The Prince's Due"Eh?" The City Watchwoman turned her nose down at me. "You mishear, Ursyklon?"
I winced. She had her hand on her pistol. I gripped tight to the box. "We've had a bad month-"
"You know, it's collection time." The City Watchwoman shook her head. "The Prince calls his due for people on this street."
I winced. "I..."
"Do I have to make this serious for you?" The woman brushed back a lock of her dark Tomasi hair. I saw scars on her neck. I knew the price for not working back in the Wolf Quarter. The City Watch always squeezed for some sphinxes each month.
I never was the fighter my littermates had been. Price of being the runt. Instead, I pulled out a ring. I held it up where the human could see. She grabbed my hand with hers. I tried not to whine as she gripped it hard.
"What's this?" She asked. It felt like she was about to rip my arm out of my socket.
"A family heirloom." I closed my eyes. "A bit of magic. What I got left."
The City Watch woman smiled. She let go of me. She pocketed the ring.
"There you go." She told me, speaking as if I were a child she had been scolding. "See how much easier it is when you work with one of the families? Prince will always reward you, if you pay your due."
The Loyal Families.
Crux's City Watch trace their origins to the time of the city's founding. They had been a collection of knighthoods. Individual families, each rewarded for their loyalty to the Prince. Each family runs their own promised part of the City Watch.
The City Watch has passed from father to son, mother to daughter. Entire bloodlines granted the title of City Watch. But they aren't just the muscle that keeps the Prince's decrees.
The City Watch also collects money. Each month the Prince requires each Family to render a due to the Prince's coffers. They collect whatever way they can. So each Family has its own methods. Because they have the means, the weapons and the personpower, Crux's City Watch are the largest criminal operations on the Maru Sea.
Crimes the City Watch engage in, ranges from smuggling to protection rackets throughout Crux. They always make the due they owe the Prince. If anything, each Family seems paranoid about missing payments. Some City Watch whisper what horrible things happen to those who miss a payment. Things have snuffed out entire in the dead of the night family lines. Forgotten City Watchfolk, whose bodies surface in the Locke or Cross rivers.
The Families tell their most frightening stories about the guild that kills those unable to pay. The one that is never spoken of but in the most dread of whispers. The Firewalkers.
Fire Walkers.No one knows anything specific about who the Fire Walkers are. Once every twenty or so years, their guild reemerges to collect thousands of books. The subjects vary, but they always ask questions about texts. If the book is guilty, they take it and burn it.
"Does this speak of Arde?"
"Which nothing does it refer to?"
"Which history of Ranza is it?"
The Esoterium Machina has spent the better part of two centuries try to stop the practice. But the ever secretive Fire Walkers are only seen in rare instances. They are assassins first. They deal in shadows for the Prince.
But the Tengu claim they aren't people. Tengu tell that the Firewalkers are flames that wear the forms of men. That their bodies were cursed by something foul.
The Ursyklon have never liked the Firewalkers. They always preferring to hide rather than see feel their burning presence. The Inculti, the fire vampyres, though, feel a kinship to them. The Inculti often aid the Fire Walkers if asked.
The Firewalkers never touch the soil of Poorfellows. That island in the Sleeping Straits seems to keep them at bay. Whatever it is, it hasn't kept them from using others to collect their due of books every twenty years.