By Tom Wells

Do you have it? Did you bring it? Where is it? Let me see it. Give it to me. We want it.

An endless stream of demands, thick and pervasive as the fen that pressed against the rotting wood of the lower boardwalk. They clamoured at her mind, as the shadows did her soul; held back by glimpses of moonlight and bare patches of flickering torchlight, stretching across the lane like lovers out of reach.

Figures moved between pools of light, brushed past her as she leant upon the cold stone. She forced down the instinct to check her purse. That’s what they wanted, to show them where it was hidden. Instead she slipped into the darkness, into the pockmarked lane.

The Strangler loomed beside her, doors wide but not inviting. Not to her. Not her place, that hovel of filth and depravity. Her place was further down the lane, past the creaking wooden slats beneath her feet, past the ripples of water reflecting the world from below to the centre of the lane—no further from one end or the other. Those who came would have no wrong choice in how to make the fastest escape, leaving them with only the hardest of choices.

The voices grew louder as she reached the storefront, their demands pressing harder against her, forcing her back as if a gust of wind had blown down the lane. The battered sign twisted on its chains, but she held her ground, planting her staff against the cobblestones.

“Enough,” she called into the shadows.

The voices hissed and chattered, spat vile remarks at her. She wasn’t welcome here. Not her place. Not allowed. Not anymore. He had commanded.

It was all charred wood and broken glass, a hovel of emptiness and abandon. The poster in the window was hardly needed.

No one came here anymore.

From a hidden chamber in her staff she withdrew her purse, held it up for those who watched to see before emptying its contents onto the palm of her hand. The voices stopped. The shadows eased, as if the bauble she held pushed them back with a fervent light she could not see.

She stared at the storefront. Tiny lights, low and subtle, flickered in the back of the room, like so many eyes watching as she rolled the bauble around in her palm before tipping it back into her purse.

“Our deal?”

The voices murmured acquiescence. The lights disappeared.

She held out her now empty hand and a scroll of parchment appeared.

The storefront seemed to sag, as if all support was gone, revealing an emptiness more real than before.

The purse vanished.

The voices stopped.

She flicked the scroll at the poster in the window. Unfurled, it stuck to the glass, ink still fresh on the acknowledgement of sale.

Grimacing, she stepped up to the crippled door. It offered her no resistance. In time, neither would the rest of Lind.