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Warning: there are violent scenes of torture/death.

The Stray Dogs - 52. Bad Tempered

Lora’s Aspect stood in Strabetha Vacuity’s office while her body remained hundreds of miles away. Strabetha’s office was not as large as her own, nor was it as furnished. Her advisor sat at her desk; her face was grim. “I have some bad news for you.”

Loras sighed, squaring her shoulders. Preparing herself. “Alright, let’s have it.

“It’s official. Pope Drajen sent out the flyers a week ago. They are being passed throughout the hellscape right now. He has sent out a hundred patrolmen in squads to look for Crow. Just a few hours ago I received a report Crow was spotted in a town called Whifden.”

Loras felt her heart skip a beat. “Whifden? That’s just an hour or two away. We’re heading that direction now. But that doesn’t sound like bad news - that sounds like good news.

“I haven’t finished yet. Apparently Crow was working at a brothel owned by a Madame Vorca.”

Loras frowned. A brothel? As a prostitute? That didn’t seem like something Crow would resort to. But then if he was desperate enough she supposed he might. She wondered if this was something she should share with Barghast. Would it ignite his temper?

“Just this last evening Vorca apparently tried turning him into the authorities.”

Loras’ attention snapped back to Strabetha.“Was he captured?” Her voice came out as a harsh bark.

“No. He fled.”

Loras cursed, feeling a mixture of relief and terror. Time was of the essence. They had to get to Crow before he was captured.

“There’s one more thing,” Strabetha said, her voice little more than a whisper. “It’s about Fruimont...”

Loras felt her heart seize once more. Before Strabetha could speak she held up a hand to cut her off. “I don’t want to hear anymore. We will deal with everything when I get back to Miffridge. Right now I have enough plate as it is. I need you to continue keeping an eye on Pope Drajen without letting him know what we’re up to. Can you do that?

Strabetha nodded. “Of course.”

Loras straightened in her saddle, wincing, her face glowing in the light of the rising sun. The aches of her aging body assaulted her, reminding the old woman of where she was and her mission. The sky was a water color mixture of dark blue and violet. Barghast and Jack were a few feet in front of her, standing at the crest of a hill. Jack was in the process of taking a long swig from his water skin.

The Okanavian head turned his head in her direction. “Any news?”

“Yes. I’m afraid most of it isn’t good.”

When she was finished Barghast remained silent. She waited patiently for him to say something, her heart pounding in her chest.She didn’t know what she was expecting. Would he explode into a fit of rage and stalk off the first chance he could get? Seconds turned into a minute, then into two. He was looking at the sky now, his broad, scarred face expressionless. She couldn’t stand the silence any longer. Just when she was about to ask him to say something, he said, “You don’t have to worry about me Loras. I’m not going anywhere. I just want to get to him before he gets himself hurt.”

“We’ll be there by noon,” Loras assured him. “We’re getting close.”

True to Loras’ word, they reached the town of Whifden several minutes past noon. Handing the reins of her mare to Jack, the old practitioner climbed stiffly off her horse. Her thighs stung when they rubbed together, rubbed raw from long hours of riding. She was aware of the sour smell of sweat; her skin felt sticky. She wanted nothing more than to be able to take a shower but knew it would be a while before she had a chance to do so.

She gave Jack orders to watch the horses while Barghast and she looked for this Madam Vorca. “We will not be long,” she assured him. She wanted to be back on the highway as soon as they could. Her stomach churned with nauseous anticipation. Barghast and she began making their way down the street cutting through the center of town.

Loras’ boots made loud squelching sounds as they made their way through the mud. She cursed underneath her breath, knowing they would be caked by the time they found the brothel. I’m probably going to have to buy a new pair after this, she thought. These were not made to traverse through the countryside. She scolded herself for not thinking to bring a better pair, one that was actually made through travelling over rough terrain. People passing by gave Loras and Barghast weary looks, doing their best to stay out of their path. Loras could only imagine how they must look, faces and hands smeared with dirt, their bodies stinking from unwash. Barghast must look particularly intimidating.

Loras’ thoughts darkened further when she saw the number of WANTED posters pinned to every wooden surface. The likeness of Crow’s face seemed to watch her intently from windows, door fronts, bulletin boards, and wooden posts. Pope Drajen isn’t just worried about catching a criminal that has endangered the lives of others, she thought. This is a bloody fucking witchhunt.

She glanced at Barghast. He stared straight ahead of him, his face expressionless. There was no clue as to what he might be feeling. While he had assured her on the bus he would not do anything rash, she was still nervous? Had she been foolish to bring him on this crusade to find Crow? What would she do if he actually lost his temper? He was so big...practically a giant. If such a thing were to happen she would have no choice but to use her mana.

You always assume the worst in people, Loras, she told herself. You can’t control everything no matter how much you might want to. The pieces will fall as they may.

“Over there,” Barghast said. He stopped abruptly, craning his head to their left at a three story building. The windows just above the roof had been shattered. The front doors hung open. A young dark-skinned woman stood on the front steps, wearing a dark green dress. Her sizable breasts strained against the bodice of the dress as if trying to burst their way free. She smiled and waved at men as they passed by. She had the same dark complexion and similar broad features as Barghast.

The woman’s smile faded as her head craned up to meet Barghast’s dark eyes. She stepped back but forced a twitchy smile. “M-Might I o-offer you a moment of pleasure?” she stammered. “A diversion from these trying times?”

“You’re barking up the wrong tree, lass,” Barghast growled.

The whore took another step back but did not give in. “Well if it is boys you desire we have those too...”

“Where is Madame Vorca?” Loras interrupted impatiently. She wanted to leave this flea ridden town as soon as possible.

“Her office is on the top floor,” said the girl. “Just take the stairs all the way to the top.”

“Thank you.” Loras and Barghast strolled purposely past the whore.

Several more prostitutes stood in the parlor: three female and three male. They were all young but well-fed, wearing skimpy clothing that showed off their anatomy. They all fell silent, their eyes falling on Barghast. Loras nor the Okanavian offered explanation or introduction as they began to march up the stairs. Loras thought she heard a hush voice whisper, “Demon’s sweaty balls that’s Barghast Blackshot Unalaq.”

She heard a female’s voice coming from the room at the end of the hallway, marked by double doors. The voice sounded sharp and authoritative. Inside the room a tall, lanky woman dressed in a purple dress was pacing around the floor of a large circular room, talking to a large man who was almost as tall and broad as Barghast. “...and I want these bloody windows replaced right away.” She whirled around when she detected the presence of Loras and the Okanavian. “Who in the Infernal Depths are you?

Loras immediately stopped in her tracks, in the doorway of the room. She immediately disliked this woman. Perhaps it was the face, caked with some kind of white muck, and narrow almond shaped eyes that sparkled with entitlement that rubbed her the wrong way; perhaps it was the sharp tone that Loras herself used so many times against others to get what she wanted being used against her.

Mercius save me, is this what I sound like when I’m dealing with other people?

Loras took three steps towards her, puffing out her breasts. She drew herself to her full height, fully aware that her boots and the leggings of her breeches were covered in flecks of mud that had dried and fallen on the wooden floor. She prayed this would be of no consequence when it came to dealing with this harlot “My name is Loras Gyrell. I work with the Inquisition. I’m here to ask you about the incident that happened last night. The man who escaped from this place...”

“There’s not much to tell,” said Vorca. “I found out yesterday he was wanted by the Eurchurch and alerted the authorities. He was the one who did this to my windows. And look what he did to the wallpaper!” She painted a long, pointed fingernail at a spot where the wallpaper was charred and peeling; there were several spots like this, some smaller and less severe and others more severe all around the room. “And you’re getting mud on my floor!”

“Sorry to further inconvenience you,” Loras said sweetly. She bared her teeth in a dangerous grin. She could feel herself growing angry with each second she stood before Vorca. I need to get away from this bitch because if I don’t I might just kill her and end up standing before Drajen with Crow. “The sooner you answer my questions the sooner I can leave.”

“He fled!” Vorca shrieked. “The patrolmen are on the hunt for him as we speak and good riddance. Look at the damage he did to my establishment. After I took him in, after I gave him food and water and a place to lay his head! The filthy practitioner! Why do you care so much about him?”

“Because he was falsely accused,” Loras said. “He’s been charged with false crimes!”

“It makes no difference to me in the end,” Vorca said indignantly. “I was just fulfilling my civic duty to the Eurchurch.”

Loras closed the distance between them and backhanded the woman. The sound of flesh connecting with flesh filled the room. “Don’t talk to me of civil duty, you whoremaster, because you know nothing of it!”

Vorca gaped at her in shock before her face scrunched up in rage; the place where Loras had struck her was quickly turning red against the white of the makeup smeared across her visage. “Brass, throw this bitch, along with her scarred brute out of here right now!”

The man known as Brass stepped towards Loras but before Vorca’s mindless lackey could take another step forward, Barghast intercepted him. While brass was certainly large, the Okanavian towered over him and was broader. “Take another step towards her and I will rip your throat out with my teeth and eat it for breakfast.”

Loras was uncertain if Barghast really meant it or not but judging from the way Brass’ eyes widened, and he immediately stepped back until his back pressed up against the wall it was clear he did.

Loras turned to face Vorca once more. Her face was cold with anger. Vorca gaped at them in fright. Loras held out an open palm. A ball of flame appeared in her hand.

“What are you going to do?” Vorca whispered. She had pressed herself against the front of her desk, as far away from Loras as she could get without being able to move elsewhere.

“Finishing what Crow started.” Loras threw the fireball at the partially charred wall on her left.The flames instantly whoosed into life, beginning to crawl up the wall. Vorca let out an agonized scream as if it was she herself who was burning.

“Let’s go,” Loras said to Barghast. “I need to leave before I kill this bitch.”

At the bottom of the stairs the prostitutes had gathered, staring in a mixture of fascination and terror at Loras and Barghast. Loras reached into her pockets and pulled out a handful of gold coins. “Due to the fact that a fire has broken out in your employer’s office, you will no longer be able to work here. This should hold you over until you can find something else.” She emptied her pockets into open hands. The faces before her shifted from expressions of terror to amazement. They all ran out the double doors except a young round-faced boy who couldn’t be more than fifteen.

“Are you looking for Crow?” he asked.

Two floors above Vorca could be heard screaming at Brass. “Put out the fire, damn you - put them out!

“Yes. Do you know anything of his whereabouts?”

“The night before he left he said he was going back to his hometown somewhere up north. A place called Annesville.”

“Annesville?” Loras glanced at Barghast. Her hope had been renewed. “I remember him mentioning it being his hometown.” She beamed at the young man. “Thank you so much! May Mercius bless you!”

Once Loras, Barghast, and Jack had climbed back onto their horses with Whifden shrinking at their backs, Barghast turned to smile at Loras. It was the first time she had seen him truly smile in some time. “Everyone thinks I have a temper because i’m big and mean looking...”

“And because you rob banks,” Loras interjected.

“And because I used to rob banks,” Barghast said. His dark eyes twinkled with good humor. “But yours is worse. You are bad tempered.”

“Yes,” Loras said. “Yes, I am.” And how easy it is to remember that if I hadn’t been so fortunate I would be in the same position as you, a prisoner of the Pope.

Sometimes she needed a reminder.

Copyright © 2020 ValentineDavis21; All Rights Reserved.

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