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I lost the race.

But only because Torran cheated!

Then after a nice shared snack, we left to steal a few jewels. Bingle gave us general directions to a remote compound to the south of the city, not far from the manor. The private property sits at the edge of a fishing village, with only a muddy road as an entry point. The reek of decaying life and scummy waters slap me in the face long before the wooden palisade surrounding our destination comes into view. Bingle did not tell us exactly where he would meet us, but since his stupid power makes everything run smoothly, we easily find him by his scent and the noise of heartbeats. A mortal would never have erred for hours trying to regroup and that annoys me to no end. When I plan things, it must all be perfect or I end up with half of the odd squad stuck in a ditch and the other half on fire or eating their horses because they ran out of food. Bingle can just say let’s meet around here and everyone gathers without a hitch.

It’s not fair.

We sneak up from behind and I enjoy some vindication when I muffle the soprano’s startled yelp. There are three people hiding behind a bush when we arrive. Bingle, of course in all his darkly charismatic glory, but also the singer Sara whose jewel they recovered safely from a hiding place, and a third man I had not met before.

The newcomer is clearly not from around. He has bronze skin, and a soft face with melancholic traits and liquid brown eyes. The impression is tempered by a fierce moustache and an impressive stature. Ochre robes barely hide the man’s rolling muscles. He also wears a white turban with a golden feather pointing upward. I am left wondering if we are truly trying to sneak in, and if we do, whether or not these people have any notion of camouflage. By comparison, I am wearing a travelling dress of midnight blue with a hood while Torran wears a suit and coat of the darkest grey, with the only glint being that of the steel sword by his side. In typical vampire fashion, even his slumming attire is of exquisite make.

“Ah, Ariane and Torran, splendid timing as always” Bingle half-whispers and half-declaims.

“Please meet the esteemed warrior Sarvajna, sent by my employer and friend to assist me in the recovery of the jewels. He left London just after I did and arrived only yesterday.”

“Greetings Sahib, Sahiba, I am one of Princess Cheluvambe’s bodyguards, here to protect Bingle Sahib from his enemies,” the tall man declares.

We smile and shake hands and pretend that he is not here to keep an eye on things. Sarvajna shows just a hint of apprehension when he meets Torran’s eyes and radiates disapproval when he meets mine. He discreetly spares a glare at Sara and so I assume his displeasure is due to the relative parity of the group. Very few societies bring their women in battle, much less for night operations.

After the round of introductions is done, Bingle shares with us the nature of our task.

“This remote compound is the seat of power of Augustus Summerville himself. That unconscionable devil is ever ambitious. He is the one who sent the thieves after the other pieces of the Scepter and there is no doubt in my mind that he works hand in hand with the princess’ devious uncle. He will go to any length to see his grand adventure come to fruition, even if others must suffer for it.”

Pot, meet kettle.

“We must recover the jewels and abscond, promptly. My conversation with Summerville’s licentious son at that poker tournament earlier today led me to believe the pieces are held here, in the man’s office. He will have a safe which I will crack.”

“Where will we find this office?” Sara asks with a small voice.

“A man like him is easy to read. His den will be at the highest point, as from those lofty heights, he gazes upon his dominion as he works to further his nefarious schemes.”

We turn to the compound. Bingle’s hiding spot is slightly elevated, and this allows us to see a few roofs. The largest building is probably a warehouse. There are also two more including a two-storied office with quite a few windows. If Bingle did not miss his guess, this is where we will find the precious stones.

“Are you confident that you can open this safe?” the tall Indian man asks with a bit of worry.

“I am,” the adventurer proudly answers, “I even know exactly which model he purchased thanks to a most thorough inquiry.”

It appears that Bingle did his homework. I should not be too judgmental. His father was perhaps helped by the hand of fate, but it was his competence that carried the story forward, and so it is with junior. I must give the youth some credit.

“What force can we expect inside?” Torran asks.

“I expect no less than a dozen guards, and possibly more asleep. And that is the problem. The main entrance is closed for the night.”

I can spot from here the only road trailing through the marshy forest and to a set of double gates set on both sides by twin lookouts. Small movements show that the flimsy structures are garrisoned. Lanterns placed at regular intervals give the vigils a commanding view of their surroundings, enough to make a direct approach hazardous at best.

“We need to scale the walls,” Bingle continues, “and while I do have a rope,” he points at a large dark bag by his feet, “there are complications. Namely, they have patrols walking the perimeter. There will never be enough time for all of us to make the climb.”

“Why must we all go?” I ask with curiosity.

“A most astute question!” Bingle replies, beaming, as if my questioning of his intellect was a source of pride.

“I need milady Diaz here to verify the authenticity of the jewels themselves and alert me if I have been misled by decoys. She is the only one who saw them back in Europe.”

“My father is a jeweler,” the woman explains somewhat defensively.     

Well, isn’t that convenient.

“Precisely. It would be riskier to carry out several infiltrations, not to mention that I will need someone to watch my back while I work on the safe. We need to bypass the patrol.”

“A distraction?”

“I would rather not. It could make them more alert and we would encounter a similar problem while going out. I suggest that we await the next change of the guard, then neutralize a patrol.”

How very bloodthirsty. I like it.

“The only problem I have is that they have dogs. Massive, ferocious beasts that would alert the group.”

“I believe I can do something about it,” I announce.

Torran appears surprised, though to his credit he does not question me in front of the others. I appreciate it, and let him know with an imperceptible nod.

“I have a way with dogs.”

My outrageous claim is welcomed with incredulity by both Sara and Sarvajna. Bingle, of course, does not doubt me.

“Excellent. Can I rely on you to attract the attention of the patrol and keep their hounds calm, meanwhile Sarvajna and myself will sneak up on them and give them a good wallop. Afterward, feed this to the beasts,” he says, as he passes me a somewhat sticky piece of flesh wrapped in paper, “it is meat laced with sedative. Anything that swallows it will promptly fall asleep.”

I wonder why we can’t just murder them all, dogs included, though I know better than to voice my concern. Just like anything involving that insufferable godling, we will produce a lot of effort for something that could be dealt with in two minutes straight if I could just go all out. Forget finding the combination of the safe, I would just massacre everyone and tear the blasted things from its wall and carry it to safety.

But alas.

Bingle.

We decide that I will be assisted by Torran ‘for safety’ and the next hour I spent considering contingencies and sharing information. I learn from Bingle that the compound has a pier, but that it is well-lit and guarded without fail. I am, for one, appreciative of the fact that we will not swim inside as I have witnessed first hand what the water around a populous city looks like back in Charleston and I am not eager to renew the experience. After a while, the two patrols on either side of the gate come in and new ones lazily take their place. I notice that the guards are foreigners wearing the same cloth as our brave bodyguard. We are in the right place.

“Those men are from Mahishuru, my home. Traitors, the lot of them!” the man himself grumbles into his moustache.

Bingle, de facto leader of the expedition, gestures us in and I silently follow Torran to the right palisade. We circle around slowly to give our mortal counterparts time enough to prepare.

“Should I ask about the dog?”

“I Devoured the essence of an Erenwald vampire, and they have some control over animals and plants. Dogs no longer fear me. I can calm one long enough for us to feed it the poisoned food.”

“Convenient! How about the mortals, would you like to Charm them? Or would you fancy an old-fashioned distraction?”

“What’s an old-fashioned distraction?” I ask with narrowed eyes.

“We lie through our teeth, of course,” Torran replies, with a devious glint in his eyes.

“In fact, let’s make a contest out of it, my star. Whoever tells the most shameless lie wins.”

“Deal,” I answer with a smile. Torran is such a dearie, to find sources of amusement while sneaking through the underbrush like vulgar cattle-thieves.

I just hope the guards speak English.

We settle to wait at the edge of the perimeter. Soon enough, Bingle Junior and Sarvajna are in position. I light the lantern and we step onto the road.

The patrol spots us walking in from seemingly nowhere and trots to us with a mix of fear and confusion on their gold-skinned face. I shove a tendril of essence into the growling beast before it can catch a good whiff of Torran and go mad. The creature blinks owlishly.

“What are you doing here? This is a private property!” the first guard declares in a surprisingly good English. He twirls his moustache with fury while his barrel-chested companion caresses a truncheon while wearily eyeing my lover.

“Private property? I bought these lands good sir, and here I take a midnight stroll only to find this hideous construct. Scandalous.”

“Absolutely,” I add not to be outdone, “besides who would build their warehouse on an Indian burial ground?”

At the mention of a cursed locale, the moustachioed man’s eyes bulge comically. He takes an involuntary step back though he does not relent.

“It does not matter. You can’t be here!”

“How dare you address me? I’ll have you know I was a friend of Krishnaraja Wodeyar the third, your previous ruler!” Torran claims, and for a moment the magic takes. Lit by the flame of the lantern, the vampire Lord’s stature and poise radiate power and barely controlled outrage. The hilt of the blade by his side reminds everyone that he is a warrior. He is domineering and mighty without using a smidgen of essence.

I like that a lot.

Also, he is not winning that contest.

“Absolutely, you worthless curs. Can’t you recognize who your illustrious guest is?” I declare with passion,

“You have the honor of talking to the Duke of New York!”

The men of the patrol freeze, Savrajna freezes, even Bingle freezes at the shamelessness of such a claim.

Torran crosses his arms, as regal as any emperor.

“Whatever you think you’re doing, you’d better think fast,” I add with a pointed look at our partners in crime.

Clonk!

Two clubs smack the backs of the guards’ heads and they collapse in a heap. I take out the meat and feed it to the still dizzy dog, who gulps the pieces down without complaint. I also find out that when Bingle said ‘sedative’, what he meant was ‘a hefty dose of sweet liquor’.

“The Duke of New York, hm? You win this round, my star.”

Damn right I do.

We drag the unconscious bodies under some trees and leave the dog panting happily there, his leash tied around a nearby pine. I am left wondering why Bingle would refuse to slay an animal but so liberally clobber the head of his fellow mortals. So many times, I’ve had victims wake up not quite themselves or not as sharp as they used to be. The body is a fragile thing. Oh well, it’s his operation. With the way reality bends around him, they will wake up with a light migraine and a newfound taste for scones and marmalade.

Bingle throws a hook over the palisade and we climb wooden logs without difficulty, save for Sara who has to be pulled up. The compound is just as we expected, a circular space of packed earth containing a large warehouse, a barrack, and a two-storied office. In the back, a pier leads to the bay’s murky waters. The inner court is much less lit than the exterior and there are no patrols.

We head to the office with light steps, then wait as Bingle picks the lock. Junior can open doors and safes, I realize. Naughty.

It takes less than half a minute for all of us to get in. After that, Bingle closes the door behind us and lights a candle, casting a fragile light on our surroundings. The room is actually a secondary storage space and its contents give me the first real bit of apprehension since the end of the hearing. The smell of black powder and the shape of some of the crates are a dead giveaway.

“What is this?” Sarvajna asks.

I lean next to a nearby barrel and pop the lid open with my claws, then turn around and pretend it was already unlocked. Torran rolls his eyes at the theatrics.

“Is this..?” Sara asks.

“Yes,” I reply with an ominous voice, “we are in an armory. There are enough weapons here to arm a hundred men.”

Svarajna swears in an unknown tongue while the soprano pales a bit. Bingle frowns but shakes his head.

“We knew about Summerville’s ambition. This changes nothing. Without the Tiger Scepter, his candidate has no legitimacy. We must find the jewels with all haste.”

We nod and follow the intrepid adventurer up the stairs to a locked door, which offers only a modicum of resistance to our hero’s nimble fingers. We all queue into Summerville’s unreasonably vast office and take in our surroundings.

I have seen some horrors in my Watcher-forsaken existence. I have witnessed Merghol mana-hounds feasting on the withered flesh of drained mages. I have gazed upon the corpses of starved children with bones cracked open, the marrow sucked by Wendigos. I have seen the world slashed open like a cheap envelope and still this shocks me to my very core. How can a man have such bad taste? How can the Christian God allow such horrors to be inflicted upon its children? From wall to wall, flashy colors, excessive decorations and gold paint clash with common sense and each other. Knick-knacks of horrible craftsmanship fight for space with empty bottles of very expensive wine and fake-jewel-encrusted cups. I learn that Summerville himself is a weaselly man of rotund proportion by the sheer amount of portraits and engravings of him plastered on the walls. There is even a large painting of him replacing Washington crossing the Delaware. In this ‘piece of art’, he is represented as being easily seven feet tall.

It’s a miracle that my eyes are not bleeding right now.

I turn to Torran to ask if he is seeing this. Alas, the poor darling is leaning against the walls, eyes closed, gently massaging his temples.

“Right,” Bingle says, reminding us of what is at stake, “let us find the safe.”

I find his sang-froid admirable. I already want to set the place on fire and forget about the jewels. They must be cursed after staying here for more than a night anyway, we might as well deny Summerville his assets and be done with it. Why can’t those adventures be simple Hunts where we chase some prey and eat a werewolf or two at the end? Those are nice, straightforward tasks with a meal included but no, we must absolutely investigate the den of the sin of Pride’s most tasteless avatar.

Bingle starts walking around, soon followed by Sara and then by Svarajna. It will be difficult to locate a small safe in this cluttered space.

Unless, of course, it is defended by magic.

A diffuse aura comes from behind a grandfather clock. I inspect the horrid thing and quickly notice a button, simply because the depression is covered in food grease and thus slightly less shiny than the rest of the contraption. I press it and with a clank, the upper part slides to the side to reveal a depression in the wall, and the safe therein.

“Well done, Mrs. Delaney, well done indeed,” Bingle whispers as he walks to me. I make a hand gesture to hold and search one of the pockets on my cloak. I expected to face a vampire, and to some extent, magic. I came prepared.

I retrieve a pinch of white powder from a metal canister and blow it upon the safe’s surface. In the darkness of the room, the powder spreads across a circular construct like morning frost over a spider’s web, leaving it glittering softly. The spectacle is as beautiful as it is worrying.

“Do you know what this is?” Bingle asks while his two companions cross themselves and set my teeth on edge.

I study the revealed construct. It is flimsy and there lies the problem. I could break through most spells worked upon a surface this small, and in this case it would be useless.

“This is an alarm, and before you ask, I do not have the means to disarm it. As soon as you start working on the safe, the net you see will snap and alert the person to whom it is attuned, most likely Summerville.”

In order to bypass these defenses, one would have to slowly pull on each strand until the construct is either displaced or ‘rolled in’ so as to prevent it from triggering. Unfortunately, it requires fine magical control, a skill I do not yet possess. Behind me, Torran does not react. He is unwilling or unable to assist. No matter the reason, I trust his judgement on this matter.

“Summerville is spending time with a lady of the night, in an establishment not far from here. This would leave us a quarter of an hour before the ruffian’s arrival. We could do it.”

“And possibly escape how?” I ask, more as a formality than out of real concern.

“Worry not milady, I have a secret trump card that will save the day.”

“Fair enough,” I reply, my doubts assuaged.

“We should use this opportunity to fortify this location, just in case,” Torran adds with a wink in my direction. I consider his words as the bodyguard voices his assent.

Fifteen minutes of preparation.

A hundred guns.

Enough gunpowder to blow Summerville’s hired help back to India by way of the moon.

Bingle, you are officially forgiven.

“A very astute remark, my love. Let’s get to it.”

Sara stays with the gentleman thief to hold his lantern, no innuendo intended, as the three of us make our way downstairs and I try not to giggle like a child on Christmas morning. I light a few lanterns and take stock of what we have while the two muscular beefcakes get to work boarding the windows. I elect to create a small diversion by stepping outside with a few barrels of powder, then quickly return and start loading one musket after another at the very edge of human speed. Sarvajna sometimes stops to watch with disbelief, before moving more empty crates to block the way in.

Soon enough, Torran volunteers to carry loaded firearms upstairs while the bodyguard and myself keep loading with determination. I slow down to be just slightly faster than him. I will not ridicule him, but I will not spare his feelings either.

“Bingle Sahib said your father was a great hunter, the greatest one who ever lived. Is that true?”

I consider his words. The story I made up for Cecil Rutherford Bingle was one of cursed totems and twisted wishes, with my ‘father’ dying from his passion, burnt to a crisp by the dawn’s sun as he was returning from a hunt. Regardless of those lies, Nirari is my father after a fashion and he is indeed the greatest hunter who ever lived.

“Yes, it is.”

“Are you a huntress as well, Lady Delaney?”

I look up from a powder-filled pan and meet the Mysore warrior’s eyes. There is no longer any sign of disapproval in the stoic man.

“Yes.”

“I thought so. The spirit of the goddess of war Durga is with you. I can feel the shakti, the energy when you move. Tonight, we will defeat our enemies together with your husband and return the Scepter to its rightful owner, the princess.”

I hear a snicker from the stairs at the mention of matrimony. Hold your horses Torran, I am not tamed just yet.

“We will, Sarvajna. Summerville will regret ever keeping those stolen artifacts.”

We continue loading the guns with renewed focus. Our group has more than sixty primed weapons at its disposal by the time Torran knocks on a wood beam and points upward. We gather the last of them and climb up to the second floor, where we find Bingle sitting at a table and working on a secondary lockbox. The safe lies gutted, and yet the jewels are still not ours. It appears that Summerville took additional precautions.

I believe it would be better to take the lockbox and run for it. The danger of being trapped is superior to that of having the jewels be taken to another, more secure place. I suppose it is not my call. The show must go on.

We turn to the compound’s entrance, where a fire snake of men bearing torches descends. A pair of sentinels jumps from the guard tower and hurries to the door.

“I need a few more minutes,” says Bingle, tense, “if only there was a way to slow them down.”

In answer, I open the window closest to the office’s door, grab a lantern and throw it down under the mortal’s petrified gaze. The glass smashes open and burning oil ignites the pile of powder I had left there. Fire spreads through the trail I left for it, arching its way to the barrels I hid besides the left tower. The guards let out dismayed cries when they spot the impending danger. They flee as fast as their legs can carry them to the cover of the nearby barracks.

The flames reach the barrels and seemingly peter out.

I duck. Sara looks turns to me and asks:

“Oh, they were extingui-“

Like thunder on a cloudless sky, the explosion takes everyone off-guard. Horses neigh and riders swear as flaming wreckage rains upon the marshland. A plume of smoke and embers soon hides the riders from view with the collapsed guard tower lying across the entrance.

“Not extinguished,” I reply as I remove my fingers from my ears.

“WHAT?”

Oh dear.

“Very impressive, Miss Delaney. I will require but a few minutes to implement my plan. Do tell, are some of the guards of the Indian persuasion?” Bingle says.

“Yes?”

“Splendid. Do kindly try not to kill them.”

“You’re asking me to miss?” I ask, outraged.

“Of course not milady, I only ask that you aim somewhere else.”

Well, he got me there.

“I will be downstairs, my star. You may shoot to your heart’s content,” Torran says on his way down. With him there, I can focus on blasting targets away without fear of being overrun. I would be grateful if I did not suspect that his sacrifice was motivated by his dislike of muskets. He’s a bit old-fashioned as vampires go, after all.

With the surrounding of the main gates at roasting temperature, the palisade is now working against Summerville’s troops. I hear a strident voice screaming orders to ‘get over the damn wall’. It appears that some of our foes brought ropes, as the first few lassoes fly over the edge of the logs. On the ground below us, the men of the garrison test the windows for a way in. I wish them the best of luck and line up a shot.

Above the palisade, a glorious red feather rises, soon followed by a shiny white turban, soon followed by a pair of inquisitive eyes. Mindful of Bingle’s orders, I shoot the observer’s hat off his head, provoking a yelp and a backward fall.

It’s not my fault if they break limbs, I really cannot be blamed for that.

For good measure, I shoot the rope tied around the palisade, causing someone else to fall. It does not take long for the would-be assailants to try their luck elsewhere. Honestly, I could have just waited and shot them as they came. Bingle’s rule is too restrictive, I sincerely hope there is a reason for that.

Then comes the hard part.

Our enemies find a section of the wall covered by the barrack and manage to go over it while behind cover, then, they join up with the rest of the guards to besiege us. Soldiers pick up axes and crowbars to force their way in while others shoot the windows to keep us busy. Thankfully the light does not reach up to us and the walls are thick, so we are relatively protected. Unfortunately, there is only so much I can do to deter the Indian soldiers without killing them. Even grazing blows do not faze the stalwart warriors as they peel windows open with grim determination. Local goons I saw at the theatre are mixed in the lots. Those, I kill without hesitation whenever I can. Unfortunately, there is only so much I can do while making sure I am not hit by stray bullets. It would be awkward to bear the mask of humanity for so long only for the others to see me close a hole in my skull.

It does not take long before the first guards pull stabbed hands from under broken shutters. Torran is buying us a few precious seconds in a game of delays. I resist the urge to pressure the adventurer as even Svarjana has given up on aiming and just fire blindly between two enemy volleys. Sara is in a corner, praying and most likely reconsidering her life choices.

I feel strangely excited. There is a stake now! Without much recourse, I simply keep firing until Torran walks up the stairs and slams the door closed behind him.

“Too many breaches,” he comments with a small smile. I nod and smash my musket on the fingers of a man who was trying to climb. He falls back with a resounding “whore!”. Very well mister. Next time, I shall just stab you.

I retreat to the center of the room. An attacker appears at the rear window and gets back down with a broken nose. Another takes his place while to the side, two more pop up. I bash a skull and grab a gaudy goblet which I use as an improvised projectile on another, forcing them back.

“I got it!” Bingle screams, and not a moment too soon. The bangs on the door cease and men stop climbing. Silence descends upon the base until a strident voice breaks it. It drips with contempt and lowly pretension.

“Surrender you fools, and I shall be merciful.”

I do not need deep insight into human nature to know that there will be no mercy. We violated this person’s, well, ‘sanctum’, and humiliated him. Such an act demands retribution.

Bingle lifts two jewels the size of quail eggs from the lockbox, soon adding a third one from his pocket. They shine like embers in my sight and in my aura. There is power here, not just symbolic but mystic as well. He turns to the shattered window and approaches it without a hint of fear. I step by his left with Torran in support, while Sarvajna takes the other. Sara is still hiding.

“Who dares soil the abode of Augustus Summerville?” the strident voice resumes. I look down to find our interlocutor and realize my previous misconception. I thought the painters had done Mr. Summerville a disservice by giving a rotund and snivelling frame. They were instead granting him a favor, but alas, there are some appearances for which art can do little.

“‘Tis I, Nathan Riley Bingle, you villainous coward, you bumbling mass of nefarious grease, you spineless bulb of quivering lard. ‘Tis I who shall be your doom!”

“Hah! You move that wicked tongue of yours in vain! From where I am standing, the doomed one is you!”

“Appearances can be deceiving, as you shall soon learn.”

Under the mesmerized gaze of half a hundred men, Bingle takes the pommel ending his silver cane. The globe retracts, then rotates under his hand, and splits open in half to reveal underneath the maw of a mighty beast.

“The Tiger Scepter!” a man down below screams, and the crowd erupts in agitated whispers in a tongue I do not understand. Undaunted, Bingle calmly places all the stones in indents made to this end. As the sapphire locks in place, a magical circuit is formed and pale light emanates from the artefact of power, pushing away the darkness and the harsh red glare of torches. One by one, the many Indian soldiers drop to their knees in amazement.

Bingle is breathtaking.

The dashing adventurer is no longer as rakish as before. His black hair shines under the pale glow, and his black eyes convey power and serenity I had never seen in a mortal. A sense of wonder erupts from my heart as I gaze upon what could have been, had this reality been slightly less rigid. All the sagas and stories that could have been written and all the heroes of the past are here now before me, trapped in the nets of causality and yet still shining upon the world. They carry with them tales as old as time whose mere mention robs even the most jaded men of their disbelief, if only for a moment. That glow radiating outward does not impose a will, instead it asks the question: What if?

What if there were true heroes, true tales, true reality-defying magic? What if there were more to life than boring physics and realistic odds?

What if we could be amazed once more?

Bingle makes me believe it could happen.

I gaze upon the face of the godling and take Torran’s hand in mine. Our eyes meet and I see with pleasure the weight of timelessness momentarily lifted from his shoulders. Whatever silliness we have been through, this made it all worthwhile. I will cherish the memories I made today until the moment I return to the ashes.

“Noooooooo! Kill him!” the hysterical trader bellows. One of his men hesitantly lifts a rifle.

A terrible roar of outrage erupts over the compound. Everywhere I look, Mysore exiles rise and overtake Summerville’s mooks like an angry wolf pack. The slippery scoundrel himself only finds salvation by using his considerable girth to plow a way to the gates. Unfortunately for him, he forgot about his main foe.

Bingle quickly attached his rope to the window frame and rappels down smoothly. He runs after his quarry and the soldiers part before him like the Red Sea before Moses. Sarvajna turns to us, stupefied.

“You do not understand. Everyone can hold the Scepter. Only those worthy can make it shine so!”

Hah, what a great twist.

On the ground, Bingle has caught up. Summerville casts a desperate glance behind him and drops on the ground to grab a musket, turning it on his pursuers.

“Back, back, you vile criminal. How dare you do this to me? Know your place!”

Behind Summerville, the second guard tower creaks ominously.

“Your dastardly plans are at an end, Summerville! Surrender now, and you may yet live.”

“Surrender? To the likes of you? Never! I will leave this place and rebuild my empire and then I shall come for you, you meddling troublemaker!”

“Your words are empty, you sweaty globe of suet. Justice from above will strike you down.”

“Hah, I’d like to see that!”

With a last crack, one of the supports of the second mirador snaps and the great structure collapses. I watch, mesmerized, as a large beam falls on Summerville’s disbelieving face. There is a vile crunching sound and the shifty man is no more.

“…then you should have been on the lookout,” Bingle deadpans.

By the Watcher.

The ironic end, the banter, the horrible pun and its delivery! They are so bad they are good. I turn to Torran with a bright smile though he remains unamused. With a frown, he leans in and whispers as the victors cheer and rejoice.

“This isn’t over.”

“Indeed not, the vampire did not show up. That is all for tonight, however. Let us return.”

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