WARNING: This post has been rated adult for: language.
Hey guys, finally back with another chapter of Taker. Despite the slow output, I’m really having loads of fun with this story. It’s great to finally be back into writing something I actually enjoy. I foresee it turning into something good, so if any of you guys liked Cold Hands, I’m pretty sure you’ll like this. Don’t forget to leave feedback in the comments below. I’d love to know what you think! Enjoy. 🙂
Sunlight gleamed off the gilded roofs of the Royal Section in Asyether and sparkled in the river flowing on its west side. Spear thrushes flitted lightly about, catching the numerous gut flies attracted by the food-sellers in the Market Section. Higher up in the sky, Sheek circled lazily, their enormous wing spans carrying them in the steady air currents three galleys above the ground. Denizens from surrounding areas poured into both the east and west gates of the city. It was Market Day.
Ryke, carrying a bundle on his back, pushed his way through the throngs of people as they made their way into the city. Ponthi, large beasts of burden with looks on their faces that would’ve made a fool look wise, moved slowly, pulling large carts laden with goods for sale. Impatient merchants who could not wait to reach the Market Section had already begun selling their wares outside the city walls, and the crowds they gathered, albeit small, did nothing to help ease the congestion.
Announcers — trained from birth to relay their messages in perfect synchrony — proclaimed loudly through the whole city, “Market Day! Market Day! Everyone to the markets!”
Finally making it through the bottlenecked gate, Ryke was fairly hustled down the busy street by currents of people. He studied the magnificent buildings around him which were home to the prosperous of the merchants. Intricately designed gables supported the steep, concave roofs customary of Asyther architecture; however, few people graced the mezzanines that sheltered the outside edges of the street.
Following the directions given to him by a blacksmith he’d helped on the way, Ryke made his way to the Grand Market near the center of the city. Anything could be had there, so the smithy had told him, and while Ryke sincerely doubted the validity of that statement, who was he to argue?
In the square, Ryke found merchants already shouting out their wares. It couldn’t have been later the first shadow of the first light, and yet stands were already bursting with wares. With no real order in the way they were arranged and with every stall filled with unique goods, the scene created was quite picturesque.
Ryke passed by a store to his left selling an assortment of exotic animals: scarvers, domesticated drykkers, fybirds, and many others he did not recognize. He didn’t really know how he recognized anything at all. It meant he was not a complete amnesiac, though if he could remember some things, why not everything? To Ryke, none of it made any sense, so he just avoided thinking about it.
His pace slowed greatly as he got further and further into the square. The crowds became so dense that to move, one had to literally push his way through. Unsurprisingly, this created a situation in which falling meant getting trampled on by ten others, as Ryke noted when a tall man in red robes tripped on his finery and went down screaming. No wonder there were no children about.
Noise came from everywhere as merchants advertised their wares, bickered with customers, and even sometimes forcibly pulled people to their shops. One tried to do that to Ryke and received a sprained wrist in return.
Ryke scanned the crowd searchingly. It did not take him long for him to settle on the object of his hunt: an armory. Pushing and shoving his way towards it, Ryke arrived three minutes later at the entrance. He stepped in and found himself in a dimly-lit room with various weapons lining the walls of the shop and dangling from the ceiling. Armor pieces were intermingled with these, shiny and polished.
Surprisingly, there was no one in the shop, and at first Ryke could see no sign of life. Then, he whirled around to find a five-foot Qaardian standing patiently behind him.
“Here to buy something, or you want to try piss on me like the last Human?” the armorer spat, clenching his fists threateningly.
Ryke eyed the Qaardian’s beefy hands warily and spoke. “Weapons and armor, the full kit.”
The Qaardian stared at Ryke’s stony face with his good eye, then he relaxed and chuckled, a deep, gruff sound that sounded less like laughter and more like bellowing. “You’re going to need to be more specific than that, me-boy. Unless you want to walk out with m’whole shop on your back and all your money in me-pockets.”
Ryke smiled humorlessly. “Let’s start with a few sharp and pointy things…”
Two hours later, Ryke emerged from the store, fully equipped. The bundle from his back was gone, and a shimmering, dark cloak embraced his form. He flipped the hood up on his head to protect it from the burning sun and maintain a sense of anonymity before pushing his way against the crowd and out of the Grand Market. After some wandering, he managed to find a city inn. It was far enough from the Market Section that things were actually quiet, and that suited him just fine.
Inside, the number of patrons was small, probably all drawn by Market Day. He approached the bar and seated himself beside a farmer.
“Barkeep, a flagon of red fisczt.”
“Coming right up.”
A few minutes after his drink arrived, Ryke faced the farmer. “What is the date?”
The farmer grunted and stared Ryke warily. “Is this some kind of trick? I ne’er take kindly to tricks.”
“It’s not a trick,” Ryke replied quietly, looking at the burly man with steely eyes.
“It’s the two hundred and fifty-sixth dawnbreak of the year 610. Why?”
Ryke was surprised he even knew how the date system worked. So why had he been unable to recall the date? He realized then that he did not even know how old he was.
“How old do you think I am?”
“What?” the farmer asked, his large, square, stubble-covered jaw going slack.
Ryke’s stormy gray eyes flashed impatiently. “You heard me.”
The rustic slowly studied Ryke from head to toe, taking in the four cord high man towering over him, even while seated. His longish hair had an air of unkemptness to it, but the wildness only added to his intimidating look. Piercing eyes glared moodily out from under a strong brow, and an aquiline nose led down to hard, molded lips which were pressed firmly together. His cheekbones were pronounced, but avoided a gaunt appearance, and instead made him look weathered. Dark ink in strange insignias sprawled in a symmetrical design across his face, made asymmetrical by a deep gouge just below his left cheekbone and a similar scar to the right of his chin.
Ryke’s neck looked less like a neck and more like a column comprised of several rods of iron. Broad, well-formed shoulders could not be disguised even by the loose cloak he wore, and the whipcord-like muscles in his forearms were unmistakable. The hands connected to the arms were large and coarse, coarser almost than the farmer’s own hands. Ryke’s collarbones stood out prominently, hidden somewhat by the deep V of his shirt. The rest of his upper torso disappeared into the shadow of the cloak, but the nonplussed farmer could only imagine that the rest of the man in front of him was cohesive.
Thick, muscular thighs were covered by a tight pair of leggings, and the bucolic man secretly wished he possessed legs like that. Perhaps then he might persuade his wife to bed more often. Boots laced tight up Ryke’s calves prevented any further inspection, but the stranger had seen enough. The man was a walking Henoras and he didn’t even know his own age.
“Well?” Ryke demanded. “Am I that distasteful?”
“No younger than twenty-five and no older than thirty I’d say.” The farmer rubbed the stubble on his chin thoughtfully.
“What’s the most current historical event?”
“Now look here, is this some kind of trick?”
“No,” Ryke said curtly. “I’ve forgotten everything.”
“Oh,” his drinking companion said, understanding in his voice. “Bad night?”
“Something like that.”
“The most current event right now are what folks are calling ‘The Turn.’ Us Humans are working on taking out the mutants we created for the Driving Wars. The Purists, that’s what these people call themselves, are hunting down the mutants and butchering them like animals. They have no mercy. Bad times, bad times, I tell you. Makes me worried about my wife and our child. Say, this talking is making me thirsty.”
“Barkeep!” Ryke called out. “A drink for this man.
“What would you like?”
The farmer eyed Ryke’s drink with covetousness in his eyes, then obviously swallowed some temptation and said, “A pint of ale.”
“You heard him,” Ryke said to the barkeeper, and slid a coin across the grimy bar.
When he turned back, his acquaintance of the night was staring at him. “Can you really not remember anything?”
“Nothing of myself. Everything else I recall just fine.”
“Wow. The worst I’ve had happen to me is getting hit by an Ash arrow in the Driving Wars. Scarred my face it did, and scared the living hell out of me. I decided then that fighting was not for me. Fortunately, I’d just married my betrothed, else she might’ve left me.” He chuckled at his own admission. “Say, let me tell you a good story. Have you heard the children sing the song, ‘Old Melted Brain’?”
“No,” Ryke said tightly, wondering where the ceaseless chatter was leading.
“Well, there was this fellow who lived in Temmark, a village on the outskirts of the city. He stole one of the mutagens our scientists were making, their latest one, and he drank it.” The farmer sipped his drink. “It melted his brain right out, it did. He couldn’t remember a thing. Became completely stupid. I don’t know. Guess you reminded me of him.”
Ryke glared in righteous offense.
“Oh Kar!” the farmer laughed. “Not the stupid part.”
Without a word, Ryke silently stood and turned to leave. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the man briefly turn into a shapeless mass of black, quivering, murmuring restiveness. When he turned his head more squarely, the apparition was the farmer again.