Quian's serf village spilled out of the city's grim walls like rotten apples from an overturned basket.That's the beginning of Donald Crankshaw's A Phoenix in Darkness. One of the best openers ever.
A Phoenix in Darkness is an on-line short story. The setting is a world of swords and sorcery, with mysterious hooded beings that protect the populous from unknown magical dangers. One of these beings is murdered. A young city guardsman investigates the murder. So do a couple of young mysterious hooded beings. In the process, they discover a deep dark secret. I love this stuff.
A Phoenix in Darkness is a prequel to Fire and I strongly recommend you read Fire first. Phoenix destroys too much of the mystery of the hooded men so if you read that first, you may not enjoy Fire as much.
Like all of Crankshaw's work, Phoenix is well-written and entertaining (well, OK, Stranger in the Library was a little too slow-moving for my taste). And I should warn you that both Phoenix and Fire leave us in, let us say, highly unresolved situations. Not cliff-hangers exactly, but enough to make me hope Crankshaw doesn't take up skydiving before he finishes the stories.