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Chapter 7 — Chefe’s Drink

Fellfang’s low, steady growl awakened Sonata from her fitful sleep. She sat there quietly on the stone floor, looking up the stairwell through the cold, musty air. There was movement beyond the door. Voices too, though she could not understand them. Uncle Galo had taught her a spell to enhance her hearing, but she couldn’t remember it. He should have taught her how to improve her memory first. He was always doing things out of order like that. But Fellfang growled, and that was more than enough reason for alarm.

The Hole was secure. Too secure in fact. Only one way out. Up the stairs and through the door. She hadn’t thought of that last night. Last night, she just wanted to hide and rest. She should have given her escape plan more thought. Too many emotions swimming through her mind, too much uncertainty. If she’d been smart, they’d have stayed in a place with more avenues of retreat. Now, they were stuck, and whoever was behind that door, speaking in whispers, was not about to let her pass unfettered.

“Well, that’s what I’ve trained for, eh boy?” Sonata said, leaning into Fellfang and unsnapping the chain from his harness. “To solve tricky problems.”

Despite her restless night, she’d gotten enough sleep to feel at least partially refreshed. She was awake, alert, her blood flowing strong. Her heart beat fast, but not hard. Sonata checked the swords on her back. There and ready.

“Time to go,” she whispered into Fellfang’s ear. “Slow and steady now.”

She decided to leave her brown cloak behind. It wouldn’t serve her for long anyway, and likely be more of a burden in any event. The pouch she kept, though the bacon in it was becoming a little gamey. She took it out and tossed it aside. The rats could have it.

They took the stairs together. The boards were warped and creaky. Sonata held Fellfang back; he was eager for a fight, to avenge his master. It didn’t matter if those on the other side of the door were innocent of that crime. He wanted blood. Anyone’s blood.

They took a step, stopped, another step, stopped, letting the wood settle beneath them. As they drew closer to the door, Sonata could make out three distinct voices, one woman, two men. She couldn’t puzzle the words, but they weren’t pleasant. This wasn’t haggling or early hangers-on just leaving after a raucous night. The voices sounded official and stern. Sonata pulled Chefe from its sheath. It hadn’t tasted blood in months. “Drink deep,” she said, kissing the cold steel.

Sonata could see a flicker of candlelight beneath the door. She stopped. The voices on the other side grew still. She waited silently. Fellfang waited too, his bobbed-tail straight, unmoving, his massive snout sniffing the air.

They waited.

The latch moved, just a hair. It stopped, then moved again, slowly forced upward from the other side. Sonata gripped the handle of her sword tightly, gritted her teeth and took a step backwards. She pulled Fellfang back. Just a few more seconds

The door opened another inch. Sonata released. Fellfang’s claws dug into the wooden steps as he flung himself forward, leaping through the darkness as a mighty growl erupted from his wet jowls. The person manning the door fell backwards screaming as fangs found throat. Sonata grabbed the door and flung it wide. Others were in the hallway, but she could not make them out in the dim light. Two more, perhaps three. Fellfang’s sudden leap had frozen them in place. Sonata rushed through the door, Chefe pointed forward.

She jumped over Fellfang, rolled, and came up against the wall. A crossbow bolt zipped by her head, breaking against the stone and showering her with splinters. Too close for comfort. Luckily, these were Night Guard goons, and not very good shots. She could see their grey uniforms as her eyes adjusted to the dim light.

She pushed off the wall and thrust Chefe towards the man. He tried blocking with his spent crossbow, but Sonata knocked it aside with her free hand, then plunged the blade into his armpit, just below protective chain mail. The man gasped and fell backwards, clutching the wound. He’d be dead in seconds, she knew, having punctured his artery.

The last man had drawn his sword and had fallen back to a small flight of stairs leading to Madam Carla’s private bedroom. To get in there, the Guard would have had to give a serious bribe or a serious threat. Was Madam alive? One worry at a time, girlie. One at a time.

The man spit some gibberish at her. “By order of Captain Sombrio, I—I—”

“Blah, blah, blah,” Sonata said, striking his sword a half dozen times to make it look good, then swinging around and planting her boot into his chest. He crumpled onto the steps with a violent jangle of busted chain. Sonata stepped between his legs and drove Chefe into his throat.

The smell of spilt blood and bowel lay thick in the air. Her stomach turned. “Fellfang!” Sonata said, swallowing her sickness and wiping her sword clean on the dead man’s breeches. “To me!”

The dog had retained its hold on the man’s throat even though he’d stopped kicking. Reluctantly, Fellfang released and hurried to her side. The folds of his face were slick with blood and gore, his wide, pink tongue greedily lapping it up. Sonata felt like vomiting again. Too much, too early. She hadn’t even wiped the sleep from her eyes. She needed fresh air.

They moved up the small stone staircase, leaving the dead guardsmen behind. It was quiet. Not unusual in the small hours of the morning, but this was no normal morning. Madam Carla’s door was ajar. Light filtered through. The day was dawning bright and sunny. Sonata breathed deeply. The wet smell of the Doro River was faint, almost nonexistent. “Just my luck,” Sonata whispered to Fellfang. “The Gods always fail me.”

They reached the top, and Sonata opened the door. Not a face or sound. Nothing. Madam Carla’s bed was intact, but the sheets were rumpled, tossed about, and the side she normally lay on was creased with her weight. She’d been in it when the guardsmen had arrived. Where was she now?

Sonata drew Freira. Its weight felt good in her hand. She was used to having both drawn, working together. She did her best killing that way.

They walked through the house. There was no one, as if Adriana herself had wiped the place clean. They stopped just outside the parlor where Madam Carla’s ladies met guests and negotiated prices. Sonata leaned into the room, her swords ready. Nothing.

Faint light shone through the crimson drapes, giving the room an eerie, red sheen, as if a bladder of blood had exploded and covered the walls and carpet. It made Sonata nervous. She went to the window and cast the drapes aside. She looked into the street, and her heart stopped.

Madam Carla’s ladies were there on their knees, dressed in their lacy night garments, chains and leather straps around their wrists. Behind them were guardsmen, each holding a lady’s bindings or gripping her hair roughly, blades at their soft necks. Some of the girls were crying, the younger ones, the ones not used to such rough treatment. The veteran women strained at their bindings, but kept quiet.

Madam Carla knelt in the center of her girls, her hands bound with cord. Her face red, her right eye puffy, and a thin line of dried blood streaking her chin. But she was not sad, nor were her eyes swollen with tears. She was angry. Sonata knew the look, had seen it many times before. Captain Sombrio had made a terrible mistake. He’d humiliated her and her charges. He had broken an unspoken Cragsport rule: don’t piss off a Madam. If Madam Carla lived out the day, the Night Guard would regret it. Sonata intended to ensure that she (and they) did.

Perhaps she could escape through the back, but what was the point? There would be guards there too. Nathyn Sombrio was not stupid. He’d covered his tracks. He’d won this round.

He would not win the next.

Sonata sheathed her swords. Then she snapped the chain to Fellfang’s harness and opened the front door.

Cool morning air splashed against her face. It felt good. She closed her eyes for a moment, then sighed and walked out.

Fellfang strained at the chain. He wasn’t finished. He wanted to fight. He growled and yipped. Sonata held him back with both hands. “Easy, boy,” she said in her most soothing voice. “Patience. You’ll get your chance again.”

She stopped in front of the ladies. Sonata couldn’t look at them. She could feel their anger upon her skin. It was her fault. She had brought this problem to them. She could have easily rented a tavern room or hidden away in an alley. But no. She had to ruin not only her life, but the lives of others.

From behind the guardsmen, Captain Sombrio appeared. His hard, black boots scraped the top of the cobbles as he stepped forward, sword in his right hand, a small buckler attached to the other. He was smiling. He was always smiling that maniacal grin as if he’d just stolen a sugar sweet from a baby. Sonata greeted him with subdued rage.

“A little early in the morning for you, isn’t it, Captain?”

Sombrio’s smile melted away. “My Lady Diamante,” he said in his most official voice. “I’m charged in the name of the High Constable of Viscano, and in the name of Duke Alfonse Ernesto, to bring you to justice.”

“On what charge?” Sonata asked.

Sombrio hesitated, then said through a malevolent grin, “Murder.”

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