The Grim Company
The Gods are dead. The Magelord Salazar and his magically enhanced troops, the Augmentors, crush any dissent they find in the minds of the populace. On the other side of the Broken Sea, the White Lady plots the liberation of Dorminia, with her spymistresses, the Pale Women. Demons and abominations plague the Highlands.
The world is desperately in need of heroes. But what they get instead are a ragtag band of old warriors, a crippled Halfmage, two orphans and an oddly capable manservant: the Grim Company.
The Hero’s Journey
Cole woke some time after tenth bell. His head pounded and his mouth tasted foul. A glance at the vomit–stained clothes strewn over the floor of his cramped sleeping quarters confirmed his worst fears.
What hour had it been when he’d left the Gorgon to stumble home in the rain? He couldn’t remember the short walk back to his modest apartment. He could recall only fragments of the preceding four hours or so he’d spent drinking himself into oblivion. All in all, he was extremely lucky to have made it back in one piece. The Hive was one of the roughest parts of the city, and a man wandering drunk and alone in the middle of the night was a ripe target for thieves and cut–throats.
He hadn’t intended to end up in such a state. After his dramatic exit from the temple of the Mother, Cole had entertained some vague notion of attempting a daring robbery on one of Dorminia’s powerful magistrates and returning triumphantly to his shamefaced comrades. “Witness!” he would have declared. “A king’s ransom in gold and jewelry, enough to fund a strike at the very heart of Salazar’s power!”
As it happened, his ribs had begun to ache fiercely a few hundred yards from the temple and he’d decided that such valor would have to wait for another night. He had chosen to head home, only to become unaccountably sidetracked along the way.
Cole frowned. Somewhere in the hazy recesses of his mind, fragments of memories began to unveil themselves: a pair of women laughing at him; a kindly old man with his arm around him, calling him “boy” and telling him everything would be all right. He looked at his clothes again. He hoped he hadn’t embarrassed himself.
Cole thrust his blanket away and slid gingerly from the straw mattress. He rose unsteadily to his feet, remaining perfectly still as the room swam around him and a wave of nausea threatened to heap further agony on his ribs. He breathed steadily for a few moments and the sensation passed.
He walked from the small bunk room into the main quarters, and then caught sight of his reflection in the mirror propped in the corner.
Cole stared in horror. His nose was hideously swollen and colored an ugly shade of red from the bridge almost to the tip. He had a large purple bruise under his right eye and his cheeks were scraped and scabbed from thrashing around on the floor during yesterday’s exploits.
He felt a flash of rage. What had he done to deserve this? He reached for Magebane, half intending to hurl it at the foul visage staring back at him from the mirror. Too late he remembered that he no longer had the weapon. That only made him angrier.
Storming across to the armoire on the wall opposite the mirror, he quickly selected some fresh clothes and pulled them on. Then he strode over to the opposite corner of the room and knelt down, feeling around for the loose floorboard. ?He levered the board up slightly to hook a hand under and remove it.
He examined his hidden stash. He selected a plain dagger and a handful of copper crowns and silver scepters, which he stowed away in his trousers. A tiny container at the very back of the shallow recess contained a dozen pale green pills. He placed one in his mouth and swallowed it down. He was just about to move the floorboard back into place when he noticed the small leather bag in which he had often stored his pendant. He felt a sudden pang of regret at having tossed it into the fire last night. Despite the disgraceful way they had treated him, he was still a Shard.
In a sudden burst of charitable feeling, Cole decided that after he had purchased what he needed at the market he would seek out Garrett and give him the chance to apologize. Other men might hold a grudge, but not him. His heart was just too big.
With one last mournful look in the mirror at his battered face, Davarus Cole exited his home in the western half of the city and headed south toward the market.
The sun was high in the sky by the time he arrived at the Bazaar, a sprawling collection of tents and stalls that operated all year round and brought folk from all over the Trine together to gossip, trade and otherwise interact in a relatively peaceful confluence. Goods from Shadowport were currently forbidden, as were merchants from that city. Two had been apprehended and dragged to the Hook in the last fortnight. They now hung in gibbets, their ample girth serving only to prolong their suffering inside the tiny cages.
The lengthy walk had given Cole time to clear his head. He had calmed down and examined the situation from every angle and had concluded that, in truth, there was only one person to blame for last night’s unpleasantness.
Brodar Kayne. The Highlander had stolen Magebane, his precious heirloom. Not content with undermining the respect he enjoyed among his fellow Shards, he had then sat idly by as Garrett announced that Cole had no place on the mission. He had expected the old warrior to speak up for him, to proclaim that, despite his youth, he possessed exactly the kind of courage that could aid their quest. Instead he had simply stared into the fire and continued picking his teeth.
And what right did an over–the–hill barbarian have to even borrow a weapon such as Magebane? He was no hero, unlike Davarus Cole, whose own legendary father had passed it to him on his deathbed.
The young Shard smiled sadly, as he often did when remembering his father’s tragic death. Illarius Cole had been a great rebel leader, and it had taken three of the Magelord’s best Augmentors to best him during a vicious and lengthy battle. Illarius had killed two of them before escaping, mortally wounded, to find young Davarus and deliver his final words.
“Take this weapon, son,” his father had said, choking back blood. “One day you will lead the city to freedom. I have seen the spark in you. Listen to Garrett and try to be a better man—”
Illarius had died before finishing his sentence, but he hadn’t needed to hear the rest. He knew Garrett’s limitations. While he loved and respected his mentor, he could not deny that his father’s wish for him to be a better man than Garrett was wise. For all his resourcefulness and organizational skills, the merchant lacked the ambition to ever achieve a truly significant victory for the Shards.
Cole tried not to blame his foster father. Greatness was a gift bestowed upon few, after all, and Garrett had done the best he could. It was up to Davarus Cole to lead the Shards to new heights when the time was right.
He heard his stomach growl and sudden hunger overwhelmed his ruminations on future glory. A food vendor was hawking his wares just ahead. Cole handed over four copper crowns for a chunk of pale goat’s cheese, a crust of hard bread and an overripe pear. He bit into the fruit and almost gagged when he saw the trio of tiny white worms twitching around inside.
He hurled the spoiled pear to the ground in front of the vendor’s stall and crushed it with his boot; then, on an impulse, he grabbed hold of the large basket in which all of the seller’s fruit was presented and upended it on the street. Let that be a lesson to you, he thought. Satisfied he had made his point, he strolled away from the stall, the outraged merchant’s curses following him down the narrow aisle.
He was feeling in better spirits now. The clouds that had blanketed Dorminia for the past week had finally dispersed and the sun was shining. In fact, it was unusually warm for a late spring morning. The pear aside, the hasty breakfast he’d just eaten had settled his stomach. Most important of all, he had a purpose.
That was the thing about being a hero. When you took a knock, you got right back up and came back stronger.
A bellman’s cry abruptly split the air, coming from somewhere on the other side of the Bazaar.
“Attention, good people of Dorminia. Your glorious master has cast down the treacherous Marius and cleansed his city of sin with the very waters of the Broken Sea. The war is over. All praise Lord Salazar!”
It took a moment for the crier’s words to sink in. When they did, Cole hurried as fast as he could toward the man. A crowd was already forming around the crier, who repeated the announcement and ignored the flurry of questions darting at him from every angle.
“This can’t be true,” a gap–toothed farmer said numbly as Cole drew closer. “I got a daughter in the City of Shades. What does he mean by “cleansed”? I wish this bloody lockdown would end.”
Cole didn’t bother to reply. He shouldered the man aside and pushed deeper into the unwashed mass of citizenry chattering in alarm over the news. One woman in particular seemed anxious to air her views to as many folk as possible. He watched her for a time. Eventually her eyes met his and she wandered toward him. He was about to turn his back and pretend to have pressing business elsewhere when he noticed her swaying hips. Although she wore the drab clothes of a goodwife, her bosom, too, was impressive.
As she approached, Cole saw that she wasn’t as old as he’d initially thought. Her strawberry–blond hair caught the sun and glimmered prettily. All in all she was quite pleasant to look at. Worth a minute of his time, he supposed, though he couldn’t help feeling a bit self–conscious about his bruises.
“I take it you’ve heard,” she said, standing in such a way that her cleavage seemed to drag his eyes downwards with irresistible force. “Shadowport’s no more. The City of Shades has been destroyed by Salazar himself.” The tone of her voice changed slightly, a hint of sarcasm creeping in. “Strange that he waited to act until after our navy was crushed.”
Cole said nothing, settling instead on a non–committal shrug. He wasn’t about to voice treason against the Tyrant of Dorminia in the middle of a crowded market. He wasn’t stupid.
The woman leaned in close to him and her voice became a whisper. “I lost my husband to the Black Lottery four years ago, you know. He was a brave man.” Tears welled up in her eyes. “There aren’t many like him around these days. Men prepared to take a stand.”
Cole puffed out his chest and placed a comforting hand on her shoulder. If only you knew, he thought. If only you knew.
“I’m sorry for your loss,” he lied. “I’m sure your husband and I would have had much in common.” He gave her a winsome grin, and was rewarded with a shy smile in response.
“How did you come by those bruises?” she asked, placing a gentle hand to his face. He felt his body respond and shifted uncomfortably.
“Let’s just say the Watch and I don’t always see eye to eye,” he replied. He couldn’t resist giving her a conspiratorial wink. She looked thoughtful and bowed her head.
He noticed abrupt movement in the corner of his vision. One of the tradesmen the woman had been speaking with was suddenly grabbed from the back. His surprised face was visible for a split second before he disappeared behind the mass of humanity. There was a yelp, cut off as suddenly as it had begun, and then a young woman was also forcibly removed from the throng, her arms flailing before she faded from view.
A worried murmuring spread. Faces glanced left and right and behind them. Two more people were suddenly pulled from the crowd: an old woman and a man of middling years.
A dark foreboding seized Cole. He stared at the woman opposite him. She frowned as if trying to figure out some puzzle. Her eyes had changed. The wetness was gone. There was no tender recollection there, no earnest longing. They were as hard as stone.
“I can’t work this one out,” she said, and it took Cole a second to realize her words had been directed at someone behind him. He spun around to find a large man dressed in commoner’s garb looming over him, preparing to grab his arms. He was about to go for the dagger concealed in his sleeve when he felt a prick on the back of his neck and suddenly his body refused to listen to his brain. He was completely paralyzed. Even his chest protested at drawing breath.
Cole listened to the sound of air whistling through his nose as the woman moved to stand in front of him. She held a hairpin in one hand, its pointed tip glistening red. With her other hand she removed a stud from her right ear, which had been hidden underneath her hair. Both adornments glowed softly.
“Magic!” he tried to exclaim, but nothing issued from his frozen mouth save for an unintelligible moan.
“What shall we do with him, Goodlady Cyreena?” the burly male asked.
The woman stared at Cole as she might an insect that had performed an interesting trick. “My earring could not read his thoughts,” she said. “This has never happened before. Carry him to the safehouse on Kraken Street. I would experiment.”
Davarus Cole struggled with all his strength, but the best he could manage was to close his eyes. The day had suddenly taken a turn for the worse.
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