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By Any Other Name

by T.S. Luikart
Lilhaydra the Hare lost her name while playing at throw bones in a betting den called the House Resounding. Whether it was destiny, chance, or the strange echoes of the Restless City throwing her aim off she cast the Void thrice and was thus undone. She gambled away her rights to the sobriquet she had long carried amidst the martial artists of the Dust Road, since her master had bequeathed it to her. So it was Lilhaydra the Hare who knelt to try her luck, but it was Lilhaydra that stood and walked away with a rueful grin.

Her path wound up through the steep and spiraling streets of the Shouting City, several times past and behind the massive waterfall that had given the city so many of its plentiful names, till at last she arrived at her favorite tavern, a ramshackle affair marked with an ill painted sign of a clearly lecherous water fowl known as the Leering Duck. Into the Duck Lilhaydra stalked hoping for whiskey or failing that ale, but she was greeted instead by a shouted accusation.

“YOU!”

Lilhaydra smoothly dropped into a martial stance as she looked about the taproom for the source of the voice. She quickly settled on a young and impressively muscled specimen, as the bovine cast of his features brought to mind one or two ox-like fellows she had known before and besides, regulars she recognized, ones familiar with her fighting style, were swiftly vacating the bar behind him while still clinging to their drinks so they could properly enjoy the show.

“Do I know you, Sir?” she queried politely. Her master had told her many times that even if you intended to beat a man, it cost nothing to be polite.

He ignored her question with a guttural snort. “You are Lilhaydra the Hare, vile accuser of innocent men!”

She straightened slightly. “No I’m not.”

“Ha! You lie.”

“I swear by the Jade Throne Eternal and the Maiden herself, I’m not Lilhaydra the Hare.”

The bull blinked in obvious confusion, clearly stunned by the depth and conviction of her oath. “Oh, toad spit,” he muttered finally before sinking back down into his seat at the bar. Lilhaydra strolled past disappointed patrons who had missed out on a promising fight and several regulars who eyed her with questioning expressions, as they were very aware indeed whom she had been till recently.

Lilhaydra took the seat next to the thwarted bravo and eyeballed him speculatively. She accepted a drink from the bartender without comment. “So why are you looking for the Hare anyway?”

“She is a deceiver. She publicly accused my cousin of terrible things, made him a laughingstock in our town. Then all but beat him to death when he confronted her.”

“Well I don’t… Wait, wait…you’re not Anos Mror’s cousin?”

His eyes widened and he looked at her in surprise. “Yes, I’m Casul Mror.”

Lilhaydra valiantly fought to contain both her laughter and the ale that threatened to erupt from her nose. She finally managed to mutter, “Anos had improper relations with goats.”

“That’s a lie!”

Lilhaydra arched a skeptical eyebrow, “You’re saying he married the goats first?”

“What!?! No! I mean he didn’t do anything… indecent… with livestock.”

“Then the Sporting Ladies of Tamberhane are very ugly, have a very odd sense of fashion, and do their business outdoors.”

“No they… What?! How could you know this, you swore you weren’t the Hare?”

“True. But I rode with her for a very long time indeed and I saw your cousin at, ah, play.”

Casul fell silent, absorbing this. His eyes narrowed. “You know her. You know what Lilhaydra the Hare looks like.”

She nodded slowly. “Intimately.”

“Are you willing to point her out for me?”

Lilhaydra, bemused, studied his earnest features. “The Hare is… gone from this place. Likely gone forever.”

“Where?”

“Who can say? For a long time, I thought I knew her, but she has changed. I don’t think I understand her anymore.” She shrugged.

Lilhaydra started to say more, but stopped as she noted the color draining from Casul’s face as he looked beyond her to the entrance of the Leering Duck. A chill draft touched her spine as she realized the entire bar had fallen into total silence.

A single pair of boots moved into the room. With each step a spur sung with malevolence; she turned to regard the impassive masked face of an Imperial Marshal as he entered the bar, a trio of repeater wielding soldiers in tow. The Marshal’s dark silk mask reached from the brim of his hat down past his neck, utterly obscuring his features. Intricate stylized images of barbed vines were painted across the silk. This one Lilhaydra knew by reputation alone; he was known as Marshal Thorn.

Neither the Empire nor its Marshals had any official authority in the City of Sliding Walls (yet another name) but the stillness in the room spoke volumes.

The bar’s patrons all but dove out of the Marshal’s way as he walked toward them. He stopped a few long paces away, his soldier lackeys fanning out behind him.

“Mror? Casul Mror?” The Thorn’s voice was toneless.

Lilhaydra was pleasantly surprised to note that Mror had mastered himself. His voice was steady as he replied, “Yes, Marshal?”

“You need to come with me.”

Mror made a show of standing before looking from the Marshal, to the soldiers, and back. “I think not.” He spoke quietly, but his words were like thunder in the soundless bar, every noise stilled in anticipation of the violence to come.

The Marshal gave the slightest of shrugs. “Regrettable.” He gestured and the soldiers’ repeaters began to rise. Lilhaydra hooked a foot around one of the feet of her chair and lunged sideways, whipping her leg in a great arc as she spun to the Leering Duck’s floor. Her chair was barely midair, spinning end over end towards the nearest Imperial soldier before she had already leapt back to her feet and used the momentum to hurl her glass at the Marshal. The Thorn was quick, but she was faster and the Marshal’s revolver skittered across the floor, even as her whirling chair knocked the first solider unconscious.

Mror dove into the second of the Imperial gunmen slamming him backwards into the surrounding crowd, while the final soldier’s repeater ripped open the front of the Duck’s bar where Lilhaydra had just been standing. Lilhaydra’s dodge flipped her on the counter top, where she swiftly assessed the room as she landed. Mror had courage, but barely enough skill to hold his own against one skilled opponent, much less a Marshal. They were leaving or they were dying, that simple.

Lilhaydra reached behind the bar and swiftly found a familiar bottle shape. With a vicious grin, she took a huge swig as she snatched a lantern from its wall sconce. The Thorn was already bringing another weapon to bear (Maiden but he was fast!) when she exhaled a blast of liquor that turned to flame as it sped past the lantern. She set her Will upon it and the blaze split in a seemingly impossible pattern, one fiery arm lashing at the Marshal who swiftly dodged behind a table while another reached out to set a soldier ablaze.

She swore then and there to leave offerings for her friend Areyaona’s spirit the first chance she got. Lilhaydra’s spectacular attack had reduced the bar to chaos, which she used to snatch Mror from the floor and forcefully shuttle him out the back door.

“That was something! How did you do that?”

Lilhaydra shrugged nonchalantly as she hustled him down a narrow street away from the Duck. “A Wandering Star taught me. She thought it might be a useful trick for a lady who likes taverns to know.”

“A wandering what?”

“Now is not the time. We need to run and while we’re at it, you can tell me why a Marshal wants you.”

“You’re coming with me? To find the Hare?”

Her expression turned thoughtful, but her smile was bright. “Yes…Guess I am.”

 
 
 

2 Comments

  1. I can’t think of anything that would make this story more awesome.

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