Have you ever wondered what the point of gaining more followers is? Part of the reason is so that you can engage with incredibly talented people. Talented people tend to be creative, and one of our recent batches of new followers included some great creatives. Among them was the author of this short story, which we thought we would blog in four parts. Enjoy!
Steven Zairlin Connor Diorr, son of Count Morlean Donovan Diorr, heir to the largest private estate in Dynasty City (save the Patron’s own), found half a roast beef sandwich in the trash barrel behind the Hog’s Head pub. It was, therefore, a reasonably good morning. He had most of a skin of wine in his belly already – enough to hold down the shakes, at least – and he’d even slept in a dry doorway.
Good omens, all.
The reeking alleyway behind the Hog’s Head sheltered him from the sun as it crept higher in the sky. He kept to the shadows, kicking back the occasional rat when the creatures grew too bold. Two days previously, the rats had made a meal of Travish during the night. Travish had been Steven’s only friend and his partner in vagrancy. He’d been a decent enough fellow, whatever his previous crimes might have been. He hadn’t deserved to leave the world as food for vermin.
Perhaps I do, Steven thought. He rubbed slender, dirt-caked fingers across his patchy beard.
He could hear traffic bustling past on the road outside, the calls of street vendors mingling with the grunts and snorts of animals and the rumble of wagon wheels. Flies had begun to buzz angrily over the trash barrels, so he edged farther back, the shadows cold and the alleyway damp within their shroud. In a pool of stagnant water was reflected just enough light for him to see his gaunt, angular face, his broken beak of a nose dominating care-worn features. His dark eyes were deeply ringed, his shock of sandy-brown hair a gnarled mess that obscured the back of his neck. His stained wool pants and tunic had once been white; they were now a matted brown and black, stinking as much as the garbage-strewn alley.
In the ripples of the filthy water he caught a glint of metal around his neck. He reached inside his tunic and pulled out the skull pendant, the only thing he hadn’t sold or traded. The empty sockets of the tiny skull stared back at him, the death’s head laughing silently at how far he’d fallen.
He ripped the pendant from his neck and hurled it across the alleyway. There it staid for perhaps an hour before he finally roused himself, wandering over and pawing through the muck on the alley floor until he found it. The chain was hopelessly broken, so he shoved the pendant into his pocket. The skull-shaped silver lump poked his thigh with every weary step.
He’d stuck his head outside the alley for but an instant when the edge of a knife flashed against his throat.
“Do not move,” a voice commanded.
There were four of them, wearing the livery of the Patron’s private guard. They carried swords and crossbows, their weapons and armor black, their cloaks blood red in the late morning sun. The nearest of them withdrew his dagger from the vicinity of Steven’s neck, sheathing the serrated blade on his forearm bracer. He wore the silver crest of a captain pinned to a fold of his cloak.
“Steven Diorr?” he demanded.
“Yes,” Steven stared at his feet. His boots had holes in their toes.
“Dagger Diorr?” the captain persisted.
“You are to come with us.”
“Am I under arrest?”
The guards said nothing. One put a gloved hand on his shoulder, squeezing hard; Dagger reacted before he could catch himself, turning and firing his arm straight out, jabbing at the man’s eyes as he broke the man’s grip. The guard cursed, stepped back, and cuffed him on the side of the head with one fist. Steven collapsed in the mud.
“Still a little life left in him,” the man who’d struck Steven laughed. He bent at the flicker of sun on silver, snatching up the skull pendant. He held it up for the captain to see.
“I guess we’re lucky to be alive,” the captain laughed. The others joined him, barking mirthlessly. “Pick him up and let’s go. We haven’t got all day.”
In stark contrast to the common section of Dynasty City was the wealthy district, where towering, walled palaces and mansions sat in all their sparkling marble glory, naturally elevated by the curve of the land to a level upwind of the poorer districts. Gone were the narrow streets choked with people and animals. Here, well-dressed and well-paid merchants traveled the streets with entourages of servants, assistants, and attendants. Elaborate carriages pulled by teams of thoroughbreds roamed the streets. Beautiful stone homes and businesses towered over the guards as they marched, half-dragging the groggy Steven. When his captors finally halted, he groaned and looked up to behold the gate of the largest stone house he had ever seen.
Even from several blocks away, the building had been visible. It rose ten stories high and was covered with arches, balconies, columns, and parapets. A central tower, rising half again as tall as the highest point of the main building, clawed the sky like a single, bony finger. The building was constructed throughout of a strange, dull gray stone that seemed to pulse with a barely noticeable heat. Massive gargoyles of the same material stood at either side of the gate.
“It hurts my eyes to look at this place,” one of the guards muttered.
“Tell the Patron you don’ care for ‘is builders, why don’ you,” another taunted.
“Silence,” the captain ordered absently. In truth, his thoughts were the same – but he’d been in the Patron’s service long enough to know to keep his mouth shut. Only the gods knew what hideous things had built this place, what hideous things were even now trapped in the walls. If he let himself think about it for too long, he’d be running from the estate by nightfall.
The building was surrounded by a high wall of the same disturbing stone, the top of which was set with rows of sharp iron spikes. The main gate was a huge arch blocked by a sturdy portcullis. Steven, supported by the guards holding his arms on either side, looked over the gargoyles blearily. They were carved in such minute detail that he could see individual stone scales.