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The Alley

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Action and Adventure  |  House: Fantasy Realm
This is a short story set in the world of my novel, A Broken Kingdom. It's slightly spoilery if you haven't read the book, so I recommend reading this something after chapter 15 of the novel. See my profile for pictures of the characters!

Submitted: October 01, 2018

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Submitted: October 01, 2018



It was just after dinner, and the two men approached the inn. Marent and Oskar walked slowly, enjoying the stroll. It was dark, but still early enough that the street lamps were bright and the windows of the buildings they passed were shedding the soft glow of candlelight, so Oskar was able to see the way clearly. If it had been later, and darker, Oskar might have panicked slightly on the walk back to the inn. He had never quite gotten used to his discomfort in dark situations.

The streets were mostly empty, even though it wasn’t much past full dark. It was harvest season, and most of the townsfolk helped on the local farms to bring the harvest in this time of the year, with long, grueling days of heavy labor. The men were mostly in bed by now, if they hadn’t passed out in their plates at dinner, and the women would be joining them shortly. They turned a corner, and the inn at which they had rooms came into view three doors down.

There was a sudden sound from a nearby alley, and the two stopped. A clink, a hushed voice. They hadn’t worn their armor out to dinner, nor were they carrying weapons beyond belt knives. Oskar looked to Marent before proceeding casually, eyes forward, with Marent glancing surreptitiously down the alley as they moved past, trusting to his dwarven ability to see in the dark.

“Two men at least, hidin’ behind crates,” Marent said quietly. “I can see th’ next street at th’ end o’ th’ alley, maybe people take shortcuts through here?”

“Hmm,” Oskar thought about it for a moment. “Seems like a good spot to ambush people.”

Marent stopped and turned. He sighed as he looked down at the brand new boots he had worn to dinner. “Dammit. I was hopin’ t’ keep these pretty for a bit.”

The two turned and started walking back towards the alley. Marent held a hand up, stopping Oskar at the corner. With a few hand signals, he communicated his plan. Oskar hesitated before nodding, pulling a short golden rod from his belt pouch, and gestured forward. Marent turned towards the alley, tugging at his clothes and hair and assuming a slouch. The dwarf that stumbled into the alley was disheveled and drunk, and obviously rich to look at, in new silks and tooled leather. He was muttering to himself in Dwarvish, something about cats drinking all of his ale. Oskar could hear him stepping in puddles and accumulated filth as he careened back and forth across the alley. Damn, those had been nice boots.

The unease that Oskar had been feeling since Marent silently shared his plan was growing alarmingly close to panic. He knew he’d have to go into that dark, ominous alley. There was no other choice. He could spring the light early and charge instead of sneaking, but that would alert the two bandits and Marent would be caught unprepared-

A sudden noise as the two ruffians sprang forward from their hiding spots cued Oskar. He crept forward around the corner of the building, the noise of his passage hidden beneath the loud Dwarven emanating from the scuffle. Oskar darted from crate to crate, barrel to barrel as he quickly moved towards the altercation. He couldn’t see. He stumbled, breathing harshly, hands shaking. His heart was racing and he couldn't’ see and -

No good, he thought. I’ll blow it if I keep on like this.

He let the rage take him, feeling the panic that was threatening to overwhelm him suddenly drain away as the furious emotions tore through his body. As the pale light outlining the shadows ahead took on a reddish tint, Oskar was suddenly glad that he had some control over the spiked chains that burst from his flesh, wrapping around his arms and legs like armor. He willed them to stillness, and though they didn’t quite obey as well as he’d have liked, they weren’t flailing as frantically as they usually did. It would be enough.

He was nearly blind in the dark of this alley, but he could see well enough to avoid obstacles. Marent was randomly staggering around, cursing loudly about those damn cats to cover Oskar’s approach, avoiding the knives seemingly at random as the thieves repeatedly told him to drop his purse and hand over the jewelry.

They didn’t seem to understand the Dwarven language though. “Speak normal, damn you!” One hissed under his breath as he made a grab for Marent’s swinging purse. Marent stumbled conveniently, lurching away from the grabbing thief. Oskar snarled silently at the audacity of that ruffian trying to lay hands on Marent. He reached for his hammer before remembering that he’d left it in the room. No matter, he could tear that piece of shit’s throat out with a single grab.

Remember the plan. Marent wants you to light up the alley before attacking. Remember the plan. Capture. Contain. Oskar struggled to continue moving slowly as he crept forward.

As he approached the scuffle taking place, Oskar hefted the lightstick and waited a moment until both thieves were facing away from him. He tossed the metal rod forward, watching as it tumbled end over end, striking the cobbles and illuminating the scene in a sudden wash of bright light.

At this point, trying to sneak was off the table, so he darted forward into the light, his chains rattling as they began whipping more forcefully, his boots striking the ground with purpose and determination. He splashed through a noxious puddle as he approached the scuffle, snarling with barely contained fury.

The gasps and small shrieks of fear from the two scruffy humans was satisfying, but even more so when Marent’s suddenly sure and deft movements quickly disarmed one, throwing him to the ground and pinning him solidly. The other threw her knife at Oskar, watching in horror as a chain whipped up from Oskar’s arm to deflect it neatly, before turning to run.

He easily caught her, snaking an arm around her waist and one around her face, muffling her terrorized screams as he drew her back down the alley to Marent. He was breathing raggedly, snarling in Dwarvish and trembling as he restrained himself from ripping her head from her body. He always needed to struggle to control himself in battle, and this wasn’t even a battle. His body and mind fought to free the rage within, but Marent’s voice was there again, calming, soothing.

Be still, lad,” the dwarf said softly, speaking their native tongue. “Hold her still, dinna hurt her.” Oskar stopped, the frantic woman in his grasp whimpering and beating at his arms, kicking back viciously at his shins, trying to fight free. He held still, watching as he growled deep in his throat.

The woman reached backward, raking at Oskar’s eyes. He turned his head sharply, and she caught at his hair, yanking hard and breaking the leather cord that held it neatly back. He jerked his head forward sharply, knocking her solidly on the back of the head, remembering not to hurt her too badly. Her hair was up in some sort of messy knot, so the blow did no real damage, but she quieted anyway, abandoning her efforts to blind him and instead prying fruitlessly at his arms, stopping after a moment when she tore her hands on the sharply spiked chains wrapping him from shoulder to wrist. The braids at his temples had come down over his shoulders, and were continuing to unravel as she squirmed.

Marent had pulled the other one, a man who looked strikingly similar to the woman, to a kneeling position. Siblings? He tucked the man’s knife away in his belt before speaking, in the common tongue now. “So, do ye do this often?”

Neither one was capable of coherent speech at this point, being terrified beyond words at the sight of Oskar. Marent sighed, and gestured. Oskar gave him a furious look full of hate and anger at the thought of ending his rage, and growled low in his throat. The woman in his arms began to cry.

Calm down, damn you!” Marent snapped at him in Dwarvish, returning Oskar’s glare with interest. Oskar stared at him for a moment, before complying.

He closed his eyes, taking a deep, calming breath and stomping the furious feelings down into submission. It took several seconds, but Oskar’s vision cleared and he could feel the chains slithering back into his body, a most unwelcome sensation. It never bothered him when the oily, spiked chains burst forth since he was always in the throes of a rage when they came out. But going back in was different. He could feel every spike as it pushed painfully past the holes that had opened in his flesh, and though they never inflicted lasting injury on him, and the holes disappeared as suddenly as they came, the sensation lingered. The exhaustion that followed was also unpleasant, but Oskar held himself steady and hid the sudden fatigue.

Marent was speaking now. Something about finding religion and being pious, finding honest jobs. Oskar was tired and didn’t pay much attention, he’d heard this speech before. His mind wandered, and he took note of the humans’ reactions though. He could sense the two were only agreeing to get out of this situation, they had no intentions of changing their ways. Oskar broke in, shaking the woman sharply to gain their attention.

“We know yer faces now,” he snarled with forced venom, fighting through the exhaustion to look and sound imposing. “We’ll be back, in a few days. Then every week or so. We have business that will take us through yer little town frequently. We’ll change our appearances so ye’ll never know who we are. We’ll make a point o’ makin’ targets o’ ourselves at night, just in case ye decide t’ start accostin’ people again.”

His arm was across the woman’s shoulders. He moved, so his hand was lightly gripping her throat. Not hard enough to even begin to choke her, but the implied threat was there. She was still silently sobbing. “But that willna be a problem now, will it? Ye’ll go t’ th’ church, like my friend suggested. Ye’ll find jobs. Ye’ll be good little citizens. My friend is a good man. I am not, but if what he wants is th’ two o’ you off th’ streets, I’ll make sure he gets just that.”

He released the woman suddenly, dropping her and shoving her to the side, watching dispassionately as she stumbled to her knees before scrabbling back to her feet. Marent let the man up as well, and the two backed away slowly for a few steps, before turning in a panic and sprinting away. Marent gazed at him in annoyance before shaking his head and laughing ruefully.

“Aye, they weren’t listening to me. Good show. Let’s have a drink.”

They turned and walked through the alley back the way they’d come, skirting the puddles and piles of unnamed things. Oskar gathered up the lightstick, using it to light his way back to the lamplit street before tossing it ruefully into a barrel of refuse. The things only worked the once, and were useless once they burnt out. He pushed his hair back behind his ears and turned towards the inn.

“You changed the plan.” Marent was speaking calmly, but Oskar could feel a hint of annoyance in his voice. “You were supposed to sneak up behind them while they still thought I was drunk.”

“Aye, well...” Oskar trailed off, at a loss. He defiantly did not want to let on that he was afraid he’d panic and run back to the street, and had let the Red out in an attempt to calm himself at the oppressive darkness. Marent didn’t know about Oskar’s fear of the dark, and if Oskar had his way, never would. “It worked out in th’ end, aye?”

“Well enough. I dinna think I’ll ever get used t’ having to bite yer head off t’ get ye t’ listen to me when yer in a rage, though. Makes me uncomfortable, bein’ so nasty t’ ye.”

“It’s my own fault,” Oskar supplied helpfully. “If I wasna so recalcitrant when I lose control, it wouldna be a problem, now would it?”

“Recalcitrant.” Marent spoke the word slowly. “That must mean bull-headed stupid, then, aye?”

He took Oskar’s hand briefly just before they entered the inn, squeezing in reassurance before letting go, opening the door and leading the way towards the bar.

© Copyright 2019 C. J. Davis. All rights reserved.

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