#14.  The Loyal Man, The Gatekeeper

#14. The Loyal Man, The Gatekeeper

“Gods help me gods help me gods help me…” Rennick thought. Desperation had caught hold in the root of him. He was sweating underneath his heavy, oiled rain cloak, and the rain had collected in his boots. He walked briskly, twisting and turning down wet back alleys, occasionally clambering over mounds of refuse that blocked some of the rarely used alleys.

The rain was maddening. It kept him from being able to see clearly, and the deep hood of his rain cloak obscured his vision further. He was constantly looking behind him, and lifting his hood slightly to peer left and right into the shadows of the alleys.

He knew it was still behind him. The Dagger Man.

They were not men.

Rennick had seen the Dagger Men about Hille House, never coming in or out of the gates. They seemed to enter and exit from somewhere within the house itself. They rarely spoke, just smiled and grinned with their mouths overfull of teeth. They were not men, no, and one of the smiling bastards was behind Rennick now. It had been behind him since he departed from Hille House, just after three o’ the clock. He could feel it back there, grinning in the dark, slinking through the rain, slowly getting closer to him…

Rennick stepped out of an alley and onto a main thoroughfare. He paused to orient himself for a moment. He had taken so many random turns that he had lost his sense of direction. He looked quickly to the left and right, and saw that he was on the Street of the Silver Cat. He had ended up on the west side of the hill somehow.

“Damn you…” he cursed himself. Someone laughed behind him, from the darkness of the alleyway. Rennick spun around, and the laughter stopped. He peered into the darkness at the mouth of the alley, but he could not see anyone there.

“I saw nothing…I am a loyal man. I will never speak a word, I swear!” Rennick pleaded to the darkness. A shape stepped out from the blackness of the alley. In the dark, Rennick could see teeth gleaming in the dim moonlight, too many teeth. The shape laughed, low and guttural, inhuman. Rennick turned and ran. He ran back east, up the Street of the Silver Cat, which skirted the south end of the hill as it led all the way to the river.

Rennick’s hood flew back as he barreled through the night. His hair was soaked almost instantly by the rain, and the water began running down his neck and back, chilling him. He reached the first cross street, and looked left and right for any sign of The Watch. At nearly four o’ the clock, he did not expect to see an Iron south of the hill, but maybe the closer he got to the river, to the docks and taverns…

He chanced a quick look behind him, and did not see anyone following him. He topped the crest of the Street of the Silver Cat and began to descend the low hill which rolled out east to the river. He could see the lights of riverside ahead of him, with its taverns and brothels and inns that stayed lit all night. As far as he could see down, no one was out walking on this gloomy, wet night save for him. The river was a gleaming black snake in the distance.

He kept running toward the river, but could not decide where to go exactly. His home was only a short run south, but he was not sure he would be safe there. He might find a watchman if he kept heading east, toward the river, but he was not sure that he would be safe, even with a watchman. The Dagger Man was not human…

Rennick’s breath began to burn in his chest like fire, heaving in and out of him involuntarily. His feet were wet bricks. His arms hung limp at his sides. He stopped to catch his breath. Just after he stopped, the rain began to pour harder. He stood for a moment, completely soaked inside his cloak now, until he caught his breath. He glanced all about him while he stood there, checking the mouth of every alley for the shape of a man. Still, he saw no one out on the dark street.

He began to run again, still toward the river, when he saw someone coming up the street toward him. A dark figure, head down, walking quickly through the pouring rain. This figure was about a hundred paces from Rennick, and Rennick could not make out the easily spotted, dull shine of a watchmen’s iron cap. Rennick stopped running, not wanting to frighten the person, and began walking. He threw up his hood again. As he got closer to the figure, only a dozen or so paces away now, he noticed that it was a man, stoutly built, with his hands behind his back. As the man drew near, he looked up, and smiled at Rennick with far too many teeth. Rennick screamed, and twisted away from the man, falling down and splashing into a puddle on the cold cobblestones. The Dagger Man was on him instantly, plunging his ice cold dagger into Rennick’s belly. With the first few stabs, Rennick screamed and moaned, retching and lurching with each penetration of the blade, begging for the dagger man to stop, but he soon lost his breath. When the blade plunged into him he could only heave and cough. He gripped the dagger man’s wrist, trying to stop the stabbing, but the dagger man was as strong as an ox. The dagger pierced him again, and this time the Dagger Man left the dagger there, in Rennick’s belly. The Dagger Man laughed in Rennick’s face, and grinned strangely as he began to back away slowly, toward an alleyway. The Dagger Man’s many teeth were spattered in Rennick’s blood, and as the Dagger Man slowly backed into the blackness of an alleyway, still grinning and chuckling, he began to lick the blood from his teeth with a diseased, misshapen tongue. Grinning and licking, the Dagger Man disappeared into the dark.

Rennick hauled himself to his feet and began to run again. He made it thirty paces before he fell down. The hazy, rain filled sky spun above him. He could not remember which way he had been running. He reached down and pulled the dagger from his belly, screaming as the icy pain sliced him from the inside. The dagger clanged to the wet street. A gout of dark blood poured from the wound. Rennick gasped wetly and clawed at the wound.

“Gods help me gods help me gods help me…” he whimpered into the rain…

He was back on his feet. He was pounding weakly on someone’s door, but there was no answer from within the house.

He stumbled backward, away from the door, leaving bloody smears all over it.

He fell onto his back in the middle of the street. The rain fell into his eyes and nose and mouth.

He looked toward the river, and saw no one. He looked back toward the hill, and saw a shape on the street. At first he thought it was a dog, but then he realized it was the Dagger Man, on all fours like a beast, coming down the street toward him. Rennick screamed, and launched himself up onto his feet. He could not stay upright though, and as he careened into an alleyway he fell forward, smashing his face on the side of someone’s house before he fell down again.

Lying on his side, he spat out a wad of blood and a broken tooth, and began to crawl deeper into the alley. He reached out and clawed his way along, through the mud and the grime, leaving a ghastly trail of blood behind him. He crawled into a refuse pile to hide, and turned to see down the alley he had just crawled into.

The Dagger Man was there, at the mouth of the alley, on all fours. The Dagger Man was naked, and his misshapen member was stiff and pointed at Rennick’s hiding place. He crouched low, and began to lick and suck at the blood trail that Rennick had left in the alley. He sucked up just as much mud and grime as he did Rennick’s blood, but he devoured it all greedily and without complaint as he crept up the alley toward where Rennick was hiding.

“Gods help me gods help me gods help me…” Rennick began to repeat as he pissed his pants.

The Dagger Man laughed through dirty lips, low and guttural, and crept closer.

And closer…

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