B.T.V. -- Session 01: By Ghostlight

Bolyn caught his image reflected in the glass of the apothecary’s window. His long, blue serge coat was open to the waist, red truncheon thrust into a belt cinched tight. His reflection’s wax-tipped moustache adjusted, Captain Bolyn took care to douse his hip light. This night’s edict meant the light needed to be out. Its turquoise illumination would have made it easier to see but relying on what little light there was, was better than clearly seeing your death. The Captain was a realist when it came to the street rules of his district patrol. Bolyn had three things that he knew with certainty; he was superstitious about rivers, he knew he was interested in getting imperial favour and he was the best constable in Crow’s Foot. Being the best meant getting along with the gangs of his acquaintance. Particularly when the most powerful of these groups had finally decided to have at each other. The Gravid, the Red Lavers, the Hate Dukes and the Stacked were tired of one another. Being tired of something might mean a change in what you’d order for dinner or a peaceable end to a business arrangement, a friendship or a marriage but there would be no serene ending between thoroughgangs.     Bolyn eyed a whorl of electroplasmic energy as it snaked its way down Shallow’s Lane. It paid to at least note these movements, he’d learned. Almost always they were transient and harmless. Just wisps of ghost light that had drifted away from a larger body of energy, drawn by some random emotion it could sense. More rarely, the electroplasm would amount to something. It might be that the plasm would be heading to something that attracted it, like a somebody wounded and in need of help. It could be leading away from where some unfortunate had been killed. Once in trailing such an eddy of plasm, Bolyn had followed it to a point where the thing had entered a culvert. When he’d lowered himself down, he’d found a man’s vest, which on further inspection turned out to have a splinter in one of its waistcoat pockets. Bolyn patted his own vest’s chest pocket, just in case. It had been with the aid of the splinter that he’d seen his career do well. He’d made officer in a year and captain just three months after that. Splinters were like that, he thought – even though he’d only ever had the one. Probably having more would be more beneficial still.     Tonight’s eddy dipped to the traffic-worn cobbles to push at something. Bolyn took a moment to recognise the object. A constable’s hat. Tillerman’s hat. The man was not the most lucky that Bolyn had worked with. Tillerman had lost two truncheons, eaten some bad-turned mushroom spread from a street vendor resulting in his spewing his gut and had accidently set fire to his notepad – all in the past week. Captain Bolyn believed in supporting his men but he’d have been rid of the man, long since if not for his name. Tillerman. The name referred to a canal gondolier. A canal was basically a river as far as the captain was concerned. That made him nervous. He had always been afraid of rivers even small ones. Just thinking about it now, was enough to stiffen his finger joints. Bolyn shook his hands loose. Taking up his truncheon he tapped it against the shopfront’s brick. The sharp clackity traveled well, even through the fog hours of dawn and dusk. He waited, head cocked slightly. There. One… Two… and possibly three responses. Bolyn grimaced. The third not-quite-passable responding clack would be Tillerman. Two constables rounded the end of the lane. He watched them closely. Even though they had done everything asked of them properly he suspected these two weren’t all they showed. They were too practiced. They’d been assigned to him for him to keep an eye on. He hadn’t yet got close to an answer about them. They stopped before him. In unison their right boot heels struck the street stones, resounding enough to wake the lane’s hard of hearing residents.     “The evening’s gentle, Captain.’     “It might seem. That means the gangs are all making ready. I give it two, two and a half hours at most before they get down to it.”     “We’ll be ready.”     “You won’t do anything.”     “We won’t let them drag the district into their ruck.”     “You’ll watch it all happen and wish it were longer.”     “Captain?”     “It’s this way. The leaders of the Hate Dukes have paid their fines to the district commander. The Dukes haven't done anything to deserve a fine as yet. That means as of this minute, we are in their debt. Constables should never be in debt to anybody. It affects our ability to maintain the peace fairly.”     “I see now. A very fair way to see things along.”     Captain Bolyn nodded to the pair of grinning constables. The nod also marked his own more certain belief that these two men were a little too new to all this to march together so well. They were in disguise, no mistake. Bolyn needed to find out what they were up to. They couldn’t be members of the Gravid or the Red Lavers. Both these crews were typically full of individual types. No chance they’d have a pair of cutthroats so capable of acting so together. The Stacked however, might be able to manage it. What would the Stacked get from two men positioned as constables, with an edict night in full draw? The edict made constables helpless observers. Bolyn used his bottom teeth on his moustached lip. If the Stacked had placed these two here, they had more or less wasted them. Maybe they hadn’t thought of an edict being called? Perhaps they had paid for the edict to be called too late to be heard? In that event, the Stacked would be gassing and there’d be more ruck than there was on the streets already. Instead the streets were honouring the edict. They were as quiet as Bolyn could remember them ever being. Quiet but not sleepy. Furtive curtains drew back from their window frames, allowing tentative occupants the stolen views of the emptiness beyond glass. As a result the streets kept up a random pattern of darkness interrupted by small green flashes of light from these brief spying looks.     A low-voiced curse came to the three men. It was Tillerman. Muttering angrily about something as he rounded the corner, he wiped his hands on his constable’s coat. “Sorry Captain, I slipped in some goat muck back there.” The luckless man saluted, crisp and proper. This resulted in him wincing as some of the same muck he’d been trying to wipe from his hand flicked on to the corner of his mouth. It hung there like a crumb. Bolyn’s eyelids barely registered Tillerman’s discomfort as the captain returned a more casual salute. Tillerman lowered his hand, quickly wiping it several times more on his coat.     “Tillerman! You keep wiping your hand on your coat. Your coat’s got the muck on it. That’s why it’s on your hand, Tillerman!” The captain’s irritation forced the other two constables to struggle for composure.     “Yes, Captain!” Tillerman answered     Bolyn breathed deeply, fetching from his coat’s inner pocket a nose cloth. “Use this, man. No, on you face first, Jenoines take your mind! then wipe your hand.”     “My thanks.” Finished with it, Tillerman held the cloth out to Bolyn.     “Keep it.”     Smiles from the two other constables were lit ghost-green.         Four hours later, Bolyn had seen three bodies. The night seemed to be winding away. The gangs had been careful. That meant another edict night soon, maybe even tomorrow night. This thing between them had to end. The captain began to relax. His three subordinates had done well. Even Tillerman. Bolyn grimaced as the luckless constable took that moment to glance his way. Damn the man’s faithful expression irritated him. That trusting look. Naive trust didn’t sit well with Bolyn, especially when it was placed on himself. To change the man’s face, Bolyn decided to say something.     “Looks like we’re done here. The bellbirds have gone home to roost.”     “Yes, Captain.” Tillerman offered.     “You might as well head straight home, Tillerman. You live close enough. Would be a waste to go to the office only to have to return this way.”     “Ah… alright.”     Bolyn nodded, ready to move his mind to other matters. That was odd though… Tillerman’s response had been something less than his rigid normal, textbook reply. Bolyn had had a year’s worth of Tillerman’s haplessness but the man had never been unmindful to the point of forgetting his simple training.     “Tillerman, what’s got into you? Don’t you want to go home?”     “No, it’s… I’d just like to stay.”     “I’m heading off myself. To the office. Then I’m getting home to bed. You’d be smart to make your way.”     “I’ll stay, if you permit it, sir.”     “Tillerman. I’m leaving.”     “But…”     “What man?”     “The others, Captain. I’d like to see the documents.”     “What are you on about? Documents? Other documents?”     “No, Captain. Not other documents. The other constables. They’ll  have documents. I overheard them as they went off to where you sent them to keep an eye on the Crowsroads.”     “Overheard them talking about some documents? “     Tillerman beamed green reflected light into Bolyn’s eyes, “That’s what I meant, Captain!”     Bolyn considered this and the fact that the two constables should have tapped a truncheon signal toward him by now. The something that wasn’t right about those two was getting wronger. There’d be no documents lying on the street tonight. Documents were rarely seen on streets, never mind left lying about. Such things were always examined indoors. The other constables might gain documents from passersby. There hadn’t been any. Just like there wasn’t going to be loose-lying documents. Bolyn moved to get a better look at the Crowsroads. He was rewarded by seeing a single individual moving northward.     “Tillerman, here’s a mystery for you to solve… a fool, a brave man and a sheep are walking down a road. The fool wears brown and an eyepatch. The brave man has newly cobbled boots and carries a folio. The sheep is newly shorn and sees better out of one eye than the other.” The captain paused to let his words sink in. “Got all that?”     “Yes, Captain. I think so at any rate.”     “Good… How many men are there?”     “Two men, Captain.” Tillerman looked confident in his answer. Captain Bolyn didn’t look at him nor acknowledge his answer. Tillerman looked in the direction the captain looked. He could make out the constables waiting for the approaching newcomer to pass them. “Wait, it’s four men, isn’t it?”     “The answer is one man.”     “One man?”     “The three I described are all the same man. He’s coming towards our two friends and I think he’s going to be slaughtered. That’s where the sheep comes into it.”     “They might only be planning to knock him about and steal his documents?”     “They could but why not leave him dead and see the blame fall on the Constabulary? That would suit the Stacked.”     Too far away to help, Bolyn took the only course available to him. He shouted, “RUN!”     The word didn’t help. The two ‘constables’ fell on the man, one at his neck, the other at his nethers. In the murk, it was impossible to tell which of the blows killed the stranger. Both were hits, causing dark gouts to spill on to the already fog-slicked cobbles. Bolyn admired the blades’ work, as he did the attacks’ placement. The folio containing the documents was untouched by the blood that erupted from the dying figure. One 'constable' was already swiftly on his way with the folio. The other had taken off his constable’s coat and placed it over the victim. Bolyn swore at the theatrics of it and swore again and longer as the Death Knell chimed from the crematorium. The captain knew a bird would already be heading this way to mark the place for the Spirit Wardens. Bolyn pictured the other ‘constable’s’ bloodied coat being left up the street somewhere for the wardens to discover.     Bolyn surprised himself. He was gaining on the Stacked gang member. The fellow looked easily to be younger and slimmer. Still there was now no doubting it, he would catch the fleeing fellow any moment. His quarry slid around a corner. Smart. Bolyn had expected this. It was a desperate move. There might be anything around any blindly-taken corner: late-evening strollers out for some air, a laden cart, a drunk with legs sticking out, a ghost… Bolyn took the turn with all his weight leant just right to allow him to keep his speed while not losing traction on the cobbles. A noise ahead told him that the one he chased had run into something. Bolyn made his target out against the body of the person he’d just run into.     “You are done!” Bolyn claimed.     “Really, Captain?” The coatless ‘constable’ said as he turned to face him.     Bolyn looked again. The one he’d chased was being held by his partner. Bolyn hadn’t recognised the other as he had thrown away his bluecoat already. Bolyn took no satisfaction in having been proved right about that.     “You are still done and so’s your friend. You’ll never kill me before the wardens arrive. The crematorium is only up the road a bit.” He looked up. He’d never been so glad to see a bird in his life. “See? You could tell me why. I might be convinced to let it go…”     The two men exchanged a look. Bolyn tried to be impassive. He would never take money to keep quiet. Not from the likes of these two. They couldn’t be sure of this. They’d not been with him long enough. They might know that he had an ambitious nature. That would make them think it was money he was after. Below his moustache, Bolyn tried on a smile. The bird overhead cawed twice. His smile became easy. “There, you see? The bird has counted you out and down. Come. Quick. Tell me what’s it about?”     “It’s a just some sport. Nothing to get locked up for.” said one.     “True words, those. Just a bit of hunting, like in the old days, eh Streems?” said the other.     “Yes, Rivers.”     Bolyn looked at the first and then the second man as if trying to see the reason for their unconcern. “Do you work for the gods? How can you be carefree at what awaits you? Who do you work – wait. What did you say your names were?”     The two men’s forms began to waver. Bolyn’s eyes widened as they became green and translucent, glowing shapes floating just off the stones of the street. The bird overhead cawed more than twice and more than derisively. The captain backed away slowly from the two apparitions. He had no blade to fight these things off. He hadn’t held morganti in years. Even that might not be enough. A few more steps and he’d be at the corner. If he could get out of view, perhaps he would be allowed escape. His thoughts were broken, hope dashed as he fell to the cobbles. He’d had no chance to avoid the fall. Tillerman had run into him from behind. The luckless constable had brought ruin to them both. The ghosts were upon them both as they tried to rise tot their knees.     “Captain, I’m sorrrr….” Tillerman’s words dyed just before he did. Green light awash over his features, entering his open mouth and eyes, stealing his body away from his spirit. Bolyn kept his mouth shut. His eyes were firmly clamped shut too. He felt the ghostlight’s clamminess on his skin. His arms’ hairs bristled in some ages-old human reaction to a threat. The light tickled as it moved between them. He wanted to tell the ghosts to go. He’d say nothing. Even maybe take the blame. He knew that if he tried to say anything, he’d be finished. He could hear the ghosts talking to each other.     “He’s clammed up, Rivers.”     “He’s no fool, Streems.”     “Even his ass is tighter than a night hag’s.”     “Streems, you’ll never stop being a laugh!”     “The business end is tucked in too. Not much fun for the ladies are you, Captain?”     “Do you think he can hear us, Rivers?”     “Captain? Are you listening?”     Bolyn got to his feet. He ran. Blind. He ran anyway. The two ghosts were still about him. He could feel their cold wisps on his skin. He could hear their voices in his ears…     Terror was his world. The ghosts caressed his spirit by entering his ear canals. The last of his thoughts were about how right he had been to always have been fearful of rivers and streams.         The spirit wardens ignored the noise being made by a bird on the other side of the building. They had come for a corpse and the twice-slashed man under the bluecoat would be it. Perched on the shopfront’s door frame, the Death Crow watched the proceedings keenly. One warden motioned to it. It landed on his shoulder. Collecting up the body, the two wardens made the start back to the crematorium.     Across the way, the Dragon’s mockingbird cawed raucously. Black eyes reflecting green by the captain’s ghost's light.


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