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The tavern was awash with blood. Cidra Rainforest saw splashes of crimson everywhere—seeping from a gash in a man's forehead, staining the front of another's shirt, trickling from still another's mouth.
Glancing down, she saw that there was even a spatter of blood on the hem of her early-evening surplice robes. To Cidra the delicate yellow-gold fabric spun of the finest crystal moss was not just soiled but frighteningly scarred.
She was surrounded by a scene she had never before experienced, never even been able to imagine, and she found herself incapable of coping with it. It wasn't just the sight of so much blood that held Cidra immobilized with shock. All around her the viscious fighting continued unabated, even though Cidra knew that by now the combatants must be experiencing unutterable pain. Yet they raged on. The violence of it horrified her.
Grunts, obscene oaths, and desperate shouts filled the long, low tavern hall. One man had been knocked unconscious by a deftly swung tankard of Renaissance Ross ale, but no one paused to help him.
Rather, everyone was participating in the free-for-all with an air of what Cidra could only describe as lusty enthusiasm. No one was lying in a fetal huddle, whimpering on the edge of insanity, as Cidra would have expected, as indeed she herself would be doing had she not been using every ounce of her disciplined training to control herself. The scene around her was incredible. It was, she thought, just as the novels had described it.
A large, scarred, brutally strong hand clamped around Cidra's arm, shocking her out of her stupor.
"Come on, lady, unless you want to explain your presence to the guards/Let's get out of here."
In a daze Cidra turned to the hard face of the man she had met only moments earlier, the man she had come to this rough tavern to find. Teague Severance hadn't been quite what she had expected, and Cidra had been trying to adjust to that fact.
"The guards?" she asked, clinging to the look of strength she saw in the man's gray eyes,
"Port Valentine's safeguards enjoy breaking up this kind of thing. Thrive on it, in fact. And they'll be here any minute. Let's get going. I think we can make it out through the back."
Cidra didn't argue. The stunning violence going on around her had not only disrupted her ability to think coherently but also seemed to be playing havoc with her normally excellent sense of balance. When her escort yanked Cidra toward the door and out of the way of a falling mountain dressed in a miner's kirtle, she stumbled and fell to her knees. Teague Severance's hold on her arm was broken, and he was whisked away by two men in a fist fight who suddenly saw him as a preferable target.
But Cidra barely noticed. The huge man who had just fallen lay beside her feet, blinking groggily as he rubbed a bleeding jaw. Instinctively Cidra turned to comfort him, murmuring words of hypnotic comfort.
"Focus, my friend. Focus, focus. The pain is receding. See how
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