The Dangerous Divide
By: Vyolet J. Meola
The First Encounter
Nova hated the rain; she hated how it made everything wet. Wet meant slippery and slippery meant falling, unfortunately, that was now a part of the equation. Plummeting off of a four story roof top to the ground and breaking a leg was not her idea of a fun time. But alas she had been born with a healthy dose of stubbornness and not even the rain would deter her from the task at hand.
She was perched on top of a popular tavern using the shadow of the large casino building next to her as cover. She pulled the black leather hood of her cloak down to shield her eyes from the steady downpour of freezing rain. With eyes narrowed she scanned the crowd of drunken men and desperate women who entered and exited the horrid establishment. John Vernet was the owner of the tavern whose roof she was currently occupying, and the man who she was looking for. The man she was to kill. The instructions she had been given were fresh in her mind. Wait for John to leave the tavern. Follow him until he is a block from his house. Corner him in the ally, kill him quietly. Do not let him escape. Nova was brought to attention by John’s laugh; he waved to someone inside the tavern and turned toward home. John was a rich man with a large stomach and short stature, his round face was red and swollen and food stained shirt that was half tucked into his pants. Stupid drunk she thought as she began to silently creep along the rooftops.
Nova watched as he staggered and stumbled into the alleyway, one block away from his house. The pouring rain had eased up, now it was a light drizzle. This worked in Nova’s favor as she began to make her descent from the rooftops that had served to hide her well. She was now directly behind him. The pair turned into the alleyway, one completely unaware of the other. Nova reached into her cloak and drew out a long black bladed knife that she had had custom made. “Perks of befriending a blacksmith after you put in enough requests and pay the right price they stop asking questions,” she mentally praised herself. Without a second thought, she rushed him, tackling him from behind. She pressed the knife to his throat before he could make a sound.
“P-please don’t hurt me!” he stuttered
“How much money did you give the white crows?” I growled. The white crows were one of the many gangs running around the streets of Hellbit the second wealthiest city in the Deveraux kingdom. Burdina is the most profitable and the capital city, where the nobles and royal family reside. The white crows are responsible for the majority of this overly populated sea town’s violence. This type of violence includes kidnappings, murders, beatings, and raids. The royal army has managed to capture and publically execute many members, but scum like John here is one of the prime reasons why they can still operate.
“I-I don’t know w-what you’re talking about, but if its money your after I have plenty.” He begged and wailed, snot and tears dripping down his face onto the cobblestone. Disgusting.
“I don’t want your money. I want to know why you’re sponsoring the white crows.” I growled while giving him a violent shake. He began whimpering like a kicked dog.
I pressed the knife harder to his throat intent on slitting it, but I froze. I willed my arm to move but it would not obey. My breath became labored as I tried to free my arm from the invisible hand that held it in place. I closed my eyes and sighed; my head tilted up and with eyes fixed on the gray clouds I stood. I can’t do it. John stood up shakily and brushed off his pants. I tilted my head down so that my damp brown hair and hood created a screen to shield my face. Even though it was dark out I knew he was staring at me. We stood in silence, only the faint sound of horse hooves on cobblestone and the occasional dog bark could be heard. My head began to pound I squeezed my eyes shut. I will not cry. A thud like a sack of potatoes broke the silence, my head snapped up. John laid there with a knife protruding from his back, dead.
“I had a feeling you wouldn’t be able to do it”
My eyes flew to the end of the ally just as a shadowy figure emerged from the darkness. Hot rage coursed through me as the realization that I had been followed dawned on me.
“Calvin.” I growled “You followed me!?”
“Yes and it’s a good thing I did, He would of ran straight to the guards and you would be arrested. You should have told me you weren’t ready I would not have been angry.” Calvin said calmly while making his way towards me. “I don’t know why you are so angry I’m just looking out for my little sister.”
“Y-you are unbelievable!”
“And you are adorable when you’re angry.” He said taking my arm and turning me around. I tried to wrench my arm from his grip, but he wasn’t going down without at fight. He stopped walking and yanked me forward harshly.
“We don’t have time for a tantrum not here not now unless you would like to be thrown in a prison cell and executed!” I opened my mouth then closed it I had to bite my lip to keep from lashing out. Calvin grabbed my wrist and we did what we did best, we ran. We ran from John’s body and disappeared into the night.
My family had been poor from the start; our father worked as a merchant and spent his days trying to persuade rich pigs to invest with him. He was buried in an unmarked grave; killed during a gang raid while meeting a potential client. His body was left on the side of the road to rot. I was thirteen. It was two days before royal guards knocked on our door with the news, not to offer their condolences but to tell my mother to bury his body or they would toss it into the river with all of the other disease ridden bodies. Two years ago when I was 14 and Calvin 16 our mother contracted dysentery; I tried to get her medicine but the shops were guarded; no one was allowed to purchase medicine until it was confirmed that there was enough to keep the nobles healthy. I thought bitterly let all of us poor die, simply because we don’t have money to throw away on silks and perfumes. When I woke up that morning she was gone. Calvin said she died and was taken away in the middle of the night. It was common to wake up to missing family members, only to find that they had been dumped in the river to help “stop the spread of infection.” Disgusting! These bastards let us die because to them we’re all animals, disease-ridden savage animals! I had to swallow the bile that threatened to spill from my throat and the curses for each member of the Royal family that would surely follow.
“Novs, Look at this.”
I rose from my bedroll in the corner of the abandoned church attic. This was the space we had come to call our home. I made my way over to the small table my brother sat at. He had been reading a notice that he had no doubt stolen off of someone’s front porch. I took the paper from him, bent over the candle on the desk, and began to read out loud.
“The Royal family will be making a trip from the capital city of Burdunia to Hellbit to attend a charity meeting with the intent to help the development of the cities trade routes.”Help! More like fast track half the population into the grave, I scoffed. “They will be arriving tonight” I stopped reading, to say I was enraged would be an understatement.
It was midnight now, I could tell because everything was still. The damp spring air whipped across my face as I hopped from rooftop to rooftop. The thick fog that clouded the air made no difference to me, I had these rooftops memorized. Every jump, crack and beam was etched into my mind like an inscription in stone. The rubber soled shoes on my feet made my steps soundless, I was alone, I was free. At night these roof-tops were mine. For once I was in control.
Something moved on the streets below. I crouched and stealthily made my way to the edge of the roof to get a better look. A man with a long black trench coat was walking down the alley-way with shoulders hunched obscuring his face from sight. Either he is a complete and utter idiot or the most fearsome man to walk the planet. He kept walking head down, a small pouch fell from his waist onto the wet stone, this went unnoticed by him. I smiled, Idiot it is. I silently dropped to the ground and snatched up the leather pouch. Upon opening the pouch I discovered that it was full of coins, my smile grew. I turned, pouch in hand, and began walking the opposite way of the man who by his ignorance just bought me and Calvin dinner. A hand grabbed the hood of my cloak and harshly yanked me backwards.
A low voice growled in my ear. “Thief.”
Sweat trickled down the back of my neck as my opponent and I sparred on the mat. The clang of swords and occasional bark of my instructor echoed through the spacious training room. I watched carefully anticipating my opponent’s next move. He dove for my legs I was able to block and flip the sword freeing it from his hand. The sword clattered to the ground, I pointed my sword at my his throat and smirked. I turned to face my instructor; he shot me a disapproving glare and mumbled something about my arrogance being my downfall. “We’ll see how free you are with your speech when I take my father’s place and cut out your tongue you filthy peasant” my smirk widened. The door to the training room swung open and a sentry stepped in.
“My lord, your father has sent a reminder that you will be departing within the hour.”
“Message received.” I replied dryly as I picked up my black shirt off of the ground.”You may go.”
It is hard to believe that earlier this week I was home walking the pristine streets of Burdunia, but sitting among filth for several days can dull even the most precious treasures. I have been to Hellbit before, once when I was 10 years old and my brother Markos was 9. I had been excited to see another sea town other than my own home, but I now see this city for what it really is. It was just a hole infested with filth and maggots. I kept my head down as I weaved my way through the dark fog infested alleyways of Hellbit. It was late and walking in an alley at night was not the safest idea but the weight of my pistol on my left hip reassured me. I passed by an old man, a beggar sitting in a pile of rubbish. From what I could see, his skin was ulcerated and caked with dirt. Dear god! I continued walking without sparing him a second glance. As I walked, I placed my hand on my right side, only to feel the leather of my pants. Swearing loudly I turned about ten paces back. I saw a small figure clothed in all black holding a small leather pouch. My leather pouch. The shadow figure turned and began to leave, but I quietly crept towards it until I was close enough to grab its hood. I clenched the leather and violently pulled.
“Thief” I growled
My captive responded by thrashing wildly in my grip. After being nailed in the jaw with an elbow I twisted the thief’s arm behind his back. To my surprise, what I had assumed was a “he” let out a very high-pitched and very feminine squeak. I ripped back the hood to reveal long tendrils of dark hair. I pushed her to the ground and drew my pistol.
“I believe you have something that belongs to me,” I stated while holding out the hand that wasn’t occupied with iron. She said nothing and kept her head down.
“Stand up,” I ordered harshly.
When she did not, I cocked my gun. She stood and shook a few loose strands of hair out of her face. She looked me directly in the eyes. Even in the darkness her green eyes glowed vibrantly.
“Get that thing out of my face.” She growled
“Not until you give me what you took.”
Amusement flashed in her eyes.
“You mean what you dropped,” she questioned with a smirk
I took a step toward her and she flinched her smirk faltering. She looked like she might run but thought better of it, reached into her cloak and pulled out the pouch.
“Put it on the ground and kick it to me.” she did as I requested.
As I bent down to retrieve my belongings I kept eyes on her. She was a whole head shorter than me; although she was small I could tell she was strong. She also dressed differentfly then most women. Instead of a dress, she wore cotton pants with rips in the knees and worn leather boots as well as a leather cloak. She was thin, too thin, starving even. Dark bags outlined the bottom of her eyes but she beautiful none the less. We stood in silence until I decided that I had gotten what I wanted. I moved to put my gun away and she flinched again closing her eyes tightly. I felt a twinge of guilt in my chest for scaring her. Wait, she stole from me, why do I feel bad. I brushed the feeling off quickly and spoke.
“I should turn you over to the guards.” Her eyes opened and widened with fear. If I turned her in she would most likely get her hand broken or most likely cut off. “But I won’t”
She let out a sigh of relief. With nothing else to say in mind I turned to leave, I stopped when she spoke; it was so quiet I almost missed it.
“Thank you.” She muttered looking down at her shoes.
I was shocked at first but I couldn’t help but smile’ she looked like a child that had just been scolded.
“What’s your name?”
Her eyes snapped up to meet mine. She looked me directly in the eye for a moment then quickly looked down and shrunk back in fear. At that moment, I felt a twinge in my chest. Guilt? No.
“I just asked for your name. I’m not going to hurt you” I took a step closer. She took a step back. Annoyance flared within me but extinguished its self when she spoke.
At first, I hesitated, when opened my mouth to answer I was cut off by a drunken man incoherently yelling from the end of the ally. I looked behind me but when I turned back she was gone. I looked up just in time to see her silhouette disappear over the top of a building.
“Wait!” I called.
She froze and peered down at me over the edge of the roof.
I reached into my pocket and tossed her the pouch. She caught it and stared at me eyes wide with shock. “You need it more than I do.”
I turned and left before she could say anything. I don’t know why I did it after all that trouble I put her through, all I know is I wanted her to have it. Something about her was different and I wanted to know more about her. Before I leave I have to find out who she is, the only problem was. I have no idea where to start.
The paint that had covered the large front door of the church had pealed long ago, leaving behind ugly rotting wood. The once beautiful garden that yielded gorgeous roses and tulips every spring was now infested with weeds that choked the life and color out of it. Nothing remained but dead leaves and bare bushes with thorns. The old wood of the chapel floor creaked with my weight as I made my way behind the altar and up the stairs that led to the attic. I opened the door and closed it quietly. Cal was asleep on his bed roll his reading candle almost burnt out; I tugged off my cloak and hung it by the door. The attic was a small square to the right of the door laid a medium sized chest that held two flimsy blankets and some clothing. To the left were a small fireplace and an old wooden table. Cal and I slept in the back corners of the room. I shivered when a cold draft swept through the room. After laying a blanket over Cal I retired to my own bedroll, as laid down all I could think about that man in the alley. Although I couldn’t clearly see his face in the darkness I could tell he wasn’t much older than I. But the one thing I could see clearly was his eyes cold and blue. I could feel exhaustion creep up on me it wasn’t long before I drifted off into a dreamless sleep.
My sleep was disturbed by the soft sound of a door closing. I immediately shot up and grabbed the knife I kept hidden under my bedroll.
“Relax, it’s just me.” Cal’s weary voice put me at ease.
I rubbed my eyes with the long sleeves of my black shirt and looked up at Cal. He was leaning against the door head tied up with eyes closed. Dark circles had formed under his eyes and his muscular shoulders sagged.
“I didn’t hear you come in last night.” He sighed with lying down on his bed.
“I didn’t want to wake you,” I said getting up and making my way to the fireplace to boil some water. “Where were you this morning?”
I heard him shift around before answering.
“Went to see Carter, to tell him that everything went well last night with John”
Carter Hall was a dangerous man; he owed most of Hellbit’s casinos. My brother had racked up some serious debt and since we’re poor Carter made a compromise. Cal works for him until he has paid off his debt or they kill us both. Cal asked me to help him “take care of John” but I couldn’t do it. Ever since our mother passed were have been living on the streets we survived by stealing from others. Cal insisted that I learned to fight so he trained me. He wanted me to kill John because he said it will make killing easier and that in a world like ours if I couldn’t kill people then they would kill me. The idea of taking someone’s life disgusted me and the fact that Cal could kill with ease only sickened me further. I knew he didn’t enjoy it but that didn’t calm the unease in my stomach when he mentioned it, because of that I always avoid thinking about Carter and what he had my brother doing. Cal respects my wishes and talks as little as possible about Carter.
“Oh.” was all I said as I poured hot water into two mugs with dried fruit at the bottom to give the water more flavor. “What did he say?”
I sat down next to Cal and handed him a mug. He took it and nodded at me gratefully before speaking.
“Nothing worth repeating.”
I reached my hand out and ruffled his curly dark brown hair, He desperately needed a haircut. Cal gave me a small snort before running a hand through his own hair.
“I know, I need a cut.”
We sat in silence drinking our tea when I remembered last night’s events. I placed my mug on the wood floor and made my way to where my cloak was hanging on the wall. I reached into my pocket and pulled out the leather pouch. Cal eyed me suspiciously as I made my way back over to him. I tossed the pouch into his lap and watched him open it.
“Where did you get this?”
I shrugged and put my head down so my hair would conceal my small smile.
“Some idiot dropped it last night.”
Cal nodded and handed back the pouch. I walked to the door and slipped my cloak over my head.
“Where are you going?”
I smiled at him “I’m going to get us a proper breakfast.”
He said nothing and stared at the mug in his hands. I was almost out the door when he spoke up.
“Novs, don’t stay out late tonight okay?” He looked up at me making direct eye contact “It’s dangerous.”
“Cal, it’s always dangerous.”
“I’m serious Nova I want you home at sunset.” His tone left no room for argument.
Cal only used my full name when he was upset he usually called me Novs or little sister (mostly to annoy me.)
“Fine, I’ll be home,” He looked like he wanted to say more but I shut the door before he could utter another word.
I exited the bakery with a small cotton bag containing four apples, two small loafs of bread, and a half pound of salted meat. I noticed that a massive group of people had gathered around the stage in the middle of town where executions usually took place. Men and women were crowding around the front and being violently shoved back by sentinels. They wore the black armor that only the king’s personal guard was permitted to wear. I walked over to a sickly looking little girl who was sitting on a crate in front of a herb shop.
“What’s going on?” I asked her
She looked up at me and brushed a stray piece of blond hair behind her ear.
“The king is making a speech.” She mumbled bitterly and looked back down at her lap.
I could see her bones through her skin. She was obviously starving; I took out a loaf of bread and placed it in her lap. Her eyes snapped up to meet mine full of fear.
“It’s not poisoned if that’s what you’re thinking, I don’t make it a habit of poisoning little girls like a witch in horror stories.”
She smiled at me then began to munch happily on the bread. I turned my attention to the stage where King Tiberius took his place at the podium. The King was a tall man with sharp features. His hair was black as ink and his blue eyes were as cold as ice. His military uniform was immaculate from the top of his head to the soles of his polished black boots. The King truly was a terrifying man. He raised his right hand and a deadly silence swept over the crowd.
“It has come to my attention that you citizens of Hellbit have been.” He paused, eyes scanning the crowd. “Unruly. I am here to tell you that I have been lenient in the past. But no longer”
Two guards stepped down from the stage and seized a man that could not have been more than thirty from the crowd. They dragged him kicking and screaming up onto the stage where the king was standing. They forced him into a kneeling position at the king’s feet.
“This!” King Tiberius continued is the fate that anyone who defies the law will suffer. One of the sentinels handed him a pistol.
The gunshot was followed by a blood-curdling scream as a woman ran towards the stage only to be shoved to the ground by the king’s guards. Two guards dragged the limp man’s body off the stage leaving a trail of blood behind. The woman remained on the ground with her head in her hands; her body was shaking violently with sobs. For the first time, I noticed that the queen and her two sons were present. I couldn’t see the two princes faces because they were turned toward their mother hands reached out to help her stand. When she was standing the one of the princes led her away the other went to stand next to his father. The prince lifted his head and his eyes scanned the crowd until they fell on me. Our gazes locked. Cold fear washed over me and I drew in a sharp breath. I recognized those blue eyes. That’s why he hesitated to tell me his name he is Prince Alexander Vemerus oldest son of the King next in line for the throne. He looked equally shocked. Just then a gunshot rang out and the sentinel standing next to the king dropped to the ground, dead. A woman screamed and all hell broke loose.
I handed my mother off to my brother who escorted her off the stage. I couldn’t help but look down at the trail of blood the guards left behind. My stomach lurched. I took my place at my father’s side and began to scan the crowd. My eyes locked on a girl with bright green eyes. She held my gaze for a moment then all the color drained from her face. The look of indifference she wore was replaced by fear. It’s her girl from last night! Just then a gunshot rang out and the sentinel on the other side of my father crumpled to the ground. The square was in an uproar as two more shots fired and missed, one hitting the stage and the other silencing a screaming woman. Permanently.
Immediately six sentinels rushed up the stage to escort my father to safety, once he was off the stage I began barking orders at the roaming guards. I hopped down from the stage and into the chaos all the while trying to locate the mystery girl from last night. I made it to the outside of the crowd where she was standing. I searched around frantically but she was nowhere to be found. A man knocked into my shoulder and fell to the ground in front of me, but I paid him no mind. I need to find her! A woman’s scream sounded from behind the herb shop. I was off in an instant, when I rounded the corner I saw her.
Three men were standing around her, one was holding her arms and another was standing in front of her. The third man was going through a bag that must have belonged to her. She let out a strangled cry and the man in front of her backhanded her across her face. I sprinted over to her and tackled the man who had hit her. I ripped him away from her pinned him down and punched him. As soon as my fist connected with his jaw a sickening crunch was heard. I hit him again and again until he stilled. When I stood up I turned to the other two men. When they realized who I was they released the girl and took off running with her bag still in hand. I was about to go after them until I heard her whimper. I turned to see her on the ground hugging her knees to her chest. I knelt down in front of her and reached out my hand to caress her cheek, where an angry bruise was forming. She flinched away and glared.
“Shh, I’m not going to hurt you.” I pulled her into my arms and she began squirming and beating against my chest. “I’m not going to hurt you!” I said loudly.
I heard footsteps behind me. I turned to see four royal guards standing and staring at me, waiting for instructions.
“Take him away.” Immediately they picked up the unconscious man and dragged him out of the ally.
I looked down at the girl who was now lying limply in my arms her head was resting against my chest. Her brown hair was soft against my cheek. She smells like lavender and peppermint.
“T-they took my food.” She whispered
“Don’t worry about that I will get you something to eat.” She nodded and looked at her hands that were folded in her lap.
I hooked one arm under her legs and the other behind her back as I lifted her off of the ground. She immediately began struggling, again. I tightened my grip on her.
“You’re hurting me!”
“Then stop moving,” I ordered in a harsh voice. She stilled almost immediately and I loosened my grip on her slightly.
I began walking towards the stage in the center of town. She was as light as a feather, she is starving. I looked down to see her fighting off sleep. She eventually lost and drifted asleep in my arms, but even though she was asleep throughout the whole ride to my family’s estate she never relaxed completely.
End of Part I
To Be Continued…
Short Story ©Vyolet Meola