This is an excerpt from a rough draft of my next Quentaris title: Vampires of Quentaris
Here too is a rough draft of the cover by Jeremy Reston.
Disconsolate and irritated, Rad did the rounds that he knew Porkis had neglected this past week. He and his two corporals walked the length of the City Wall and what Rad saw dipped him further into depression. Gone were the stout and alert guards who could usually be seen strutting along the battlements, or keeping watch in the towers. In their place slouched, every now and then, riff-raff and larrikins like Vindon Nibhelline. Due to his heritage, Vindon, Rad knew, would have the rest of the Wall Guards at his beck and call. It didn’t pay commoners to get on the wrong side of a Nibhelline, or a Duelph, come to that.
‘People are sniggering at us,’ moaned Rusard. He was a mealy-mouthed boy no older than eighteen. He had one lazy eye that was stuck at looking at his nose. His City Watch uniform fitted him like a tent around a beanpole.
‘The real City Watch commands respect,’ Rad said. ‘When I left Porkis in charge we had that same respect. What has taken Commander Storm ten years to achieve you lot have lost in a matter of two weeks.’
‘That’s just it, ain’t it?’ Murack whined. ‘The real City Watch. We ain’t nothing but kids dressed to look like ’em.’
A tomato flew past Rad’s head an smacked soddenly into a railing. Rusard ducked an egg.
Murark went to flee but Rad pulled him back by his tunic.
‘Turncoats!’ laughed a heavily bearded man. A group of bystanders guffawed.
Rad drew his sword and marched over to the group. Several of them rested their hands on their scabbards. It was a grave offence to draw a sword against the City Watch, although none had tested this law since the Tolrush war had begun.
‘Captain, is it?’ said the giant of a man. His fellows chuckled.
‘Captain Rad de La’rel to you,’ Rad said. He glanced at Rusard and Murack. ‘Arrest this man for affray.’
‘I’d like to see them,’ the man said, drawing his own sword.
It hadn’t left the scabbard when Rad swung the tip of his sword to the man’s throat. A splodge of blood the width of a worm trickled over the man’s Adam’s apple. He let his sword sink back down.
Before his friends could recover from their shock Rad reached over and disarmed the man. ‘Check his boots for knives,’ Rad said calmly.
Rusard and Murack were slow to react, but they cautiously did as they were told.
‘Steady on, lad,’ the bearded man said hoarsely.
‘Also charge this one with resisting arrest and drawing a weapon against the City Watch,’ Rad told his corporals. Now take him away.’ He swung the man around before his men marched him away. ‘Add another crime to this list and it’s the gallows for you.’
By the end of his watch Rad had arrested fifteen men and women for a variety of crimes, mostly thieving, but two of assaulting City Watch troopers and one of aiding and abetting the escape of a prisoner.
Rad found himself heading for the Old Tree Guesthouse. Sitting in front of the warm hearth and a cool ale in his hands brought a smile to his weary face. He looked up at the rooftops. It seemed an age ago when he used to keep watch for sky pirates. They would have open slather up there right now. Even if the alarm bells tolled there would be no archers ready to bring the pirates down. Having the rift caves was a boon for Quentaris, but also a curse. Many outlandish creatures attacked the city from within the labyrinthine caves_it was the tolls the city exacted from travellers that paid for the defence of the city. But right now it was basically at the mercy of the Gods.
‘Help!’ someone screamed.
Villains never cried for help. So the one on the bottom was the victim. Rad rushed forward. Already he could see the villain was throttling the victim.
Rad rushed forward. ‘Hold! City Watch!’ he called.
The villain moved with surprising swiftness. He tossed his victim aside like a rag doll and rounded on Rad.
‘You’re under arrest,’ Rad panted. But already the villain was lunging for him. Rad barely had another time to deflect the villain’s sword. Already Rad knew that his opponent was not Quentaran. Humanoid, yes, but definitely from a rift world.
Steel clashed on steel once more. Only Rad’s own experienced sword hand saved him. Nonetheless, he was riposting then retreating in quick, short steps. Suddenly he tripped on an uneven cobblestone.
‘Match,’ Rad’s opponent hissed and lunged.
In that moment of distraction, Rad rolled to one side. The villain’s sword prodded stone an inch from where Rad’s neck had been.
By now footsteps were fast approaching. A lantern flared. It appeared to Rad’s frenzied mind that his opponent cared less about the Quentarans than he did about light. He covered his face with his cloak and without even a glanced at his fallen victim he scurried off down a laneway.
‘Are you all right?’ asked a worried man.
The water magician nodded. He looked gravely at the laneway where the villain had fled. ‘Whoever that was has to be stopped. Did you get a good look at his face?’
Rad sheathed his sword. ‘Not really. Whoever it was had some kind of white make-up on. As though he might be a minstrel or an actor. And his eyes were rimmed with pencil.’ Rad shook his head. ‘I’ve never seen the like.’
‘He tried ripping my throat out!’ a man cried as others comforted him.
‘It’s the same as happened to the others,’ a bystander said. ‘But they weren’t so fortunate. Dead, every one of them. Pale as ghosts, and seeming as not to have a drop of blood left in ’em for the grave.’
‘Vampires,’ Rad whispered. The moment he said that he ran towards the laneway into which the would-be killer had escaped.
‘No time,’ Rad yelled as he disappeared into the mouth of the laneway.