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D'Molay is Followed: A Fight in the City
Here is a good example of how things work in the City of the Gods. This is not the whole chapter, but a scene that almost stands on its own. Certainly enough to give you a taste of some of the action and intrigue in the book... M. Scott Verne (This still needs final proofing, so you may find a few typos - sorry about that)
Shortly after he rode out of the Indian district, D’Molay began to suspect that he was indeed being followed. For a moment he thought he saw a dark figure moving from doorway to doorway following in the shadows. His instincts had served him well in his long life, and he’d learned to rely on those inner feelings rather than dismissing them as his imagination. Turning a corner in the road, he paused long enough to hide the box he’d been given under a gap below the bench seat. If anyone stopped him, they’d have some searching to do. He urged the horse to move on.
D’Molay entered the main district, where the great library and massively huge Council buildings stood. It was one of the most impressive areas of the City. Monuments to fallen gods, beautiful fountains of living water, and open plazas were thronged with inhabitants come to worship, do business, or conduct. Trying not to be distracted, D’Molay checked discreetly behind him to see if he could spot his pursuer again. He was unsuccessful.
He tried to make the horse go faster, but the crowds of people made it difficult to achieve more than a slight increase in pace. All he had to do was get to the Egyptian Temple complex without being intercepted. He risked another glance back, but it was not until he returned his eyes to the way ahead that he saw what he instantly recognized as his pursuer. Somehow it had gotten in front of him and was standing by a huge column devoted to Zeus. The man-shaped creature stood motionless, watching as the cart approached.
A dark green hooded cloak concealed some of its features from the curious, which in the City wasn’t that out of place. D’Molay could see dark grey skin with a hint of green that looked wet and glistened when the light hit it the right way. The creature’s arms had no bones and seemed to be just massive flexible muscles. Its bulbous head was larger than a normal man’s. Three orange eyes empty of pupils were stacked in a triangle shape, two where one might expect them to be and one located in the center of its forehead. The cloak covered it to the ground, but its movements seemed more like scuttling than running as it suddenly approached.
It had chosen the perfect spot to intercept the cart. There was no avoiding passing his pursuer short of stopping and trying to back up in the middle of the street. D’Molay whipped his horse, gambling that he might be able to rush by before it had a chance to act. It charged forward and jumped like a spider into the back of the cart as it sped by.
D’Molay unsheathed his knife, ready to use it. He swung his arm back to slice at the creature, but he missed, slicing only empty air. He was immediately grabbed from behind and slammed onto the back of the cart. As he was pulled over, the reins went with him jerking the horse to a stop in the street. The knife fell from his hand and dropped into the front of the cart. Lying on his back, the creature loomed over him as it stood on his shoulders, holding him down. It extended its tendrils.
“Giiveee me boxxx.”
The creature flew into a rage, hitting D’Molay across the face as it screamed. It was like being hit with a heavy knotted rope. The beating moved to his arms and torso, giving him bruises that would last for weeks. “Get boxxxx now!”
“Alright, Alright! I-I’ll get it!” D’Molay’s brain raced, trying to concoct a way to escape with the box if the creature allowed him an opening to retrieve it. He extended an aching arm toward the front of the cart as if he were actually reaching for the item.
Suddenly the entire cart was engulfed in a blue energy blast. It tipped violently to the left and shifted about eight feet to that side. Both D’Molay and the creature were sent sprawling to the pavement as the horse neighed loudly and staggered, tangled in its tack. The grey-green man creature took the brunt of the fall as standing up had sent him further.
“Idiots! Get out of the way next time you play in the street!” A young boy in a golden horse-drawn carriage yelled at them from the side window. His finger was still crackling with blue energy as his driver barreled on past. Several other carts and chariots quickly went by as the way had now been opened. Ignoring the ruckus, D’Molay scrambled for his knife which was now lying on the street only a few feet away. He grabbed it and jumped on the creature, which had fallen on its back. Its tendrils flailed like the legs of an upended bug. “Who sent you?” D’Molay demanded, holding the knife at the creature’s throat as he knelt on one of its tentacles and pinned the other with his arm. “Answer!”
After a few seconds pause it finally replied. “S-Sssssetttt.”
D’Molay pondered this for a second. It made sense. Set and Sekhmet were both Egyptian, and perhaps had been contesting for the item in the box, though it was equally possible that this creature wanted the box for his own reasons.
“Set hired you, did he? Why you?”
“Alwaysss sssuccesss. I aasssssk no questionsssss.”
“I guess you were hired just like I was,” D’Molay said begrudgingly. On some level he felt empathy for his attacker, despite or perhaps even because of its inhuman appearance. “I should kill you, but what happens if I don’t? Will you just go back to whatever hole you crawled out of and leave me be?” D’Molay pressed the knife at the creatures’ throat as it stared at him with those soulless orange eyes.
“Leave . . . I leave . . . Yesssss,” it answered.
“Very well. I wasn’t planning to kill anyone today.” Withdrawing the knife from the creature, D’Molay stepped back, still wary of what it might do.
Slowly the grey man-thing rose, then backed away, preparing to move off. It turned as if to go, then suddenly swung one of its massive tentacles right at D’Molay’s head. It connected solidly, flinging D’Molay backward. He hit hard against the horse cart, falling to the ground. With the knife he had managed to hold on to as the creature had struck, D’Molay sliced off the end of a tendril. Black liquid gushed out if the wound. Unfazed, the misshapen creature rushed him. D’Molay tasted blood in his mouth as tendrils wrapped around his neck and lifted him off the ground. His arms dangled useless at his sides. His knife was still in his hand, but he was unable to use it.
Held by his neck, his feet hanging inches off the ground, D’Molay stared in panic at the hideous grin on the creature’s face. “Foolisssh. Now I crush neck . . . take box.”
D’Molay struggled to no avail as his face turned crimson and the creature tightened its grip. Desperately he gasped for air, but none came. His vision started to go black around the edges as though he was looking through a shrinking tunnel. As he began to lose consciousness, he managed a last attempt to break free, swinging his feet forward and getting a sideways foothold on the creature’s chest. D’Molay then brought his other leg up and sent a crushing kick into the creature’s face with his booted heel. The kick took it completely by surprise and destroyed one of its eyes, the orange orb turning into black jelly under his boot. Screaming in pain and shock, the creature released its hold on D’Molay and he dropped the back of the cart, gasping for breath. The thing staggered backwards as it held its tendril over the leaking wound that had once been an eye.
D’Molay gasped for air as he lay in the cart. He could hear the creature’s continued screams and the slapping of its flailing tentacles. He knew his escape was only temporary. D’Molay managed to rise, taking a flying leap off the cart right at the creature. Holding the knife in both hands, D’Molay thrust it down into its head. It broke through his enemy’s skull like an arrow going into a watermelon. He set the knife in deeply and fell off the creature as it writhed. It staggered forward and almost ran into some onlookers as blood gushed out of its head wound around the protruding knife. Within a few seconds, it was covered in the black liquid. IT fell to the ground, gurgling, it tendrils still searching for its victim’s neck.
D’Molay lay on the ground trying to catch his breath, exhausted. He was bruised, cut, and his neck hurt like hell, but he would recover. A small crowd had gathered, muttering to each other as they pointed at the carnage. One of them, a priest of Artemis, stood over him. “Don’t move. I’ve summoned a City guardian.”
“I won’t,” D’Molay managed to get out between gasps of air. He barely looked at the priest as he tried to recover from the fight. Slowly he caught his breath and just sat, gathering his strength.
“That’s the last time I show an opponent mercy. Next time, I just kill them. Mercy almost cost me my life,” he angrily thought, staring at a smear of his own blood on the street.
Within minutes, a white, winged horse with a rider descended from the sky. As they sought a spot to land on the street, pedestrians scattered out of the way. “Move aside, City business!” a strong, feminine voice called out. D’Molay felt the air rush past him from the beating of the horse’s wings. Looking up, he saw its rider was a Valkyrie carrying a long golden spear. The horse landed gently on the ground, took a few steps before coming to a halt right next to the scene of the fight. It folded its large, white, feathery wings. The rider gracefully slid off her mount and stood for a moment, studying in the scene in front of her.
D’Molay couldn’t help but turn his gaze to her. She was a combination of beauty and strength, tall and full figured, with white-blonde hair tied into two long ponytails that hung down to her waist. On her head was a silver helm with white dove wings on either side. She wore a tunic made from silver-colored chain mail. Over her shoulders and across her chest she had a dark blue leather collar, on top of which was a gold chain with a City medallion, much like the one D’Molay carried. Around her waist was a matching blue leather belt and skirt that hung about mid-thigh. Her boots laced up on the sides and went up to the top of her calves. As she walked toward him, she pointed her golden spear, an item carried by all the guardians, at him. D’Molay wiped the blood dripping from the corner of his mouth with the back of his hand, hoping he could talk his way out of this. City guardians had considerable discretionary power. One could never be sure if a guardian planned to mete out justice or enjoy a personal power trip.
“What’s this all about? Answer or face the justice of the Council,” the Valkyrie said with a serious and slightly annoyed look on her face. She had angular features and thin lips which gave her the appearance of an elf that had been in the cold for too long. D’Molay quickly judged she was not someone to be joked or flirted with, so he wasted no time in giving her an answer.
“That creature attacked me first, while I was riding in that cart. I defended myself and I had to kill it.” D’Molay noticed the horse still waiting for him. “I also work for the Council as a courier and a tracker. I have a Council medallion if you want to see it,” he added.
The Valkyrie stepped closer, taking a defensive stance and aiming her spear right at his heart. It was so close that if she just gave a thrust forward her spear would pierce him with ease. “Show me. But I wouldn’t pull anything else out of that pocket.”
D’Molay reached in his coat pocket and pulled out the emblem the Council had given him years ago. He always carried the medallion for it often helped him in situations like this one. He held it up for her to see. “I was delivering a small box to one of the Egyptian pantheon, when that thing lying there attacked.”
She looked at the emblem without touching it. “You can put it away, but stay where you are until I say otherwise.” Then she turned to the small crowd standing nearby. “Who attacked first? If you saw anything, speak now,” she said with an air of authority.
A bald man with a grey beard in a white toga stepped forward. D’Molay recognized him as the man who had told him to not to move earlier. “I didn’t see who attacked first, but I can tell you that the so-called creature could speak, and said it would leave him be. The next thing I saw, that one had shoved a knife through its head,” the man said in an accusatory manner.
The Valkyrie got a grim look on her face as another man stepped forward. “That creature attacked first – I saw it jump inna the back ‘o his wagon. When he offered to let it go, it lashed out a’ him, I swear it and don’ know him or that beast.”
“That is what happened,” D’Molay added in earnest support of his testimony.
The guardian eyed the rest of the crowd. “Did it attack him after he let it go?” Some shook their heads, some spoke their agreement, and many said nothing; but, she was used to bystanders that didn’t want to get involved. Finally, she withdrew the spear and rested it upright on the stone-paved street. She looked directly at D’Molay. “Get up. I’m satisfied with your story.”
“You made the right choice. Sorry to cause you any trouble,” he replied, standing up and brushing himself off. “Do you have a name?”
“My name is Geirrönul. Trouble is my duty,” she said, walking over to the corpse of the half-man, half monster. Crouching down, she looked closely at the dead creature. That annoyed sneer came across her face again. “Looks like one of Lamasthu’s servants. Strange. Rarely see them in the City.” She took hold of the large knife sticking out of its bulbous head. “I take it this is yours?” she asked rhetorically, pulling it out of the wound. More dark blood gurgled out of the hole in its head. “Nice dagger, it suppresses magical energy, doesn’t it? Here.” She held the bloody knife hilt out to D’Molay.
“Yes, it was a gift of the Council and it has served me well.” He took it, wiping it off on his already ripped and blood stained shirt. Geirrönul cleaned her hand off on the creature’s cloak and then pulled it aside to reveal a twisted grey body. “This was a man once. Now . . . who knows what to call it.” She stood up, tapping the spear on the ground three times. A yellow glow appeared at the pointed end. As D’Molay watched, it became orange and then turned to flame. The air around the spear tip began to waver as the heat from it continued to increase, though no heat seemed to pass into the shaft of the spear, leaving Geirrönul unaffected by it.
“Step back.” She held the flaming spear over the dead thing and then lowered it to touch the corpse. D’Molay heard a loud sizzling noise as the body was engulfed in red flame. Within a few seconds the remains dissolved in the flames, leaving only a dark mark on the road. The Valkyrie lifted the flaming spear back up, tapping it on the ground three more times. The flame went out and the glow faded until it was gone. “That takes care of that. I’m done here, citizen. You can go on your way. One last thing. What’s in that box you’re carrying anyway?”
He gave her a slightly embarrassed look. “I don’t actually know. I’m not permitted to open it unless the recipient gives permission.”
“Yes, I thought it would be something like that.” She walked over to her stallion. “Stay out of trouble if you can, eh?”
D’Molay smiled weakly. “I’ll try.”
Geirrönul mounted her horse and urged it forward. “See that you do.” The horse spread its wings and with a running start they flew off into the midday sky.
After checking to see that the small box was still safely tucked away in the cart, D’Molay climbed in, grabbing the reins and starting to ride forward. One look at his gore-covered hands caused him to make a u-turn. He was a mess; he could not go to see the cat goddess looking as he did. “I need to go home first,” he thought as he rolled over the dark stain that had been a servant of Lamasthu.