Dan Willis

The Survivors


Councilman Axeblade

Bradok Axeblade rose early on the morning of his first day as a member of Ironroot’s city council. If he’d known how short his tenure as a councilman would be, he wouldn’t have spent so much time dressing for the occasion.

As it was, Bradok bathed and trimmed his beard. A jeweler by profession, Bradok kept his beard short so it would not interfere with his work. Some thought it un-dwarflike, but Bradok paid them no mind. His work brought him wealth, and his wealth brought him position, and that suited Bradok just fine.

He donned his best white shirt and green pants held in place by suspenders. The fabric was something made by humans that felt like silk but wore better. Bradok could afford silk, of course, but he preferred a little bit of practicality even in the most ostentatious of displays.

With the skill and precision of someone used to working with small things, he expertly fastened his shirt studs and cufflinks. Each tiny metal device had been wrought in gold with a deeply green emerald for a cap. Bradok fancied they matched his eyes.

He bound his brown hair back with a silver clip and selected a vest of a particularly vibrant red with gold trim.

A grating voice cut through Bradok’s thoughts. “Are you going to just stand there, preening in front of the mirror, or are you coming?”

Bradok glanced at the door to his room where an elegantly dressed woman stood. She had distinctly blue eyes and hair that had once been blonde but had grayed to platinum over the years. Her clothes were the finest Bradok’s money could buy: a long lavender silk dress with a green vest and a necklace of gray pearls separated by gold links that shimmered like smoke against her neck.

Bradok felt a momentary surge of pride when he saw the necklace. The piece was one of his designs.

“Don’t worry, mother,” he said, the words sounding as if a heavy weight rested on them. “The session starts promptly at nine, which means that most of the councilors won’t be there till ten.”

“You should still be on time,” his mother said, her voice softening a bit. “Others might take being late as a sign of weakness.” She smiled and strode across the room. “You can’t afford to appear weak on your first day as a councilman of Ironroot.”

Bradok fastened his heavy gold watch to a chain that extended through the buttonhole of his vest and dropped the watch into his pocket. His mother picked up the formal long-coat from Bradok’s bed and held it out for him. The coat had a dark green color to it, except where the cuffs and collar revealed a burgundy silk lining.

“There,” his mother said as Bradok settled the coat over his shoulders and buttoned it. “Now you look like the leader of a city.”

As he examined himself in the glass, he caught his mother’s face as she brushed a stray piece of lint from the coat. The fire of greed burned in her eyes and, with a pain like a punch in the gut, Bradok realized his newly- exalted position was the cause. It could have been anyone standing in his place in the vest and long-coat, and she’d look the same-so long as that person was a new councilman, about to enter the political worlds of power and privilege. Nothing in that look spoke of a mother’s love for a son.

“I’m already a respected citizen, Mother,” Bradok said, irritation in his voice.

“Bah,” she said, needlessly straightening his jacket. “Who are you for people to respect? You’re a tradesman.” She made the word sound like a curse.

“I’m one of the richest dwarves in Ironroot,” he protested.

“Wealth may breed envy, Bradok,” she said, “but only power can command respect. Your father-rest his soul-tried so hard to teach you that. It’s a shame that only his death could get through to you.”

Bradok rolled his eyes, careful not to let his mother see.

“Let’s go, Mother,” he said, making a show of checking his pocket watch. “We don’t want to be late.”

Bradok took his mother’s arm, and they left the room. His work allowed him to live in one of the nicest houses in Ironroot, right off the main cavern. It had carpeted floors and paneled walls, with a dozen bedrooms and many rooms for entertaining. In the basement the builder had even tapped into a natural hot spring to make a pond for bathing.

Despite the luxury, however, Bradok rarely entertained. His friends were too common for his mother’s tastes, and her own friends made him vacillate between the consideration of suicide and homicide.

They walked down the long hall, past Bradok’s library and the room his mother had been using for the past month. A massive crystal chandelier hung above the grand staircase, casting amber light onto the tiled foyer below. An immaculately-dressed servant opened the door as Bradok led his mother past, and he felt the eternally cool air of Ironroot wash over him.

His door led into Mattock Street, a quiet lane of rich houses and mostly old money. Neatly-laid cobbles defined the street itself, with sidewalks of broad, flat paving stones on each side. Bright sunlight flooded the street, despite its being more than a mile underground, thanks to a vein of crystal stretching upward from the roof of the cave to the surface above. Crystal lighting like that used to be common in dwarven settlements, but the trick of growing the crystals had been lost in more recent times. That left Mattock Street an oddity in Ironroot, a bright spot with gardens and flowers and green plants in front of every house.

On the sidewalk, at the base of Bradok’s steps, stood a richly dressed dwarf, basking in the golden light of the morning. He stood a good two inches shorter than Bradok, and he bore the lines of years in his face. His nose was bent, and his hair and beard were gray, but he had a liveliness about him that defied the appearance of age. His clothes were similar to Bradok’s, and he wore a ring on his right hand that carried a diamond the size of a marble. An enormous handlebar mustache hung, seemingly weightless, below the bent nose and it twisted upward as the mouth below it broke into a broad smile.

“Bradok, my boy,” he said as Bradok descended into the light. “How are you? I see you’ve brought that pretty sister of yours.” The elder dwarf smiled ingratiatingly at Bradok’s mother and inclined his head. “Sapphire,” he said.

Bradok’s mother smiled and inclined her head in return.

“Much Hollowblade,” Bradok said, extending his arm for the dwarf to clasp. “It’s been too long.”

“Not that long,” Much said, turning and walking with Bradok and Sapphire. “I think I saw you last at your father’s funeral. That was just a month gone.”

Bradok grimaced-not at the memory of the funeral, but at the dwarf it honored. His father, Mirshawn Axeblade, had been a great barrel of a dwarf, with coal black hair and the kind of piercing eyes that could stare down anyone. More than once Bradok had been the object of that stare, and the threat of violence that always lurked behind it-violence that Mirshawn’s massive frame and bearlike hands could easily provide.

Mirshawn had started life as an enforcer for a minor criminal in the city of Ironroot, but his ambitions quickly moved him up the ladder of success. When his employer died mysteriously, Mirshawn took over his operation as naturally as if they were kin. From there, Bradok’s father had gone from simple protection rackets to gaming houses and brothels. Along the way his few competitors met a series of bizarre and untimely ends, clearing the ground for Mirshawn’s advance.

Finally, when he could raise his stature no more in the under-palaces of the criminal world, he made the move that few petty thugs had made so easily before him: he ran for government office. Petty thug or no, Mirshawn knew how to win elections.

He bought them.

In his first election Mirshawn deposed a dwarf who had been on the city council for fifty years. From that time until the day of his death, Bradok’s father had used every scrap of influence, graft, treat, or force he had at

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