Sunday Sample – Sovereign of Shadow Excerpt

Sunday Sample, one day late :)  This is the continuation of This Excerpt… Kieran and Galan get into it. Poor, poor Kieran.

*****

Kieran sought the best vantage point. He crept toward the building adjacent to the alley the girl had indicated, using the rotting awnings and crumbling windowsills to climb to the rooftop. This had to be the worst smelling street in the entire city. He adjusted his mask, thankful that it filtered out the brunt of the foul odor.

Before he reached the far end of the building, he could hear faint shuffling, a whisper here, a murmur there.

Sounds like they’re gettin’ impatient.

Kieran wouldn’t keep them waiting any longer.

He unclasped the lid of a hard case attached to his belt, pinching the end of a crossbow bolt with his thumb and index finger. He slid it out inch by inch, clenching it between his teeth, being extremely careful to keep the tip away from his skin. He pulled another bolt out, loading it into his hand crossbow, then shut and locked the case.

Kieran picked his way carefully across the flat rooftop, pressing his back up against the chimney that stuck up through the roof. He rolled slowly toward the front, studying the layout of the men down below with a few quick darts of his eyes, then dipped back behind the chimney.

A couple of the men seemed bored, one of them leaning against the wall and cleaning his nails with a knife. There was one man at each end of the alley with a crossbow.

Where was Galan? Kieran looked again, risking poking his head out a bit longer, but still saw no sign of him.

Kieran readied himself. First, the crossbowmen. I don’t want to get shot. He propped his shoulder against the chimney and rolled forward, aiming and loosing his shot in one swift motion. He heard the thunk of the bolt piercing flesh as he ducked back out of view. He took the bolt from between his teeth and reloaded.

A dull thump followed by a clatter exploded in the night. The men exclaimed out loud, and Kieran heard their tone go from confusion to caution. The ring of drawn steel reached his ears as they questioned aloud where the shot had come from. He had to be quick.

Kieran rolled forward again, only letting half his body emerge from behind the chimney. The unscathed crossbowman had changed position, but only slightly. Kieran aimed, loosed, and another thief went down with a gurgle when the bolt slammed into the side of his neck. He popped open the case and pulled out two more bolts.

A man’s voice called out. “On the roof! He’s on the bloody roof! Get to cover!”

That’s him. Crouching low, Kieran stealthed toward the sound of their retreating footsteps. They tried to stay under the awnings and against the walls, but Kieran tracked them easily. He propped his hand crossbow against the edge of the roof and pulled the trigger. The bolt flew toward its target with a twang, sinking into the flank of one of the retreating thieves. The man fell against a wall, sliding down to the ground. Then, all was silent.

Kieran reloaded, straining his ears to listen. Did they somehow get around the building?

Galan’s voice echoed against the buildings. “Kieran, that you up there? I recognize your bolts.”

Kieran said nothing. His ears picked up faint footfalls. They sounded like they were coming from the street below him to his left. He flexed his fingers around the crossbow and braced himself.

“Let’s bargain. Stop shooting, and we’ll talk.”

Kieran’s legs burned with the effort of staying low as he approached the side of the building.

“Come, hear me out. I’m a man of honor.”

About as honorable as a Zaraban merchant during trading season.

He heard a faint scrape travel up the side of the building. Was Galan climbing?

“I wanna make a deal with you. Work with me on one last job, and we’ll call our little feud even.”

The scraping noise sounded closer now. Kieran shut his eyes and focused on where the sound was coming from. Must be one of the other men; Galan wouldn’t give himself away like that.

A twang of metal rang out and Kieran’s head whipped around just in time to see a hand appear and grip the lip of the roof. The thief’s grimy hair bobbed into view, and Kieran lowered his crossbow until the bolt aimed between the man’s eyes.

The man’s jaw went slack, eyes opening as wide as they would go. “Don’t-”

Kieran pulled the trigger, feeling the bow vibrate in his hand as the bolt crunched into the dirty spot between the man’s eyebrows, his head jerking back with the impact. The thief let out his breath in a huff as his grip loosened and he crashed to the ground below.

He took the bolt from between his teeth, reloading. “No bargain.”

“Agreed.” Galan’s voice rumbled behind him, too close for his comfort.

Kieran spun on his heel, rearing back when the tip of a sword pricked against the front of his neck. He froze, crossbow lifted halfway.

Galan’s mouth twisted into a wicked grin, his gold tooth glinting in the moonlight. He took a step forward, forcing Kieran back. “Always a pebble in my boot, Kieran. Shoulda left the city while I was locked up.”

Kieran took another step back, feeling with his toe to make sure he wasn’t about to plummet off the building. He could hear scrabbling behind him; the last remaining thief, climbing up to the top. He could hear the man’s heavy breathing, and a sharp poke against his back. A bow?

“Though,” Galan said. “I s’pose you would stick around. Right, Keean?”

He swallowed, wincing when the sword’s tip pricked his skin. Keean. That’s what his sister used to call him when she was young. Galan knew about Raili. Did he know where she was now? Kieran’s mind raced, his heart pounding in his chest. Hatred seethed in his gut.

Galan stepped back, using his sword to point. “Down.”

One chance. He took a long breath, trying to enjoy it in case it was his last one.

Kieran twisted around at the hip, reaching back to grab hold of the crossbow the thief held against his back. He yanked forward, and the bolt loosed. Galan recoiled, backpedaling a few steps, the bolt narrowly missing his face. Kieran elbowed the man behind him twice, trying to shove him off the side of the building. The man growled, his foul breath seeping through Kieran’s mask.

Galan recovered, advancing with a menacing sneer. The man with the crossbow was heavy, more of a brawler than a thief. Kieran threw all of his weight against him and he toppled, arms wheeling in the air. Turning, Kieran reached for the hilts of his knives – but the man behind him grabbed his arm as he pitched over the edge. He felt himself being pulled off the roof.

Kieran’s heart dropped into his stomach. He squeezed his eyes shut as he plummeted toward the ground below.

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