Chapter 16: Imperium Interruptus

Chapter 16: Imperium Interruptus

A Chapter by Faith Dunn

Chapter 16: Imperium Interruptus


“Do you have it?”

Once again, it was evening, and once again Draven Clay was shoved up against an alley wall, a knife at his throat. “This is becoming a habit, Flynn.”

Flynn pushed away and retreated a few steps. His knife returned to one of his endless cloak pockets and his cowl fell back. His face, now revealed, was unnervingly steady, green eyes coherent. His hair was buzz cut, cropped almost to the scalp. The planes of his face were sharp, carved out by a magnetic beauty Draven had always fallen hopelessly prey to in men. Truly, why were the most terrible people the most attractive? “Is there something on my face, Draven?” 

Draven blinked, refusing to look embarrassed. Truthfully, this was the first time he was seeing Flynn’s face properly, hidden as it usually were beneath his cowl. “Yes, sobriety.” Draven mock-shuddered. “It doesn’t suit you.” This was a lie; sobriety suited Flynn far better than inebriation did. Enough so that Draven almost felt bad giving him the opiates. Almost.

Flynn looked back at Evanna, who was scouting the alley further down, and then to the empty space behind Draven. “Where’s Phoenix? Or Zaire?” His lip curled. “Did he leave you behind again to be his little b***h-boy?”     

Draven scrambled for a witty response, for that famous sarcasm that he wielded like a weapon. But in his brain where there was once such sound, only silence remained. “I’m not his little b***h-boy.”

Flynn’s smile set the alley alight. He grinned like a man striking gold. “Ah.” He said. “Sore spot, Draven?”        

Draven gritted his teeth. “Careful,”

“Where have they gone?” Mused Flynn. “Somewhere dangerous if they left breakable little Draven behind, I suppose.” He stepped forwards, and the air got ten times harder to breathe. “Maybe one day they’ll invite you to help with the big boy tasks, little b***h.”

The dealer forced away the black emotions that surfaced. Draven was not violently inclined, but at this point, he was willing to make an exception. The worst thing was the truth of it: Zaire had left him behind, and Draven had been close--so close--to not attending this meeting out of spite. But that serum was much bigger than his petty grudge, much bigger than all of them. “At least I’m not the one who’ll be high off my tits yet again in ten minutes.”     

Draven expected Flynn to snap, expected a fist to bloody his face. But Flynn remained surprisingly unruffled. “Addiction may be nasty, Draven.” He said, voice dropping to a whisper. “But I’m nastier.”

Draven suddenly felt very very out of his depth.

And then Flynn was laughing--laughing. The fully-belly, head-back sort of laughter that sent rats scurrying in the opposite direction. “I wish you could see your face right now.” Said Flynn. “F*****g priceless.”

He reached for the pack over his shoulder and withdrew from it a small vial. He handled it with caution, pressing it carefully into Draven’s hand. Even in the dark alley, the vial gave off a glow, but where for many the effect of it seemed attractive, Draven found the thing rather repellent. Wrong, his instincts said. Wrong wrong wrong.

Carefully, haltingly, he placed the thing in his own pack. Draven paused with his satchel open before him. “You sure you want this?” He retrieved the opiates. The question wasn’t a taunt, it was genuine. Draven was trying to give Flynn a chance, a chance to say no, I don’t want this. But then Flynn’s gaze fixed on the drugs and his face morphed with haze and hunger and he was lost. Draven looked away, down, disappointed and sad, with no right to either feeling. There were no room for morals in this kind of work, and yet there his morals were, condemning him for the situation he was enabling.

Flynn picked up the opiates and eyed them impatiently. “Tell the Shark I said thanks.” Then he looked up, a sardonic smirk playing with his lips. “If you’re ever looking for another gang, Draven, you know where to--“

The scream cut him off.

It was like canon fire; three successive screams. Then the scuffling of feet, a muffled plea. “Evanna.” Whispered Flynn, and for the first time since laying eyes on them, the opiates were entirely forgotten. “They’re taking Evanna.”

Then he was running.

Draven was understandably lost. Who was taking Evanna? He watched Flynn disappear down the alley, bouncing on the balls of his feet, indecisive. Right, trouble. Left, home. “I’m a godsdamn fool.” Muttered Draven to himself, and took off after Flynn.

The alley was attached to Nemvis Street, and Nemvis Street to Sapphires brothel. And it was ascending the porch steps to the whorehouse that Draven caught sight of the two hulking figures lugging Evanna between them.

            Draven did not know Evanna, not well. He knew her in quick smiles and blooms of vibrant energy and that inevitable bond forged between two Aretinan orphans on enemy streets. In the porch lanterns, Evanna’s face was aglow in yellowy wash, her black eyes were wide, pupils eclipsing whites. It had always, out of everything, been the most abhorrent thing to Draven--that Flynn would take on a child as his second.

In stature, she might’ve been twelve or thirteen, long-limbed like an acrobat, face still rounded with youth. But her eyes…her eyes spoke of age, of loss, of blood. Those eyes belonged to someone far older.

            “Hey!” Called Flynn, stalking forwards. He was a black-shrouded wraith of quick fury, arms pumping, feet pounding cobbles. The switchblade was out of his pocket and in his hand before Draven could tell him to calm down, to stop, to think. It was very clear, for the first time, just why Flynn Hunter and Zaire Finn led different gangs.

            Zaire was a thinker, someone who reasoned through all his options before choosing the best one. He planned, he brutalised. He got his vengeance in the most creative, painful way possible. Flynn did none--absolutely none--of those things when he nestled the hilt of the switchblade into his palm and threw it, tail over end, into the leftmost man’s heart.  

            The porch was still alight with that anaemic glow, and all Draven could see was yellow and red. The man had been half-turned in their direction, towards the sound of Flynn’s voice, causing the blade to strike at a strange angle. His hands went to the hilt, which he slid from his chest and dropped with a clatter.

            He fell to sitting.

            “Hunter!” Yelled Draven, aggrieved. “Was that necessary?”

            “Ask me that again when you see the inside of this whorehouse.” His face was dark, shadowed by night and rage. “This a*****e deserved it.”

            The other man was still holding onto Evanna, not a glance spared for his fallen comrade. One hand was clasped round her slender throat, squeezing and squeezing, cutting off all the air. Evanna’s mouth was gaping as she tried to breathe around it, as she no doubt cursed that final, taken-for-granted breath. Her face bloomed with purples and blues, an intermingled bruise.

            Without thinking, Draven unsheathed his Khopesh from the scabbard obscured beneath his cloak. It was an Aretinan weapon, a type of sickle-sword that had evolved from the battle axe. It was the only weapon Draven was good at, one his mother had trained him with as a child. For self-defence, she had said. Only in self-defence.

            Draven swung the Khopesh once experimentally as he approached the porch, felt it cut the air. His hand wrapped round the hilt, and still, after so long, it felt familiar. It felt like home. He could almost hear his mother’s laugh on the smoke-stained breeze, see her smile as reflected off a blade.

            This was the first time he’d touched a Khopesh in years.

            It was an unleashing as he arced the blade up, as the man--too late--let go of Evanna. And after, in the silence, Draven would tell himself it was an accident; he didn’t mean to swing so hard, his hand slipped, his aim was off. But none of those things would be true.

            It was certainly no accident as Draven Clay--quick smiler, fluent sarcasm-speaker, blind hater and coward--brought down the Khopesh and removed the man’s head.

            Draven watched the head roll down the porch steps, only vaguely aware of the utter absurdity of Evanna barrelling into Flynn’s arms. There was blood on Draven’s sleeves, his trouser legs, and his breath was heaving, in, out, in, out.

            There was a hand at his shoulder. A small, slender hand attached to a small, slender body with a small, shaky smile. “Thank you.” Said Evanna.

            Don’t thank me, he wanted to say. Why would you thank me for that?

            “What’s your name?” Draven managed.

            “Evanna.” She said, accent thick and slightly unwieldy.

            “Your real name?” Your Aretinan one.

            She smiled. A soft, pretty smile that had no place in the debauchery of the slums. “Iveanna.” She said. “Iveanna Hamiravira.”

Flynn looked up from where he was retrieving his switchblade, wiping it back and forth on the sleeve of his cloak. His lids were hooded and his eyes one-thousand shades of green in the candlelight as he said, “You ok?”

            Draven nodded slowly, numbly. “I’ve never killed anyone before.” He said. It was a little ridiculous, he thought, considering his occupation, but he’d never directly killed someone before. It felt like he’d taken something large and fundamental from himself in doing so.

            Flynn inclined his head at the weapon. “Never knew you were so handy with your sword, Draven.”

            “It’s a Khopesh,” Corrected Draven, not even bothering to acknowledge the glaring innuendo. He stared at the head, at the ashy hair and pockmarked face.

            “Regiment guard.” Said Flynn, toeing the royal insignia on the bodies tunic.

            “Why would they have Regiment guards posted here?” Asked Evanna nervously.

            “I think we should find out.”   

            “Wait,” Said Draven. “You think we should go in there?”

            Flynn looked grim. “Evanna’s just one almost-victim of this place, some have it much worse.”

            Draven looked to Evanna. She seemed to be fending off a chill, huddling into her tunic. “Last year, I was kidnapped by Bounty Hunters in the night, stolen from my family’s travelling circus. I was sold here at thirteen, to the brothel madam, Lilliana.” Her gaze flickered briefly to Flynn. “He saved my life.” She said. “Took me from this very same porch. They tried to come for me at first, but gave up pretty quickly. At least, we thought they’d given up.”

            Draven watched Evanna with a new respect. Bounty Hunters were little more than scum. Men and women, who, driven to poverty, kidnapped children and sold them as slaves to Tavela. It was a despicable, illegal business, but happened nonetheless. And with the war drying up funds in Aretina, there were more and more every day. “Thirteen?” He said, disgusted. They wanted to make her a prostitute at thirteen. It was repulsive, unthinkable.

            “It didn’t happen.” Evanna said quickly. “Flynn saved me.”

            Draven eyed Flynn Hunter--addict, whoremonger, quick-trigger--and smiled. It was nice, he supposed, to know that people could still surprise you. That kindness, in whatever capacity, still lived and breathed and beat. Flynn, clearly embarrassed to be praised as a saviour, stared at his blood-soaked feet. “Let’s just check there’s nothing worse going on here.” He said. “Those regiment guards have me on edge.” He motioned Draven to go ahead.  

            Draven tried the handle, surprised to find no resistance. It was unlocked, opening into a foyer almost as large as the Keep’s, but lacking the same glamour. In fact, there was something almost sleazy about the place, as though a thin film of oil slicked every surface.

            The woman that greeted them was as lovely as she was terrible. She was beautiful, if a little old for the business, indicated by the grooves at her eyes and forehead. Surprisingly, she left the majority of her skin free of cosmetics, save for the red of her lips and cheeks. The outfit she wore--a draping, mesh number--left very little to the imagination. She showed no alarm at their bloody entrance. Nothing. In fact, in a very unbecoming manner, she was scowling. “Are you the Regiment guards?” She demanded. Then, taking their bloody clothes as assent, said, “Good, you’re late. Come with me.” Her eyes landed on Evanna. “Ah, wonderful, and you found us a new one.”

            Evanna straightened in a way that suggested she might just start spitting obscenities. “Are you the brothel madam?” Draven asked, trying to work out what they’d just walked into.

            “Of course. What do I look like to you, a hussy?”

            Yes, actually, Draven wanted to say. That’s exactly what you look like. Flynn shot him a look that conveyed a near identical message. “She stays with us until we get our money.” He said, jerking his head at Evanna, an apparent pro at improvisation. Evanna pretended to look terrified.

            “Yes, yes.” Said Madame Lilliana, waving an impatient hand. “Follow me.” She led them down a corridor, past rows and rows of closed doors, phantom panting and a few very intricate paintings of the human anatomy.

            Draven felt a little woozy.

             “Here.” She opened a door and motioned them in.

            Inside was already alight, lanterns atop walls exuding yellows and golds and ambers. A central desk was strewn with paper work, and a bottle of strange looking mixture, suspended with some sort of mineral, was situated far left.

            “What’s that?” Draven whispered to Flynn as they seated themselves across from the Madame.

            Flynn watched him like he was a little deficient. “Oh, Draven.” He said, raising a suggestive brow.

            “Salt and honey.” Said Madame Lilliana, shuffling around in one of the draws. “Stops the girls getting pregnant.”

            Draven scratched the back of his neck, searching for a hole to swallow him.

            “Isn’t that expensive?” Asked Flynn.

            “Oh yes, only our best workers get that. The other girls use…ah,” She grasped for the words. “Coitus interruptus.”

            Evanna, hovering behind them, made a horrified sort of noise. Flynn was looking solidly at the ground, and Draven was trying very, very hard not to laugh.

            “So, sirs,” The Madame settled back into her seat, setting a heavy stack of golds on the desk between them. “Do you have our batch of Imperium serum?”

            Draven jolted. The words escaped him before he could force them back. “You’re using the serum? On your workers?” He was…disgusted wasn’t even the word. Forcing compliance? That was rape, plain and simple.

            The woman frowned. “Yes, but, of course, you know this…” She trailed off. “What were your names again?”

            “Bruce.” Said Draven. He looked to Flynn, who was biting his lip and shaking his head. Bruce? He mouthed, not at all discreetly.

            “And yourself?” She turned her attention to Flynn.

            “Brian.”

            “Well,” Madame Lilliana said, “Bruce, Brian. You should’ve been debriefed on the work we’re doing here.”

            “Well we haven’t, Madame.” Flynn spat. “So enlighten us.”

            The Madame raised a brow. “Your serum’s done us wonders; we’re making more money than ever. And any reservations?” She smiled. “Gone.”

            “Unfortunately, Madame,” Flynn leant forwards, a dangerous smile peeling his lips apart. “There’s been a problem with your order. You’re being cut off.”

            “Cut…off?” She spluttered.

            “Yes.” Flynn pushed to his feet, Draven following suit. “You’re getting zilch, nothing, no more. Imperium interruptus.”

            Madame Lilliana looked understandably affronted. “You’re not Regiment guards are you?” She said, the sudden realisation dawning.

            “No.” Said Draven. “But there’s a headless one outside. Doubt he’ll be very talkative, though.”

            Then Flynn was pulling Evanna onto his back and they were running.

Back through the hall, doors opening in the wake of their noisy retreat, into the foyer. And finally, blessedly, out into the eve. The stars wheeled above and Draven extended his arms, basking in the pinch of cold air. He followed Flynn back to the alley, to where this crazy, unassuming evening had begun. “Why did we leave?” Demanded Draven.

            Flynn pulled to a halt as Evanna dropped from his back, drawing in air. “There was nothing we could’ve done from inside there.”

            “So, what?” Draven demanded, furious. “We leave them to--to that?”

            “Of course not, Clay.” Flynn shook his head. Then he smiled--bright and beautiful and bold. “We take it straight from the source, from the warehouse manufacturing it.” 




© 2017 Faith Dunn



Author's Note

Faith Dunn
It's messy because beggars can't be choosers during NaNoWriMo.

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Added on November 8, 2017
Last Updated on November 8, 2017
Tags: kingdom, king, princess, prince, queen, monarchy, dragon, witch, magic


Author

Faith Dunn
Faith Dunn

West Midlands , United Kingdom



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Lover of books and conspiracies. Quick-tempered. Reluctant dreamer. Troublemaker. more..

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