The elderly man’s eyes went wide as Brehan grabbed his hair from behind, jerking his head backwards over the chair’s rich leather backing. His scream was cut short by the feel of her blade, thin and precise, against his windpipe.

Her anger was almost palpable, dripping from every enunciated whisper as her lips grazed his ear. “You may be the mayor of this dying town, alone in the wasteland and beset by enemies on all sides—and survival is something I understand all too keenly—but there are lines you do not cross.

“Putting aside the very nature of hospitality,” she continued, the tip of her dagger tracing red welts against his quivering flesh, “you should know better than to try and betray people who have survived, unaided, in this blasted realm you call home. You should have known better than to try and betray me.”

A small prick to punctuate her point elicited a growing bead of dark crimson blood, threatening to succumb to gravity and trace down his well-shaven neck.

Brehan’s companion, a small goblin named Boink, stood concealed just outside the doorway to the mayor’s study, his own eyes wide with horror at the scene playing out before him. Brehan wasn’t necessarily a “good” person, or even a “nice” one most of the time, but she was light on her feet and light with her fingers, and he thought they had formed a good working relationship over the past few months of plane-hopping.

He started to think he didn’t know her half as well as he should.

“We heard your little chat with the Lord of Blades,” Brehan continued, ignoring her skulking partner, who had joined her on a late-night exploration of the village while their other—and more law-abiding—companions slept. “We heard you give your assurance that we would be turned over to him, dressed like Winterfeast turkeys, all so he would leave this little hamlet alone for another season, to overlook your little township in the middle of his dominion when it came time for him to conscript more soldiers.”

“Please—“ the mayor croaked through suddenly-dry lips.

“Yes, yes, I’m sure it was the only way you could guarantee the survival of your people, blah blah,” Brehan rolled her eyes, cutting him off with another jerk of his hair. “I’m sorry to say you’re not very good at this game, and now you’ve found yourself with two opposing dangers. This one, however, may be a bit more pressing.”

The droplet of blood ran down the blade of her knife, leaving a red streak against his flesh. Another started to form in its place.

“It isn’t the providence of powerful people to make threats, you see. Threats make people angry, and angry people lash out. Truly powerful people get what they want without having to make threats, because of the implication—everyone understands what will happen if they don’t get their way.

“I’ll make an exception for you, though, since obviously you don’t know who I am. Had you known, you never would have dared.

“If you so much as deny my party anything they ask for, or speak or think an errant word,” she poked again with the knife, drawing a new bloody pore just next to the first, “I will call down a fire so hot the very stones of your home will melt. There will be nothing left of you, your people, or anything you have ever accomplished in life—nothing save the barest of ashes, which will be cast to the four winds that no more remembrance may be had of you among men or beasts forever.

“I won’t just kill you, mayor,” she hissed, “I’ll kill the very idea of you. Only the anguish of your final moments will remain, scoured into the very earth itself such that, hundreds of years from now, travelers upon this spot will get a cold chill in their bones and know not why.”

Boink couldn’t believe the horrible, terrible things Brehan was promising. Usually the gregarious and Solarys did all the group’s talking, even when things threatened to get rough; this is more than he had heard Brehan say in any one conversation, and certainly the darkest and vilest, and she wasn’t yet done.

“Through your little crystal ball there you spoke with your ‘immortal’ Lord of Blades, right? And you saw his face? Do you know why he now bears a scar across his lips, splitting his smile? Because I put it there.

Quick as a jayhen she flipped the dagger around, catching it backhanded, the tip resting atop the mayor’s rich doublet, right over his heart, in the soft spot between his ribs.

“Play games with me?” She half-sneered, half-snarled in his ear. “You have no idea what I’m capable of, what I’ve survived, and how many bodies I’ve climbed over to get where I am today.

“You—this whole village—would just be another for the pyre.”

Releasing his hair and disappearing the dagger back into her softly-lined coat, Brehan all but melted in shadow back to the doorway, the only sounds those of the mayor’s shallow, gasping breaths and the popping of fresh firewood in the hearth.

“What was that?” whispered Boink, incredulous at the threatening display.