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Adventure Fiction Suspense

The short winter day was giving way to night; the time to hunt would soon be hers to savour.

For now, she slunk into the corner of a drinking hovel, a large tankard of warm, watered down ale in her gloved hand. The chair made a loud groan as she moved it into a more advantageous position. She had opted to sit by one of the large burning open fires in the sizeable open plan room. The bar was chaotically hectic with the variety of life found amongst the underbelly rank and file, mostly deadbeats, petty criminals, and wannabe big hitters pretending to be tough guys and the inevitable throng of washed-up wide boys. Her eyes also clocked the hangers on. She despised this lowlife, they lived off the scraps of praise others dropped.

The hangers on were the real danger here, they would alert their current patron to potential danger in exchange for favours and the praise they craved, though of course they would never dare to confront that danger themselves. She also saw the intoxicated and scarred failed tough guys who now made a living brawling for the gangs they had failed in a desperate attempt to curry favour once more. Laying low and inconspicuous was her talent, still she watched those hangers on more than most.

This was an old spit and sawdust type of bar; many establishments of this kind were to be found in this part of the city. A dark place sporting bare floorboards covered in whatever had spilled upon them over the years, heavy wooden and iron tables that only the strongest could lift and throw, an obvious deterrent though not uncommon the worlds over. The air smelled of burning wood, stale ale, vomit, the sweat of the detritus frequenting this dump, and of course the customary dominant stench of overcooked cabbage. Not a particularly alluring place for good honest folk, which is why she was there. She did not really fit in anywhere places like this afforded her anonymity.

The main entrance was slightly to her left, and viable alternative exit routes to the kitchen, side entrance, and lavatory areas ahead to her right; the wall protected her back from attack. Two large wooden racks were suspended on iron chains from the ceiling, at some point in their lives they had contained twenty or more torches and candles, only two survived. She sat astride the chair using the back support as both protection for her stomach and an arm rest with her heavy dark olive cloak draped around her form, hiding the short sword and pistol. She felt a familiar gentle pressure at the side of her calf and shin, his muzzle resting on her knee. She felt his growl rather than heard it, confirmation that her faithful companion had negotiated his path towards, her through the shadows, and was ready for action against any foe unwise enough to throw down a challenge.

Anyone watching her would recognise her pose as that of someone wary of attack though trying to casually fit into the area. Of course, this type of bar was used by many people wishing to remain unseen which is why she felt more relaxed than she was accustomed to. Few people made eye contact with those not in their party and any who wished to see the end of the night quickly erased anything they had witnessed or heard. A fact not wasted on the authorities. That last realisation made her tense a little and glance around as if looking for a friend, she was in fact looking for anyone slightly out of place in a place full of misfits, an informant maybe.

The local arena clash was transmitting through the screens in the central area of the bar. Normally she would be interested in the distraction, she was no stranger to the thrill of the arena; inside or outside of it. Today though she was not here for entertainment, or distraction from the harshness of reality, she was here on business. And she learned a long time ago to never mix the two, at any cost. The large scar at the edge of her left eye was a permanent itch that reminded her to stay focussed on the task at hand. The spectacle of the arena would make her business easier to finalise as the excitement and fervour of those in the bar would make her, and her associate, less visible. Without removing her gaze from the entrance, she slowly sipped her lukewarm ale, the pale liquid did nothing to quench either her thirst or her apprehension.

This was not her first meet with her associate, yet she had a hunch it could be their last. The air was thick with smoke from the fires and torches making her eyes smart a little and her chest tighten. The firelight created an environment where shadows were plentiful which would creep up on the unwary. She was not one to fear shadows, they were an ally, a means of access to people, property, assets, and places. She was always aware of what lurked within them and rarely surprised by what she found there. Still, this was no place for complacency, and her uncomfortable vigil by the fire continued. Eyes sharp, ears keen, and the hairs in the nape of her neck straining as they prickled with apprehension.

Every city has its no go areas for humans, this was one of the grey areas on the periphery. In this corner of the universe a female was even less welcome in drinking establishments; human tolerant or not. Her garb did not allow males to caress her with their eyes and almost every male she was aware of felt threatened by that; a weakness she was more than happy to exploit. She noticed a male leering in her direction from the edges of the main crowd, inwardly she smiled finally a challenge to take away the boredom of waiting. Casually placing her tankard on the heavy table, she nonchalantly stretched her arms in front of her and locked eyes with him. Her stare was as cold and hard as the tip of the concealed blade she purposely revealed; his leering grin faded as he turned into the crowd and slunk away towards the bar in search of easier prey. A less than friendly smile crept across her lips. She enjoyed watching males underestimate her and marked his face in her mind’s eye he would meet her blade in the shadows later; there was no place he could hide from her, she was a hunter after all. A talent many paid handsomely for and the reason she found herself in these surroundings.

She noticed a serving boy dressed in threadbare rags, held together with scraps of contrasting material and no shoes. He was making his way towards her table with a vacant look in his eyes and a world-weary trudge in his legs. He was carrying a tray of soup and ale towards her table. She was expecting the order but not the person carrying it. His defeated demeanour left her feeling empty and helpless. The spark of youth had already been extinguished from him and his life was obsolete outside of these walls. He reminded her of herself, and it was less than comfortable. Out of the shadows a slender figure moved in step behind the boy. For a moment she tensed ready to protect the young boy until she realised the newcomer was her business associate. He saw the slight shift in her pose and made a calming gesture towards her. Her associate slid into the chair opposite her as the boy placed the contents of the tray onto the table between them. She waved the tankard towards the newcomer and arranged the food between them on the table, breaking the bread into two chunks placing both pieces around the bowl. The boy wordlessly turned away with the empty tray to collect the used tankards and bowls from around the room.

Her faithful companion sniffed the air and leaned against her leg again to confirm both presence and alertness. Her left hand wrapped around the tankard again, her right hand reached for the bread to dip into the soup. The slender humanoid matched the movement and slipped a piece of paper into her gloved hand then deftly removed the hand towards the unclaimed bread.

‘Apologies sister, I didn’t mean to take your bread.’ Came the response for the benefit of anyone listening in. She grunted her acceptance of the apology and began to chew her soup-soaked crust; the paper deftly manoeuvred inside her glove and into her palm. They continued to eat and drink exchanging pleasantries about their fictional family and friends, current affairs and the like. Simply filling the empty space, waiting for their opportunity.

They did not have long to wait; the noise level began to rise as a frenzy of illicit bets were placed on the various characters on screen; hangers on more than happy to do as their patrons ordered. Chants began to be sung as the crowd naturally migrated into groups supporting the same fighter, the ale flowed with increased gusto. This was the cue. ‘Typical, you always chose the noisiest place to meet.’ She rolled her eyes for emphasis and theatre then leaned in as if to continue their conversation. Neither was new to this life and its methods.

‘Name your price.’ Came the calm slow measured voice of the slender figure.

‘Leave me the leering fool, and free the serving boy.’

‘You could ask for so much more.’

She concentrated on the texture of the paper in her palm, it was smooth and fresh, recalled a slight perfumed aroma as she had received it, the request was from a wealthy patron. ‘I have named it.’

She disengaged and dipped the final remnant of crust into the bowl between them, she allowed the dirty dishwater to run down her glove and arm. Their eyes never left each other. The slender ones’ nod was almost imperceptible as the humanoid mirrored her eating.

She pushed the bowl to the edge of the table and began to rise for her exit. To keep up the theatre they embraced as if old friends, her eyes never straying from the room or the shadows ‘I’ll see the boy right not only free him. Do as you must with the fool and be away before dawn. The East gate will be safe within the hour.’ With that they separated. She sat back down and watched her business associate melt into the shadows and leave the bar by the side entrance. She drained the ale and placed the empty tankard next to the empty bowl, then beckoned over the serving boy. With the sleight of hand, imperative to her work, she placed a small knife in his apron smiling warmly at him, ‘Keep that close.’ she whispered; did one final sweep of the clientele and stealthily vacated the bar.

Her belly was full, but her appetite would remain unquenched tonight, until she freed the two souls.

July 02, 2021 21:44

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