Tag Archives: Sister Tianne

11 – 3

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“Yeah!” Tallie jeered, rattling the cell door again. “Not so tough when somebody actually stands up to you, huh? Somebody oughta—”

While she spoke, Locke rapped her lance sharply with one boot to make it bounce on the stone floor, then deftly slipped a toe under it and kicked it upward into her hand, whereupon she set the tip against the cell door and raked it across the bars, making them ring obnoxiously. And vibrate, to judge by the way Tallie yelped and jerked backward, shaking her fingers.

“Here’s the situation in which you kids find yourselves,” the Sergeant said in a grimmer tone, raking her stare across them. “You flubbed a job and got nabbed. The Sisterhood has no interest in prosecuting illegal arms dealers—in fact, it’s a mystery to me why the Third Legion bothered to raid that meet in the first place. That means your next stop, according to standard operating procedures, is the military police, who are interested in illegal arms dealers.” She let that loom over them for a moment before continuing. “Now, you know and I know that you bumpkins don’t have anything worthwhile to tell them and you’re guilty of, at most, being accessories to whatever crimes were actually committed. It’s honestly a toss-up whether they’d bother to press charges, but they will work you over in the process of verifying that you’re just hapless know-nothing apprentice goobers.”

“That’s a little strong,” Rasha complained.

“But,” Locke said loudly. “I also know a lot about the type of people who seek to join the Thieves’ Guild, and what’s involved in the process. Unless your family’s Guild, you almost certainly are struggling with demons of your own—and I know none of you chuckleheads are legacies, or you’d be sponsored and not getting ditched in a warehouse by the only clown who’d take you on a job. Some of you, if not most of you, if not all of you, are going by assumed names.” She glanced rapidly from Jasmine to Ross to Tallie. “It’s a safe bet you all have good reason not to want the Empire digging into your business—and you’d better believe they would dig, for something like this. Dangerous or no, weapons traffic is a matter of connections. If you’re the only links they’ve got in that chain, they will find out whatever else you’re linked to. And then, once you got out of that, you would have to explain all this to Style. You know what a kind, understanding cream puff she is. I can’t say how much rep any of you kids have, but if you happen to be already in the doghouse, or just without enough established cred, being the reason Imperial Intelligence pays the Guild a visit would be enough by itself to get your butts bounced out into the street.”

The Sergeant fell silent, raised one eyebrow, and studied each of them in turn.

“What’s the alternative?” Darius asked in an uncharacteristically quiet voice.

“Be with you in a moment,” she said, suddenly sounding cheerful again. “You just ruminate on that whilst I deal with some other business. So!” Locke paced slowly down the bars, coming to a stop near the end and turning to face Schwartz, who stood near the wall of the cell with his arms folded, scowling. “What’s your story?”

“I am Herschel Schwartz,” he announced, “fellow in good standing of the Emerald Collegium of the College of Salyrene. I have not broken any laws, my only interactions with the Silver Legions prior to tonight were rendering them aid, and I am exceedingly irate!”

“You tell ‘er!” Tallie crowed.

“SHUT UP!” everyone else shouted at her. She gaped around at them, blinking in awe.

“Herschel Schwartz.” Locke studied him closely, wearing a faint frown. “By that description, you sound like a rather upstanding fellow.”

“Thank you, I try.” Meesie, squeaking pompously, bounced from his shoulder to his head where she stood upright and folded her tiny arms.

“Would you care to explain,” Sergeant Locke asked mildly, “just what you were doing attending an illegal arms swap meet, Mr. Schwartz?”

He jutted his chin out mulishly, now refusing to meet her gaze. “…you’d laugh at me.”

“Schwartz,” Locke said pointedly, “you are in a cell. You are implicated in crimes of the sort that makes Imperial Intelligence open dossiers on people, and keep abreast of their movements for years thereafter. If you get out of this with nothing worse than being laughed at, you’ll be making out very well indeed.”

“Yes, I see your point,” he said sourly. “All right, fine. I was looking to meet and make connections with Eserites.”

“Well, it’s a right pleasure to meetcha!” Tallie said cheerfully. Meesie chittered amicably back at her.

Darius cleared his throat. “Is it too late to deny knowing her? In fact, I’m increasingly willing to testify that this whole thing was Tallie’s idea.”

“I don’t think that’d work,” Jasmine said, deadpan. “She’s met Tallie.”

“Oh, whose side are you on?” Tallie snapped.

“Children,” Locke said firmly. “Hush. And as for you, Schwartz. Any reason in particular you were wanting to connect with the Thieves’ Guild?”

He shrugged, again not meeting her stare. “Well, it’s not as if I’m the sort of person who ordinarily has such connections, is it? Honestly, I have no interest in weapons, illegal or otherwise—except, well, some of those modified wands were rather intriguing, even if arcane work isn’t my field of specialization… Ah, yes, but anyway. That meetup was the only thing I was able to find out about that I could attend, and I was sort of warned against just walking into the Imperial Casino and trying to chat people up. I was willing to buy a staff or something if that’s what it took to make friends, but fortunately for my pocketbook, the Legion interceded.”

“That’s all very interesting,” Locke said, “but it’s not really what I asked you, is it?”

“No, I suppose it’s not.” Finally he raised his eyes to hers, now staring challengingly. “But I do know that socializing with Eserites is not a crime, and in fact cannot be considered evidence of a crime according to established legal precedent. So unless you intend to see me charged with weapons trafficking, which you know won’t stick, I would like to leave now, please.”

“Hm,” Locke mused, and then shrugged. “Welp! You’re not wrong. And as I have been given discretion with regard to what’s done with you kittens, it seems I have the authority to release you.”

“Can you stop with the diminutive nicknames?” Rasha snapped.

“You’re free to go,” Locke continued to Schwartz, ignoring the Punaji boy. “I’ll ask your patience a few moments longer, with apologies; you’re all leaving that cell in just a few moments, toward one destination or another, and I’d just as soon not deal with the rigamarole of extracting one person while corralling the rest. After you’re out of there, though, I’d appreciate it if you’d stick around for a few minutes, Mr. Schwartz. I’d like to have a word with you in private.”

He sighed dramatically. “I’ve told you everything I know about all this, which is practically nothing. I don’t see what else you can possibly want from me!”

“Oh, no,” she said with amusement, “I don’t suspect you of anything but being in the wrong place at the wrong time. I meant a personal conversation.”

“Then I understand even less,” he replied, frowning. “I’m pretty sure we’ve not met before—I’d remember a dark-haired elf.”

“We haven’t, no,” Locke said, now grinning openly. “But I’d like to chat a bit about another Mr. Schwartz I know, of whom you are the spitting image, minus about twenty years.”

He blinked. “You knew my father?”

Locke’s grin melted away. “…knew?”

“Oh.” Schwartz sighed. “Yes. He passed on six years ago. A carriage accident. Of all the ridiculous ways to go, after all he did in his life…”

“Hey, can you two maybe talk this out after—”

Darius broke off with a muffled curse as Ross swatted him upside the back of his head, sending him stumbling forward into the bars.

“Have some respect,” Ross grumbled disapprovingly.

“I’m sorry to be the one to tell you,” Schwartz said awkwardly.

“No. No, I’m sorry.” Locke shook her head. “If I took better care of my relationships I wouldn’t be finding out about lost friends years after the fact… And this isn’t the first time, either. But yes, anyway, I do need to deal with the rest of these first, but…”

“Sure,” Schwartz agreed, looking generally more amenable now. “And yes, I’ll hang around a bit after you’re done.”

“Smashing. So!” Locke turned to the others, raising her eyebrows. “Thoughts?”

“You’re not accustomed to holding prisoners,” Jasmine said critically. “Keeping us in suspense is cheap drama, and the threat isn’t ominous enough to even make it effective. Do you just enjoy wasting everyone’s time?”

“Okay, not with her, either,” Darius announced. “In fact, I disavow any knowledge of all of these fuckers.”

“My, kitten’s got some claws on her,” Locke said dryly to Jasmine. “I bet all the other girls back in finishing school lived in absolute dread of you.”

Jasmine narrowed her eyes to slits.

Rasha cleared his throat. “So, anyway, you were menacing us with threats of Intelligence and whoever Style is. Was there a better alternative?”

Locke boggled at him. “Whoever Style is?!”

Tallie cleared her throat. “He’s new. As in, first night. Hasn’t even got a bunk yet.”

“I’m having an interesting day,” Rasha grumbled.

“You poor bastard,” Locke said, shaking her head. “All right, here’s the deal. There are times when being caught between my various responsibilities is a hardship—but then there are times, like this one, where they all line up perfectly.” She began to pace slowly up and down in front of the bars. “I have a responsibility to the law, which is the least of my concerns here, because we all know you lot aren’t a threat to anyone except possibly yourselves. You might, it is true, become a threat one day if you stick with the Guild, but nobody rational prosecutes potential. I have a responsibility to the Silver Legions to do something with a gaggle of fairly-caught criminals. I could maybe just let you all go as an interfaith gesture of goodwill and justify that to my captain as part of my squad’s mandate—”

“Yes!” Tallie said, gripping the bars again and nodding eagerly. “Embrace the mandate!”

“But,” Locke continued, ignoring her, “there is also my responsibility as a member of the Thieves’ Guild to do something with a gaggle of fairly-caught screwups. So! I believe I know of a happy medium. One which meets all those objectives and gives you a valuable life lesson besides!”

“I hate valuable life lessons,” Tallie grumbled.

Locke stepped to one side and turned to regard those behind her with a sunny smile. The rest of her squad had been standing silently this whole time at parade rest; the Avenist cleric who’d accompanied them in watched the proceedings with interest from the sidelines, as did the sole Legionnaire who’d been left to guard the room.

“I asked your gracious host, Sister Tianne, if there was any significant work that needed doing around this facility—”

“Oh, come on!” Darius groaned.

“—and wouldn’t you know it! This temple has an attached stable, which is slated for renovation to house enchanted carriages rather than horses, the times being what they are. The budget being what it is, no actual workers have yet been contracted to do this, and as this particular temple is mostly a dedicated training facility and waypoint for the Legions on city duty, there aren’t enough permanent staff here to undertake a renovation themselves. So guess what!”

“I hate you,” Darius informed her.

Jasmine shrugged. “It sounds like honest work to me. And a fair enough consequence for tonight’s mess. Considering how this could have gone, I don’t see what your complaint is.”

“Jasmine,” he said in exasperation, “I did not join up with the bloody Thieves’ Guild because I wanted to do honest work!”

“You think thieves don’t work?” Ross asked.

“Everybody works,” Rasha added. “Don’t work, don’t eat.”

“Some of you,” Locke said with visible approval, “have a future in your chosen organization.”

“But it’s the middle of the night!” Tallie protested, again rattling the cell door.

“Oh, you’ve got some pressing appointment? A hot date?” Sergeant Locke arched an eyebrow. “Very well, it’s up to you. Since, if you’d rather not help the good Sister thoroughly clean out the stables, your next meeting will be with the military police. After all, nobody wants to keep them waiting.”

Tallie groaned and slumped forward, clonking her forehead against the bars.

“So,” Locke continued, “once you’re out of there, you’re out. You’ll answer to Sister Tianne until she is satisfied with your results—and Sister, be so kind as to be satisfied only when that place is spotless.”

“It goes without saying,” Tianne agreed.

“And in case any of you are thinking of bolting prematurely, let me just inform you that she will be sending me a full report of your performance, and if I find any complaints in it, they’ll go right to Style.”

“You don’t even know our names,” Darius huffed.

The Sergeant pointed to each of them in turn. “Gangly but hot wiseass, tiny Punaji, handsome yet poorly-dressed meathead, walking wall, deceptively dainty bruiser. Anybody wanna lay odds Style can’t figure out who you are?” She let them consider that for a moment before going on. “Come to a decision quickly, please, kids. I know you’re all eager to put this whole episode behind you, and poor Mr. Schwartz has been cooped up in there quite long enough.”

“Well, I can’t say this hasn’t been rather interesting,” Schwartz commented.

Tallie sighed and turned to face the others. “Well, whaddaya think, guys? Should we make a show of pretending to consider it to save face, or just go ahead and ask where the brooms are?”

“Oh, we’ll get to the brooms before the end of the night,” Sister Tianne said with a benign smile. “You’ll need to start with shovels.”

“I think,” said Rasha, “I’ve made some poor decisions recently.”

Casey was practically vibrating with eagerness as the downcast Eserite apprentices filed through the small temple’s courtyard en route to its attached stables.

“Are we going to stay and supervise this, Sarge?” Ephanie asked.

“No.” Principia shook her head. “They’re on the honor system now.”

“They’re Eserites,” Merry pointed out disdainfully.

“One,” said Principia, “they barely are. Two, they know the consequences of screwing this up; the point of the honor system in this case is to teach them some honor. And three, Lang, shut your hate hole, you dismal termagant, you. Avelea, keep everybody in line, please; the rest of you, stand in the courtyard here looking official until I’m back. You have my apologies for leaving you on the hook while I see to personal business, ladies. I’ll buy you all cocoa tomorrow.”

“That makes it all worth it!” Farah said with a broad smile.

“Sarge!” Casey finally burst out, the last of the apprentices having vanished into the stable. “That girl, the one with the dark hair—”

Principa’s finger was suddenly in her face. “No, Elwick.”

“But Farah and I met her, I’m sure it’s—”

“No, Elwick!” Principia repeated more loudly. “Drop it.”

“But I could see you recognized—”

“Elwick,” the sergeant snapped, “as soon as we’re back at base you will give me five laps of the parade ground at full run before removing your gear.” She took a step closer to the suddenly silent private, glaring. “And nothing that uninteresting, completely random Guild apprentice chooses to do is any of your business until and unless she tells you otherwise. I will not have to repeat any of this to you. Ever. Am I understood?”

Casey swallowed heavily. “Yes, ma’am.”

Principia held her gaze for a moment before withdrawing. “Good. Now I’m going to go have a quick word with Mr. Schwartz, and then we can be on our way back home.”

She nodded once to them, then turned and strode off into the temple proper, through the door Schwartz had earlier been shown by a resident priestess.

“Asking what the deal is with that apprentice is just gonna get me added to the shit list, isn’t it,” Merry said wryly.

Nandi Shahai glanced at her from behind her helmet, then at the door to the stables, and then after Principia, remaining silent.

Jasmine took the opportunity to glance at the sky as she pushed a wheelbarrow filled with the sludge and unspeakable smells of countless horses out to the courtyard, where she had been instructed to pile the refuse to be collected later and transported out of the city, there being ordinances about what could and could not be just tossed away in Tiraas. The island city had to regulate some things with exceeding care, lest people find themselves wading ankle-deep in pollution. It was hard to tell through the city’s omnipresent glow, but the sky didn’t appear to be lightening. What with one thing and another, she had completely lost track of time, but it was surely past midnight by now.

Straightening up after tipping the barrow over, she paused to scrub a sleeve over her sweaty forehead and glanced around the courtyard. Squad 391 were still present, lounging around at ease; clearly they didn’t find the apprentices to be much of a hazard or a responsibility. Not that she could blame them. In fact, one was leaning against the wall quite close by, which drew a second glance from her. The woman had her helmet off, revealing she was an elf. A blonde elf with horizontal ears, not another dark-haired wood elf, but still. There weren’t so many elves in the Legions altogether. It was quite odd to find two in such a small unit.

“Don’t take it as a rejection,” the elven Legionnaire said suddenly as Jasmine turned to push her wheelbarrow back inside for another load. “Locke’s enlistment was under the specific condition that she not go near you except at your invitation. She’s not overly fond of rules in general, but she can toe the line when necessary.”

Jasmine had paused, hands on her burden, to peer at the woman sidelong without turning to face her. “I have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about.”

“Of course. My mistake.”

She pushed the barrow another foot and a half before letting it come to a stop. “Your sergeant claims to be a member of the Guild.”

“It’s not a claim,” the soldier—a corporal, by her insignia—said with a smile. “The Legion knows her history and credentials quite well.”

“Are you sure she’s trustworthy?”

She cocked her head to the side in thought. “Complicated question, isn’t it? The chain of command seems to mostly find her a nuisance…but her own soldiers are quite loyal to her. I would say fiercely so, in some cases. That’s a particular type of officer who bears watching. In war and other dangerous times they have a way of saving us all; in more peaceful times, they cause the most horrendous trouble.”

Jasmine frowned slightly, then opened her mouth to speak again.

“Oi!” Tallie bellowed from within the stable. “Having a nice break out there?”

With a sigh, she picked up the wheelbarrow’s handles and pushed back into the stable.

Schwartz’s rented room wasn’t quite dark anymore by the time he got back to it. Not fully light, either—it was still before dawn—but even without flipping on the fairy lamp, he could see clearly by the pale glow of the windows. Well, good; one less thing to do. He was so tired…

He stepped in, shut and locked the door behind himself, and turned to make his way for the bed. He could afford an actual apartment but considered it wasteful; this small loft had all the space he needed for his books and magical supplies, and keeping a bed tucked into a far corner suited him just fine. Only halfway there did he realize someone was present, lounging in his armchair.

“Oh!” he said, stopping and blinking in surprise. “I’m sorry, I didn’t see you…”

“Good morning, Herschel,” Ami said sweetly. “How was your evening?”

“Ah, well, you know. Long. I don’t mean to be inhospitable, but it’s so late it’s early and I’m really—”


Despite her usually dulcet tones, Ami Talaari’s voice had been trained for power as well as precision; she could project at a porcelain-cracking volume in an enclosed space. He actually staggered backward, Meesie squealing and puffing up in alarm.

“Do you have any idea how worried I’ve been?” the bard raged, surging to her feet and stalking toward him. “The last thing I heard, you’d gone haring off to some godawful hole full of all manner of thugs, to make friends, of all the ludicrous things! And then you don’t come home all night? I thought you were dead! I pictured you being tortured! I feared you were in jail!”

“I was!” he protested.

Ami halted her advance, and blinked once, slowly. “Run that by me again?”

“Well, I’m not sure if it was jail in a legal sense,” he said. “The Silver Legion raided the warehouse and rounded up everybody who couldn’t escape—which was just me and some poor Eserite apprentices who hardly seemed to know what was happening. And they let me out, obviously, once things were sorted out, but… Yes, that did take up the bulk of the night, I’m afraid. Sorry, I didn’t know you’d be waiting up. Um…you don’t usually visit at…this hour. How long have you been sitting here?”

She waved that away. “Well, I suppose I can’t entirely blame that on you, then. Did you at least gain any contacts within the Guild?”

Schwartz stepped slowly forward and pulled over one of the chairs at the table, sinking down into it. “Well… Actually, it’s kind of a funny story.”

Ami arched an eyebrow superciliously, crossing her arms under her bosom, and Schwartz was pleased that he neither blushed nor lost eye contact; he must be getting used to her. It wasn’t even that he thought of her that way, really, but she did have a most impressive bust. And she accented it regularly and, he was sure, quite deliberately.

“I’m all ears.”

“You wouldn’t rather wait till later in the day?”

Somehow, that eyebrow rose even higher.

“Yes, right,” he sighed. “Well. It turns out the Legion sergeant in charge of all this is also a member of the Thieves’ Guild. And she knew my father. She said he helped her once with something important and she owed him, and since he’s gone now, she considered it her duty to help me out.”

“Wait. Stop.” Ami held up one hand peremptorily. “Did you really just tell me this Silver Legion sergeant is in the Thieves’ Guild? Is that allowed? Is it even possible?”

“I was rather curious about that, too,” he said frankly. “So were the apprentices. But she had a handful of troops following her, as well as the priestess in residence at the Avenist facility where they took us, and nobody contradicted her. And honestly, if anybody could’ve found the one Eserite Legionnaire in all the world to strike up a friendship with, it would’ve been my dad.”

Meesie squeaked rather mournfully, patting his ear. He reached up to scratch her head with a fingertip. She had only known Anton Schwartz briefly, but the elder Schwartz had been quite fond of the little elemental.

“So,” he went on, shrugging, “in a way, this ended up being a more perfect result than we could’ve hoped for. And now I am really indescribably tired…”

“Hmm.” Ami turned to frown out the window, placing herself in profile relative to him, and he sighed and shifted his own eyes to stare stubbornly at a bookcase. There was no way she didn’t do this on purpose. “Yes, that does sound good, doesn’t it? But also risky. If she’s in the Legion… That’s awfully close to Basra.”

“Yes,” he said wearily, “which is why it’s perfect as opposed to merely great.”

“You know,” she mused, a smile growing over her features, “I do believe you’re right. Very well, then! I shall forgive you for making me worry. We had better get planning on…”

She trailed off, having turned to face him. Schwartz was slumped forward in his chair, emitting a soft buzzing noise from his nose. Meesie climbed up onto his head and squeaked once, pointing one paw warningly at Ami.

The bard sighed and shook her head, but permitted herself a small, fond smile. “All right, then. Tomorrow. There’s time.”

“Good morning, Locke!”

Principia sighed, pausing to salute, the rest of her squad straggling to a halt to emulate her. They were ragged—not that it had been a particularly grueling night, just a very long one. She and Nandi were faring well, but drawing from stores of energy in the event of sleeplessness was an elven skill they weren’t able to share with the squad.

“Morning, Captain,” she said as Dijanerad approached. “You’re up early.”

“No, I’m not,” the captain replied with a smile. “On army time, this is business as usual. You’re out late.”

“Wasn’t my idea, ma’am,” Principia replied. “But it ended up being a good night’s work.”

“And I’m afraid it’s not done yet,” Dijanerad said, her expression growing grimmer. “The High Commander wants you, Locke. Soon as you were back, which is now.”

Principia drew in a deep breath and let it out through her nose. “What could she possibly need at this hour?”

“Well, gee, Locke, I don’t know. I bet if you ask her that, in exactly that tone, it’ll make a perfect ice-breaker.”

“I don’t know if I mention it often enough, Cap, but you’re my favorite.”

“That’s because I’m far too tolerant of your horseshit, and no, you don’t. Best get cracking, Locke. Patience is among Commander Rouvad’s many virtues, but…not so much with you.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Principia said, saluting again, and turned back to her squad. “Go get some rest, ladies. Except you, Elwick. Five laps. Move it.”

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11 – 2

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If any of the apprentices had been expecting an exciting and revelatory defiance of stereotype, the “job” let them down. It was a gathering of rough-looking characters dealing in dangerous-looking implements, in a half-cluttered warehouse which, to judge by the dust, had seen no legitimate use in months, in a shabby and somewhat scary part of the city. The whole thing could have come straight from a chapbook by someone whose only experience of Thieves’ Guild operations was other chapbooks.

“You sure it’s safe to be doin’ this around here?” Tallie huffed, watching over her shoulder as she backed through the alley door into the warehouse proper. Jasmine, holding the other end of the long crate they carried between them, remained silent and focused, and notably less out of breath. “Seems like a kinda dangerous part of town.”

“Child,” said Pick, who was two years older than they at the absolute most, “I realize you’re new blood, but you are still, in the broadest possible sense, Guild. We are what makes it a rough part of town. There are people in this world who won’t hesitate to take a shot at a follower of Eserion. None of them are the dregs huddling in this hole.”

Tallie preferred to save her breath, rather than talking. Under Pick’s direction, they set their crate down atop one of the other two, which were laid side-by-side in one corner of the warehouse, illuminated by a portable fairy lamp hung from a hook of indeterminate purpose attached to the nearby wall. Moments later, Ross followed them in, holding the final crate in his arms. They were about four feet long and one wide, and fairly flat, but absurdly heavy for their size; even Pick had stared with raised eyebrows when Ross uncomplainingly picked one up by himself.

The last of the apprentices Darius had found, he had a few weeks’ seniority on them, and was even quieter than Jasmine, communicating in monosyllables if that. Though not tall, Ross was a very beefy specimen, having an impressive paunch, but under the coating of fat his frame had a blocky shape which hinted at powerful muscle, and his silent hoisting of their cargo bore out the impression. His reddish hair was shaggy and almost shoulder-length, and a bushy beard hid most of his face, revealing only a round nose and sharp blue eyes in a florid complexion.

“People aren’t dregs just because they can’t afford a better place to live,” Jasmine said quietly, straightening up. She was clearly far stronger than her lanky frame suggested, to judge by the ease with which she’d handled her end of the crates. Tallie was still panting and slightly stooped.

“No,” Pick said curtly, “they can’t afford a better place to live because they’re dregs. It takes ambition and guts to move ahead in life; without those, you’ll be lucky to tread water. Most end up sinking. Here, if you’ve got enough free time to philosophize, make yourself useful. I see our buyers, so get those open.”

He tossed a crowbar at her—not aggressively, but abruptly. Jasmine snagged it out of the air without effort, giving him a sidelong look of disdain, but swiftly bent to start prying the lid off the last crate, which Ross had just set atop the pile.

Pick wore a black leather coat with a high collar that rose to the level of his eyes, and was dressed entirely in black beneath it. The ensemble managed to look somewhat dashing, and would perhaps have been quite striking on someone less reedy and sallow-faced. Turning his back on the apprentices, and thus not seeing the faces Tallie made at him, he strode away toward a pair of short, stocky figures in heavy brown cloaks, who were drifting in their direction.

“Wonder how many times a day he ‘accidentally’ gets called Prick,” Tallie muttered. Ross, standing with his arms folded, gave her a sidelong glance and a grunt, but his stolid expression relaxed into something very nearly approximating a smile. Jasmine didn’t look up from levering the top board off the crate she’d chosen; it was nailed down hard, and had to be pried off one end at a time, with some apparent difficulty. Tallie glanced at her, then shook her head. “We picked the bullshit job after all. Darius and Rasha get to enjoy the cool night air up on the roof…”

“It’s raining,” Ross grunted.

“It’s misting,” she corrected. “It’s not even a drizzle. It’s refreshing.”

He stroked his beard, then flicked his hand to one side, scattering droplets of water.

“And as soon as my lovely assistant gets that thing open, you can inspect your wares,” Pick was saying, leading the two buyers over to them. Both, upon closer inspection, had to be dwarves, despite the clearly obfuscatory cloaks. They were barely chest-high on Tallie, and twice as broad as the average human, but even the concealingly draped fabric couldn’t disguise their squarish physiques.

“We will, of course, need to inspect the contents of each case before finalizing a purchase,” one said, in a faint but noticeable Svennish accent. Jasmine, who had just finished prying the top loose and was setting aside the crowbar to pull it away entirely, paused, glanced at him, and sighed.

“Of course,” Pick agreed, stuffing his hands in the pockets of his coat. “We have time to indulge you. In fact, you can keep the crowbar after you’re done using it.”

Both dwarves turned slightly to face him, the hoods concealing their faces somehow not blunting the displeasure in the gesture. Pick just smiled blandly.

“And how,” said the second dwarf, who spoke Tanglish as well as any Tiraan, “are we to be certain these devices perform as we were told?”

“I haven’t the faintest idea,” Pick replied nonchalantly. “My entire instructions for this exchange consisted of the time, place, and agreed price. I’m not empowered to bargain with you even if I were inclined to. Which, I suspect, you know very well.”

Jasmine, meanwhile, had laid aside the crate’s top, and suddenly frowned in consternation. She reached into the opened crate and pulled out one of the objects it contained, incidentally mussing the bed of straw in which it was packed. It was a heavily augmented battlestaff of some kind; the clicker mechanism was obvious and familiar, but it had large crystals on either end, and its business end had a spiraling framework of what appeared to be gold set around it. “Where did this come from?” she demanded.

“Whoah, whoah, whoah!” Pick snapped, whirling on her. “Kid, I get that you’re new, but this is a shady arms deal in a defunct warehouse. I should not have to explain that we don’t make inquiries. Especially that one!”

“If I may?” said the first, more accented dwarf, stepping forward and holding out a broad hand. Jasmine, still looking puzzled and displeased, went to meet him halfway, and handed over the enhanced staff.

“Holy shit, is that gold?” Tallie breathed. “No wonder those boxes are so damn heavy.”

“Seriously?” Pick exclaimed. “Omnu’s balls, what did I literally just finish saying to you?”

“Oh, pipe down, it was a rhetorical question.”

“A talkative bunch,” commented the dwarf not currently inspecting the staff. “Apprentices, then? How disappointing. We were given to understand that this matter would be professionally handled.”

“Oh, were you?” Pick said dryly, turning to face him. “Were you really? Or did you just hear that this was a Guild-sanctioned exchange and made assumptions? Perhaps just finding points to nitpick in the hope that I’ll offer you a bargain which I’ve already explained that I can’t? Yes, this job was handed off to a junior Guild member and a handful of apprentices. You may consider that a statement about the regard in which the Guild holds your opinion, and keep it in mind before you waste my time with any more complaints. If you want to buy the weapons, you know the price. In any other circumstance, I’m just as happy to pack them back up and leave. I get paid the same either way.”

“Oh, gods, please buy the damned things,” Tallie groaned. “I do not want to haul those back out to the cart.”

“Kid cease your—and you!” Pick broke off, pointing at Jasmine, who had pulled out a second staff from the crate and was studying it critically. “Unless you’re planning to make a purchase, desist fucking around with the merchandise! In fact, both of you, give the buyers some space. Go on, go play.”

He shooed them irritably away from their corner, leaving himself alone with the dwarves and Ross, who stood impassively by the crates with his burly arms folded. Tallie stuck her tongue out at Pick as she went, which he either didn’t notice or just didn’t acknowledge. Jasmine followed her without complaint, though her troubled frown remained in place.

“So, that was weird,” Tallie said pointedly. “What the hell are those things? You looked like you’ve seen ’em before.”

Jasmine continued frowning into the distance, appearing not to have heard. After a moment, though, she shook her head very slightly.

“Y’know,” Tallie remarked with a grin, “if you’re gonna act all mysterious it’s only going to make me more curious.”

At that, Jasmine blinked and turned to her. “…sorry? Was I being mysterious?”

“Slightly more than usual,” Tallie said solemnly.

This was clearly a bigger event than the pre-arranged sale they had been brought out for, though when Rasha and Darius had been sent to the roof, there were no other lookouts posted. Two other merchants had set up shop in the warehouse, and seemed to be doing more ambitious business than Pick. A scrawny fellow with an eyepatch and apparently permanent hunch stood behind a long, rough table laid out with various implements clearly derived from wands, in a number of unconventional and presumably illegal configurations. He dry-washed his hands almost constantly, even when speaking with prospective customers, of which he seemed to draw the lion’s share. It wasn’t exactly a busy market, only a few people being present at a time to examine the wares. This gathering was clearly no secret, but just as clearly was not widely known. Or, more likely, just had a highly specific clientele.

Tallie and Jasmine had wandered mostly by accident near the other merchant present, who seemed to be running the smallest and yet most expensive operation present. He was a well-fed, well-dressed man in his forties, and had only a single case open with three items displayed—a dagger, a tomahawk, and some kind of chain with a handle loosely coiled on a crimson velvet pillow. At the moment, he was haggling with his only apparent customer, an even more well-dressed man who bore himself with an aristocrat’s arrogance. Despite the fact that his offerings looked old and battered, this merchant had as many employees (counting himself) as items for sale: a burly man with tattooed arms exposed by his sleeveless vest stood near him, while a lean, hatchet-faced woman lounged against the wall behind the table on which his case lay, idly toying with a stiletto. The hulking bodyguard kept his attention fixed on the man talking with the boss, while the woman’s eyes darted constantly, examining everyone and every source of movement in the room, including Tallie and Jasmine.

“Ugh, what is that?” Tallie asked, wrinkling her nose and pointing to the coiled chain. “Looks like junk.”

“That’s an ak-tra,” Jasmine replied, leaning forward slightly to study.

“Issa wha?”

“An orcish weapon,” Jasmine explained. “Always rare, but unheard of since the Enchanter Wars. Entirely illegal in the Empire since long before then, but there are a few in museums in Viridill. See, every link in that chain has sharpened edges.”

“Holy shit,” Tallie said, eyes wide with sudden, gruesome delight. “That would make the most hideous wounds! And be hard as hell to use without slashing yourself to pieces…”

“Yes,” Jasmine agreed. “They were only used by… Well, what used to be called headhunters, though that refers to something difference after the Enchanter’s Bane, of course. For the most part, orcs heavily emphasized honor in battle, but they also were great believers in pain as a tool of both justice and education. When someone did something truly heinous against a clan, a headhunter would be called, specifically trained, equipped with highly specialized weapons like this one, imbued through fae rituals, and sent to punish the transgressor in the most painful way possible. One properly trained in the use of the ak-tra could inflict awful wounds by wielding it like a flail, but the proper technique of it was to wrap it around an opponent’s limbs and pull. It would saw through flesh, and then snap the bone with a final jerk. It needs some rather nasty fae craft to make it work right, but that left wounds that were hellishly difficult to heal. Highly prone to infection even if the victim didn’t bleed out immediately.”

“Where the shit do you learn this stuff?” Tallie breathed, apparently torn between horror and fascination.

“This one’s been heavily used, see?” Jasmine started to reach for the ak-tra, but the woman behind it suddenly stopped playing with her knife and cleared her throat loudly. Jasmine pulled back immediately, nodding at the guard before continuing her lecture. “See how worn those links are? The edges are basically impossible to sharpen; these weapons are meant to serve a single campaign, and that’s it. It’s seen a lot of action—look, some of them are worn almost through. People suffered horribly under those teeth. And yet…the headhunter’s mission of vengeance went unfulfilled, otherwise this would have been ceremonially destroyed afterward. Instead it fell into enemy hands, and eventually ended up here. This weapon must have an incredible story to tell.”

“Oh, I see,” the snooty potential buyer said loudly, looking down his nose at them. “Very good, you brought in a shill.”

“Upon my honor,” the merchant promised, grinning, “I’ve never seen this young lady before in my life. Though if I ever do again, I just may offer her a job.”

“Oh.” Jasmine looked suddenly self-conscious, taking a step back. “I’m sorry, I didn’t meant to interrupt…”

“Not at all, my dear, not at all,” the merchant said smoothly. “It’s always a pleasure to meet a fellow historian of armaments. And his Lordship isn’t wrong; you make a most serviceable shill, even unwittingly. I’d be willing to pay good coin for your services.”

“Hmf,” the aristocrat said more thoughtfully, seeming mollified. “Well, even if I am being scammed, as I more than suspect, it’s almost worth it for the theater. Yes, I believe your asking price for the ak-tra is more reasonable than I first thought.”

“I’m glad we could come to an understanding,” the merchant replied with a broad smile.

“Now, now, we’ve not reached an understanding. Merely a more amicable bargaining position.”

“Why, of course, milord! It hardly behooves us to skip the fun part of the evening, now does it?”

“I say, that was rather fascinating!” said another voice from their other side; both girls whirled to find themselves confronted by a reedy young man with sandy hair and glasses, grinning delightedly at them. Most incongruously, he had some kind of pet on his shoulder, a little creature like a cross between a mouse and a ferret, scarlet red and, in the dimness of the warehouse, faintly glowing. “Where did you learn so much about orcs, if I may ask? It’s so dashedly hard to find reliable historical sources—what isn’t moldering away in Athan’Khar has been pretty well suppressed by the Empire.”

“The Sisters of Avei keep a lot of records,” Jasmine said absently, staring at his pet. “Especially in Viridill, where they fought the orcs regularly…”

“What is that thing?” Tallie demanded, gazing raptly at the rodent. “It’s adorable!”

“Ah! Well, she is rather fetching, isn’t she?” he said, seemingly well pleased with himself. “This is Meesie, my familiar. Don’t worry, she’s quite—Meesie, no!”

Despite his bark of horror and an abortive attempt to grab the little elemental, she had let out a shrill squeak and hurled herself forward, landing on Jasmine’s shoulder. The girl stumbled backward in surprise, prompting the female body guard to lunge forward between her and the weapons display, but Jasmine fortunately didn’t stagger that far. Even more fortunately, Meesie appeared quite delighted with her new acquaintance. She ran about in a circle on Jasmine’s shoulder, cheeping excitedly, then reared up on her hind legs, patting at Jasmine’s cheek with her forepaws.

“Gods’ books, I am so sorry!” the man blurted, reaching forward to grab the mouse. “I’ve never seen her do that, I never expected—terribly sorry! She doesn’t mean any harm, I swear, it’s just… I mean, she doesn’t usually like people without getting to know them. I’m sorry!”

“No harm done,” Jasmine said somewhat bemusedly, brushing at her shoulder, though the fire-mouse hadn’t left so much as a hair behind.

“Maybe you wanna invest in a leash?” Tallie suggested. Meesie sat upright on her owner’s palm and scolded her in high-pitched squeaks.

“All right, that’s enough,” said the female merchant’s guard in a gravelly voice which hinted at either a throat injury or a lifelong smoking habit. “You, poncy boy. If you’re here to buy, buy. Otherwise, clear out.”

“Oh, now, wait just a moment,” he said nervously, edging back from her and getting a firmer grip on his pet. “I was just—”

“Browsing, I know. I saw.” She took a menacing step forward. “This is not a kind of place where you browse, numbnuts. If you aren’t here for a good and specific reason involving a purchase, you’ve got no business here. Either buy something or fuck off, before we have to have a long conversation in the back about who told you about this gathering.”

“Hang on, now,” Jasmine protested.

“Where’s the back?” Tallie asked, looking around expressively. “This whole place is like an alley’s crusty drawers.”

Before the scene could degenerate further, there came a cry from outside, followed a second later by flashes of light visible through the warehouse’s windows. Instantly, most of those present burst into motion like startled cockroaches, shooting toward exits. None went for obvious ones, though; they bounded up piled crates to the windows, to a ladder leading to the roof, and toward the office at the back of the warehouse.

In near-perfect unison, two smoking bottles arced into the warehouse from its front and back doors. They shattered upon impact with the stone floor, emitting enormous gouts of smoke which billowed rapidly through the whole space. The rich marchant’s guards reacted fluidly, snapping shut the case and bolting with their patron, which was the last any of the apprentices could make out of them before visibility in the warehouse dropped to zero.

There were a few moments of blind chaos, begun by the pounding of numerous feet in heavy boots. Slamming, shouting, breaking objects and the abortive sounds of combat ensued. Not for long, though; the smoke didn’t last but a minute. By the time it cleared, the ruckus had been expertly pacified.

The other weapons display was smashed, and all three merchants—including Pick—were gone. There was no sign of the dwarves, either, but the soldiers who had burst in were now standing guard over his creates of modified staves. Ross was being held at lance point next to it; his expression was sullen, but he had his hands in the air.

Tallie, grunting and cursing, had been wrestled to her knees with both arms twisted behind her by armored soldiers. The man with the rat had been backed into a corner; he had his pet blazing and chittering furiously on one shoulder, while he held up a conjured fireball threateningly. Jasmine had been shoved against the wall and was being held there by two soldiers, while a third held a lance at her neck; both the troops clutching her were somewhat the worse for wear, one missing a helmet and the other with an apparently numb arm hanging at her side, her own lance lying on the floor at her feet.

Everywhere, bronze-armored women stood guard in tense postures, covering all avenues in and out of the building. All had their helmets on, with the further addition of scarves wound around the lower parts of their heads and goggles over their eyes.

As the smoke dissipated, another woman strode in, her boots clomping heavily on the floor. She came to a halt in the center of the room, turning in a slow circle to examine everything. She alone wasn’t wearing a helmet, leaving her dissatisfied expression bare for all to see.

“This is it?” she demanded. “Looks like all we caught were… Honestly, these are apprentices at most. I doubt they’re even proper street soldiers.”

“I’m not even with them!” the man with the mouse said shrilly. He was ignored.

“Think we have an enforcer here, Sarge,” said the helmetless woman gripping Jasmine, her face still mostly hidden by mask and goggles. “This one’s scrappy.”

“Just because you haven’t trained properly in augmented gear doesn’t mean I’m any more dangerous,” Jasmine spat.

“Now, you listen,” the soldier began menacingly, raising a fist.

“Button it,” snapped the sergeant. “I’ll not have you abusing prisoners, or letting yourself be goaded by Eserites. If you can’t control yourself better than that, soldier, this is not the unit for you. And you.” She pointed at the robed man. “Extinguish that immediately, and don’t even think about doing what you’re thinking about doing unless you want to multiply your problems exponentially. The lot of you,” she added grimly, turning her head to address them all, “are now in the custody of the Silver Legions.”

“This is the last time Rasha’s on lookout duty,” Darius snarled, pacing like a caged panther.

“You were a lookout too!” Rasha snapped back at him.

“I’m not the fuckhead they bowled right through!” the other apprentice retorted. “First thing I knew about this, you were on the ground and I was being tackled by the bitch coming from where you were supposed to be watching!”

“She was on me before I could react!” Rasha protested. “Naphthene’s tits, you think I’m blind? I was looking! It’s like she teleported in or something!”

“Silver Legionnaires don’t do that,” grumbled the magic-user trapped with them, who had introduced himself as Schwartz in the ride over in the armored carriage.

“How the fuck do you get snuck up on by someone in plate armor!” Darius roared.

“Will you settle your ass down?” Tallie shouted. “It is too small and too echoey for you to be shouting!”

“You’re shouting!”



They all froze, staring at Ross. For all his habitual silence, his voice had serious carrying power when he chose to employ it. Outside their cell, the sole remaining Legionnaire who’d been left to guard them simply lounged against the wall by the door, watching them but not seeming terribly interested.

The building to which they had been brought was clearly a lesser-used Avenist temple, only two stories tall and not at all large. It was built more like a tiny fortress than a place of worship, even apart from the cells in the basement. So far, after being deposited down here, they hadn’t been spoken to at all; their lone guard had only commented that “specialists” were being brought in to deal with them, and had refused to engage in any conversation thereafter.

“The soldiers who ambushed you,” Jasmine said after a moment of silence. “Were they actually in plate armor?”

Darius, suddenly, looked slightly guilty. “Well… I mean, not exactly…”

“Thought so,” she said, shaking her head. “The Legion uses scouts in light armor for that kind of work. An actual, trained Guild enforcer could probably have spotted light-armored Legion scouts scaling the building, but unless you’ve got a background in that kind of work, it’s not really fair to expect apprentices to see that coming. Don’t pick on Rasha just because he was closer to the point of attack. You wouldn’t have done any better.”

Darius rounded on her, clenching his fists. “Oh, what the hell do you know?”

“This and that,” she said dryly. “More than you think.”

“You do seem pretty knowledgeable about the Legions,” Schwartz observed.

Jasmine shrugged. “This whole thing is fishy. That was just an arms deal. That’s business for Imperial law enforcement. The Legions don’t generally care about things like that—their peacekeeping is basically just patrolling the streets and being seen. In fact, I don’t think Imperial Intelligence would appreciate them butting in.”

“Oy, buckethead!” Tallie grabbed the cell’s door, rattling it in its frame. “Anything to add to that?”

The soldier turned her head to study Tallie for a moment, then resumed her idle study of the wall.

At that moment, the door opened, and one of the Avenist priestesses apparently running this little temple entered, her head turned to speak over her shoulder to someone following as she walked.

“…appreciate you coming out at this hour, orders or no orders. This whole thing has been inconvenient for all of us.”

“Inconvenient for them,” Schwartz muttered, getting a commiserating grin from Tallie. Meesie burrowed down into his hair, squeaking irritably to herself.

“Not at all, Sister, it’s all part of the excitement of protecting and serving the big city,” said the first woman in after the priestess. One by one, a handful of Silver Legionnaires trooped in, most helmeted, though the leader was bare-headed. The rank and file all looked more or less the same in full armor, but the leader, at least, was definitely not part of the group which had arrested them. She was quite distinctive, being not only an elf, but one with coal-black hair pulled back in a tight braid. “Now, what’ve we got here?”

“Sergeant Tivraash is of the opinion these are just apprentices,” said the priestess, folding her hands at the waist and studying the prisoners coolly.

“I am not an apprentice!” Schwartz exclaimed. “I’m not even an Eserite! And I didn’t do anything!”

“He’s right on all counts, for the record,” Tallie added. “Boy’s not with us, didn’t so much as attempt to buy a sawed-off battlestaff, and seems like a perfectly pleasant fellow.”

“Thank you,” said Schwartz emphatically. Meesie chirped in agreement.

“Well, I’ll be the judge of all that,” said the elf, strolling forward and tapping the bars with the head of her lance. “I am Sergeant Locke, commander of Silver Legion squad 391, and just as charmed as hell to meet all of you ducklings. But, since we’re all…” She glanced at Schwartz and winked. “Well, mostly Guild, you can call me Keys.”

There was a beat of silence.

“Wait, what?” Rasha exclaimed.

“Bullshit,” Darius grunted, folding his arms.

“What am I missing?” Schwartz demanded.

“That sounds like a Guild tag,” Tallie explained. “This Silver Legionnaire is claiming to be a member of the Thieves’ Guild, which is even more ridiculous than it sounds, trust me.”

“Oh, but it’s true!” Locke said cheerfully. “Conventional, no. Useful? Very. You see, kids, my squad is part of an interfaith initiative the Legion is trying out. Which is great news for you, because it means I may be able to offer you a better deal than being handed over to the Imperial Army as would be standard policy in this situation. If, that is, your attitudes swiftly and significantly improve. Now, everybody front and center, let’s have a little chat. And yes, that means you in the back. C’mon, girl, skulking behind the big guy wouldn’t make you invisible even if I didn’t have elvish eyes. Step forward, chop chop. Don’t make me come in there and get you.”

Jasmine, upon the entry of the Legionnaires, had surreptitiously folded herself into a corner, where view of her was mostly blocked by Ross’s hulking form. At being directly addressed, though, she suddenly straightened up, stepped out and stalked right up to the bars, staring the elf down.

“Why don’t you try it, Sergeant?”

Sergeant Locke dropped her lance.

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