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The Story

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Quietus

 

“Watch it!” the dwarf bellowed, catching himself.

His companions, clothed in full armor and hands on axes, growled at the pudgy merchant.

“Sorry!” he gasped. He raised his palms in a defensive gesture, sweat rolling down his face from exertion, “So sorry!”

Not waiting for a response he spun on his heel and yanked the heavy door open as fast as he could.

The cured boars head rattled against wood.

If this was an hour ago, Boden might have apologized more sincerely. In fact, to avoid any chance of conflict, he would have offered to buy the group a round of drinks. Then again, had this been an hour ago, Boden wouldn’t have bumped into the dwarves in the first place.

Once inside the Roadkill Tavern, the human merchant slid around the log wall and peeked out one of the few smokey glass windows.

The Black Market was bustling today and any merchant worth his or her salt would be rolling in coin.

Then again, most merchants didn’t have a famous assassin looking for them.

Amidst the sea of bodies, Boden caught a glimpse of the bright red hat and purple feather perched atop it. Attached to the hat was a monstrous brute of a man. Close to seven feet tall, he had a nose so broken and bent, it nearly touched the mans right cheekbone. From the moment words left the man’s lips, the merchant had panicked.

Qui-tuss wants ta talk wich’ya, the thug had slurred.

Standing in the doorway of the shop, the thug’s head was taller than the ragged cloth awning.

Boden had almost wet himself.

The single scar which ran diagonally across his face didn’t help—a knife fight someone thought they’d won, the merchant guessed.

The near black teeth made the man look unnervingly demonic when he smiled at you.

Ducking back behind the wall, Boden gulped.

I gotta get out of here. Qui-tuss wants to talk with…me? This ain’t good!! His hand rested against his chest, the small indentation of the ill-gotten prize pushing against the fabric of his tunic. How did he even know?

Qui-tuss didn’t make scenes, rumors said.

Scenes only happen among large groups of people.

So what better way to stay safe than in the busiest place in the market? Boden grinned to himself, The Roadkill Tavern will do just fine.

The Great Hall was overflowing with patrons, laughing and telling stories, cheering and swearing at one another. Beautiful women weaved between tables, toting large trays laden with food and drink. Many of the races retired here after hours for the best food, drink and loud company. Hundreds of eyes in one room.

It was perfect.

Boden sunk low and duck-walked across the room, pacing the waitresses to avoid direct exposure to the windows, receiving cheers and boisterous laughs as he did. Without a sound, he threw himself into a far booth, startling an elderly gnome hunched over a small stack of parchments. The jolt nearly knocked the tiny tower of open books off the table altogether.

“ExCUSE me,” the gnome peeped, grasping his books frantically, eyes wide behind his thick glasses. “This is a private booth, thank you very much!” He looked the human merchant up and down with disdain, “Whatever you’re selling, I don’t want any. Now good day!”

Boden didn’t move, his attention focused on the distant red hat through the window.

“Ahem,” the gnome prodded, slowly pulling his books to his chest.

Nothing.

“AHEM!” he repeated, “Goooood BYE.” He sighed uncomfortably, “This is where you reply ‘goodbye’ and politely LEAVE.”

“I ain’t polite,” replied Boden coldly, eyes still watching the red cap bounce outside until it vanished back into the crowd. Breathing a sigh of relief, he turned his attention to the gnome. Eyes glanced quickly over the scattered books on the table and the three empty mugs stained with Blackseed Rum.

The gnome was somewhere in his late sixties, thin boned, even for a gnome. Pale complexion with grey bags under his eyes. Frayed and patched clothes tell me he doesn’t make much, but from the smooth hands and fingers, he’s no laborer.

“I said get OUT of my booth,” the gnome repeated. “I have work to do, which requires the whole of this table.”

Boden glanced around the hall calmly. The protests were being swallowed up in the bustle and roar of the room. Yup, this is perfect. Boden gave the old gnome a cold, unblinking stare. “Can’t to that.”

The gnome frowned, “Why not?”

“What’s your name?”

“W-what?”

Leaning in closer to the table, Boden glared. “Look, I ain’t leavin’ this spot, so stop asking, and neither are you. If you try to leave or try to cause a commotion in any way that forces me ta leave, I’ll hurt you. Got it?”

A sharp object jabbed the gnome’s inner thigh under the table, which caused him to sit sharply upright.

Gulping loudly, the gnome nodded silently.

“Good man.” Boden took a deep breath and grinned, “Now what…is…your…name?”

“G-g-gladius Albinius Thornbill Dun III.”

Boden chuckled, “Sheesh. Your parents hate you or somethin’? That’s a mouthful! What say I just call you Dun, huh?”

Gladius just nodded, sweat quickly beading along his brow.

“Aww, don’t look so worried, Dun. If you do what I tells ya, nothin will happen to ya. That I can promise.”

Frosty white eyebrows collided with each other in the middle of his forehead, and arched upwards in fear “Says the man with the knife.”

The merchant sighed and leaned back, eyeing the empty mugs. “We got off on the wrong foot. You’re Dun, I’m Boden. See? Now we’re friends.” He gave the gnome a cheesy smile, then added, “Look, I’ll be out of your hair…or what’s left of it, soon enough. Just need to sit here long enough to give some cutthroats the slip, alright?” He grinned wide, then, “I’ll even buy us food and drink. You look like you could use a meal or two anyway. Think of it as you being…my afternoon appointment.” Waving his hand at one of the serving girls, he held up two fingers, then shouted, “Specials!”

She nodded and headed off to the kitchen.

“Boden?” Gladius pondered a moment, “As in Boden Rigg…the jewelry merchant?”

Boden grinned wide, “Ya heard of me.”

“Have I heard of your exorbitant prices and questionable merchandise? Yes.” He swallowed and added, “Have I heard rumors about your collection methods? Unfortunately.”

Boden grunted, checking the mugs to see if they were, in fact, empty. “You sound like you disapprove, Dun? Can’t a merchant buy, sell n’ trade for a livin’ without being criticized?”

Gladius tugged at the collar of his tunic with an index finger, “Merchants no, but…” his voice dropped off.

Eyes almost black, stared unblinking at the gnome. “But what?”

“There are rumors that you’ve…”, again he stopped.

“Come on, Dun,” Boden said softly, his words cold and sharp, “you can speak yer mind. We’re friends you’n me, remember?”

Slowly the sharp pain faded from Gladius’s leg, and he gulped.

“People say you haggle sellers down.”

“Nuthin’ wrong with hagglin’.”

“But you beat people up to drop the price even lower!”

Boden’s brows dropped, but there was a distinct smirk on his lips. “Who says I beat people?”

Gladius lowered his voice to almost a whisper, the cheers from the Hall nearly swallowing them up altogether, “The people who come to the Sentry. Men with cracked ribs, broken fingers, hands and arms. Women who say you…” but he stopped.

Boden sneered, “Law says you need at least two witnesses to accuse someone of a crime.”

“Which is why you only meet with sellers one on one,” Gladius muttered, avoiding eye contact.

Boden strummed his fat fingers on the table. “You ain’t no Sentry, two-step. So how would you hear these…rumors?”

The gnome looked at his books and papers longingly. “I’m a scribe. The Gypsy’s hire me from time to time. I recorded a complaint not long ago, from a man who was beaten to an inch of his life. The fingers of his right hand were broken, his hip dislocated and he had so many lacerations on his face, his own wife couldn’t recognize him!” The gnomes eye grew red and moist with the memories, “The poor fellow said you beat him until he was willing to sell you a gold family pendant for two pieces of silver. That you shoved the money and a receipt into his pocket, and then threw him into the streets.”

“Hmmm,” Boden said thoughtfully, “I think I remember ‘im. Oh yes—the man who’d fallen down some stairs, he told me. Wasn’t able ta’ work no more, so he had to sell the family jewels to feed the tots. My heart went out to him, it really did—but it’d been a rough month. Sales down, worker disputes, I could only spare two silver for such an item that ain’t in high demands, ya know. But he begged.” He chuckled under his breath, “Oh,…he begged, so I gave it to ‘im.”

Gladius blinked the tears from his eyes. “You’re disgusting.”

“Have ya got proof I did such things? A second witness that says I harmed a single hair on that poor man’s head?” Boden said aghast. But his eyes narrowed to slits, the sides of his mouth curling upward, “No, ya don’t. But now ya got me curious, here. You work with the Sentry, writing stuff with yer pen and ink. You work with anyone else?”

The gnome pulled a handkerchief out and wiped his nose. “I have many clients.”

“Well they don’t look ta pay you much, do they.”

Gladius sat up stiffly, “I do important work, to help keep order!”

Boden grinned wide. “Course ya do. Which is why I ask. You work with other merchants? The tax collectors? The port authorities, perhaps?”

“I’m a scribe and freelance writer,” Gladius snorted. “I work with all of them and many more! Why I…,” he dropped off, closing his mouth quickly.

Boden sat there, tapping his index finger on the table, staring. Droplets of sweat rolled along the creases in his brow, stray strands of greasy hair sticking to his skin. “So you have connections that can get me out of here.”

For what seemed like an eternity, the two men stared at one another, until the gnome peeped up and asked just above a whisper, “What did you do to get people so mad at you?”

Boden looked warily at him.

Gladius let out a long, heavy sigh, his gaze dropping to his precious papers before him. “Yes, my profession includes writing contracts and legal documents, Mr. Rigg. Yes, I know the law. Yes, I also know how the Sentry in the Black Market work and yes, I have connections both here and topside.” He hesitated for a moment, not sure if he should continue. Taking a deep breath, the gnome made two tiny fists and looked up as defiantly as he knew how. “For…the right price…I could make sure the thugs looking for you, never do. Ever.”

Boden couldn’t help but grin his stupid grin. Principles don’t amount ta much when it comes ta a pile of coin, does it two-step? “You can get me out of here?”

“I…I can.”

“How much?”

Gladius’s gaze clouded, his mind running through calculations. “We’ll have to pay off certain Sentry and the import guards.” Pale fingers tapped the tabletop nervously, “I can forge the letters of entry right here at the table, but it’ll be expensive. ”

“How expensive?”

The look of sheer sarcasm on the gnomes face was unmistakable.“How much is your life worth to you?”

Scoffing, “Do it.”

Gladius took the handkerchief and dapped the growing sweat across his lip, and brow, then pulled a fresh sheet of parchment from his ragged bag. “I’ll write a letter of recommendation for you, which you’ll give to Kuno at imports. He’s a stickler for rules and regulations, but he’s also in charge of port keys.”

“You don’t get a port key unless the Triad says so,” Boden hissed.

“Which is why this letter will be from them,” Gladius smiled to himself.

“What if this Kun…”

“Kuno.”

“What if Kuno asks me questions about the letter?!”

Gladius stopped scratching letters on the parchment. “Do you know how to read, Mr. Riggs?”

“I have people to do that for me,” the merchant snapped proudly.

Without looking up, “That is a no, then?”

Boden grumbled, deflated.

“Can you at least sign your name?”

“I don’t need a letter,” Boden growled, slapping his hand on the table so loud, a few patrons glanced his way. He grit his teeth and glared at the gnome, “Just tell me who to bribe and I’ll fill their palm with coin.”

Gladius trembled under the glare. “Mr. Rigg, your world might function by gut and ‘winging it’, but mine is one of clarity, precision and where everyone involved works strictly by contract and the letter of the law to keep them accountable. I can’t say that I’m happy to be doing this, but I want you out of my life as quickly as possible without you haunting my doorstep in the future. The only way I know how to do that is to work within the circles and according to the rules that exist.

“I can write out, in specific detail, that you are transporting rare goods on behalf of the Gypsy council. It doesn’t happen often, but I have created five such letters and witnessed the signature of Iyl-Tandril each time. He always sent the letter with a representative, twice it being a merchant, not a Gypsy—so this won’t be out of the ordinary. I don’t know what the fees are, but each time a small coin bag was sent with the letter.” Pausing, “You do have money on your person, correct?”

Boden didn’t answer.

“Nevermind, I don’t care, so long as you leave as soon as I get this done.” Uncapping an ink vial, Gladius dipped his quill pen. Tiny fingers rubbed tired eyes under the thick glasses.

“Here you go, gents,” the maiden smiled, setting two large bowls of stew and two mugs of rum on the table. “That’ll be four copper please.”

Boden pulled up a plump bag of coins and fished out a single silver, placing it in her palm. “Keep the change, luv.”

“Thank you!” the girl exclaimed happily with a short curtsey, then wandered off.

Gladius let out a soft sigh, eying the coin bag.

“Not bad for a thief, eh?” Boden taunted. “What—not a lot o’ money in scribblin’ letters?”

The gnome frowned, “Not so much, but it’s honest work.”

“Oh, sure. Honest.” Taking his spoon in hand, Boden stirred the stew, breaking down the larger chucks of potato. “Does honesty keep you warm at night? Does it keep your stomach from growling? How about keeping you in doors when the snow falls? Cause last time I checked, honesty didn’t give a rats backside what happened to me!

“Now just because I happened to be in the right place, at the right time, when an old bat falls down her stairs…is that dishonest? I mean, she was dead, ya know. Did she honestly need that jeweled necklace anymore? ‘Course not. She was worm food. So in my distress I saw an opportunity to take it upon myself, a lowly, humble merchant, ta find an underprivileged person who could benefit from such a rock.”

Gladius’s eyes popped wide open, a gasp escaping his lips. “You…murdered a woman?”

“Wasn’t no murder if it was an accident!” Boden countered. “The old crow fell down those stairs.” He nodded to himself, “And her maid right after her. Tragic as can be, I say, but not like anything can be done about it now, right? Besides, I hear those two kept company with unsavory races if you know what I mean.” Dark eyes once more settled on the gnome, narrowing down to slits as the familiar pang stung Gladius in the thigh. “So you finish that paper there, so I don’t get caught by that Qui-tuss guy.”

The color drained from the gnomes face. “What…did you just say?”

Boden snarled, “The guy trying to take me out…his name is Qui-tuss, or something like that. Scary as hell, I’m told. Those are his big, ugly friends out there.”

Hand shaking violently, small drops of ink splattered on the new parchment. “I-I…don’t believe I can be of assistance after all, Mr. Rigg,” stammered Gladius nervously.

“The hell you say,” the fat merchant growled. “I ain’t waiting around for that Qui-tuss guy to knock me off.”

“Quietus, not Qui-tuss.”

“What?” Boden stopped his spoon of stew midway to his mouth.

“The assassins name is Quietus, which comes from Quietus est, meaning, ‘he is quit’.” Gladius lifted his hand from the paper, fingers still trembling. “A master of disguise, infiltration and subtle poisons.”

Boden’s spoon stopped at his lips. “What’s he look like?” the merchant asked nervously.

The gnome glanced around the room, eyes wandering from patron to patron. “No one knows. He kills without ever being seen. The scary part is, he’s been able to kill anywhere in the Black Market.” Staring down at the merchants food, a haunting look washed over him, “I know very little about poisons, Mr. Rigg, but I’m guessing they have to be pretty potent to make the bodies…you know.”

Now it was the merchant who looked pale and nervous. “No…I DON’T know!”

“Well, they look so contorted and twisted.” Gladius stared at the merchant eyes wide and unblinking, “Like it was so painful.”

Boden reached across the table and gripped the gnome by the throat. “And you know all this how?”

Struggling in the iron grip, Gladius clawed at the pudgy hand until Boden released him. Gasping for air, he leaned back against the seat, “I sat in as scribe to record many Gypsy interrogations. They caught several criminals working for Quietus.” Gladius coughed and rubbed his throat. “But even those men died in the end, in the presence of the Gypsies!” He took out a small handkerchief and wiped his sweating brow. “One minute they were bound in chains, and the next, foaming at the mouth and flipping out on the floor like fish out of water.” With all the courage he could muster, he stared up into the face of his captor, “I have no desire to get involved with this Quietus. I’m sorry, Mr. Rigg, but you’re on your own.”

Dropping his unused spoon back into the bowl, Boden slapped his hand on the table.

A sharp pain shot through the gnomes leg as the knife edge entered his thigh.

Gladius winced.

Boden smiled. “That’s not a choice you get to make, there, two-step. I just hired you to help me. You said you could get me outta here, and that’s exactly what yer gonna do.” Deep lines formed in his brow, like lightening barreling down onto the bridge of his nose. “So start scribblin’ with yer pen and ink, Dun, or I’ll slit you open right here, right now.”

Gritting his teeth, “But if you kill me, you’ll get caught by the Sentry!”

The smiled remained, “Look like it’s a roll of the dice at this point. So the real question is whether you want to walk out of here or not.” The merchant leaned heavily against the small table, driving the knife deeper.

Gladius trembled, gripping this leg with both hands, trying not to scream aloud.

“So help me, Dun, if you don’t make this happen, I’ll slit you open like a gunny sac.”

The gnome nodded in defeat. “There never was an accident, was there?” he mumbled, “The old woman and the maid you spoke of?”

“Sure there was, short stuff. The accident was them walking in on me raiding the house. The result was having to push ‘em down the stairs.” He smiled to himself as a hand rested against his chest, a brightly colored ring on his pinky finger. “But honestly,” he chuckled, “—it wasn’t the fall that killed ‘em.” Sliding his bowl of stew across the table, he nodded at it. “Take a bite o’ that for me, will ya? Before it get’s cold.”

“What?”

Boden snarled, “If this Quietus can get to anyone, anywhere, then consider this an extra perk of your offered services.” A short jab of the knife under the table, “Do it.”

Gladius glared at the merchant as he pulled the bowl to himself and lifted the spoon.

“A nice, big scoop. That’s it.”

The spoon reached the lips of the scribe and vanished behind his teeth. Lips closed and the spoon pulled free.

“Chew.”

Gladius dropped the spoon back into the bowl and pushed it away as he half-heartedly chewed the food and then swallowed.

“There,” Boden smirked, “so how does it taste?”

Chewing, Gladius shrugged, then swallowed. “Excellent as always, though…,” he paused.

“Though what,” Boden asked nervously.

“It really needs some salt.”

“Bah!” the merchant groaned, rolling his eyes. “Finish that paper!” Keeping the knife under the table, Boden pulled a small, round container closer to him, lifted the tiny lid from the bowl of salt crystals and took a pinch.

“You’re not going to let me go, are you?” Gladius whispered.

Boden sprinkled the salt into his stew, stirred it casually and then took a spoonful. “Mmm. That is good.” He watched the gnome as the quill pen moved across the paper. All the delicate strokes that formed words to give instructions, permissions, license to do this and that. It was fascinating…and dangerous. “Of course I’m going to let you go,” he finally said aloud, “but I do have to make sure I get a head start.”

The pen stopped scribbling.

“You realize that if that paper doesn’t say what I need it to say, I will find a way back to you and slit your belly, navel to neck.”

Gladius didn’t bother looking up. The scribbling and scratching continued, which made Boden beam openly.

“So you’re going to drink a little of this once you’re done with that paper.”

With his free hand, Boden reached into the collar of his tunic and pulled on a leather cord. At the end of the necklace, nestled in a pouch, was a silver vial.

Pulling the gnomes drink closer, he loosened the top between his fingers and tapped out a few drops into the rum.

Tiny eyes watched the drops enter the cup. “Wh…what is it?”

“Caydian Root, Gladi my friend. The finest money can buy. One drop is said to make a man drowsy, but several, if it’s potent enough, can make a person sleep for days.” Casting a casual glance over the gnome, Boden grinned comically, “From your size and weight, this should give me about a weeks head start.” He laughed.

“How do I know it’s not poison?” Gladius asked nervously.

Boden chuckled, “This stuff has helped me earn a steady flow of goods over the years, so you’ll just have to trust me.”

The gnome scowled deeply and went back to writing.

“If you’re about finishk…”

Boden frowned.

“Finiskedrk…”

Blinking repeatedly, the merchants hands quivered under the weight of his arms.

Below the table came the soft echo of metal clanging against the wooden floor.

“Fixlbrk domxock gurskt!” Boden slurred, his arms going limp.

With a final swipe of his quill, Gladius lifted the paper and inspected it. “This looks in order,” he nodded to himself, “Now if you’d just,” but he looked up to bright, frightened eyes.

“This isn’t funny Mr. Rigg. I’ve done what you asked, there’s no need to,” but he paused. “Mr. Rigg, are…you alright?” Looking around them, the gnome didn’t see anyone paying attention to them or their conversation.

“Gak!” was all that leaked out from the merchants mouth.

Gladius took a long, deep breath, then set the document down on the table, spinning it around so it faced Boden right side up.

“I know you can’t read, Mr. Rigg, but…” Pointing at his own clear signature, he tapped the dark black X scrapped right above it with an index finger. “Does that look about right? It was as close as I could get from the receipt you handed poor Eladio. He’ll never be able to sign his own name again, not after breaking his fingers the way you did. But luckily I was here to witness that this dark X is indeed your personal signature.” Rolling up the parchment, Gladius used a piece of string to tie it shut. “Fortunately for him, you were so distraught by your actions you decided to make amends and sell that good man your shop, your house, and in fact...all your worldly possessions.”

Boden’s eyes grew wide, his body tensing. Veins up his neck and across his brow throbbed a deep purple. But no sound.

Nothing came out.

His arms wouldn’t move.

Neither would his legs.

“Well, after half your inventory is sold off, anyway.” Reaching across the table he poked Boden’s limp hand with the quill, slowly pushing the ink covered tip under the flesh until a small trickle of blood rolled over the folds of skin and onto the table.

Gladius quickly snapped the head off the quill, leaving the tip embedded in Boden’s hand.

With a gentle smile, he draped the merchants napkin over the wound.

“It’s good to have a repentant heart. We should always desire to reimburse those we stole from.” He gave Boden a quick wink, “You also made it very clear that a portion of all those sizable profits are to feed the poor of the Black Market." Leaning forward, the gnome stared into Boden's eyes, his expression stoic. "Who knows, it just might make hell a bit cooler when you arrive.”

With all of his might, the merchant tried to scream.

Every muscle tensed, but all Boden could show for it was a red face, bulging veins and loose bowels.

Gladius smiled then.

The corners of the gnomes mouth slowly crawled across his face, like two snakes rising up to nibble on each ear. “You’re wondering what just happened.”

Leaning across the table, he grasped both necklaces from around the merchants neck and tugged, snapping them free. Tucking the vial of Caydian Root into his vest pocket, he admired the stollen necklace. Its intricate collection of blood rubies clustered around an enormous green emerald at its center, al dangling from a woven silver chain. He looked up and gave Boden a deep sigh.

“But I simply don’t have the time to explain the complexities of your bad choices, Mr. Riggs.” He shrugged, “People to see, things to do. You understand, don’t you?”

Reaching into Boden’s cloak, Gladius then pulled free the large bag of coin, gave it a single heft, nodding approval. Leaving two cold coins in the center of the table, he plopped the rest into his scribe satchel.

“Sadly, the intense stabbing pain you’re feeling in your lungs and chest won’t last forever. It will increase, mind you. Loputon is a special concoction of mine, developed to near perfection for my clients over the years.Your bowels will bloat, your male organs will burn like fire as they are eaten away, but I was able to adapt the adrenaline of Vallen into the formula. Quite expensive mind you, but the rush keeps you alive just that bit longer...so you can enjoy the experience while it lasts." He watched Boden for seemed like an eternity before adding, "You’ll want to scream. I know. Fortunately for the patrons of this good tavern, the toxins I’ve worked into the formula will prevent that.” Shaking his head and scrunching his nose, “We wouldn't want to ruin everyone’s merry mood here, would we? Of course not.”

Lifting the remainder of the paperwork, Gladius slid the stack carefully into his satchel. “There’s no antidote for Loputon, but it does spread according to your weight.” He looked the merchant up and down mockingly, “Judging by your enthusiasm for exercise, the poison should stop your heart in roughly an hour.” Staring up at Boden, he couldn’t help but add to the panic-drenched expression.

“Three, tops.”

Taking his own napkin, Gladius folded the cloth length-wise and tied it snug around the knife wound in his thigh.

“By the way, Mr. Rigg, you were wrong about that ‘old crow’ and her maid. First of all, the woman had a name. Lady Amellia Suresh, and she was a good woman. A kind woman, who never looked down upon others. You took the life of a beautiful human being—a credit to your race. But that wasn’t your biggest mistake.”

Standing up, the gnome leaned across the table as far as he could, dropping his tone to a whisper. “Your biggest mistake was harming Lady Suresh’s maid.” Pulling back so their eyes met, Gladius’s crystal blue gaze grew cold as the Southern Sea.

“Her name was Kora. She was the old crow’s daughter.”

Then behind clenched teeth, “And my wife.”

With that, Gladius hopped from the booth, pulling his satchel after him, whistling a sober tune.

Worms of fire ate their way through organs, feasting on the flesh across Boden’s bulging stomach.

How could this have happened?

Like tiny swipes of a razor, the pain worked its way towards his groin.

There’s no way he could have known I was coming into the Roadkill Tavern!

Each breath grew harder to draw in, throat clenching tight.

A lifetime of obtaining riches, of securing connections and building a financial empire to last several lifetimes…now gone.

In torment, Boden screamed the sound of the mute.

With all his might he pleaded with his body to move. To make some kind of sound or motion that would alert others to his plight.

Molten flame trickled through his veins.

To claw at his flesh, run from where he sat, or to impale himself on anything that would stop the growing sensations.

Patrons laughed and shouted throughout the Great Hall. The heavy scent of spiced potatoes and garlic bread in the air covered the hints of vomit now bubbling over the merchants lips, while the knives of fate worked their way towards his heart.

“Goodness, I’m clumsy!” Gladius chimed, dancing into view.

Shaking his head, the gnome, climbed back into the booth and snatched the merchants soup. With a swift motion, he poured the contents onto the floor under the table.

“Wouldn’t want anyone else getting sick now, would we?” He frowned, “No we do NOT.”

Lifting the small salt bowl, he gingerly lowered it into his satchel.

Gladius winked at the merchant.

“One should always watch their salt intake.”

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