For the old man and his package, well, my streeteyes will be on him the whole way home. When he arrives at his destination, my streetlips will tell me where he went, and who he talked to. Soon enough, I’ll know everything I need to know about the Merchant House that thinks it’s bold enough to try and muscle in on my territory.”

He pulled the next morsel off the kebab, a seared slice of deep purple sapepper, and crunched down on it. “Sure you don’t wanna try a bite?” he asked between chews, “It’s heaven on a stick, I’m tellin’ you.”

Adara shook her head, knowing the offer for the trap it was. Jessalyn was right—the last person who had accepted a bite of Hobb’s kebab was still falling through the Void somewhere far below Adriel.

“But all that’s nothing you need to worry your pretty little head over, Adara,” Hobb said as he rose. “I just needed to make sure that this particular package got into the right hands, so to speak. And you enabled that wonderfully, I might add.”

Still munching on his kebab, he strolled to the rear exit of the tent and paused there. The bodyguard was no longer in his location, obviously scouting the small back room and adjoining alley. “One more thing,” he said without turning around. “The packages will start arriving here weekly from now on. Make sure your man—Norbert, is it?—stays alert.”

“I will,” Adara replied.

With that, Hobb left through the back, leaving only the scent of roasted kebab in his wake.

Once he was gone, Adara sagged in her seat. “Good thing it’s after close. I think a stiff drink is in order.” She regarded Jessalyn with tired eyes. “Before I head over to the Dry Dock, what can I do for you?”

“Nothing…I actually came here to give you your order.” Jessalyn pulled a small pouch from a larger pouch on her belt. “One dose in the morning. One at night. Both with food. It should help the pain.”

“Oh, thank Providence.” Adara grabbed the pouch, rubbing one wrist. 

 “I didn’t know you were running a package business on the side, Adara,” Jessalyn continued, her voice carefully neutral. “Anything you wish to tell me?”

Adara shook her head. “You already know as much as I do—which is too much, if you ask me. Packages come in here, and packages go out. I don’t know what’s inside, and I don’t want to know.”

The Ballast nodded. “Good, that’s the answer I wanted to hear.” It was a well-known truth that couriers in the Red Market were exempt from prosecution by the Ballasts—as long as they could truthfully state they didn’t know the contents of the package they were holding or carrying. 

“Speaking of packages, the one you requested won’t be in until next week,” Adara said with a rueful shrug. “The swarms seem to have moved away from the city lately.”

Jessalyn waved a hand. “It’s not urgent, just as long as I get them eventually.”

Adara nodded. “If you don’t mind my asking, why do you want two whole slaughterfish?”

Jessalyn picked up the paper left by Kell, folded it, and slipped it into her pouch, then began collecting the game tokens putting them away. “You’d be surprised what you can make from one. Its stomach can be made into a paralytic and its liver into a very, very potent poison. I don’t think you want to know what I can make its scales into.”

“No. I don’t. So, who was that chop actually written for?”

Jessalyn’s eyes went stony. “Someone I need to talk to…if they’re still alive.” She glanced down at the game tokens. “Fancy a quick game before we go? Loser buys first round at the Dry Dock?”

“Deal.” Adara leaned forward as Jessalyn sat down and began counting out the tokens again.

 

***

Story by Jennifer Brozek and John Helfers. Jennifer Brozek is a multi-talented author, editor, and tie-in writer whose nominations and awards include: two Bram Stoker nominations, a Hugo nomination, a Scribe Award, and an Australian Shadows Award. John has published more than fifty original short stories in anthologies such as If I Were An Evil Overlord, Time Twisters, and Shattered Shields, and universes like Dragonlance™, Transformers™, Golem Arcana™, BattleTech™, and Shadowrun™.

Art by Frank Yang. Frank is a concept artist working in games and television at North Front Studio, and the winner of the Monster Hunter World weapon design contest.