A Royal Misson

It burned, as it always did. And, for once, Captain Decklin Hoarst let out a barking cough.

“Heh, for once it got you,” Tekth said. He was one of those people with a wide face and a wider smile.

Decklin slammed the shot glass back on the table, picked up another glass, and tipped it back. Straight down the gullet. The back of his mouth roared in fury. Warmth descended through his body. He smacked his lips and licked his whiskers. No sense in wasting it. Wiped his mouth with his jacket.

They were in a tavern of some sort in Coldridge. Decklin didn’t know its name. He came here every night and still didn’t know what to call it. On the way to the drink, he didn’t stop and peer at the sign. He wanted the drink too much. Whenever he remembered he didn’t remember the tavern’s name, he was too drunk to read it, and if he could—or did—he didn’t remember.

Decklin’s head drifted down, his chin bouncing off his collarbone. He snorted once, spat on the floorboards to his left, missed, and hit the wall instead. Snotty mucus clung to wood.

“Another one, Deck?” Tekth asked.

Always with the asking. It’s why Decklin preferred to drink alone. He nodded, though, and tried to grab the third shot glass sitting in front of him and missed. Took another swipe at it, missed again. “Fuck.” He shook his head. “How many are we at?”


After his third attempt, his fingers closed around the glass, and he grinned. “Cheers,” Decklin said. He tried clinking the glass against Tekth’s but missed. Tipped the drink back. Straight down the gullet. The back of his mouth roared in fury. Warmth descended through his body. He smacked his lips and licked his whiskers. No sense in wasting it. Wiped his mouth with his jacket.

Tekth followed suit. “You’re a habitual fuck, you know?”

Decklin grunted, then shivered. Didn’t matter how much whiskey one drank, the damned weather in Cyrok was always freezing. “Guess so.”

Blinking, he looked around the tavern. Men laughed; women danced. Women laughed; men danced. Decklin rolled his eyes. Or perhaps he rolled his head. He had a particular disdain for other people, noisy ones in particular. Particularly women who walk around like that.

The barmaid walked past, bosom ready to burst out of her clothing. She’d already declined him twice that night. She circled the tavern, made her way back in his direction.

“C’mere,” he said, raising a finger. Maybe he raised two. He couldn’t tell.

Two barmaids walked over. No. One finger, one barmaid. He’d figured it out.

“I don’t think you need any more, Captain,” she said, hands on hips. As if she could make that decision for him.

“Three for me, three more for Sergeant Tekth,” Decklin said.

“You’re already quite drunk. The both of you are.”

Now.” He used his proper voice. The one that implied, ‘if you don’t do as I say, I’ll come back in the morning and trash the place.’ Not that he’d done that in quite some time. But the threat was ever looming.

“Right,” she said, and left.

Tekth shook his head. “You act more like royalty than a king, Deck.”

Decklin grunted again.

“Act like a prick, and she bends over backward for you,” Tekth said, shaking his head, surprised.

The room took a lap around Decklin’s head. He closed his eyes, opened them again. Wiped his mouth with the alcohol-stained sleeve of his captain’s jacket. His superiors would have many things to say about that. He couldn’t care less.

“Gonna start calling you ‘Royal.’”

“You’re an idiot, and you’re drunk, Sergeant. An idiot drunkard.”

“A drunken idiot?”

“Don’t argue with me. I’m your superior.” Decklin hiccupped.

“Yes, Captain Royal, cyr.” Tekth saluted.

“Fuck you.”

“Fuck you, cyr.”

The barmaid returned, laid out three shots of whiskey in front of each of them. “These are your last.”

“Fuck you,” they said.

She left.

Decklin downed another shot. Straight down the gullet. The back of his mouth roared in fury. Warmth descended through his body. He smacked his lips and licked his whiskers. No sense in wasting it. Wiped his mouth with his jacket.

Tekth wobbled in his chair. “I don’t know that I can finish my three.”

“You drink the last three, then get out of here. That’s an order, Sergeant.”

“You’re a prick, cyr.”


Tekth downed his three shots, slapped the table with his palm, said, “Thanks, Royal,” and stumbled out of the tavern.

Royal. There were worse names. Better than being called ‘Deck.’

He looked down at the two remaining shots. Felt bile stir within his body and decided he’d drunk enough.

Royal stumbled out of the tavern, glanced at the sign. The letters made circles, joined together. He couldn’t make them out. He shivered. “It’s fucking freezing.” Boots crunching in the snow, he made it home after stopping to vomit once. Maybe twice. He couldn’t remember. It didn’t matter. Royal couldn’t care less.


Clearing the crusted muck from his eyes as early morning sunlight blinded him, Royal groaned. His nose wrinkled at the acrid odor of vomit and the stench of alcohol. He sat up in his bed and saw remnants of last night’s bile collected on the ever-stained captain’s jacket he still wore. He put his boots on, strapped his sword to his belt, and left his home. The snow reflected sun everywhere, creating an array of diamonds and rainbows, forcing him to squint. He grabbed a handful of the snow and wiped the puke off his jacket as best he could.

Royal laughed. They wouldn’t remove his station. Weren’t enough soldiers in the Cyroki military as it was.

He opened the door to the barracks, boot laces slapping against the wooden floorboards. He’d forgotten to tie them. Great, just another thing to be reprimanded for. He could tie them, but somebody would see. It’d be over then. He walked across the room, ignoring several bellows of “Hey, Captain!” and “Good morning, Deck!” Royal stepped into the open door of his boss’s office.

“Captain Hoarst, what the fuck is this?” Lieutenant Clayton Colms, hazy clouds floating about his face, gestured with the hand holding a rolled skachi leaf, an addictive substance that one could smoke or chew. Royal had no need for skachi—alcohol was far better. Colms sat at his oak table, leaning back in his chair. Several junior officers catered to the man’s needs, the constant sound of chatter, boots clicking, orders being given, parchment being scratched upon with quills, and other annoyances. Royal disliked the barracks.

He looked down at his jacket, saw he hadn’t gotten all the vomit out. Saw a lot of alcohol stains—didn’t really need to see them, he could smell them easy enough. “Rough night, Clay.”

“Rough night, cyr,” the lieutenant said out the side of his mouth, rolled skachi in-between his teeth on the other side.

“Rough night, Clay.”

“You know, you’re a right pain in the ass.”

“So I’ve been told.”

“Got a bit of a fat one for ya today.”

Royal sighed. He sat in the chair opposite Colms.

“Captain Hoarst, close the door.”

He stood back up, closed the door, sat in the chair again.

Colms took another long inhale of skachi. Smoke started filling the room. Royal coughed. Colms glared at him. Royal straightened himself in the chair. The lieutenant was serious. Not a good start.

“Captain, we have a serious problem.”

Royal scratched at his chafing lips. “Oh?”

“Sergeant Tekth.”

“Aye, Tekth.”

“He’s made a very serious report. Filed it this morning.”

Royal lifted a brow. Tekth didn’t file reports. “Regarding?”

My fuckin’ leadership, Decklin.” He puffed on the skachi again.

“That’s not good, cyr.”

“No, no, it’s fuckin’ not, Decklin.”

“Call me ‘Royal.’”

“Royal? What the fuck are you on about?”

Royal shrugged. “That’s what they’re calling me now.”

Colms shook his head. “I’m upset.”

“I can tell, Clay.”


“Right. Colms.”

“You better start showing me some respect, Captain. I have your balls in a vice and whatever decision you make today is going to determine the outcome.” He pulled the rolled skachi out, examined it, took another puff, closed his eyes.

Royal blinked.

“Let’s start over, Captain.”


“Royal.” He puffed again. The smoke had now created a blurry filter between the two of them. “I’m not losing my job.”

“No, cyr.”

“You don’t want to lose yours, either.”

Royal didn’t respond. Why should he care if he lost his job? Royal couldn’t care less.

“Without the job”—Colms pulled the skachi back out—“you won’t have any income. Without an income, you can’t afford the drink.”

Well, that’s true. He sat straighter, more rigid. “I’m not losing my job, either.”

“Damn straight, Captain, damn straight. I need this problem taken care of. Whisked away.”

“The report?”


“So you want me to discharge him.”

“I want you to get rid of him.”

“Discharge him.”

“Get rid of. Permanently.” Colms breathed out a large cloud. Watched it float over to Royal. Royal coughed again.

“That’d be murder, cyr.”

“That’d be saving our jobs, Captain.”

“Tekth didn’t file the report, Lieutenant.”

“I don’t care if he did or didn’t—it’s filed. The Falcon Knights will look into this. They’ll pry deep. Get rid of the source, and nobody’s going to care anymore. If Sergeant Tekth remains living, they question him. He either explains the report or it’s found he’s not the one who filed it . . . do you have any idea what type of shitstorm that’ll open? They’ll discharge all of us if they go digging that deep.” Colms leaned forward, elbows on his oak table, skachi withering away between his lips, dropping burned leaves over his lap.

Burning holes in his jacket. Nobody cares about his jacket.

“Discreet, Captain. It needs to be discreet. You have by the end of the week when Cyr Oxhorn arrives. You know how serious she takes these things. With nobody to question, she’ll have to leave it alone.”

Royal grunted. “What’s in the report, Clay?”


“What’s in it?”

“Damn it, Captain, proper address, now!”

“What’s in it, cyr?”

“Fuck. It shouldn’t be this difficult, Deck.”


“Mother Avani, save me.” Calling upon their goddess to save him was something Clayton Colms never did, as far as Royal knew. Means he’s shaken up. “The report, Royal, claims I’ve committed countless crimes.” You have. “Fraud, embezzlement, forgery, bribery, smuggling, fuckin’ treason, Royal.” All true. “If Tekth doesn’t disappear”—conspiracy, murder—“they’ll have somebody hanged.” You. Colms took another inhale of the skachi. “I’m not hanging, Royal. Not hanging. It’d be easy for me to shift the blame onto my closest confidant.” You fucker. “Somebody that has access to my office, the loyalty of the men, somebody who drinks himself stupid every night—unreliable—somebody who could benefit greatly from my removal. And they’ll believe me, Royal, bet your fuckin’ ass they’ll believe me.” He puffed again. “You take Sergeant Tekth somewhere quiet, get rid of him. I’ll handle the investigation whenever somebody discovers his body. I’ll just claim it’s my man, my responsibility. Everyone’ll eat that shit up.” You cold bastard.

“I’ll deal with it,” Royal said. It was the only thing he could say.


Royal nodded, stood up.

“Oh, and Royal?” Colms said, moving the rolled skachi to the other side of his mouth. “Don’t fuck me on this. I’ll make sure you lose everything, ya hear? Everything. You won’t have a single coin in your name. No alcohol. Nothing. I’ll have Reinkath pay you frequent visits.”

Asshole. The only other officer in the port town of Coldridge who drank more than Royal. He’d probably get my position.

“Oh, and I’d promote him. Just to piss you off.”

Royal narrowed his eyes. The man couldn’t read minds, Royal knew that. Colms wasn’t a Magicus. The north didn’t have mages. Too remote. Not enough need. A Healer or two, maybe.

“Is that understood, Captain?”

“Yes, Clay.”


“Colms.” Royal saluted and exited the office, ignoring the angry shouts issued from his superior.


He spent the rest of the day thinking, while neglecting his normal duties. Colms could throw Royal to the wolves, no problem. The lieutenant had plenty of allies, and near everyone who spent their time around him would vouch for the man. He was their superior, and it’d be dangerous to speak out against him—not only could Colms bar them from any military position, but the lieutenant had influence with Coldridge’s citizens.

When evening arrived, Royal entered the tavern. Instead of sitting at the normal spot he often reserved for himself and Tekth, Royal made his way to the table in the corner—a visible indication he didn’t want anyone disturbing him.

A server approached, and Royal just held up three fingers. Moments later, the server returned, setting three shots of his preferred whiskey in front of him.

He took one and threw it back. Straight down the gullet. The back of his mouth roared in fury. Warmth descended through his body. He smacked his lips and licked his whiskers. No sense in wasting it. Wiped his mouth with his jacket. Regretted the move as dried vomit flecked off and he caught a whiff of the acidic bile.

He unclasped his sword belt, letting it fall to the floor, and kicked back the chair, leaning against the wall and hiding his face in the shadows. Fuck Colms.

The door to the tavern opened, shut. Several people distributed themselves at different tables. Royal noticed his potential replacement, Reinkath, sit at the bar and Tekth looking around, then sitting at their normal spot. Fuck Colms.

Royal glanced at the two remaining shots of whiskey. His mouth watered, but he stood, gathered his sword and belt, and left the tavern, avoiding Tekth’s attention. He needed to focus on his mission rather than getting drunk. It’d be the first time in years he hadn’t gotten drunk after his shift. Fuck Colms.

He went home, lay down on his bed, captain’s jacket and boots still on—it was habit—and thought about what he needed to do.

Royal was certain Tekth hadn’t filed the report. Which meant somebody had a grudge against Colms or the Cyroki military based in Coldridge. But who?

Could it be Reinkath? Unlikely. It takes too much thought for someone lost in the drink to attempt this. Royal would know.

He ran through the other suspects in his head. Marchessa who’d complained about the lieutenant’s smoking habits. Doubtful. Adavir who had a penchant for doing criminal things, often at the behest of the lieutenant himself. That’d be a betrayal . . . Colms favors Adavir. I wouldn’t put it past the bastard, though. Hurk received daily verbal abuse from Colms. Possible. Plenty of candidates, but none that made sense to him.

It didn’t matter who wrote the report, Royal remembered. Colms specifically ordered him to get rid of Tekth, even if he didn’t report the lieutenant.

There wasn’t a person Royal cared more about than himself, or alcohol. He had morals though. To stand up for them? That was a different matter. If he stood up for them, he’d jeopardize himself. Can’t do that.

He tried to sleep but found it to be restless. Images of Tekth’s betrayed face as Royal killed him in various ways continued to surface in his dreams.


Royal woke. On this morning, unlike most others, he took the time to clean himself. He washed his jacket. Trimmed his beard. Filed his lengthened nails. He polished his boots, sword, belt buckle, and buttons on his uniform. Combed his hair, rinsed his mouth, and pinned his officer’s medal on his jacket. He hated the thing. Made him feel as if he was gloating. Determined, he marched to the barracks, to the office of Lieutenant Clayton Colms.

The door to the office was closed. Captain Decklin Hoarst, in all his glory, stormed in, and slammed the door.

“Captain,” Colms said, amid lighting a skachi leaf.


Colms looked Royal up and down. “Captain Hoarst, what the fuck is this?” He gestured at Royal’s captain’s jacket. Cleaned, polished, shined medal winking at the lieutenant.

“Professionalism, cyr. May I sit?”

Colms waved an open palm at the chair across from him and leaned forward in his chair, elbows resting on the oak table between them. “Professionalism doesn’t mean barging in here without knocking, Captain.”

“My apologies, cyr,” Royal said as he scooted the chair in, clasping his hands together and setting them on the table in front of him. Polite-like.

“Is the deed done, Captain? That’d be miraculous speed, but a damned commendable job.”

“No, cyr.”

“That is why you’re here.” It wasn’t a question.



“Well, cyr—”

“I meant proceed with the mission. I see no reason for you to be wasting your time here, Captain Hoarst.”


“Captain Royal.”

“Thank you, cyr.”

“Shut up and do your job.”

Royal clenched his jaw.

Colms sighed, inhaling a deep puff of skachi and closing his eyes. He took a breath, another, then opened them again. “Now it’s my turn to apologize, Captain. I understand the position I’ve placed you in. It’s not a good one. Fuck, it’s a terrible one. But it’s what’s necessary for the good of the town.” For the good of you. “And it’s in your best interest.” Only because you’re forcing it to be. “Complete the task, secure a significant raise, and don’t mention it again. That’s all you have to do.”

“I can’t kill Tekth.”

Sergeant Tekth.”

“It’s not right, Clay.”

The lieutenant narrowed his eyes but let that one slide. “Plenty of things aren’t right, Captain. I shouldn’t have to worry about investigations.” But you should worry. You wouldn’t worry if you weren’t doing illegal things.

“I shouldn’t have to worry about my superior stabbing me in the back and discarding me.”

Colms snarled, slamming a fist on the table. The skachi leaf, severed in half by his sudden bite, fell to the ground to smolder. “You listen here, Deck, I’ve had enough of this disobedience, this shit-starting fuckery. You have two choices. Your first one—leave here, do your damned job, and complete your task. Your second one—don’t do it and face the consequences, which will result in a lost job, no income, no booze, and very likely, a long stint in the Cyroki prison . . . if you’re not hanged for the traitorous behavior that’ll surface when this investigation begins. And I do hope, Decklin, I do so hope, that you haven’t for one second, for one fucking moment, had one split second of a thought of trying to fuck me, because I swear, I fucking swear, Decklin, I’ve already sown the seeds in my favor.” Colms pulled another leaf of skachi out of his jacket pocket, rolled it up, lit it.

“You’re a dirty bastard, Clay.”

Colms puffed twice on the skachi. “How do you think we survive in this world, Captain? By doing whatever we have to. Now go do your fucking job before I pass this”—he slammed a finger on some parchment on the table—“up the chain and you lose everything.”

“Fuck you, cyr.” Royal slipped out of his chair, pushed it in against the desk so hard it pressed the table into Colms’s stomach, ripped his medal off, and threw it at the lieutenant’s face. The medal bounced off his face, leaving a red mark.

“Get. Out. Now.”

When Royal was halfway out the door, he heard Colms call out, “And don’t you fucking come back until it’s done!”

Fuck Colms.


Outside, Royal kicked a clump of snow. He paced back and forth, furious. He wasn’t sure how much time passed during his pacing, but it was a significant length. I need to figure this out.

Royal was no murderer. He’d killed before. He’d done some things others would scoff at, sure. But to kill Sergeant Tekth? Seemed a bit out of the ordinary.

He could flee. Flee to where? Cyrok was a cold country year-round; he couldn’t disappear into the wilderness and hike to the nearest town. He’d need passage on a ship to get to another country. As a convict, that’d be near impossible to achieve.

“Captain Hoarst,” said a familiar voice, a voice Royal disdained.

He turned around and saw a man with a mustache—Blago Adavir—staring back at him.


“Walk with me, please, Captain.” Adavir’s tongue darted out and across his mustache, a habit Royal noticed the first time he’d met the man.

Adavir led Royal away from the populated section of Coldridge.

“Where are we headed, Adavir?” Royal asked after they turned down a third alleyway.

“Just a bit farther, Captain. Don’t want anyone to overhear us.”

Adavir stopped behind an old stack of empty crates. “Captain, I’m told you’re . . . resistant to current orders. I understand, I understand.” He held his hands out and shook his head, like there was nothing he could do about it. “Orders are orders though, Captain.” He retrieved a sheathed dagger from his belt. “This is your tool, cyr. Lieutenant Colms told me to give it to you. Oh, and this.” He reached into a pocket and handed Royal a silver flask. “Finest whiskey in there. Lieutenant Colms said to tell you, ‘finest whiskey in that flask, to remind you what’s at stake.’” Adavir licked his mustache, glancing up at the sky. “It’s about to snow. I better get inside. Don’t want my lips to chap.” Maybe stop licking them. Adavir smiled, retreated down the alley, and left Royal to himself.

Royal looked at the dagger, the flask. Wanted to try the alcohol, knew he’d fall down a rabbit hole if he did. Wanted to unsheathe the dagger, knew he’d fall down a rabbit hole if he did. Instead, he put the items away and headed to the tavern, vowing to read the sign. He forgot, of course.


Although it was early in the evening, Royal sat and contemplated what to do at his normal table. No food, no drink, no distractions—other than the usual annoying occupants.

Reinkath entered the tavern not long after Royal and laughed when he noticed the captain. “And here I thought I had problems, Captain!”

Royal ignored the man, and Reinkath went about his carousing with his friends.

“You sure you don’t want anything?” a server asked for the third time.

“No, I’ll wait.”

“As you say.” I’ve said it three times now.

He’d decided to complete his mission that night. The longer he waited, the worse it would become. The more guilty he’d feel, the more nervous, the more self-hatred that would show. He had to get it out of the way. Finish the job. Get Colms off his back.

When Sergeant Tekth entered, he spotted Royal immediately and grinned a wide smile. “Captain Royal, been wondering about where you were last night. Saw you at your thinking post—didn’t want to bother ya. I’ve got all the guys calling you ‘Royal’ now, you’re gonna love it.” He laughed, sat, and waved the server over. “Start with the usual triple round, Captain?”

“Yeah, that’ll work.” Royal’s hand slipped down into his pocket, grasping the hilt of the dagger Adavir had given him. He let go of it and placed his hands on the table, away from the weapon.

The server returned with their drinks, and Royal tipped one back as soon as she set the glass in front of him. Straight down the gullet. The back of his mouth roared in fury. Warmth descended through his body. He smacked his lips and licked his whiskers. No sense in wasting it. Wiped his mouth with his jacket.

“Mmm.” Tekth smacked his lips in unison with Royal. “Nothing like a spot of whiskey to warm you up in Cyrok, eh?”

“Indeed, Sergeant, indeed.”

“Something up, cyr? You seem off.”

Royal waved him away, picked up a second drink. Tekth held his drink out to toast, and Royal obliged, glasses clinking against one another before he tipped that one back too. Straight down the gullet. The back of his mouth roared in fury. Warmth descended through his body. He smacked his lips and licked his whiskers. No sense in wasting it. Wiped his mouth with his jacket.

Fuck Colms.

“So, Royal, you should stop by tomorrow, see the men. Can’t be spending all your time alone in the office with Colms, huh?” Tekth laughed, drained his third shot.

Royal followed suit. Straight down the gullet. The back of his mouth roared in fury. Warmth descended through his body. He smacked his lips and licked his whiskers. No sense in wasting it. Wiped his mouth with his jacket.

That’s enough alcohol. I can’t do this drunk. “I got something for you, Tekth.”

“Really, cyr?”

“Yes. Follow me.”

“Yes, cyr!” Tekth hopped out of his chair and fell in step behind Royal.

Mother Avani, forgive what I’m about to do. But she wouldn’t. As far as Royal could tell, Mother Avani was a tall tale meant to give people somebody to thank or somebody to curse, depending on the situation at hand.

Royal led Sergeant Tekth through the alleyways Adavir had brought Royal hours earlier. It was getting dark and cold. Most people were inside. Assuming everything went to plan, nobody would hear anything.

“Just over here,” Royal said, bringing Tekth to the stack of old crates.

“Why are we out here, cyr?”

Royal got behind the crates. “Over here, so nobody can see us.”

“What’ve you got, Royal?”

Royal pulled out the flask Colms had given him. “Finest Cyroki whiskey, given to me by Colms himself. Didn’t want anyone else in the tavern to see it. It’s just for us, Tekth.”

Tekth held out his hand. Royal handed him the flask, then reached in his pocket, grabbed the knife hilt. If I don’t do this, I lose everything. Not that Royal had anything to live for. But neither did Tekth.

Tekth tipped his head back, putting the flask to his lips.

And then it happened. Royal stabbed Tekth. Straight in the gullet. The blade went all the way through. The back of Tekth’s throat ripped open in fury. Royal retracted the dagger. Warm blood cascaded down Tekth’s body. He stared at Royal, betrayal in his eyes, a tremble in his lips. Royal looked away, smacked his lips, licked his whiskers, couldn’t find any alcohol, but there was a slight coppery taste. Some of Tekth. Blood gurgled out of the hole from the dagger. Royal wiped his mouth with his jacket. Noticed blood on the sleeve. Tekth choked, sputtered in surprise.

“I’m sorry, Tekth. Orders, you know?”

Tekth gasped, reached out at Royal, fell to his knees, and sputtered again.

Royal knelt next to the man. “I’m sorry,” he said again. He drove the dagger into Tekth’s chest.

Tekth blinked once, then collapsed.

Looking at his blood-soaked hands, Royal fell to his ass, back against the crates. He stared at Tekth’s lifeless body, blood draining into the alley. Fuck Colms.

A few moments of self-loathing and grief-ridden silence later, Royal collected his thoughts. He wiped his bloodied hands on Tekth’s trousers, retrieved his flask—now stained red—from the ground, and stood, leaving the dagger embedded in Tekth’s body. Royal tossed the sheathe into the pooling blood.

He wiped the flask as clean as he could and walked back to his home.

It would take years, and lots of alcohol, to burn Tekth’s empty stare out of Royal’s mind.


He slept. Not well and not much, but he slept.

He woke. Made himself proper. Cleaned what needed cleaning. Trimmed what needed trimming. Polished what needed polishing. He was missing his medal, though.

Royal marched to the barracks. Strangely, several Falcon Knights were outside. They didn’t come to the barracks often, unless they were conducting official business, and that wasn’t supposed to occur until the end of the week when Cyr Oxhorn was expected to arrive.

Inside the door, several more Falcon Knights had their hands on their sword hilts, calling out orders to various men. My men.

“Hey, what’s going on?” Royal asked Marchessa.

“You didn’t hear? Shit’s going down. Oxhorn’s in Lieutenant Colms’s office.”

He wrinkled his brow, confused, and approached the office. The door was open; he entered. Lieutenant Colms wasn’t present, but Cyr Oxhorn was ruffling through various parchments.

“Ah, Captain Hoarst, I presume?”

“That’s me.”

“Close the door, Captain.” He did. “Take a seat.” He did that too.

Cyr Oxhorn sat in the lieutenant’s chair. She had clipped hair, near bald, and bits of metal in various parts of her face: lip, nose, ear. Dangles and bobs that Royal figured would hurt to be pulled out.

“Captain Decklin Hoarst, are you aware of what’s transpired?” A murder?

“No, cyr.”

“Lieutenant Clayton Colms has just been arrested.”

“Because of?”

“We’ve caught him pilfering money from the military’s stores. Lining his own pockets, among a variety of other crimes. He’ll spend the rest of his life in prison, Captain.”

A knock on the door, then it opened. “Cyr?”

Cyr Oxhorn looked annoyed for a moment. “Yes?”

“A citizen discovered a body. He’s been identified as Sergeant Gamondo Tekth, one of Lieutenant Colms’s men.”

They didn’t know? What’s going on?

“I’ll be right there.”

“Cyr,” the messenger said, and closed the door.

“You came earlier than expected, Cyr,” Royal said.

“Yes, well, we wanted to catch Lieutenant Colms off guard. I’ve had other distractions keeping me from this. Any idea where Blago Adavir disappeared to? Reports suggest he stole a horse and fled town after we arrested Colms. Evidence suggests Adavir was assisting the lieutenant in plenty of criminal activity.”

They were going to arrest Colms, anyway? Fuck. I’ve killed a man for nothing. Royal closed his eyes, leaned back in the chair. Fuck. He heard his heart thumping in his chest, felt the pit of his stomach jerk. “Fuck,” he said. Fuck Colms.

“Captain, are you all right? You’ll have a new lieutenant soon, I promise.”

“I need a drink.”

“You’re sweating, Captain. You sure everything is all right?”

Royal wiped his forehead and unbuttoned the first couple buttons on his jacket. “I need a drink,” he said again.

“Captain, why don’t you take the rest of the day off? I know you were probably close with the lieutenant, but if this has affected you that much, you need some time.”

“I don’t care about the lieutenant, cyr. I knew Sergeant Tekth. Knew him very well.”

“I’m sorry for your loss, Captain.” Cyr Oxhorn retrieved a few coins, handed them over to Royal. “Go have a drink for yourself and a drink on your fallen comrade. He’s served his country well.” Until I murdered him.

“Thank you, cyr.”

Cyr Oxhorn saluted him. He saluted back.

Dismissed for the day, Royal made his way back to the tavern.

He remembered to read the sign: The Disoriented Bachelor. Royal almost laughed at the irony.

Taking a spot at the table in the corner, where he could hide his face in the shadows, he placed his feet up on the table, and waved over a server.

“I’ll take three of my normal.”

“All right.”

“And three more. In Tekth’s name.”

“I’m sorry for your friend’s—”

“Just bring me the drinks. And never mention his name to me again.”

“Right away, Royal.”

He snorted at that. The name had taken hold. Because of Tekth.

Royal drank the six shots, right in a row. Straight down the gullet. The back of his mouth roared in fury. Warmth descended through his body. He smacked his lips and licked his whiskers. No sense in wasting it. Wiped his mouth with his jacket.

He forgot the name of the tavern, and over time, he forgot about Tekth. He drowned himself in alcohol, sat at his table, alone.

He didn’t mind being alone. It was safer that way.

What did one get out of companionship, anyway? Things that one feared to lose. And Royal didn’t need those things. He had himself and his drink. For eight years, anyway.

Then, like things always did, Shit’s Blessing hit him in the face.