I’ve never been accused of being a great man, so I might as well recount the adventures of one who was. Good thing, I suppose; he’d never do it himself. He was never that kind of person. He called himself Bowman Vance, and he was probably the only real friend I’ve ever had. My name is Noah. I was just a boy when I knew him, barely fourteen, but the night he ran, I followed him. When he discovered me hours later, he tried to send me home, even tried to scare me away. It nearly worked too. But I had seen what they’d done to him. I knew their secret. I couldn’t go back any more than he could.
The night we left Master Kota’s estate was a hectic one. Less than an hour prior to our leaving, the entire familial guard had made a failed attempt to overthrow the Kota line. Melias Quartain, the Sergeant of the Guard, had claimed proof that Master Kota was a corrupt noble, and that he was stealing from the town. Of the fifteen guardsmen, only three had been unsure: Bowman, one of his fellow archers, and a young swordsman. They had all grown up in the town of Jujira. Bowman’s own family had served the Kota line for generations.
By no means a stunning beauty, Callas was yet pretty in a that quaint way one might expect to find in the countryside. Her skin was smooth and tanned from a youth spent working and playing under the sun, and her hair, long and wavy, was sun-bleached to the color of harvest-ready wheat. Eyes that had been a muddy brown in her childhood had deepened with the years to a chocolate hue, and were rimmed by thick, dark lashes. Her father would have said she had inherited her mother’s soulful gaze. And if she had also got her father’s aquiline nose and strong square jaw, and his tendancy to purse her slighly-thin lips, who would notice? When she had occasion to smile, it lit up her battle-wearied face, and she glowed with it.
But Callas was certainly a product of her surroundings. Her years spent at war showed in the line of her body, taut and wiry, with a fluid grace and strong arm, and her hands were callused by the sword and plow alike. Under her Chosen’s sash, she walked proud and erect, having finally accepted what she was, and her dark gaze took in all around her with neither reserve nor apology for such sapience in such a young face.
She surged forward from the mob of her fellow soldiers, their hands shrinking back at the cry of feral rage tearing from her throat. And she ran alone toward the moving wall of abysmal black.
The formation behind her stood transfixed in awe at the sight of it, and as she neared the boundaries of the darkness, she raised her sword, and it blazed to life like a comet in her hand. At the first sweeping arch of it, the darkness shrank back, quivering from the flame’s touch like some wretched fog-beast. As Callas advanced into the opening her blade had made, the army behind her caught a glimpse of the armored force concealed within.
I met Death on the way home from work last night. And why not? He was standing on the corner in the same place he always was. I walked right up and asked for a light. Same as always.
I puffed on my cig for a second then asked, “So how’s work been going, man?”
He shrugged almost imperceptibly. “Same old. I’ve been gettin’ around.” He exhaled a spiral of smoke in my direction and leaned on the light post. “Lots of people dying lately.” There was no black hood or scythe, but in the dim glow of the streetlight, you’d almost expect him to look up at you with piercing red eyes. He wasn’t called Death for nothing.
He pulled his handgun out of its holster and fiddled with it a little. I don’t know a thing about weapons; just the sight of them makes me uneasy. I knew I wouldn’t see it coming — the day he got the word to use the damned thing. I flinched as it flashed in the light.
I kind of half-laughed. “Big Man keeping you on your toes, huh? How’s about we go grab a drink? Take a load off?”
That shrug again, and he finished off his cigarette, flicking the butt into the gutter. “The Boss…he knows what you’re doing…He always knows…” I eyed him nervously. It was just a matter of time until the Big Man pulled my number from his rolodex o’ destiny.
He paused to stare at the gun for a second, then quickly tucked it back into the holster. “So how’ve the days been for you? Usin’ ’em wisely, I hope. Well…other than the obvious.” I nodded, shaken. But same as always, he straightened up and started walking. “So, how ’bout that drink?”