This went live to my Patreon folks yesterday and I thought I'd give you a taste of it too :) I'll eventually put these parts together and make them into something more easily consumable, but for now, enjoy our hero returning to the city he came from and not liking it one bit. (Warning, graphic violence ahead.)
A Monstrous Light, Part Two
Six months after…
There was nothing like coming home to the sight of a fresh corpse dangling in the breeze.
Dascenne’s still a complete shithole, I see, Beniel Tallance thought as he maneuvered his drake around the hanging post that had been erected just a quarter mile from the city gates. The sign on the corpse’s chest said that he was a thief.
Looks like the days of merely chopping off a thief’s hand are gone.
That a man—and it was hard to tell under the bloat, but it looked like a young man, perhaps merely a boy—could be killed and strung up as a warning against thievery, of all the petty acts of crime out there, was an affront to anyone with a soul.
Then again, when had anyone other than Korran had a soul in this forsaken place? It was almost reassuring, in a terrible way, to see that some things never changed.
The largest city of the empire by far, the seat of the Imperial throne, the immortal homeland of the emperor, may he live forever, ha…what it amounted to these days was rot. It was a pustulating, filth-ridden, decaying city-state that had grown fat and comfortable under the reign of a near-immortal monarch accustomed to fucking off and doing as he pleased whenever he was moved to do so, leaving his kingdom behind to be run by functionaries.
Now that the old emperor was gone and Ormyr was still establishing his power base, the secondary nobility was tearing at the heart of the city, using every means in their power to achieve more status for themselves at the price of everyone around them. Beniel had heard the tales of the capitol’s chaos, even a hundred miles out from Dascenne. The outer levels, which had never been prosperous but had at least been relatively safe once upon a time, were choked with the leftovers of dying houses, people used to having power who suddenly had none but what they could collect with their own hands. Streets were unsafe, and even the toughest footpads quailed in the presence of armed guards who had once labored for dead men, and now made dead men of their fellow laborers.
Beniel walked his drake Flower through the western gate of the lowest level of Dascenne just after twilight. It was a dangerous time to be entering the city—would have been dangerous even before the change in command—but he didn’t really care. He was tired, he was angry, and he was heartsick after half a year of searching for more on what his prince had become and finding little to go on.
It wasn’t as easy as hunting down a battle site or coming across an illegitimate killing, or Beniel would never have had to leave Dascenne in the first place. The trouble was that his prince, the new Great One, the Lord of Vengeance as he was being called, didn’t respond to all the prayers directed his way. The crime in question had to be unquestionably evil, perpetrated against a being of innocence. A fight, even a wrongful death or two, wasn’t enough. There had to be heinousness involved, and something that heinous was often so shameful it was hard to get evidence of it, or to convince people to talk about it. Who wanted to put their own shortcomings on display? Who wanted to admit to one of their own being such a freak that a literal god had had to put them in their place?
It was Beniel’s growing frustration with such findings, as well as a missive written by the king himself that had been delivered a few weeks ago to the backwater hostel he was staying in, that convinced him to return to Dascenne. Ormyr might be willing to help him. It was clear that he knew Beniel’s purpose, and that son of a bitch was one of the smartest princes the emperor had ever produced. The fact that he was the last one standing was proof of that.
Ormyr would name his price. It remained to be seen whether Beniel was interested in paying it.
He stepped around a pile of midden in the middle of Sawset Road and wondered whether it would be worth it to get a room in the lower levels tonight, and meet with Ormyr in the morning. At the rate he was going, it would be midnight before he got to the palace, and no matter how carefully he moved he was doubtless going to misjudge a pile in his path before long and end up with shit on his shoe, and—
“Hands high, gentry.”
As though the warning wasn’t enough—which, to be fair, it really wasn’t—it was immediately reinforced by the bright gleam of firelight against a blade in the alley to the right. Not just one blade, either. There were at least three people back there, all of them armed. One of them held a crossbow.
No wonder they hadn’t tried to charge right in. They didn’t need to as long as he was held at the bolt’s bay.
“Raise ‘em,” the man in front went on, wielding a long knife in each hand. His voice was little more than a hiss of air, but there was a thread of pure satisfaction running through it. “Up now, or my man’ll stick you deep with his arrow.”
“Is that what it’s called these days?” Beniel muttered, annoyed. He lifted his hands, though, turning to get a better view of his muggers. “What can I do for you gentlemen?” he asked in a bored tone.
The man in front didn’t seem to care for that. He stepped out of the shadows and into the street, which had miraculously emptied of people despite the relatively early hour. He was a big man, wiry but broad through the shoulders and chest, and held his daggers like someone who knew how to use them. A professional, then, and wearing a mail shirt beneath his leather jerkin if the smell was anything to go by. “You can start by handing over that drake,” he snapped, gesturing at Flower with his right blade.
“What are you going to do, ride her? In this city?” Beniel scoffed. “It’s too crowded by half for a drake this size.” The palace had grounds specifically set aside for the health and welfare of the royal drakes, but in town they tended to use animals no larger than a country farmer’s dog for towing small carts and the like.
“Ride her? Nah,” the one in front said with a half grin. “We’ll take this old lass of yours to the knacker’s. Get plenty of coin for the teeth and scales, and enough meat to eat on for a week from just one of those haunches. Gift that keeps on giving, she’ll be.”
Ah. He should have guessed. Beniel tapped Flower on the neck two times before releasing her reins, a signal which put her into an immediate defensive stance. “That’s a terrible idea,” he told his attacker. He wasn’t going to go for his sword until the crossbow bolt was out of the picture—he didn’t have Korran around to heal him anymore, after all—but his hands itched to draw his sword. “How about this one instead? You three turn back down that alley and get out of my sight, and you’ll live to steal and murder another day.”
“Ah, regal lad.” The man in front shook his head. “Don’t you go worrying your pretty head about the future from here on out. Galen, now!” The man holding the crossbow aimed it and fired, shooting straight for Beniel’s face. At this range, an iron-tipped bolt like that would penetrate to the back of his skull.
Flower’s tail swept up faster than Beniel could see, and with a snap like the sound of a fan falling open, it batted the bolt out of the air. The bowman blinked, stunned at a result he hadn’t even begun to anticipate. Flower extended her neck so that her sharp, scaly head appeared over Beniel’s shoulder, and hissed menacingly.
Beniel had his paired swords out a second later. He moved quick enough to get the advantage over the man in front, parrying both his blades down and driving one of his swords through the man’s thigh before the second swordsman got his head together and launched into the fray. Beniel backed up one step, pivoted to the right with a parry that got his attacker’s longsword well out of the way, then brought his second sword up and swept it across the center of the man’s face a moment later. He cut through one eye, the bridge of the man’s nose, a cheek, and sliced off the very tip of his left earlobe as well in a single stroke.
The swordsman screamed and fell to the ground, right into a pile of muck. He didn’t seem to care, shrieking and clawing at his face the way he was.
“What…how?” groaned the first man, clutching his perforated thigh. Beniel didn’t pay him any heed as he went after the bowman, who’d finally gotten himself together enough to begin reloading the crossbow. Beniel knocked the deadly device out of his hands, then swung the edge of his blade down to cut the man’s right hand off at the wrist. Blood spurted, but even as the bowman shouted with horror and pain he was already going for the knife at his waist.
“A would-be thief and murderer,” Beniel said coldly. “You’re right. One hand isn’t enough.” He cut the other hand off before the bowman could do more than grasp the handle of his blade.
Now the experience overwhelmed him to the point where he collapsed on the ground, staring at the stumps of his arms with pure agony etched onto his face as his lifeblood poured into the gutters. Beniel took his head just as he began to scream—one person’s cries piercing his ears was more than enough.
“You son of a—aaargh!” Beniel whirled around to see the man he’d stabbed through the thigh halted mid-lunge, both daggers extended but rendered useless as Flower engulfed his head in her serpentine jaw. Her needle-like teeth pierced both sides of the man’s face, and it was a mercy for her prey that she shook him so hard his neck snapped, cutting his hideous and well-deserved death short. She dropped him on the ground a moment later, and his hands and legs twitched spasmodically for a few more seconds before he finally stilled.
“Well done,” Beniel said quietly to Flower, who huffed and ran her forked tongue over her gory teeth. He looked around the street, which still rang with the screams of the swordsman, whose whole body was now covered in filth and blood.
“Would anyone else care to try me tonight?” he shouted into the voice, suddenly furious. Great Ones and the sainted sodding emperor, he was fucking tired of this shit. He didn’t even want to be here, and these uppity renegades thought they would make easy pickings of him? How many people did they do this to a night? Travelers, neighbors—how many people did they violate, simply because they could? “Anyone, absolutely anyone! Come at me now or hold your peace forever, because after tonight I won’t be so nice about giving you a chance to back down like I did these gents.”
He’d be talking to Ormyr about the disgraceful lack of safety on the streets of his damnable city, that fucking dundercock.