By Deborah Walker
At the Open Throat tavern, number 22 The Lane, Constell weaves with practiced ease between closely packed tables, taking orders, delivering jars of venom. On the tiny stage a singer laments the failed revolution, music resonating within his hollow saurian bones. Most of the customers are Oshenk. They know their tolerances. They order without hesitation. But at the table overlooking Frog’s Hollow sits two humans: Kraken soldiers wearing mask scars on their jawlines, looking for a taste of danger, and a good story to tell back in the barracks.
“Girl!” shouts the red-headed human.
Constell hurries over. The men are already drunk on human beer.
“What’s good?” asks Red. “We’re venom virgins.” His eyes linger on Constell. She’s thankful for her attire, covering her in leather from heel to throat. “Humans usually enjoy NightRose.”
“Is it safe?” asks the white-haired man.
“The poison’s in the dosage,” says Constell. “You’re safe at the Open Throat.”
Constell pours two measures of NightRose. She dilutes the venom, rendering it non-toxic and mildly euphoric to humans. In the back room, Trosk distils raw venom. He sees her and nods. He’ll speak to Grandmother, soon, Constell thinks. Trosk belongs to a traditional Oshenk sect. He’ll only speak to Constell if he has intention, and then only with permission.
“Enjoy, sirs,” says Constell, placing the diluted venom on the table.
“I’m in the mood for entertainment,” says Red. “Where can see an Oshenk girl dance?”
“We don’t dance.”
“You should!” Red reaches out a clumsy hand. Constell sidesteps his grope.
And then she sees the tattoo on his wrist: the sign of the Dead Lizard. A quick glance, and she sees the same mark on White. They’re members of the Kraken’s elite killing squad, specialists in murdering Oshenk revolutionaries. How dare they come here? How dare they sit in an Oshenk tavern wearing their obscene tattoos? As if there could never be any retribution!
Constell smiles. “Another round, sirs?” she asks.
“Aye. Keep ’em coming.”
Constell pours two measure of RedDemise. Only the oldest Oshenk, those most accustomed to venom, can drink it. To humans it brings a slow and bloody death without hope of antidote. And that is justice. Constell doesn’t care what comes afterwards, only that there will be justice.
“No,” says a quiet voice. A hand touches her arm.
Constell’s blushes to deep amber. She’s shocked that Trosk has spoken, touched her, knows what she’s about to do.
“Not this,” Trosk keeps his voice low.
“They killed my parents, Trosk,” says Constell. “Them or one of their broodmates.”
Troy takes her hand, claw to claw. “Tonight, I’ll take you to a Resurgence meeting, Constell. We fight, but not like this.”
Constell glances to the Kraken’s men. How she hates them.
“Don’t let their venom infect you, Constell.”
Slowly, Constell pours the venom into the drain. Trosk’s right. She’ll not murder them in cold blood. She’s not human.
There are other ways to fight.