On the Razor's Edge Online - Michael Flynn Page 0,1

Bridget ban, some because they expected an intriguing quest, some perhaps to gloat over whatever matter had impelled her cry for help. The men and women of the Kennel were a varied lot, and rivaly for status was not unknown among them.

The ancient Hound na Fir Li had sent his regrets and his senior Pup, a thin, hawk-faced young man of olive complexion who bore the name Obligado. The Pup moved with an economy of motion, and gave the impression that he skimmed a half thumb above the floorboards. He spoke little, but listened much; and Bridget ban marked that a point in his favor.

Grimpen arrived, too. He had just completed a small matter involving the pirates of the Hadramoo, having toppled the government of New Constancy on Abyalon, captured an agent of the People of Foreganger, and assassinated both the Molnar and his chief of auguries over the old business of the Merry v Starinu.

“A man in his cups,” Grimpen rumbled while the gathered Hounds enjoyed drinks and stories, “should take care which crimes he confesses, and to whom, for his boon companion may prove not merely judge, but executioner as well.” Grimpen had a laugh like an earthquake just before the rocks shear.

His glass was nearly lost in his massive fist, while that of Graceful Bintsaif seemed almost too large for hers. Tall, and lean as a whippet, the junior Hound seemed constantly to strain against an unseen leash. “Do you know what sort of killing machine the People sent?” she asked.

Grimpen’s head tolled. “No. I know only that it never arrived, so the Molnar had the pleasure to deal with me instead of the People. One day, the Ardry will need to take a fleet into the Cynthia Cluster and root them out, tooth-and-toenail. And maybe deal with Foreganger, too.”

Graceful Bintsaif glanced toward Bridget ban, who held the other end of her metaphorical leash, and gave a slight nod. Grimpen’s story confirmed part of a tale they had already heard.

“So what is such mysterious mission you propose us?” asked Anubis. His facial hair was very dark brown and his nose and mouth thrust prominently forward. The gene-wrights of the long ago, when knowledge had passed for wisdom, had engineered his ancestors for cleverness; but a tangling of genes had carried with it a distinctive, foxlike countenance, so that all men noted that here was a clever one and so responded with heightened wariness. His parents had come to the Periphery as refugees and he spoke still with a Confederal accent.

Bridget ban swirled and patted him on the cheek. “Oh, a grand quest, darling, but we are not all here yet.” The numbing fear had turned her heart to ice and her stomach to knots, but she would not show her colleagues any but blithe assurance.

Black Shuck scanned the room. “Grand enough,” he said, “to call so many.” His words came out flour fine: a sweet voice for so rough visaged a man. He was not so large as Grimpen, nor so clever as Anubis. Neither could he match Bridget ban for seduction. He was second-best at everything. But he was second-best at everything and even his most jealous rivals admitted that he was Top Dog.

“Gideon’s band, darlin’,” Cŵn Annŵn told him. She was a robust thing, even standing before the broad-shouldered Shuck as she did. There was Jugurthan in her genes, so that while she appeared wide and dumpy, it was muscle-firm down to the bone. “Gideon’s band,” she said again, this time herself looking about the room. “Our hostess rounded up a passel in hope of brandin’ a few. She don’t ’spect everyone here to join her.” Her voice drawled in the lazy accents of Great Wally on Megranome.

“Perhaps she expects only me,” declared a silvered throat from the doorway. Conversation ceased abruptly across the room, and one or two of the gathered Hounds visibly shivered. It was a sweet voice that chilled the heart. Even Black Shuck shifted from foot to foot before facing the newcomer.

The woman wore black diaphanous robes girt at a high waist with a silver cincture. A silver-and-turquoise scapular hung from her neck. Her black hair was clipped short and lacquered so that it formed a sort of helmet for her otherwise-uncrowned head. Her lips blossomed scarlet; her fingers rang with drizzle-jewels. Altogether, a striking presence, and not merely because of her cobralike poise. It was a look to die for, and many had.

Matilda of the Night.

When she stepped into the