by S.M. Cook
He must have been expecting it, because the hidden panel was flung outward with such speed and force that I was pushed backward almost fifteen feet by the sheer strength of him. As my feet came to rest my sword arm dropped to my side, angling out and down away from my body; more room for a clean blow when I needed it. ‘Oh, how things have changed; how much I have changed.’ I thought.
Damascus, obviously realizing I would leave him no other choice, stepped out from his hiding place. His pale skin and light hair was the color of milk and honey. His eyes however, were like a tumultuous teal ocean and just as stormy. He wore tight leather trousers and an open-throat white silk shirt. Eyelets running up the chest of the cloth had a leather thong that ran through them, but it was not tied, for that would have been undistinguished for one such as him. In the opening of his shirt, lying against his pallid chest was the object I had come for. I walked forward, ready to take it from him however I must.
As Matthias’s carriage turned the corner, I returned inside to close for the night. I had sent Benjamin on his way already and put out the lights myself. Grabbing my coat and umbrella, I locked the thick oaken door that was the entrance to my shop. The moon was barely out, yet the streets seemed unusually bright all the same. Every detail in the stones of the road and in the carriages and people who passed me was exquisitely clear. Even the smallest elements of the avenue seemed to hold resounding depth. Enjoying the wonders of the night on my walk home, I did not over-think the clarity of it. I wish now that I had, or at least had Benjamin walk home with me, rather than sending him on his way.
Turning the corner onto Seventeenth Street from Arch Street, I felt a presence behind me. I thought it merely one of the night folk, scurrying about on some meaningless errand; until a hand fell upon my shoulder, stopping me in my tracks.
“Pardon me, miss,” said a soft, melodious voice directly behind me. “I do not wish to detain you, but could you perhaps direct me to the nearest pub?”
I turned to see the man who had paused my travels. As I looked up into his eyes, my breath caught in my throat; for although the night was bright and the clarity of it should have allowed me to see him clearly, his face was obscured in shadow. I could make out nothing more than the angular ridge of his nose and the sharp curve of his jaw.
Retaining my courtesy, though unusually frightened, I replied, “Why yes, my good sir, it is just up this road. Make a right onto the second lane you come to. It will be on your right, not far down the way.”
He bowed graciously to me, “Thank you, milady. You have been most helpful this evening. Perhaps I may repay your favor.”
“There is no need, only helping a thirsty gentleman to find what he seeks.” I told him, knowing that for some reason this was a man I did not wish to meet again. Ever.
It should have struck me as odd that a gentleman of his dress and caliber should be out so late at night without an escort – such as he would have been gladly mugged by the first cretin who saw him.
The stranger stepped past me without another word, continuing on his way. I stood for a moment, unsure what to think of this mysterious man who had halted my journey home. It was not unusual for visitors in town to ask for directions and I was always one willing to help if I could. But my reaction to this gentleman was bizarre. I had never had such distaste for someone after only a moment of meeting. I was quite baffled by it.
Shaking my head to clear out the strangeness, I resumed my travels homeward. The clearness of the night persisted, but the moon became hidden. It seemed to stick in my mind, like a thorn, that I could not see the man’s face. It was drawn in shadow when it should not have been. The street lantern had been right in front of me as I was halted, so that when I turned to face him it should have lit his features clearly, not veiled them. I pushed the thought from my mind, thinking my wits were simply playing tricks on me, as it had been a long day and I was quite tired.
I reached the lane to which I had directed the gentleman and looked along the alleyway he would have traveled had he followed my instruction. He was nowhere in sight; but as the pub was barely half a block from the corner, the distance could have been trekked fairly quickly by a person of his height. The unexpectedly enticing idea of going down to the pub to have a glass of wine drifted into my mind, almost as if some friend had whispered the thought quietly into my ear. But it was late and I chose to continue home rather than stay out in the night any longer. So, on I walked, passing shops and stands of all descriptions, most of which were closed for the evening. Their owners gone to whatever place they could afford to call home in this cavity of a city.
It rapidly began to darken as I neared the mouth of the final alleyway, the last I would pass before coming to the graveled drive leading to my home. As I neared the far side of its gapping maw, a noise came from within which I chose to ignore. If I didn’t see it, then it didn’t happen as far as I was concerned. I merely desired to reach home where a warm bath and a hot drink were waiting for me.
I had just cleared the alley’s mouth when powerful hands reached out and grabbed me. The right arm clamped around my waist like a vice, tighter than the whale-bone corset I was wearing. Its strength unlike anything I had never known, although the hand itself felt long and slender; a gentleman’s hand.
I attempted a scream, but my attacker’s left hand clamped forcefully over my mouth. It was just as strong as its twin; but it was cold, deathly cold; and that more than anything negated my struggles.
Damascus appeared whimsical and strong as he stood facing me, but fear flickered deep in his eyes, in his soul. His apprehension toward me was evident, but he would not go down without a fight; and that was all the more to my liking.
“Have you come for this?” he motioned to the medallion which lay against his cold skin.
I barely glanced at the mellow silver with the blood ruby set into its heart. I knew its every detail intricately: the engraving of the ancient letters on its back, as well as the molding of the star and moon, of which the ruby was the star’s focal point. “If you won’t hand it over peaceably, I will take it from you.” I stepped back giving myself another foot of room to work in. It was going to be a battle to the death and I had no intentions of being the one lying on the floor in the end.
How will the battle end? What’s the Blood Ruby? Be sure to join us again for Chapter 3, coming August 9th, 2022.