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Vigilante

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Daloki slips into the tavern through the woods, boots softly crackling on frostbitten leaves, and finds an isolated table. Seating herself, she beckons to one of the imps and speaks to him in a low voice, then lights a cigarette when he leaves to get the drink she ordered.

She doesn’t look around to see who’s there, just gazes toward the opposite end of the tabletop, eyes unfocused, attention all drawn inward. Her only movement is the hand with the cigarette that swings between her lips and the ashtray. When the imp brings her drink, she takes a sip, sets it down, and seems to forget about it.

There is a very bloody rag wrapped around her neck as a bandage, another around her right thigh, and a large bloodstain around a hole burned in the left side of her jacket. As if just remembering it, she unwraps the one around her neck. There is no wound. It has healed. Many enemies died to heal it.

She tosses the rag to the floor, then stubs out the cigarette. Not even 30 seconds later she lights another. An imp comes to ask her a question. She listens, then shakes her head. The imp goes back to Harry and relays her answer.

Remembering the drink, she takes a larger swallow, then sets it down and takes out a penknife. With it she begins carving words into the tabletop. The knife is small enough to let her carve with some delicacy, but the wood is hard and it takes many scrapings to make a deep enough impression for the letters to be legible.

With her attention focused on the carving, stray thoughts from others make their way into her mind, and the mental signatures of those present tell her there’s almost no one she knows here. It doesn’t matter. She only came for the drink, and for a breather in what is supposed to be a “safe” zone. It isn’t, though. Last time she was here the woodland tavern was attacked and many trees destroyed, so there is far less visual cover than there used to be. She was lucky to escape alive that night. But of all the places in Consequence, the tavern is still one of the safest.

The 40-some-year-old’s face has lines of strain that are new since Consequence was overrun, new wrinkles at the corners of her eyes, new frown lines in her forehead and around her mouth. She’s a plain-faced woman anyway; though she can look striking with the right makeup, she seldom wears it. She has no one to impress, no one for whom to look attractive.

Short black hair is wild and snarled about her head. She’s been hacking it off herself when it starts to get longer than she likes, sleeping on it when it’s wet, and generally ignoring it. It hasn’t been brushed or even combed for a week or two. Rainwater is all that has washed it.

She continues carving into the tabletop.

No longer does she wear her signature black and red clothing. She wears what she can steal in the right sizes, treasuring only her boots with their razor soles. The jacket and the t-shirt under it will have to be discarded because of the big burn hole in the side and the even bigger bloodstains, but it’s cold now and she won’t ditch them until she can find suitable replacements. The men she’s killed in the last couple of days have all been too big or too small for their clothes to fit her. She’ll have to hunt somebody down soon just because of his size. There’s no shortage of bad guys, but lately none of them have worn 31/34 pants or nondescript size M t-shirts. A t-shirt that has a gang name emblazoned on it is not usable.

The rag bandage on her thigh covers a fully healed wound, but it also holds the jeans she’s wearing together, which is why she hasn’t removed it.

Many cigarettes later, her glass is empty and the carving is finished. She sweeps shavings and splinters away, regards her work, then gets up and slips back out into the woods.

On the table where she was sitting these words are carved: “DAMN YOU ROBERT ODDMAN.”

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