Near Miss

I knocked on the rich cherry wood door. Shuffling and heavy footsteps neared the door and it swung open. An older Caligas man filled the doorway. Thick and sturdy he leaned forward.

“What can I do ya for?”

I was taken aback a moment. I can only remember seeing Caligas here but I’m sure none were this size. They all seemed to be slender like myself not bulky.

“You’re the wild goose I’ve been chasing. I need a chest unlocked and you come recommended,” I put the small chest under his nose.

His eyes darted down for a moment, then they were glued on it. He grabbed the chest and me with it pulling us into his shop. I let go of it preparing myself but he just turned away inspecting it. Looking around I noticed among other things a nasty looking axe sitting just inside the door jam, windows could be seen between the piles of trinkets, junk and various other utilities.

He cleaned off a wooden table with a swipe of his beefy, “So are you a thief or a pillager?”

“Neither as far as I can tell. Why do you ask?”

“This chest and few others like it belonged to high ranking officials or royalty. So which are you boy?” His eyes lifted from the chest scrutinizing me.

“Neither as far as I know.”

“Now quit playing with me!” Suddenly he was standing with his meaty hands planted on each side. “You can take your chest and leave, or tell me the truth.”

I stepped forward let out in a low growl, “I can’t remember anything short of three days ago. Now can you help me or not?”

He mumbled to himself a moment returning his gaze to the chest.

“How am I to know that you’re not a sympathizer? Do you know what punishment is for aiding such a criminal? Public execution if you’re lucky, prison for those Lord Preavus deems still of value,” he let on to mumbling again. “It’s a signature ether lock, so the only people who can open it are the original owner or those he allows.”

“What is an ether signature?”

He looked up with a little surprise and a little disgust, “Whenever ether is used, it let’s off a signature of the person who used it. It’s too slight for any person to sense it but mechanism’s can be build like this that do just that. The craftsman would incorporate the signature of the owner and any others within it. Chances are too, that a box like this was built with a fail safe in case someone tried to force it open. So, get your hands on some ether and try. That’s all I got for you,” He slid the box towards me.

I grabbed the chest, gave him a nod and turned to the door. Suddenly a crash came at the door startling me back a few steps. We both stood in silence unsure of what to do. Then it came again. Someone was knocking impatiently on the door.

“City Guard, open up!”

The words caught in my chest, had Lord Preavus already decided I wasn’t going to take the job? The handy-man stood from his wooden table and headed for the door.

“Hold on a second! I’ll be right there,” He muttered almost to himself.

I stopped him just before the door, “I’m not here.”

“We’ve sighted a known spy within the city walls and we need to search you shop. Open up!” Another barrage followed his words.

The man’s eyes shot over to me with faint surprise, then his eyes caught the glint of my blade in the dull light. I made sure he saw it in hand. I wasn’t going to go down to something so petty as a house search.

“Put that away,” He hissed.

His words were unexpected. He pulled a long cloth from a counter next to the door. Covering his mouth he opened the door and began to caught viciously in the guard’s faces. I stood on the other side of the door, prepared to gut the man if he sold me out.

“My apologies,” He sputtered before another coughing fit. “I haven’t seen any man, just have this damned fever.” He coughed again for good measure. “You’re welcome to come in I just hope I don’t pass this on. Feeling boils spring up too.”

I could see the guard covering his own mouth as he leaned to pear between the man and the door jam.

“Don’t bother, he wasn’t seen too close by. We’re just searching the outer perimeter. Back to your business,” he hurried through a gloved hand.

I slipped the knife away just as the door closed and crossed my arms.

“Not a spy eh?” The man jabbed turning back into his shop.

“If I was I wouldn’t be any use now, now would I? No use for a spy who’s lost his head. Either way, I have need of one more favor, a cloak perhaps you have spare somewhere?” I gestured to the messy room.

He let out a grunt, “Yeah I’ve got one somewhere. But that’s it, you gotta go.”

He handed me a worn rich brown cloak.

After covering myself I slapped two gold coins on the table, “You’ve done me a favor today.”

His eyes widened a bit and he nodded. I slipped out of the shop casually, the crowds were still present and bustling thankfully. Blending in to the flow of traffic I headed back towards the palace. I had no idea what I was going to do when I got there, but something wouldn’t let me leave my cloak and sigil.

Watchful guards prompted a few detours, but I was finally on track. There were two main bridges leading from each sector to the High Terrace. Both crossed the Falling Delta that the Terrace and the palace sat on. I could see the bridge now, I had chosen the busier of the two bridges to cross unnoticed.

A voice bellowed behind me setting me on edge, “There he is!”

Time slowed. Guards lined each side of the bridge, they were along the path behind me as well. I could fight and hopefully disappear down a side street. I could leap off the bridge into the torrid below and hope to survive the waterfall. Before I made a decision the din returned with a rush at the point of a knife in my back and a steady word in my ear.

“Do not move.”

My mind raced. There weren’t any guards this close to me, nor could they have reached me in a split second. No, it was someone else. My decision was made for me.

I spun around in a flash, reaching for his armed hand and drawing my own blade. He recoiled as I slashed out across his chest. Blades whistled through the air, inches away from nicking and artery or slashing valuable tendons. One false move and one of us would be dead. He ducked, I lunged. We met at every split second just short of dealing a lethal blow. But, I was faster. I feinted back drawing him out and leapt forward, my hood drawing back from the swift movement.
The man hesitated for a moment, only able to utter a single word before we both realized my blade was in his side.

“Elias?”

The crowds fled and the guards swarmed in. I pulled my knife out and prepared to kill as many men as I could. To my surprise they passed right by me and disarmed my dazed foe. Beating him into submission they drug away a limp unconscious body.

An arm slapped onto my shoulder, instinctively my blade found its way towards his armpit.

“Slow down, I wanted to thank you,” The man said with a stunned look on his face, certainly considering how fast he could’ve died.

“What do you mean?” I asked lowering my blade, but keeping it in hand.

“That man you just bested is the spy we’ve been searching for. A Render working within a network here in Prakash. Trying to undermine the Lord’s good works,” He started to walk away. “I’ll make sure you don’t go unnoticed.”

Frustration twisted up inside me. I wiped the blade off on my tunic. Unnoticed is what I wanted to go, there’s no way to infiltrate the system I just openly undermined. Taking out a key player catches people’s attention and there were a lot of people watching.

There was a silver lining I decided as I made my way to my room in the palace; Lord Preavus wasn’t searching to kill me. Just yet that is. I figure I might as well wait around til morning to see if there’s anything left to salvage. A well paying job is hard to come by, working under a lord in process is near unbelievable.

I sat on my bed turning over the dull silver sigil in my hand. It was light, yet resisted any whittling I tried with my knife. The four arms interlocked, surrounding the name I had adopted. The name I was called today by a stranger. Elias. How did he know my name? More importantly who was he?

It was decided. First thing I had to do was get to the prison and speak with him. He knew more than I did, which wasn’t saying much. But, if he knows something about my past we needed to talk.

I pulled my leather armor off, setting it on the chair across from the bed. My tunic stunk from a days worth of running around. It landed on the ground in the corner along with my trousers. Boots next to the bed, and knife under the down pillow. My fingers traced over the raised scar on my shoulder. It had been too long since I’ve been in combat. Second thing to do tomorrow: find someone worth sparring with.

 

Advertisements

Arrangements

Lead to safety, food, furnishings, wounds tended to, and now I’m alone with the Lord of the land. I haven’t done too bad for myself in the few days I’ve been conscious. Granted it’s either a foolishly grave mistake, or he is far too confident. Time will tell.

“You have a useful set of skills, Elias,” His words were cool and smooth.

Conversations have been started in stranger ways.

“Serge has informed me about the circumstance surrounding your encounter,” my stiff body was a reminder of that night, “We tended to your wound when you arrived.”

Lord Preavus gestured to a seat and took one himself on a velvet tufted couch. I wandered around the room examining the simple furnishings, not yet interested in settling in.

“Don’t be concerned with any recompense. I find myself inclined to lending aid when I can.”

“And I am fed and tended to, but what is it you’ve brought me here for?”

“A man of action, I can appreciate that. You want all the pieces on the table, much like myself. You’re here because I may have use of you.”

It can’t seem to do me any harm to make friends with a Lord, at this point.

“What is this need you have?”

His smug posture gave way, he leaned forward with a raised eyebrow and grimace.

“Rest assured, you’re needs would be met generously,” I turned around with a fabricated gleam in my eye. “I require a fresh face.”

“Ah, a spy.”

“You are intuitive, indeed. Now, Serge tells me that you are suffering from some kind of amnesia?”

“For better or worse,” I planted myself in the opposite couch

“Well that is fortunate, it would make you more valuable. You see, if you decide to take my offer you will be required to lie, and given liberty to do whatever is necessary to accomplish my goal.”

“What is your goal m’Lord?”

He reclined once more, “I need you to infiltrate a sect within our city walls. They’re sympathizers of the late Caligas kingdom and wish to see my efforts  of restoration uprooted. It will be dangerous, but something tells me you are no stranger to violence. You will be required to listen to their lies, adopt their qualities, and draw out any and all valuable information.”

“Tell me more about how I will be rewarded.”

“We will secure a safe house within the city rather than house you here, to keep up appearances. You will be paid generously, and if you perform well there is potential for security of employment in the future.”

I took in a deep breath and blew it out with a whistle, “Well, let me sleep on it.” Let’s see what my options are.

“Very well. You may retire here for the night. There will be a parcel left outside your room in the morning,” Lord Preavus stood as I followed suit. “But,” he turned as he opened the door, “If you decline I would recommend you not be here in the morning.”

That’s what I wanted to hear. If he intended to kill me, he would never make a sound about it. This way I have options at least. I stepped between the two sentinels outside the room to where Lord Preavus stood waiting.

The smugness returned, “You are free to roam the city, take in what our beautiful capitol has to offer.”

“Lord Preavus,” a messenger approached with a bow, “I wish to remind you of your meeting with the council.”

“Yes thank you, tell them I will not make them wait any longer.”

The messenger anxiously matched Lord Preavus’ slower pace as they walked away with the two guards.

A strange sensation crept over me, that of not having anywhere to be. I wandered through the halls of the palace making use of the time by memorizing different routes and stretching. My chest was still tight and tender, even the hands of a healer can’t put the limber back in muscles and tendons.

Satisfied with my wandering I set out to unlock the chest. I got the chest from my room and crossed the Terrace entering the vivid marketplace. The bright buildings and brightly dressed people surrounded me. It was more color than I cared for, uncomfortable knowing I was trying to blend in with a rainbow. I noticed eyes watched between the white draping of Prakashi uniforms, guards were posted past just about every corner I rounded. I made no effort to avoid their gaze, there was no doubt they had been informed about me and I stuck out like a sore thumb.

After questioning several vendors, one guard and a man selling some exotic birds I found a furniture salesman who led me to a handy-man.


Elias Crouching

This is the lineart I have been working on for Elias, the main character in the Four Sons of the King series I’m writing.

Sinister Smirk


Snowy Regret Is Up!

First piece in a while hit me out of nowhere. It’s exciting when you get those muse moments and it’s go time. Hope you guys like it. It’s a small piece about a Lieutenant has to make a hard and unexpected decision. Follow the link!

Snowy Regret


Snowy Regret

I don’t know why this was the story that was conjured, but no other took its place. So this story it would be.

***

I could hear the panic well before it reached me. I pushed into the starving flame as did all the men. None eager to leave it for any news.
“Dead!” I heard yelled.
There was thrashing now. It was headed towards me.
“Take him to the Lieutenant!”
“The Lieutenant? No we deal with this now!”
“You break rank on me and I’ll put my blade in your chest!” The final growl let out just as someone crashed over the snow.
A messenger pulled himself off the ground in a hurry with panic in his eyes.
“What is it?” I did my best to growl with my hoarse voice.
“T-the boys d-dead,” his whole body shook with fear or the cold, likely both.
I didn’t have to ask, I knew there was only one boy here. The one we picked up weeks back from a razed village. The only survivor, just to die in the cold.
“The cold is an indifferent killer. Least he went softly,” I turned back to the fire’s weak tendrils, pushing the boy’s fate from mind.
“No sir, m-murdered,” his voiced broke.
I am a man first, and a soldier second. I couldn’t help but try and ignore the ping against my chest.
I couldn’t ask another question before the mob reached the small peaked snow hill. I stood only to see struggling against their grasp was Borin, my only son covered in blood.
They threw him down the slope where he hunched shaking at my feet. I knew the moment he was sent into my company I would regret it forever. Soldiers could only share sentimentality for war.
“Someone explain,” I ordered.
The mob bristled with people yelling insults and gripping their weapons ready to draw. Faithful stepped forward, it was always him though wasn’t it.
With a rueful frown he spoke, “Borin was found with the boy’s blood covering him. He was hunched over the corpse with a hold of his arm… eating it.”
I have seen cannibals. I have killed them without an ounce of regret. But, never have I seen a soldier of a company turn on another for food. Few times have I seen a soldier turn on another for any reason, outside a little dueling or wrestling.
I knelt down to Borin. I stroked his long matted hair  as he turned to face me, not looking me in the eyes.
“The hunger, it, it didn’t just stay in my stomach. It took hold of my mind,” He stuttered and began to sob.
The crowd felt none of the sympathy I did. Rightfully so, this was objective. The law must be, otherwise it ceases to be.
Faithful stood in front of me now. I stood looking into his sorrowful eyes with my sorrowful own.
“I suggest he be hung,” he said quietly.
We both knew what his suggestion revealed. A merciful death. Some would send him out in the wilds to die, others would see him tortured for his crimes against humanity. Perhaps his death must be objective, but not the method.
I simply nodded my head. I ordered him to be taken and held until dawn. That night I visited him. He knew what he had done, madness left him at least temporarily. My son’s choices didn’t break my heart, it was my own inability to not raise him to be a stronger man.
I consoled him of his fate, at least there was hope of a quick punishment.
“I, I know I cannot return home. If my mind could leave me in such a way here it could leave me anywhere,” he began to cry again. “But, I simply hope my family is taken care of.”
I gripped his hand, “Of that you can be sure.”
Then I was gone. Leaving us both alone to grapple with his decision.
Borin was hung the next morning. With emotions tempered the men who attended did so somberly. He was still a brother to them, despite his weakness.
***
“Tell us again how father died, please Grand-father!”
“Well,” I said with a twinkle of a tear in my eye, “It was the most ferocious battle I’ve ever seen.”

New Piece

Today after a long hiatus I have returned. I wrote a short and incomplete piece in the Providence section under Four Sons of the King. The purpose was simply to run with a prompt I had in mind: the character leaves their cabin in the snow to find a blood trail. Whether this fits into the continuity of Arin’s actual story is undecided.

Also, I have been exploring the concept of the first-person writing style. So far I like it, it allows me to reveal the character’s personality more and it comes a bit more naturally somehow.

Enjoy!


Red Snow

What starts as a routine rumble turns for the worse.

The morning was colder than most mornings. I stepped from the small cabin and into the deep snow, my staff leading me.

“I would’ve like it to be a bit warmer,” I say.

With my cloak and staff I have no reason to stay and I strike out. Right in front of left, then left and right. A few moments pass while I try desperately to not think of the biting cold when something catches my attention. Something dark speckles the snow just ahead. I look around searching for any sings of company. My eyes hang on the clear skies over the city in the distance, the Miasma pressing in all around like a ring of fog. There’s no going back. The wind changed direction and the smell of blood revealed the speckles ahead and likely much more.

I ready myself as I venture further along the red trail. Another smell came on the wind, something familiar. Uneasy I climb through the trees and over a hill. They see me as soon as I do them. Only three wolves, a deep breath releases the knot in my gut. Wolves are not Veran, wolves I can handle.

My staff is in both hands now across my chest. The alpha lets out a low growl with blood dripping from its maw, the kill between them and myself. I let out a growl myself. The alpha advanced while the other two spread out on each side of me. I know better than to wait for them to make the first move, so I charge screaming into the alpha. It’s ears flicker for just a moment before it realizes it has a fight on it’s paws. It crouches to pounce a moment too late when the knot in my staff connects with its snout. Not a solid blow, but enough to nearly send it spinning. I hear the other two right behind me and spin. One wolf dodges the blow retreating, the other gets it in the side of its head.

That one is out for the time being. I turn and strike the alpha in the side, the attack elicits a loud whimper as it scrambles to get out of reach. Then a crushing pain envelops my arm as the unharmed wolf latches onto me. My teeth clench as it pulls me off balance trying to remove my arm from my shoulder. I pull back hard and manage to maneuver my arm back so my fist is in it’s mouth. I throw all my weight into the wolf’s mouth sending my arm into its throat. The animal jerks violently as its jaw stretches trying to eject the obstacle. I pull hard tearing as much as I can before my arm is retrieved with only a torn sleeve and imminent bruising. My fingers start to tingle as the cold hits the saliva soaking my whole arm.

The wolf stumbles backwards heaving blood into the snow. I raise my staff and smash it onto the wolf’s head and it collapses at my feet. Fatigue starting to settle I turn to face the remaining wolf.