Soulforged: Chapter One
“I’ve already paid my piece! Go back to your boss and –“
The sound of shattered glass echoed through the high street of the southern slumlands of the Drachenland. The crash was loud but those who heard it elected to remain deaf for the moment. The only one willing to listen, the only one willing to act, was a man perching on a ledge overlooking the shop.
This man was named Athelas but once he donned his white cowl, those who faced against him knew him by another name – Ekhwaal.
He pulled up his white hood and covered his face. This cloth mask had two crimson streaks painted horizontally and parallel to each other. Then, he placed his fist on his leather chestplate and steadied his breath as he watched the crime unfold. After that, he unbuttoned a pouch on his hip and pulled out a makeshift knife.
“I count five,” he said to himself as the thieves exited the Herb shop. He prepared to follow them to their leader.
Athelas noticed that they were wearing brown robes and had their faces covered by a black mask. His face contorted between rage and glee. He recognized this group. He knew them as a gang that he had been following for a while.
“Damned Monkeys…” he muttered.
He traced the group as they moved through the labyrinth of decrepit buildings. He was wary to avoid being within earshot. While he followed the group, he took note of their weapons and how each member was moving.
After a few minutes of running, one of the Monkeys lagged behind. He gasped for air and placed his hand on the wall.
“Guys, can you please slow down?” he said as he continued to pant.
All the man was allowed was a cursory glance by his fellow gang members who chose to continue running ahead.
Athelas threw his shiv at the man. It hit the Monkey in his back.
Then, without a second thought, Athelas continued to hop across the scattered rooftops as he gave chase to the rest of the band of thieves.
He caught up with the group as he pulled out another knife from his pouch.
The ledges of South Drachenland were essentially glorified piles of trash. Thus, a misplaced landing led to Athelas crashing a bunch of bricks onto another member of the gang. The other gang members knew they were caught and opted to deal with their assailant personally.
Athelas clenched his teeth and said, “Three!” as he jumped into the fray.
The closest man to Athelas pulled out a pair of brass knuckles and flung a fist towards Athelas’ face. Seeing this, he ducked and dove in with his knife. He then slashed his combatant in the arm.
The Monkey screamed and released his grip. Athelas then grabbed the back of the man’s head and pulled it down to meet his knee.
The man’s body then slumped against the stone walls of the alleyway. This was followed by a swift slash to the neck. The dusty walls now painted red.
Athelas screamed as he charged at the remaining two gang members.
One of the gang members wielded his flail and flung it into Athelas’ chest. The impact threw him to the ground.
“Well, that is definitely going to bruise.” Athelas said as he hacked blood into his mask.
As the flailsman was about to deal the finishing blow, Athelas rolled aside. Then, he quickly scaled back to the rooftops.
Athelas refocused his breath as he found shelter in the darkness. He watched as the two remaining gangsters cautiously looked for him. He also checked that his leather armor still held up.
“That really hurt. I let my rage get the best of me.” He said to himself.
Once his breath steadied, he pulled a stray rope from one of the awnings and fashioned it into a lasso. When the flailsman walked close enough to the walls, he threw the lasso around his neck and pulled hard using the ledge as leverage.
The man choked for a few seconds before going limp. Then, Athelas let go and the man crashed to the streets below.
“One left,” Athelas said.
The final member of this band of thieves wielded a shortsword and clung it to his chest.
“Ekhwaal! Ekhwaal! I-I-I Know you are out there! C-c-come out and fight me like a real man! Don’t be a coward!” the swordsman said as he looked up at the dark rooftops.
“Coward… Coward? Ha!” Athelas began to laugh. “There is no greater coward than those who take advantage of the weak.”
Athelas jumped down behind the swordsman and said, “So, you, my friend, are the greatest coward. Not only do you take advantage of the weak. You cower behind the name of the Monkeys, the name of the Orangutan, your boss, in order to take whatever the hell you want from those who do not have the means to fight back.”
“In fact,” Athelas said as he threw a knife into the swordsman’s chest “some would say that even those you hurt are stronger than you ever will be. Especially when they band together!”
The swordsman squirmed towards the wall as his assailant walked closer.
Athelas pulled out another knife and twirled it between his fingers. He hummed a cheerful tune as he towered over the injured man. The man winced in fear as Athelas’ shadow casted over him.
“Maybe, I should let you live.” The hooded man said as he tapped the knife on his own chest. “That way, there will be someone left to tell my tale!”
Athelas lurched forward and said, “That way, you filthy Monkeys will remember that these slums are my turf and not the Orangutans! You and the rest of your unruly gang members can rightfully get the hell out of my land!”
Tears streamed down the swordsman’s face as he pulled off his mask. He begged in prostrate.
“Please, Ekwhaal! I cannot go back to the Orangutan with nothing.”
Athelas stopped for a moment, raised his hand up and said, “Nothing? I haven’t taken the gold back. What do you mean you have nothing?”
The swordsman bawled as he said, “It must have dropped somewhere behind!”
Athelas looked at the man, saw that there was no pouch of gold, buried his face in his palm and said, “Go. Just go. Before I change my mind.”
The injured swordsman stumbled hastily into the dark. Athelas pounded his fist against the wall. “Damn it!” he said.
A sudden clinking sound was heard. It got closer and closer. Then, a voice rang from behind Athelas.
“Don’t you think that the killings of these goons are beneath you.”
Athelas smirked and said, “Oh, of course it would be you. A scavenger such as yourself, an absent bag of gold, dropped amidst the chaos of battle, would have definitely caught your eye.”
The man stepped out of the shadows. Half his face was covered in the dark-purple hue of scar tissue, his left eye was discoloured, the hand tossing the sack of gold was missing its ring finger.
“Of course, it’d be me! Just because everyone chooses to look the other way. Doesn’t mean I have to.”
“Well, listen, Promithiz, I know what you are here for. So, bugger off. I am not interested.”
“Such poor manners, Mr Ekhwaal. You… are a hero to this community. Why don’t you… use that status for something grea-“
“So, what? Join your rebellion? I am not keen on joining your suicide mission!” Athelas waved Promithiz off as he started to walk away.
“Now, listen here, Ekhwaal. Use your head and not your heart! What you are doing here… Dressing up! Killing people! You are just treating symptoms of a disease.”
Athelas stopped and looked over his shoulder. “And what do you propose I do then?”
“You see, by killing off these Monkeys you aren’t exactly doing anyone a favour. They are expendable, easily replaced. Think! Why would any sane person go working for someone as brutal and monstrous as the Orangutan!”
“Well, they are criminals. That sort of life is all they know.”
“No!” Promithiz’s eyes widened with rage. “They are just men put into situations that they cannot control! They are just men who are forced into a corner! Forced to do terrible things just so they don’t go to bed hungry at night! For a man spouting justice, you are just a bloody hypocrite!”
“What do you propose I do then?!” Athelas said as he stomped towards Promithiz.
“Well, I’ve been telling you this whole time. Join me and we can take down those in power around here.”
“No… Think higher, think root cause!”
Athelas shook his head profusely. “You can’t possibly mean that I should go up against the God King? According to the history books, he WIPED out armies with a flick a wrist! A flick of a bloody wrist!”
Promithiz gave a sharp glare and said, “According to history books! Books written by Minerva. One of the God-King’s generals! With you as my weapon, we can destroy the God-King regardless of his power,” He then slammed his knuckles into his palm. “We will wipe out his generals and crush him where it hurts.”
“You are acting awfully confident for a man who’s not seen combat. I know fights that I can beat. This isn’t one of them.”
Promithiz smirked and handed Athelas the pouch of gold. He then said, “If you really want to join my cause, meet me tomorrow, Mr Ekhwaal. Unmasked.”
Before Athelas could reply, Promithiz walked into the shadows of the alleyway.
Athelas stomped his feet and called out to Promithiz but there was no reply. Knowing his shouts were futile, he decided to make his way back to the Herb Shop.
“How the hell am I even going to find him? Meet him tomorrow? Ha! That burnt bastard is off his rocker!” Athelas pondered as he walked along the maze of alleyways.
“But gotta give him credit, he is right… I have been just fixing leaks as they sprouted. I refused to admit it before but today, for the Monkeys to act so blatantly. It is a sign that things haven’t changed.”
Athelas pulled out a locket hanging from his neck and opened it to reveal a green stone. Then, he sighed and said, “I did it for you. But clearly, my way hasn’t worked. If it did, crimes wouldn’t happen on the high street. Well, they wouldn’t happen at all but you can’t expect me to bring absolute peace to this land, can you?”
After a few minutes of walking, he reached the store and placed the pouch of gold onto the store counter. The shuffling among the broken glass alerted the shopkeeper, who stepped out from the backroom. Her face was stained with streaks of dried tears, her dress was tattered and bruised.
“Ekhwaal? Is that you?” she said meekly.
Athelas remained silent as he emptied the bag of coins onto the counter. Among the coins was a piece of paper. He picked it out and read it. It was written in a rudimentary cipher, one that Athelas, as Ekwhaal, recognized as he used it before.
“Meet me at the Brass Monkey. Tomorrow. Love, P”
He then used an oil lamp to set the note aflame and stomped out the ashes. He gave the old lady a nod and ran off to the rooftops.
This is the first chapter to a novel I am currently working on. Decided to use Steemit as one of the places to archive and recieve critique with some of these earlier drafts.