September 26, 2011

A Shot in the Dark

An Excerpt from [Untitled Work of Fiction]

Rael was suddenly aware that he was being followed. He turned to look over his shoulder and barely ducked out of the way of a large object swinging toward his head. The blow caught his shoulder and sent him sprawling. He tucked his head and rolled, grabbing at his belt for the hunting knife as he sprung back to his feet. He could barely make out the shapes of his attackers lunging at him. Before he could unsheathe the small weapon he received another blow to the stomach, doubling him over. Fighting to maintain his balance, he threw a punch in the direction of one attacker, missing completely. A torch was lit, and Rael saw that he was surrounded.

Two men grabbed Rael by the arms and held them outstretched despite his desperate struggling. A third, armed with the torch and a wooden club, stepped in front of him, eying him like a stray dog. One of the others spat and muttered "We got him good and tight, boss. Give him the treatment!"

Rael shot back defiantly, "Let me loose and I'll show you a treatment, man to man! Then we'll see who's got who!"

Their leader brandished his club and scowled. "Stow your tongue, you snot-nosed whelp. This will not be a pleasant-"

The assailant barely had time to look down at the white-feathered arrow protruding from his neck before slumping to the ground in a lifeless heap. Raels' other two captors loosened their grasp momentarily as they spun towards the direction of the attack, giving Rael the chance to lash out at one with a strong kick to the knee, sending him down howling. The other faltered, caught between predator and prey. An instant later he too sprouted an arrow and fell with a grunt. Rael turned back to the first wounded man who was struggling back to his feet and delivered another vicious kick to the head, knocking him out cold. The whole struggle had lasted only seconds.

Rael turned in the direction of the arrows' origin, aware that there was little he could do if the invisible marksman chose him next. Warily, he called out. "Who's there?" For a moment nothing happened, then he made out a smallish shadowy form strolling silently towards him. The figure stopped just outside the dying glow of the embers from the torch, which lay nearly snuffed out on the ground. A low, hushed voice  accompanied the silhouette. It was rough but devoid of emotion and gave Rael the impression that it was disguised. "You picked a dangerous town to go wandering about in the dark, Sentinel."

Rael blinked, unsure how to respond. The stranger either was still shooting in the dark, or somehow knew more than Rael was comfortable admitting. He decided to ignore the accusation, hoping it was a bluff. "Who are you? Who were they?" he demanded, gesturing at his dead and wounded assailants sprawled at his feet.

The figure tensed, and the voice took on a slightly mocking tone. "I'd expect fewer questions and more gratitude from someone who was just saved from certain... unpleasant treatment."

Rael checked his attitude and bowed his head in respect. "I'm sorry. Thank you. It seems I owe you my life, and that I will not forget."

The stranger returned the bow, and though Rael could not make out the face he was sure it was grinning at him. "Consider it a debt repaid. My comrade told me of how you **SPOILERS** sprung him from prison in Zendar. He will not forget that, either."
Rael gasped. "Borcha! You're a friend of Borcha! But what do you mean- comrade? Who is he, really?" **SPOILERS**

The stranger nodded, but looked around before responding. "It's not safe to talk here. That much you must know. Follow me, and I'll answer all of your questions when and where we're safe." With that, the figure spun around and nearly disappeared into the night before Rael could set his feet into motion. Quickly the two wound their way noiselessly through the darkened city, leaving no sign of their passing.

After several minutes, just when Rael was sure they were both lost, the stranger stopped short in front of a rough wooden door set in a nondescript stone wall. From somewhere on the other side, Rael could hear conversation and mild revelry. It was some kind of inn or tavern. His new companion rapped sharply several times on the door, which opened to reveal another shadowy figure- this one large and imposing. The two nodded in greeting to each other, and Rael's guide whispered something and motioned at him. The doorman nodded again and stepped out of the way, allowing them both to pass.

The door was closed and bolted behind Rael, leaving him fumbling in almost complete darkness. The sounds of business were louder in here, but he could see no sign of their origin. He then heard the strike of flint on steel as the doorman lit a candle. As the flame cast out its feeble light, Rael took in his new surroundings.

The three stood in a small back room, a storage closet by the looks of it. Sacks and boxes were piled around on the floor, and the walls were covered in shelves containing all sorts of items. A stack of wine barrels rested in a corner.

The doorman was a tall, muscular man with a shaved head. Rael guessed his job was to keep trouble away, but he looked friendly enough towards the two visitors. Rael looked back to his new companion, hoping for some answers. Besides a bow and quiver, the mysterious marksman wore a simple leather jerkin and arm wrappings under a light cloak. The face was still hidden in shadows beneath a deep hood. Then the stranger drew back the hood, and Rael gasped. The marksman was no man at all- it was a young woman!

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