Chapter 2 of my novel Taker is here. Once again, if you want the most updated version, check out my blog. All that aside, last chapter we had an introduction to our characters and a build-up into some suspense. In this chapter, we resolve some of that suspense- hopefully.
Lying still in bed, Ryke waited patiently as the movement at his door continued. Then it creaked open slowly and four of the men he’d seen downstairs walked in, accompanied by the innkeeper himself. They carried no weapons, but all were burly, big, rough men.
“Quickly,” the innkeeper whispered. “Find his stuff. We don’t ‘ave much time.” He shifted uncomfortably. “I don’t like his kind.”
The group of men split up as they filed into different corners of the room. Clumsily, they did their best to search in silence but failed miserably. They soon found his only possessions were on him and gathered on the far end of the room, muttering nervously.
Ryke sat up. “Greetings, gentlemen.”
All five men whirled around.
Ryke raised a soothing hand. “Calm down– nothing to get worried about.” He stood up. Continuing smoothly, he said, “I assume you fine fellows are here for my money. I assure you, what you saw downstairs is all I have. Here, you can have it all.” Reaching into his pocket, he handed them all the money the old woman had given him.
They stood there, blinking dumbly at him in the moonlight. The asinine looks on their faces would have put a smile on his face had the matter come anywhere near being worth smiling about, but instead he just moved towards the door saying, “Alright, now that you have all my money, why don’t you head out?” He swung the door wide, and the light that streamed in temporarily blinded them.
Looking inanely at each other, they hesitated, then the innkeeper spoke up. “I don’t like this’ere business. If this be all your money, then why give it up? It doesn’t make sense.”
With a sigh, Ryke closed the door, plunging them all into darkness. “You found me out.” He pulled a coin out of his pocket and flipped it up into the air.
The eyes of the men followed it as moonlight glinted off its edges, then Ryke caught it and sent it flying at hyper speed across the room. The innkeeper watched as the deadly missile flew towards him, and he wondered if he was going to die, and why he hadn’t shaved that morning. Then the gold coin hit him in the eye and his head jerked back from the force of impact.
He fell backwards through the air and landed with a heavy thud on the ground. His hand released the coins it held and flew to his wounded eye while he let out a cross between a bear’s roar of rage and a horse’s snort. The coins rolled from his hand along the floor before falling on their sides at the feet of the other men. They looked at the money for a second, then looked back up at Ryke, but he was long gone.
Slipping out from the shadows, Ryke wrapped his ropy arms around the thick neck of one of the men and snapped his neck. The man’s partner, seeing Ryke, quickly threw a roundhouse punch at Ryke’s head. Ducking under the wild punch, Ryke drove his shoulder deep into the man’s stomach. The thief doubled over. Another punch came swinging. Ryke blocked with his left, grabbed the back of his assailant’s head, and threw him into the other man. Both went tumbling.
Ryke whirled in time to dodge a grab from the final burglar. For a moment the two circled, then Ryke’s eyes flicked upwards to a rafter that spanned the ceiling. His opponent’s gaze followed, but lingered for a split-second too long. Ryke jumped up, grabbed the rafter, and used the swinging momentum to send himself flying at the man’s head. Essentially clotheslining the thug with the back of his knee, Ryke sent the man flying to the floor, where it took another quick twist to dispatch him.
In the silence that followed, Ryke recollected his scattered money and prepared to leave the room when he heard a shuffling noise. He spun around to find the innkeeper point to his eye.
“You forgot one.”
Ryke walked over, and instantly the innkeeper cowered.
“I should kill you,” he breathed. “You’re scum, stealing from your customers.”
The innkeeper blanched. Ryke blinked, and when he opened his eyes again, the innkeeper had turned into a black, scrawny monster. It took only one look at the creature’s dilated pupils and wide eyes for Ryke to reflexively strike out. The monster fell back, shivered, then morphed back into the innkeeper. Disturbed, Ryke stood up quickly and exited the room.
Nobody seemed to pay heed as Ryke started down the stairs, but as soon as he entered the barroom, everybody went silent. Resolutely ignoring the stares as they all looked at him, Ryke headed straight for the door. He swung it wide before slamming it violently shut behind him.
Aylya slid on a pair of gloves and strapped a quiver of crossbow bolts to her belt. Sheathing a pair of elegant daggers, she looked up at the polished bronze plate as she tightened the draw strings on her top. The feeling of her tight outfit was welcome. It gave her a sense of security and power, power which she was about to use to make the world a better place. She flipped the hood up over her head. Ryke doesn’t stand a chance.
The sun had risen, and it cast the soft, orange glow of morning on everything it touched. Dew on a bush shimmered as light rays shone through them, then fell to the ground as Ryke brushed past the shrub. He rounded a bend in the road, glanced to his right, then stopped short.
The house which he had just stopped by the day before now lay in ashes. Some of the rubble slid, and Ryke snapped to attention. He peered intently into the ruins. A shadow slipped between some of the still-standing supports. Soundlessly, Ryke made his way towards the house.
Digging through some of the rubble was a lithe Aelve wearing a pea green cloak. Ryke quietly approached. When Ryke had gotten close, the figure whirled around, a knife in hand. Reflexively, Ryke grabbed the looter’s wrist in a grip of iron. He easily forced the knife back against the stranger’s throat.
When the blade touched his throat, the looter broke. “Okay, okay! I’m sorry. Don’t kill me, please.”
“What did you do?” Ryke asked levelly.
The Aelve clamped his lips shut stubbornly. In response, Ryke pressed the knife harder into the flesh on the looter’s neck.
“Fine. You can tell my mom I went to church once last week. Only once okay? I felt like I needed to confess.”
“Church?” Ryke asked. “What the—”
Before Ryke could continue, the Aelve slipped out of his grip, threw ashes into his eyes, and kicked him back. Instead of fleeing, the looter just stood there rubbing his wrist with a pained expression.
“I think you bruised it,” he complained.
Ryke slammed him up against a still-standing wall. Pieces of masonry fell to the ground.
“Woah! Woah! Just relax, okay? Tell my mom I’ll visit her eventually, alright? She just needs to stop sending you mercs after me.”
“Is that what you think I am? Some mercenary?”
The Aelve gave a horrified whisper. “You didn’t accept the contract for free did you?”
“No, you idiot,” Ryke growled. “I don’t even know your mother. I want to know what happened here. What did you do to this place?”
“Me? I didn’t do anything. This place burned down years ago.”
Ryke released the looter, and his brow furrowed in frustration.
“Are you sure?”
“Of course I’m sure! What did you think? That I’m some casual looter?”
Ryke eyed the large bag at the Aelve’s feet.
The stranger grew defensive. “I’m a professional looter.”
Ryke thought for a moment. “You have a name, kid?”
“Syrist Lysanther. Why?”
“If I was looking for somebody, what would be the best place to look?”
“Uh, uh. Money first. Talk later.”
“It’s business,” Syrist said, shrugging. “Gotta make an honest living here.”
“How about I don’t kill you?”
“Eastern Rock. The capital. Everybody is there. That’s where you’ll find whoever you’re looking for.”
“Thanks,” Ryke said, starting to walk off.
“What about my money?” Syrist called after him.
Ryke flipped a silver coin back over his shoulder. Syrist caught it eagerly, and his eyes grew wide when he saw it.
Staring at the money with the fascination only a looter knows, he spoke. “Hey, y’know, next time you want information, just come to me. I’ll give you anything you need to know at this kind of rate….” He looked up, but Ryke was gone.
Published by Michael Hollingworth