The Unknown Regions
The Scalded World â€˜Maenaâ€™
A foetid corner of the Slums
The other man did not die well.
Seydon discovered him waiting down a length of dark alleyway colloquially known as â€˜the Bonesâ€™: a ten-mile sliver of back street hemmed in by refuse, garbage, and fleshly jetsam. Light came through warbled cracks in the hab-block corrugated siding, or from iron-mounted glow lamps hanging over disused delivery portals belonging to bricked up shop-fronts. The man was dressed up in simple blacks, constituting a worn tunic, undershirt, dark breaches, and calf-length boots. Seydon observed him retrieve a chunky cylinder from behind his waist-sash and light it into a carmine sword. Seydon shrugged off his ash poncho and loose Razorlight from its shoulder scabbard.
Both strolled forward, and then engaged. The Man in Black took up a Makashi line, fencing in, boot-soles scrabbling over greasy tarmac as he prodded into Seydonâ€™s defenses. He countered with a winding parry, locking the lightsaber against Razorlightâ€™s edge as he twisted the point round the inside of the manâ€™s arm. He thrusted, jousting through his opponentâ€™s shoulder, all while keeping that opposing, glowing sword-point well away from any angles that could cut unexpectedly at his throat. The Man in Black soundlessly shuddered and tripped back along the alleyway, dousing his lightsaber and disengaging. Seydon closed in, slicing. The other man flicked his thumb over the activator and tried raising his guard. Razorlight found him and opened him wide; the blow severed bone and fleshy matter from skull to scrotum.
As he died in a gurgling thrash, his comrades peeled from camouflage and shadow. Half a dozen, all similarly costumed, in modest cloth that belied their lethality. Seydon strode on, cutting through each body as openings were presented. He felled two with a stroke that took the firstâ€™s skull and savaged the secondâ€™s carotid vein, left them to expire in their own blood. Another was gutted then kneed in and through a close ferro-brick wall, mortar exploding as brick-stones collapsed across them. In a fast half-minute, more dead were piled in The Bones. Scavengers would come and recycle what they could: clothing, flesh, bone and valuable marrow, harvest a few viable organs for transplant in the Maena black clinics or sold on the open bazaarâ€™s. Seydon cleaned Razorlight with a length of torn sleeve and sheathed it away for another contest.
The Dunaan strode on. At the end of the Bones was a hole-in-the-wall establishment called the â€˜Danse Midnightâ€™. There were no bouncers, or apparent physical security, a single dark-teak door on greased hingers stained from a million hands that had come and gone from the watering hole. Seydon paused, his gloved hand on the doorway, glancing up the untidy street. Foot traffic was sparse; mid-day shift workers on scheduled break hurrying home for a quick restorative or otherwise gathering with their fellows in small kitchen diners. An unlicensed taxi in mismatched paint-squares coasted along fitfully. Seydon exhaled, drew a fresh breath, and pushed in through the entry.
Inside was a length of counter-space, dislocated tabling with thin, high-backed steel chairs that made for easy cleaning, the floor a mass of mosaic subway tiles all sunk towards a single, heavy drain in the centre of the ground plan. After a hard nightâ€™s session, whoever was on shift had to simply collect an industrial hose and apply liberal PSI water pressure to wash out whatever was leftover on the floor. For noonday, the pub was emptied. A scarred Feeorin, one arm a cord-wrapped prosthetic soldered to her collarbone, manned the far bar.
â€œNot serving â€˜till six. Come back later,â€ She called without looking up.
â€œThis the Midnight?â€ Seydon asked, striding up.
â€œMmn. Wouldnâ€™t be anything else. You hungry? Specialâ€™s chowder.â€
â€œWhatâ€™s in it?â€
â€œStuff. Enough to make it look like chowder.â€
He didnâ€™t sit. Felt the long fighting knife spring-coiled in a bracer hidden up his right sleeve, watching the Feeorin clean through a row of discoloured plastoid tankards. Seydon paused for a beat, went on when the quiet was weighty in their ears.
â€œYou know the Institute.â€ It was not a question.
The Feeorin didnâ€™t pause, but her gripping shifted on her tankard. She scrubbed with an oily cloth, not meeting the Dunaanâ€™s cat-eyes.
â€œEveryone â€˜knowsâ€™. Manner of speaking. Maenaâ€™s loudest secret: little coven of trade-killers out in the wastes. Word travels, it always does. Beyond that, itâ€™s whatever.â€
â€œYou know it,â€ Seydon went on. His tone was flat and edged. â€œYou headhunt potentials here. Sometimes, the right one comes through the door and you pounce. Because theyâ€™re drunk and rudderless and all they need is guidance, structure, fraternity, and purpose. You supply the pitch. And kill them, Iâ€™ll guess, if they donâ€™t bite. The rest go to the Institute.â€
â€œâ€¦Thatâ€™s a little colourful,â€ The Feeorin said.
â€œYour teacher told me.â€
She froze still, the tankard forgotten, her prosthetic hand knotted with the dish-rag.
â€œA cultist. Vahla. Made her fortune with the Sith when they held the core, years ago. She taught you the arts of personality and how to manipulate them. You both made some tidy sums converting, reprogramming prisoners. Just the ones with promise. Managed to catch up with her on Terminus. She gave you up.â€
â€œWhat do you want?â€
Seydon kept his gaze stilled over her and retrieved a roll of hemp-knotted parchment from a belt satchel. He set it on the counter. â€œDeliver this.â€
He turned to leave. The Feeorin called out, â€œWhat then?â€
â€œWait. And then weâ€™ll see.â€
The door flapped against the frame and jamb, and the Seydon was gone. The Feeorin gingerly undid the hemp cord keeping the parchment rolled and unfurled it flat against the sink counterspace behind the bar. She poured over the inked wording, dashed with rough penmanship. Slowly, her gut froze, until the cold of fear swept up from her bowels into her throat.
"I know, C.
From her memory, I know your face.
I know the ones who plied her with iron.
I know the ones who plied her with venom.
I know the likeness and names of every whoreson and queen-faced crone.
Every one that hurt her.
For the years lost.
For all her torment and guilt.
For all the pain inflicted.
I will repay you a millionth-fold.
You, your kin, your holdings, everything that holds an inkling of value.
All are forfeit.
Whether tomorrow or in a hundred lifetimes from now.
I will come for each of you.
With iron and with poison.
Until even Vahl weeps at your destruction.
Tell the others.
The wolves and foxes come.