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Thief's Covenant.

A Widders.h.i.+ns Adventure.

by Ari Marmell.

TWO YEARS AGO:.

The girl watched, helpless, as the world turned red beneath her.

She clung-first to the walls above, where few could even have attempted to climb, and then to the rafters-terrified to move, to breathe, to think, lest she accidentally attract a murderous eye. No matter how she tried, no matter how hard she bit her own hand in a desperate attempt at silence, she couldn't entirely suppress her sobs. Her body shook with them; her face glistened. But any sounds she made were lost in the carnage below; any tears that fell vanished in the sheen of blood that covered the floor.

Blood that, minutes before, had pumped from the hearts of men and women she knew. Men and women she loved.

Long after the slaughter had ended, long after silence had fallen, Adrienne Satti could only clutch the rafters with both arms and legs, her eyes squeezed tight, and pray.

Thin strands of mold clung to broken mortar along a wall of bricks. The watery tendrils of twisting underground estuaries and manmade sewers flowed beyond those walls, sweeping away the city's filth, twisting and wearing away at the brickwork, keeping it consistently damp. As easily find a museum without dust, or a tax collector without scars, as a cellar beneath the city of Davillon without mold.

Yet it was neither mold nor condensation weighing down the chamber's stagnant air, obscuring the abstract designs on the burnished flagstones. Rather, it was blood-almost inconceivable quant.i.ties of it, mixing with the mold into a foul sludge, seeping through cracks in the floor, seeking a return to the primal earth. Scattered across those ornate tiles lay an obscene carpet of limbs and other, less recognizable bits that had so recently stood upright, talked and laughed and borne names.

With a gut-churning squelch, a booted foot stepped into the chamber of horrors. And there it remained, in mid-stride, until its wearer cautiously examined the floor to ensure he was not about to set foot on a corpse, or part of one.

A second glance followed, to ensure that his gauntlet had not picked up any of the stray filth that caked the walls. Only then did Sergeant Cristophe Chapelle of the Davillon City Guard carefully smooth his salt-and-pepper mustache (poking, in the process, at the camphor extract that he and the others had applied to their nostrils). A brief prayer to Demas moving silently across his lips, he grimly shook his head.

"This is a mess," he muttered irritably. "We're going to have to count heads."

"Sir? Sir, I-that is, I think..." The voice petered out as the younger Guardsman gagged, forcing something back down where it belonged.

Chapelle turned toward the speaker, a young recruit named Julien Bouniard. Soft, una.s.suming features and slightly drooping eyelids belied both wit and reflexes at least as keen as the service rapier that hung loosely at his hip. Like the sergea

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