Talon Carde


The old chair creaked. It had seen better days, but it matched the rest of the shambled room; mortar crumbling from the stonework, the windows were yellowed, and the straw in the mattress probably had not been changed in weeks. The weary gambler shifted in his chair again, causing the chair to groan in protest. It was late.

Tonight had been tough work, and the candles were burning low, making it hard to count the coins on the table. The bottle on the table was nearly finished. Clink, clink, clink. The coins fell through his weathered fingers with practiced ease. A smile broke his face; a well-rehearsed grin, that carried years of experience. He had done well.

He heard scratching coming from the old oak door. Quickly he scooped up his earnings, and deftly tossed them into the corner behind the bed. Drawing a slender dagger, he crept towards the door. He stood still, listening, his breath suddenly loud and annoying. The room was silent. Then he heard the scratching again, followed by a slight whine.

His keen ears could pick up the faint panting coming from the other side. Narrowing his eyes, he contemplated the obvious; there was a dog at his door. Curiously, he flicked the skeleton key over in the lock with a snick. The aging door creaked on the rusted hinges of the old Inn, as he peeked out the door. It was the Innkeeper's scruffy old dog.

The tan and white, long-haired old dog, slowly waddled into the room, his whole body rolling from too many treats from the kitchen. His shaggy tail, wagged back and forth, with the determination of a much younger animal. Only the clear blue eyes, showed no sign of aging, and they spoke years of wisdom.

The well-oiled, leather armor made barely a squeak, as the lithe roguish man quickly peered down the empty hallway, and shut the door in a flash. He expertly sheathed his blade, and cocked his hand on his hip, looking at the dog, “And just what are you doing here?” he asked. He walked over and patted the dog on the head. The matted fur, stank of garbage, and musty wet dog. He tussled the dog's hair, “You probably want a treat, don't ya?!” he stated, rising and heading over to the table. A few scraps left over from the evening's meal, were on a chipped plate. He put the plate on the floor, and the old dog greedily devoured the scraps of dry bread, and gristly meat. The dog's tongue polished the plate, licking it spotless. The gambler smiled and turned to retrieve his pouch he had tossed behind the bed.

When he leaned over behind the bed, he heard a strange sound; bones cracking and popping. He turned around as quick as his years of experience could afford. Standing in front of the empty plate, was a naked young man. He recognized the man instantly; it was the same one that had been staring across the Inn at him all evening. His face was chiseled, and sharp. He had the oddest eyes – piercing, bright blue.

The same as the old dog's.

The gambler drew his slender dagger again, his eyes trained on the invader. A shiver went up his spine, and the hair on his neck stood on end. Every muscle was taut, like a coiled snake, ready to strike. He glanced over to his sheathed swords leaning against the table; right beside the invader.

The naked young man chuckled, as he saw the whirlwind of thoughts flash in the gambler's eyes; a man who had spent years perfecting the art of deception and maintaining a poker face, was showing signs of panic. He took a step towards the table, and pressed his hips against a chair, as a show of modesty. “Easy Mr. Carde”, he clucked. “Your weapons won't work against me”, he said, nodding his head at the dagger in the gambler's hand. He straitened his composure, and nonchalantly asked, “Do you have a blanket or a pair of .......” his voice trailed off, and he gurgled as he grasped at the dagger sticking out of his throat. Blood spurted out of his mouth in a cough.

Talon chuckled from across the room. “Doesn't work, eh?” he asked cheekily. He placed his hands on his hip, waiting for the stranger to fall over. He realized he might have to tip the Innkeeper an extra gold for the trouble, in the morning. This wasn't the first time, someone had tried to kill him in his room.

He didn't fall. Instead, he grasped the dagger with his hand, and in one wrenching pull, freed the blade from his spine. Blood exploded from the gaping wound and exposed arteries. He clutched at his neck, and just kept staring at Talon. He dropped the dagger to the floor, splattering blood and ringing off the wood floor. He coughed a couple of times, and spat a wad of blood-laden spittle on the floor. He leaned up against the chair, and a rattled breath filled his lungs. He rasped, “I told you”. He coughed again and continued, “Your weapons can't kill me”. He wheezed, and pulled away his hand, to reveal the wound gone!

Talon pulled another dagger from his ornate belt. “Yea?” he retorted. He sneered and spat on the floor, “It sure as hell shut you up for a couple minutes”, he mocked. Talon cocked his arm back slightly, ready to launch another dagger, “Wanna try again?” he threatened.

“Wait!” The stranger held out his blood spattered hand. “I came here to talk”, he explained. Talon's eyes narrowed; none of this made sense, however, by all rights the stranger should have been dead. Talon lowered his weapon to his side.

“You could have just knocked, like everyone else”, quipped Talon. He sheathed his dagger in an angry flourish. “So, who are you, and what do you want?” he directed.

“Oswald. Lord Oswald, but the telling of my tale will require more than just a name”, answered the stranger. He cleared his throat, and looked at the blood splattered all over his naked body, “Sir Talon, would it be possible to clean up a little bit, and possibly get a change of clothes?” He pulled away from the chair, and stood tall, obviously fully healed, “I would like a chance to talk, perhaps over a good drink”.

“How did you do that little healing trick just now?” asked Talon. “That would have killed any man”.

“I am NOT just any man, Sir Talon”, remarked Lord Oswald. He grinned, “But, I would like to ask, that you not do that again?”

Talon raised his eyebrow inquisitively, “And why's that?” he queried.

“Because”, Lord Oswald chuckled, “It still hurts”.

Talon pointed at the wash basin in the corner. “There's fresh linen towels under the cupboard”, he instructed. He made a mental note of his gold pouch, and when he walked over to retrieve a shirt and a pair of trousers from his personal belongings, he secretly stashed his money in a hidden compartment. “Here”, he called out, tossing the clothes across the room, “See if they fit you”.

Neither men spoke, as one washed and dressed himself, and the other tidied up the small room. It was Talon that broke the silence, “What would you like to drink?”

“What do you have Sir?”

“Stop calling me Sir”, retorted Talon. He sighed in exasperation, “I'm not royalty”.

Lord Oswald crossed his arms, and replied, “My dear Talon Carde, I know exactly who you are”.

It was only years of experience that kept Talon from flinching. This strange man had to be toying with him; Talon had seen his share of liars and manipulators, and it was only his street-wise savvy and hard-earned experience that saved him. Nothing about this encounter was normal, and he was uncharacteristically unnerved. He didn't like that fact, first, and foremost. Talon liked being in control of his emotions, and surroundings.

“Drink?” Talon repeated, changing the subject. “I have wine, whiskey, and a particularly decent ale on ice”. He placed two large glass mugs and two shooter glasses on the wooden table, beside the bottle of expensive whiskey. “Pick your poison, Lord Oswald”, he teased.

“Terrance. Or Terry, if you prefer”, he replied. He chuckled as he sat down at the small table, “And, as I said, Talon, I know you”. He picked up the bottle of whiskey and poured the golden liquid into the two small, shooter cups, “Go easy on the poison talk, I also know how you roll”. He smiled and hefted his glass, gesturing, “I'll need an ale to chase this”.

Talon retrieved the small wood cask of ale from the icebox, and expertly tapped the keg. He filled both mugs and sat down across the table from the self-proclaimed Lord. They both locked eyes in the flickering candle-light. “Cheers!” chimed Talon, raising his glass of whiskey.

“Cheers”, replied Terry, as he clinked glasses, and swallowed the amber liquid in a single gulp. He grimaced, and whispered, “Smooth!”. He set down the shot glass, and took a long pull from his mug of ale. Leaning back in his flimsy, old chair, he smiled mischievously. “No more riddles, and no more rhymes”, he raised his hand as if to swear an oath, “I promise”, he affirmed.

Talon shifted in his chair, “Good!”, he grunted, “I hate rhymes”. He took a drink from his mug, and wiped the foam from his neatly trimmed goatee. “Let's start where you can change from the Inn keeper's dog, into a human”, he jeered.

“The dog is dead. Has been for weeks now”.

“You kill him?”

“Yea”.

Talon shifted uncomfortably in his chair, “And why would you kill a dog?” He took another drink from the heavy glass mug. He grinned, and he lifted both hands in mock surrender, “Hey”, he smiled with his charismatic cocky grin, “I'd be the last one to tell someone who they shouldn't kill”.

Terry shrugged, “The old dog was on his last legs, when I found him behind the Inn”, he explained, “I merely put him out of his misery”.

“And the part where you can shape shift.....”

Terry interrupted Talon, raising his hand and stating bluntly, “I'm a werewolf”.

The room fell silent, save for the dripping of bloodied water from the wash basin. Talon leaned back in the wooden chair, and sat there, quietly sipping his ale. He squinted, as his mind raced. Both men just stared at each other; each a master of the arts in reading body language. Talon took one hard pull on his mug, and drained the contents. He chuckled slightly, and set his mug down on the table hard, “Well! That's got to be a first, Terry”, he burst out, “I've never met an actually werewolf”. He raised an eyebrow and mocked, “That is, if you actually ARE a werewolf” He stood, and retrieved the keg, and filled both mugs, then he poured another shot of the aged whiskey.

Terry cleared his throat, “I AM a werewolf”. He picked up his mug and sucked back the foam on the top, “What exactly have you heard about such creatures?” He set his mug down and picked up his shot of whiskey, “Cheers! To new friends, and new opportunities”, he chimed.

Talon mumbled, “Cheers!”, and hoisted his shooter glass. They clinked glasses and drank. Talon settled back in his chair, and expertly scrutinized the other man seated at the table. He took a deep breath, “I've killed my share of men. I've killed my share of monsters”, he started. Talon shrugged, “What makes something a monster, anyway? So desirable as to want it killed, rather than allow it to simply exist”, he rambled.

Terry's eyes danced, as his face broke out in a huge smile, “Bravo, my friend!”, he stated, clapping his hands together. “Well spoken!”, he admonished, “For it is a realization, that we are ALL monsters given a chance. Do you agree?”

Talon took a long pull from his mug, and licked the foam from his lips. He looked directly at the clear blue eyes of Lord Oswald, and cocked his head to the side, “I will tell you this”, he stated, setting down his mug for emphasis, “That I have seen evil that would turn your blood cold. I have witnessed greatness. Good, evil....”, Talon shrugged, “One cannot exist without the other”.

Terry was leaning on his elbows, fully engrossed in the conversation. He pointed at Talon and chimed in, “Exactly!” hefting his mug emphatically.

Talon continued, “Everyday is a struggle. At what point in defending yourself, does it become wrong? At what point is it acceptable to kill?” He paused, picked his mug up, and took a long drink. “I've never killed a werewolf”, he shrugged, “I've never met one before”.

“What do you know about them?”

Talon leaned back in his chair, “They howl at the moon, and eat livestock?” he teased, then burst out laughing, “They like to pretend they are an old, fat dog!?” Talon slammed his fist on the table mirthfully, “Oh, come on! That was funny!”

Terry chuckled and shook his head in amusement, “So basically, you really don't know very much about them, right?” He reached into the pockets of the pants, and pulled out a small leather pouch, “Oh, hay! What's this?”, he lifted it to his nose and inhaled deeply. “Mmmmmmm”, he purred, “That smells good!”

“Hay!” Talon blurted, “THAT'S where I left that! I forgot it in my pants”, he explained reaching for the pouch. He smiled and asked, “Do you smoke?”

Terry smiled, “Try and stop me!”, and handed the leather pouch over to Talon, who rose from his chair, and walked over to the large footlocker in the corner. He unlocked the chest, expertly bypassing the hidden trap he had installed; a tiny gold needle, covered in deadly poison, was spring-loaded to stop anyone but himself - Death was immediate, and painful. Talon pulled out an intricately carved, bone and wood pipe, adorned with feathers and gold. He shut the lid on the chest.

Terry clucked, “Whoa! Nice pipe!”

Talon nodded, “Yea. I won this a month ago playing poker”, he explained. He set it on the table, and took a long drink of ale. “So, I have to ask”, Talon set his mug down with boisterous enthusiasm, “Why are you running around pretending to be some old dog, anyway?” He picked up the pouch and began to pack the pipe. He shrugged and burst out in a big smile, “I mean, if I was a werewolf, I wouldn't be hiding in some old backwater establishment!” Talon stood up and clenched his fist in the air, “I'd be ruling over some large castle, with a bounty of beautiful women!” He nodded in reflection of such a dream, “But you said already that you're a Lord”, Talon stated, sitting back down, and offering the pipe to Terry. “So, I have to ask. Why, a dog?” he said slowly.

Seconds ticked by; Talon with his hand outstretched, offering the ornate pipe, and Terry leaning back in his chair, his deep blue eyes smoldering as a wash of emotions raged within.

Talon chuckled. “Hit a nerve with THAT one, didn't I?” he noted, lowering the pipe.

Terry quietly asked, “What else do you know?”

Talon hefted his mug in a salute, and slammed the rest of the ale, “Aahh!”, he sighed and smacked his lips. “I know that ale”, he said pointing at his mug, “Is some of the best, and you would have to raid the King's larder to find an equal”. He set his mug down, picked up the pipe and a candle, and started smoking, “I know this stuff is hard to come by in the Northern realms, and in some of the Eastern kingdoms, you can have your head chopped off if you are caught with it”, he said between puffs. He offered the smoking pipe to Terry, and grinned, “ I know, that you have been watching me, since I arrived at this place yesterday”.

Slowly, deliberately, Terry reached over the table and took the pipe. He sat back, and quietly took several large draws from the ornate smoking device. The taste was exotic, and rich, leaving the imbiber with a sweet taste of spiced honey. He exhaled, and felt the warm rush. Terry nodded approval, and passed the pipe back to Talon. “And?” he said.

Talon took another large drag, and exhaled, “You realized, I am here, to find you”. He sat back in his chair, and crossed his leather-bound arms. His armor creaked as he flexed slightly; knowing what was inevitably to come, Talon quietly coaxed the adrenaline through his veins. The excitement was unbearable, yet he sat showing no discernible sign.

“Yea”.

The whisper of the dagger being quickly drawn from its sheath, echoed off the stone walls. “And”, stated Talon, “I know, that this silver dagger, can kill you”. The glow from the intricately-runed weapon came from within, and not from the flickering candlelight. It quietly pulsed a silver-blue hue, as Talon expertly danced the magical blade through his fingers, and across the back of his hand; spinning, dancing, the dagger seemed as light as a feather. Talon smiled, “So elegant. So deadly”. The blade came to sudden stop, held by the handle in Talon's palm. Deliberately, he slowly looked at the blade, then up to his quarry.

Calmly, Terry picked up his mug of ale, and drained the glass. He belched, and set the mug down, sighing heavily, “So, what are you going to do?”, he asked.

The rogue shrugged, “That depends on you, wolf”. He stared across the table, every nerve tingling from excitement, “Are you going to come peacefully and stand trial for your crimes?”

“I didn't kill those women”.

“Someone did”. Talon cocked his head to the side, and pointed the magical dagger at the younger man, “And! YOU just happen to be a werewolf! Who owned the castle where they were slaughtered”, he emphatically added. Talon paused for dramatic effect, for the simple reason that, he liked toying with his prey; smiling on the inside, he reminded himself, that his prey, was doing the exact same thing. It was a dangerous, and lethal game.

“Can I have another ale?” The deep blue eyes sparkled with excitement, and a smile tugged at the corners of Terry's mouth.

Talon burst out laughing. He lowered the dagger, as genuine levity swept over him. He couldn't help but chuckle in admiration. He stood up, sheathed the dagger, and walked over to the ice box. “Sure”, he said grinning, pulling out the keg, “Let's both have another drink”.

“And, then what?”

Talon spun on his heel to face Terry, and laughed, “We try to kill each other, like the gentlemen we are”. He bowed in mock reverence.

Terry sighed, and glanced around the small, shabby room. “Here?” he asked in jest, sweeping his arm around to gesture at the cramped quarters. “It's rather close quarters, and someone is certain to rouse the city guard”, he explained, playing along with the joke.

Talon poured the ale, filling both mugs, “Only if you do it wrong”, he smiled. They clinked mugs, and both men drained their mugs. Talon slowly leaned over and picked up his weapon belt, with his twin Elven swords, and strapped it on, doing up the front clasp with a heavy sigh.

Terry set his mug down slowly, “If it means anything, I'm sorry”.

Both men shattered the wooden chairs in their haste to cast them aside. Talon blinked hard, as he watched Terry undergo a transformation from a human to a monster; bones cracked and popped, as he morphed into a hybrid of a massive wolf, in bipedal form. Black, razor-sharp claws, sprouted from his fingertips, and his mouth became a snarling visage of white, gnashing teeth. The low guttural growl, that seemed to resonate from some evil, abysmal pit, nearly unnerved Talon. Slowly, and methodically he unsheathed his twin short swords, and flourished the elegant weapons. He grinned, as the raw adrenaline surged through his veins,”Let's play”, he purred.

The old table splintered, as it was swept away by one swipe of the beast's massive claw. The glasses smashed against the stone walls and the candle rolled under the bed, instantly causing the moldy straw to burst into flame. The acrid smoke began to quickly fill the room. Talon barely managed to get his swords up to deflect the assault; the mere weight of the morphed beast, now favoured the monster, by over three times! Mystically hardened claws squealed and sparked, as they raked down the elven-cast steel of the twin blades held by the weapon-master. Only years of training kept his swords poised to deflect the brutal attack! Talon shifted his balance, and slid under the swiping claw, and the snapping jaws of the charging werewolf; his left sword tearing deep into the bare chest of the half-wolf, half-man, and shattering ribs as it nearly cleaved the monster in half! He rocketed forward, and tumbled into a half crouch, his swords at the ready.

Lord Oswald roared, shaking the very stone of the Inn. Blood splattered across the room, as he crashed into the wall where Talon once stood, and the old wooden ice box exploded beneath the crushing weight. He thrashed in agony, as his lifeblood gushed from the wound. Talon began to slowly advance on the wounded werewolf. The beast turned his head quickly when he saw Talon, and he growled again.

“Last chance”, Talon chided.

The massive fanged jaws of the werewolf peeled back in anger and defiance. The roar was long, and loud, shaking the foundation of the building! Talon braced himself for the inevitable assault, and masterfully rolled one Elven blade in a flourishing taunt, while switching his parrying weapon for the magic dagger. Pressing against the wall for extra leverage, the huge monster launched himself at the lithe warrior. In a tangle of leather, fur, metal, and claw, they both shattered through the wooden door. The smoldering flames on the bed exploded, as it greedily sucked the fresh oxygen through the open door, causing black, acrid smoke to pour into the hallway.

Talon couldn't breath. The tangle of fur and flesh on top of him was crushing the air from his lungs. He lifted as hard as he could, trying to free himself from under the beast.

Suddenly, the creature was gone.

Talon couldn't see the arm that pulled him to safety, but he held on tight through the churning smoke, and growing flames. As they both burst through the clinging smoke and stinging embers, Talon fell to the damp earth and stared up at his rescuer, his weapons clattering to the ground.

Lord Oswald, clad in the tattered remnants of his borrowed clothes, stood boldly over Talon, breathing heavily. He coughed, and stared back with his piercing blue eyes. Quietly, he murmured, “I'm sorry”, and ran off into the night.

It felt as if an entire army had landed on the weapon-master! He groaned, as he tried to move; every muscle screamed from pain! His left arm felt numb, and when he pulled away the black leather armor, he saw the jagged torn wound; a massive bite mark, deep under his arm. He rolled his eyes when he realized the obvious – He had been bitten by a werewolf!

Suddenly, he remembered the dagger. Talon squinted, and coughed as a wave of rolling smoke enveloped him. He had to retrieve his weapons! Propping himself up on his elbow, he peered through the haze; the whole Inn was now enveloped in flame! Armored guards ran back and forth, yelling orders, while the rest of the town rushed to the scene armed with buckets, and started throwing water in vain. Talon's mind swam. The flickering flames created surreal shadows, and the billowing, black smoke danced in the growing fire. He shook his head, trying to cut through the fog. He groaned, “Ugh! Let's go Talon!”, he muttered in determination. He pawed at the ground, dragging himself closer to the magical dagger.

It was covered in blood.

Comments

Anonymous said…
The first paragraph of this is not bad. Honestly, there's really nothing wrong with it. I commend you, and I mean that sincerely.

I'm just going to touch on a few problems you have though.

Repetition. When you use repetition, you use it improperly. You use invader twice within three sentences. Very sloppy.

The constant shift of perspective is problematic. Best seen when you go from the gambler to the naked man. Pick a perspective and stick with it.


In all seriousness, after perusing some of your short stories, not all of them are as terrible as the first few. There are some reaaaaal stinkers, but this one is passable. It's not really 'good', but it's not bad either. There's nothing that immediately jumps out at me being wrong other than some ongoing problems you have in your writing.

Too many passive verbs, though. Use more active ones. If you don't know what that means, look it up.

You also have a tendency to be too vague. Usually in books, a vague comment is followed up with a paragraph of well-placed exposition.

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