Another little taste, this time from the title story of the new collection, “The Last Ereph.”
It’s not about a dragon. Obviously.
The cobblestones that paved these byzantine back alleys were not as clean as they appeared. Kol discovered this when his left foot, rather than pivoting him crisply to the right towards the open alleyway, instead slid out from under him. He did not fall. He managed to catch himself with his right hand. It stung, but was not broken.
More pressing, the slip caused him to lose momentum and provided the chance for one of his pursuers to loose an arrow towards him. It missed, but not by much, flying close enough that Kol could hear it zip past his left ear. Too close.
Kol took just enough time to glance over his shoulder and count–only two of them now. Still enough to catch him. Still enough to kill him. He regained his footing and sprinted down the alley.
Why did he always let people talk him into these things? On the surface they were wrong, but his friends always managed to convince him. “It’s for the best,” they said. “It must be done,” they said. “It is the right thing to do,” they said. If that is all true, then why did the duty to act always fall on him? Why would none of his friends ever risk their own skin? No one could ever explain that, on the few occasions Kol was bold enough to ask.
And this time, doing the “right thing” had the Corps of Constables chasing him like hounds after a hare. Whoever this gem belonged to, they were close enough to the His Eminence to have all his power deployed to retrieve it.
He could not outrun them. Kol knew, as a petty thief, that most of his marks, if they pursued him all, had no stomach for a prolonged chase. They would give up in five minutes at the most. It had already been fifteen minutes since Kol snatched the gem and the hue and cry went up. Two of his immediate pursuers had fallen away, but others would no doubt appear from who knows where.
What he needed was to disappear into one of the locked doors of the shops that lined the alley. All were closed and empty, thanks to the feast day. And Kol had never been a lock picker, only a thief. Picking locks seemed so much worse to him than merely taking something that was already available. He would be angry if someone picked the lock of his small room by the wharf. If someone took something because he left the window open, however, he could hardly blame them.
He kept running. The alley jogged left then right, so Kol followed, deftly clipping the apexes of the corners. The next turn lay about two hundred feet in front of him, a sharp right around which the alley disappeared from sight.
Directly in front of him, sunken into the wall at the end of the alley, was a door. This would be Kol’s best chance. If it did not work, at least the attempt should not slow him down too much. The jog, about 150 feet behind him now, should provide him some cover if the door did give way. If it did work, he would disappear as if into thin air, for all his pursuers knew.
Kol took a deep breath as he reached the end of the alley and flung himself into the door. As if by a miracle, it gave way. The surprise of success caused Kol to fall face first onto the dark, cool, stone floor inside. He had just enough time to recognize his good fortune before leaping towards the door, back first, to slam it shut.
He sunk to the ground, back against the closed door and the street outside. He held his breath, even though his heart was pounding, listening. There were footsteps. They did not stop. Instead, Kol heard them come and go, taking the turn and continuing down the alley. He was safe.
Kol exhaled and closed his eyes. Only for a moment, he told himself. Just to catch his breath.
The Last Ereph and Other Stories – available March 2, 2015.