A little promo story for Dragon Soul. Chew on this for a little
The dark Brisbane streets were dead, still with a stark lack of the common and honest folk. This was time that thieves and murderers wandered the streets and the six o’ clock curfew that the children were given was for their own safety. The quiet city dwellers knew exactly how justified the curfews were. And now, at eight o’ clock, the parents feared for possessions and lives of their own. Brisbane was one of the worst affected after the Blackmatter incident and the city had never really recovered in those forty odd years. It was that unlucky city that the PMC couldn’t spare forces for, the hub that the administration didn’t require immediately, the place that had once been great but no one cared about now. Gangsters were more common there than in Cape Town in the early 2000s and they held more sway over the people than the business leaders or the mayor.
John peered out fearfully from his window, through the dusty curtains that rippled and shed dirt across his face. He knew it wasn’t wind because his windows had been fastened shut and barred. He was glad for that, having enough money to afford steel protection. He reasoned that the shaking must have been from his hands then. John looked at the once proud street and wondered how much happier it must have looked during the daytime, when light and people flooded it. The gloom carried a kind of dark mystery to it, one that made John think of the old crime novels he enjoyed reading so much. And much like the old, dog eared pages, the paint on the buildings curled and peeled, giving the city an all too common ugliness. John’s breath escaped his mouth when a brisk moving form entered his line of sight.
Dressed in a thick coat, a concealing scarf and the thickest boots John had ever seen, this man was undeniably shady and he made John quiver. Most older men had this effect on the boy, but this one especially gave him chills. It might have been this particular man he had seen pulling a knife on a random lady in the market. It might have been this particular man he had seen pulling children from the swings one morning. Or it might not have been. There were a few men with this exact same scarf, coat and boot combination and John had seen many of them many times. But none of them had shouted and called others to his side. This was new, just as new as the cry. ‘Today’s the day’.
Something about that sentence resonated with John. What was happening today? It was important enough for his mother to have told him privately. What was the date? Maybe he’d remember that way. John looked at the watch on his tiny wrist and realised the importance of the day. October 22. It had been three weeks since the humanitarians at the Southern African Union had set their twenty one day deadline for bringing in food, clothing and other necessities. And the last time the services had arrived, none made it to the people and they had to purchase the things they needed from the gangs, using their already miniscule salaries.
And so criminals like the coated men grew fat on everyone else’s work. John was cross, that being about as angry an eight year old in his situation could get. Grabbing the little spade from the side of the shed he hid in, John opened the door gently and set out into the night, shadowing the men with an uneasy feeling on his back. Every so often, John turned around and swore he saw some kind of figure, a dark shape, lurking in the shadows. No, he was too old to believe stories like that. But how vivid the descriptions were, from the other school kids, that made him scared and that was slowly seeping into his imagination and ghouls were appearing at every doorstep and corner.
John followed the six men for less than five minutes and they stopped at the dock. He very nearly screamed out in terror as one of the men, the rear most man and the one who called them all together, turned around to see if he was being followed. Hugging the wall as quickly as he could, John barely stayed under the radar. The man, a bald thug, shrugged and spoke to his fellows.
“Today’s going to be an easy bust. The supplies are virtually unguarded. Shows how much a few connections can do!” The man laughed loudly into the otherwise silent night.
“And you’re sure he’s not here?” one of them croaked
“Of course not. The Bloodbringer isn’t going to be bothered by a simple theft. He leaves this kind of thing alone all the time! Oh, boss is going to be thrilled when we send her a quarter of the loot”.
“A quarter? I thought it was half?” another thug muttered.
“We can leave boss thinking that we didn’t get much. We can’t well have everyone starving can we?” the first chuckled. John cracked. Giving away his position with an accidental scrape of his spade against the wall, the boy ran up to the nearest gangster and slapped his hand with the spade, pressing the thick fingers between metal blade and flesh. The gangster yelped with surprise and swung wildly at John, missing by a hair. The boy ran back into the shadows and down into the streets as the men drew guns.
“Can’t even hit a little kid when he’s right in front of you? Go on, after him!” the leader snapped. The other five went into the street where they last saw the boy and gave chase, pistols in hand. John’s heart raced as fast as his feet, keeping just ahead of the criminals’ shoddy aim. Trying his best to be just ahead of the dangerous men out to kill him, John looked for corners in the labyrinthine streets to escape into. For a while, he was lucky and seemed to be escaping. But luck has a way of running out and that was just what happened when little John turned into a corner he couldn’t escape from. This was a constant nightmare of his. To be trapped at a dead end followed by the grimmest of the night’s criminals. John gulped and started to consider what death might feel like, seeing that lone ghoul sit atop the buildings behind him, legs bowed and a horsetail sitting at one side.
The first of the thugs entered the alleyway and looked at John, raising his gun at the helpless boy. He smiled with a vicious look in his eyes and stepped forward for a better shot. There was no point to a long chase without a kill. Then he looked up and the colour drained from his face. Unbeknownst to John, the ghoul had leaped down silently from the roof and settled behind him, its horsetail ornament lit up in red. The ghoul stood taller than any of the gangsters and was dressed in a suit of ornate armour, black with red swirls and patterns. The knightly shape of the helmet drew forth like a beak and hid the monstrous visage beneath. The thug in the street took a step back, fearfully, and aimed his gun at the figure.
John heard ten shots and saw the figure move wraith-like, popping in and out of existence, towards the man. The thug clicked his trigger vainly, his gun out of bullets and he was helpless when the armoured figure grabbed him by the collar. Trying to worm his way out was impossible in the steely grip of the assailant and it tossed his three metres into one of his fellows who had just appeared. The figure darted to meet the third, standing member of the gang and smashed its hand into his face, crunching his nose and face. The man screamed as a crackle of electricity ran down the black gauntlets of the mysterious figure and danced, burning red lines in his flesh. The figure held the man up with a single hand and ever increasing arcs of electricity grew brighter and more vicious until the man and the ghoul’s hand lit up like a beacon.
A charred corpse dropped and the figure began to beat the other two so brutally that it scarred John’s psyche for years after the fact. He shut his eyes very quickly and could hear the screams, begging for mercy. None was given and the second victim was dropped into a puddle of his own blood, beaten so violently that his face was an unrecognisable pulp. The third criminal was given a more merciful death than his two associates. Trying to escape, the man was sliced into four chunks by a sword crackled with electrical energy and they dripped and slurped onto the dirty floor of the streets with a wet and bloody smack. The thing was that John’s eyes only registered the first cut, or maybe the last as it was when the figure withdrew its weapon. Then, just as quickly as it had appeared, the ghoul vanished, just a loose tile from the roof being its trace. The blood from the messy demise of the criminals flowed into the drain and began to stain the boy’s hair.
John picked his quivering body up from the messed up street and began to walk home. Not his little shed were he hid for safety, his real home. There he would tell his mother that the Bloodbringer was real.