This is the opening chapter for Darklight, a coming of age fantasy fiction novel. I hope you enjoy it.
Snitch moved as fast as she could in the dark toward the southern edge of the city-state of Kelmar, desperate to not draw attention to herself. Fortunately, rain had caused a haze to fall.
He was coming. Snitch couldn’t believe it. She had to get this information back to the Undergrounders if they were to have any chance to escape.
Her knowledge of this part of the city told her to keep a sharp lookout for rival gangs; gangs that had risen to fill the power vacuum left behind when Melicose purged Kelmar’s palace of all of its nobility.
As she exited an alley, a gust of wind made her clutch the edge of her coat and pull it tight. Steeling herself, she pressed on.
Melicose was coming, according to one of her contacts. What were they going to do?
She approached a familiar corner and slowed when she recognized members of the Raiders. Glancing back, she gulped. Too late to find another route.
“Snitch,” Marlon boomed. “What are you doing here?”
He was the Raiders’ second lieutenant or something. She couldn’t keep track of the ever-changing titles.
“I didn’t know you guys had moved into this block.” Her lips pressed flat as she shifted her weight between her feet. “I was trying to stay off your turf.”
Tall and dark, he crept closer, eyeing her. The others drifted in behind him. “You haven’t answered my question.”
Snitch knew Marlon wouldn’t take kindly to any sort of brush off. She’d heard enough stories of people crossing street gangs, and the last thing she wanted was to become another story.
“I was hooking up with one of my associates to hit a shop. No moonlight, hazy night, perfect opportunity, right?” Snitch had an offer to work such a job. Two weeks ago.
“You know, I believe you. You do shoot for easy hits. But you still crossed onto our turf.”
Hearing where this was headed, her stomach sank. Gang respect was so juvenile . . . and expensive.
Marlon smiled with his square jaw, revealing a couple of teeth missing. “I have to maintain control, or Boss won’t trust me. What kind of job are you doing?”
Without pause, she replied, “A pawn shop. Cheap stuff, but easy to fence. Maybe worth a couple thousand credits.”
“The going rate when you cross turf is ten percent.” Marlon tipped his hat back as his goons formed a wall behind him.
“I don’t have that much on me. And the last time it was five percent.”
“You trade sharp. I’ll tell you what, Snitch, you haven’t crossed us, and your jobs have fed us in the past. Give me a hundred credits, and we can ignore this.”
Snitch fumbled in her pockets, when Marlon stepped up next to her with a short blade. Sweat beaded up on her forehead.
“Watch it there. You’ve been good to us, but there is still a proper way.” He snapped his fingers. “Green, get over here. Check her pockets.”
Snitch pulled out her hands and held them up.
Green rifled through her pockets, pulling out bits of junk along with a crushed-up wad of money. Grinning, he handed it over to Marlon.
“Looks like . . . a hundred and twenty-five credits. I remember you coming up short last time. This should cover it. Now get out of here.” Marlon pocketed the money as the corner of his mouth rose.
Green pushed her to the side and Snitch huffed.
The Raiders laughed and talked to each other as she stumbled away. After getting around the corner, she picked up her pace, miffed. How many jobs would it take to make up for that?
Snitch stopped. The money wasn’t important. Not like it used to be. Getting back to Base with the information she had gleaned from one of her contacts was more critical than the next job. Indeed, it might prove crucial for the Undergrounders’ resistance.
She entered the district of Rawley. The sagging beams over the storefronts combined with their worn edges made Snitch confident she could slip out of view without anyone noticing. Most important of all, Melicose’s thug soldiers. Getting caught without a pass would invite too many questions.
The back alley behind Fifth Avenue was her planned destination. Despite all the drunks sleeping on the streets and garbage strewn everywhere, her instincts told her not to rush. It was always better to case things out first.
Snitch slowed to a comfortable walk before spotting one of the troops at the end of the street. Without changing pace, she ducked into the next pub.
Grabbing a seat at the far end of the cracked, wooden bar, she folded her arms and stared at the entrance. Hushed conversations, low lights, and clouds of tobacco smoke eased the tension in her stomach, a little. When the bartender came by, she ordered a drink and fished out a few coins Green had missed. The man handed her a short glass filled with brown liquid. Hunkering down, she sipped, hoping to melt into the background.
A minute later, the soldier she had spotted entered. He scanned the room.
Knots formed in Snitch’s gut. “Has he been here before?” she whispered to the man next to her, but his drunken stupor barred any answer.
As the soldier walked through the establishment, a wake of silence followed.
The bartender came by Snitch’s end.
She leaned in and whispered, “Has he been in here already?”
The bartender looked up and replied with a slight nod.
Snitch snuck a look at the soldier, worried that her lack of proper ID would result in a very long conversation somewhere less desirable.
The soldier’s eyes connected with hers at that exact moment. His brows furrowed before he looked from side to side. Returning his gaze to her, his eyes narrowed as his jaw clenched.
Snitch jumped out of her seat and ran to the back door, an exit she had spotted upon first entry.
The soldier gave chase.
Cutting through the kitchen, she stumbled into the alley. The sound of the soldier crashing into things gave her hope. By the time he got outside, she had gained half a block.
But now he ran full speed, gaining on her.
Her breathing heightened as her hands shook. Passing a slim area between two of the sagging buildings, she stopped. With her slender profile, she squeezed through. While this sliver of space appeared too small to be of any use to local business owners, it afforded her a possible escape.
The clanging feet behind her slowed and then sped up, passing by.
Snitch slipped through and heaved a sigh of relief. She was on Fourth and headed toward Fifth. That was when a glint of metal caught her eye.
The soldier had rounded the end of the alley and was now bearing down on her.
Snitch’s eyes opened wide. No more narrow cut-throughs.
His husky voice shouted, “Get her!”
She glanced to the right, fixing her gaze on two more soldiers responding to the alert.
Dealing with gang members was one thing. She had bought her way past the Raiders, but three armed soldiers of the regime wouldn’t be cajoled so easily. They had standing orders to find any and all members of the resistance. The fear of being captured and tortured caused her adrenaline to spike and her throat to swell.
When the soldiers were only about twenty paces away, Snitch moved onto the cross street. She ran into someone limping the other way and stumbled onto the ground. Jumping up, she continued running, turning the corner onto Fifth. Crossing the street and entering another pub, she jumped up and slid across a table, heading toward the back room. As she opened the rear door, she heard the soldiers enter behind her.
Escaping to the back alley, Snitch veered to the left. She reached into her pockets and fumbled around until her hands grasped a slender tube-shaped box that fit in her hand, her darklight.
Sliding the button on its side, her surroundings shifted from the silvery fog into a dull gray haze as the device cloaked her in a field of pure blackness—the perfect cover to get away. With one device issued to every Undergrounder, they had managed to cloak their hideout from Melicose’s soldiers. Was that about to change?
The soldiers emerged into the back alley and stared in both directions. But they didn’t run toward her.
With panic still lodged in her throat, Snitch kept running. However, her feet hit a bunch of rubbish.
The troops looked in her direction and proceeded forward, though not as fast as before. “It’s a dead-end alley. We’ll find her,” one of them said.
Finding the manhole cover she sought, Snitch spun the wheel and opened it.
The soldiers were almost on top of her.
Jumping down the hole, she slammed the door shut. She spun the shaft again and metal gears crunched. If only the locks were on the other side, but that was the way things were.
Snitch waited, praying they would leave. In the past, these troops hadn’t investigated the hatches due to all the rumors. That wouldn’t last forever. Had her noisy escape drawn too much attention? If they spotted a single member of her gang, the gig would be up.
“Can you see anything?” one soldier said.
“Nothing,” another replied.
“I hate these back alleys. Black as midnight.” Feet clunked around, kicking cans, scuffling through trash. The vibrations rippled down the ladder against Snitch’s side. She lay on her back, staring at the hatch while her darklight continued to emanate the cloak.
Snitch’s breathing was erratic but began to slow. They’ll leave. They’ll leave. They’ll leave.
“Hey, do you feel that?”
“Is that one of those tunnel entrances?”
“W-Was that an Undergrounder we just chased?”
“You mean a blood drinker?”
Those last words were followed by many tortured seconds of silence.
Snitch couldn’t see them, but hearing blood drinker eased her thoughts.
“Doesn’t Melicose suspect they’re hiding in the tunnels? He said to start checking them.”
“I think he said if we spotted one of those blood drinkers near a hatch. I—uh—didn’t see that. You?”
“Nope.” Their clunky boots walked away with no more words.
Thank the stars for superstitious fears. If they had seen her enter, they might not have dodged their orders. She prayed they wouldn’t report it to anyone.
A few minutes later, Snitch’s pulse returned to normal. After flipping off her darklight, she got up and walked.
There were no tracks to cover down here. It was still dark, being below ground at night. At least, that’s how it would appear to any commoner. But for her and her teammates, the lack of light and soldiers provided a nice safety blanket. And Snitch welcomed this environment more than anyone.
Instead of razor sharp focus on tunnel ops, her thoughts drifted to the news about Melicose invading the tunnels in three days, causing her heart to flutter. She had to get this information back to Base.
Or everyone would be dead.
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