The platform city of Seaport Kaitra rises out of the stormy seas on great pillars. Dark clouds loom overhead, pelting the city in perpetual rain. In the cramped streets of Blackway Alley, hovels and shacks are clustered tightly together, as if compressed by a great machine. There, people barter for their goods, shouting over the caws of begging seagulls. The way is lit by gaudy neon signs of shops that line the main thoroughfare with endearing names such as “Graymalkin’s Apothecary”, “Cherry Blossom Surprise”, and “GUNS”.
Known for its salted taffy, sultry ladies, and savage death matches, Seaport Kaitra is a haven of chaos on the borders of the Tracean Empire. Rumors of a pit fighter who uses powers of the mind to slay her opponents has drawn Lord Talon Valkyrin from the spires of Asgardia to this rainy slum. The young boy is far away from home; cold, scared, and looking for his missing sister. So today, he is a rake, an entertainer, a fighter in the pits. Or so he’ll tell Radical Jack. He is whatever he needs to be to find his sister, Taryn. And he has to find her before the Templar Order does.
Radical Jack’s reach extends through the dark web of this corrupted city. Word is, she’s looking for fresh blood. The mind warrior has been tearing through the ranks of the damned. Radical Jack needs bodies to keep her lucrative machine churning. She wouldn’t take him as the noble, Talon Valkyrin of Zaringrad.
Tal Stryker, however, was a different matter.
Tal rides into town on a majestic roksha, a crimson-feathered avian the size of a horse. It trots through the muddy street with two stout legs and wide wings with feathers tinged with white, as if dipped in snow. It opens an ivory beak and honks at passersby on the cloistered street. Its claws click against the cobblestones with a staccato rhythm.
Tal grips the reins with one gloved hand, leaning into the saddle with his chest puffed out. He wears a white ruffled shirt with a thin black necktie. His short, rigid jacket is as red as blood and embroidered with gold. Tassled cords hang from the fringes of the jacket’s leather pauldrons. His long blonde hair is tied back, underneath a wide brimmed hat adorned with a single feather. A white cape is draped across the left side of his body. Hanging from his right hip is an ornate rapier with a golden hilt. He rests his free hand on the pommel of the blade.
He guides the roksha out of Blackway Alley and down Fence’s Row, cutting through towards Demon’s Court. He exits the foul-smelling alley and enters into the stream of people heading toward the plaza. Up straight ahead, a clearing gives way to some commotion. Despite needing to head west, Tal is drawn in like a fish on a reel. He forces his way through to the front, eager to see what is afoot.
He yanks back the reins upon catching sight of the Templar Knights. A pair of the armored, helmeted enforcers are beating a man to a pulp, for one reason or another. The larger of the two keeps pelting the man with a stout baton, slick with blood. Beside him, a slender-hipped woman watches on with crossed arms, her expression veiled behind an implacable mask. Tal has seen enough. He can take no chances around Templars—it is time to backtrack and forget it happened. But, like actors emerging from behind the stage curtain, the magnitude of their presence reveals itself. Everywhere he looks, he sees them stalking the plaza in small patrols, circling prey, ready to contain the crowd at a moment’s notice. If the Knights are already here in such number, then Tal needs to move that much quicker. He must find his sister before the Templar Order does, if he ever wants to see her alive again.
Each direction he spins, they seem to be closing in.
“They can’t be looking for me,” he tells himself. He cannot shake the paranoia that it was not happenstance to encounter them so far away from Sanctuary. Then a shiver runs down Tal’s spine. They are not looking for him. They are here for Taryn. He is not the only one who has heard the rumors.
Two broad-shouldered Knights saunter along the western edge of the plaza, while a roksha-mounted patrol flanks them along the southern side. In the back of his mind, he knows they do not have the authority to detain him. Even if they knew who he had come to Kaitra to find, he is nobility. Still, he cannot free himself of the feeling that he needs to be far away.
He cuts to the east, lowering the brim of his hat, concealing his face. It never hurts to be careful.
Tal kicks his roksha into motion and jostles through the crowd. The darkness of the alley swallows him up as he escapes the plaza.
Within the festering labyrinth of the alleys, Tal navigates his way through the bowels of the city. Gone are the crowds; he has not seen a soul since the plaza. The rains have gone too, and a cloying fog crawls through the empty streets. The opaque mist obscures his sight so that he can barely see the beak of his roksha.
“Shit! Wrong turn.” Tal grabs a frayed map from his saddle bag, desperate for a landmark. “Odin guide me, where am I?”
The sound of creaking wood breaks the silence.
The roksha rears back and screeches. Tal grasps at the reins, but misses. He plops backwards off the saddle in a splash of mud. He spits out clay and muck, gagging as it coats his throat. He bolts upright, rubbing the back of his head. The roksha darts into the mist. Its honking cry fades further and further away.
Tal shakes a fist. “You bastard! Don’t leave me here! You disloyal cuck!”
The bird was gone.
“My journey continues on foot, it appears.” Tal heaves himself up with a grunt.
At his feet is a wooden street sign dislodged during his fall. He lifts it up alongside the map, eager to decipher the faded script.
Auger Way. He lets out a sigh of relief. Right in the corner of Tallow Fen, not too far away from his destination.
But it was still a mile away, and anything could happen in these alleys.
Taking a deep breath in the murky fog, he delves deeper into the maze of Seaport Kaitra.
The gray, overcast sky casts a dark tint on his surroundings. What little light breaks through the clouds does its best to keep the shadows at bay. He feels a deep chill in his bones.
Alongside the path, the gloomy, bubbling water of a sewage canal echoes through the corridor. Tallow Fen is the place where the pristine waters of the Fel Glen churn through the canals, collecting the muck of the city into murky cesspools. Tal pinches his nose to avoid the foul stench.
Those born in Seaport Kaitra know not to look into the canals. Nobody wants to see what floats beneath the surface of the city. But Talon Valkyrin is not from Seaport Kaitra, so he looks.
Covering his mouth with the folds of his cape, he leans over, peering into the murky green waters, daring the horrors of the depths to reveal themselves unto him.
In the river of sludge below him, something burbles up to the surface. A lone eyeball bobs up and stares back at him before floating on its way.
“Shouldn’t have looked,” says Tal, gagging. “You know better than that, Valkyrin.”
Turning from the disgusting river, Tal takes stock of his surroundings.
“Okay, centered,” says Tal. He looks up. “Swan Lane, and Augur. Okay.” He unfurls the map and frames it in front of him. “I’m here. And I have to go…” He swings himself bodily, left and right, trying to position himself with the map. “Here?” He squints down the alley. “Yes. Here is good.”
He has taken a wrong turn, but he drew his map wrong, so he ends up in the right place. Lady Luck has a peculiar way of shining on the dim-witted.
Tal arrives at a tall, shingled building. Three-paned windows glow with light from inside, where raspy machine sounds whirl. A signpost reading “Snead’s Fabrics” creaks in the wind. Underneath in faded, cursive subscript reads Finest Textiles East of the Fel Glen.
The stair boards groan under his step. The hair stands up on the back of his head, sensing a presence behind him. He clenches his muscles and cranes his neck, trying to see what is behind him without actually looking. Terror holds him in check.
“Hello?” a raspy voice asks from around the corner. A towering, wizened gatekeeper shambles forward from the shadows. He wears a drab brown coat and bright orange plaid trousers. His leathery lips crease into a smile as he shuffles through the mud.
Tal doffs his hat, placing it over his chest as he extends his hand with a flourish. “Top of the morning, kind gentleman.”
The gatekeeper looks at the outstretched hand. “It’s dusk, you stupid bastard.”
“Matter of opinion, I always say.”
“It’s really not, check the fucking sky. You that blowhard from Asgardia asking about the pits?”
“Oh, yes, your fee.” Tal rummages through his coin purse. “Fifty gold coins, yeah?”
“Yes, fifty. That is the standard fare to enter.”
“Is it today’s fare?”
“Aye, today’s fare.”
“Then it would be fair to assume this is my fare?”
“Aye, ‘twould be fair.”
Tal reaches forward with the coins.
The gatekeeper’s eyes sparkle with the reflection of the shiny coins. “But the world ain’t fair, lad. So the fare today, suffice to say, will not be yours.”
Tal narrows his eyes. “Is that so?”
“Aye, it’s so. Heh. You’ve got a look in your eye. You happen to know the danger of what you’re stepping into?”
Tal scoffs. “No amount of danger shall thwart me in my quest.”
The gatekeeper wheezes out laughter. “Aye, that be so? Well, enter at your own peril, young man. But to do so, you must pay my fare. Fares are the bedrock of civilization, and they will be paid.”
“Fine. Today’s fare?”
“Two hundred, if it pleases you.”
“That’s not fair!”
“That is the fare. If it pleases you.”
“By Odin’s beard, mate! What if it doesn’t please me?”
“The fare is fair, and it pleases me, sir; so, sir, pay up or fuck off.” The old man begins to shepherd Tal away from the entrance.
“Unhand me, you dirty hellspawn!” Tal recoils and curls his lip. “I will pay your fare!” He scowls and thrusts a fistful of coins towards the gatekeeper, who accepts the bribe with a twinkle in his eye.
“Will you hurry it along? Look, I don’t know if you noticed, but I have a schedule to keep. Understand?”
Tal grunts in agreement. Ducking under the eaves, he follows the man into the building down a hall with squeaky floorboards.
“My name is Tal, by the way.” It couldn’t hurt to at least try and be friendly. “And you are?”
The man stops, and turns back. He stalks slowly up to Tal, sticking his stumpy middle finger under Tal’s nose.
“Let’s get something straight here, mister.” He hooks the finger up into Tal’s nostril.
Tal grabs his nose. “Ow! What the hel!”
The man jabs his finger in deeper and lifts Tal bodily off the ground. Tal swings his fists, striking air. “I’ve got you like a fish, and I’ll gut you like a fish if you keep up these fuckin’ pleasantries. I ain’t here to be all friendly. Your friend paid a nice fee to arrange this, and right he should! I’m risking my neck here, I don’t want to know who you are and what business you all deal in. And even more importantly, I don’t want you to know who I am. I’ll just take your money, forget I saw anything, and wait for you to leave. Then I’ll never pay it a second thought.” He jerks his finger up so high Tal is certain he’s about to touch his brain. “Do you have any questions?”
The man gently lowers Tal to the ground and yanks his finger out of Tal’s nostril. When he’s on solid earth again, Tal sulks away, clutching his nose like a wounded animal.
“This how you treat all your guests?” says Tal.
The gatekeeper sighs. “No. Look, mister, I don’t mean to be a brute. It’s just the thought of those Templars, you know? First sign of them and I get the heeby jeebies. I don’t mean any ill towards you. And I suggest you don’t use your real name down there. Catch my drift?”
The man leads Tal to a back office. He closes the door.
“Can you help me here?” He motions to his desk with a wave of his hand. “Needs to move a bit to the right. You’ll see what I mean.”
Tal looks the muscled man over. “You need my help moving a desk?”
“Course. Got bad joints.” He pops his knuckles.
Puzzled, Tal helps him heave and hoist the desk a few inches off the ground. With a quick shuffle, they set it back down against the far wall.
The man drags away a rug on the floor. Underneath is a trap door.
With a snap, he removes the latch and opens it up.
He looks at Tal with a smirk. “Down the rabbit hole, little feller.”
The tunnel is damp and muggy. Dirt sifts through the floorboards above, creating a dusty haze. It swirls around until finally settling with the pools of stagnant water. Grimy muck sucks at Tal’s feet as he plods down the passage.
The green door. Not the blue, and certainly not the red. Thirty steps down and then to the right. Woe to him if he went to the left. The man was adamant Tal clearly understood his directions. It wasn’t Tal’s business to know what was behind the other doors, he said. And Tal is ready to agree with him.
Tal comes to the green door. The door pushes open under the force of his palm. Inside, a tiny, red spot glows within the shadows.
“We almost dint ‘spect ya to show,” a voice cackles from behind the glow.
“Yeah, thought ya got spooked, that we did,” another, deeper voice booms.
Tal puffs up his chest and grins—Stryker’s time has come. “You here to lay out the red carpet?”
Boom seems to have spoken from the corner ahead of him, to the right of Cackle. Another drag illuminates Cackle’s simpering smirk. Tal prepares for the worst. His nervous hand lowers to the hilt of his rapier.
“I wouldn’t do dat, mista. No, sir, I would not,” Boom warns. The hulking figure is close enough that Tal can feel his heavy breath on the back of his neck. Damn, that bastard’s fast. The massive arms that coil around him confirm that Boom is indeed a goliath, squeezing the life out of him.
Cackle steps out from the shadows. Tal prepares for a knife. Something quick and quiet. Or maybe Boom would simply strangle him.
Instead, Cackle begins to pat him down, removing his rapier.
“Watch your hands down there! Fuck, normally I insist on a fancy dinner first,” Tal grunts. The big man is making it hard to breathe.
“Put him down, ya damn idiot! I found everything,” Cackle smacks Boom upside the head.
“Sorry, mista.” Boom releases his grip and Tal falls to his knees, gasping for air.
“You work for Radical Jack?” he coughs.
“Hey, check out the wise guy! Friendly tip, hombre, everyone works for Radical Jack.” Cackle struts towards the door. “Dumb fuckin’ bitch. Get up.”
Boom follows suit. “What are ya waiting for? Ya comin’ or not? Boss is waiting.”
Tal glares at the hulking thug, but he collects himself and pushes up off the ground. He straightens his spine with a pop. He is tired of getting lifted by large people. He follows them inside through the gritty doorway.
Inside, the pulsing green lights sync in a throbbing cadence with the rhythm of the pounding music. Cackle and Boom, walking ahead of him, disappear into darkness only to reappear in quick, kinetic emerald flashes. Tal follows in Boom’s wake, the lumbering giant jostling the clustered club patrons around him. They shout curses at him when he spills their drinks, until they realize who they’re shouting at and quietly bury themselves in their cocktails. One drunk bastard stumbles in Boom’s way, and Boom’s big backhand swats him aside, sending him crumpling against the wall in a heap.
Boom clears a way through the throng of spastic dancers in the center of the floor, crossing over to a long, luminescent bar. A thin woman stands behind the bar, sullenly wiping down the translucent counter. As Tal passes, the bartender looks up. Her eyes are sunken and hollow, her flesh pale. She dips her head in reverence and resumes wiping the counter. She wears a collar around her thin neck. One of Jack’s. Everyone pays their debt, one way or the other.
Moving behind the bar, Boom places his palm on a pad on the wall and shoves. A hidden door slides open, revealing a dim room.
Cackle jerks his head for Tal to follow. “Nobody keeps Radical Jack waiting.”
Tal is not about to be the first. Tal follows them in.
The door slides shut behind him and the throbbing music is silenced. Tal stands in the murky light from thin, circular lamps along the dark walls. Cackle kicks over a chair. “Sit down, bitch.” But Tal doesn’t take the seat—he hasn’t been invited. Not by anyone important, anyway.
A woman is seated behind the desk, adorned in a silken, sleeveless viridian dress. Her vibrant pink hair cascades down her shoulders, save for a single, thin braid that hangs down by her temple. Her demeanor is serene yet predatory. Jack’s gaze meets his, demanding silent obedience. She gives him a cursory wave of her hand. “Sit.”
She looks at him for a while.
“Radical Jack, I assume?” asks Tal.
“Mister Stryker,” she says. “How may I be of service?” A faint smile appears on her lips. She blows out a puff of smoke from the jet-black cigarette in the corner of her mouth.
Tal folds his arms. “I came here to ask you the same question.”
“Word is you’re a killer. A verifiable monster in the pits. Mister Bardak put in quite a word of recommendation for you. But will you kill for profit?”
She stands up from her chair, slowly walking around him, her fingers brushing his shoulders.
“Will you kill for my profit?” she whispers in his ear. She takes a long drag of her cigarette.
“I think you will. I think you’ll do good work for me. I pride my operation on its efficiency, each cog knowing its duty and its place. Anything that disrupts this efficiency is replaced, and destroyed. Do you understand me?”
“Nothing can replace me. I’ll do good work for you.”
She levels him with a knowing glare. “Of that, I have no doubt.”
“But if you want me fighting for you,” says Tal, “I want to be fighting your top contender.”
Jack’s eyebrows raise. “You think you can handle my top contender?”
“No,” says Tal, “I think I can destroy her.”
“Indeed?” That smile touches her lips again. “Interesting. Very well, Stryker. Work for me, and I’ll see to it the people will have a fight to remember.”
Tal rises and extends his hand. “So, we got ourselves a deal?”
She pauses, but spits into her palm like a viper. She slowly offers her hand across the table. “You are disposable. Cross me, and I erase you. Are we clear on that?”
“Aye, my liege. Crystal.”
“Good.” She thrusts herself upon Tal, and seals the deal with a deep kiss. “Your sister doesn’t want to be found,” says Radical Jack, as she pulls away.
“I helped your sister disappear the night she awoke,” says Radical Jack. “Along with your Aunt, the Lady Aesira, they slipped under the cover of shadows, never to be seen again; at least, not from their detractors. And you’ll never find them. The time of persecution is coming to an end. The old ways will burn and a new order will be ushered forth. You cannot stop it, imperial dog. Yes, I know you, Stryker. Or should I say, Lord Valkyrin? Did you really believe using your mother’s maiden name would slip by me?”
Talon Valkyrin remembers why he doesn’t make plans. He isn’t very good at them.
“I know she is here,” says Tal. “I’ve heard about the pit fighter who kills with her mind.”
She smiles. “Yes, she is quite effective. It’s a pleasure to behold.”
“You claim to have helped her escape. But it sounds to me like you kidnapped her. Brought her here as a slave!”
Radical Jack laughs. “Slave? She is here willingly. I do not force her. She relishes the fight. Taryn is not fighting in the pits for my money. She is rehearsing her act for opening night.”
Tal steps back. “What?”
“You have no idea what you have stepped into, do you?”
“I am not leaving without Taryn!”
She frowns and draws a heavy Mjolnir revolver. “Poor Talon, you’re not leaving at all.”
A booming blast from above silences the room.
“Go check it out,” Radical Jack commands Boom and Cackle with a jerk of her head. “I’ll finish up with our guest.”
Boom and Cackle nod and run out of the room.
What first sounded like splintering wood is followed by the march of heavy boots. Muted voices shout at each other. The noises are drawing closer. Another boom smashes directly above them.
Jack places a finger over Tal’s mouth while staring him down over the sights of her revolver. Tal watches her with terror in his eyes, heeding her dire warning to shush.
Above, a voice is sobbing.
“Please, sir, I don’t know what you are talking about.” The voice is quashed with a wet thud. It is the gatekeeper’s voice.
“Do you perchance think I am an idiot?” A smooth voice asks tenderly. The tone is demanding, but like silk. It puts one at ease, almost calming.
“No, sir, you ain’t an idiot.”
“Then why are you talking to me like one!” the intruder screams. There is a quick succession of violent strikes. Dust falls through the floor and sifts through the room below. The gatekeeper moans and wails. Droplets of blood drip from the floorboards.
There is a creaking sound above. Tal imagines the intruder crouched by the prone man, whispering into his poor ear. The angry voice is gone for now. The calm voice speaks next.
“We’ve known about your side business for some time. Frankly, until now it’s been beneath my attention, but I’m afraid you’ve drawn some unwanted attention. Spare yourself. Accept our mercy and tell me what I need to know.”
There is another wet thud followed by a groan. Then another, and another. The strikes rain down in a grotesque flurry.
After a short pause, the floorboard creaks as the templar rises. There is a hiss of air as he breathes sharply through his nose.
“Search the house. Leave nothing unturned. She is here, and we will find her.” The templar’s soft voice is trembling, struggling to retain composure.
Tal’s chest seizes up with crippling terror. The fear of templars coming is overpowering. The dread fills veins and freezes his heart.
He looks back to Radical Jack. He needs to leave. She fires.
The flash is blinding as a bullet rips through his shoulder in hot, searing pain.
Tal screams in rage and lurches toward her. She aims to fire again, but Tal smashes into her. Her shot wildly misfires, shooting up into the ceiling. A ray of light shines through, illuminating the darkness of the room and the swirl of dust.
“They’re underground,” says the silken voice from above. “Don’t let the rats escape their sinking ship, boys.”
Tal reaches for the revolver. She tries to aim towards him. Tal lashes out to disarm her. They struggle for the gun, the barrel veering back and forth.
It goes off. With a bang, the room lights up with a gory splash. For a moment, Tal is not sure who was hit. His shoulder is throbbing, but he grits his teeth through the pain.
The smoking hole in Radical Jack’s head absolves him of his worries. Her brains are splattered out upon the wall. Tal touches his face. It is sticky with bits of brain. His stomach churns and bile rises up his throat. He has never killed anyone before.
Screams come from down the hall, followed by gunfire. The templars are here.
He grabs the Mjolnir revolver. It is heavy in his hands. His blood is pumping. He can hear his pulse firing off like pistons. The will to survive doesn’t stop to understand fear. Talon Valkyrin doesn’t have time to process how close to death he is. Talon Valkyrin doesn’t know what to do.
But Tal Stryker does.
Stryker takes a slow, even breath. He kicks down the door.
Outside are two templars advancing down the dark corridor in black tactical armor. Tal cocks back the hammer.
The blast catches a templar in the chest. He flies backwards with a spray of blood.
Stryker pivots and hits the hammer with his free hand. He squeezes the trigger.
The other templar’s head explodes in gore.
He can hear more coming.
Three templars close in from both sides of the tunnel.
“Drop the weapon and identify yourself!” the lead templar commands.
“Stryker, at your service. Now, if you don’t mind to stop gabbing, I have somewhere I need to be. And I shall not be delayed.” Stryker flashes a smug grin.
“Drop the weapon!”
“See, this is where it gets tricky.” He licks his finger and holds it up in the air. He wiggles it around as he stands, pondering.
“The hel are you doing?”
“Look here, there is three of you and one of me. I’d rather this not come to blood. What do you say?” He sticks his tongue out like a child. “Aha!” He points right. “I’ll be going this way. This way’s mine. Find your own.”
“You can’t be serious. One step and you’re riddled with bullets. Stand down.”
“Well, to tell the truth, its fifty-fifty odds. Either you die, or I die, so I like my chances.” Without missing a beat, he flashes the revolver and blasts the chin off the templar giving the orders. “Well, that’ll shut him up.”
The other pair fires. Stryker rolls down the corridor and lifts up the dead body for cover. As the templars spray their own with gunfire, Stryker twists back and fires twice. Gunfire is replaced with screams as the templars clutch at their shattered kneecaps.
Stryker steps over them, kicking away the rifles. “I did ask you nicely to leave me alone.”
Two more shots from Mjolnir, and the screaming stops.
Stryker readies his pistol defensively, stalking his way down the tunnel. He wades through the sea of bodies. Radical Jack’s gunmen did not go down quietly. Their corpses are littered throughout the underground compound, alongside fallen knights. Tal keeps to the shadows, avoiding the remaining pockets of fighting.
Tal resurfaces in the tranquil neighborhood of Freyhurst. Normal people go about their normal lives through the candle-lit windows. Smoke wafts out of charred brick chimneys. The sweet aroma of roasting meat is picked up by the wind. Tal’s mouth waters and his stomach growls for food.
He continues to stumble forward. Tal darts from shadow to shadow, alley to alley.
He finds a makeshift wrap that is serviceable as a bandage for his shoulder. It does its job, but it soaks through quickly and there is nothing left to replace it. Tal begins to slow, his fervor fading.
As the adrenaline subsides, Stryker is gone. All that is left is Talon Valkyrin, once again.
He finds a curb and plops to the ground—a pause to stretch the legs and catch his breath. Above, a gaslit street lamp illuminates the post that marks the street as Sleepy Robin Avenue. Snaking his way along the river would eventually bring him back to Blackway Alley. Quiet and off the beaten trail, the extra time would be worth avoiding another run in with templars.
Above him are train tracks, the lifeblood of the city. He would much prefer a seat up there. A train whistle sounds off in the distance, and once again, this time closer. Tal places his hands behind his head and stretches. The train tracks rattle and clank while the train engine roars past. Car by car, the train zooms past, seemingly infinite. Its screech drowns out all other noises. Once it is gone, it leaves a lingering echo in its wake. As the echo fades, there is total silence.
“What a wild ride that was,” Tal chuckles. “Was it worth it? Is what she said true, Taryn? Whatever reason you were there for, whatever you found? Worth it? I know better to ask you why you were there. We all have our secrets after all. I just miss you, Taryn.”
He takes a moment to to let his phantom of Taryn answer. But he is, in fact, still quite alone in a foreign place.
“Nah, I suppose not.” He slaps the ground with his hands and hoists himself up. His face is taut in consternation. His shoulder is throbbing. He looks down at the ragged bandages encrusted with black blood. Beneath oozes with fresh, crimson blood.
The meager crowds of Seaport Kaitra’s dismal alleys give the blood-soaked noble wide berth. His face is drained of color and his tattered clothing is soaked in mud. Splatterings of Radical Jack’s gray matter still mar his cheeks.
Talon Valkyrin escapes from Tallow Fen under the backdrop of a setting sun. A crimson glow washes over the city.
To Tal, the sky looks like it is dripping with blood.