Thursday, June 26, 2014

And The Streets Ran Red... (Flash Fiction Challenge: 06-20-2014)


“Look, just listen, you pretentious little twit. It’s like I’ve been trying to tell you: you can’t say ‘the streets ran red with blood’. I’ve done the math, and given a standard size city street, you would need to continuously slaughter at least one hundred and fifteen people every ten seconds just to meet the necessary fluid dynamics requirements!”

The bard jumped as the woman’s fist came down on the table, smashing it to splinters.

“I realize that, my dear woman. You seem quite learned on the subject. But…” the bard stammered.

“But nothing! If you are going to engage in metaphor, then by the gods, do it correctly. Lose the hyperbole!”

She slammed her fist into another table, again sending pieces of wooden shrapnel flying in every direction.

The bard, having had enough, turned and fled without bothering to stop and collect his payment from the grizzled barkeep. The barkeep, known locally as simply Barkeep, apparently failed to even notice, engrossed as he was in rearranging the dirt on one of his few remaining uncracked mugs.

“Thrice-damned fool” grumbled the hulking woman, as she picked a new table.. At this time of day, in a tavern like this, generally only the most hardened of drinkers were present. Today, the tavern was empty, save the woman and Barkeep.

As she sat, the chair splintered beneath her, and she let out a sigh of frustration. For a moment, it appeared that she might start on a rampage, but she instead began to breathe deeply. Soon enough, she seemed to calm down.

Barkeep still seemed completely disinterested, until the woman pulled out a large purse that clanked with the pleasing sound of a great deal of coinage.

“Here, “ said the woman, tossing a silver coin on the bar with uncanny accuracy. It spun to a stop directly in front of Barkeep.

“That should be sufficient reparations for the loss of your furniture, though I use the term loosely.”

Barkeep grunted, and the coin quickly disappeared into whatever dank hole he kept his funds in.

“Have you, perchance, any decent wine?” she asked, flashing more silver.

Barkeep set aside his dirt relocation project and brought a pitcher of what could only, in the most generous of circumstances, be called wine. The reddish liquid, along with several unidentifiable chunks, sloshed into a glass, which Barkeep then passed to the her with a smile.

“Right...I suppose that will do.” said the woman with a dubious look. She raised the glass to her lips, but apparently thought better of it when the smell made it’s way to her nose.

She sat for a moment, lost in thought, the wine forgotten.

Feeling uncomfortable with the silence, Barkeep finally spoke.

“Anything I can help ya with, miss? We don’t often get your type in here….” he began.

“My type?” she asked, menacingly.

“Heroes, miss.” Barkeep said, motioning to the scabbarded sword resting next to her.

“Oh, “ the woman responded, sheepishly. “Yes. Heroes. No, I suppose you don’t tend to see many of us here. But, here I am. Jenna Angelblade, Hero First Class, at your service, “ she said, standing and bowing to the man.

Barkeep nodded, and bowed deeply in return.

“So what can I help you with, miss?”

“I’m here on business, looking for someone who supposedly spends time in this part of town, “ said Jenna.

“If I might ask, miss, who?”

“Throg the...what was it...the Merciless? The Malevolent?” she ventured.

“Which one, miss? We’ve got those two, a Throg the Malicious, and a Throg the Malfeasant, though he hasn’t been seen in weeks.”

“I suppose I’ll just have to go through them all, “ sighed Jenna. “Any clue where any of them are?”

“Well, that’s the sort of thing what’ll get a man in a bit of trouble around these parts, miss. Maybe even dead, miss.”

“Of course it is, “ Jenna said, reaching for her purse again. This time she withdrew a small gold coin from the purse. The coin easily covered a week’s worth of business for a tavern like this.

“Well, when you put it that way, miss…” said Barkeep, his eyes lighting up. He snatched for the coin, but before he could even blink, the coin had disappeared.

“Information first, “ she said. “And I will need a receipt.”

“A what, miss?”

“Receipt? You know, piece of paper that verifies that I paid you. For tax purposes?”

Jenna sighed again, the look on Barkeep’s face making his confusion apparent.

“Sorry, force of habit. From my old life, before this whole damned Hero thing.” she said, sighing.

“Miss?”

“I used to work for the Royal Tax Collectors, if you can believe it. I helped keep the books. It was so wonderful, keeping track of all those numbers, everything nice, neat, and tidy. “ She sighed wistfully.

“But that all fell apart one day, when I was walking past the Alchemist’s Academy. There was an explosion, knocked me clean out. When I woke up, several days later, I’d been changed somehow. I was suddenly quite strong, as well as quite fast.

“Of course there’s no call for a super strong, super fast accountant. I can’t say I blame them either. Took me three weeks just to figure out how to hold a pencil without crushing it into tiny little splinters. Can’t be a very good bookkeeper if you can’t write in the books.”

Barkeep nodded politely, waiting silently for Jenna to continue.

“So, the only place I could think of for someone with my new talents was the Hero’s Guild. I joined up and been there ever since, “ she said, a morose look crossing her face.

“You know, I thought being a Hero would be a great life. Excitement, adventure, the chance to really help people. Boy is that ever wrong.”

“Can’t see how, miss. Good pay, lots of respect, “ said Barkeep.

“Respect? Ha! People don’t respect Heroes. Sure, they want you to think they do, but nobody really does.

“You rush in, kill a whole cult of evil death god worshipers, save some dingbat virgin from being eviscerated, return her to her parents safe and sound. Can you even get a ‘thank you’? No, they just try to dodge the bill by claiming you agreed to have her back in two days, but it took three.

“Then, of course, gods help you, the idiot runs off three weeks later, gets strapped to another altar, and they expect you to just drop everything and go save her again!”

Jenna rose from the chair and began pacing.

“And if it’s not saving some virgin, it’s some idiot who borrowed money from the wrong person and just doesn’t want to pay it back. So you make a bad business decision, and I’m just supposed to haul your ass out of the fire?

“I mean really, people. Is this the best use of my abilities? Fixing problems you caused?”

Barkeep slowly slid behind the bar, trying to appear as non-threatening as possible.

“And don’t get me started on the rampant misogyny!“

Jenna noticed the confused look on Barkeep’s face, as he asked  “Is that a disease, miss? If you’re contagious…”

“What? No!” roared Jenna, causing Barkeep to jump a bit. “You know, misogyny: men thinking they’re better than women because they’re men. Those bastards that think that being a Hero is just for men. Sure, I can lift a horse over my head with one arm, but since I’m a woman, I must not be cut out to be a Hero.

“Why not two weeks ago this idiot hired Ivor The Bold over me, just because he didn’t think a woman could handle killing a few giant rats that invaded his farm!”

“Disgusting, miss.” agreed Barkeep. Jenna failed to notice his hand slipping below the bar, as she was well into her rant.

“I never wanted to be a Hero, you know. I was happy doing books. Good hours, decent pay, and work I liked! Now it’s all go kill this, go stop that. Bloody - “

Jenna stopped, mid-sentence, as her words were drowned out by a fountain of blood that ran down her chin. The crossbow bolt was sticking out of her throat, though she had no idea how it had come to be there.

Barkeep placed the crossbow on the bar, and stalked towards Jenna.

“Fucking Heroes. You want respect, but you couldn’t even be bothered to remember my damn name. It’s Thrym! Thrym The Malevolent, not Throg, you bitch.”

He spit, then pushed Jenna’s dying body out into the alley behind the tavern. As he took a moment to rest, he noted that the blood from her wound was trickling away like a small river.

Thrym said, to nobody in particular,  “Guess your math was wrong.”





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