I stood frozen, paralyzed beyond even terror. What would they do? I was injured, weakened. I couldn’t hold back a mob. And even if I wasn’t attacked, I’d been revealed as a monster before a crowd of the people I’d been trying to lead and persuade. Whoever hadn’t been around to witness the fight between me and Gog would surely hear of what had happened before the day was over. Likely before the hour, even. What would they think when they learned that their would-be leader wasn’t even human, was a green-skinned monster?
A man surged forward, tall but thin with stringy hair and a glassy look to his eyes. I recognized him from one of the taverns I’d been at earlier. He’d been drunk when I’d arrived there, and he’d responded passionately to everything that was shouted in his presence. I thought that passion like that would be a valuable trait in trying to turn Greystone against Osman. Now I saw that that same passion was about to club me between the eyes.
The man walked unsteadily up to me, his face twisted up in unfocused anger. He stared me in the eyes, and I held his gaze. I wouldn’t strike first. The crowd was still hesitating, and if I made the first move, they’d surely leap screaming into action. The man took a deep breath. He looked down and spat. And then he threw his arms around me.
“This is my brother!” he slurred. “This is my brother! This man stood up to thugs and criminals and… and… “ He turned and kicked at Gog’s corpse, slipped and lost his balance, quickly recovered. Laughter went through the crowd. “To hell with you, you greedy bastard! Food for the worms, that’s all you are now!” He grabbed my hand raised it up to the sky. “Coalheart has shown us the way! Our city! Our aurum! Our people!” At that, a cheer went through the crowd.
And then a bolt went through the man’s neck.
The crowd continued to cheer, most of them unaware of what had happened. The man’s eyes went wide. A wet gurgle escaped his mouth as blood bubbled out of the wound in his neck. I stared in surprise. The man stared at me helplessly, and then his eyes rolled back in his head and he collapsed.
The people at the front of the crowd screamed. They pulled back, crashing into each other, getting in each other’s way. Panicked animals on the verge of a stampede. I moved for cover, throwing my arms up to protect my head and neck even as I tried to imagine how the dead man had fallen, the way he twisted and turned, so I could figure out where the arrow had come from.
Behind and above me. The rooftops. I turned and looked even as I ran and I saw him there, tall and lean and perched on a roof like some great bird of prey. Osman.
There was a crossbow in his hands, but no glint of metal at the tip. He hadn’t reloaded since firing that first bolt. Why? I tried to imagine what expression I would find on his face if I could see it.
I settled on a smirk.
“And this, citizens of Greystone,” Osman bellowed, “is what happens when you let an outsider come and tell you how to live your lives! This is what happens when you forget your place! This is what happens when stop believing for even one second that the Unblinking Eye controls this city and everyone in it!” He laughed, a cold harsh laugh with no humor in it. “Tell me, Greystone! What do you think will happen if you don’t turn on this outsider and tear him to pieces? Tell me, what do you think his life is worth? I know. Oh, I know.”
There was a pause. I watched Osman closely, trying to make out his features. There was a flash of white on his face, and I realized he was grinning.
“Twenty sovereigns to the man who teaches this filthy bastard what we do to troublemakers in my city!”