Saturday, February 05, 2011

The Forlorn 1 - Dave Freer

"Port Tinarana was like an old, decaying tart, her face lined with a myriad of streets and alleys, inexpertly caked with a crude makeup of overhanging buildings. The alleyways seemed to grow narrower and more choked in filth with the passing of each year. Judging by the ankle-deep slush, this dead end hadn't had the garbage cleared in the last three hundred of those years. And in a few minutes his body would become yet another once-human part of it. He shrank back against the cold, oozing stones of the overhanging wall. The night haze of fog and coal smoke streamered in twisted eddies about the ragged boys. They were vague, almost ethereal, except for the silver-pale lines of low held knives, moving in slow arcs as they closed in.

"Gonna cut you, dink."

"Yeah! Gonna spill your guts, cull. You bin workin' our turf."

Keilin knew there was no use in pleading. They weren't going to listen. They were all bigger than he was, used to using those knives. He touched the stone of his pendant, pressing it into his thin chest. It was always cool, but now it seemed almost burning cold against his skin. His pale eyes darted, trying to assess his best chance. Oh God, for some kind of break . . . They came closer. . . .

"What've you got there, gutter rats?" The voice was coarse, adult and slightly slurred with alcohol.

The advance of the ragged gang stopped. "Piss off, guardsman, if you want to stay healthy." The rat pack's leader was wary, but defiant.

"Huh! Hear that mates! The rats are worried 'bout my health!"

Another rough voice responded. "Soon have their own to worry about, heh heh!" There was the steely rasp of a sword being drawn.

Keilin knew this was no rescue for him. The city guardsmen protected those who paid their dues. To this brethren of thugs he was as much of a louse on the city's underbelly as his attackers were. The dead end the gang had caught him in had now become their trap, too.

"Wait a minute, Sill. Let's see what they've got first. We might even want it instead of a rat." There was a nasal quality to the voice that failed to overlay the lust. With a sharp metallic click the slide of the dark lantern was pulled back. Light spilled out. It revealed four boys in tattered clothing remnants. They were stunted and malnourished, but visibly between the ages of fifteen and the wispy first traces of beard. Their victim was smaller and younger still.

The light was directed at the victim. "Ooh! Pretty one, isn't he!" The nasal voice thickened. Here, in the deep south, a pale skin, green eyes and red hair were rare, as was the hawksbill nose in the middle of it all. Enough of the light washed back for Keilin to see the holder. His belly crawled. Guard-Captain Kemp. It was widely rumored that Kemp got his kicks from pain . . . and that his young victims ended up dead . . . much later.

"Go on, rats. Get lost. It's your lucky night." As the ragged figures scampered past the guardsmen, Keilin saw the Guard-Captain set the dark lantern down and start fumbling with the buttons on his pants. "Hold him for me, boys. Looks like this one'll fight back." Something in his voice indicated that this would simply add spice.

Keilin struggled vainly against the big hands that held him. He was wild with fear, into the realms of panic, too far gone to feel pain from the sudden bitter cold of the jewel on his chest.

"Holy shit!" The rough hands loosened their grip on his arms. Keilin writhed free, pulling up his trousers. Whatever this was, he was going to run, and he'd not get far with them around his ankles. He heard the scraping sound of swords being drawn. Looking up, he saw just how futile this act was. In the lantern light the bull was huge, filling most of the alley. Living in the gut of the city, Keilin barely knew what the animal was, but hearing the beast's bellow, seeing those long horns lowering, he was sure it was very, very angry."

3.5 out of 5