A quick, autumn wind flew off the harbor and pushed through the narrow streets of the Fishing District. The wind wound, twisting and twirling, around corners, flipping and flapping anything it could touch. One such object, a sign with a dancing fish, waved back and forth on worn hinges, adding a tired groan that the wind carried away.
The Dancing Fish was at its usual occupancy. Which is to say that it was packed with stinking, sweating wharf men with an appetite for cheap tobacco, cheap drink and, of course, cheap entertainment. A cloud of smoke, the color of charcoal on account of the tar from the smoked tobacco leaves, clung to the ceiling so thick that the rafters themselves were hidden.
“I win again!” shouted Borg as he slammed his winning cards to the stained table. “Jus’ too easy playing with you assholes.”
“Sod off! Three hands in a row ain’t nothin’.” equaled Lars, “Last week Jakub won seven straight!”
The sun had set hours ago, and with it had come the promise of chaos as the men from the docks had set their eyes on The Fish. Song and laughter poured through the open doorway and echoed off the cobbled streets. Coin was won and lost and then soon forgotten on dark waves of intoxication.
“Still better’n you,” Borg said while dragging his newly won coin from the centre of the table. “I need to piss.”
Lars said something as he stood to leave, but his words were lost by the raucous laughter of a large bearded man at the next table. Oh well, thought Borg, Lars never says anything worth hearing.
Once standing, he found the room was pleasantly spinning. Thankfully, the tavern was packed. He managed to balance himself on several strangers before stumbling through the side door into the alleyway.
The alley smelled of glorious ruin and rot, but the scent was lost on Borg years before; surviving in this part of the city left one with a signature perfume. It was considered, by those whom resided beyond the Fishing District, to be the stink of Death, should he find himself transformed into a rotting corpse.
“I would’a beat Jakub too had he had the bollocks to play,” Borg slurred.
Using the grimy wall for support, Borg began to relieve himself; the early autumn chill accentuating his stream with a rising cloud of stench. Light from the tavern spilled through the open doorway reflecting the grimy wetness of the walls. Garbage mixed with human excrement piled so thick that it made the passage seem close and confined. Borg tried to focus on an apple core, willing the world to cease its dance, but it refused to obey.
As his vision spun, something caught Borg’s attention. The slight gleam of reflected light off a small object lying just beyond his newly formed puddle.
“What ‘ave we here?” Borg whispered as he made his slow, stumbling way towards the dark of the alley. Reaching down, he collected the object. A coin. And not just any coin, but gold, real gold. He’d have to win ten times the pot of his last game to equal the value in which he now found lying heavily in his open hand.
Borg slowly turned his wavering vision over his shoulder back towards the common room of the tavern. Had anyone noticed? This amount of money was easily worth a blade in the back. He quickly pocketed the heavy coin and turned to stagger back to the congested drink house.
“Pardon me.” A voice called from the depths of the black alley.
Borg turned, or rather attempted to turn and fell awkwardly onto the soiled cobblestone.
“Pardon me, sir. But I do believe you have something of mine.” The voice was feminine and moving closer.
“Don’t know wha’ you’re asking about.” Borg slurred.
A cloaked figure appeared in the wan reflected light. With footsteps barely audible on the cold stones, the figure stepped surefootedly around any detritus in its path. Stopping a few feet from the outstretched legs of the fallen drunk, the shadowed cowl of the figure snapped its gaze on Borg so as to be staring straight into his eyes.
“My amulet. Surely you would have seen it. It is very dear to me.”
“Don’t know wha-” Borg began again, but the stranger flicked a gloved hand towards the open door and it flew shut as if pushed by a terrible wind. The alley laid in perfect blackness.
“My amulet must be returned,” the voice had deepened and cut through Borg like a promised threat rather than a request.
Blinking his eyes with the attempt of recovering his lost sight, Borg began crawling backwards.
“I…I don’t want any t-trouble now.” He quickly turned his pockets out, dumping every coin in his possession. “Look. T-take it. I don’t want it. Take it all. Just please don’t k-kill me.”
He stopped crawling and listened for a response. The alley was silent. After a few moments he began to wonder if he’d hallucinated the whole thing. Reaching to the left, he used the slick wall to push himself upright.
“Now where’s the damn doo-“
“Leaving so soon?” The voice interrupted.
A blue fire burst into life and brought Borg back to the world of sight. The flame, seemingly resting in the palm of the cloaked figure, impossibly burned without the want of fuel.
“Do you know what I am?” The voice rose slightly to frame the question.
Borg felt his mouth was dry and shook his head.
“I am,” the figure walked slowly towards Borg’s frozen form and only stopped to retrieve the amulet lying amongst the other scattered coins, “the stuff of nightmares.”
Two gloved hands reached to the concealing cowl and slowly pulled it back. Borg’s eyes grew as they often did when the realization of one’s own death became evident. The cloaked figure twirled into a black fog and twisted its form around Borg’s helpless one.
Borg’s eyes rolled back into his skull as an inhuman gasp forced his mouth wide. The enshrouding cloud accelerated around his lifeless being and slid through his open mouth. In moments, the alley was once again in total darkness.
The Fish’s side entrance banged open spilling yellow light into the alleyway. Lars stepped down into the dank confinement and looked towards the mouth of the alley. Had he glanced in the opposite direction first, he may have seen the shaking body of a form not fully realized. His inebriated state, however, slowed him and by the time he turned, the shaking had ceased. Two legs stretched into the spilled light followed by the cough of a man who had just emptied the contents of his stomach.
“There y’are, you bastard.” Lars moved to help the sick man. “Can’t handle the drink as well as you boast.”
With Lars’ help, Borg stepped into the light. His eyes were a milky grey, but he quickly blinked and the eyes changed to a dark brown, the same color his friends had always known him to have. No one noticed this final alteration and the two men stepped back into the smoke filled room to resume their game of cards.
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