Author’s Note: The following is a sample chapter from the book I am currently working on. It’s in a very rough form and this chapter currently exists on its own. I haven’t written any of the scenes before or after this, save the prologue, epilogue and a smattering of the first chapter. As I was constructing my outline, this scene popped into my head, quite fully realized. As it is very much a stand-alone scene, I thought I’d share it with the world, just to see what came of it. Love it or hate it, please leave me a comment letting me know what you thought and why you thought it. I do hope you enjoy it, and if so, please lay on the applause.
Callie ran down the street to her right, trying to catch her breath. This town was nothing like home, with its narrow winding streets and confusing names. She tried to get her bearings, but couldn’t see any of the landmarks she had made note of when she set off this morning. The cathedral spires were hidden behind rows of tall buildings. Most were storefronts on the street level, with living quarters above. She ran to the intersection, looking hopelessly in each direction.
Footsteps behind her, they were catching up. And they had the advantage of knowing where they were.
She kept to the right and ran, as quietly as she could, down the dimly lit road. On this moonless night, she was thankful for the few gaslights that illuminated this part of town. She was relieved to hear the muted sounds of a crowd coming from one of the shops down the street? She didn’t see any lights, but a crowd meant she could at least hide in plain sight, so she kept running, taking time to look at the shingles only, hopeful to find an open door she could hide behind.
The first shop had wooden hand-carved sign of a wolf in front of a shield that read The Wolf’s Den. Below was another sign, Rare and Used Books. A bookstore, definitely not open at this hour.
On the other side of the road, about half way down, was a diner, obviously closed.
The sounds of the crowd grew louder as she ran, but so did the footsteps behind her. At the end of the road, on the left, was a tall sign that she could just make out, just outside the nearest gaslight. It was an angel, holding a small plaque that read PAX. If she remembered correctly, Pax means peace.
The old man’s words echoed in her mind. “In peace you will find freedom.” Guess the old guy knew more than I gave him credit for.
The shutters were closed and the door’s window had been replaced with wood. No light shone through, but there was no doubt a large crowd was within. Clearly there were people inside, hopefully they wouldn’t mind one more. She whispered a quick prayer before trying the door. Someone’s listening, she thought as the door opened.
Afraid to attract attention, she quickly shut it behind her and stepped in. She was in a small entryway, with a few coats hanging, several swords against the wall, and, was that a knife sticking out of a dead rat in the corner?
What is this place?
She was bathed in light, sound, and smell as she opened the inner door. PAX was anything but peaceful.
She cringed as a loud piercing bell rung out, announcing her arrival. Not quite the incognito entrance she was hoping for. The room was very narrow, but quite deep. Facing the front door, and running down the left side was a bar, filled with patrons. Some eating, some sleeping, all drinking. On the right, several booths lined the wall. Dim lights hung over each table, offering a good place for an incognito meeting. Each table looked full. She didn’t stop to stare too long, those sitting in the booths clearly valued their privacy. The stale scent of spilled beer, cigar smoke, and too many people hit her hard, sending her into a small coughing fit.
In the center of the room, spanning from the bar to the booths, was the most raucous bar fight she had ever seen. Men and women both, fighting, pushing, pulling, and… were they dancing? The remnants of tables and chairs littered the floor, what was left was used mostly as weapons. That’s when Callie noticed, not a single person was armed. All weapons had been left in the entry hallway. So if this wasn’t a true fight, what was it? Just villagers letting off steam?
Callie had her hand on the door, ready to take her chances outside, when a barmaid approached, moving almost as if on air.
She was a tall, wispy young lady with long tightly braided strands of hair forming a mohawk of sorts. Her eyes were ringed with a deep magenta fading out onto her pale skin. She had a number of ear piercings as well as a pierced septum — which reminded Callie of a bull — and had deep red, almost brown, lips. Despite the chaos surrounding her, she looked calm and almost at peace, as if she had accepted her situation and learned to live with it rather than in spite of it. Everything about her look was edgy, from the hair to the piercings to the way she carried herself, but something in her eyes said Callie could trust her. At least she hoped so.
“Sit anywhere you like, love,” she said in a sing-song voice. She was clearly unphased by the fight behind her. She caught the look in Callie’s eye. “Don’t mind them, sweetie, that’s just nightly brawl. I’d recommend the bar…” She turned towards the bar, what free seats there were where between men who were a bit too excited at the prospect of her joining them. “Vhil will keep you safe,” she said, waving to the bartender.
“Actually, I just need a backdoor,” Callie said while looking behind her at the door. This place was too small with too many people.
“Ah, gotcha,” the barmaid said with a wink. “Let me just get this order out and you can follow me. Trust me, you don’t want to walk through that on your own.” She motioned toward the maelstrom in the center of the room.
We have to walk through that? Callie thought with a start.
“Orja, order up!” Vhil called out. He was a tall lanky young man, with a long beard and a stained leather apron. Callie thought they looked like blood stains, but pushed the idea way. Probably better off not knowing.
“On my way!” Orja called out as she made her way to the bar. She made a motion toward Callie that implied she should wait where she was. She felt exposed, her back to the door. They could burst in here at any moment.
As Orja loaded up her tray with food, a more than slightly intoxicated patron reached over and reached under her skirt to pinch her backside. Orja didn’t react at all.
“Vhil, I need two beers and this one’s getting handsy!” She motioned towards the man, who quickly moved his hand to the bar, as if it had been there the entire time.
Vhil slid down, two full mugs in his hand, and placed them on the tray. He reached into his apron — or was it in his beard? — and pulled out a large cleaver. In one smooth motion he chopped off the man’s hand, slid it off the bar into a trash can he held up, then saluted with the knife, leaving a blood trail along the wall behind him. The knife then disappeared into his beard again, and he wiped up the blood on the bar as if it was just a spilled drink and went right back to work.
Callie fought to keep her stomach from revolting at the sight. She noticed there were far more blood trails along the walls than just that one. She didn’t know what would happen if she were captured outside, but surely it wouldn’t be as bad as whatever might happen to her here.
“Thanks love,” Orja called out to Vhil with a dreamy look as she came back to Callie, carrying the tray at an impossible angle. “Follow me, stay close,” she disappeared into the crowd. Callie jumped to, nearly missing her window as the opening Orja’s wake left began to close.
Orja flowed like a professional dancer, gracefully snaking through the mayhem untouched. She was as edgy as she was elegant.
She dropped off food and drink without stopping, and Callie followed as close as she dared. There were too many people now. Way too close. The walls were closing in on her. She could feel her breaths getting shorter. She had to get out of here.
Before another anxiety attack could begin, she heard the loud ringing of a bell over the riot. She dared a quick glance over her shoulder. Her heart dropped, it was the guards. And they saw her. The sides of her vision filled with black. She tried to breathe in, but there was no air. People were on all sides of her. There was no way out. She was trapped.
The guards pushed their way through the crowd of drunkards, brigands, and lowlifes. All around them, the fighting slowed, confusion falling on the brawlers faces, as if they weren’t sure if the soldiers were there to stop the fighting or something else.
“Oi! Are we going to let these two uniforms stop our fun?” Orja was standing on a mostly intact chair. The brawl actually stopped. The only sound was that of a bottle crashing as it rolled off a table. The brawlers looked from her to the guards, who only now realized the danger they had put themselves in. The crowd didn’t need another prompt, as they turned as one on the guards. Soon, the two men couldn’t be seen at all. Callie felt a tug at her arm.
“Gotta run!” Orja was pulling her down the length of the room. As they got to the end of the brawl, a guards helmet came rolling out, bouncing off the wall in front of them.
At the end of the room was a door, “Through there,” Orja said, “and good luck.” She gave Callie wink and disappeared back into the fray before Callie could thank her.
The last thing Callie saw before the door closed was a woman in her sixties step out of the never-ending brawl wearing a guards helmet and a large toothless smile.
Callie welcomed the cool night, breathing the crisp air freely. The alley was narrow, but nothing like inside. She looked up, focusing on the stars and caught her breath.
She lost it almost as soon as she found it.
“There you are.”
A special thanks to Georgia and Will, two of my favorite baristas at PAX Coffee & Goods, where I do most of my writing. You guys are great sports, thanks for letting me use you like word puppets. Also thanks to Nicole Young for her editing services even though I ignored most of it, as she just kept trying to get me to add horses to every scene.
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