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Five for Iron

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"The search team is back from Magdin,” said Jin.

I looked up from watching two of the crew repair a leak in the envelope, fixed my eyes on his, and willed him to elaborate without my having to ask for once. The wind whipped his hair back as he approached the railing, his spear over his shoulder. It glinted weakly for a moment, as we passed through a thin patch in the clouds.

Apparently today wasn’t the day he started giving straight answers. “Any casualties?”

“None. A few minor injuries and depleted Auras, though—there were a hell of a lot of Grimm still prowling around.”

“Any survivors?”

“None that they found. There were signs that a few people broke out and fled, but apparently they didn’t get far. They did find horses in the town, all either crippled or headless—wouldn’t have done them any good.”

I sighed. “Did Murrey manage to gather any hard information, or did they have to spend the whole time fighting off Grimm?”

“Plenty of photos, and some evidence that the attack took place on the ninth of last month. Things like calendars and business ledgers stopped then.” He hesitated. “The…condition of the corpses more or less lined up with that date, too. So they buried what they could find, and cached some personal effects in one of the less damaged buildings, in case any surviving relatives turn up.”

“Good.” One last thing occurred to me. “Is there any question about how it happened?”

“No, it was clearly Grimm. Most of the bodies were in too bad a shape to say for sure how they’d died, but there were a few…” He trailed off and shook his head. “No boot prints, shell casings, or other signs of living attackers. There were bullet holes here and there, but they had all been made by the defenders firing outward. Murrey was adamant about how thoroughly her team had gone over the place, and everything they found pointed to Grimm.”

It wasn’t the first time this had happened. Magdin had done a good job of defending itself for over a year, throwing off four good-sized attacks that I knew of…but this one had been more than they could handle.

They should have taken us up on our offer. Being proven right held no satisfaction for me when it meant that so many people were dead.

Over the wind, I caught the faint calls of gulls from the coast.

Jin planted his spear quietly on the deck, and waved to get my attention. “Weld has some good news, though: we’ve heard back from Velay’s town circle. The rumors about the White Fang’s new leadership have finally reached them, and they’re getting scared. They want to negotiate a new contract, for a permanent contingent of one or two squads.”

I whistled. We could probably afford that, unless an all-out war erupted between the kingdoms and threatened every single one of our other clients, but it was going to cost them. “Why would Velay be worried about the Fang? I thought they were eighty percent Faunus.”

“Eighty-three. Some Velaysians did go off to join them a few years back, but if their message is to be believed, anyone still in the town who agrees with the direction the Fang is taking now is being damn quiet about it. They’ve sent ‘recruiters’ into the area, and the circle wants someone watching their backs if things get heated.”

“‘It’s a nice town you got here,’” I said in a nasal voice, adjusting my hat meaningfully. “‘Be a shame if someone were to picket in front of it.’”

“Or firebomb it,” said Jin, either ignoring the sarcasm or failing to notice it. Even after three years of marriage, I couldn’t always tell. “Or sneak into it on a cloudy night and cut the throats of a few public figures while they slept.”

I grimaced. “Strange, to think about them going to those kinds of extremes.”

“It is. I suppose the kingdoms mostly have themselves to thank, for not taking them seriously before.” He peered over the railing, through the mist to the peatlands below. “But if it feeds the crew, I guess their loss is our gain.”