Darren sprinted through the dark city streets. Another agonizing scream reached his ears. He willed his legs to move faster. Jacob was supposed to be a distraction, a delay tactic. No one would miss that piece-of-shit arms dealer. Especially, not Darren’s sister. Darren felt confident he did the right thing. He just couldn’t fathom how quickly that Thing could eat. Maybe it wasn’t eating, maybe people were running away while screaming.
He heard a scream cut off by an agonizing gurgling sound. No, that one did not get away.
The Traveler’s Dream was a tavern far enough from the center of this chaos and the place where Darren knew friends would be. Friends who could help with this mess. He heard another wet scream silenced as he hopped up the tavern’s steps.
He burst through the door and crashed into a bar wench carrying drinks. She lost her balance and nearly fell to the floor. Darren, running entirely on instinct, grabbed her arm, preventing her fall. Without breaking a stride, he pulled her to her feet. He let go and then slid through the fallen mugs and spilled alcohol. He wanted to cry a little, such a waste of drinks he was going to need later.
If there was a later.
The patrons cursed as he ran between them, pushing aside those who got in his way. He was aiming for a table in the back. There sat a tall man with his feet stretched across the table, nursing a large glass of some alcoholic sludge. Darren had tried it once, it was terrible, but it certainly got him drunk and thrown in jail for a night. A petite, dark-haired woman sat next to him. She was nursing an ale and browsing through a book. She brushed her hand over a page and it turned on its own.
Darren nearly collided with the table. As soon as he stopped he realized the sound of the tavern was muffled near them.
The man looked up from his glass. “Darren, are you about ready to bring a ruckus into our pleasant little bubble here?”
That alcoholic sludge smelled awful too. How could Marcus drink that? Darren shook his head. “Doesn’t matter.” He was out of breath. Between quick breaths, he said, “There is a, uh, Thing, attacking the town!”
The woman raised an eyebrow as she turned another page.
Marcus grinned. “And you haven’t even been drinking today.”
“Nope.” Darren was still out breath. He was hyperventilating. “There is a Thing, made of flesh, ate a dog, became a woman, ate Jacob.”
Marcus narrowed his eyes. “Jacob’s in town.”
Darren nodded quickly and shrugged. “Was, probably little more than excrement now.” And why was that the only thing Marcus thought to comment on?
“Make some sense, dear.” The woman’s antagonizing tone was infuriating, but not unwarranted, nor new.
“Ez, there is a monster, some sort of shifter, killing people in the street right now!”
“Like a werewolf?” Marcus asked, grinning.
“Nope, worse. I can’t explain it.” Darren moved from the table. “You just have to come with me.”
“This better not be another get-rich scheme of yours.” Marcus swung his feet to the floor and placed the glass on the table. “I’m leaving good alcohol on the table for this.”
Good alcohol? Darren gagged. “Plenty of time to drink afterward. You’ll need it.”
Marcus reached a hand to the woman. “Esmeralda, if you please.”
Esmeralda smiled and gently placed her hand in his open palm. She then stood.
Marcus released her hand and grabbed a massive sword and spiked shield leaning on the wall behind him.
Darren only stood there, trembling and motioning the two of them to follow. He must have looked like an excited child. Or a complete idiot. His compatriots were always calm in deadly situations. They had seen and done so much more than him. Darren was always looking for a way to get rich, but his friends had slowly been instilling a sense of urgent fairness for all people in the once troublesome street urchin. To see them take their time, not knowing the threat, irked Darren. He was not a patient man.
They started heading toward the exit.
“So, how is it that you found Jacob here anyway?” Esmeralda asked. “We had planned for a relaxing few days after that troublesome medusa in the Varak Peaks. You recommended this town as the perfect spot.”
Darren swallowed. “I lied. An informant told me he was in town. I wanted payback. For my sister.”
Marcus threw open the doors and walked into the street. “Why lie to those who would have helped you?”
Darren quickened his pace down the stairs and into the street. “Old habits and all.” Darren stood in the street and pointed west. “This way.”
Marcus stood at the base of the stairs and looked around. “I don’t hear anything.”
Darren stopped, slowed his breathing, and listened. The cacophony of panic and death was absent. All he heard was the muffled, drunken debauchery from the tavern. “I’m not lying, there is a Thing—”
Marcus raised a hand. Darren went silent.
“I trust you, Darren. I’m saying that I don’t hear a damn thing.”
Esmeralda’s brow creased, her eyebrows dipped toward her eyes. She folded her arms as she scanned the street. Darren couldn’t tell if she was thinking or angry.
Darren’s ears were alert for any sound. Not even the squeak of rat. The town was silent. Marcus walked steady with his sword brandished in his hands. He looked at every window, door, and dark alley. The silence worried Marcus, which worried Darren.
© 2017 C.J. Staryk. All Rights Reserved.