11 min read

The Long Stairs

What if magic was a gamble, literally, and the fae held all the cards? What would you bet, when your hand goes bust and your last chance is burning away into the smoke filled air? Andrew introduces us to the world of the Long Stairs.
The Long Stairs
Photo by Clement Souchet / Unsplash

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Chapter 1 The Ded Cat

By A.W. McCollough

Most nights, the cold cobbles down Flat Rat Lane channeled rain water, grease, sewage, and blood in equal measure into the sludge-filled sluices on either side of the street. This night, the sluices ran as red as the steps at Justice Gate. Either the red cloaks had had an early evening plying their truncheons in the Penny Quarter, or the twistarms at the Ded Cat had broken up a few heads and a fight. I hoped the former, as that would make for a calm evening. The council watch tended toward stamina as short as their tempers and after a few hours beating the streets clean would likely retire to a tail house for the night. Not that the kittens would be hard pressed, or not for long. As I said, a red cloak's stamina is as short as his temper.

Tonight, I needed the Ded Cat quiet. Calm. Safe.

Men gamble careless when they're rich, desperate when they're poor, but worst when they don't fear. A nervous man is a cautious one. I prefer the mark relaxed and enjoying himself, at least until he weighs his purse later. The right time to slap cards at the Ded Cat lies after the pewter has been raised, but before the first knife is drawn.

Twelve flights more up the steep hillside steps and the sign of the Ded Cat swung like the pendulous bag of an aged cow. The sign, an ill-painted likeness of a marsh lion hacked in half, stirred, twisted, its scratched-out eyes seemed to blink in the pulse of the charm light chained to the stone wall below. I took a moment to recuperate from the climb, and listen to the mood of the room. If the red cloaks had reached this far into the Penny Quarter, perhaps I would push on to the Black Eel. Especially as the Ded Cat no longer held any particular love for my custom.

But the dank murmur of voices, the clank of pewter, and the sallow lamp glow through as-yet un-torn oil paper, indicated that my luck might be in. Happy sounds, or rather, the lesser melancholy dirge of laborers, soldiers, sailors, and those that prey on them, drifted out. But no moans or gut-cut longshoremen calling for their mother as they bled out in the sawdust. Good enough.

Besides, my feet within boot-leather thinner than a beggar's penny, ached. The Ded Cat it would be. Surely, Hallec, never known for his wit, would have forgotten all and remember only my silver?


The door, half-hidden behind tattered entry currents, snicked aside and a staggering form that looked worse than the contents of the sluice lurched to a swaying lean against the house cenotaph.

A wash of air like the last fart of a horse bound for the glue kettle puffed out, congealed in the chill night, and hovered, miasmic, before the door. I fetched a lavender posset out of my coat and held it before my face. The ills night fogs brought were well known.

The fog, illuminated by the charm light hung over the painted sign, presented the fast-fading illusion of a faen caught in a whirl of wind.

Could it be faen? I hesitated a moment, the faen are not always easy to discern, especially in the dark. I hardly needed the curse of walking through one unbidden. Unthinking, I raised my hand to gesture a knowing, feeling for the ceaseless ripple of magic against my fingers—then stuffed my hand back into my coat pocket before I scattered any dust. I had little enough stake left, and plans for that already. No need wasting it on simple fog when I could, with temperance, wait. The wise are impatient where the fool loiters. But I could still play the fool, at need.

Not faen, after all. In moments the fog had faded to a mere warning stench lost in the next gust. I pushed past the drunk puking against the side of the alehouse, entirely missing the sluice, and, lavender posset raised against the anticipated assault of foul air, stepped into the Ded Cat.