Ghosts of the Asylum (Book I of The Horrors of Bond Trilogy) by Ty Johnston - Read Online
Ghosts of the Asylum (Book I of The Horrors of Bond Trilogy)
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Summary

Riots rage on the streets of Bond. Behind the scenes, a core of guilds master grasp at gaining power, deciding that slaying Kron Darkbow would give them more recognition on the streets. But Kron has something to say about that, as do the ghosts inhabiting his new property, the Asylum, where a hundred men, the mad and their guards, were slain during a magical mishap a year earlier.

A year has passed since Kron Darkbow survived the clutches of Belgad the Liar and the evil Lord Verkain. Returned to the city of Bond, now Kron attempts to find his place in the world. He begins by rebuilding his new home in the Asylum, a place haunted by the memories of those slain there. But riots in the streets intrude, and power struggles within the city’s guilds draw Kron into a web of deceit. Kerjim, the master of the Docks Guild, has high plans, and the slaying of Kron Darkbow is imminent among them. Facing fighting in the streets and late-night assassination attempts, Kron soon learns these are the least of his concerns. Because more than just memories are lingering within the Asylum.

Published: Ty Johnston on
ISBN: 9781466049833
List price: $2.99
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Ghosts of the Asylum (Book I of The Horrors of Bond Trilogy) - Ty Johnston

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Wittine

Part 1:

Burdens

1,995 years After Ashal (A.A.)

Chapter 1

Taljintus shuffled down a slime-covered step and raised his torch high, staring into the blackness beyond, the bottom of the stairs ending in water as dark as ink.

He couldn’t help but grimace as the outline of a body floating face-down glided into view at the edges of the torch’s light. The corpse was that of a man, as all of them would be, this one still wearing the river-soaked garb of one of the guards.

Not for the first time, Taljintus asked himself if he truly needed this job. Unfortunately the answer was always ‘yes.’ He hadn’t traveled all the way from Trode after losing his young wife to the pox just to wallow in misery and indebtedness. He had sought a new beginning in the city of Bond far from his homeland, and being an experienced stonemason he had hoped to find steady work here in the West. But he had arrived in the middle of Winter, during the off season for construction. Tough months had followed, the stonemason forced to scrounge as a day laborer just to survive.

Now the Spring had arrived, and Taljintus had put in a bid on the first major job he could find. Fortune had been with him and he had landed the bid.

But standing there in the cold and dark, one hand rubbing at the last dark curls surrounding his balding head, he was beginning to wonder if he should have passed on this project.

The Asylum.

Wincing, he stepped down into the black water, the cold soaking through his thin moccasins and chilling his flesh to the bone. Another step brought the water up to his shins, and the Trodan shivered as the cold ate away at him.

Taljintus cursed at not having the coin to purchase a proper pair of oil-cloth boots, or perhaps even waders layered by the gum of a rubber plant from a southern clime. He promised to add that to his list of needed tools and other items he would purchase as soon as he received his first full payment for this job.

Stepping down further, he came to the floor of the dark tunnel extending before him. The water now rose to his knees.

Taljintus continued to shiver, though he could not be sure if it was the cold water which caused him to do so or the body gently bobbing up and down ahead.

He had known there would be corpses, perhaps lots of corpses. Some kind of magical accident had apparently occurred here last Summer, flooding the Asylum with river water. Other than city workers dragging away the dead on the ground level above, no one had yet to clean the place nor get it into working order. The news Taljintus had managed to overhear on the street was that ownership of the Asylum had changed hands several times during the Winter months, none of the owners seemingly interested in spending the gold it would take to bring the main building and the basement level back to a working condition.

The current owner was of a different mind, and had wanted the Asylum restored to its former state.

The short Trodan grimaced further as he waded nearer the body. He continued to quiver, but now it was at thoughts of the Asylum’s current owner. The young man had eyes as dark and foreboding as the water leaking into Taljintus’s leggings. At least he had promised to pay well, and his down payment had been enough to secure the stonemason a place of residence in the Swamps for the next few months as well as enough money for daily needs.

But was it worth it? Growing closer to the floating dead man, the Trodan’s feelings on the matter were beginning to shift. Yes, he needed the coin, but there had to be other jobs available. Right?

Stop it, Taljintus whispered to himself. It’s just a job, like any other job.

Except there were dead bodies, perhaps as many as a hundred or more if the rumors were true.

Why couldn’t there have been a nice church that needed a new cathedral? Or a new building for the university on the east side of town?

Taljintus shook his head, driving away all negative thoughts. It was a job. He was being paid well, enough to hire a sizable crew and keep himself in business at least through the Summer. Clearing out the basement level, of water and bodies, was simply part of the job. Then there would be the new roof that had to be constructed for the Asylum, then the main floor had to be rebuilt and --

The Trodan’s face turned white.

There was another body. Floating ahead there. Just beyond the dead man he was almost touching.

The new body wore no clothes, its naked skin wrinkled and as pale as a dead fish’s gullet. The corpse floated on its back. A pair of dead, white, flat eyes stared up at the bricked ceiling of the basement tunnel.

Taljintus stopped moving. He had come down to the lower level to take in what kind of damage the river water had caused, and to see the extent of the dead, but he had seen enough. His new crew could take care of the bodies. That was part of their job. Taljintus had other things to do, like beginning the drawings for the new roof.

Yes, the new roof. He would get started on that. Let the laborers clean up the mess down here.

He turned to leave.

A wind sprang up from the direction of the steps leading above, a wind so strong tears sprang to the stonemason’s eyes and he was forced to blink.

During one of those blinks, his torch died.

Taljintus almost panicked. Almost.

Here he was, stranded in near pitch blackness with the corpses of dead men floating about him. It was not a good place. It was not a place he wanted to be.

At least there was some little light ahead of him there, from the stairwell. A touch of the sun’s glow had worked its way through the large hole in the Asylum’s roof and had found its way to the top of the stairs. Taljintus could just make out the bottom of the landing above his eye level.

Now all he had to do was work his way over there.

As his feet began to slowly, agonizingly slide along the slick bricks of the tunnel toward the stairwell, the stonemason’s mind began to play tricks on him. Had he just heard something move behind him? And how had any wind down here been powerful enough to knock out his torch?

A strong chill grew over the Trodan’s skin, raising bumps on his flesh. For a moment he even believed he had seen his breath misting before the light of the steps.

Stop it, he repeated to himself. No reason to spook myself. I need this job. What with my own problems and the riots and --

Slurp.

Taljintus paused. That had definitely been something in the water behind him.

Though not a superstitious man, the Trodan had had enough of snooping around in the dark and the wet with dead bodies. He plunged toward the exit.

And slipped on the floor, falling face-first into the water.

For a moment there was nothing but blackness, even the light from above being denied to the stonemason. He couldn’t breath. He tried to suck in air, but murky, muddy water flooded his mouth. Then Taljintus panicked. He could help it no longer.

He thrust up his arms, reaching for the air, and found cold, cold, cold. It was a cold so icy it caused the wet joints of his fingers to ache.

Then his feet found the bottom once more and Taljintus pushed, launching himself with a splash above the water level.

He spit out nasty muck and inhaled, glad to feel the cool breaths rushing down his throat to drive away the burning sensation in his lungs.

That had been close. He had nearly drowned himself, and why? Because of fear and impatience.

Taljintus rubbed at the black little mustache beneath his bulbous nose and leaned against the wall to rest for a moment. He had to get a grip on himself. Whatever noise he had heard, it had probably been a rat, nothing more. In his line of work, he had run across many a rat. Nothing of which to be afraid.

Okay. His breathing normal again despite the chill that had invaded the tunnel, Taljintus pushed off the wall and slowly made his way toward the exit. Yes, let the workers come down here in the dark and clean up the mess.

His right foot touched the bottom step, and he could see daylight flooding into the hallway above, when the skin beneath the Trodan’s collar felt as if it were standing up, as if someone had breathed an arctic, bitter mist down his back.

His eyes went wide.

But still, he did not panic again.

Until the cold, wet, clammy flesh of claw-like fingers grasped at the back of his neck.

***

When the scream went up a dozen big, burly workers were outside on the Asylum grounds, busy unloading lead pipes for a manual water pump out of the back of a long, rickety wagon hitched to a team of mules. Beneath morning shadows cast by the fortress-like structure that dominated the walled compound, pipes were dropped with a clanging din and rough men glanced at one another across the back of the wagon. Then their eyes shifted up the hill to the open front entrance of the Asylum. More than a few rough hands reached for hammers or large wrenches hanging from belts or resting in the back of the wagon.

Then there was another scream, this one louder and more shrill. The men jumped, startled. It sounded as if someone was being murdered inside the main building, and the only person who had dared the Asylum in months was their foreman, Taljintus, who had entered but minutes before.

Heavy tools were lifted as if weapons and the group began to make its way up the hill.

To be brought up short by Taljintus himself. The stonemason sprang from shadows into the open doorway, standing frozen for a moment, his arms stretched out to grip the sides of the frame. His chest was heaving. His eyes were large and round. His skin was pale, almost blue, and dripping.

The workers paused to stare at one another. What was wrong with this man?

Then Taljintus screamed again.

And ran down the hill. Never looking back. His short legs kicking up dirt as if the man ran from a demon.

The workers glanced at one another once more. Then they shrugged. So much for this job.

Chapter 2

A wall of smoke billowed up across Dock Street, blocking the city guards’ view of the lane, but the noise of the approaching mob still came to them above the crackling of the flames that had engulfed a half dozen warehouses along the wharfs on the right. The shouts for murder rose on the wind, drowning out not only the sound of the fires themselves, but also the yelled orders within the line of the bucket brigade trying desperately to put out the conflagration.

This is no good, Sergeant Gris said from the front line of guards, his shield raised into position on his left arm as his right gripped a sturdy cudgel.

He glanced left and right. At least his men were standing their ground and doing so in a straight line. Most of them were local toughs or former construction workers who had recently signed on, but a number of veterans were among the ranks and they seemed to be doing a good job at keeping the morale strong. Thank Ashal for that.

Gris’s gaze shifted further to his right across the dusty brick road and along the stone walkway that fronted the burning warehouses. Fifty or so men were lined up there, buckets passing back and forth amongst them, water coming from the shore to be tossed onto the roaring blaze that kept growing and growing. These brave souls were without protection other than the two score city guards stretched across the street next to them.

It wasn’t enough, Gris knew. The roaring crowd on the other side of that wall of smoke was numbering into the hundreds, many of them hungry and angry and screaming for blood, more than a few of them also street toughs and sturdy workers.

His men couldn’t hold. Not against these numbers.

Smick! the sergeant shouted.

Yes, sergeant! a voice rang out somewhere behind.

Front and center, Gris yelled.

The sound of rustling leather and chain armor proceeded a young man in the orange tabard of the guard suddenly forcing himself between a row of his mates and appearing next to his sergeant.

Smick offered a salute. Yes, sir.

Gris didn’t look at the man. His cold eyes remained on the smokey barricade ahead and the growing screams and shouts beyond. Smick, get a message to Captain Chambers. If we’re to hold the Docks, we need reinforcements.

Yes, sir. The young man gave another salute and a grin his sergeant didn’t notice.

Now!

Yes, sir! The young guard turned to push his way through the line of warriors.

And was hit in the back of the head with a chunk of red brick.

Gris had seen the brick coming. The makeshift weapon had sailed forth from behind the smoke, but it had been flying too fast to cry out a warning.

Smick went down on his knees. Fortunately he had been wearing the round iron helm of the Bond city guard.

Missiles! The shout came from down the line.

Another brick, this one whole, shot through the smoke to clash against an upraised shield.

Then the situation became worse. Much worse.

A dozen chunks of rock and broken brick came crashing through the smoke, cracking against shields, then were followed by another barrage, this one much more deadly.

At least a hundred projectiles filled the air. Rocks. Stones. Bricks. Slate roof tiles. Wooden chair legs. Small bags of sand and iron pellets used as ballast aboard ships.

Shields!

But it was too late to yell orders.

Most of the sergeant’s men had their shields prepared, but some few had not, and the bucket brigade was at the mercy of luck. The solid thunking sounds of missiles connecting with wood and iron filled the air to sound like a hard rain of hail, but just as loud were the cries following crunching flesh and cracking bones.

Then, as swiftly as it had come, the barrage faded.

Gris allowed himself a quick glance from behind his shield and was surprised to find the front line of his guards still held firm. A look to his left revealed the brick warehouses along that side of Dock Street still stood strong, but his view to the right showed a bloody mess. A half dozen of the fire fighters were down, a few not moving, and those still standing now sporting bleeding wounds.

Sergeant? The voice was weak, barely above a whisper.

It had come from his feet.

Gris glanced down.

To find a young man stretched out, the fellow’s helm nowhere to be seen, his eyes fluttering beneath a mess of short yellow hair now stained with the red of blood.

Smick. Gris dropped to a knee.

I’ll ... I’ll ... get to the captain. The youth’s words were weak.

The sergeant dropped his club and gave the young guard a gentle pat on a shoulder. Don’t worry about that right now, Smick. You just take it easy.

Missiles!

Gris cursed and raised his shield, stepping forward over his downed comrade.

The sergeant had time to shout, Healer! Then flying debris crashed into the wall of guards once more.

Shouts of pain and anger followed more than a few soldiers being knocked to their knees or dropped flat, but to the surprise of all the front line held once more.

Then a light breeze soared into the gulf between the warehouses, those whole and those in flames, and the black smoke was washed away.

Gris looked up along with his remaining men and found the spitting, screaming mob of Bond’s lowest citizens less than two dozen yards away. None of the mob showed fear, only madness. Behind the dirty rags of clothing and the muddied faces of Swamps dwellers, there was an intense, irrational hate.

Within the crowd, weapons were raised, rusting maces and swords that were likely stolen or family heirlooms, though most were clubs with nails driven through them, farming tools and kitchen knives.

This crowd was not going to back down. They did not care they were facing their own townsfolk, their own brothers and neighbors and kin. They did not care they had set aflame the very structures that provided many of them employment as well as sustenance. They did not care they were a ragtag bunch facing armored men. They wanted blood.

Gris realized all this in a matter of moments. Fall back to the bridge!

Again, it was too late.

With a shriek, the mob surged.

The sergeant had just enough time to raise his shield over his head and bend to grab Smick by the collar of the young man’s tabard.

Then the wave of hate smashed into the wall of city guards. For a moment that wall held. Table legs used as clubs hammered against shields. Woodsman’s axes chopped high in search of heads above the line’s defenses. Knives slashed and stabbed. Clubs were swung. Makeshift spears were thrust.

And one found a home.

A kitchen knife wrapped with cord around the end of a broom somehow found its way between two shields. The long, rusting blade drove in from below, skewering one of the burlier guards beneath his chin. Iron sank into flesh and buried deep in the man’s throat. Warm blood splashed the front of the crowd, and for a moment the mob drew back at the sight of its own ferocity.

There was but a second of relief. Then the madness burst forth once more and scores of young men in rags shoved against the shields and hammered with clubs and stabbed with knives. The noise was nearly deafening, the roar of the crowd like that of a hundred rabid lions tearing at fleeing prey.

The new shock forced Gris to one knee, the sergeant nearly bent back double with his body and uplifted shield the only thing keeping him and the unmoving Smick beneath from death.

The line of guards was breaking. Already a half dozen men were wounded, another half dozen trying to retreat with their shields raised. A few attempted to grab their dead brother, the man with the ripped throat, to pull him back.

The crowd exploded forward, thugs launching themselves off the backs of their compatriots and over the shields, falling with cheap blades flashing and dirty fists flailing. Into the midst of the guards did this new madness plummet.

The men in orange had had enough. If they would not be allowed to flee, they would go down with a fight. A roar went up, this one from the city guards left standing, their throats bellowing a threat and a challenge. Knobby cudgels were raised. They would flee no longer.

The herd of madmen was beyond fearing the clubs of their fellows. And the guards were beyond hoping they would live through the next few minutes.

A general melee ensued, man against man or groups of men tackling single guards.

Gris was knocked to the ground. He managed to roll himself atop the downed Smick, and he lay there unmoving in hope he might be mistaken for the dead. It was the only chance he had of saving his wounded guard. Feet trod across his back, his chain shirt and padded underclothes saving him from broken bones but not a loss of breath. By some miracle the sergeant’s helmet remained strapped to his head, keeping him from more than a few brushes with a stomping boot or dropped weapon.

Soon enough Gris found he could not breath. The crowd was too close, all over him, on top of him. The air was heavy and filled with dust and the reek of sweat and blood and urine. The noise was hurting to the ears, roaring and roaring as if Gris were caught in the throat of a giant beast. He thrust up his gloved hands to close his ears but it was of little use as the jostling and jarring of the crowd constantly knocked aside his arms.

Worse was that Gris could not see, at least not beyond the ever-flowing horde that rolled over him again and again and again. It seemed as if the entire city must be crossing over the sergeant’s back, and more than a few were willing to step directly on him.

He tried to look about, to discover what had happened to the remainder of his men and the line of bucketeers near the water. But there was no view the beyond dirty ankles and legs that brushed past with rough blows against his face, leaving bruises and scratches and more than a little blood from a busted lip. There was nothing else to do but duck his head and hope the moment of terror would pass.

Then, just as Gris believed he would suffocate beneath the unending wave or be trampled by uncaring feet, there was a flash of brightness. What followed was the scent of sulfur and something worse, something harsh.

Then another flash. And another.

The crowd was backpedaling. New shouts went up, these filled with anxiety instead of rancor, and the mob was rushing back the way it had come along Dock Street. The retreat was more swift than had been the advance. There was no gradual build-up to an assault, but a rampant revolt filled with fear and panic.

More legs and boots and muddied feet burst past the prostrate sergeant and the youth he protected, all fleeing in the opposite direction they had been headed. Once more there was a general trampling of the downed guards, their armor and padded garb and helmets and shields providing the only protection.

Gris clamped his eyes closed and kept his head down. Soon it would be over. Or he would be dead.

After what felt to be the longest time, there was silence.

The sergeant dared to open his eyes, but he did not yet look up. Instead, he listened. There were moans and grunts close to him, as well as more than a few creaks of leather and jangles of chain armor. The noise of the crackling flames continued unabated, but the loud strength of the mad crowd seemed to have flowed away by a few city blocks. The cries of fear and anger continued, but they were no longer in the immediate vicinity.

A shadow appeared across the sergeant’s narrow view of the brick road before his face.

Gris looked up to find a dark-cloaked figure standing over him, the man’s hood thrown back to reveal a pale face beneath short, black hair.

By Ashal, I could’ve used you three days ago, Kron.

The tall, broad-shouldered man in black offered the sergeant a hand. My apologies. I have been occupied.

Gris accepted the lift, allowing himself to be pulled to his feet. He glanced down at Smick, saw the young man was still breathing, then scanned the destruction around him. In the mob’s wake a dozen of his own men had been left unconscious or dead amidst several pools of blood and garbage strewn across the road. Another score of wounded or dead had been left behind from the mob itself. Those guards still on their feet were carrying or dragging their comrades back along Dock Street toward Frist Bridge and the relative safety of the more sane Southtown. Another dozen guards, fresh recruits, were jogging forward from the bridge, these men ready to lend a hand. The squad that had made up the bucket brigade had dispersed, apparently having fled, leaving behind a dozen of their own unmoving brethren. The fires continued unchecked along the north shore of the Docks, the flames eating away at the wooden structures there, leaving behind blackened, smoking bones.

The sergeant pointed to the nearest guard who was still standing. Corporal Rogins!

Aye, sir, the fellow said, his eyes dazed as he looked about at the results of chaos.

Snap out of it!

Rogins blinked. Then, Yes, sir!

Form a retrieval party and get the wounded back to the barracks, Gris ordered, and send a runner to the captain. We need reinforcements and a new line of bucket men. Now!

Yes, sir! The corporal sprinted off.

I hope your grenados didn’t add to the fire, Gris said without glancing at Kron, referring to his friend’s personal weapons which had been used to disperse the crowd.

No incendiaries, Kron said. I haven’t been able to find an alchemist who can make them for me.

Gris leaned down and gripped Smick under the arms, then lifted the heavy weight of the man over his right shoulder. Glancing to his old friend, he said, So what was in those things? Thought it was going to make me puke from the stench.

Kron grinned. Some sulfur. A few other things I’ve picked up over the years.

The sergeant nodded. Kron practically had been raised as a border warden of the Prisonlands. The younger man had learned much from many different men from many different cultures, including combat, languages, tracking and apparently alchemy.

Alright, keep your secrets, Gris said, waving an arm around them, but make yourself useful, won’t you?

Kron gave a two-fingered salute before dropping to a knee to lifting a mewling old man who had been at the front of the mob. The wounded fellow was barely conscious, his face and tunic saturated with blood that continued to leak from a nasty gash across his head.

Soon enough the sergeant and his friend were surrounded by a score of fresh guards, their oranges unstained by dirt and soot and blood. Another group of men, this one larger, jogged up from behind the soldiers, each carrying clubs and buckets and heading toward the still growing flames.

Gris and Kron handed off their wounded, then the two retreated to a post at the north end of Frist Bridge, overlooking the South River behind them and the various brick and stone buildings lining the shore of Southtown across the running brown water. The view was of a much better part of town, full of people coming and going as if they had not a care in the world, traveling between shops and inns and restaurants. The only sign there was anything out of the ordinary was another orange tent, this one much larger than the one Kron and Gris found themselves under, planted just the other side and to the left of the bridge.

Sergeant Gris eased onto an unfolded wooden stool beneath the shade of his small tent and motioned for Kron to do the same next to him.

The man in black did not sit, however, instead staying on his feet, his eyes moving in an unending watch upon the half dozen soldiers surrounding the tent and the constant comings and goings of dozens of other guards from Southtown tramping across the bridge and into the maelstrom that had overwhelmed the part of the city known as the Swamps.

Kron raised a hand toward the buildings burning in the distance. Why are they rioting?

Gris did not try again to tempt his friend with a chair. If Kron wanted to stand, Kron would stand. You really have been busy, haven’t you?

Kron shot him a glance. The Asylum has been taking up my time. The contractor quit on me, and I’ve yet to find another.

What happened? Did you scare him off?

Nothing of the sort. Kron turned his gaze back to the line of city guards now carrying the wounded and dead back along the bridge. The man mumbled. I couldn’t understand what he was saying other than he wished to back out of the job. I allowed him to do so, offering to let him keep the down payment. But he would have none of my money. We parted ways.

And you don’t know why?

Not a clue.

You must have spooked him.

I don’t think so, Kron said. He had been down in the basement of the Asylum just before he resigned the job.

That could do it. The sergeant had been on the site after river water had flooded the Asylum and killed as many as a hundred men, inmates and guards alike. That had been more than six months ago. There was no telling what condition the bodies would be in after floating around in those dark tunnels all that time.

Kron’s stern gaze would not leave the streets. The riots make no sense.

Like I said, you’ve been busy. A lot has happened, and none of it good for the city’s granary.

Food is short?

And expensive.

Kron’s features grew tight as he continued to watch men run past, some in the direction of the fires, others away and back along the bridge. I should not have allowed myself to become so distracted.

Nothing you could do about it, Gris said. Too much has happened within the last few months. The Eastern pontiff raised the tariffs on all goods heading West. The king up in Caballerus has been dethroned by his brother, who cut off all exports, supposedly only until things settle down there. Then there was that huge rain we had last year which swamped the Swamps and destroyed a year’s worth of grain.

What of last season’s harvest?

No ships to bring it in. Belgad used to take care of that, but some damn fool went and burned the man’s ships.

Kron grimaced. My apologies.

You didn’t know at the time, Gris said, besides, it’s water under the bridge at this point.

Are there truly no other ships?

None large enough for a major haul. The Ruling Council has been trying for weeks to get some boats up the river from Port Harbor, but all the merchant crafts are at sea this time of year and most of the war galleys are too big for the shallows.

This is all my fault. Kron appeared dazed as he stared once more at the comings and goings of the soldiers, sounds of the rioters still in the distance.

The sergeant chuckled. A little full of yourself, aren’t you? Thinking you brought a whole city to its knees.

The whole city? Is it really that bad?

Not yet, Gris said. The folks in the Swamps are feeling it first, of course, because of the rising prices. Southtown is getting by with just a few rumbles from the merchants, and Uptown ... well, the folks in Uptown will hardly notice a little thing like the price of wheat and corn.

I shouldn’t have burnt those ships. Kron turned his back to continue watching the busy street.

Stop blaming yourself, Gris said. That was then, this is now. By Ashal, there are enough other factors besides your war with Belgad. It’s not like you could have known about Caballerus or the Eastern pope.

Kron half turned, one eye staring at the seated sergeant.

Gris held up his hands. Okay, okay. Maybe, just maybe, you could have predicted the tariffs. The sergeant chuckled again. I’d guess the pontiff isn’t too happy with the West after everything that went on in Kobalos last year.

Kron turned back to watch the road. Assuredly not.

The sergeant reached over to a small table and retrieved a clay mug, then began to pour water into it from a pitcher. What brings you down here, anyway? You said you were busy.

The man in black waved a hand around. I saw the smoke from the Asylum. Decided to look into it. Good thing, too. I got here just in time.

My thanks, Gris said, but I’m surprised you hadn’t noticed the riots earlier. Three days they’ve been going on, though no fires until this morning.

I’m fairly isolated at the Asylum, Kron explained. The grounds are large enough and protected by those walls. Plus, you forget the Asylum is at the other end of the Swamps.

Noise must not have carried, Gris surmised. Then again, it’s no surprise the riots didn’t touch there. Not much out your way but Belgad’s place and the real swamps beyond. You really spending your nights there?

Only on the grounds, Kron said. The roof won’t be repaired for weeks, maybe months, but I’ve a decent enough shelter in a tent and an old horse stall.

Thought you had a room at the Rusty Scabbard? Gris nodded to the far end of the bridge where a hanging sign could be seen out front of the inn and tavern.

I still do, Kron said, but I’ve used it little of late. I was spending so much time at the Asylum, I decided to camp there for a while. Once the re-building begins, I’ll likely move back to the Scabbard.

Gris drank deeply from his mug, then clanked the tankard onto the table. Well, I’ve got to get back to work. Are you truly here to help? Or do you have to be rushing off?

Where do you want me?

Just what I wanted to hear, the sergeant said with a gleam in his eyes.

***

Lalo the Finder should have been the happiest of men. He had spent fifteen years of his life helping to create the most powerful underground syndicate the city of Bond had ever known, and he had had much success. Before his time there had been chaos with multiple underworld guilds and cartels vying for position, power and wealth.