Chapter Sixteen

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Gatha's mind clouded with thoughts on the dead body, and that almost killed her. She was certain of it.

She had left the mudlarks on the bank of the Evenflow, trusting them to lose the body into the channel without worry they would complete the task. She held no authority over them, but they knew and trusted her. It was a symbiotic relationship; they would help her look for those odd little nick-nacks she always wanted - lumps of coal, wood from the hearts of old trees, bones - and be her eyes and ears around the islands on the northern banks. In return she would show them where the choicest pickings were on the rivers; where the mud banks would appear when no one else could guess.

And none of the older children, or gangs from the far west which looked out for fair-skinned young children - the kind who fetched a nice price on the of the Inner Seas - would touch them. The mudlarks never asked how Gatha did that, but neither would she tell them if they had.

No, they would have taken care of the body without touching it, she was sure of that.

What was gnawing at her was the nature of the creature which had killed the man, for creature it had to be. She had thought on little else since she had looked over that bloodless face and the first wave of nausea swept over her. In all her life she had never met a person who held the sheer depth of malice that stank from the body. It was a loathing so complete it would swallow a normal person whole.

She had heard of men - it was always men - on the far west who were so powerful as to live for times much longer than they were meant for this earth; extending their existence through an unwholesome mixture of dark appeasements and the absorption of living fluids.

She had always treated those stories with suspicion.

It was possible, she could say that with certainty, but Gatha was too practical to believe such individuals would countenanced to remain in an age when Kings could call on armies from across their realms to destroy anyone who dared hold as much power as they.

That was just common sense.

But as sensible as she knew it to be, such beings had at least once existed, and she could imagine they were capable of accumulating the amount of hate she felt radiating from the mauled corpse. For while a human body could be made to exist longer than it naturally should, the mind needed other fuel to keep it going. And despite what poets would have everyone believe it is hate, not love, which is the stronger emotion.

But no such individual had come to Dunholm. She would have known. Those beings of legend saw themselves as above what was defined as human. They lived in princedoms and existed at least partly for the adoration they extracted from the people who lived under their diktat. One would not simply slip into Dunholm unannounced. Their arrival would be like that of a visiting monarch. The rock-hard regard in themselves would demand nothing less.

But she also believed they were not able to travel far from their homeland. For reasons she did not know, but suspected from what she herself was; power came from the land, from the creatures which had grown and died from where they themselves had grown. One did not simply leave and expect the spirit of the new place to sustain you with no obligation. Their movement to another country would likely result in their deaths; untimely perhaps, but only in its tardiness.

So no, not one of them. And while that acceptance brought some initial comfort, it soon disappeared beneath the question then what?

Something else.

Something she had no knowledge of.

Something which could slip into Dunholm without notice.

Something which could frighten her.

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