Laurius Finn: Crimson Dawn

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    It is night. Two darkened figures stand huddled on a street corner, a light drizzle smattering down onto the rough cobbles. It is an unusually warm night, the two men requiring only one layer of clothing each. A thin trail of smoke rises from the mouth of one, the other rubbing his hands together and looking too and fro down the street. A single lamp half illuminates the road, several more shattered and cold on top of their poles. As the fire in the post flickers, the location of the men becomes apparent. The buildings are run down, most windows either boarded up or caved in. The stonework is crumbling, breaking and untended, and several skittering shapes with dark eyes run freely through the ruins. To the north, the faint sound of merriment can be heard from those who celebrate the night, but not in this district.

    One man looks up and down the street again, muttering into his straggly beard. “He should be here now. Why do we gotta meet in this dump?” The other takes the stick from his mouth, expunging the air from his lungs into the dank smelling air. “It’s the way of things. He’ll be here soon. How can you even tell the time?” Before the other man can reply, chattered drunken voices grow loud, and a group of brightly dressed and swaggering figures wobble into sight. A female cackles loudly out of her mask as the group approach the two figures. The slightly larger figure hunches his shoulders and reaches a hand within his overly large coat, but the slender smoker presses an arm onto the large shoulder. “No Grote, let em go. We’ll be set after tonight. We can do without the trouble.” The drunken party wobble past and down another alley, their giggles and shrieks quickly receding into the darkness, as the larger figure grunts slightly. “Better be worth it. What’s this kid done anyway? Aint he a Finn?” A laugh like a bark cuts through the air, causing the larger figure to jump slightly. “Jeez Jack, keep it down.” The smaller figure smirks.

    “Sorry. That’s the whole problem. He’s one of THE Finn’s. You know, the brothers? Dunno how many there are. Seven, eight, something like that. Mother was a whore or something. You know the strength of family in this town. Their connections go way back, the Finns used to run this place. Not no more. I think Tonv was one? Or his mum was. Maybe he still is. But its only the group of kids that use the name now, turned it infamous. Think this one is the only one left, y’know? Others have skiddaddled or whatever. Anyway, Tonv has finally- hold up.” The smaller figure, Jack, nudges his companion and points to the end of the street. Another figure appears from the blackness, walking with steady determination. He appears somewhat slim and wiry, but young. With his head bowed, he walks towards the two men, before looking side to side and standing next to them. His voice has a rough edge, but still sounds somewhat comical and young. “You Jack and Grote?” The large man looks down. “Who’s askin?” The young man looks up slightly, being deceptively tall for his age. “Laurius Finn.” His hand casually rests just to the back of his belt. Grote’s keen eyes lock on the movement. “Don’t get cocky kid, no need for steel. I’m Grote, that’s Jack. We’re takin’ you to Tonv.” Laurius nods, and before he can reply, Jack sets off down the street, leaving a thin trail of smoke. “This way kid.”

    The six feet walk haphazardly down the cobbles, Jack in front and Grote bringing up the rear. As his eyes flit across the rooftops, watching the direction, Laurius breaks the silence. “What’s this for, anyway?” Grote looks around himself cautiously, his hand concealed inside his bulky coat. “I guess you aint followed, you look like a smart kid. Tonv got a job for you.” Laurius’ brow frowns slightly, his walk becoming a little more hunched. “Another one? Dear old uncle’s jobs never end well.” The sharp bark cuts the air, followed by Jack’s high pitched tones. “He likes sending you on dirty ones, from what I hear. But you aint dead yet, so you must be doing something right. We’re here.” Laurius looks up, looking unimpressed at the abandoned house in front of them. It looked large, but time had not cared for it well. Rotting timbers, lit by a single lantern on the street corner, flickering off broken glass and wet stone. Jack steps up to the rotting wooden door and raps sharply with his leather clad knuckles. A shutter opens in the door, two beady eyes looking out. “What do you want? Password.” Jack casually rests the tip of his crossbow against the open shutter, the pointed bolt an inch from the mans eyes. “Open up or I’ll tell mum you ate her cat.” The shutter closes, before the sounds of several bolts being drawn back herald the opening of the door. Jack walks in, followed by his two companions, and the doorman takes them down a long, dark corridor. “You knows I was just playing with Mr Nibbles, don’t tell mum nothing Jack.” The bark like laugh accompanies an affectionate ruffle of his brothers hair, before, Jack walks from the darkness into the light.

    Laurius squints his eyes, buffeted by light and sound, bringing his hand up reflexively to his face. After several seconds his eyes adjust, peering through the hazy smoke filled room, looking around at the tables and the many men sitting around them. A gambling den. Money changes hands, men and women of all shapes and sizes throw dice and quaff from tankards, but Laurius has precious few seconds to drink it all in before Grotes rough hand nudges him forwards. The three men make their way through the room, long haired Jack leading the way in his lengthy coat, taking puffs from his cigarette. “You know the way it is kid, every night a different place, helps keep them off our back.” Laurius grunts in recognition, his green eyes peering over the inhabitants. Jack winds his way through the tables to the back of the room, pushing his way through a door, leading into a dim gloom. Laurius faithfully follows, the boring ritual much the same as any other time his uncle wishes a “favour” or a task needs to be done. They walk down the corridor, no doubt to some underground lair, one of the many used by Torv and his men to carry out their business. So it is to Laurius’ surprise when they reach some stairs, and start to climb. “Where are we going?” Grote prods him in the back once more, as a gentle persuasion to keep going. “Dunno. Jacks a Finder. Finds all them good places that Torv wants. Think he found this one.” Laurius smirks, walking up the steps, wiping his short hair back away from his forehead. Jack slows his pace, taking his light crossbow in one hand, opening the handle of a wooden door with the other.

    Fresh air greets the trio, Laurius taking a lungful of slightly dank tasting night oxygen. Heavy clouds remain in the sky, but the rain seems to have stopped, the only light being cast from a naked torch bracketed to the wall. Jack steps aside, Grote walking to stand on the opposite side as Laurius walks between them, his eyes peering onto the balcony. The torchlight flickers, illuminating the present cast. “Uncle.” Laurius nods in the direction of a tall, stern faced man, impeccably dressed in a long dark red coat, with neat cropped dark hair. “Nephew.” To either side of Torv stood burly looking men, Laurius knew the kind, hired for their ruthlessness and loyalty. Well, as loyal as you could find in this district. Laurius crossed his arms, looking down over the balcony at the dark street. He had a fairly good view of Laatneer from up here, the glittering lights of the Lauksveld festival dancing in the streets several hundred meters north. “What’s this about, Uncle?” a thin lipped smile creases the features as the man referred to as uncle, and he folds himself backwards into a comfortable chair, looking slightly out of place on the ruined balcony. “What is it always about, Laurius? You are an exceptional man, you know. Only just a man, and yet you’ve been carrying out tasks for me for years. I know things have been slightly bumpy, you might say, but I thought we developed an understanding.” Laurius shifted from foot to foot, feeling like a caged animal. “You know you don’t give me a choice. I do the jobs you tell me.” The sitting man steeples his fingers, maintaining the thin lipped smile. “Indeed you do. But it is never without complaint, is it? I have warned you in the past. But yet, you whine like a little child. Do you not like the way I do things, boy?” Laurius curled his lip slightly. “You know I don’t. It was better in the old days, when your brother ran the family. But he “mysteriously died” didn’t he, and you took over. It used to be about making life better for the people. But now its just about you.” The thin lipped smile vanished from the mans face. “You never know when to shut up, boy. And there I was, about to let you go with naught but a slapped wrist. Blood is strong in this town. But there are stronger things a man can have. Money, power. What has blood brought me? A halfwit brother, a whore of a sister, and many useless nephews. All the others outlived their usefulness long ago, but I thought you had potential. I thought wrong.”

    Faster than he could move, Laurius felt the cold steel tips of crossbow bolts pressed against either temple. Both Jack and Grote had their weapons aimed professionally, with no margin for error. Laurius felt rage boil inside him, but as quick as it had come, it vanished, along with a whisper that trickled like ice down his spine. Laurie… He looked around, panicked, but could see no whisperer. “What the Hel do you want Torv? You expect me to bow down to you?” Uncle Torv smirked, standing from his chair. “No Laurius, I expect you to die. But first, I have a little….surprise. Bring her out.” Behind the crime lord, a secreted door opens, and from it steps five struggling figures. Torv motions his guards aside, and the flickering light falls on the newcomers. “I’ll give it to her, the girl has fire in her belly. I heard rumour on the last job you two were getting on well…very well. We cant have that, can we? And then I heard she was seen entering your lodgings. And she did not return for some time. At last, the great Laurius knows fear.” An icy hand clutched round Laurius’ stomach as he looked at the four men clutching the girl. As her red eyes lock onto his green, her struggling stops. “Laurie!”
    He tries to bolt forwards, but Jack’s blade appears at his throat. “Leave her out of this! What has she done to you?” Torv’s thin smile plays upon his features again. “What has she done to me? Why, nothing. But look at her. Those eyes, those horns, that wicked tail. She must have done something, why else would she carry the blood of a fiend in those veins? There is no smoke without fire, as the old saying goes. Her kind are always guilty. But her kind are always treated differently. She is so young, such a long, adventurous life ahead of her…” Laurius snarls, his fists clenching and unclenching, but he can not take his eyes from her. They had only met each other a week ago, but their feelings had blossomed in that short time. It was true, she was marked by some kind of demonic heritage, but he did not care, she was just the one who saw into his soul. His eyes then locked on the sword pressed into her neck, feeling the cold steel against his own. Laurie…I’m coming…His eyes looked about like a startled deer. Only one had ever called him that name, and she was standing in front of him. The whisperer felt right next to his ear, yet all that was there was the haggard breathing of Jack, the smoke smelling breath creeping into the young mans nostrils. He yelled, trying to provoke his uncle into action. “Kill me dammit, but let her go!” The man laughed. A cruel, unfeeling laugh, a laugh done because it had to be done.

    After the next few minutes, the world would never be the same again. The laughter died on Torv’s lips as the shuddering started. It seemed to creep into everyone’s bones, but Laurius looked east, transfixed. Then the pain started. Like a hot sandstorm it burned into his skin, but he could not move. All he could do was turn in place. The world seemed to move a hundred times slower than normal, and Laurius stood there. Next to him, Grote reached up and clutched his head, a streak of crimson running from the brutes nose, before he dropped onto the cobbles. On his other side, Jack leant away, terror in his eyes as he pointed at Laurius. “His skin, boss, his skin!” As Laurius looked on, he saw sheer, abject terror that only true cowards can feel creep across his uncles face as the men locked eyes with each other. Reeling back, Torv pointed a hand at the captured woman. Laurius watched his lips slowly as they formed the words. “Kill them both!”

    The world slowed to a crawl. As the left side of his face burned, Laurius watched as the blade bit into red skinned neck. The sword slowly but cleanly sliced through skin and bone, and her head tipped forwards, the black hair and horns tumbling towards the floor. Laurius saw Torv reach into his coat and pull out a corked bottle, unstopping it and drinking it whole, as the man vanished from sight. At last, Laurie…let me handle this for you. Laurius watched as one hand twisted the blade from Jack, grasping the steel and driving it into the older mans chin, before his foot connected and the thugs corpse tumbled onto the street. He watched like a helpless puppet as his voice whispered strange, backwards words, and purple energy lanced out from his pointed hands, ripping a hole through one of the bodyguards’ chest. As crimson fluid started to line the balcony, he leapt forwards. His eyes lay on the crumpled crimson corpse of his love, her beautiful head separated and lying in a pool of lifeblood, which his eyes followed up to a man who clutched a sword, bathed in that red blood. As he sprang, his body collided with the mans, his two hands grasping for the mans head. The man looked terrified, the last thing he felt before the energies flowing from Laurius’ hand rendered him incapable of living any longer. Laurius marvelled at the strange orange scars on his left hand as he looked up, seeing two of the remaining men fleeing, a third about to leap off the balcony. He sprang once more with unearthly grace, his right hand grasping the back of the mans neck. His mouth once more whispers the strange phrase, as his hand burns away the mans neck, the charred head falling onto the street below.

    The rain snaps Laurius to. He stands panting, grasping the headless corpse, listening to retreating footsteps of the men that escaped. The heavens have opened, as if the skies themselves wept. He releases the body, lurching backwards, spinning round. His eyes avoid the carnage, falling on the smaller crumpled red body. Tears flow unchecked down his cheeks and he stumbles to her, falling to his knees. He clutches her body to his breast, rocking to and fro, his soul weeping for her death. He looks over to where her head lies, but something catches his eye. A pool of blood and rain shimmers on the rooftop, and he stares at a stranger in its depths. A young man, covered in blood. But more remarkable, the left side of his face is scarred with swirling, glowing orange. His left eye blazes with a strange orange light, and as he reaches out his left hand to disrupt the image, he sees the same markings on his hand. Ripping off his sleeve, the markings follow up his arm. He stares back into the reflection. And now we are one. Rest with her, Laurie, for time is fleeting…Brought back to the current situation, he howls, clutching her body to him anew.

    He does not know how long he sat there, wishing her back, but he was awakened when the door opposite him burst outwards in a shower of splinters. Three men in shining armour rush through, one wielding a crossbow pointed at Laurius, he steps forward, his voice barking loudly until he surveys the surroundings. “You! Your under arres….oh sweet merciful Tyr…” The three men shrink back towards the doorway, their eyes looking over the crimson covered balcony, with the lone scarred man in the middle, surrounded by bodies. The lead guard shakes his head, dumbfounded, before pulling the trigger. The bolt strikes Laurius in the shoulder, the blow causing him to fall back. The last thing he saw was the three men stepping over him, tipping their helmets up, before he joined the blackness.

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