A Conspiracy of Five
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The tavern is nearing closing hours, its tables vacant save for a few straggler drunkards emptying the last of their ale. Outside, rain pours softly, rhythmically thumping against the wooden roof. Employees turn off the lights one by one, slowly sinking the small archipelago of candle-lit spaces in a sea of darkness.

A sepulchral silence reigns in Wotan's Stool, the most popular tavern in New Ravenshire. No goblin bard plays his instrument on stage, no siren starlet sings to enchant our souls. Our only music is the rain outside and the crackling of the chimney's fire, where a fat salamander dozes off in tranquil slumber.

I wish I was so lucky. Right now, I could be basking on the sunny lakes of El Dorado or getting wasted on Tír na nÓg. Instead, I'm here waiting for my new job to take off.

This ain't my first gig on New Ravenshire. It being the largest interspecies city this side of the Rhine, there's always someone putting a job together, someone in need of my services. Sabotage, assassinations, espionage. You name it, I'll do it… if you can pay my fee.

One rule, though: I work alone. I don't do it just to boast: it's kept my ass out of prison and my Name from the Unseelie Court for the better part of a decade. No inept partners, no traitors to rat me out, no splitting the paycheck. Stick with yourself and you just might make it alive.

At least, that used to be my rule. Find me a big enough paycheck and I'll be lenient with you. Con dinero baila el perro, my grandmother used to say. She didn't know just how right she was.

There are five of us.

Five we are, five we shall be.

Don't ask me why, I'm just here for the money. Ask the starfish man, the Fanatic who hired us and brought us to New Ravenshire. His forehead is tattooed with a red five-pointed star, a large eye inscribed at its very center. It looks so grotesque I swear it's about to blink and stare at me. Right now, he's rambling some unintelligible babble about sacred numbers and cosmic starfishes. Half of what he says borders on madness, but I won't complain. He pays me enough to break my own rule, so he's got the right to believe whatever bullshit he wants.

I look around at the other members of the operation, at this disparate crew of ours.

There's the Engineer, a dark-skinned man whose eyes dart constantly, as if afraid of something hiding in the shadows. He's a former ORIA operative. After the Immortal Empire assimilated Earth, ORIA, like IJAMEA and the UIU, got turned into a mixed-species task force for “anomalous communities” on their respective nations. The Engineer won't have any of it. Too many years fighting djinni just to have mankind befriend them. Tough luck. His skill with explosives and electronics is key to the fulfillment of our mission.

There's the Paladin, a tall, bulky redheaded woman who smokes nonstop and could send a yeti back to Shangri-La with a single punch. She's spent the entire evening looking disgustedly at every elf, gnome and leprechaun that crosses her sight. She's a gunrunner and a smuggler, born and bred in a family of Global Occult Coalition operatives. When the GOC reformed into the Department for the Cooperation of Terran Species, half her family was executed for crimes against some godforsaken kingdom of sapient animals, so she has more investment in this than most of us. She's gladly provided us with more anomalous weapons that we could have ever wished for.

There's the Savant, a man who imprudently introduced himself to me as “Frank.” Supposedly has experience dealing with kappa out in the Mongolian wilderness, but he skims over the details. I'm starting to think the codename's ironic. He's a telepath, or so the Fanatic claimed, and has attempted to demonstrate a degree of telekinetic abilities to me by lifting his glass with his mind for over an hour, with little success. He's in charge of scanning our target for any cognitohazards and, if necessary, getting his brains fried for the mission's success. I have trouble believing he'll be any help.

And lastly, there's me, the Sniper. I'm the one that pulls the trigger, the one that lands the bullet. What more's to tell about my role?

The Fanatic speaks enthusiastically. He's got good news he could not risk telling us via holopad. Too many ears listening, too many eyes gazing in from beyond. As he speaks, he has difficulty maintaining a low voice. He's burning with excitement, and it's almost contagious.

From his robes, the Fifthist zealot takes out a small vial of reinforced crystal and holds it under candlelight, making everyone gasp with apprehension. Within is a viscous liquid the color of a dying sun. It writhes and squirms, pushing against the vial's interior as if trying to escape. It almost looks like a living being, full of rage and hatred, waiting to be unleashed.

We all know what that thing is.

The Red Death.

The weapon the Galactic Triumvirate used to wipe out the Krolovar Incursion. A programmable virus that infects and kills its target in a matter of minutes: a weapon for the slaughter of billions. In its current state, it's harmless, sterile. Programmed, it will kill any species whose DNA has been uploaded into its wetware.

I've heard of mass-murderers and terrorists trying unsuccessfully to get their hands on this stuff. The Triumvirate made sure to destroy any surviving samples to prevent its further use. And yet here it is, in the hands of the Fanatic.

Silence reigns as the tattooed man continues toying with the instrument of death.

We all know what this means, though none of us say a word: the job is a go.

Tomorrow we'll take the next hyper-train to Athens.

I guess I should be excited.

It's not every day that I get to shoot a god.

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