Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Chapter 1 - Harp

This is a selection from my completed YA Fantasy novel: The Wizard's Pearl.

The normally busy merchant street was quiet in the early morning hours. Anyone who was sensible had already been fast asleep for hours. The only ones still awake were those that didn’t know when to give up a good time and go home and those that were up to no good. The man standing in the shadows of a lone, yellow street light was of the latter group and he knew that. It wasn’t rare to find Harp standing on the dimly lit street in the center of Thrall when dark deeds needed to be completed. It was his job, after all - his calling and his Clan. Perhaps there had been a time long ago when he would have questioned his elders but not anymore. This was his job and he was so very good at it.

Harp watched the front of the pub closely, staying just out of sight in the shadows. The light was low here but his eyes, green and cat-like, could see through even the darkest gloom. The man he was waiting for was just inside, most likely nursing the last pint of ale before the bartender finally kicked him out to close up shop. It was typically the same story with wizards, Harp mused, pulling the dark trench coat around his shoulders as he waited. Wizards seemed to believe that the world was created especially for them and that everyone else should mind their manners. It hadn’t always been like that. There was a time when the magical humans were just are rare as other magic creatures. They were taught in secret and kept to their own ways, creating Clans of their own. Of course, all of that changed twenty years ago, a time that Harp remembered with a shudder.

He didn’t like thinking about it and yet the memories continued to creep up on him when he least expected them. He shook his head, flexing his arms to shake the cold and stiffness from his joints as an irritated growl left his throat. He was tired of waiting. The damned bloody human was wasting his time! It was soon to be light and that would mean that Harp would have to spend another day in the city, waiting and watching for the next opportunity to catch the wizard alone. He had other things to do, other jobs to pursue, and the runes on his skin wouldn’t last much longer.

Harp glanced down to see the dark swirl of ink on his palm and frowned. Every job where magic was involved used up another drop of ink. The runes protected him but only for so long. When was the last time he had the ink refreshed? Years by now, decades perhaps, and the jobs kept growing more and more dangerous. He would need to remember to have the ink replaced but that was another issue. There was a reason he had procrastinated so long. There were only two people he trusted to apply the runes and they were difficult to track down on the best of days. Besides, he didn’t fancy visiting either of them again. Too many dark memories...

The chime of the bell on the pub’s door pulled him out of his thoughts. The wizard he had been waiting for stepped into the cool night, puffs of white vapor clouding around his head as he breathed heavily. He seemed to stagger which was a good sign for Harp, considering he had been so deep in thought that he nearly missed the man leaving. As the wizard turned right to follow the cobbled pathway down the street, Harp followed in the shadows, careful to keep quiet and out of sight. The man stumbled once more, using a lamp post to catch himself. Harp allowed himself a quiet smile. The man was drunk and the street was deserted. Fate, it seemed, was finally in his favor.

He walked slowly, each step silent as he stalked his prey. The air around his hands shimmered as small daggers appeared - the weapons that were a part of him as much as any other limb on his body. The man mumbled to himself, laughing a little as he fumbled in his coat. Looking for his keys or so Harp thought, but he kept his movements cautious just in case the man had a weapon hidden in his pocket. He wanted this quick and clean - little blood and no chance for the man to scream. He was being paid for a discrete kill and that’s what Harp intended to do. A few steps closer and he would be able to pounce.

The man in front of him suddenly disappeared and it was then that Harp realized his mistake. It had been an illusion after all. A piss poor illusion, he thought bitterly but Harp didn’t have time to chastise himself for being careless. The wizard had to be somewhere close by to hold the spell and now Harp was exposed and vulnerable. He turned, suddenly on the defense when a large blast of energy knocked him back, making him wince as his back slammed against the brick building behind him. Harp growled, hating the fact that someone had surprised him. He was too old - too experienced to be making mistakes like this. He pushed against the wall, determined to spring back to his feet when a strong force pressed against him, keeping him pinned. He could feel the ink in his skin begin to heat - the magic that held him reacting with the runes. It was the only thing that kept him safe, he knew that, but the runes were weakening and his body - so susceptible to the magic of wizards - was slowly being crushed.

“I knew one of you would come,” a voice said from the darkness. Harp bared his teeth, continuing to fight against the magic that kept him bound. “It was only a matter of time before another one tried to have me bumped off. Let’s see what they sent me this time.”

The wizard walked out of the shadows from across the street and approached Harp. He was a squat man, his hair receding to reveal a shiny bald pate ringed with grey hair. He was older than he tried to appear and Harp could see the look of contempt on the man’s face as he grew closer.

“A Cat?” the man snorted, his lips curling into a sneer. “They send a Cat to kill me? I must have slipped low on my enemies list to have them send a creature such as you.”

Harp’s pride was wounded and he growled again, louder this time as he struggled against the invisible weight. The wizard chuckled, moving within an arm’s length and shook his head. “Did you honestly believe you stood a chance against someone like me? Do you know who I am, Kitten? What sort of power I hold? I could destroy you in an instant; squash you like an insect against this wall. I’ve killed far more skilled creatures than you. Cats, aye, and Wolves as well. Do you see this ring? Dragon scales from the Draconian - all have died at my hands. You are just another pitiful thing that they have sent at me like a lamb to the slaughter.”

The wizard stopped, watching as his words had very little effect on the Cat. There should have been some response, at least. Fear or most likely anger as the Cats were a stubborn race but there was nothing on Harp’s face except a calm look of complete loathing. Even the creature’s struggling had ceased but perhaps that was the Cat’s way of giving up and accepting the inevitable. Whatever the case may be, the man grew tired of being stalked and his throat itched to be coated in another round of whiskey that he kept in his study. It was time to end this.

“No matter,” the man said, increasing the pressure until he saw that Cat’s face grimace from the pain. “I would say it is a shame you won’t be around to see the next sunrise but that would be a lie. Dispatching trash such as you is rather bothersome. There’s no shame in it except in wasting my time.”

He released the spell, staying only long enough to see the Cat stop struggling before he turned and walked away. He didn’t want any of the blood to splatter on his new suit, after all. It was silk and too damn expensive to ruin with a dirty feline’s blood.

Harp’s lips curled into a smile as he heard the wizard’s thoughts. Stupid human, he thought, his mind brushing up against the wizard’s. The man paused and turned but it was too late for him to cast a spell. The dagger was already protruding from his chest, the Cat moving fast and striking without mercy.

The wizard’s eyes went wide and he gasped, struggling for breath as his lungs filled with blood. “How...?” he said. You should be dead. Not me, never me. Who are you?

“Harp,” the Cat growled as he plunged a second dagger into his chest, piercing the wizard’s heart. “Perhaps you’ve heard of me.”

Recognition flooded through the wizard’s mind and he weakly tried to grab onto his magic, clinging to it as if it could somehow save him. Images from the dying man’s thoughts bombarded Harp as they always did but these were different. Familiar memories - the time of the Fall, the face of a Cat he knew all too well and a ball - small, pink and perfect. It was this last image that made Harp pause, his satisfaction at killing the man instantly gone.

“The Pearl,” he hissed, shaking the man furiously to keep him conscious. “You know it? Where is it? Where is it?

But the man was dead, the light in his eyes faded and his thoughts were as cold as the stone beneath them. Harp cursed, dropping the dead man as he was little use to him now. His body ached as the last of the protective ink gone and the lingering effects of the spell still clinging to his skin. He should move out of the street, find shelter before the light of the sun peeked over the horizon. Soon all of the sensible people would be waking up, ready to start their day and he didn’t want them to find him balled up in pain as the magic wreaked havoc on his body. Yet, his mind wasn’t on the sickness that was about to strike. Instead, all he could see was the small, pink ball and the sense that the man he had just killed had seen it - held it - and all too recently.

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