I wrote this for a contest (in which I didn't place) and thought it should see the light. Please let me know what you think of the story. I appreciate all feedback. Happy Holidays to all of you and enjoy!
Trial in Bosphos
Vohnn and Chespa watched the rugged coastline approach, the slippery deck tilting and heaving as the distant thunderstorm built behind them, casting harsh shadows as each flash of lightning split the sky. The dark of night was the worst time to attempt a landing in the port city of Bosphos, with the massive, looming stones on its shoreline, but the best time for those of their ilk.
"Yer sure they wound up here?" Chespa asked, pulling his hood closer against the pattering of rain that had now begun.
"The Bluebabbler's never wrong, my friend. You know that," Vohnn responded, adjusting the lumpy travel bags that he reclined against. "If that old codger says they're here, they're here."
"True enough..." Chespa agreed, growing silent as he watched the pinpoint yellow lights of the city's circular windows, piercing the darkness ahead like a thousand dragon eyes. "You ever been here before?"
"What, Bosphos? No. The place is far worse than home from what I've heard. It's a city of filth, full of the worst of the worst. Faelandra the Light does not smile on this place and Akkus the Devil doesn't want it either."
"You said you didn't believe in all that Gods and Devils balderdash."
"I don't. It's just a simple way to get a point across."
"I suppose so... why'd they run here? There were so many other ports that they could have chosen along our way," asked Chespa.
"Seems odd to me as well," Vohnn answered, chewing on a dirty thumbnail. "The kids are fourteen years old at best. Why would they pick this pisshole of all places? They could've given us the slip in Greyborn Heights, but decided to flee here instead."
"Well, the job's nearly done now, my friend," Chespa said, a thin layer of suspicion gathering in his mind. Something simply felt wrong about all of this. "We find them, get Lord Drahmelson's emerald and get back home to collect our payment."
"Drahmelson's an odd one, isn't he? No one remembers the man moving into the city. He was just suddenly there one day, he and his money," said Vohnn.
"I've never seen him outside of that manor that he lives in either..." Chespa replied.
"Never seen that hunchback anywhere but behind that huge desk of his... and that face! Ugh..." Vohnn said with a scowl.
"Doesn't matter to me what he looks like as long as he makes with the coin."
"Not looking forward to splitting it with the others, though," said Vohnn with a frown and glance over his shoulder. Behind them four other silhouettes could be seen, hunters like them, hooded and well-armed beneath their cloaks. "Six to catch two urchins?"
"Don't remind me... we don't need this lot none," Chespa said under his breath. "I'd just as soon throw 'em all overboard."
They were Maerliss, Livia, Galter and Rimion, the others, hardened mercenaries and assassins from Orbia, the city of lies. Nothing good ever came from that city, these rogues included. Each had been handpicked for the job, each bearing unique gifts that might aid in the return of Drahmelson's gem.
Galter led the way onto the docks, hiding his face instinctively from the lantern light that showed the way. Always the flamboyant one, he wore his hat akilter and his black moustache turned up with wax. Every finger bore a ring and every ring a colored stone. Galter loved his trinkets, but trinkets cost money and he was dangerously low on the stuff.
Livia followed closely behind the man, her clothing and hair the color of blood, boiled leather armor covering her chest, a long velvet cloak trailing out behind her. There seemed no evidence of weapons upon her person, but an air of danger hovered around her.
The other woman, Maerliss, was much shorter than Livia, almost a dwarf in stature, carrying a hefty crossbow over her shoulder and a quiver of bolts at her waist. She seemed all business, her dark eyes intense, already searching the buildings ahead. She bore many scars, the evidence of the countless battles she had undertaken.
Rimion hobbled off the gangplank, chubby and heavily bearded, large iron mace strapped across his back. His eyes, on the other hand, seemed to hold a certain dimwittedness to them and his mouth hung open, the lower lip perpetually wet and glistening. His mind had never advanced to more than that of a child.
Vohnn shook his head in disgust as he and Chespa came ashore, contemplating how they had ended up in the company of such an assortment of cretins. He and Vohnn had been a team for nearly three years now. They needed no help in apprehending two children. What a waste of coin to split it with four others.
"These dogs are just gonna get in our way," Chespa mumbled, spitting into the water as they passed.
"Relax, my friend. Perhaps they'll be unlucky in their search. Fall on a sword, perhaps?"
Chespa met his eyes with a knowing grin. If the opportunity presented itself, he would gladly rob another of their share.
The six hunters gathered in an empty alleyway, each glancing about anxiously, ready for the action to begin. The rain would make their hunt more difficult, but they were an experienced group and greed drove them ever on.
"We split up here, three and three. Once you've spotted them, you give the signal," Galter said, removing an ivory horn from beneath his cloak and handing it to Vohnn. "The ladies and I will strike out to the west, the rest of you to the east."
"No," said Livia, turning to stare menacingly at Galter, who raised an eyebrow in surprise.
"No?" he asked, amused and stepped toward her in a threatening manner. Livia did not give ground.
"You take the half-wit," she said, motioning toward Rimion, then stepping in with Vohnn and Chespa. "Too many women on one team will put us out of balance. After all, with all of your baubles and haughty manner, you're practically a woman yourself."
All eyes went to her, the others holding their breath.
"Why, my lady... I've done nothing to warrant this behavior..." Galter began, calm exterior, but obviously boiling on the inside. His hands clenched into fists as he awaited her response.
"Your mouth is a never-ending fountain of droppings, sir. We've been trapped on a ship with your pompous, braggart ass for days. We've listened to your tales of chivalry, of monsters bested and maidens spoiled. I know a tall tale when I hear one, Galter. I've heard more than my share in my travels. I - for one - will listen to it no longer. Take the others, if they'll have you. You lot should plug your ears if you know what's good for you."
Maerliss laughed out loud, hand on her belly.
"Well said, Livia! Well said. I also will not be searching with this bouncing buffoon. I'll join you three, if you don't mind."
She stepped toward the others with a smile. There came a high-pitched whistling sound, a flash of lightning and she stiffened, her eyes wide with pain and shock. She fell forward, face-first in the dirt, the quivering shaft of a white arrow protruding from her back. For a moment the others stood motionless, in disbelief, then immediately took cover, weapons coming free.
High above them, crouched on a rooftop, was a slender girl with long white hair, a short bow in her hand. She laughed out loud, her voice echoing down the deserted streets and then dashed away.
"That's her, that's one of the twins!" Galter shouted, running down the alley in her direction. "Rimion, you're with me!"
Rimion stared at Maerliss' dead body for a moment, then shuffled off behind him, mace in hand.
Lightning struck once more and Chespa noticed a second figure upon the roof of a nearby building, white-haired but masculine in appearance.
"There's the other one!" he shouted, pointing.
Vohnn and Livia followed his gaze as the boy bounded away in the opposite direction of his sister.
"Come on," Vohnn said and headed down the street, boots splashing in the growing puddles of rainwater. "Careful now. These brats mean business. Remember, even if we recover the emerald, we have to apprehend the other twin. Drahmelson wants 'em both."
"I'm sure he'd be satisfied with the gem... " Livia remarked as they turned a corner.
"You don't know Drahmelson very well, do you?" Chespa replied with a nod from Vohnn.
"Damn," Livia said. "Who are these kids anyway?"
The sound of pounding footsteps led them down another alley, golden and ghostlike shapes covering the ground, cast by the many windows at either side. A huddled figure could be seen, sitting against a wall just ahead, hood pulled down to conceal his face.
They approached, hands on weapons as the figure raised his eyes. He was an ancient man, long, thin white hair and beard, his cheeks a network of deep wrinkles.
"Looking for the boy, I suspect?" he said with a voice rough and cracking.
"Yes! You've seen him?" asked Livia.
"Of course I have. He ran past just now... " said the old man with a grin. "That's a large gem that boy's carrying. Must be worth a fortune, eh?"
"You saw it?" asked Vohnn.
"How could I miss it? It's the size of a brick! Who's it belong to? I'm assuming the boy lifted it from someone."
"Aye and we've been hired to retrieve it," Chespa said.
"All of you?" asked the old man.
"And three others," answered Chespa with a nod.
"Split six ways? A fool's hunt, that's what you're on. Start by killing the woman there. Five-way split!"
"...and what makes you think these two could kill me, grandfather?" asked Livia, her eyes on the other two men.
"Heh, heh. Fine. You kill them. Makes more sense anyway. Split the reward four ways by splittin' their spleens," the old man said, carving the air in front of him with a downward chop of his hand.
Vohnn and Chespa both scoffed at the idea as Livia gave them each a scowl.
"What are you laughing at? You believe that because you are men you could easily best me?" Livia asked, lowering her eyes in a challenging stare.
"Of course they could, lass!" the old man offered. "They're twice as strong and most likely smarter."
Vohnn laughed out loud, head thrown back, the falling rain running down is face.
Livia's hand flashed out and Vohnn grew silent, wrapping his fingers around his throat as the rain began to wash crimson down his chest.
She had slit his throat.
Chespa stared at Vohnn for a moment, unable to comprehend what had just occurred as his friend slipped to his knees, gurgling. Chespa squatted next to him.
"Vohnn! Vohnn!" he called out as his friend faded, tumbling to his side, dead. "What the hell did you do? What's wrong with you, Livia? You killed him?"
It was as if a fog lifted itself from her mind suddenly, her awareness becoming clear. Seeing Vohnn on the ground surprised her for a moment. She had reacted too quickly, allowed the heat of anger to take control, but she did not remember doing so. She glanced at her glove, the razor tips on the ends of her fingers now dark with blood. She frowned.
"He laughed in my face, Chespa," she said, trying to mask her confusion. She had not meant to kill the man, of that she was sure. In fact, that moment seemed to be missing from her mind, but without doubt Vohnn's blood was on her hands.
"Bitch," Chespa barked, removing his broadsword from its scabbard. "I'll have your damned head for that."
"Chespa, stop," said Livia, backing away with her arms out in front of her. "Something's not right here. We-"
His blade came down hard, slicing through the raindrops and striking her left forearm, where it was deflected with a metallic clang. She obviously wore gauntlets of some sort beneath her leather overcoat, serving to stop the blade's edge. The force of the blow, however, was enough to stun her arm, numbing it and nearly driving her to the ground.
"You're full of surprises, Livia," Chespa growled and raised the sword for another strike. She managed to ward off three more attacks, but both arms were now rendered useless, held protectively against her chest.
"Chespa, please. I'm not your enemy. There's something inside of you, just as there was in me, playing with your mind," Livia said, grimacing in pain.
Something changed behind his eyes, a sudden realization and he lowered his sword. She could see that he was struggling, contemplating the situation.
The old man chuckled where he sat, taking a pull from a flask he had produced from within the folds of his robes.
"That is a huge emerald... it's reward must be huge as well, no?" he said. "I wouldn't share it with someone that'd just killed my friend..."
Chespa transformed once more, his visage growing bloodthirsty again. Livia ran, knowing it to be here only chance at survival. As Chespa raced after her, the cackling of the old man faded into the distance.
On the other side of the city, Galter and Rimion sprinted down the dark streets in pursuit of the girl. They could hear the patter of her footsteps above and followed it blindly, winding themselves deeper and deeper into the maze of alleys.
At one point, just ahead, they could see that she had stopped and was standing on a rooftop holding the gleaming gemstone overhead in one hand, daring them to take it from her.
"Dammit. I'm gettin' that stone..." Galter hissed as he scanned the nearby buildings, eyes settling on a downspout. He wrapped his hands around it and carefully climbed to the roof, hands slipping on the wet surface, with Rimion struggling behind him.
When Galter gained the rooftop he found that the girl had not fled, instead she stood defiantly, a stone's-throw away, pointing at the emerald that rested at her feet. Then she pointed away to her left and a figure materialized from the mist, an elderly woman, white-haired and stooped. Galter stopped where he stood, his mouth falling open.
"Mother?" he asked, taking a tentative step forward. "Mother, how..?"
She raised her arms as if to embrace him and he moved toward her, but his eyes remained on the emerald that seemed to pulse with life. Just then, the building beneath them began to shake, the structure rocking back and forth, holes appearing all around his feet. His mother fell to her knees and cracks formed all around the gemstone.
He bounded toward her, his mind racing, the stone in the corner of his left eye as it began to sink with the roof. The coin he could make from returning that thing would set him up for some time. At the last moment, he decided that he could not let it go and dove for the emerald as his mother fell to her death with an echoing scream. His fingers closed around the hefty stone and he bolted away, jumping to another building just as the other collapsed, where he fell to his knees and held the trophy close to his chest, a broad smile on his face.
He was overcome with greed, such that he did not hear the girl approaching from behind.
"I got you, you little devil," he said, caressing the stone as one would a babe. "These others don't deserve the reward. You and I will catch the first boat out of this place and collect the entire share."
"A prime example of humanity," the girl said and Galter spun, reaching for his sword. He would not have time to pull it as she had already driven a blade through his chest. His eyes glazed over as he fell to his side, the green of the emerald reflected in them as his soul departed.
Chespa turned a corner, hot on Livia's trail, only to be confronted by a dead end. A tall stone wall rose in front of him.
"No way she scaled this that quickly..." he said to himself. His shadow was suddenly cast upon its rough surface as green light began to glow behind him. He turned on his heel, sword pulled free, eyes squinted against the ghostly illumination. The white-haired boy stood there, emerald held at his waist.
"Here. This is what you've come for..." the boy said, his voice sounding ethereal and faraway. Then Livia appeared behind him with hell in her eyes.
"No! That's mine! I've already drawn blood for the thing. I've earned it," she said.
"You could share in the reward... still quite a bag of coin, I'm sure," the boy said, raising his eyebrows. "No need to kill one another, is there?"
Livia shouted and rushed past the boy, both hands swinging out in front of her as she reached Chespa. Her metal claws carved the air in front of him as he ducked and dodged, his sword ringing as it struck her armored forearms.
"As I suspected," the boy remarked, walking away down the alley.
"I'll have all of Drahmelson's coin, wench!" Chespa screamed out, twisting and turning his blade, trying to find an opening in her defenses. She was fast, amazingly so, and smart. She kept herself close inside, never giving him a chance to get in a hefty swing. She had learned from their previous battle, her arms still aching from his attacks.
She pressed in, slashing into his forearms and once across his cheek, sending him into a rage. She knew this would unbalance the man and when he overreached his swing, she shoved her fingertips into his eyes, piercing both and blinding him. He fell to the earth, writhing about, hands over his face and screaming obscenities.
"Ah! Damn you, Livia! Where are you? No, don't leave me like this!" he called out, blood dripping from his chin. "At least kill me. Give me that!"
She walked away, offering no mercy.
Rimion regained consciousness half-buried in rubble. He coughed and spat out dust as he threw timbers and small chunks of stone off of his body, rolling to one side to get to his feet. He could barely see his hand in front of his face, but he could hear the tiny chuckles of the girl as she lingered somewhere nearby.
His shoulder ached and there appeared to be dried blood at his temple, his head pounding from the fall. He checked his belt. His sword was still there.
"Galter?" he called out, his usually dull senses now even more dull. "You all right?"
There came no response from Galter, only more chuckling from the white-haired girl. Her silhouette appeared just a few steps away, bow raised above her head.
"Come on, Rimion," she said, presenting the emerald from within her clothing, lighting the area. "The others are gone. The gem can belong to only you. If you can catch me, it's yours."
She took off at a run with Rimion stumbling after her. As he stepped out of the rubble, he saw Galter's dead body, a pool of blood beneath it, fancy hat covering half of his face. Rimion paused, his slow mind putting the pieces together.
Had she bested him?
He heard the girl whistle and shook his head, ignoring Galter.
"All dead... Every last coin for Rimion!" he said and ran off following the girl's laughter.
At the intersection of three streets, he saw the shape of a dog rush past and disappear into the night. In the distance it whimpered in pain, causing Rimion to pull up short in concern. He could hear the girl's whistle off to one side and the dog on the other.
He turned in the direction that the animal had gone, wishing to help it in some way. By the sound, it appeared to be injured.
The way was so dark, no lantern light behind the windows here to light his passage.
"Pup? Where'd you go, pup? Let Rimion help you," he called out, shuffling blindly down the street. His shoulder brushed against a wall to his right and he corrected his course.
The whimpering seemed to grow closer and he squinted his eyes against the blackness before him to no avail.
"The emerald is up here, Rimion," a voice called out from above. "Climb up. I'll hand it to you."
"Yeah. In a moment. This little one needs my help," said Rimion, with hands out before him. The street before him was suddenly illuminated by the green light of the gemstone, but Rimion noticed the pit too late.
He toppled in, head over heels, ending upon a dozen sharpened stakes as large as a man's leg, that pierced him through. As the last breath wheezed out of him, the spectral shape of the dog appeared at the pit's edge, staring down at his body. It immediately transformed, growing taller, limbs elongating until it took on the shape of the boy.
"This one was simply too stupid to live," he said as his sister strode up, nodding.
"They're all dead now, all but one," she said.
"She doesn't deserve the stone either. She's just as terrible as the others," he replied, kicking dirt disgustedly into the pit. "She killed a companion for laughing."
"She did what she had to in order to survive," the girl explained.
"This has never been about simple survival, you know that. Insects survive. This is about human character, about the significant flaws in this entire race that I continuously point out to you. They've had their time, now it has passed. Do you not see that?"
"I saw Rimion show compassion for a wounded animal," said the girl who had begun to age as they spoke, as her brother had. "That must signify something."
"A life or death situation and the fool was concerned with a mongrel's well-being? A competitor in a game of survival and distracted by a dog. This is a race of idiots."
"You are generalizing again, Akkus."
"Aye, Faelandra. I suppose I am. The ages have not been kind to humanity. Your light is but a pinprick within their hearts and souls, but they overflow with my darkness." He took another slow sip from his flask.
She grew silent as the wrinkles appeared at the corners of her eyes and her hair grew brittle and thin.
"We chose the wrong world to exercise our influence," she said in a near-whisper.
"Each world is the same, each that crawls with the humans..." he replied.
"Aye, you speak the truth, Akkus," Faelandra said with sorrow. "So many worlds, so many souls that have proven me wrong."
"Then... you concede?" Akkus asked.
"What of Livia?"
"The same as it always has been. She becomes the first of my generals in this new layer of Hell. Then we move on to the next world, where you can - once again - fail to prove me wrong."
"Very well, Akkus."
"Drahmelson!" Akkus called out and a solitary form descended from the night sky on leathery wings. He landed between them, wings folding against his back.
"My Lord?" he said with a deep bow.
"Drahmelson, my pet, find us another world to play with," Akkus said and Drahmelson bowed again, then took to the air.
"At last," he said as he rose above them. "Hiding these wings has been a monumental chore."
"You agree, then, Faelandra?" asked Akkus.
"I do. End it," Faelandra said, shedding a tear.
Akkus, now ancient and diabolical in appearance, waved his arms and all began to fade from existence. Like a gossamer curtain, it fell away to reveal a boiling, red landscape of flame and mountainous spires. Screams filled the air around them and all that was good was gone forever.
"Once again," Akkus announced. "It is ended."