the scion of dragonclaw - prologue
I hope you have a very safe and wonderful holiday. If you work in retail or customer service, I hope you have time to recover yourself afterward and I do remember the Hell you are going through right now. Look for the light, my friends. And I hope 2018 brings you a chance at a better job, or at least an apocalypse which rains down righteous death on all your customers and management while you get to stand in the crater and laugh.
As a reward for your love of my books, I present to you a gift. The gift of Christmas.
Here, the Prologue to Nysta #8: Scion of Dragonclaw.
May it give you a braingasm.
The door crashed open, almost wrenched clean off its hinges.
As one, patrons of The Rat’s Last Laugh turned to peer with incredulous gaze at the weasel-faced man slouching in the doorway. His dark brown eyes slid this way and that and narrow lips moved as he spoke without sound.
Nod and shrug when satisfied he’d got an accurate count of heads.
Moved into the light.
Long red woollen hood draped down his back. Tattered grey coat. Stained with mud. Gaping hole in the back caked in old dry blood. Scar of a fatal wound to someone else’s back.
Flecks of trash clung to the arms like he’d been crawling through the belongings of an Alley Rat. Pale shirt which might once have been white. Was now just a mix of browns and greys.
Pants, patched heavily, wet with fresher blood. Still whispering a few warm ghosts of steam. Not his own.
He rolled his shoulders as he stepped inside, running one hand across the back of his grime-stained neck. Rolled the dull-coloured beads threaded on a leather thong around his throat between his fingers before pulling his hand away.
An odd decoration for an odd kind of man.
He paused, two steps inside the taproom.
Then, moving only one lean leg, kicked the door shut behind him.
The sound of it crashing shut made more than one patron tense in their seat.
Spread lips into a smile which showed a large gap between front teeth. A gap through which he pushed a low whistle before striding deliberately toward the bar.
As he approached, the bartender glanced sideways.
To a heavyset ork lounging on a stool. The ork’s red eyes burned as he studied the drifter. A long pause which made the bartender sweat.
Then the ork nodded his big green head.
And the bartender coughed a small cough. “Fair enough. What’ll it be, stranger?”
The gap-toothed man kept smiling.
Didn’t say a word.
Just pointed to a bottle of rum and tossed a single coin.
Slid onto a stool. Crossed arms on the bar. Eyes drilling into the bartender’s own with an intense humour which was nothing short of devilish.
Unsure how to react, the bartender fell back on what he knew. Scuttled toward the bottle.
Set a small wooden cup in front of the drifter.
With trembling hands and glances which snapped to the ork and back more than once.
All while the drifter whistled.
Tuneless and low.
Into the silence of the taproom.
Every eye in the place aimed at his back as he reached with both hands.
One took the cup. Slid it across the bar closer to himself.
The other took the bottle, which he prised loose of the nervous bartender’s fingers.
Raised it in salute.
Then drank from the slender neck.
And the room waited for the gap-toothed drifter to breathe.
On the sixth, he lowered the bottle. Wiped mouth with the back of a gloved fist.
Let out a raucous burp.
Thrust the empty bottle back into the bartender’s trembling hands.
Sighed in contentment.
Swivelled on the stool. Nodded at attention received.
Sucked bottom teeth.
Then let out another long ghostly whistle as he tugged tattered gloves from his hands. Balled and buried them within pockets.
As he did, the front of his coat fell open to reveal two heavy knives. One on either hip. Sheaths laced around thighs.
Still whistling, he allowed one hand to drop to the hilt on his right. Thumbed the butt before flicking scored wood with his nail. Sound of the click seemed to echo through the room.
Promise of violence.
Head aiming from one side of the room to the other.
Eyes scanning each face. Taking in all features. Noting scars. Wry grin tugging the corner of his mouth.
A grin he turned against the ork like a sword to thick green throat.
Who sat up straight, jaw crooked in thought.
“Feller,” the ork said. “I don’t think you know where you are. And if you do, you ain’t right in the head for acting up like that. So, do you? Do you know where in the fuck you are?”
The whistle cut off into silence.
Then he whistled again. Not moving.
Letting his eyes drift across the ork’s battered armor. Taking in the dozens of bone fetishes dangling from his body on threads of catgut twine. The slave chains hung from thick leather belt.
Following the drifter’s gaze, the ork returned his smile with a mean one of his own.
Calloused green fingers brushed the fetishes down his chest. “You want to know how I got these, right? Well, I’ll tell you. I got them off punks like you. Punks with attitude, who came in here all ready to rumble. Thinking they’ll make a name for themselves. Instead, I beat the snot out of them. Cut off their fingers. Then we ship what’s left of ‘em out on a slave ship. I always believed a feller deserves to profit from a fight.” The ork wet his bottom lip with his tongue. “What d’you say about that, punk? You gonna stop whistling? Or your fingers gonna fucking dangle on my string? Decide quick, because you’re beginning to get on my nerves.”
The drifter stopped whistling.
Reached and lifted his cup.
“Yeah,” the ork said. Grunted. “Figured you for a yellow cunt. Bet those stickers of yours are just for show. Where’d you get ‘em, anyways? Off your pa? They look too big for your little hands. Maybe I’ll take one for myself?”
The drifter finished his drink.
Set it down calmly on the bar and nodded to the bartender.
A discrete nod of thanks for the drink.
Aimed his gaze back to the ork.
Drew lips back into foolish grin.
And let out another long low whistle.
Kind of whistle which made some men feel a chill down their spines.
The ork half-rose from his seat.
Eyes red slits.
“Now you’re really pissing me off, punk. You come in here, and I show patience with you. Give you a real chance to walk out alive. But you keep hacking at my patience. Hacking at my good fucking will. That ain’t friendly. So, I figure you ain’t here for good reason. Ain’t here for a drink. You’re here to kick up some shit. Well, punk. You’re in the wrong fucking part of Dragonclaw. This here turf belongs to us. We’re the Bonebreakers, right? And you’re about to get broke.”
The gap-toothed man leaned back, elbows on the bar. Unmoved as a few Bonebreakers tittered a few cheers from the back. Clink of slave chains as some gave them a shake.
Foolish grin slapped wide across the drifter’s face. Tongue pushing through the gap as he allowed the tone of his whistle to rise and fall without semblance of any real tune.
Eyes shining as he stared at the ork without blinking.
Still said nothing.
Not even when the ork pushed himself from his stool and loped across the room. Bare green arms bulging as he flexed and squeezed fists so tight the knuckles popped.
Ground his teeth.
Snarled at the gap-toothed man with every step. Jaw rolling around his tongue.
A predator homing in on smaller prey.
And the whistling didn’t stop.
Huge shadow fell across the drifter. Covered his weasel face in darkness.
“I’m gonna fuck you up bad, little man.”
The ork reached.
He didn’t expect resistance. Fingers trembling rage, they sought to grab the whistler by his throat.
But the drifter moved as the whistling stopped.
Off the stool like grease. Slid under the ork’s heavy arm. A blur of catlike energy. Had drawn both knives in the same movement.
Coat flapped in his wake.
Twin flashes of light like ribbons of steel.
Blur of coat.
Darted around the ork’s second swing and slid smoothly across the floor to end up just out of reach.
Crouched. Head down. Eyes half-closed.
Knives in fists.
A fighter’s stance. Still and unmoving. Bold and bursting with unspent power.
Wet knives drooled carnage to the floor.
The ork glanced to the knives.
Then down at his guts.
Took a tumble toward the waiting drifter.
Still reaching for the drifter, the ork’s fingers met a laconic swipe of blade.
Four heavy digits dropped to the ground, and the big ork dropped with them. Wormed onto his back. Tried to hold his belly on the inside. A futile dream he’d never grasp.
He knew it.
Slick red fluid hissed from twin cuts racing across his abdomen.
The gap-toothed drifter looked around the room, grinning at stunned expressions. Like he expected applause.
No one had ever had to help defend the ork before.
They didn’t know what to do.
Mesmerised, they watched the gap-toothed man drag a chair. Scrape of wood across floor like the echo of a scream. Set it beside the dying ork.
Slumped into it.
Squirmed to get comfortable.
Then lifted booted feet to place them on the ork’s shuddering chest.
“And now, my friends,” he said at last. Voice cheerful and bright. “It is time we get to know each other very well, I am thinking. You know, my sister used to say it is good for strangers to meet. I know she would be very proud of me now for making such friends as you. Yes, I feel this is true. Come. Drink. Drink and share everything you know about these good streets of yours. Who is in charge of all the gangs? Are the Shivs still toughest? Which guards will take bribes. Which will not, and where are their families living? Where is a good bakery? A good bakery is a sign of great civilisation. I tell you this, and it is true. Especially when that bakery is one which sells spiced rolls and has a beautiful girl to serve them with sweet sugar-dusted fingers. Also, where to get a good coat. One without a hole in it or blood on its back. And a pair of new boots. And why is there no drink in my hands when you have been told to drink? But, most of all, and this is very important to Eli, he wants to know who has seen an elf. An elf with a scar right here on her mangy twisted face…”
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