First part of the first chapter of what will become something really cool!
|It was dark when Gwendolyn left the Nursery. The sky above was a deepening blood-like color behind its man-made ozone layer and it reminded Gwendolyn, for some reason, of a rose. She nervously walked the spiraling street away from the Black Tower. The guardsmen would be out in full force tonight, she knew, and she didn't relish the thought of being questioned by one of them, or Gaia forbid, a murder of them. They were a fearsome lot, the guardsmen; intimidatingly tall, muscular men with crows' wings who guarded the Tower and its ruling inhabitant, Lam. Recently, one of their number was found dead at the hands of a prostitute who escaped them, and Pyetr, their captain, vowed vengeance. No respectable girl would be wandering the streets alone after dark, but her job at the Nursery kept her late, so Gwendolyn hurried to get within sight of her apartment building.
After spiraling three times from the main entrance of the Tower, the main road of the city which Gwendolyn was traveling branched off into straight streets and alleyways which got more random the further out they branched. Gwendolyn's building was nearer to the Tower because of the higher status of her job, so her walk home was not far. She hurried to her street, Section C, and nearly breathed a sigh of relief until she saw a sewer grate slide open. Quickly, Gwendolyn ducked behind a dumpster peered out to observe the danger. But there wasn't any danger. Not exactly. Gwendolyn watched as a wooly head bobbed up through the opening and looked around as if checking to see if all was safe. The owner of the head apparently decided that it was because a moment later, an equally wooly body popped nimbly through the hole, replaced the cover and scampered off into the night with barely a sound.
Trolls, thought Gwendolyn. She flicked the thick, chestnut braid, which held her long hair back over her shoulder and carefully emerged from her hiding place. Even if the troll had seen her, Gwendolyn knew she could have gotten past it with little effort. They were mostly harmless, and Gwendolyn really felt sorry for them more than anything. They weren't "trolls" in the classic sense of the word, but rather they were a scientific experiment gone awry. They were humanoid, but several generations ago, after the Emergence following the Great War, scientists tried to create a race of super-soldier. The experiment failed and instead yielded a crop of mentally challenged ape-like children. Originally, they were ordered to be euthanized after they proved to be useless with IQ's no higher than those of eight year-old children, but as in all societies, someone pitied them and smuggled some of them out of the laboratory. The survivors hid in the sewers, rarely appearing except under the cloak of night for food or other trollish business. Generally, the trolls were left alone since they were not exactly a threat to society, but more than occasionally they were captured for servitude or sport, the latter more often by guardsmen.
As Gwendolyn approached her apartment building, she contemplated taking the shortcut through the alleyway along the side of it. Her room was at the back of the building, and Gwendolyn sometimes cut through it and in through the back door if it happened to be raining instead of walking all the way around to the main entrance of the building. It was a quicker route inside and into the safety of the light, but the alley was ominously dark now that the sun had completely set and anything could be hiding in or around the dumpsters and trashcans. Still, Gwendolyn decided she wanted to get inside as quickly as possible, so she sprinted toward the alleyway with quick, light steps. The small porch light indicating the rear entrance flickered comfortingly into view, and Gwendolyn was just about to breathe a second sigh of relief when a gravelly, wounded voice rasped, "Who are you?"
Gwendolyn stopped in her tracks. The door was a mere ten feet away and the porch light beckoned her forward, but the voice which spoke to her sounded dangerous if unheeded. She knew to what it belonged before she even saw its owner's face, and her heart sunk like a lead weight to the bottom of her stomach. The voice was too clear to be trollish and too commanding, even in its wounded state, to be human.
Gwendolyn turned slowly in the direction of the voice, which was coming from behind one of the dumpsters. "I'm sorry if I disturbed you," said Gwendolyn respectfully. She even bowed slightly even though the dumpster blocked her from view. "I was kept late at the Nursery and I’m only returning home. This is my building."
"Let me see you," said the voice.
Gwendolyn cautiously stepped around the dumpster, keeping her distance, and peered around it. She was correct in her assumption that the voice belonged to a guardsman, but she was startled at the state in which she found him. The guardsman lay on his side against the wall of the opposite building; his black wings were crumpled around him like broken crutches. His black hair hung limp and wet in his face and he clutched his hands to his chest. When he saw her, he reached painfully out to her and murmured, "Help me."
Gwendolyn gasped. The guardsman's chest was smoldering beneath his hands, as if a fire burned beneath his skin and was just now reaching the outside of his leather shirt. "Water," he hissed. His voice rasped with pain. Gwendolyn could only nod at him to show she understood and then she turned and began jiggling the handle on the door, but in her haste she forgot to unlock it. Before she could insert her key, the guardsman screamed and burst into flame.
"O Gaia O Gaia help me!" cried Gwendolyn, flinging the door open. She slammed it shut behind her and ran down the corridor, not stopping until she was safely in her room.