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Song Suggestion: Loveless by Nox Arcana
Shanty town was just what it sounded like. Bits of burnt wood and tarp nailed together into ragged shacks. They had gone to the tavern first, but the door hung open on its hinges and the fireplaces inside were cold and dark. A quick search had revealed that there was no-one inside and even though neither of them said anything, Gray knew they were both thinking the same thing, that, storm or no storm, it wasn’t a good sign.
They had moved toward the shanties just beyond and Gray nearly stumbled into the first one and, when he put his hand out to steady himself, it moved too much for his liking.
“When the queen was still here, she’d not have any of the burnt houses left and she certainly wouldn’t have tolerated this. But nobody misses her.” Ty tried to smile at Gray, but didn’t manage it. “She did not like to see anything dirty or broken and that included people.”
“We used to scare each other with tales of her,” Gray said. “We used to believe she had all the most beautiful girls brought to her so she could bleed them out in her bathing tub and soak in their blood. We used to say that was how she stayed so young.”
“Better than what really happens to them,” Ty said. Gray felt the old, familiar burn of impotent anger in his chest; no boy, barely old enough to think of betrothal, ought to speak with such a world weary resignation.
“Sometimes death is better,” Gray muttered, thinking of Jezzie, defiant to the end, unwilling to let them have her, and of Mary, who knew what lay before her and had taken the only action she could to save herself from it.
He saw the snow was clearing a bit, opening up so the scattered shacks became gray shadows in the snow, creating a sort of labyrinthine maze. He spotted a strange shape, a soft sort of heap inside one of the shanties, covered by snow that had blown in through the doorway. He started to move toward it, trying to understand what it was, then it clicked home and he recoiled.
Ty stepped closer, following his gaze, and winced. “Aye, we better hurry. If Leo doesn’t use his gifts, we might already be too late. If he does….” He shook his head. “They can smell magic, you know?”
“Who?” Gray asked, trying not to see how many other lumps there were in and around the shanties. The shape that made them human had been softened by the snow lying over them, but that, if anything, made the scene that much worse; even in death the helpless of Blossom Town were given no dignity.
“The Enforcers. They can smell magic.”
“I’ve never heard that one,” Gray said.
“Because nobody else watches them,” Ty said. “But I’ve been trying to figure out a way to, you know.” He made a slashing motion with his finger across his throat. “Papa used to say the only way to defeat an enemy is to know their weaknesses and he was the one that had us trying to discover if they could be bested.”
Gray snorted. “They can’t. Think the weavers would be trying to freeze them to death like this if they did? Do you think the weavers would ever have left the city to them?”
“But the weavers don’t do knife work,” Ty said. “Don’t like to get their hands dirty, do they? And the Enforcers do have a weakness.”
Gray stopped and grabbed the boy by the arm. “Wait. You know of one?”
“I’ve seen it in action,” Ty said. “Black iron. The sort the dwarves call cold iron, according to Mother. They hate it.”
“Well, so do the weavers,” Gray said. “But it doesn’t hurt them, exactly. It just irritates their senses. Too heavy, I’d guess, if I had to. Black iron has a taste and a smell to it, even for normal folk and I’ve heard that those who deal in magic find it overpowering.”
“No, it isn’t like the weavers at all,” Ty said, impatient. “It’s like the fey. You know, like in the stories. It hurts them, even when it’s just close to them.” He paused, licking his lips. “You can’t tell my mother. I mean, it won’t make much difference; we don’t have much of the stuff here. The ground sucks up anything that’s got weight to it and pulls it too deep for finding. But I have been trying out different things. If she finds out about that, she’ll make me stay in camp and won’t let me leave for a good, long while, if ever.”
“How and what have you been trying out?” Gray asked, not promising anything; if Angelica found out, he’d not be keeping his mouth shut. They would both suffer her wrath at that point.
“I had a few of the orphans helping me. I decided to try iron because steel knives and swords just sort of bounce off. And the usual iron did the same thing. But I got hold of this black iron knife off an eastern trader we caught in the forest and robbed. It cuts right through them.”
“And your mother doesn’t know?” Gray asked, surprised; even Angelica would have been happy to have that knowledge, though not, perhaps, the way her son had come by it.
“Grandpa didn’t want her to. She’d have stopped us and he wasn’t ready to tell her; it may cut them, but you’ve got to get close enough to use it and the knife was only a small thing.”
“Aye,” Gray said. “Black iron comes from the dwarves and they only sell a few of those weapons, usually for more than even the wealthy can meet. I’ve never even seen a knife, though I’ve heard a legend or two about a sword.”
“Grandpa was looking for a better answer. Then he died.”
Gray nodded and touched his talisman. The cold iron ring around the silver triangle felt reassuring against his skin, now, a promise that, even if it couldn’t protect him, it might distract an Enforcer long enough to give him an escape, if they were caught. “I want a full account, later. First, though, let’s find the boy.”