Who Let the Dogs Out? The Black River Irregulars Return in Black Dogs

Author Richard Lee Byers (“Murder in Corvis”) brings back the popular Black River Irregulars in the latest Skull Island eXpeditions release, Black Dogs, due this month. In this new adventure, a ruthless crime lord makes a bold move to establish a stranglehold on Corvis’ underworld—the Undercity of Corvis—and make it his own.

And his organization, the Black Dogs, begins by targeting one of the Black River Irregulars’ own…

In the following excerpt, the Black Dogs have made their first move in what will escalate into an all-out war for the Undercity, and Canice Gormleigh has become their primary target, even if they have take out her partner, the ogrun Natak Warbiter, to get to her…

Peering around the uppermost newel post, Canice scanned what she could see of the scene at the bottom of the stairs and winced. So many motionless bodies hacked to pieces in just the moments it had taken her to pull on her clothes. No wonder the shrieking had subsided.

Who could have carried out this attack, and why? Of late, the Patient Weavers had been at peace, relatively speaking, with the other criminal syndicates of the Undercity. They’d even been getting along with the Knotted Cord.

She scowled. Questions could wait. Right now, she had to determine if any of her fellow Weavers were still alive. She started down the steps.
Another explosion nearly sent her tumbling, but she grabbed the bannister and anchored herself in place. She spat away a speck of fallen plaster that had ended up on her lip and finished her descent.

Still, all she saw was bodies. The attackers in the gambling hall—swordsmen, by the look of the wounds—had completed their massacre and moved on but not before smashing some of the oil lamps along the walls to set the place on fire. One crackling sheet of flame licked up a mural of a banquet, devouring the rotund gluttons much as they were gorging on rack of lamb and meat pies.

The crackling almost covered the sound of a groan but not quite. Canice turned and spotted Natak. She knew better than most people that luck can run out at any time, but it still shocked her to see the massive ogrun, he of the prodigious might and boundless ferocity, feebly stirring in a pool of his own blood.

She had to haul him out of here before the smoke strangled him or the fire reached him. She hurried in his direction as he, plainly straining, managed to lift his head a little. The wide mouth between his slab of jaw and the nub of his nose worked, but the words were inaudible.

“It’s all right,” she said. “I’ll help you.”

His mouth twisted as if in disgust at her failure to comprehend. His dark eyes shifted to one side and then the other, and she realized he was urging her to take another look around.

She spun. A man and a woman, each white-blond, dressed in blue and yellow, and gripping a sword with one hand and a cape with the other, were creeping toward her from two sides. Perhaps playing dead themselves, they must have hidden among the corpses slumped across tables and sprawled on the floor.

Canice pointed her magelock pistol at the young man. Grinning as though a friend had just surprised him with a deft play at some innocent table game, he flipped his cape at her.

She fired and, the force of impact heightened by the magic of its crafting, the rune shot smashed a chair to pieces but failed to find its target. In the instant when the tossed cloak flummoxed her aim, he’d dived for cover.

Pivoting, she holstered one magelock pistol and drew the other. But to her surprise, the blond woman wasn’t rushing in to cut her down from behind. Instead she’d hidden somewhere, and despite the bright blue-and-yellow garments, Canice couldn’t spot her amid the thickening smoke.

Behind her, a firearm barked. The young man might prefer the sword, but he had a pistol as well. Fortunately, the round missed.

Canice spun back around, and the young man ducked down behind an overturned gaming table. She fired. Though charged with mystical power like its predecessor, the rune shot failed to punch through the wooden barrier with its covering of stained green felt. But it slammed the table backward into the lad behind it, and he let out a squawk.

Perhaps she’d actually hurt him or, failing that, at least diminished his enthusiasm for the fight. She holstered the second magelock pistol, whipped a non-magical one from under her arm, and scurried to Natak, looking again for the vanished woman; still no sign of her, curse it! Jerking a chair between the young man’s last known position and herself—it wasn’t much cover, but it was something—she crouched down beside the ogrun.

“How bad?” she asked.

“Bad,” he croaked. “Save yourself, korune.”

A korune was an ogrun warrior’s chosen lord, the master he deemed worthy of his service. Natak had decided Canice was his korune early in their association, after she’d saved his life a time or two, not that she’d ever wanted the devotion. She’d told him repeatedly that she was merely a fellow rogue who just happened to be positioned one tier higher in the hierarchy of the Patient Weavers, but her perspective didn’t alter his own.

“I’ll save both of us,” she said, just as another explosion shook the building, and another chuck of ceiling crashed down in the center of the hall. “Our friends in blue and gold won’t linger much longer, not with the place falling apart around them, and when they make a break for the front door, we’ll head out the back.”

“You don’t understand,” Natak replied. “They were lying in wait for you in particular. I don’t think they’ll quit until they’ve killed you.”

What in the name of Markus’s holy sword was this all about? “Then we’ll just have to make them regret their persistence. Keep watch.” She set the pistol in her hand on the floor and started reloading the magelocks. She would likely to need the edge magic could give her.

She readied the first. Then Natak said, “There!” and indicated where he meant with a trembling, bloody hand.

Canice looked in that direction. Leaning around a pillar, the silver-blonde woman was pointing a small, short-barreled pistol but not accurately enough to incline Canice to duck or dodge. Instead, she snatched for the non-magical gun she’d just set aside.

The other woman fired, and as expected, the round missed. Canice was a split-second away from shooting back when she glimpsed a flicker of motion at the edge of her vision. The young man had crawled from behind the overturned table to a different spot where a fat woman’s corpse provided cover. Lying on his stomach, he’d drawn a bead on Canice while she was intent on his partner.

She threw herself down as his pistol banged and flashed. The ball slammed into her shoulder. The impact didn’t keep her from firing back, but it spoiled her aim, and her round flew wild.

She checked and found to her relief that the armor in her greatcoat had stopped the round. She was going to have an ugly, aching bruise, but she wasn’t crippled or bleeding to death.

Still, she didn’t like this game. The assassins were far too good at working together, one drawing her attention while the other maneuvered for a killing stroke. She needed to be equally tricky.

She studied the ceiling with its dangling planks and curling, blackening patches of charred paintings. The section above the prone gunman and the body he was employing for cover wasn’t in good shape at all.

Grinning, she reloaded the second magelock pistol, took one in each hand, and fired both upward. The double impact of the rune shots brought flaming boards and scraps of plaster banging and clattering down on top of her adversary.

“Fodor!” the blonde woman wailed. She lunged out from behind the pillar.

Canice hadn’t expected the frantic, unthinking reaction, so surprise slowed her for a moment. She grabbed for the pistol hanging under her other arm, but by the time she had it ready, her target had thought better of rushing to her comrade’s aid and scrambled back behind the column.

Even with the other woman still unscathed, the situation was considerably better than it had been a moment ago. Canice returned her primary weapons to their holsters and drew one of her holdout guns from a pocket. Then she took hold of Natak’s forearm. “Time to go,” she said.

To her relief, the ogrun dredged up enough strength to help her stand him up, drape his arm across her shoulders, and walk him toward the door. When they were partway there, the blonde woman stuck her head around the pillar, and Canice fired. Even in the hand of an expert shot, such diminutive weapons were woefully inaccurate beyond close range, and the ball missed. But the threat, and the two shots she fired after it, kept her adversary pinned down.

Eager though she was to convey Natak out of the burning ruin that had been the Braggart’s Smile, Canice paused in the vestibule to reload her various pistols. Judging from the booming and screaming coming through the door, she was still going to need them.