Vott grunted in desperation. It wasn’t supposed to end this way. All his experience. All his training. To be undone by such an amateur move.
“You got to be kidding me!” Vott shouted. “What sort of pimple-nosed peachick tries a 5-9 split in a professional game?”
“I didn’t realize we were playing for money,” Jari replied with a smirk.
“A dirty trick, nonetheless.”
Jari continued to grin as he removed Vott’s final lark from the board. “A master does not neglect any of the tools in his kit. Even a cantrip can win the day, if employed at the right moment.”
“Bah.” Vott leaned back in his chair and wrapped his hands behind his head, his large arms stretched out like wings.
The watchhouse breakroom was quieter than normal. Most of Vott’s company were out in town, running down leads or reassuring vendors along Market Street that the kerfuffle on the bridge wouldn’t spill out into anything more significant. Only he, Jari, and Frige remained behind to interrogate the gambling house boss. That effort had yet to bear fruit.
“How are Adda and Terese?” Vott asked. “This must have been a shock for them.”
“My family is fine. Concerned, but fine.” Jari frowned. Gazing off into the distance, he looked sullen. Jari was never a man for sullenness.
“What’s wrong?” Vott prodded his friend.
“We can’t stick around here. It’s not safe. I’m taking my family up north, to Kingston.”
“That’s a bit of a journey. You think Terese is up for it?”
“I don’t see what choice I have. Something’s brewing in the underbelly of this city. I don’t know what it is, and I don’t want to be here to find out. Plus, I’m a marked man now. This Reaper fellow is going to have it out for me.”
“I know you’re still cross about The Skirmishes.”
“I’d have thought you’d be angrier,” Vott said, pointing at Jari’s thigh. His friend’s hand instinctively went to the old scar.
“There comes a time when you have to let history, well, be history. Otherwise the cycle never ends. Plus, Terese has family in Kingston.”
“Yeah. Wasn’t Adda’s mother from the old city?”
“Still is there. I think. It’ll be nice for Terese to meet her grandmother.”
Vott leaned back and silently considered the plan. Maybe there was more to healing than just the physical stuff—the wounds and the scars. Maybe part of being truly healed was getting right in the head. The old sergeant’s face drooped as he sighed. He was going to miss his friend.
“Frige, come over here a minute,” Vott said, indicating an open chair at the table.
The watchman did as instructed, setting her water cup down on the table as she sat. She looked at Vott expectantly.
“You’ve got relations in Kingston, right?” Vott asked her.
“I’ve got roots, sure.” Frige looked back and forth between the two men. “Though I haven’t dug them up in quite a while.”
“Jari is taking his family to Kingston. I’d feel a lot better if you went with him.”
“You think Reaper’ll try something?” Frige asked, taking a sip of water.
“I’d rather not take the chance.”
“So, this is official business then? All expenses paid?” She smirked.
“Within reason. No hanging gardens or lavish nights at the opera.”
“Hear that, Jari,” Frige said. “No fun.”
Jari smiled, but the expression could not hide the man’s melancholy. “I think we’ll manage. Better dull and safe than fun and dead.”
Frige’s expression stiffened. “Sorry, I didn’t mean…”
“It’s alright,” Jari said. “It would be nice to have someone of your spirit along for the trip.”
“It’s settled then,” Vott said, rising to his feet. “I’ll let the two of you work out the details.”
“Wissian,” Jari said, looking up at the big man. “Thank you. For everything.”
“Who would I be if I didn’t help out a comrade in distress?”
“You wouldn’t be Sergeant Wissian Vott. That’s for sure.”
Vott turned away from his oldest friend, not wanting the others to see the tears forming in his eyes. Jari was the closest thing Vott had to a best friend, and he was leaving, probably for good. It seemed like Vott was just not the kind of man who was supposed to have friends. He had the job, and the city. That would have to be enough. Contemptible Reaper. And the Baron. Raza could whip them both.
The sound of vibrant conversation continued as Vott stepped away from his friends. He knew Jari was in good hands.
* * *
After several long goodbyes and the final departure of his friends, Vott descended into the dank basement of the watchhouse and approached the holding cell. He caught eyes with Riordan, the gambling boss, who was laying on the stone bed that took up most of the cell. The man’s messy braid hung off the side.
“Have you come to let me out, old man?” Riordan said, placing his hands behind his head as a makeshift pillow. He was trying to look relaxed, but Vott could see the tension in his body language, in his face. The man’s eyes revealed the sort of confused fear than Vott hadn’t seen off the battlefield.
“What makes you think I’d ever do that?” Vott placed a hand on the cell bars and leaned his face close.
Riordan turned away from Vott, staring up at the ceiling. “Don’t you worry. Reaper’ll come for me. Then this game will all be over.”
“The game was over the moment you decided to bring your schemes, your terror into my town.”
“You have no idea, old man. Reaper has plans. Big plans. And he’s not gonna let you or anybody get in his way. Not even the Baron.”
“In this town, ambition tends to get you killed.”
Vott leaned back from the bars. He wasn’t going to get anything from this man. The thug was all hiss and no venom. Just another boisterous youth lost to the streets.
As he turned to walk away, Vott was stopped cold by the tone in Riordan’s voice. “A storm is coming, old man,” the rogue said in an otherworldly murmur. “Things are changing outside these city walls. In the west. Not that you’d know anything about it. But Reaper does, and he plans to ride the chaos all the way to the top.”
“He’s welcome to try,” Vott said over his shoulder.
Striding deliberately to the stairs, stepping up into the light, he considered the thug’s warning. The old sergeant could feel something, like a shift in the wind, voices in the distance. Vott let out a resolute sigh.
Whatever was coming, he’d face it head on.
*The adventure continues in IN THE VALLEY OF MAGIC, the debut short story novel by JM Williams. https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07G9ZPXMR/