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"So the good news is, someone wants you dead," Degan said, wiping his blade clean with the cloak of one of my would-be assassins.

Needless to say, the guy wasn't in any position to object.

"Your definition of that term and mine are very different," I said. Sure, I'd figured that sticking my nose into Bert the Back's business wouldn't make me any new friends, but I hadn't exactly counted on finding three Cutters lying in wait for me on my way home.

Degan hadn't either, but lucky for me, he'd decided to join me for a night out. While I'd still been standing there wondering what the hell was going on, he'd already disarmed his first opponent.

The fight hadn't lasted very long after that. Two Cutters, no matter how good they were, didn't stand a chance against a degan. Having seen the way he'd dealt with their friend probably hadn't helped.

By the time I was in any state to make a contribution to the fight, it was over already.

"If Bert's sending Cutters after you already, you must be making him nervous."

"What do you mean: already?" I'd been careful. Not because I was worried about repercussions, but because when you deal in information, there's rarely any profit in pissing off people when you don't have to. You never know when you might need them to tell you something.

Of course, that didn't mean there weren't still plenty of people who felt less than kindly towards me. It happens, in my line of work. I tend not to think about it too much, unless, as tonight, someone'd decided to express their feelings in a more substantial form.

"In order to annoy people to the point where they want to kill you, you usually need to have met them at least once," Degan explained.

"What happened to my making him nervous?"

"I opted for the more likely explanation." Degan sheathed his sword. "After all, it's not as if you found out anything particularly interesting."

"Yet." Biting down on an ahrani seed, I considered Degan's point. Depending on whom you talked to, Bert's nickname referred either to the body part he preferred to stick a blade in, or the type of room where he preferred to make his deals.

Nicco'd been considering moving in on one of his operations, which meant I got to seek out Bert's nearest and dearest - or anyone who might know something useful.

Degan shrugged. "You think this was just a pre-emptive strike? Trying to dust you's only going to piss off Nicco, possibly to the point where he won't bother sending another Nose. The Back must know that."

Nicco didn't have much of a reputation for patience. Or an even temper.

"So you're thinking it's someone else who wants me dead?"

Degan smirked.

"Someone else who sent these guys?" I corrected myself, already going over the options in my mind and coming up with a blank. "Too bad we can't talk to them anymore."

"If you wanted one of them alive, you should have said something. I'd have been happy to oblige."

No point in mentioning I'd been too surprised to so much as draw a knife to defend myself - not that any of them had come close enough to make that necessary.

Which begged the question of who would send three Cutters after me without telling them about Degan. Granted, if I'd been by myself, I might have managed to do some damage and get away, but it would have been a close thing.

I sighed. "I don't suppose you recognize any of them."

"Afraid not," Degan said. "Which might mean they were new in town."

"Fresh talent?" Plenty of people came to Ildrecca, looking to make their fortune - or at least a better living than the one they'd left behind. Some succeeded, some didn't.

"I'm not sure that I'd call them 'talent', exactly."

"That still doesn't tell me anything about who sent them."

Degan shrugged. "Alas."

"Nicco's going to want a name." Not to mention that I did, too.

Next time, there might be more of them, and I might be alone.

"Why not give him the Back?" Degan said. "At the very least, it should leave you free to do a bit asking around on your own."

"It feels wrong. I don't know for sure that he's the one behind this."

Degan shrugged again. "Someone else you don't mind going dustmans, then?"

"Same." Not that I wasn't tempted, but ... no.

"Then I guess you're going to have a busy few days ahead of you," Degan said.

Nicco wouldn't consider an attempt to dust me an excuse not to come up with results. If anything, he'd want them faster. If Nicco didn't come down hard on someone trying to cut his Nose, people might begin to think he'd gone soft. Weak. That he wasn't as on top of things as he liked to act like he was.

I sighed. "Will you ... ?"

"Watch your back and make sure you live to make a nuisance of yourself another day? Of course."

"Thanks."

If only I'd be able to solve all of my problems so easily.