The cell door gave an ear-splitting creak, and several muddy boots tromped through it. Fuze stirred.

He wasn’t altogether surprised that the constable’s entire posse might show up to drag him to the hall for judgment. He had given the town quite the show last night with the rip-roaring drunken brawl that had started in the Hunt & Pint and had spilled out into the street. All in good fun, of course. You haven’t really seen a place until you know for sure what can get the locals to throw punches.

What Fuze was surprised to see, when he rolled over, was that it was neither the constable nor his posse that loomed over him in little jailhouse.

Their armor was far too nice. Polished to a shine. Their bearing rigid—a lifetime at attention. Their faces shaven, hair cropped and tied.

Their breastplates were emblazoned with with the sigil of House Deneith.

Their leader, a stately, veteran woman, held up a small obsidian ring in her hand for Fuze to see.

Oh, shit.

Fuze sized up the new arrivals—four, with swords at their hips, shields on their backs, and knightly plate armor from head to toe—and let the hangover wash over his demeanor to buy some time. The captain clearly knew what that little ring was: a Black Band of Loyalty, seized from its hiding place in Fuze’s boot last night by the constables who “just needed to be sure”. Fuze had grumbled about it, though it had been no real matter at the time. But now, the woman who held it knew that few people ever come into the possession of such a thing. She knew what Fuze must be. What did she want? She was Deneith. Mercenary. She could want anything for the right price.

She stood there, regarding Fuze with amusement. He thought maybe there was some cruelty in her expression.

“Yer, uh, the new sheriff?”

She chuckled. It did have a cruel bite.

“No, and you’re not a drunkard.”

“Tell that to my aching head,” pouted Fuze.

The man on the woman’s right flank cut in, his voice a steady hum. “The lady is not so merciless as you think, nor her ideals so lowly. I pray you hear her counsel.”

Fuze slowly sat up, scowling at the man. He had to seize the initiative on this conversation somehow. He flailed, but found no foothold.

“So if yer not here for a trial, are ye’ here to join me? Not much bedspace. Guess I could be a gentleman and take the floor tonight.”

The woman rolled her eyes and lofted the ring at Fuze, who caught it and reflexively jammed it into his boot.

“No. I am here for you. That ring is a promise to somebody very important. Who? The Flame? The Citadel? Do not keep me waiting.”

Fuze groaned. So much for the initiative. And this was going to be hard to weasel out of. Which would be better to tell her… the truth or the lie?

“He’s a defector,” mused the eerily calm man on her right flank.

Fuze’s gaze whipped back to him, and it was all he could do to not smack himself in the forehead. Of course. A Practitioner, reading Fuze’s surface thoughts. You never interrogate a spy without one. The Deneith woman was no fool.

In interrogations like this, it is the truth, or it is death. Fuze decided to give truth a shot.

“Aye. I’m a defector. Brelish. I usually tell people I’m Aundairian military, discharged in the draw-down. Really, I’m nobody now. I left because all you sodden cunts want to do is kill. You pretend it matters who you kill, but it usually doesn’t.”

The woman’s hand drifted to the hilt of her sword.

“Is that what you believe? If it matters not whom I kill, should it not be yourself next?”

“I suppose it should.”

“So stubborn. You stall to avoid hearing what I have to say. Why?” she sighed.

Fuze finally felt like he had the initiative. The Practitioner chuckled. Fuze gave him a nasty glare.

“This: I don’t want it. You think I can be useful to you. I don’t want to fall in with you mercenaries. I’d rather piss in this cell for a week, do some community service, and buy the lads and lasses at the Hunt a round or two on the way out of town. Then they never see me again.”

“Changeling,” the practitioner posited.

“Gods damnit, man,” spat Fuze.

“Multiple personas. This is the… surly one.”

“I see. I want to meet you,” declared the woman.

Fuze froze. Changelings, generally, try to avoid the Big Reveal, the little moment when their counterparty discovers that they are many-skinned, possessing an innate talent for expression… and deception. It’s the talent for deception that concerns people. The Big Reveal often turns out to be quite nasty.

This was a Big Reveal of a sort Fuze had never experienced.

“I dare say ye ‘ave,” he mumbled. “Tinker. Brawler. Drunk. AWOL. Living for the day. Resentful of you lot. Name’s Fuze.”

“Mauriana d’Deneith. I want to meet you. This is a front, no? I am not so easily fooled as to think this is all you are.”

“Wrong and right, Deneith. It’s no front. But it’s also not all I am.”

Mauriana blinked, and instead of a rough, dark-skinned, bearded bar brawler, a fair young lady sat before her, dark hair immaculately cut in a trendy Aundairian bob.

“Fen. World traveler. Martial artist. Deadly in a game of cards.”


“AWOL. Living for the day. Mistrustful of soldiery. I’m afraid I’m still not interested in any engagements,” Fen shrugged. “I’ll be more polite about it than Fuze was, but it’s the same me under here.”

“Listen. I ask you to listen, not for me, but for Khorvaire.”

Fen tossed her hair impatiently. “Isn’t that what they all…”

“Fen. Fuze. Whoever. War is coming. I am looking for the people who can stop it.”