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Read Chapter Five of The Cheapery St. Heroes! | Souls, Alternate Universe, Friendship

The Cheapery St. Heroes by Shawn Michel de Montaigne & KJH Cardinalis



Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four


The Thief


HE LIFTED the bottle and took a constricted swig and forced the burning liquid down. He grimaced and snorted, then coughed. It was cheap hooch, stolen from a poorly guarded frigate a buddy of his worked on.

He had lost the taste of it—drinking—long ago. He went to take another, but cursed and chucked the bottle at the opposite wall. It smashed, leaving a wet, running stain.

He’d regret doing that later. For now he allowed himself a weak, fleeting moment of pride that he could reject a quarter bottle of liverkiller barely worth the name.

He stared at the crumpled and torn flier in his grip.







“Good” money? Danin was a stranger to “good” money. At least in recent memory he was. Oh, he’d seen money—but none of it was “good.” That was the wrong adjective. “Rare” was the type of money he’d seen, when he’d seen it. “Sparse” money—yep. “Damn little” money. “Handout” money. “Beggar” money. And, sometimes, “money stolen from him after a good mugging” money. He’d known that kind of money once or twice. But nothing that could be called good money. He’d forgotten what it must be like to touch—to hold—to claim—good money.

He thought of the priest and spat to his side. Father Dumb understood nothing of real need. Danin thought of his threat to send him to the Necromancer, and it was then that he made up his mind. He grunted, got to his feet, and stumbled out of the alley and into the night.


There was a time when he was a pretty good thief. In fact, he reckoned, there was a time when no one in the whole of the realm was better. He’d seen plenty of money then, and all of it was good—damn good. But then hard times had come, endless, interminable, and less forgiving with each passing day. And just when he thought he might get his hands on good money again, he got pinched and sentenced to three years in prison, where, weekly, he was whipped.

He was released, his back laced with scars, his spirit broken. He picked up a bottle to dull the horror of his time in there. It had been five years since he was paroled, and the bottles had become more important than anything—even good money.

But they were killing him. They were like that alley, dark and full of greasy, grimy death. He looked back at it and made a decision:

Enough. I’ve said it before, I know. But enough. Enough!

He glanced at the flier one last time, his countenance hardening. He tore it to pieces and tossed them over his shoulder. They fell to the ground like sad fluorescent snowflakes.

Good money. I’m gonna know it again, I will, by the bitches that blow the east winds, or may my quest kill me. Because I’ve had bloody ENOUGH!

There was a bit of old padding used for shipping under the boardwalk at the docks next to the sea salt mining company. It was where he had slept the past week. He made his way in that general direction, fighting back the image of an ocean of liquor just waiting for him to come and drown in it. He knew the need would come. He’d fought it before and had lost every time. He’d get some sleep and fight it and …

Morning I’ll get directions to this local necromancer’s digs. I’ll get some provisions and pack some things, and I’m gonna go get me some GOOD money, by God. GOOD! MONEY! Yes! YES! GOOD money or, damn blast it, death. To hell with it!


He slept as he expected to, which was very little. He woke to milky-white consciousness as the cold sun split itself over the gray sea and pierced the front of his skull. He lurched to his feet and got to the shore as the first wave of retching overcame him. He fell to his knees and heaved emptiness to the wet sand, his esophagus burning, his stomach clenching agonizingly.

He shook with fever. Eventually he pushed himself to his feet, where he pulled his pants down and peed. He didn’t care who saw him. He finished, did himself up, wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, and went back to the padding.

It was cold, but not that cold. He was suffering from withdrawal. Nothing sounded better right now than a good stiff belt. The shakes and nausea would go away, and so would he, guarded once more by the demon of drink. He just had to find one.


or he could fill his empty belly with food.

That didn’t sound good at all, but to hell with it. He knew where he could get food. Free food.

He sniffed the cold out of his nose, kicked the padding for no reason at all, and clutched himself while swallowing back the need to upchuck again. Moments later he started stumbling towards the soup kitchen.


It was only five blocks away, but the trek felt like it was cross-country. It started raining (the padding would be soaked, damnit, and he’d have to find somewhere else to sleep tonight).

He got to the soup kitchen dripping and lurched inside.

Surprisingly, the line today wasn’t as long as it typically was, maybe two dozen or so. Father Judgment Hellfire-adosius was nowhere to be found.

He sloped to the end of the queue.

When he got to the front he grabbed a tray and silverware and waited as the server ladled him a bowl of thin broth and dropped a heel of bread on it before handing it back. She was an angel-faced girl who looked to be in her early twenties. He had seen her before. She never spoke to those in line but would give a quick and bright smile to everybody as she handed them their food.

When it was his turn for her smile, he said (more to keep from puking than any other reason), “Who keeps this soup kitchen open, doll? I know it can’t be our statuesque Father.”

She lowered the ladle and shook her head. He had never heard her speak before; when she did he felt instantly better, because she had a voice to match the smile. “The Church does not say, but I know there is a man in town who runs a sea salt company who is very generous.” Her eyes grew wide as she leaned forward. Very quietly she added, “Apparently it’s money he gets from a necromancer … but that’s probably only a rumor.”

She gave him a conspiratorial nod and got back to work.

He went and sat down and sipped the soup and nibbled at the bread heel. The soup was flavorless and the bread hard and stale, but it did not matter. The nausea abated, and so did the shakes.

It was possible that it wasn’t the food that made him feel better, but the notion that maybe he was closer to “good” money than he first thought. He finished up, stood, and took his tray to the kitchen, where, for the first time in his life, he did something he thought he’d never, ever do: he volunteered to help clean up. He didn’t want to go back into the rain and cold, and he needed an excuse not to be kicked to the curb, where he’d surely find some poison to keep him warm and numb.

The matronly woman sternly appraising him grunted, “Well, get in here, then. You can push a mop. It’s in the closet. Do a good job and we’ll set you up for the night. Do a crap job and you can go rot somewhere, and to hell with ya.”

He didn’t have enough piss and vinegar to talk back, and the woman looked like she could make mincemeat out of ten of him. He shuffled lifelessly to the closet and fetched a mop and got to work. When the kitchen closed hours later she appraised the job he’d done. “You missed a couple spots,” she grumbled, “but you’re the first bum to shut your piehole and do as told without a single complaint or dodging outside to liquor up. That’s worth somethin’, I suppose. We’ll get ya a cot and you can sack out in the back after you get those spots.”

The shakes had gotten out of control, and now, terrifyingly, he was starting to hallucinate. Her words had wafted through a thick haze of knee-shaking weakness and malicious spiders made of bleached bones.

His bones felt like noodles soaked too long in the dank sewer of past misdeeds. He fought through the desire to collapse where he stood and cleaned up the spots he missed. When he was shown to his cot in a dark, cold corner of a back storeroom, he collapsed on it.

Sleep was a demon taunting him with an open and ready flask. Just find one, it grinned. Just find one, and you can rest. Find one! It won’t be difficult. It never is.

He hadn’t had a drink all day. That hadn’t happened in five years.

He croaked in the dark: “Go bugger yourself, mate.”


He woke in the very early hours retching, his head hanging over the cot. Very little came up; still, there was a thin yellow puddle on the floor, and it smelled like moldering dish soap and rotting carcasses. He rose and got the mop and cleaned it up without lighting lamps, then put the bucket where the puke had been. He collapsed on his back and covered himself with the thin woolen blanket and fought chills and, now, red spiders with giant pincers which occasionally crawled up his arms and tried to force their way into his nose and eyes. Those made him scream. He’d fight them off only to realize they weren’t real.

“Keep to yourselves!” he yelled at them. “To hell with ye! To hell!”

He got up to get some water sometime later. His mouth was dry and thick with the aftertaste of bile.

In the morning the brawny woman refused to let him work, even when he tried to get past her tree branch of an arm so he could grab the broom.

“You’ll stay right there. Stay! I’ll come back with some broth and you’ll stay! Stay!” She gruffly pushed him back onto the cot. It didn’t take much effort. “In twenty-eight years I’ve seen only one other man do what you’re doin’. I told meself it would never happen again. You stay there and shut up, and if you get to feelin’ better, then I’ll put you to work! That’s a big then. Father Dum is due in later today. He’ll want to talk to you. Stay!

“Father Dumb,” he coughed. “Father Theodillywilly Dumb. Can’t wait.”

She left him after emptying the bucket and putting a cold, damp cloth on his forehead. He did not argue.


He woke to feel someone wiping his forehead. He didn’t want to open his eyes to look, because his damn head felt like it might split in two. He thought it might be Dumb, so he grumbled, “What a bedside manner. Does this mean we’re engaged?”

But the voice that came back wasn’t the Father’s. It followed a soft, feminine laugh.

“Let’s see if you survive the night first.”

He opened his eyes only as far and as quickly as the nausea allowed.

It was the server girl. She removed the cloth, wrung it out into a basin next to her, then reapplied it. Her smile was genuine and concerned.

“Where’s the Father?” he managed to get out of a woolen mouth lined with cracked and bleeding lips.

“He’s been in and out the past few days,” she said. “He’s been checking up on you every two hours or so.”

“No wonder I’m sweatin’,” he said after coughing. He didn’t want to close his eyes again, but felt compelled to. “All that hellfire and smiting leaves burns.”

She laughed and soaked the rag again, wrung it out again, and wiped his neck and started working along his arms.

“He’s prayed over you.”

“Tell me he hasn’t.”

“Twice now.”

“What a sweet, judgmental, hellfire-spewer.”

She laughed again. The damp-rag bath she gave him wasn’t a cure-all, but it sure did make him feel better. He didn’t want her to leave.

“What’s your name, love?”

“What’s yours?”

“I would’ve thought the Father would’ve told you.”

She shook her head.

“Danin,” he grunted. “Your turn.”


“You’re kiddin’ me.”

“You’ll love my last name too.”

“Go on, tell me.”


He looked up through the fog of anguish at her pretty face and chuckled. The chuckle expanded into a full-throated guffaw, and back into hell he tumbled, for his stomach muscles contracted violently, and then he was on his side, his head pitched over, trying to retch his very spine out. The dry heaves went on and on; through it Charity Goodsoul kept her hand on the back of his head and did not flinch away.

When he could breathe a full breath again, he unclenched with a sustained groan onto his back. She wiped his bleeding mouth. “I’m so sorry,” she offered. “I’m so, so sorry.”

He couldn’t speak. She mopped his pouring brow, and unconsciousness enveloped him again.


He woke drenched. He tried moving, but it felt like he’d been cocooned in a heavy cloth vice.

He opened his eyes.

It was dark, almost too dark to see. His stomach rumbled threateningly. It told him not to move or he was going to dry heave again.

But he was so hot that if he didn’t move the heat would make him dry heave too.

His arms were by his side. He groped under his butt. The blankets had either been tucked under it or he had gotten himself this way. Grunting and groaning, he got loose on his right and threw the blankets off while fighting off the invading army of sick marching steadily up his gullet. Cool air greeted his bare arms and the part of his side where his shirt had hiked up. His shirt was soaked; so too the mattress beneath him.

He struggled to sit up as his eyes adjusted to the gloom.

He saw that a small nightstand had been moved next to the bed. A cup was on it. He reached for it. It was full. He took a sip.

Water. Clear, sweet, beautiful water.

He knew if he gulped it down, as he desperately wanted, he’d upchuck it in short order, so he sipped it as slowly as he was able. He sipped, and moaned with delight and agony, and trembled with gut-clenching chills that told him he was just inches from death. But the spiders had gone away, and as he sat there he noticed a very small but significant change in his being—but not his physical being. There were very tiny cracks of clarity shining through the five-year-long haze of inebriation like the promise of sunshine through parting storm clouds. They warmed his soul in a way he always felt as a younger man but had never acknowledged fully.

More importantly—more astonishingly—he had no desire for booze. The mere thought of it threatened to bring up the tiny bit of water he’d managed to get down.

When the water was gone an hour later, he reclined cautiously on his sweat-soaked cot and let sleep take him, which it did after a long while.


He turned from his duties to see Father Dumb appraising him five feet away. The old statue’s holier-than-thou countenance was either stiff with the desire to smite him or pleased with his work. He couldn’t tell.

“Yes?” he said with patience forced through a strainer. “What can I do for you, Theo?”

The priest’s face stiffened—if that were possible. “Father Dum, Mister Blest. You’ll address me as Father Dum. Telling you repeatedly calls your intelligence into question.”

The mop in Danin’s hand felt like it wanted to be a weapon. He smiled. “Actually, it calls yours. There’s a corner here that’s waiting, Father Theo. So if you wouldn’t mind bein’ brief, I’d like to get to it.”

He thought the priest’s face might crack. Instead what issued from it was, “I just spoke to Mrs. Naling. She informed me that you are leaving. Is this true?”

“That is true,” said Danin, who had gotten back to mopping. He heard Father Dum sniff angrily.

“Do you believe that is prudent at this stage of your recovery? You have been on your feet less than a month. Miss Goodsoul and Mrs. Naling have spent countless hours watching over you, taking care of you, nursing you back to health. You may actually—and unbelievably, I might add—be a soul worth saving! We have fed you and kept a watchful eye on you. Would leaving be the best way to show your gratitude?”

Danin very much wanted a good stiff belt this moment, but it was of a different kind, one made of pliant leather he could wrap around this do-gooder’s turkey-necked throat. He continued mopping.

“Would you please put that mop down and at least have the decency to address me with the respect my station deserves?” bellowed Father Dum.

The homeless and drunks sitting at tables and benches turned to look at the commotion. Charity, dishing up soup across the room, stopped to watch as well. She caught Danin’s eye, and understanding flashed in hers. She knew what was happening.

He gave her a quick wink, then brought his gaze to bear on the glaring pillar of piousness before him. He leaned the mop against the wall and approached until he was threateningly close. The old man was a good foot taller than him, but it hardly mattered.

His eyes narrow slits, he gazed up from the priest’s thin chest and said, “Momma Naling and Charity there … I’d give my life for ‘em. So don’t you dare open your gob and say anything otherwise, do we have an understanding?”

To Dumb’s credit, he did not back away, even though Danin saw fear flash in his eyes. His chin trembled, and his eyes were reddish-yellow and glistening from this close, and his skin, close up, appeared to be poreless. He went to respond, but Danin cut across him.

“I’m leavin’ because I want to pay them back, but proper-like, see? They live like paupers. They both deserve better, and I’m gonna give it to them, and you too, you fossilized fool!”

“By what means, thieving?”

Danin grinned. The feeling it gave him soaked satisfyingly through his anger and colored his spirit in a way he knew hadn’t happened in many years.

“I don’t forget my debts, Theo. Say what ya want about me character, but ask anyone. Danin Blest does not forget his creditors or benefactors.”

It was a sight to see. The statue almost turned red. Shaking with frustration, the priest wheeled about and left him in peace.

Danin glanced at Charity, who was watching with concern. He winked again, and she smiled.


He stopped at the top of the hill as the last of the day’s light drained away. He shifted his pack, then decided to relieve himself of its burden by dropping it at his feet. He brought the canteen at his hip up and took a sip of water.

Water. Clear, sweet, beautiful water.

Charity’s smile gleamed in his mind’s eye. He wished she could see this, what was just a couple miles off at the top of another hill, one far more dramatic than the one he stood on.

A castle.

The necromancer’s castle.

“Good money,” he breathed. “There it is, ladies and gents. Good money.”

He took another sip.

Charity and Momma Naling had taught him to savor things, to give thanks for the occasional good that came his way. And so he gave silent thanks and savored this water, and this moment of rest, and the vision of her innocent smile in his mind’s eye.

After a time he lifted his pack and slung it over his shoulder and started for the castle.


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