But yeah enjoy, any comments you have would be welcome too since it'd help me get a flavour of readers opinion on style and such before I'm too far in to the piece.
Oh and fyi, there is some mild swearing, though I'm sure tip.it censor will bleep it all anyways. You have been warned!
The late autumn sun was high in the sky pouring a clammy heat through empty branches. Sweat began to bead on his neck as he looked through his hemp bag, the deep crimson fire stones stared back at him, exactly what he’d hoped. He dragged a palm across his brow and fumbled with the heavy brass clasp of the bag before moving from the doorway. As he moved down the street unchallenged he felt his heartbeat slow and took deep breaths of cold air, he could see the district gate ahead in the wall of stone and iron; it was still open and no guards in sight. He thanked the gods beneath his breath as he passed under its archway into the cobbled streets of District Hammerstead. He drank in the sounds of the street that drowned his darker thoughts, he could make it now. It would only be a ten minute walk from here to Worten District and then he’d be home. Karla would likely scorn him, but winter was coming he couldn’t let their new-born freeze, besides those richies would hardly miss the stones. He’d best not hurry though, that might look suspicious. He’d stop for a drink or two at the Manticore Inn, perhaps he could even manage to get some cheap elixir for a stone or two.
The Inn was a sprawling room dimly lit with too few candles, the council often cut the thunder-cord to try and ‘stem the flow of immorality’ in places like this. The place heaved with laughter, dark skinned serving staff weaved between the crowds of card players, towards the back of the room dealers lurked near curtained rooms their thick cloaks fastened despite the heat and to their right in a cluster of booths near the stairs scantily clad girls and boys danced for clients. His hair clung to his face with sweat; he swept it back taking slowly deliberate breaths as he surveyed the room, taking particular note of the dealers: Ruby, Mannith and Burmarsh were among them, just the faces he’d hoped for, Catrin too but no-one with more sense than gold traded with her. He grasped his bag defensively pushing through the crowds towards Ruby.
“I tolds ya last week Malik, I don’t do credit no matter how sick that sprog might be.”
“Charming as ever Ruby,” He leaned in close to her, undoing the clasp of his bag. “Happens I had a bit of luck today.”
Ruby’s cloak swept over his shoulder, her fingers dipping into the bag her eyebrows sank into a frown. “Luck? You think I not got ears in Queensfair boy? Lady o’ Peace been swarming there past two hours,” Could it be? So soon? He’d best stay here until nightfall, let them calm down.
“[bleep] the games Ruby, want ‘em or not?” She smiled innocently grabbing his wrist to lead him behind her curtain. The heavy incense scents washed over him making his stomach wretch, Ruby delicately moved behind the lone table that filled the room lifting a flagon of mead to pour two tankards.
“Best get some o’ the good stuff in ya guts.” She smiled handing him a tankard, several hours later he carefully stashed the various salves and elixirs in his bag whilst Ruby carefully counted fire stones into a pouch hidden beneath her cloak. Ruby had no doubt swindled him, he’d had enough mead to make his head spin but at least his nerves had eased.
As he pushed past the curtain his heart froze for a second, High Maeytra Dolan sat in a corner booth one hand under the skirt of a slender blond girl on his knee the other caressing the buttocks of a muscled dancing boy. The High Maeytra, lord of all morality, chief envoy to the gods and sworn to celibacy was a regular client here, the only reason the Manticore was not destroyed was the Maeytra’s sexual appetite yet it still made Malik’s throat tighten and clasp his bag close to his chest as he tried to edge further away. He stumbled over a leg and landed heavily, his bag jangling with glass.
“Deary, deary be. Muckrake Milark really is all left feet.” Her face was sharp and lacking in beauty, her thick cloak heavy with the stench of wet dog. He scrambled to his feet.
“Get lost Catlin. I’m not in the mood,”
“Aww has my little toy got a grump on? How’s about Aunt Cat lightens your load?” She walked two fingers along the strap of his bag as he scrabbled away from her across the floor.
“Oooo! Defensive aren’t we!” She leaned in close, a smirking on her deftly painted red lips. “Mayhaps little Muckrake was in Queensfair earlier, oh I don’t know, by the Temple of the Beauties?” Ruby’s head appeared over Catlin’s shoulder.
“Our ugly ducklin’ never learns aye?” Her hand brushed against the skin of Catlin’s neck and she collapsed to the floor, by the time Milark had caught his breath Ruby had vanished. A strong hand seized him beneath each arm and lifted him from the floor.
“I say Mannith it seems our favourite rascal had a little rumbling with Catlin,” Burmarsh smiled brushing dust from his sleeve.
“Terrible business that is! Such a sour darling! Now come, come let’s get merry and forget such blights,” they guided him to a table already heaving with jugs of assorted meads. Mannith and Burmarsh may be drunkards and seemingly eccentric, but they always treated Milark well and saw he had enough to eat. He sat quietly between the two sipping his drink slowly as he scanned the room constantly.
“Did you hear my boy? Someone actually did it!”
“Rob them Beauts blind! A whole cache of fire stones, just like we say someone ought,”
“Bur course they robbed em blind, no eyes do they!”
“Still what a heist? Who’d a thought! Whole city’s a buzz!”
“I heard their talking of shutting the District gates,” Milark saw the blue cloak of a Lady of Peace flit by the windows and downed his drink, waiting for the door the open, another glimpse, something. It felt as if hours passed, but it could not have been more than five minutes before the door opened a podgy faced knight in leather armour, his sword sparkling by his side stepped in. Milark bit his tongue and shifted his bag beneath the table. He was looking at him, he knew, this was it. The knight frowned and beckoned the barmaid; they whispered briefly and she gestured towards the back of the room. The knight nodded gravely and she hurried away up the stairs.
The High Maeytra came storming down the stairs, half undressed and trying to tie his underwear in place. The Knight stared at him sternly and led him away. Milark could not settle now, his eye seemed to catch every glint of steel beneath the tables and he constantly saw flickers of blue cloaks outside the windows and he downed several glasses of mead. He nearly fell out of his chair when a fist slammed on to the table,
“Where is that bloody mudswilling [bleep]?”
“My, my Catlin. What language!”
“We thought your ale must’ve disagreed with you, sleeping so sudden.”
“Oh quit it you two, you’re not distracting some Richie for a pocket watch here. I know Ruby did it, now where is she?” She looked between Burmarsh and Mannith before fixing Mirlark with her cold violet eyes “Awful quiet Muckrake, bet you know don’t you?”
He opened his mouth to speak but just burped loudly and swayed slightly in his seat.
“Brilliant, get him more drunk why don’t you!” She leaned in close to his ear again “Don’t think I forgot, I want some of them stones if you want my silence.”
She stalked from the Inn, holding Milark’s gaze as she walked, as soon as the door shut he scrambled to his feet.
“I-I must be going, Kayla. You know?” His hands were slick with sweat and he fumbled to put his bag on. Mannith frowned at him.
“Are you sure you are ok?”
“Yes, sure. Fine. Just need to get home.”
“Well I’m heading out too, let me walk you. You seem a bit drunk.” Burmarsh made to stand.
“N-no. Really. I’ll be okay,”
He practically ran from the bar, sending a barmaid flying to the floor in his wake. It was well past dark now and he was swaggering from the mead, his bag tinkling too loudly in the silence. He began to edge down the street like a blind man in the twilight; he paused twisting his head from side to side. No, he’d heard nothing. Just the quiet playing tricks. He let the bag swing freely, his left hand brushing the face of a building to steady his walk. Kayla would be home; she’d smile and hold him. Their little one would gurgle to his touch. That’s all he needed. He passed through the gateway in Worten District, the cobbles became patchy underfoot as muddy puddles engulfed the road. He was nearly there now.
A small voice in the back of his mind pushed through his happy dreams. Where was everybody? It had been silent since the Inn, even at this hour these streets should be busy, noisy. He quickened his pace. There it was again, maybe he hadn’t imagined it before, barely louder than the wind: soft giggles of a small girl; just a short burst and it was gone. His legs froze, his hands clasped tight around his bag; it was drunken imaginings that’s all. He had to steady himself.
“Ring a Ring O’ Rosies…”
The girl’s voices came from all sides singing the haunting nursery rhyme, around him the street lamps and lights in windows throbbed before plunging him into blackness to the continued girl’s childish laughter. His fingers were slick with sweat but his legs sprang back to life, he was running now, weaving through alleys and down cobbled streets; lights continually blackened as he approached and the giggling seemed to grow louder with every step. His heart felt like it wanted to escape his chest and he stumbled losing a shoe to the cobbles. He couldn’t stop, he had to keep going.
“A pocket full of posies…”
The song was barely above a whisper, yet it was close almost upon him, he could even hear the silk of their dresses rustling. His feet slid from beneath him in a patch of mud, the stone ground winded him but he scrambled for his footing blindly. Wherever he placed his feet the ground seemed to turn to slick mud and he trashed like a fish in a net. Tears stung his eyes as he began to crawl. Not like this! They couldn’t!
He felt the warmth of breath against his cheek and fell to the floor, his strength suddenly gone. A long-fingered hand clasped across his lips, stifling his cry. His hands seemed to be glued to the mud as shoes clicked against the cobbles skipping towards him. Golden lines slowly twisted in the air before him, the intricate hem of a cloak glowing in the night. As they spread and grew he could see the crimson hooded cloak draped over the frame of a small girl in a frilled dress. Beneath the hood was pure shadow, masking any sign of a face.
“We all fall down.”
The melody of the song was dropped for the last word as he felt a sharp pain pierce his chest and a hand wrenched his bag away giggling once more.