Alexander D’Amore was a troublemaker and a murderer. Those who crossed him, if lucky, would be found in one of the mass graves outside Ironheart. And yet, he was never found guilty of such crimes; a combination of corruption, fear, and confusion kept him far from the chopping stone.
The only crimes he had been charged with were sex-related; these were the crimes he chose to be associated with, these were the proofs of a predator, these were his trophies. In the end, each indictment only served to bolster his oversized ego when no one could enforce the church’s rulings.
Then, there was the princess and the baron, who could, maybe, put an end to this charade once and for all. But they would never do that as long as they still got hold of the dagger’s handle. This was what the D’Amore family meant to the crown: loyalists who went outside the boundaries of the laws to enforce the Ruby Garden’s will.
Everyone who had taken a dip in politics knew as much.
Thomas Jeremy Clevandi owned the inventor nothing. At a mere glimpse of a troublesome discussion ahead, the merchant picked up his sleepy son, dropped some coins on the counter and stood up.
“Oh wow, if you look at the time, gentlemen. I really have to go now. See you!” he waved his hand and turned on his heel.
He sure made quick strides to the exit.
Not much was going on in the tavern when Alex took the empty seat next to Leo. Scattered around the tables were armed mercenaries, casually walking in and taking seats at every corner of the tavern. When Thomas pushed on the door, he ran the wooden frame into a man standing guard. Leo could see at least two sentries outside as they let the merchant and his son out.
What happened to the league of angry husbands and fathers was of anybody’s guess but no one was entering despite the rowdiness outside.
“Okay, listen, Alex,” the inventor sighed, “There are ten, eh, fifteen meatheads in here who can snap a neck or two perfectly fine. You don’t have to drag me into this.”
The count sneered, “Two hundreds of them wouldn’t match a mage. No, no, Leo. I need a mage to get rid of another mage. Lilia, Felacia, Graham are out of the question for obvious reasons. That leaves me with only one option, Leo. You know what it is…”
He wanted to call upon the witch’s assistance. She permitted only customers who had attained the highest membership tier to request a curse. That would be Father Felacia and Leonardo di Price.
Alex was not wrong. This was indeed a request only Leo could make.
“Sorry, it’s impossible,” the inventor shook his head. “I can’t help you with that. She is dead. You need a spirit whisperer, not me.”
The count burst into laughter, “That’s funny because I heard she was the only spirit whisperer we have in this half of the world,” he remarked, not hiding his sarcasm.
“Well then, you’re out of luck,” the inventor summed up. He too laughed at the dilemma.
Suddenly, Alex swept his arms across the counter bar, knocking everything down to the floor. His laughter disappeared and there was only fury in his eyes.
“Do you think I’m stupid? I know she is not dead!”
The enraged man slammed a stack of pamphlets on the counter bar and sank a dagger into it.
“This crap is clogging every sewer in West Rufus. Her broom returned last moon to dump another load after the rain at ten washed away the previous load.”
Leo glimpsed at the pamphlets and, within seconds, became dumbfounded. The witch reopened her occult shop. The pamphlet, written in barely legible handwritings, informed patrons of her return and the timing. A few of these pamphlets had a background sketch of a dragon’s head in a square, and decorative runes at the corners.
“That idiot…” the inventor grumbled.
She was selling tickets to the reopening ceremony; two-hundred and fifty pris a soul, the fifth purchase would be free. Also specified in five passages of small writings were: no membership discount, front row seats available to “best friend” membership tier and above, waiver of liabilities for collateral damage etc. and etc.
“What is this farce?” he uttered.
“The sort of farce that has your name on it!” Alex snapped.
He was right. Leo’s name was indeed written on the pamphlet. His title, “the inventor”, appeared on the list of “authorized vendors” written on the other side.
“Look, Alex, there seems to be a misunderstanding here,” the inventor tried to explain.
“Shut up. You’re stalling, aren’t you? I’ll make this very straightforward and simple. You, ask you-know-who, to curse the other you-know-who. If I don’t see that other you-know-who dead by dawn, your precious journals will go into the fire pit and your girl will go on a boat to the rim as a slave.”
“Three stacks of dirty papers and that amber-eyed girl from your workshop.”
“You broke into my workshop!?”
Leo grabbed the man in front of him by the collar. His blood was boiling. The angrier he was, the louder the count’s laughter became.
“Yes, yes, yes, Leo!” Alex exhilarated, “I took your treasure. I took your woman. I turned her into a swallow and kept her in a cage. What can you do about it?”
Leo’s eyes glanced at the dagger on the counter. His hands instinctively grabbed the handle and pointed the tip at Alex. Three mercenaries immediately stepped in. They removed the dagger from his hand and pinned his face against the wet counter.
“I’m going to kill you, bastard!”
“Get in the line, Leo!” the count retorted, taking a jab at Leo’s stomach.
The blow knocked air out of his lung, Leo could barely stay on his feet. Another blow, this time from behind, took him down. His face lay on top of fragments of glasses.
“Two punches. Really? You can only take two punches? How the hell someone as pathetic as you are can lay hands on someone like her? Get outta here, Leo. She’s mine!”
“So…that’s what…this is about eh?”
This bastard only wanted a reason to steal another man’s woman. He enjoyed this. Of course, he was infamous for this. Only an idiot would believe he had a rational reason. Only an idiot like Leo would believe the self-proclaim centaur-born dickhead would act better than a mindless beast.
Leo dragged himself up. Damn, this hurt. But, he must not be on his face. He must sit up at the very least.
And so he did. Cracking a sneer, he stared at the count in disgust and spoke:
“Sure! Take her! See if I give a pris! But, don’t you dare lay a finger on my sketches! Touch my babies and I’ll blow your entire den up.”
Before Alex could utter a retort, one of his sentries flew in from the front door and landed on his back. Within seconds, swords were sheathed, axes raised, halberds turned and bows aimed at the tavern’s door.
A round metal shield barged in. All eyes fell on the hammer and pickaxe crest of Ironheart which was stained in fresh blood. The ironclad giants had to bow their heads to fit under the door frame. Two elite knights emerged in full plate mail. They cast their halberds aside and drew short swords from scabbards strapped to the waists.
“Alexander D’Amore, your fugitive life ends here. You are under arrest,” the red-head knight announced and slid down the cover of her helm.
Behind Katherine was Steve the Ironsmith, and the knight captain, Joshua, who smacked the hilt of his sword against his shield twice and declared the tavern a free-to-kill war zone. Following the captain’s ferocious war cry, the three of them leaped into action and swung their weapons at the armed mercenaries. Three of them versus fifteen mercenaries in a no-holds-barred battle to the death…