“Bar’s closed!”, Cassidy shouted, striding up between the booths and tables. All eyes were on her which was fortunate because it meant none of them were on Jacob and Frida dragging the lifeless corpse of the preacher through the shadows and into a side door.
“The caravan’s just pulled in. If you still feel the need for more boozing, Erik’s got a half-dozen barrels of that northern piss-water you call whisky. I’d go see him before it burns through the wood”
That did the trick. Most of the regulars wouldn’t know whisky from lake-water but they knew it got them drunk a damned sight faster than beer did and at caravan prices too. There were grumbles and curses but they all got to their feet and shuffled out of the door into the street. A toothless drunk called Petyr was the last to leave and he doffed his grubby hat to her as he staggered past.
As soon as the bar was empty she barred the door and shuttered the windows. Inside the bar was dark but between the shutters the reds and golds of the caravan lanterns shone through, casting shadows across the empty walls. She took a moment to drag her glove across her brow and still her shaking hands before heading for the office.
She swung the door in ready to let fly with a few choice expletives and was nearly knocked off her feet by the smell. Her hands shot to her face to try and stifle the stench. She looked down at the corpse on the floor. The preacher’s arm had turned black and begun to rot.
“It’s spreading! Look!” Frida pulled the man’s collar down to reveal the blackness spreading across his torso. “What is it, Cass?”
Cassidy could only stare as the rot spread through his flesh. When she surveyed the room properly she saw Jacob standing near the window, his skin had gone pale and he looked terrified.
“Get away from him, you don’t know what it is. It might be infectious”, he croaked.
Frida backed off and rested against the heavy wooden desk, her eyes still fixed on the horror unfolding on the floor in front of them. “What the hell happened to him, Cass? I thought you said he’d been in a brawl? Fist-fighting doesn’t do that to you.”
Cass finally spoke up.
“It’s not contagious.”, she murmured, her voice wavering as she fought the urge to vomit. "Anyway, it's stopped. Look."
Sure enough the decay appeared to have stopped spreading short of the man’s face. He looked no less grotesque.
“How do you know it ain't catching?”
“I’ve heard about it but I’ve never seen it up close before. Someone wanted this man dead. More importantly they wanted him dead right here, right now. Dammit, I think a snake did this.”
Cassidy hadn't 'heard' anything. She'd been on a scouting trip to Morris a couple of years back. A particularly loud opponent of the increase in city taxes had gathered a small group behind him and there was talk of them taking arms against the patrols. Cassidy had spent the night in a local inn, the next morning the leader was found propped against his own back door, his stomach bloated and cracked, staring sightlessly into the forest. She'd seen for herself what snake justice looked like.
“A snake?” asked Frida.
“Everyone calls them snakes but they call themselves the Adders; dirty little sneaks that work for the old city families. They lurk about in places too volatile for the Ironguard to take control."
Cassidy approached the body and nudged the blackened arm with her foot. The shoulder joint tore wetly like cooked chicken and as the arm rotated they could see a puckered, crimson circle just above the elbow.
“That’s where they got him”, said Cassidy. “The snake must have been right behind him during the confusion. They have syringes hidden up their cuffs, it only takes a second and then...”
“But why him and why in the middle of a lords-damned bar?”, muttered Jacob. Cassidy noticed he was sweating profusely. She'd have to keep an eye on him to make sure he wasn't going into shock.
“Two reasons spring to mind” said Frida. “They wanted this guy dead and they needed someone to pin it on. The Oasis is the perfect place, they just finger the poor saps who get stuck with the stiff.”
“No, you’ve got it backwards”, said Cass. “I don’t think this particular priest is important. You heard him, he was preaching chapter and verse. This guy lived for The Brotherhood. No, the important thing isn’t who he is. It’s what he is”
“He’s a set-up. A preacher lying murdered on my own damn floor and we’ve all got his blood on our hands.”