Beer hit the ground with a wet slap just before knuckles met jaw with a quick
thud. The man on the receiving end kept turning, right on through the exit.
The doors slammed against their hinges, and more beer splashed onto the floor.
Cool air flooded into the bar, and a shrinking trapezoid of light dumped onto
the stone street as the doors swung shut.
A few more men stood up, with frosty beers in hand. “Aye, Vander!” said one of
the spectators. Another man gave an approving belch. Vander took a gulp, and
motioned for his buddies to follow. The four threw open the doors once more
and entered the night. The man no longer lay on the ground, and footsteps
sounded to their left.
“There he goes!”
Knowing pursuit must follow, each finished the beer in their mugs and cast
them aside. Glass splintered and clattered against stone. They jogged after in
an unhurried chase.
“We’re coming, Sarsost.”
Bayrin said, “We know these streets better than him.” His thick boots echoed
off the surrounding houses, along with his deep voice.
“Aye,” said Vander, “and Arloft’s ears will help us to track him.”
Arloft coughed and spat phlegm on the ground. “Well, what are you thinking of
doing to him?” The edge in his voice was rounded off by the beers.
They turned into an alley on their right, toward the burning lamps on the next
“I let Courmar take the talking route,” Vander said, “and we see how that
“So now I’ve no reservations for taking other approaches. And if you give me
your damn sickness, Arloft, I’ll beat you senseless.” Courmar’s flowing,
coastal accent hung in the humid air.
They entered the main road and paused. Arloft coughed again, breaking the
silence. Vander asked, “Which way?” as he adjusted the collar which now dug
into his neck.
“Left” replied Arloft.
“Look,” Baryrin began, “we’ve got two years wages on the line here.” He
swatted at a mosquito flying around his beard. “Are any of you willing to give
Each of the others gave a gruff “No.” Their minds turned as they caught
their breath in the middle of the otherwise-empty street.
“Sarsost’s the sticking point because the Port Authority needs the docks on
his property,” continued Bayrin.
“So we force his hand,” added Courmar, whose own hand fanned his ragged hat
across his face.
Just then, a pack of dogs erupted into howl somewhere nearby.
“Ahh,” Vander smiled. “That idiot ran right past my place.”
The group took another road which lead off diagonally. At its end, just before
the wide cul-de-sac, dogs raced excitedly around a small yard and leapt
against the fence in the direction of a noisy fountain.
When the animals spotted their owner, they quieted and rushed over to the
“If we injure him, then his wife will surely cave,” said Bayrin, sweat
gleaming on his brow and matting his long, dark hair.
Courmar added, “Yeah. They’ll need the money for him to recover and feed the
A large bell tolled through the darkness, six slow times.
Vander reached over his fence and grabbed a leather leash. He straightened it
out, grabbed the clasp, and then unlatched the gate. He opened it just enough
to reach his arm through and grab one of the collars. The dog shook the others
away and Vander quickly pulled him through the gate, before shutting and
latching it again.
But it ignored the command and bared teeth at Courmar. Vander brought his fist
down on the dog’s snout.
“I said, ‘Sit,’ hound.” It obeyed, but fidgeted on its haunches.
“Your dogs are beasts, Vander,” Arloft sqeaked.
“But no one else will fuck with them, or my place.”
“He’s right there, boys,” said Bayrin. “Those shits’ll scare anyone.”
“Let’s go find him.”
Vander clasped the leash to the collar, and the dog bound forward until out of
slack. Nose to the ground, and claws scraping on the street, the hound pulled
them all forward.
“No one spits in my face without answering for it,” Vander told the group. He
again wiped his sleeve at his red face.
“So we’ll break a couple ribs and bloody his face, don’t you think?”
They’d come ’round the water fountain, and now stopped to look at Arloft.
Courmar said, “You don’t think he deserves more than that?” He sank down to
the street and fingered through the gravel.
“Just for being a pain in our asses?” asked Bayrin.
“He knows the Port Authority can’t gather the funds until we’ve all signed
the deeds to our lots.”
“And he’s holding out just to spite us.”
“Using that bullshit cover of ‘sentimental value’,” Vander said. “I know he
hated his father.”
The hound jumped forward, barking into the distance. The men saw their quarry,
smiled, and headed toward a dirt path. Courmar turned back and flung a rock in
to the fountain with a plunk.
“Well, I’m still not-“
Vander cut Arloft off, “Then you can stay the hell back and watch. Or not.
Just shut your trap.”
They made their way between a bank on the left and a church on the right. The
flower beds along the path gave off sweet scents. And coughs and sniffles were
the only thing out of Arloft now.
The hound jerked Vander forward, eager to find the smell of that man again.
“If he took the bridge there, then he’s a sitting duck.”
Bayrin and Courmar laughed in agreement as they now made out the high walls of
Tower Isle. They saw a glint of light toward a statue on the far side of the
small island, and had their answer.
Vander yanked back on the leash; the dog just coughed and continued pawing
onward. Their footsteps thudded across the wooden beams of a bridge. Under
it swiftly flowed a branch of river which joined the main after its
quick diversion around the island.
The Tower loomed to their right, and at its very height sat birds calling in
the pre-dawn air. The church’s bells rang out again and those tolls and trills
bounced around the tall walls like an insomniac symphony. A dim light fell
across the path ahead.
The group neared the statue and the hound caught scent of Sarsost again. It
lunged toward the crouched figure, jerked Vander a bit forward, and strained
against the leash. The four men stopped.
“You chose a bad spot to run to,” called out Bayrin.
“Though it makes it easier for us,” said Courmar.
“Sit.” And this time the hound immediately obeyed. The dim light faded.
Sarsost’s fingers grasped at the base of the statue as his eyes darted around
anxiously, looking for help. They found none.
Vander unhooked the leash, and the dog stayed in place – tail wagging
The dog bolted forward and up the slight hill on which the statue sat. The
light brightened the area again, and reflected in Sarsost’s eyes. He finally
got hold of a stone and pried it free. Then he swung it at the dog, but
The beast’s teeth sank into his arm, and he let out a cry. The dog jerked its
head back and forth, taking the arm with it. Holes in Sarsost’s arm widened
and blood rushed out, down the hound’s muzzle, and dripped from fur onto the
Fangs left the arm and found a new hold on the throat, while claws raked the
face. The animal’s snarls and crushing bite drowned the screams. It again
shook its head and a small yell escaped just before Sarsost’s wind pipe broke.
His head hit the ground and a gurgle left his mouth, “The star. The star.”
Vander walked up the hill to where the dog stood panting. “Good boy.” He
patted the hound on the back, where blood hadn’t sprayed.
“Heel,” and the dog returned to his side. Vander clipped the leash once more.
The other three men did not come closer. Arloft stared off toward the church.
The first few rays of daylight crept through the clouds and fell upon
Sarsost’s face, but the blood and wounds told that no light burned within
“Do you see that on the church bell tower?” asked Arloft.
“Not now, man.”
“I can’t tell if it’s a gargoyle or a man.”
Courmar laughed, “Arloft can’t even look a dead man in the eyes.”
“Come,” said Vander, as much to his hound as to the men.
“I’d expect the Port Authority to have the last property deed by dusk.”
The cloud cover shifted and Arloft lost what he’d been starting at.
“We can wash the hound in the fountain and then have a few more beers at my
house,” said Vander.
A star twinkled behind the bell tower, and Arloft felt a pit grow in his
This is a sister piece to The Dread Star.