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The scar was visible from the top of the mesa, when stood on the edge of the docks. It was a dark line drawn through the forest, perhaps forty metres in length, though it was hard to judge from that distance, irregular and ragged. Viewed through a scope, Roldan Stryke thought he could perhaps make out some of the wreckage, where the Black Scree had come to rest. There were some smaller marks separate from the main impact site, where smaller parts of the disintegrating ship had fallen.

All hands lost, they said. Roldan had never been taken for a fool, and this time something was sitting uneasily in his gut.

After crowds had dispersed from the rally in the city he had retreated with Elia Shinn to a watering hole on the good side of the river, from where they could see the buildings being demolished in the old slums. Treydolain was all change, these days. Regenerating the area, he'd heard an official say back at the palace.

Huddled around a table in the corner of the pub, he'd listened to her account.

"The captain of the ship had been causing problems for days, making all kinds of demands," Elia had said. "She wanted access to Baron Lief - who was considered a prisoner, so that would have been completely out of the ordinary - and then started threatening to break anchor without clearance."

"That would do more damage to her ship than to the docks."

"That's what she was told." Elia had taken a sip from her mug, then sat back in her chair and sighed. "She'd have known that, of course. I understand that she didn't like being caught up in her boss's mess, but she was only exacerbating the situation."


Elia had smiled. "Making things worse."

Roldan had nodded. He'd never been one for big words, when small ones would do the job. "Then what?"

"Then, we're not sure. One night, the ship goes down in flames, and we find the berth's anchors blown open. Seemed like she'd made good on her threat."

It hadn't made sense, and it still didn't. He'd never met her, but Roldan had heard of the captain of the Black Scree. She wasn't one to make stupid mistakes.

"Had they been confined to the ship?"

"Not to my knowledge."

"What about messages, in and out?" He'd glance around the pub, known for being friendly to guards. It was as close to the river as any of them dared get.

"We'd kept an eye on them, but hadn't really stopped them from doing anything."

That had been the previous evening. Standing on the edge of the mesa in the clear, morning sun, Roldan found the story as confused and unlikely as he had the night before.

The bodies from the crash site had been recovered and were still in the morgue below the palace, next to the jail cells. In all the recent upheavals, nobody had thought to process and move them, it seemed - which was to his advantage.

Hidden from the sun beneath tonnes of stone, the morgue retained a cool, dry air and somehow escaped the dripping unpleasantness of the cells, though none of that prevented the stench from hitting him the moment he crossed through the doors from the corridors outside. He found the bodies in a small room adjacent to the main one, piled unceremoniously on the hard, stone tables. They should have been returned to Bruckin, or at least buried in the cemetery on the outskirts of Treydolain, but had instead been abandoned and forgotten. There was no identifying the individuals - they were burnt beyond recognition. Even in their blackened, encrusted state injuries were evident: the crash had been hard, brutal and unforgiving.

Roldan walked slowly around the room, observing the bodies from all sides. He was more used to examining the bodies of dead animals, while tracking across the plains or hunting down a rogue, dangerous bear that was bothering a village. On occasion he might need to examine a single human body, perhaps the victim of a crime, but a room full of death was unusual. Unsheathing a small knife from his belt, he prodded at the bodies, moving the crackling limbs and pushing at the crisped skin. He didn't know what he was looking for, but he'd know it when he found it.

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