Seeing as I blogged the Prologue, I thought I should post Chapter One. Hope you enjoy reading as much as I did writing this section!!
Valdis leant against the crumbling plaster wall and stuck out his feet to keep him upright, purposefully ignoring the way his legs poked out his grubby shirt like two old brown sticks, filthy like the rest of him. Not that he was certain, he hadn’t glanced in a mirror for at least a decade.
Running his tongue over the lip of waxed paper, he sealed and rolled the tube stuffed with tobacco and a generous pinch of Fire Spice. He slipped the cigarette between his lips.
Glancing around the tiny room that mainly consisted of four bare walls and a narrow window at the far end, lacking even a single pane of glass, Valdis glowered at the warped shutters that should keep out the cold but didn’t work. His unlit cigarette hung from his lips. Val’s mood spiralled even further.
‘Damn,’ he muttered under his breath. Now he’d have to move away from the wall that was holding him up and actually look for the damn thing.
Staggering across the uneven flagstones, he managed to cross the room without falling on his face and crushing his one and only cigarette.
Roughing up the thin blankets randomly tossed all over the stack of old wooden pallets he used for a bed, when he didn’t just pass out on the floor, Valdis suddenly grinned. ‘Hah! I knew it!’ He laughed.
Picking up the small brass ring of charms, he usually kept on his belt, Valdis picked out the roughly shaped copper flame and touched it to the cigarette. Instantly, the tobacco, spice and paper ignited.
With a sigh, Valdis sat on the edge of the straw filled mattress and drew in the smoke, releasing it in a pale blue plume that slowly dissipated throughout the room. The air grew heavy, hot and humid.
There was a hint of aniseed, from the Fire Spice, mixing with the usual taint of cigarette smoke that quickly filled the small room, shading his surroundings to grey. A flicker of movement shifted there.
He spat a little stray piece of tobacco onto the stone floor. Without even bothering to turn his head, he spoke to what had now entered the room. ‘I wouldn’t do that,’ he responded, still not moving.
A blackened shape almost drooled its way across the floor, leaving a slick trail in its wake that was a lot like the glistening path a slug might leave behind, but dark, oozing and steaming.
Finishing off his cigarette and exhaling a lingering trace of smoke, he flicked away the stub, leaving it to smolder on the floor. A dull ember burned at the end of the crumpled wad of paper and tobacco.
The darkness flowed towards the glowing light. A flexible neck stretched out as the creature sniffed the dying heat of the cigarette. A tongue snaked out, quickly withdrawing at the bitter taste of tobacco.
A black eye rolled toward Valdis perched on his bed. A hand reached out, dripping black like fresh, thick candle wax onto the floor, missing his exposed toes by less than an inch.
Valdis grabbed the disused oil lamp off the rickety crate by his bed. Melting fingers parted, trying to get at him. The creature’s arm elongated, leaving barely a few inches between them. Valdis froze.
The thing whined like a whipped dog…its gaze softened as if to draw him in. When he didn’t move, the creature snapped. Its body surged like a living black tide. Maw gaping a dark hole of nothingness.
Scrabbling back on the bed, Valdis twisted, avoiding the touch of the creature. Flopping limply, the creature struck its head on the sharp edge of a pallet, dropping back onto the floor in a prone position.
Moving swiftly, Valdis struck a hard blow to the creature’s neck. A loud crack echoed and the black sludge collapsed into a heaped pile of disjointed limbs. A thick pool of gunge spread across the floor.
It wasn’t difficult to kill the creature. Generally, Shadra were pretty stupid and gullible enough to fall into the most basic of traps. Valdis graimced, if only they didn’t leave so much mess.
Dropping the lamp to the floor, he glanced over the dent in the brass casing and the slick of black smeared over the metal. He’d overstayed his welcome in this dump anyway, plus the rent was due.
Pulling across his trousers, Valdis quickly dressed, tugging on his old worn boots and fastening his belt about his waist. He sheathed a poorly forged steel knife at his left hip and a second to his right.
The remains of the Shadra was expanding into a wide lake of dark ink, bubbling and hissing as the liquid steamed and slowly ate its way into the stone floor. Valdis winced, this was going to cost him.
‘Can you afford it?’ A calm voice announced from by the door.
Looking up, Valdis couldn’t help but sigh at the woman standing in the shadowed opening, wearing a long tunic over thick wool and leather trousers, several weapons sheathed about her person and he had no doubts there were many more he couldn’t see. Her sharpest weapon was actually her tongue, that and the expression permeanantly stamped onto her face.
‘Never could afford your price, Lilah.’ He quipped.
Her dull brown eyes fixed to his face. ‘Sarcasm is the lowest firm of wit,’ she responded.
Valdis ran a hand through his hair, resisting the urge to pull it out. ‘ Just tell me what you want.’
‘As you wish.’ However, Lilah didn’t appear to be in a rush to proceed with the usual routine.
‘I’m waiting,’ Valdis snapped. The hit of Fire Spice hadn’t been nearly enough to cope with this shit, not to mention it was too damned early for a visit from a crackpot Immortal cursed by a Deathwish.
Clenching the pommel of a plain sword, Lilah’s expression darkened. ‘I do this for your own good.’
‘Really?’ Vadlis contained the urge to laugh or maybe just spit in her face. He hadn’t decided, yet.
‘Yes,’ she said. ‘Left to your own devices, you’d be dead in less than a week. At least this way, you utilise some of that skill you’d otherwise leave to rot, just like what’s left of your brains!’
‘Touchy, aren’t we?’ Valdis remarked.
Lilah visibly ground her teeth before replying. ‘You seek to test my resolve, but it will not waver.’
Valdis shrugged. ‘Whatever you say.’
‘What you hunt is in the North,’ Lilah replied. It looked like he’d actually managed to hit a nerve.
Tapping the battered grip of his lefthand blade, Valdis considered pushing it further, but despite his outer exterior of not giving a shit, he did like being alive to enjoy his self-inflicted misery. ‘The blade?’
‘Where you left it last,’ answered Lilah. With that announcement, she turned and vanished.
There was no pomp and ceremony with that one. Valdis considered shouting, maybe even cursing, but honestly, it’d just be a waste of breath he couldn’t afford.
He didn’t bother to check the dissolving Shadra. It didn’t need his help decomposing, the Demon’s corpse was doing a decent job of it before Lilah arrived. There’d be nothing left soon. No evidence.
Cloaked in dark green wool, Valdis strode out the room, along the windowless corridor and out the exit reserved for tradesmen. Pulling up his hood, he walked down the street, casual, like he belonged, and hadn’t just left a Demon corpse in his room, which he’d desterted owing a large amount of coin in rent and likely quite a few gambling debts. Valdis winced, he just couldn’t resist the dice, or the cards.
‘You’ve got another problem,’ said Lilah from across the street.
‘Bugger,’ Valdis retorted. ‘Can’t you just announce yourself like a normal person?’
Perched on the edge of a ground floor windowsill, Lilah regarded him like a hawk might the mouse that was about to be the bird’s next meal. ‘I believe that was my intent,’ she said.
‘And your reasons for trying to give me a heart failure is, what exactly?’
‘I forgot to warn you, is all.’
Valdis licked his lips, finding it dry as jerked beef. ‘You…what?’
Slipping off the sill, Lilah landed lightly on her feet, her flat-soled boots making no sound as they hit the cobbles. She expressed no sign of pleasure. Her gaze flat and dead as a two day old corpse.
‘This…Dragon wouldn’t happen to be a remant of the Histaria War, would it?’
‘You are correct,’ Lilah answered.
‘And you want me to kill it?’
‘You are taking this better than predicted.’
Valdis strangled the hilt of his sword, imagining it to be Lilah’s neck. ‘How else would I react?’
‘Zelos suggested you might try to kill me.’
‘And why would I murder my only source of income.’
Lilah gazed back at him for what felt like a damned eternity. ‘Kill the woman and the Dragon dies.’
‘Shit!’ Valdis had to let that one out. ‘Now you tell me!’
‘You’ll do it.’ Lilah’s brown eyes darkened to an intense black.
He was about to retort some sarcatstic comment, but obviously, just from his expression, or maybe she read his mind, Lilah got what she wanted and she left without even so much as a by-your-leave.
Valdis threw up his hands.’ Great! I’ll just go ahead then?’
Silence was his answer and he didn’t bloody well like it. Not that Lilah cared what he thought.
‘Damn!’ He fished in his tunic pockets until he found another cigarette. Touching the Fire Charm to the crumpled end, Valdis inhaled smoke and Fire Spice. What was murder, anyway, except, a job?