Dolos called his dagger “Whiskey.”
Most people called Whiskey by her other names, such as “Get that fucking thing away from me” or “Gods, please—no!” But unlike most things and people in Liosene, Whiskey did not discriminate. If you looked like you could do with a drink, she was happy to oblige. And in a city like this, everyone was thirsty.
Dolos carved a crimson grin across the judge’s neck and the fat man screamed. Sometimes Whiskey burned going down. Blood spurted from the wound. “Bit excited, eh?” Dolos grinned and wiped the hot liquid from his eyes. “Know what they say—the bigger they are the harder they blow.”
The man honk-wheezed as Dolos punched the dagger through his trachea.
Dolos rolled his eyes. “For fuck’s sake… Sack up, old boy! Meet the reaper like a man lest the winged bastard send you to the biggest glory hole in hell.” He spun Whiskey and plunged her back into the neck, sawing madly, chuckling as the spine resisted Whiskey’s touch.
“Best give it a good chip, eh?” Dolos stood, wound up, and kicked the judge’s head. It separated from the shoulders with a squelching snap and sailed across the room, blood spattering the yellow walls. Dolos produced a leather sack from beneath his cloak and collected the head. It was time to cash in for a meal.
He wiped Whiskey clean with the judge’s nightgown, then proceeded to drag her across his left forearm. The cut smiled red, a stark contrast to the several dozen pink marks already present. Number one hundred and forty nine. Dolos chuckled. One more and he could celebrate.
He sheathed Whiskey and retreated out the window.
Liosene was a fucking swamp, and it started with the mugginess that never seemed to fade. Dolos wiped his brow with the back of his free hand, brushing flaxen locks away behind his ear. City of shit and summer. The stench of months-old waste wafted through the air and into his nose, pungent enough to make his stomach groan, sour enough to make his mouth taste like bile. He spat and took the five-foot gap between roofs at a sprint.
Then again the rest of the city wasn’t much cleaner than the air they breathed, especially in the South Step. The brothel workers were so dirty they made the street whores look like virgins.
Dolos scratched between his legs and sighed. As far as surviving in Liosene went this wasn’t too bad. It wasn’t ideal, but it sure beat working in the factories like the children did. They had it worse than anyone else in this pit. Unpaid labor, sold into slavery…sent to slaughter… That last bit sent a shiver up his spine. Cannibalism was the newest trend, what with the shortage of beef. Dolos had done some bad things in his twenty five years, had seen some real shit, but never anything like this.
One day. He would save them, somehow. They couldn’t turn out like him, no matter how much fun he had with Whiskey. The life he lived was the product of betrayal, and there was never a moment where he didn’t wish a painful death upon his stepmother, the poisonous bitch.
But that was a matter for another time.
His stomach growled; the sack felt heavier in his grasp. Three days without a meal. Fewer than most people went without food, but long enough to sap your strength. Fucking miracle—he took the next gap at jog—I’ve made it here. Somewhere in the filthy air he discerned the smell of meat, hot and fresh. Bit of spice and garlic, and… Dolos wiped the tendril of drool from his mouth. Cinnamon. Gods bless the fucker who decided cinnamon was the perfect complement to pork.
Dolos scampered across the tiles and lowered himself onto the second floor balcony, nostrils permeated further by the sweet perfume of his reward. He glanced north at the beam of luminescence rising from the Church, gave a silent prayer, and started into Lord Aventil’s manor.
Aventil, rat-faced, slick-haired fucker that he was, curled his lip. “You’re tracking…evidence across my floor.”
Dolos shrugged and dropped the head at his feet. “You think I’d come bearing flowers? Knifing’s not exactly clean and…” His gut throbbed. “Sometimes hunger overcomes precision. But”—he toed the sack—”one fat judge’s head, as requested.”
Aventil loosed the drawstring and peeked inside, lip curling so far that it nearly touched his nose. “Yes, well.” He gestured to a table in the corner of the room where three children had finished preparing Dolos’s plate. “As promised.”
Dolos brushed his way past Aventil. Fuck propriety. He pulled the chair back with a screech and dropped himself before the dish. Presently a boy, no more than thirteen years, returned with a cup of wine. Dolos bowed his head toward the child and tossed the wine back in a single gulp. It tasted like an inn room in which someone had spent an hour smoking cigars. Not good, but not the worst he’d had. He set the cup down and forked a piece of meat, giving himself a second just to savor the aroma. Aventil was shit, but he at least employed a decent kitchen staff.
Dolos took a bite. And then another…and another, and within minutes had completely cleared his plate.
“I can only assume the meal was to your liking,” Aventil said. There was something smug about his tone. He whistled and the children returned to clear the table.
“I suppose.” Dolos belched.
“Good.” Aventil’s gaze followed the children, the young boy. “It was their first attempt.”
Dolos cocked a brow. “Hmm?”
“My cooks,” Aventil said. “Murdered in the night.” He sighed, and his brief annoyance turned to amusement. “But perhaps things are better this way. Children, they are so…malleable. Instill in them the fear of death and they do anything you say.” He chuckled softly. “Especially the orphans. So eager for acceptance.”
The boy returned with a cloth to wipe the table and Aventil stroked his dark hair. The child trembled, dread blooming in his eyes.
Dolos coughed, but Aventil pressed on. “They struggle at first…” His hand traveled to the boy’s shoulders. “But eventually they just accept it—and what’s the fun in that? I like a challenge. I like to feel them squirm.” His hand drifted further yet, to the boy’s waist. “Especially the smaller ones. The smaller the better. They’ve got more fear in them.”
Dolos’s eye twitched. He rested his hand on Whiskey’s hilt. “I know exactly what you mean.” He grinned up at Aventil, the thirsty shit. “‘Cept there’s a difference between us, old boy”—he lunged and punched the dagger into a Aventil’s gut—”it being that I’m no molester. I hate that word. So dirty.” He licked the warm blood from Whiskey’s blade and kicked Aventil in the ribs, hard enough to roll him over. He stuck the rat-man in the spine and grinned. “I prefer ‘murderer.’ Very graceful, very feline word, you know? What with cats being purrderers.”
There were plenty of molesters here. Shit, Liosene itself was the biggest. Years living in the slums had taught Dolos that. And one day, some day, he would introduce its crooked spine to Whiskey’s silver tooth.
“I’d tell you to keep still,” Dolos said, “but that would be redundant, considering…”
Aventil twitched, and a honking wheeze escaped his mouth, muffled by the floor.
Dolos turned and knelt before the dark-haired boy. “He’ll not be hurting you anymore.” He shook his head as memories shimmered into being: the men with the belts; the gag, the bed, and the wax; he was sixteen. “You have my word.”
He glanced at Aventil, who was spasming in a pool of blood. Looking back at the boy: “When was the last time you ate?”
“F-five days ago, sir.” The child swallowed, and several more emerged from the other room.
A thought bloomed. Dolos pushed against it. You swore, remember? You swore they wouldn’t end up like you. But in the grand scheme of things, hadn’t they already? Those poor bruised and dirtied faces; skin like leather, draped across poorly healed bones.
The Church. They would be safe there, Father Eventine would see to that, bless his soul.
Dolos carved another mark into his arm. Then he handed Whiskey to the boy.
“Let me teach you how to use a knife.”
Did you like this story? If so, check out THE THING ABOUT SCARS, another grimdark short story set in Liosene.