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Chapter 6 — Holes

She couldn’t leave his stone body here. Eventually, rumors would bring the adventurous into the apartment, and finding it ransacked, they’d strip it bare. Uncle Galo’s stone body would be the first to go. Some criminal would pawn him off on a rich merchant or a Viscano dignitary wanting to display the great Borshen Galo in his garden or grand hall. Or the Agadano would come by sea and carry him off to the frozen steppes of the North Reaches. In effect, she’d fulfilled her agreement to kill the wizard. She hadn’t wielded the knife, but she’d killed him all the same. She’d let the assassin go, and she’d left the mask in her uncle’s care. She had insisted that he research it, find its purpose. She’d created a vulnerable environment. She was to blame.

“Control, girl!” Sonata yelled at the mirror. Her eyes were puffy, and her cheeks were blood-streaked from having handled Uncle Galo’s broken body. She washed her face and then wrung the cloth dry. She couldn’t go out of the apartment covered in blood, and she most certainly couldn’t leave Cragsport tonight. She’d just been at the Dragon Gate. There was no way she could charm or buy her way through it. She could jump the wall. Patrols were easily timed, but what of Fellfang? The dog was strong, but his legs couldn’t support the fall. He’d never make it. What to do?

The best plan was to wait until morning, when the light of day sent most of the Guard home and Adriana’s Breath was still thick in the streets. But she needed to move Uncle Galo’s body tonight. It couldn’t stay here. The assassin wouldn’t return. Likely, he was miles away by now. Any delay in chasing him would complicate the situation, but Sonata had no choice. She’d have to make up ground tomorrow.

She pulled a tapestry off the wall and placed it on the floor. She pushed Uncle Galo’s stiff body onto it. Then she rolled and rolled until he was wrapped up tightly. Grabbing one end of the bundle, she pulled until they were out of the library and near the front door. She dropped the bundle and fell to her knees. No way could she pull him further. The load was too big, too bulky. She couldn’t risk losing her grip and letting Uncle Galo roll down the steps and shatter to pieces. She needed help. Who?

She went to the terrace. The streets were sparsely crowded, a group here or there, a few leaners and opportunists hanging out in front of alleys. She squinted through the growing fog and spotted boys pitching rocks against the street gutter. She didn’t recognize any of them, but she called anyway.

“You boys! Up here! Yes, you. You in the blue. Come here.”

A boy with light, sandy hair, blue shirt and grey pants walked over and stared up. “Yes, miss?”

She tossed a silver coin to him. “You know Petre Olavo? Yes? Well, go fetch him and tell him to bring his cart to this street, and park under this window. Tell him Lady Diamante calls. Do that, and you’ll get another silver.”

The boy paused a moment to gaze at his prize. His eyes widened, and his mouth pulled back in a large grin. “Right away, miss,” he said and darted into the night.

Sonata packed her things while she waited. She hadn’t even gotten a chance to visit her own room since she had returned, running errands all over town. The sight of her bed made her weary. She wanted to cry again, looking around and remembering the good times here. Perhaps someday she’d return, and it would be okay. Uncle Galo wasn’t dead, not technically; she had to keep reminding herself of that. He was just paused momentarily. She’d find the antidote to make him whole and heal his wounds, and they’d live together again. Someday.

She reached beneath her bed and pulled out her old swords. She relaxed. She always felt better with them in her hands. Freira, a long, curved saber, and Chefe, a half-sword whose fuller ran to a straight razor fine point. The saber was used for slashing, parrying, fighting; the half-sword for thrusting, stabbing, killing. Both were made of fine Viscano steel, forged in the Renaldo sword dens of Western Mirada. Uncle Galo had given them to her as a gift after her training. At first, Sonata resented them. Was he trying to buy her off, she wondered, to make up for not defending her rigorously against Nathyn Sombrio’s attack? For months, she didn’t touch them, didn’t even look at them. But in time, they called to her. Not literally, of course, for they were not magical, but she could not deny their flare, their shine, their strength. They won her over, and now, she couldn’t think of parting with them. Regrettably, she’d had to go to Agadano without them. It was important not to draw attention to herself for that mission. Those swords, crossed on her back in a black leather double-sheath made specifically for them, was Sonata Diamante’s calling card. Without them, she blended. With them, she beamed. She kissed each hilt, then strapped them onto her back. They felt good crossed between her shoulder blades, and she felt whole again.

She packed what little food they had, some stale bread, cheese, the lizard jerky, and the rasher of bacon she had purchased earlier in the day. She stuffed it in her pouch, then fastened Fellfang with his chest harness. Around town, he rarely wore it, just a collar and a chain. But for long-range travel, the leather harness was best. It allowed Sonata to have more control over his movements, plus gave his brisket and spine better protection. It too had a small pocket in which Sonata placed the assassin’s dagger. It was a wonderful blade, sharp and fine, but it weighed funny on her hip.

Over her shoulders she threw a dirt-brown cloak. It didn’t fit her properly, but she wasn’t concerned about looking fashionable or being comfortable. Once outside the city, she’d ditch it for something more useful. The key was to hide her blades. She considered strapping them to Fellfang’s back, but if trouble struck, she’d need quick access.

She stepped onto the terrace and waited. The distant mumble of the Adriana Falls was clear. It was a perpetual sound in the streets of Cragsport, blending with the din of the crowds. Most of the time, one hardly noticed it, so engrained it was into the Cragsport experience. But she heard it now, like a distant voice calling. The road to Sagano led past the falls. Sonata would see them again as she travelled, and what a sight to see.

She watched a small, four-wheeled flatbed cart roll up the street toward the apartment. Her little errand boy sat next to a heavy-set man whose grey hair had moved from his head to his face. His beard tapered to a point just above his large stomach. His meaty hands held the reins of an old black mare who strained to pull the steel-banded tires across the cobbles.

“Is she going to make it?” Sonata called down.

Petre Olavo stopped the cart below the terrace. He coughed up phlegm and spit it into the street. He looked up. “She’ll do.”

“What happened to Isabel?” Sonata asked.

Olavo shook his head. “Dead. Had to put her down myself. Seems like a lot of that is going around these days.”

Sonata ignored the last comment. She tossed another silver piece to the boy, who took it without speaking and ran off. She didn’t blame him. Sitting next to Olavo was like sitting next to a sewer.

“If you wouldn’t mind getting off your ample ass and helping me,” Sonata said, “I’d appreciate it.”

Olavo cursed and climbed out of his cart. He trundled upstairs. Sonata met him at the apartment door with Uncle Galo rolled up at her feet. Olavo stopped when he saw the rug. He tried peeking into the apartment, but all he saw were Fellfang’s dark glowing eyes staring back at him, barring the way.

He pointed at the roll. “That isn’t who I think—”

“It isn’t anything to you, Olavo,” Sonata said, cutting him off. “I pay you to move cargo, not study it.”

Olavo shook his head. “You’re a harsh girl, Lady Diamante.”

“It’s in the blood.”

They picked up the bundle and started down the steps. It was slower going than Sonata liked. Olavo pulled while she pushed. The man had an air of alcohol about him. “You crack open a new vintage tonight, Olavo?” Sonata asked.

The big man laughed. “Yes, indeed. A fine Corodana White.”

Petre Olavo ran a small freight company in the Moladi District. He specialized in spirits of all sorts, including some very rare, and very illegal, Pontaboro whiskies. He also wasn’t above smuggling things in that Uncle Galo needed for his potions. Olavo was an old family acquaintance. He wasn’t a very nice man, but he served his purpose well enough.

They shoved the bundle into the back of the cart, and Fellfang jumped in beside it. Sonata climbed onto the seat, and Olavo guided the mare back onto the street. He held his hand out and coughed.

“What?” Sonata asked.

He wiggled his fingers.

She sighed and put two silvers in his palm. “Money grubbing thief.”

Olavo pocketed the coins. “Where to?”

“The Stretch.”

Olavo stared at her, his slack jaw wet with drool. “Say again?”

“You heard me.”

She kept to herself as they drove. She reached behind her and stroked Fellfang’s head. The dog was quiet, sullen. He was hurting, and there wasn’t anything Sonata could do about it. “It’s okay, boy. It’s going to be all right.”

Even she didn’t believe that.

They reached the gate of The Stretch, and Olavo stopped the cart. One guard at the gate gladly took his bribe and walked away, whistling. Adriana’s Breath was thick, so they had little trouble unloading the bundle and pulling it into the graveyard unseen.

The Stretch was four times as long as it was wide. It was the oldest graveyard in Cragsport, and one of only four in the entire city. Limited space and hard, rocky soil had forced an end to burying the dead. Now, most corpses were strapped to burning rafts and sent over the falls. Only the very rich and powerful could afford a proper ground burial.

“Let’s find a safe, quiet place,” Sonata said. “One far away from the gate.”

They searched as they went, Fellfang sniffing around the weeds, hiking up a leg now and then to mark a stone. A dog is still a dog, Sonata thought, no matter the situation.

“How about this plot?” Olavo said, pointing at a very average, very obscure stone. Through the fog and faint moonlight, Sonata tried to read the name on the stone. Time and weather had wiped away most of the letters. It was clear that whoever this person was, no one was paying him (or her) visits anymore. Sonata nodded. “This will do.”

Olavo grabbed two spades from the keeper’s shed. They began digging. Sonata dug fast, barely noticing the dirt fly behind her. “Slow down, girl,” Olavo said. “You’re going too fast. You’ll tire—”

“Pipe down,” Sonata said, “and keep digging.”

She didn’t want to go slow. She didn’t want to dig at all. But there was no time to waste. Best to do it fast and be done with it.

With Olavo’s help, they flung aside the remains of the person who still lay there. Some would consider their act shameful, blasphemous, an unredeemable sin against Destinado. Those were people who believed in the gods. Fortunately, she wasn’t one of them. And Olavo hardly cared, so long as he was paid.

“Okay,” Sonata said, “that’s deep enough. Roll it down.”

Olavo grunted and bent to his knees. Slowly, he rolled the bundle to the lip of the grave. Sonata held her arms up and braced its weight. “Now get in, and help me lower it down.”

The big man plopped over the side, slipping a little on the greasy residue of the last occupant. He cursed, righted himself, then took one end of the bundle. Sonata grabbed the other end, and on three, they hoisted the bundle to its resting place.

Sonata paused to catch her breath. She leaned against the side of the grave and wiped sweat from her head. Uncle Galo was in the ground. It was over.

“Thank you, Petre,” Sonata said, stepping carefully over the stone body and holding her hand out. “You’ve been helpful.”

“My pleasure, Lady Diamante,” Olavo smiled and grabbed her hand. He bent down to place a small kiss on her dirty knuckles.

The man’s eyes bulged as Sonata drove her black obsidian knife into his gut.

∞ ∞ ∞

“My sympathies, old friend,” Sonata said as she watched life drain from Olavo’s eyes, “but you know too much.”

Olavo pitched and grumbled through blood and phlegm as if trying to respond, then fell forward onto Uncle Galo’s stone body. Sonata pulled away and held the gory blade out to keep it from dripping on her clothes. She stood there a moment to ensure the deed was done, then leaned over and wiped the blade clean on his back.

She climbed out of the hole quickly, then shoveled the dirt back in, covering them both. It was tiring, sweaty work, but she did it fast, biting her lip to keep from screaming.

“Hush, Fellfang,” Sonata said, “or you’ll get us killed.” The dog was barking and yipping with each shovel toss. Saying goodbye, Sonata figured, in his special way. She felt sorry for the dog. He didn’t deserve any of this. Neither of them did. As she packed down the dirt with the spade, a chill ran down her spine. Nausea grew in her throat. She threw the spade away, turned and headed towards the gate.

“Goodbye, Uncle,” she said, “I’ll see you round the dragon.”

They took the cart and made their way down Rua de Oro. She kept the hood of her cloak up, her head down. She wanted to go faster, but the cart and mare were not up for a trot. A nervous hour passed, by Sonata’s estimation, until she pulled the cart over to the side of Avenida do Pecado and climbed out. She smacked the mare on the rump. “Get!” she said, and watched the cart rumble away into the fog. Fellfang nuzzled her hand. Sonata unwrapped a chain from around her waist and snapped it to the dog’s collar.

Madam Carla’s was in full swing, customers everywhere, young ladies standing beside the street, ladies displayed on the steps, ladies everywhere. Sonata didn’t risk going through the front door. She went round the back, a dilapidated wooden door guarded by an old pimp named Davido. “I need to see Madam Carla,” she said, holding the leash firmly.

The wrinkled man spit out a prune pit and motioned to the front. “Go through the main, bitch. No one passes here.”

Sonata stepped forward calmly, her loose hand on the black blade. “I will say it once more, and then I’ll let my friend here ask in his own, special way. Let me by.”

On cue, Fellfang opened his jaw to show his dropped tooth. The slow rumble from his throat made the pimp reconsider. He raised his hand. “Okay, okay. No violence. Just doing my job.”

Madam Carla was in the front parlor, sitting on her work stool, scribbling in a little black book while taking coins from an eager customer. A look of surprise crossed her eyes as she saw the hollow expression and sweaty grime on Sonata’s face. “Welcome again, sweet one. What brings you this time, and with company?”

In a private room, Sonata told Madam Carla as much as she was willing to tell, and more than she should, but she needed to talk the matter out, get it off her chest. It was therapeutic in a way, laying out the details. It also helped to sort out those details, revisit reconsider events, and think of something she might have missed. It all played out again in her mind.

Madam Carla regarded her with open lips. “So, Borshen Galo is dead?”

Sonata shook her head. “No. He’s... hidden.”


“I can’t tell you that.”

Madam Carla stood, put her hand to her mouth, and paced. “My, my, girlie, you’re in a fix. I told you before: be a whore, not a thief.”

“Now is not the time for that foolish talk, Madam.” Sonata stood, walked over to the old woman, and glared into her eyes. “I’m in trouble. I need your help.”

Madam Carla stared back, a lost expression between grey locks of hair. “Poor girlie,” she said, taking Sonata’s face into cupped hands. She kissed a soiled cheek and said, “What can I do?”

Sonata motioned to Fellfang laying quietly on the floor. “We need a place to stay for the night. Some place safe, quiet.”

Madam Carla scoffed and threw up her hands. “Not here, that’s for certain. Busy night. No rooms I’m afraid.”

“How about the Hole?”

Madam Carla shook her head. “No, not there.”

“It’s safe, quiet, and secure.”

“No. I won’t even put my own girls in there. Besides, it’s filled with crates and rats and—”

“I have the best rat catcher in Cragsport,” Sonata said, leaning to pat Fellfang on the head. “We’ll be as quiet as mice.”

Madam Carla started to protest again, but Sonata’s pleading eyes stopped her. Mother had taught her how to woo the Madam. It was easy once you knew the trick. A soft, soulful stare with a hint of a tear got her every time.

“Very well,” Madam Carla said with a sigh.

The Hole was a small one-room gaol cell below the house. It was an artifact from a time during the Empire when this section of Cragsport comprised several gaols and even a Cathedral of the Penitent Soul. Sonata didn’t know whether it had been used for criminals or non-believers; in the eyes of the church, there was no difference. The former madam of the house kept unruly girls down there, but Madam Carla had ended that practice by having the iron bars cut out and tossed into the Doro River. Now, it was used primarily for storage.

Madam Carla ordered the Corodana girl, Estela, to assist Sonata and give her comfort, light a candle, clean her face, and attend to Fellfang. Sonata let the girl lay out a pallet for her and feed the mastiff, but declined the cleaning. “Thank you, Estela,” she said, in as soft a voice as she could, “but I can do that.” The girl nodded and left quickly.

Sonata cleaned her face and arms, ate a little cheese and crackers left for her, blew out the candle, and lay down. Beside her, Fellfang gnawed on lizard jerky. She slept and dreamed of blood, knives, and masks.

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