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Rats in the City

Rats in the City

 

A Deeds of Peregrine and Blade Novelette

 

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The Deeds of Peregrine and Blade

Daughter of the Windswept Hills

The Red Blade

The Sign of the Bronze Hammer

Rats in the City

The Tavern Cursed

The Oasis of Broken Bones

The City in Shadows

Dreams of Days to Come

 

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Copyright © 2016 by A. S. Warwick

Visit Mist and Shadows for more about the author.

Visit Tales From a Thousand Worlds for more short fiction by the author.

 

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Shakespir EDITION

 

All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of various products referenced in this work of fiction, which have been used without permission. The publication/use of these trademarks is not authorised, associated with, or sponsored by the trademark owners.

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Rats in the City

 

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1 – Assailants in the Night

 

The rasp of drawn steel that echoed through the tight confines of the alley roused Peregrine’s attention from her near inebriated meanderings and musings. Her hand fumbled for the broadsword at her side and she cursed as she clutched at an empty scabbard. A short figure in a voluminous hooded cloak dashed at her, a mere shadow in the night shrouded alley, holding a rusty short sword in hand.

Even after an evening spent carousing through the seedy inns and salubrious taverns of the sprawl of great Qaiqala, her head muddled by the fumes of ale, she reacted on instinct. As the sword stabbed at her, she stepped aside, bouncing off the wall of the alleyway, before punching with all of her might. Her fist connected with a face beneath the hood, and in response there came a sound that sounded much like a squeak. To Peregrine, the face beneath her fist had felt odd, as if not exactly shaped like a normal head, though her thoughts were not coherent enough to ponder more on the matter.

“Ware behind!” a voice called out, the words slurring together. Peregrine span about, almost tripping over her feet, in time to see another figure rush at her, while beyond that she could make out a tall, dark haired man in obsequious finery wrestling with a third cloaked assailant. For a moment confusion wracked at her addled thoughts as he sought to remember who the man was. Then memory came flooding back. Blade; a man she had met early in the day, performed an unusual job with and then spent the spent the evening drinking alongside of. For a soft lowlander, he seemed a reasonable enough sort, not entirely unskilled, though as of yet she had not seem him perform in a fight.

Putting such thoughts aside, she faced down the attacker coming at her. Just as short as the first, he came on with a scurrying motion. Peregrine kicked out with a vicious blow as he neared, almost overbalancing, but it caught the assailant on the leg beneath the cloak. A squeal sounded and the attacker staggered away, limping. As he did, Peregrine thought she caught a glimpse of something trailing across the ground from beneath the cloak. Between the shadows of the night and the ale she had drunk, she was uncertain what she had seen, and so she ignored it, turning towards where Blade struggled. The taller man, with a much longer reach, had wrested the sword from his attacker, and rather than risk a strike the third assailant had scampered away.

Blade laughed sardonically as the trio disappeared out of the alley. “You messed with the wrong victims,” he called out after them, “For Fianna of the Aedring and Carse of the Red Blade are no easy marks.”

Peregrine approached him, still rather unsteady on her feet. “Thieves?” she asked.

“Aye, my good Peregrine, thieves. In this part of town they are as thick of thieves.” He stopped, running through what he had just said in his mind and then laughed. “The drink seems to have addled my thoughts to some degree,” he conceded. He took a moment to look around. “It must have done so if we came this way.”

“Where is here?” Peregrine asked. “And where is my sword?” she added.

“I am not too certain exactly where here is,” Blade told her, “But it is in a bad part of the sprawl of Qiaqala. I would not have come this way if I was more sober. As for your sword, you swapped it for a jug of ale.”

“I did?” Peregrine asked. A frown formed across her forehead. “Why did I do that?”

“Because we had no money to buy the drink with. Maybe we should have told the thieves that.”

“Did something strike you as odd about them?” Peregrine asked, trying to think through the muddle that had settled upon her mind.

“Odd?” Blade took a moment to consider the question. “They were somewhat on the short side.”

Peregrine shook her head. “Not that, not alone. Something else seemed unusual about them yet I can not really put my finger on what.”

Blade shrugged and started on his way again, wishing to be removed from the area. He wove a winding way through the alley, half bouncing from the walls. “Where was it we were headed?” he asked, tossing aside the rusty short sword.

Peregrine stooped down to pick it up before shaking her head. “Somewhere,” she responded. “I can’t exactly recall.”

“In that case I shall let you know where it was when we get there,” Blade replied, giving an extravagant wave of his hand.

“Do that,” Peregrine said. She peered as best she could at the sword, given the lack of light and her own state. Crudely made, and rusted in parts, it would no doubt break before long, yet it was a sword when she had none. The hilt of it was made for a small hand as well, hers only just fitting around it. Tucking it into her belt, she followed Blade from the alley.

 

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2 – The Ancient Tower

 

The alley led out into a rough street, one deep in the sprawl of the city of Qiaqala, grandest of all cities. It did not much look an improvement over the alley, lacking the pavers that more reputable parts of the city had. The houses, of flimsy wooden design, were packed in tight, making them a perfect candidate for disease and fire. Blade looked each way along the street before simply shrugging.

It was hard to get lost in Qaiqala, for the Red Mesa at the heart of the city, a giant red monolith, towered over all and could readily be seen, even at night. Illumination by lights, both from flames and of more arcane origins, bathed the Red Mesa, highlighting the giant figures of past heroes and rulers that were engraved into its sides, and highest of all burned the Eternal Flame in the tallest tower of the Red Palace atop it, a light visible for many leagues beyond the city. It was a simple matter to aim towards it and find a way back to the walls that surrounded the inner lake of the city, or to take the opposite path and head out from the city, yet even so, in the veritable maze that was the sprawl of the outer city, it was still possible to get lost, or tangled up by the small, winding streets, the back alleys, dead ends and other obstacles. Such as thieves.

“This way, I think,” Blade stated, choosing at random a direction, one headed away from the Red Mesa. He set out along the street, humming a little tune, feeling more at peace with the world that he had for some time, though a part of him that still thought straight wondered just how much of that was the wine talking. After all, he was without money or weapons, in a strange city he knew little about, and with no friends or contacts in, and to top it all, was in the presence of a woman who, at best, could be described as a barbarian, one who no doubt would get them into trouble with her crude behaviour and impulses, if they stuck together. Weirdly, he did not find that an unappealing thought. After all that he had experienced in his city of birth, in Ardanium, a break from cities and civilised society would come as a relief.

His humming came to an abrupt halt, as did he, when ahead he saw more figures emerge from the shadows of side alleys onto the street, figures short and cloaked and hooded, a dozen strong in number. Some held short swords, others crude clubs, but all were scurrying his way. He turned about as fast as he could, almost colliding with a wall and then Peregrine in the process, and set off the other way down the street, his long legs stretching out.

“Run!” he called out.

For a second he was concerned that Peregrine would stay and face them all down but then she made her way after him, catching up rapidly and matching his speed despite her shorter stature.

“We could have taken them,” she told him.

Blade laughed as he ran. “You Aedring are crazy, but I am sure you have heard that before.” He swerved from the street around a corner and into another one, seeking to throw off the pursuit in the twisting ways, and then quickly ducked into another. Strangely, they were all empty, which, in a city teeming with people, struck him as most odd. Part of him felt as if he should know why that was, but he had trouble focusing on little else but the running. “Peregrine, did anyone say anything about this night?”

“Can’t really recall,” she answered. “Something about something happening tonight, maybe. Think they tried to warn us about it when we left the tavern.”

“I think you might be right about that.” Blade glanced behind him as he ran, almost tripping over a pile of broken boxes as he did. The thieves were proving tenacious, clinging to their trail.

“A festival, maybe?” Peregrine hazarded as a guess.

“If it were a festival, then where is everyone?”

“Inside drinking?”

“My dear Peregrine, strange as it may sound, there aren’t enough taverns in the city for everyone to be inside drinking.”

Another corner they turned, and still the thieves continued to hound at their heels.

“Got it,” Peregrine proclaimed loudly, startling Blade in the process.

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Rats in the City

Qaiqala; richest, largest and proudest of cities of the Swordlands. On certain nights of the year in parts of the city the citizens dare not venture out for fear of things that creep and set upon the unwary. No one told Peregrine, Swordmaiden of the wild Aedring hill tribes, and Blade, one-time assassin and dabbler in the Mysteries, this, and so unaware they wander the streets… Rats in the City is a 6900 word novelette, the forth in The Deeds of Peregrine and Blade sword and sorcery short fiction series

  • ISBN: 9781311534859
  • Author: A. S. Warwick
  • Published: 2016-05-21 06:50:07
  • Words: 7325
Rats in the City Rats in the City