The Nullification Engine: Excerpt 2

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Ensel Rhe has returned to Brighton with a score to settle.

Across Alter's Bridge, Ensel Rhe returned to the rooftops. Almost immediately, he saw one of Bekjris's lookouts camped out on a nearby gable. The man, whose attention was fixed on the darkened sky, noticed Ensel Rhe's approach too late as a kick sent him hurtling over the building's edge. Ensel Rhe followed, focusing his ka as he sailed down the building's three stories so that while the other smashed into the ground with a solid crunch, Ensel Rhe landed safely in a crouch.

Not sparing the dead man a second glance, Ensel Rhe made for The Minstrel's Cup with haste. Others with line-of-sight might have seen the attack or might soon notice the sentry's absence. Either way, Ensel Rhe wanted no additional obstacles. His business was with Bekjris, not his henchmen. He knew of a variety of ways into the tavern. A back door led into the kitchen. Another entry, accessible via Upper Brighton's network of underground tunnels and sewers, came up into the wine cellar. Also, windows dotted the Cup's three-story exterior and, last, there was always the front door. Across another river walkway, with the tavern a block away now, Ensel Rhe's mood for subterfuge soured, and so he decided on the direct approach.

A single guard with hands crossed before him stood at the entrance to The Minstrel's Cup. Seeing the approaching eslar, the bouncer moved to bar his passage. Whatever warning he was about to issue was garbled by the eslar's fist smashing into his face. The blow, driven by the force of Ensel Rhe's ka, dropped the man like a rock. The closed door was opened by a kick which knocked it from its hinges. Inside the shadowed interior, Bekjris's thugs met his entrance with looks of surprise. Then they leaped up from tables or jumped from stools and charged him. Some had only their fists. Others drew weapons. Neither made any difference. One came at him with a small sword. Ensel Rhe got inside the blade, pushed the man's extended arm away, and cracked him across the jaw with an upper cut. A pair came at the eslar with clubs. A kick to the midsection doubled the first one over even as Ensel Rhe dodged the swing of the other. Ensel Rhe closed, grabbing the man's wrist and twisting. Crying out, he dropped the club and received an elbow to his gut in return. Ensel Rhe swung him around and threw him into three others. Another two aimed hand crossbows at him. The first never released his bolt, as he fell over dead with a throwing knife in one eye. The other managed to pull the trigger, but the tensing of his shoulder muscles betrayed his movement. Ensel Rhe sidestepped the missile and closed the distance separating them. The eslar grabbed hold of him and sent him flying over the bar to crash into the display of liquor bottles. Another came at him with a sword. Better it was a club, for that was how the man wielded it. Evading the first swing was nothing. The second, even less. By then the man was so close he’d come face-to-face with the eslar and his stark white, otherworldly eyes. He froze. Ensel Rhe took hold of him by the collar and hurled him over a table.

Through the thinning tide, Ensel Rhe saw his target. The raspel crime lord sat alone at one corner of the room behind a large, round table where he ate and read from a book. He paid no attention at all to the mayhem the eslar caused. Ensel Rhe headed straight for him. Those of the crime lord's thugs still standing moved to stop him. Growing tired of the game, Ensel Rhe's hand went to the bone hilt of his sword. He hadn't come for a massacre, but he also didn't care if he left one behind. With his khatesh drawn halfway, a single command, shouted from the corner of the room, stopped everything.

"Enough!"

The voice was high-pitched, and followed by a series of strange chittering, but it stopped the thugs in their tracks. Ensel Rhe, cautious, kept his sword half-drawn. He eased it back into its sheath only after the men began to back away and a lane to Bekjris stood revealed. Though the command had clearly come from the crime lord, he showed no signs of having spoken it. He still sat, one four-fingered hand holding his place in his book while the other stuffed a leafy vegetable into his mouth. Stares from the men he'd just tussled with accompanied Ensel Rhe's every step as he approached their boss. Only when the eslar stood right in front of the raspel did Bekjris finally acknowledge his presence.

"Sit."

Ensel Rhe did not.

"Sit, please." He emitted the chittering from before. Like teeth chattering, the sound faded quickly. He turned a page of his book, his head swaying at the top of his foot-long neck as he leaned in to scan the text.

Ensel Rhe drew a knife from his belt and, reaching across the table, grabbed the raspel by his long throat. Lifting him from his chair, Ensel Rhe shoved him hard against the wall and placed the blade against the base of his neck. Without turning, Ensel Rhe said, "Tell your man approaching with the knife to stand down or prepare to become Barathrum's newest guest."

Bekjris didn't have to say anything as the man backed away of his own volition. The remainder of the boss's henchmen remained where they were.

"Come to kill me, then?" Bekjris said, choking out the words. The chittering caused his neck to vibrate.

Ensel Rhe looked him right in his blue-slitted eyes. "I'm here to even the score."