Juon Tiro, Outside the Shipping Quarter

24 Oct

“Hey, little JuJu.”

Juon sniffed and didn’t look up from his knees. He had curled into the seat of his favorite window in the Tiro estate, the one with the best view of the chasm edge. Koremi slid to sit next to him and Juon fought back more tears. He never liked for his fathers to see him cry.

“You did very well, JuJu. I know that was scary.” Koremi set his hand on Juons knee and he finally looked up. His stomach twisted when he saw the blood spotting his fathers bandaged arm.

“How’s ma?” Juon asked dully.

Koremi smiled reassuringly. “Just a nasty crack on the head. She’ll be fine. Your mother is ludicrously tough. Remember the time she headbutted that Coustlet?”

Juon ducked his head and smiled slightly.

“Come here, baby boy.” Juon let himself be pulled back into Koremis strong arms, let himself be rocked gently for the space of a few breaths. His Blood Father was the one who laughed, who was all excitement. It was his Half Father that soothed and comforted.

“It’s always hard the first time you have to kill.” Koremi finally said softly into the short thin dreadlocks his mother had only just begun to twist. “But that was quick thinking, grabbing the sword that assassin dropped. You saved your fathers life you know.”

Juon had been so angry when he saw the woman standing over his father, furious when he saw his mother crumpled on the flagstone, enraged at the sight of Daddy Koremi’s bloodied, useless sword arm. But Juon had two good arms still and there, glinting at his elbow, was the bad womans sword that had been struck away in the initial attack.

Until that moment the worst sound he’d ever heard was the mallet crushing the skulls of the river fish the cook prepared for dinner. Now it was the sound of a hard thrust blade severing a woman’s spine.

Juon began to cry again and Koremi hugged him tight.

“I know, JuJu, I know.” Koremi kissed the top of his head softly. “It’s a hard thing to understand, but listen;” Gentle hands took Joun’s jaw and turned his head. Koremi looked into his black eyes seriously.

“You do what you have to in this life.You protect the people under you. You protect this family.”

Koremi kissed Juons forehead.

“And if that means killing? Then sow death, JuJu.”

****

Juon concept art by B. Sabo

Juon concept art by B. Sabo

 

Juon Tiro’s breath left him when his back hit the alley wall but he didn’t relax his grip on the garrot he had wrapped around the huge mercenaries neck. The burly Engine Child choked and reared to slam him against the wall again, trying to shake him loose. Blood slicked his fingers from where the wire cut into the flesh of the thick neck and made his hold on the garrot tenuous, but Juon would not let go. Finally the pressure on the mercenaries windpipe brought the big man falling face first into the dirt. Juon twisted the garrot tighter and hissed between teeth bloodied by a punch to the mouth. “Just die, you son of a bitch!”

Out of the corner of his eye he saw his Eidlemark companion, Semni Ablenov, bent over a smaller mercenary while slamming a large chunk of rock into her eye. His oldest bodyguard Belafia Twist had finally gained the advantage on another of the murderous company and cleaved the man from shoulder to sternum with an overhand swing of her greatsword. Under him the thick mercenary struggled desperately, raking his nails across Juons straining forearms. Juon yanked tighter and after a moment the man finally slumped, dead. He slammed the mercenaries face into the ground one more time anyway.

An arrow thudded into the dirt, grazing his thigh. The second would have found his shoulder if Semni hadn’t hurled the gorey rock into the face of the archer, knocking her to the ground. Juon staggered to his feet and spat a mouthful of blood.

Stunned, the archer tried to wipe her face clear as she rolled on to her back. She coughed and tried to crawl backwards.

“Monster.” She gagged.

“No shit.” Juon put his boot into the archers stomach and bent to rifle through her pockets. “Did your employer let you know how hard Tiro’s are to kill? Hold still.” His hand closed over a thin round token and pulled it free to frown at the insignia stamped on it.

“That’s the Ketterjee family crest.” Juon didn’t look over his shoulder at Belafia who had come to stand behind him. He crouched to yank the archer to her feet and slapped her across the face.

“Go back to your boss and tell them if they want a fucking war they can have it.” Juon snarled as he thrust the girl towards the alley’s entrance, his boot on her backside sending her stumbling. “Get on.”

Juon watched her flee, Belafia’s reassuring bulk at his back. Semni clopped to their side, his right eye swollen.

“I came to Benga Loa to trade, young Tiro, not murder.” He said gruffly.

Juon pushed his long hair back from his face and turned. “Sorry you got caught up in that, Semni.” He said ruefully.

“I want ten percent off the top of the next refined shipments. All of them.”

Juon sighed, “I suppose thats fair. You did have to kill someone with a rock today.” He extended his hand to grasp Semni’s forearm warmly. “A pleasure doing business with you as always. And thank you again for your help with,” Juon gestured to the pulped skull of the assassin. “You know, that. Can I send someone to escort you back to the Set? Just in case?”

“Nah, miserable little piss slits probably had enough for today.” Semni said gruffly and trotted in the direction of the Shipping Quarter. “Besides, I need to make sure my girls weighed out that soloanite correctly. I’ll see you tomorrow, Tiro.”

Juons cheerful wave turned into a weary hand rubbing the back of his neck. “That was uncomfortably close.” He said to Belafia. “I don’t know who the Ketterjees brought on, but they’re smart.”

“I’m sorry, boss. I should have seen that coming.” Belafia said heavily.

Juon sighed. “If I didn’t spot a trap and you didn’t smell danger it means they’ve got a new element in their family. The Ketterjees haven’t gone the direct rout since Carissi left their last head lady with her guts strung out over the Patrician Quarter. Something’s changed.” A fresh trickle of blood filled his mouth and he spat again, felt a molar come loose. Juon worried it with his tongue impulsively and it came free.

He rolled it out of his mouth with his tongue and snarled. “Ah, fuck me raw.”

“Come on, boss.” Belafia clapped him on the shoulder with her thickly scarred hand. “I’ll take you back to the estate…”

“No.” He said shortly. “Too early in the day to go back home. I don’t want us looking thrown.”

Belafia raised an eyebrow, but was too loyal to speak out of turn. Master Juon always had his reasons.

“Clare should be looking after the people at Raw House today so I’ll see if he can do something about…this.” Juon waved his misplaced tooth. “I’ll catch my sister up on this bit of excitement,. Just make sure you send one of our best runners back to the estate to let my parents know about this shitfest.”

“I can go myself, young master…” Belafia started.

“I need you to go into the Throat.” Juon fixed her with a steady look. “Sorry, I would go myself but I’ve got to make sure Carissi knows what happened here fast as possible.” Juon pulled a newly minted copper token from inside his belted sash and handed it to her. On it’s surface was stamped a crossed hammer and chisel backed by the Tiros burning heart crest. He pressed it into her hand. “This will get you far enough down to get word to Marmont.”

Belafia’s broad fingers closed around it and she heard the levity in his voice stretched thin with worry. Juon was practiced at deception, but know a man long enough and you could read even the most subtle of tells.

“I’ll be fine, Twist. Semni is right. The Ketterjees played their hand on us for the day. Just… Go get my husband. Get him to Raw House, please. You’re the only one I trust down there.” Juon gripped Belafia’s shoulder and she ducked her head in deference.

“Whatever you need, boss.” Belafia slapped his arm and returned her great sword to its scabbard as she strode into the open air of the Shipping Quarter and towards the center of Bega Loa and beyond to the massive sinkhole that was the Throat.

Juon leaned against the mud brick wall of the alley, his tooth clenched in his fist and looked down at the bodies spilling sluggish blood into the dirt. He could have street kids clear them away for a pittance to keep the city watch off his back. That new guard captain, Ellette Veldmark, was especially tenacious. Still, Juon Tiro knew the value of a visceral reminder of his families savvy. One crushed skull, one split corpse would go far in reminding the competing families in Benga Loa that the Tiros may project an air of cordiality but that they would never fear to sow death when it was called for.

Juon tucked his misplaced tooth into an inner pocket of his tunic and squared his shoulders. When he reached the crowded streets of the Shipping Quarter he was again the untouchable Juon Tiro, even if he was a bit swollen around the mouth. He headed towards the northern district to see his sister.

Episode 066 – Unfuck the Watershed

18 Oct

Welcome Sean Poppe to the show as our first out of town guest using the magic of Skype techonology! We share the cultural wonders of Ohio, How to save the bees, and finally I have someone on my show that will talk with wistful glee about Dragon Age.

Download Episode 066 – Unfuck the Watershed

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The least you can do to congratulate both Leia and Sean for surviving the tundra of Ohio is follow them on twitter. Your follows give them the warmth they need to survive the winter.

10/17 Deep Engines: The cast

17 Oct

HILO TAMARAND is in the shit. Saddled with an ancient magic armor, being one of the few survivors of a catastrophic war and tasked with an almost impossible world saving mission that she can’t turn her back on she also has to contend with the icy wrath of her lover who she had been separated from for the past five years…and her new husband.

Personal problems are going to have to take a back seat to the more pressing matter of the strange beasts and sickness that are beginning to creep up from the depths of the earth however. The undying echo of an old civilization is calling for blood and that’s not going to wait for romance.


ELLETTE VELDMARK is a rock, a solid foundation. In addition to a formidable build she is steadfast and has an unwavering sense of duty and loyalty. For all of her life she lived and smithed in the scummy Rift City of Gosstlet Ahn until her lover, Hilo, vanished during what was supposed to be a routine deep rift expedition. Grief stricken, Ellette left her home and eventually settled in the sprawling multicultural Benga Loa, one of the largest of the Rift Cities. She spent some time as a mercenary and eventually found a place with the cities Watchmen.

She’s pretty raw when Hilo has the nerve to show up, not only not dead, but in the process of being arrested.

BISMUTH BEGORAH is a Snake Eater, a member of the secret police employed by the ruling patrician of Benga Loa. As a very young man he volunteered for service in their elite ranks and proved himself an unshakable recruit. His devotion to Benga Loa is  whole identity and after witnessing a bloody riot as a child that stretched from The Throat to the Shipping Quarter he understands the necessity of unsavory measures.

Bismuth is a brilliant marksman. His skills made him eligible for a rare procedure. His right hand is suffused with treated solanite granting him uncanny power.

He lives in the Watch Barracks in the upper district of Benga Loa with his wife, Ellette, a woman he wasn’t exactly expecting to fall in love with. While she is aware of his position as a Snake Eater due to the circumstances of their meeting back when she was a sad, wandering drunk his job necessitates a certain amount of secrecy. There are things he keeps close to his chest.

**`~*“ (YAMHILL) hails from the roosts of the heavily forested western rifts. Yamhill is his Trade name as no one other race can truly form the Sky Tongue of the Upsheer and the crane men prize their names to have it butchered by Thick Tongues.

After the slaughter of nestmate and hachlings by the ravening Boneblack monsters Yamhill found himself drawn into the world changing conflict at the borders of civilization. Despite their enormous differences in race and culture, Yamhill looks on Hilo as a daughter. After a devastating engagement in the West he accompanies her back to Gosstlet Ahn in search of her lover Ellette and then beyond to Benga Loa for the next piece in the puzzle of halting the Boneblack.

Yamhill has a difficult time in the cradles of civilization that are made up of the Thick Tongue races. It wasn’t too long ago that the Upsheer were thought dumb animals and hunted for their meat and feathers. However, anyone ignorant enough to pick a fight with Yamhill will have to contend with his sharp beak and lightning quick movements.

 

HAVEN ADALSON is the youngest daughter of a respectable Eidlemark family. Both beloved and black sheep, the hooved beauty turned her back on a prestigious career as a physician in the Wide Heart Academy of Medicine. Its rare for any of the Bengan Eidlemark to refuse acclaim by attending the school carved into the rift face, but Havens heart burns for the pursuit of truth. She works as a journalist for one of the many papers that circulate through Benga Loa. Something is going on in the city, something big and Haven is going to find out what it is even if it kills her.

And it very well might.

 

MARMONT SETLEBRANC:  Marmont is one of the descendants of the ancient underground kingdoms called the Engine Children. Centuries of intermarrying and cultural blending with the Kef have eroded much of the Engine Childrens cultural history, not to mention the ocean of time and the trauma of the cataclysm that split the earth apart. Very few of the Children could be called “pure blooded” and even less have the tattered knowledge of what their people were like before hand.

But the ones who are and do sometimes join the Buried Sons. Marmont Settlebranc is counted among their vaunted number.

The Buried Sons are one part sophisticated mining guild, one part religious order and one part keepers of history. They are experts at caving and the handling of volatile materials, some even claim they can smell the differences in seams of mineral deposits. They are exceptionally resilient and can survive long periods underground without going mad or succumbing to the terrifying new sickness, Boneblack.

Marmont is slightly less zealous about cultural purity than some of his other brothers and sisters in the Sons. Still he is devout, keeping his personal tools in perfect order and covered in the traditional miners tattoos that provide luck, protection, or homage to ancient gods of this dangerous trade. Marmont is a man with a deep sense of responsibility and once his word is given he will never go back on it. It’s only since contracting with the Tiro family that he has loosened up somewhat and come to understand the value of selective flexibility.

 

JUON TIRO: The Tiros are masters of balance. They hold wealth and power, much of which couldn’t possibly have been obtained legally. And that’s true- not that the city watch could ever prove it. The Tiro family have been working in Benga Loa so long they could be called a dynasty and have the purse strings of many highly regulated business such as mining, ore refinement and even prostitution. The eldest daughter, Carissi, runs the most successful brothel in the entire city, Raw House. They operate at every level of Bengan society, from the respectable to the shadowed.

Juon is the youngest son in the family. Charming and quick spoken he is the face of his family’s mercantile efforts. He maintains a personable and professional face to the city watch while maintaining the Tiro stranglehold on black market shipments of outlawed ores and dangerous artifacts. Almost nothing goes on in the rift cities without Juon Tiro knowing about it.

Juon may as well be smoke on the wind when it comes to catching him in the act of suspect dealings. He presents an attitude of a man unused to physical confrontation. This is only a half truth though. Juon is a brilliant and creative artificer and more than one business rival has come for a meeting only to meet their end at one of Juons cleverly designed traps.

Not that you could prove it was a trap though. Accidents can happen anywhere and people can be so careless sometimes.

10/16 Ridden: Sight

16 Oct

Joseph’s eyes were hot. The sheets under his back were soft enough, the thoughts beating against his skull rough. He pressed the bend of his elbow against his shut eyes. If he opened them he would break and all of it would flow out like a hateful river. He couldn’t spare anyone suffering, let soon himself but he could choke back his own fear, his own grief at what came and what was going to come.

The matress dipped. A real matress. Luken and Joseph had decided to spoil themselves now that they were in the relative safety of the southlands with an inn for the night. It was a mistake Joseph thought. If he wasn’t moving the emotion caught up with him and left him swamped.

“Jo.” Lukens soft brown hand touched his forearm. “Jo, don’t do this, ey?” The hand smoothed down to cup his neck. Not prying not pushing, just there. “Not with me. You don’t have to.”

Jo was embarrassed by the noise that crawled out of his throat. At the small wounded sound Luken swung a leg over Joseph and covered him. Now the hand did pry his arm away from his face, smoothed over his jaw. Luken pressed a kiss to the freckles on the side of Joseph’s nose.

“Look at me?”

Not a command. A question,earnest and endearing. Joseph opened his eyes and the flood came, broke over his cheeks and poured into the hair at his temples. His brow furrowed in shame. Tried to turn his head away and was halted by Lukens firm fingers on his jaw. Luken pressed his forehead against Joseph’s and just looked.

It was all there now. And Jospeh could see it. Now that he knew what to see. Love and concern. Hope. Joseph Thornson could really see the pattern of another persons face now. It wasn’t a weakness or a curse like he’d been told in the north. It was just a gift for him to take if he chose to, like the witch who Sussed his talent had told him. Just a natural thing like breathing.

“It’s a hard thing.” She had said. “Hard to see the truth of another’s thoughts. But why deny yourself the truth if you can find it so easily? Some struggle for only a sliver of it in their lifetimes. Dont squander the privledge of seeing it so plainly, Osterman.”

10/14 The Legend of Bold Riley: Wheels

14 Oct

Rilavashana SanParite called Bold Riley knew traveling alone would be would not be easy, but she had never expected it to be this hard.

He boots chaffed. Everything chafed actually. Sweating and stinking she struggled through the bog in the dwindling light. She had abandoned the saddle and the horse she had stolen from the sickening people in Quifen, feeling too much guilt to carry on with them. She was raised better than to take from those who had less. No matter how wronged she felt.

A root caught her foot underwater and Bold Riley went face first into the murky water. Coughing and spluttering she heaved herself upright again. The sun was sinking fast and this was unfamiliar territory. She didn’t care to sleep in this swamp but there was nothing for it. Overhead were the wide, spreading branches of a cyprus hung with soft moss. After a moments consideration Bold Riley tossed her pack up onto the lowest of them and climbed. Her fingers still scraped and raw from the last tree she had to climb.

But she didn’t want to think of that tree right now.

She settled herself against the trunk, into the bend of the low branch and dozed. Bold Riley woke briefly, a brief vision of two shining eyes in front of her, dozed off again. She dreamed of eyes. Hair that smelled like fresh leaves, soft fingers on her neck, and the things she couldn’t prevent.

When she woke again it was still dark and the eyes were closer. No dream then. Riley’s fingers twitched for her sword and the thing in front of her showed it’s teeth. She forced herself to relax. She nestled back against the moss and said simply, “Hello.”

“Hel-lo.” The thing croaked. Pale moon eyes blinked once.

“Is this your bog? It’s very nice.” She said quietly.

“Yes, mine. Mine for to hunt in.” The eyes got bigger and Riley could see pale fingers clutching the branch in front of her. The thing had impossibly long legs that jutted upwards past it’s head in it’s crouched position. It flinched backwards when Riley took her hand away from her sword and folded them across her stomach.

“And what are you hunting tonight, friend?”

It craned forward. “Soft things. Nice things.” A white hand with too many fingers reached out.  “You things?”

“Ah.” Riley said. “That is a shame. I was speaking to my friends just now.”

“Fri-ends?”

“Yes, the stars.”

“Stars?”

Bold Riley settled more comfortably against the cyprus trunk. “Yes, You know how the sky works don’t you friend?”

The wide glowing eyes flicked upwards and Riley continued.

“Lords and ladies and monsters and heroes, They all have a different name but they dance along interlocking wheels that make up the sky. The all throw dust and darkness out around them as they move and that’s the dark parts.” Riley yawned and shrugged. “I know them quite well and we speak often. Let me say one last goodbye and then you may devour me.”

The thing scuttled a bit to the side, blinked. “Later,” It said. “Later, I eat but now, tell me sky?”

And Riley did. She pointed to the brightest stars and told stories. Stories of strong armed women who marched across the sky boldly over the surface of the Coin but became ashamed widows when they progressed over the lip of the earth. Stories of lions with seven heads who chased a mouse no bigger than one claw. Lovers who crashed together at the apogee of the sky then split in surly disagreement at the lip of the world.

Bold Riley told the thing that hungered for her flesh tales of things that were one or the other. The set of her shoulders deceptively relaxed as she spoke about astronomy that she knew of of but was frequently embellished.

The sky lightened gradually and the thing that crouched on the branch lowered its pale lids over its glowing eyes. Riley told her half truths until hoarse. Finally the sun came over the swamp and Riley carefully drew her sword on the sleeping thing.

She paused though. It was bunched up like the cats she knew from the sunny streets of Ankala. She didn’t have the heart to draw blood from the sleeping.

So Rilavashana SanParite called Bold Riley took up her pack and dropped as quietly as possible down into the soft mud of the swamp and continued south.

10/13 The Deep Engines: Myth

13 Oct

We were more numbered than the people under the sky once. From what I’ve heard, anyway.

A hundred thousand kingdoms and empires in secret places. So many gems even the children of commoners were draped in them, played with little carved toys made from rubies. Caverns so vast they formed clouds of vapor and rained on buried gardens of moss and fungus. Sweet wide rivers and deep lakes full of food.

You see the things we build in the rift cities now? All that ingenuity? Imagine that a thousandfold. So much wealth and power. The Engine Children have been a shadow since the earth split and we spilled upwards like ants.  Now it’s just thieves and monsters and wrecked cities. Who knows what the gardens look like anymore?

No, I don’t know what happened, only that there is no going back. Besides, it was a very long time ago, child. You need not concern yourself with it now.

Now I told you your story. I’m very tired now. Let an old woman go back to her nap.

10/9 Ridden: Smoke

9 Oct

They were given five days in the year to themselves. One of those days was the festival of Saint Sulranion, the man who burned and whose flesh smoked with such a heady scent it made an emperor weep with regret. The cadets were released from their barracks and all duties on this midwinter day.

When in training all Joseph Thornston wanted was time. When he actually had it though he wasn’t sure how to spend it. Wrapped in his dark blue coat against the blowing snowflakes and the embers of Sulranion’s burning effigies that children twisted together from rosemary, lavender and mint he trudged through the streets of Osgheny. Bread in the windows of shops, silk gowns on racks, people everywhere with eyes to avoid.

Joseph stopped into a candy shop just for the sake of getting out of the wind for a moment. A pretty shopgirl gave him a caramel and wished him a happy Saint day. He ignored the look she gave him from under her dark lashes when he thanked her and popped it into his mouth to avoid the necessity of more words. He left quickly.

In the main square the largest effigy was being finished. Joseph stood and watched the perfumed wood and straw figure as a young man dressed as the weeping emperor climbed a ladder to place a wreath of winter roses on the effigies head. On decending the youth was handed a torch. Fine high cheek bones, shining chestnut hair, a full lower lip. Joseph looked away from those things and saw Captain Voltz with his wife and children. Voltz with his black hair streaked with grey, doe skin coat over broad shoulders- one of which had a scar running across it from a sabre, and blue eyes under thick eyebrows.

A different set of features to fuel his guilty want.

A low hymn in halting Far Ost started among the crowd and the youth touched the brand to the treated wood which caught and engulfed the memory of Saint Sulranion. The thick perfumes smoke billowed on the wind and swirled over granite roof tops. Across the square Joseph heard Voltz laugh at something his wife said. Voltz acknowledged Cadet Thornston as he pleased but had a set to his spine when he knew Joseph was there. Rigid, neck set deliberately away from him, an effigy of the attentive, loyal family man captains were supposed to be.

An emperor might shed tears in public but Joseph was no emperor so he set his own spine and walked away from the revelers in the smoke, to find a way to spend his remaining hours on something other than thoughts of handsome faces he couldn’t hold in his hands.

10/8 The Deep Engines: Malice

8 Oct

The Throat may have predated the Big Rupture, although the theory was hotly debated at the Grand Academy. The yawning sinkhole used to mark the western border of Benga Loa in ancient days but in time superstitions surrounding it faded and the city grew around it. Meanwhile the Engine Children built downwards forming a kind of city within a city. Merchants of every race were welcome to ply their trade on the upper levels but lower, close to the water that pooled in the bottom and flowed out and down into the great rift river things were decidedly more hostile. Here in the Low, the Buried Sons were the ruling power and they did not welcome outsiders, Kef or otherwise.

Juon supposed he could count himself lucky for finding a Buried Son for a husband. Marmont was smart, talented, insanely handsome and insanely well respected within the Sons. Juon would have been more than content with simply experience the bliss of true love but if true love came with new ridiculously lucrative business opportunities far be it from him to question good fortune.

He pinched Marmonts bare elbow affectionately, dancing back a step when the shorter man went to slap him in the stomach.

“I’ve never been down this far! Very exciting!” Juon grinned.

“Try to control yourself, will you?” Marmonts gaze flicked to a group of Sons hefting pick axes over their shoulders. He nodded curtly at one of the women who saluted briefly before setting out across one of the many rope bridges strung across the Throat with her fellows. “I don’t need you making a fool of me.”

Juon ducked under one of the red lanterns that hung over the wide decending staircase. It was still crowded in the Low but the population had become markedly more homogenous and uncaring about the comfort of taller peoples. A young man shouldered Juon unnecessarily as he passed and Juon shrugged it off. His parents had always taught him to show deference when not on his own turf but Juon noted the boys face should the youth ever find himself outside of it.

“You wound me.”

Marmont snorted. “I’ll have to take you through The Whetstone to get to our contact. It’s the best route to the waterline. I won’t let anyone give you any trouble but for the love of breath don’t make any.”

“Wounded!” Juon clutched his chest and Marmont rolled his eyes.

Juon brushed another lantern out of his way, not bothering to duck this time. It was actually rather pretty down here, thousands of the red paper lanterns holding glowing stones were strung across and around the vast sink hole illuminating the thick tree roots that reached down towards the water. All around them faces carved open mouthed for the entrances to dwelling by some long dead civilization spilled their inhabitants. The carved brands on cheeks and foreheads more recently painted bright blue. Stairs, walkways, bridges everywhere. To an untrained eye the Throat might look haphazard, but Juon could recognize an elegant practicality to the design. Welcoming at the top it was planned to confuse anyone not of the Children towards the bottom. Switchbacks and choke points to corner intruders should the need arise. And the need had, frequently. The last time the Watch attempted to storm the Low in pursuit of smugglers they were slaughtered to a man, trapped in the net of the Throat.

Juon had always had a vast appreciation for clever traps.

They had come to the lowest reaches now, to a deck built around one of the gaping stone mouths.

Marmont flashed his engraved token to the thick armed youth standing at the entrance as a matter of courtesy. The girl only had a token portion of the tattoos and brands Marmont did. A novice in the Sons then. She held an arm up in front of Juon as he moved to enter behind Marmont.

“You’re fine, Settlebranc, this one stays outside.” Jaw set, she did not waver.

“He came with me and he stays with me.” Marmont said gruffly.

“And what business could this Kef have in the Throat? Master?”

Juon spread his arms and flashed his most genial smile.

“Master Juon Tiro.”

Her arm stayed up but her face was now uncertain. His family name reached far, wide, and deep. His husbands rough bark was the finishing blow to the girls confidence.

“Novice. When I bring a guest to this hall it’s for a reason. Now drop your arm and move away.”

She did, muttering a shamed “My apologies, Brother Settlebranc.” If her eyes hadn’t been cast downwards she might have noticed Marmont take his hand away from his second best hammer, the one he reserved for the more indelicate work of cracking skulls.

More suprises once they were in the tavern. Farrow looked up as they entered, hurt crossed his features then a guarded scowl.

“Ah, your old lover is here. How nice.” Juon remarked and nodded cordially in Farrow’s direction. Marmont was decidedly less cordial. He jerked his head at Farrow, tounge out he touched two fingers to his throat, and flicked them dismissively. Farrow’s scowl deepened and he turn away to start a conversation with a man at his elbow.

“You don’t have to be so malicious, Mar.”
“You can’t be defending that piece of shit.” Marmont said as they descended the concealed stairs in the back of the bar.

“Wouldn’t think of it. I just don’t see the merit in kicking a man that hard when he’s down. It must be a constant struggle to be incompetent and be thrown over for a perfect man like myself.” Juon slung an arm around Marmonts neck. Marmont tolerated it.

“No one was thrown over. I was done with him before we met.”

“I know, but I like to think I won a competition.” Juon grinned. He tried not to admit that he liked possessing someone so desired.

They reached the bottom of the stairs to the meeting place and Juon the lover became Juon the business man. Gingerly he stepped out onto a wide flat rock that sat at the base of the stairs. He stood, hands on hips and looked out across the still dark water. A moment later a pale shape broke the surface and slithered towards them. The huge white salamander and it’s rider slunk up onto the rock with them.

“Wahey, Tiro!” The sleek white haired rider dismounted and spit the hollow piece of wood stuffed with withergrass Baseians used to breath underwater into her hand. ”

“Paleah! Good to see you!” Juon greeted her warmly. “You have something nice for me?”

“Very nice, very nice, Tiro!” She flashed her pointed teeth and pulled a sack from the reed saddle on her salamander. She dropped it to his feet and crouched to rummage through it. She came up with a twisted branch of red coral.

“From the river under the Hanging City.” Paleah said proudly. “Hard to find then hard to get. Had a nosebleed for a week from diving that deep.”

Juon took it from her and turned it in his hands. It could be broken up, polished and set into jewelry. The price it would fetch with the well heeled in the patrician quarter was staggering. Paleah was looking over his shoulder at Marmont with wide, pale eyes.

“This your new man, Tiro?”

He didn’t look up from the coral branch and waved at Marmont behind him. “Oh, I’m sorry. Paleah, my husband Marmont Settlebranc. He was the one who made this transaction possible in the first place.”

Marmont shifted under her appraising eye until she grinned. “Niiiice, Tiro.”

Juon flipped the branch overhand and nodded. “Good. I’ll take it. What do you want?”

“No shell, silver. You have silver for me?” She asked.

From the pocket stitched into his outer robe Juon pulled seven silver ingots and dropped them into Paleahs webbed hand. “Pleasure as always, Paleah.”

“Hey, hey! Anytime, dear Tiro! And my regards to the rest of your family! Let them know the Marshas Dren appreciate the patronage.” One smooth motion and she had mounted her salamander again and slipped noiselessly back into the water. She waved before submerging.

“Olac, Tiro! And goodbye, handsome new man!”

Marmont snorted.

“The company you keep, JuJu.”

Juon laughed and slung the sack over his shoulder and pulled Marmont in for a kiss. “Come on, let’s go scandalize your brethren some more on the way back home. Maybe I’m crueler than you. I do sort of like seeing the look on another mans face when he realizes he can’t have you anymore. It gives me a sick thrill.”

10/7 Bold Riley: Beyond

7 Oct

Esteemed Father,

 

I send this to you by way of the courier service on the outskirts of Conchenn. I’m moving further into the northwest and don’t know when next I will see another post house. I just want you to know I am safe. I am sorry for leaving as I did, even though you gave me your blessing to set out. My worry was that if I saw your faces I would not have had the spine to leave. Know that I miss you and that you, mother, Satanii and Raka are always in my thoughts.

Conchenn has proven to be a magnificent country as I’ve heard. There was some small unpleasantness in the capital, not especially worth mentioning but if I may- it would be wise to send an emissary to Ucotlii soon. The Jaguar Throne will be selecting a new monarch soon I suspect. It would be prudent to have our diplomats in place during the process. I doubt the Conchennese will sour on our existing trade agreements but still, it would be good to have our people present just in case.

I plan to continue into Ang Warr over the next few days (do not worry, I will be careful) and see their ruined cities. Then perhaps I will see what Quifen has to offer. Mothers maps are very detailed in this region and I remember her stories. I’m looking forward to it greatly. Perhaps next I will charter a ship across the strait to Kabumzala? I recall getting on quite well with that one dignitary who came to us. What was he name? Venala? Valrenna? In any case she spoke of that city with such zeal I must see it for myself. After that, who knows. The Coin is very wide and there is much to see.

My love to the family. Tell mother I will fill in the blank spaces on her maps and that I’m sorry if my notes are crude. I will return them to her when I have had my fill of traveling in any case. Kiss Raka for me and pinch Satanii. As always I will keep to the good path and protect our family name.

And father, thank you again for honoring me with this freedom.

Patron watch over you always,

Rilavashana

10/6 The Deep Engines: Light

6 Oct

Don’t panic.

That was the first rule. Every dungeoneer heard that before they even set foot underground. Never, ever panic. You might die in a cave in or cornered by slakers but death was certain if you broke and panicked.

“The leading cause of death on expeditions is losing your shit.” Hilo Tamarand was lectured by the senior caver on her first expedition into the caverns of the old kingdoms as a younger woman. “Keep a calm head on your shoulders and you’d be amazed what you can live through.”

But there wasn’t anyone left alive to see her panic now and so she indulged.

Hilo picked her way over the broken columns of what may have been a temple, greatful for the spires of light giving gemstones that grew throughout this particular cave system. Her strike stone was barely a pebble at this point. It was all she carried with her now, that and her daggers, a frayed length of rope and the even more frayed remains of her composure. She had been trapped in the underground before, but not like this and never for so long.

Weeks. Enough weeks that maybe it had turned into months? Hilo was no Buried Son. She couldn’t tell time for such a long period underground. Her blood was mostly of Engine Child stock but blood wasn’t a honed skill. She had traipsed the ruins of the underground often enough to know the distance between what her people were and what they are now. And since she was no Buried Son she would never be foolish enough to believe that distance could ever be bridged.

There were eight of them when the expidition started. Now just one in the swallowing dark. No supplies and very little hope.

There were things that stalked the cavernous tunnels and narrow crawl throughs. That hung upside down from carved ruined ceilings, damp and sightless and hungry. It wasn’t a good idea to make too much noise but she was so alone. Hilo carried on imaginary conversations with the people she had left up there in the light.

“This was stupid, Ellette. Really stupid. You were right.” He voice thin and echoing among the ruined stone. “I shouldn’t have taken this fucking job.” A tunnel was cut into one side of the cavern and she cut towards it. Even though she was starving a terrified she had at least begun to get something resembling her bearing again, heading towards what she knew to be at least vaguely ‘upwards’.

“I found this amazing crown. Emeralds all over the thing. You would have loved it. I’m sorry I had to drop it.” She muttered, “I was going to pry one out before I sold it and have it set into a necklace for you.”

One of the glowing crystals had grown on a toppled carving of some dead emperors face and Hilo snapped it off. She lept lightly over a sunken crack in the cave floor without much thought, stumbling slightly as she landed. She didn’t stop talking.

“I had handfuls of queens jewels. A solid gold dowser. We would have been set.” She plodded into the dark tunnel on raw feet. “What? I know, I know, Big Girl. Can’t spend if you’re dead. Like I said, this was stu-”

A dull clattering sounded far down the tunnel, stalling her babble. Hilo froze.

Silence for a moment then a low, questioning moan drifted from the gloom. Hilo panicked again, turned and fled beach the way she came, leaping, ducking, bare feet bleeding through her wrappings and in her fear lost her bead on what was ‘upwards’.