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Late Back Today

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Blood in the Streets

 

“You ever been down south, young’un? ‘Tis a strange place for being just across the border. Old, real old. The current monarchy has reigned for over three hundred years, but it’s only the latest that’s claimed the land called Andvalla. There’s been such a place for almost a thousand years, going back to the real bad times right after the Woe swept across the world. What’s more, many of the noble houses down there claim descent from the Ethernic governors that ruled that area for, well, who knows how long before that, and some of them even have the proof to back such outlandish claims. So, they’re pretty set in their ways, and those ways aren’t like ours, or those of most other Verdestians for that matter.

“I was down there trading for Blueshine pearls – my sister-in-law’s a jeweler, you see – and I make a decent living taking the overland route from Darkenhaven to Naukratis to get her pearls and stones the likes o’ which the lords and ladies of the Republic never seen before. You’d think that’d be mighty lucrative, right? Well, it ain’t bad. I don’t have to beg outside the temples at least. But you want to know where the real money, and power, is down there? Cloth. You laugh? I did too, at first. The idea of a bunch of tailors, silkmongers, dyers, and weavers pulling on the strings of power – pardon the pun – seems ridiculous. But think about it: everyone from queens to commoners need clothes. Each of the great Myruunese galleons need hundreds of yards of sail, and near everyone uses sacks and pouches to carry their goods and belongings about. The guilds down in Andvalla are at least as old as the nation itself, and all the clothiers, haberdashers, drapers, and cotton-spinners had their own at one time, but over the years, through secret machinations and even wars between the guilds, they became a single organization. No one knows what they call themselves, but the people whisper of them as the Bloodcloaks. As you might expect, they’re something to behold in their silken shrouds, dyed so red it hurts your eyes, using the husks of rare Kerminceal beetles.

I only saw them once, late at night from the third story window of my room at the inn. The Andvallans stay out at all hours eating, drinking, and pursuing other appetites, and so they keep their streets lit with colored lanterns throughout the night. However, I was trying to get some sleep, so I had shuttered the window and blown out all the candles in my chamber. That darkness likely saved my life, for if the Bloodcloaks had seen me, I suspect I would have been dead before morning. The noise from the street left me unable to sleep, so I decided to peek through the slats for a while. It wasn’t long before I saw over a dozen of them, their magnificent cloaks streaming behind them like tongues of flame as they strode down the street with absolute confidence. Their faces were obscured by iron masks, and they openly carried blades in their hands. It was the most peculiar thing, as not a single Andvallan so much as acknowledged their presence; indeed, every person on the street that night swiftly made way for their passage, but not a one allowed even the briefest glance to stray across the Bloodcloaks. Even a patrol of city guards and an Egalitan of Decisae made way without the slightest hesitation. I think anyone that dared to recognize their presence would have died where they stood.

The Bloodcloaks approached an older Andvallan man who seemed to be out, arm in arm, with his wife and a sizable gathering of friends. When the guild initiates stopped behind him, the rest of the group (including his beloved, likely bound to him in vows before Cara’essea for decades!) simply continued on their way, laughing and talking as though the night were as any other. Yet the man alone turned and looked into the featureless iron visages of the Bloodcloaks. His own face was equally unreadable from my distant perch, but he did not say a word; after a few silent moments he nodded and got down on his knees. The Bloodcloak standing before him stabbed the poor man with lighting swiftness in the throat and heart, using a needle-like rapier. 

I had to stifle a gasp, but my shock was nearly overcome by the fascinating scene that continued to unfold. Before the man’s corpse could collapse to the street, a pair of the Bloodcloaks had seized his body by the shoulders, and were swiftly binding the mortal wounds with rolls of white linen. When they had finished, others came forward to lay the body out on an exquisite crimson sheet, not unlike their own cloaks. With unexpected care the proceeded to sew the sheet into a funeral shroud around him, not unlike how the Myruun are known to do when laying to rest those that have died at sea. They worked quickly, and in a few minutes they had finished. Four of them took up the body on their shoulders while another wiped the street clean of blood with a fine cloth, and then the Bloodcloaks left the way they had come. All this transpired without any reaction from the surrounding crowds, as though those involved had merely been unseen ghosts. I waited for some time, expecting to wake from a dream, but when the morning light trickled into my room, I knew I had actually witnessed this awful incident. So if you ever make your way to Naukratis, keep your guard up and follow the lead of the locals. I still keep a wary look over my shoulder; I wouldn’t be surprised if I see those crimson cloaks coming for me some day.”

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