The five soldiers approached, raising their swords over their heads. The glint of their steel paled as they stepped out of the fading daylight and into the stretching shadows of the alley wall. Dave’s head bowed, his long bangs falling over his face. He let his arms drop to his sides, his trembling fists unclenching.

“Do it, then,” he said, “end me.” The bastard gazed up into the clouded heaven where some blue had broken through the oppressing clouds.

An agonized cry broke David from his wistful musing, and his eyes returned to the scene. The man in black had stepped out of his shadows, his curved blade bloodied as it passed through the bowels of a soldier. The man fell into his comrade, and the line of soldiers turned from the bastard to the stranger.

“It’s him,” one of them shouted. The four remaining swordsmen broke rank, weaving around each other as they all confusedly pursued different interests. The one closest to Dave found the madman’s fingers about his throat. The bastard’s reddened face, flushed with rage, filled the soldier’s vision as his sword arm uselessly tried to wrestle itself free from his attacker’s grip. The one holding the expiring body of his late brother thought to retreat, but retreated into the advance of another soldier. The last of the men found himself deflecting a few quick swipes of the unnamed hero’s sword.

With a wary eye, the soldier watched his attacker. The stranger’s arms, wrapped in the same black material of his shirt, disappeared against his chest. He seemed formless, as if the sword were the only real thing about him. With a yell, the soldier leapt forward, thrusting at the center of this wiry darkness. As if stabbing at nothing more than a shadow, he passed straight through, his lunge carrying him forward and breaking his sword against the wall.

The stranger’s curved steal fell, cleaving the soldier’s forearm in two. Grabbing at his own bloody stump, the man shouted in pain, his vision slowly blurring as he collapsed onto the blood-soaked cobblestone.

The two previously entangled soldiers were both fleeing now, the one covered in the blood of his disemboweled comrade, weaving around their fallen brothers, retreating to the mouth of the alley. David held the limp form of a strangled soldier by its neck, his hands both clasped in an unrelenting grip. The dead soldier had dropped his sword, his arms dangling lifelessly at his sides. They were jostled as David shook the body, muttering foul curses at the corpse. Suddenly throwing the body to the ground, the bastard began stomping on the face of his victim, his curses growing louder.

The nameless hero stood in the shadow of the alley studying the trail of dead men. Sighing, he flicked his sword in a short arc, flinging the hot blood from his blade. Sheathing his weapon, he glanced over his shoulder, his attention wandering toward Dave and the stream of profanity spewing from him. He watched the bastard mutilating the body, his brow knitting in concern.

“Who are these people?” he asked.

David stopped shouting, planting his bloody boot down upon the faceless head. Panting breathlessly, he stared at the nameless hero.

“You’re new here,” he observed. “Well, they’re pretty much just pirates,” he spat. “They’ve been running this port for a year and more.”

“Achoo,” a muted sneeze sounded.

David’s head snapped toward the sound. Standing there, deserted at the mouth of the alley, the drummer boy stared blankly down at the murderers. The drum hung from him, a little eschewed. His hands still tightly clasped his drumsticks. He sneezed again, his wet hair flying up for a moment only for his bangs to fall back over his eyes. David sprinted toward the child like a tiger bolting towards its prey. The child gasped.

“No, Davy!” a woman called.

Like a dog at the end of his chain, David halted, a snarling brut, and as if suddenly free to move, the boy turned to run. Disentangling himself from his instrument, he threw it and his drumsticks aside with a clickety-crash, but before he could disappear around the corner, he came to a skidding halt. Appearing around the same corner, a woman stepped onto the scene.

She wore a dark, wide brimmed hat which veiled her face save for a shapely, white chin exposed underneath. The boy, who had nearly run into the woman, gazed up at her gawking. She put out her hand to brush his hair from his eyes, and then, wandering to the back of his neck, she turned his head to better catch the light. She studied him for a moment, and afterward, as if seeing what she was looking for, let him go.

“Davy,” came her soft voice. She surveyed the corpses littering the alley, “What happened?”

Not wanting to face her, David looked away like a sheepish schoolboy. Muttering, he replied, “Anderson told me to take out their leader.”

“Yes!” she returned. “One man. One.”

“I didn’t kill them,” he differed quietly.

“You killed him,” the stranger added, pointing to the faceless corpse.

Raising her head, Andrea gazed down the other end of the alley. Her face was handsome and thin, smooth and hard as marble. Her dark eyes squinted as she spoke, “Yes, I recognize the handiwork, and yours too,” she added, lifting a dark bottle. “Davy,” she said, “Do you know what your friend was doing this morning?” David shook his head silently. “He came to the execution.”

“What execution?” David mumbled.

“The Monk’s,” she answered. “The one my sister’s so enthralled by.”

“So?” remarked Dave.

“So,” continued Andrea, “a certain lieutenant took a dislike to him.” Tossing her bottle into the air and catching it, she finished, “and they crossed swords.” David looked over the alley, counting the corpses.

“That takes care of one problem,” Dave said, turning toward the nameless hero, “You’re going to have to work for us now.”


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