There was a crack as hard bone snapped like a dry twig, it was followed seconds later by the gasp and then scream of a full grown man.
Cyme looked down at the bearded mugger and attempted to hold back a degree of sympathy for the pond scum. This was the fifth time that some shadowy figure had attempted to relieve her of her purse and her dignity.
How the women of this city weren't forming a militia and rooting out the fiends Cyme couldn't fathom.
A yawning roar came forth from the Orian soldier. An hour ago Frank had relived her of her duties, it was long past work hours and he was sure that he could handle most of the riff raff that Thebes could throw at him. What he couldn't handle however, was a sleep deprived Cyme groaning every time a new shadowy individual came looking for miracles.
Fearing that she might turn into a liability and a target should she stay with him all night, the sorcerer loaded his bodyguard with the local currency, had given her a bracelet that glowed when danger was around, and forced her to drink a foul sweet nectar that made Cyme’s teeth feel funny and her exhaustion vanish.
However, instead of going to a nearby shelter and seeking a bed, the warrior had dove right into Thebes dastardly underground.
The door was still out there somewhere in the city and she didn't have Frank's confidence in that its lock would hold up to a thief's tools or a firm place kick. For all Cyme knew some daft scholar had cracked open the Abstract and they were now in the stomach of some grand horror.
Unfortunately, while Cyme understood Oria's seedy underbelly rather well, Thebes seemed to be a new kind of creature.
While trade was seen as a evil in Oria that didn't mean that it was non-existent. Most of population were in the military but there were still blacksmiths, and tailors, and farmers, and therefore there were the usual deals. The missed ration, the odd knife that went missing, the contraband that made it through the border.
She kicked the mugger in the stomach, “Where would I find contraband?”
The mugger was holding his broken arm, “You crazy bitch, you broke my arm.”
This wasn't getting her anywhere. With a deep sigh, Cyme pulled out her sword. Seeing the weapon the mugger's eyes went wide, seeing what was about to come he pleaded, “No, don't.”
Knowing that a wounded enemy only made them more dangerous, Cyme buried her sword into the thief's ribs, making a careful effort not to get his blood on her armour. Done, she wiped her sword on his loincloth and thought about her next option.
Going from alley to alley in hopes of finding somebody who knew where the door was, was proving to be a waste of her time. She thought about going right to the tops of the ladder, the nobles, the slave merchants, or maybe the priests, but common sense and logic held her back. She was just one woman and even if she was not captured by the local authorities it could take days to get anywhere.
She needed to be more logical.
Cyme followed the alley and blinked when she heard the sound of meat slapping against meat. She looked at her bracelet which didn't have the distinct blue glow that it had only minutes ago. Putting her body against a corner she looked over and saw a man readjusting his robe and handing a few coins to a girl who couldn't be older than thirteen.
The Oria watched as the man left and the girl who stuck close to the alley wall looked at her coins with a blank expression. Seeing nothing to gain by just standing there, Cyme stepped out.
“Whose there?” the young woman of the night asked hearing the sound of sandals meeting stone. “Art’gi. I told you to let me be while I'm working.”
Cyme held out her hand, “Be calm, girl. I'm just a lone soul looking to trade coin for answers.”
The alley girl looked to the tall woman who was coming out of the dark reaches of the opposing alley. “Never saw a woman who wore pants before.” She kept her guard up and ferreted away her coins.
Cyme looked down at her pants. “My master gave them to me.” She seemed to find that statement made her happy. Her smile vanished as she realized that she had just referred to Frank as her master.
Thinking that she must feel cold, Frank had gifted his bodyguard with what he called canvas pants. The warrior had taken them not because she felt cold but because they offered leg protection and any molester would find it a hassle to take them off her. She also remembered what Frank said about kneecapping an Enseen legion.
He had also offered her boots but Cyme refused to wear so many articles of clothing. Being pragmatic, the Orian’s sandals still worked and therefore there was no reason to change them.
The girl looked like a stable bow about to clean up the mess of a horse with the runs, “Would your lord be wanting some entertainment?”
Looking at the young prostitute that she shared an alley with Cyme asked, “How old are you?”
“Old enough,” the girl said.
“I suppose you are. I am looking for a place that sells and buys magical artefacts, would you know of any?”
The girl shook her head, “I wouldn't know of any place like that.”
“Didn't think so.” Normal people had no need of magic. Food, warm beds, a family, these were what was important in life. “What about black markets? Or people who know where things are and how to get them?”
“What's in it for me?” the girl said.
Cyme thought about punching the little shit but she was starting to get an understanding of how this city worked. She went into her purse and withdrew a silver coin.
The girl's eyes went wide, “I know a place. I can take you there.”
The seemingly mundane copper bracelet on Cyme's wrist glowed a faint blue, warning her of danger. The warrior's eyes narrowed on the urchin who was putting her back against the wall in fear of the frightening blue light.
“What is that?” the girl yelled.
Thoughts of killing the girl crossed Cyme's mind but she hesitated. “I have no time for tricks and traps, child.”
“No tricks,” the girl promised seeing this large intimidating woman that was looming over her.
Gathering what she hoped was the correct information, Cyme headed towards the docks, grumbling as she did so. She had just come from there and she was not thrilled with the prospect of backtracking. She left the girl to her job, not wanting to escort a potential backstabber.
The bracelet on her wrist glowed faintly as she passed by alleyways. It was nearing midnight and Thebes was a whole new and terrifying creature. Entire streets were without light and the shadows were thick with predators.
Cyme didn't give a shit about the monsters who preyed on their fellow man. She walked like an lioness through the streets, safe in the knowledge that she was the most dangerous thing out there.
As she neared her destination her bracelet flared up, banishing the night in a brilliant blue and causing the Orian to shy away. “Hippolyta.” She cursed before the bracelet died and became just a common accessory.
Her vision returning to her, the Orian glared at the bracelet. “Stupid magic.” Frank had just said that the brighter the bracelet’s light the more danger that Cyme would find herself in. If those instructions were true than the very moon should have been landing on her head.
Not trusting Frank's trinket anymore, she wrapped the artefact up in a piece of fabric and continued her walk.
Drawing two blocks away from her intended target, Cyme noticed something peculiar about the street, most notably were a dozens of corpses and broken men that lay broken on the mud caked ground. Keeping her hand on her sword, she looked down to see a man with his head twisted at a wrong angle. On a nearby wall there were sticky and wet splotches, one of which had a piece of scalp hanging off a nail.
On the opposite side of the street there was a man-sized hole in a candle maker's workshop, and not far from that hole there was another man hanging upside down, a spear pinning him off the ground.
“What the fuck happened here?” Cyme said. If she didn't know better she would say a drunk and rowdy Orian regiment passed by.
Movement caught her attention and the soldier drew her weapon. A man in a loincloth and a harness sat against the wall, seeing Cyme he whimpered, “Hhhhhelp meh.”
Cyme admired the survivor’s injuries. One of his legs looked to have been crushed by a horse and his intestines leaked from his side. Even if Cyme wanted to there was nothing that she could have done for him a cut throat and put an end to the pain. “Who did this to you?”
“A, a monster. She... she put her hand inside me.” The man said looking at what remained of his side. He looked up at Cyme with fearful eyes, “She's not human. She... She...” The shock and the blood loss proved too great as the man breathed his last.
“Damn,” Cyme stood there in the carnage. She? Monster? Was it possible that one of these fools had opened the door and let out some horrific beast?
Cyme unwrapped the bracelet and scowled at the trinket. From the glow from before she was starting to suspect that she had just managed to escape dying. Whatever happened here was as fast and violent as a storm.
She bent down and rested her hand on one of the corpses. The meat was cooling but still maintained some of the heat, meaning that the monster was perhaps close by, most likely skulking in a house or feeding. Judging from the gore, Cyme was going to need help killing it.
Her heart raced as the glow returned to the bracelet. Thankfully it wasn't the intense blast from before but a growing light like that of a hot coal.
“Hey,” a Thebe soldier came out of a building and saw the mess of body parts. He looked at the Cyme, then at the dead bodies, and then at Cyme again.
The light on Cyme's wrist flash and Orian knew what was going to happen. The female warrior performed a roll, snatched up three scattered knives, and with the accuracy of a person who spent decades of soul crushing physical training, threw two of the knives.
One knife landed in the guard's abdomen while its brother embedded itself into his cranium.
Before the body had a chance to fall to the ground the Orian was already in a mad sprint. As she passed by another corpse she had the thought to remove his weapon. It was nothing more than a hand-held hook used for fishing but a girl couldn't have too many deadly instruments.
She acted on instinct, moving through the alleyways, avoiding the main streets where possible.
Leaning against a house, Cyme tried to catch her breath.
“Is that you?” a curious voice asked.
Cyme drew her sword in one hand and brandished the hook with the other.
The man was attractive. Even in the shadows and lamp light his strong chin, blonde hair, and rugged good looks told the Orian that he didn't have trouble looking for a date. The man held his hands up and didn't appeared armed.
The man leaned forward and squinted, “Is that you? Master Frank's bodyguard?” he took Cyme's panting as confirmation. “It's me. Frothbur.” Not seeing any recognition he added, “By the docks. Your master filled the waters with fish and made that healing cloud.”
This time Cyme nodded. After the pirates Frank had been asked by a group of fishermen had attempted to trick the crafty sorcerer into giving them the largest catch of fish that they ever saw. Frank had accepted the wager.
Cyme had decided to the nearest undercover area and glared at the sky, expecting sharks to start falling.
While the fishermen and other groups stared at Cyme quizzically, the sorcerer had clapped his hands and a fish the size of his thumb shot out of the harbour and landed in his palm. The fishermen chorused in shock and then laughed at the trick.
Frank then pulled out a knife and then cut open its womb. He showed the fishermen a tiny collection of caviar, whispered into the tiny eggs and then threw them into the sea.
He performed this ten more times, summoning a fish, removing the eggs, and then throwing them into the dark waters.
“Done,” Frank said.
“Done what,” a grumpy old sailor had called out, “You caught five measly little tadpoles that aren't big enough to feed a kitten.”
What the people didn't notice was that the waters around the harbour were bubbling like a burning soup. The waters churning as the fish population suddenly exploded.
“Quick bit of trivia. Do you know how many eggs are inside an infant fish's stomach.” Frank asked.
“Me neither. Let's find out.” Frank held up both his hands and clapped.
Cyme shuddered at the memory, “I am really sorry about that.” It turns out that the average fish can hold thousands of potential offspring.
Potential as in most of the baby fish die before they get to adulthood. Except in the rare cases where an arsehole artificially ages them and has them feed on the algae, seaweed, and sewage that had been building within the harbour.
Frothbur let out a laugh, “Don't be. Just the look on those bastards' faces made my day. Now, thanks to you and your wizard friend the harbour is so full of fish that everyone and their dog is out there with a club.”
He rubbed his face, “Also, I cannot thank you again for the healing.” He then looked around nervously, “I don't see the wizard around. If you don’t mind me saying so, miss, you two went off with some bad sorts last time we met. Are you and your master in trouble?”
Cyme put her sword away but kept the hook ready, “No, the sorcerer was healthy and peddling his trade last time I saw him.” She thought for a moment, “You wouldn't know of anyone selling any magical items would you?”
“Just you and your master ma'am. If you don't mind me saying so, most witches and soothsayers that I've met are nothing but con artists compared to you master. Master Frank though, he is the real thing.”
“That he is,” Cyme agreed.
“May I ask what such a powerful man be looking for? My bet its phoenix feathers, or... something equally interesting.”
Cyme sighed, “No. It's just this damn door.”
“Oh that thing again.” The fishermen grumbled, “Let me guess, wood, brass handle, cat on it? Rattles a lot.”
The Orian sputtered, “You know it?”
Frothbur scratched his head and looked embarrassed, “Yes. I wasn't going to say anything, miss. But me and boys found that cursed door floating in the harbour. I think it came from one of the boats. Anyway, we pulled it out. Good wood, you know. Then one of the boys heard that your master was going to pay for it so we held onto it...”
“Do you still have the fucking thing?” Cyme said excitedly.
Unused to a woman cursing so, the fishermen let out a laugh, “I would love to tell you otherwise but some bastard made off with it. We saw you and Master Frank coming down the pier and figured it was fate, but we turned our heads and it weren't there anymore. The burning ship put us off on telling you.”
“Dammit.” Cyme cursed. “Do you have any idea where it could be now?”
Frothbur had a pained expression, “Maybe you would prefer to get some rest. My wife is cooking a nice stew if...” he stopped talking when he noticed that Cyme took a menacing step forward, her stolen hook glinting in the star light.
“Where is the door?” Cyme's voice was low and rumbled like distant thunder.
“Um,” the fisherman said weighing his options. “There is a place near the docks. But I wouldn't go there miss, there is nothing but smugglers and thugs there. The guard don't even bother with it.”
“Take me to it,” Cyme said.
Born in Australia I am a late bloomer when it came to books. I started writing when my grandfather died and it just sort of turned into a hobby.
I like science fiction, but not space opera. I like fantasy but I am picky when it comes to epic and urban types. I try to stay away from vampires, zombies and romance novels when I can.