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Chapter 4 — Walking the Dog

Sonata held the leash tight while Fellfang sniffed the ground. When he found a spot suitable for his needs, he hiked his leg and did his business. Sonata looked the other way and scowled.

The thing she hated the most was taking the dog for a walk. Fellfang didn’t like her. He had never liked her, even when they were young. Uncle Galo showed up one day with a puppy in his arms. Well, almost a puppy. Fellfang had always been big. He was the biggest pup she’d ever seen. Uncle never said it, but he had gotten the dog for her. They never hit it off, even though she’d tried on many occasions to be friends. Fellfang regarded her with a mild contempt, as if she were just another piece of furniture in the home.

“Do you have a name for him?” Uncle Galo had asked. “A dog must have a name.”

Sonata couldn’t think of one. She’d never named anything before and couldn’t begin to name a huge mastiff. Weeks went by and finally Uncle Galo got frustrated. “We’ll name him Canino Caido, Fellfang for short. How’s that? It fits him.”

It fit him because of his left fang. It protruded about an inch lower than the right fang. When he bared his teeth, the difference was pronounced. Sonata never liked the name, but she had no alternative.

The thought of fangs brought Sonata back to the assassin. Her neck still hurt. She’d come close to passing out from the vise of the man’s fingers. A few moments more of his squeezing and she’d have been dead. She’d fought other men in her short life, many thieves and thugs, and even some pretty impressive ex-soldier types serving as bodyguards for dignitaries and government officials. She’d never fought an assassin, and certainly never one from the Estrela Verde. She’d been unprepared for the fight. She hadn’t expected it, nor did it seem that the Pontaboro had expected it. It was more of a sparring match, both feeling each other out, slashing wildly to see the limit of each other’s skills. It had gotten deadly fast.

It wasn’t as if crime and murder didn’t occur during the day. Pickpockets, petty theft, disputes between drunken mariners, knife fights among pimps and burglars of the lower districts were common throughout a Cragsport day. But real murder, real theft, the big stuff, happened most often at night. That’s why the city guard was called the ‘Night Guard.’ They served throughout the day, but their most visible state was at night when it mattered most.

And night was coming on quickly. The heat of the day had waned, and a light fog had blown in again from the falls. Some called this kind of fog Adriana’s Breath as well. But no, this was nothing. This mist was light and rather refreshing. This came off the Doro River proper. Adriana’s Breath was the thick kind of fog, the choking kind, the kind that blew in and wiped away the sins of the evening past. Or so the legends told. But again, Sonata held no truck with such things. In her short life, she’d seen too many truths to hold sway over such superstitious nonsense.

Sonata tugged Fellfang away from a discarded ham bone, and they proceeded down Flores Street past the crowds gathering for evening merriment. Her stomach was knotted. She had no desire to fulfill her promise to her uncle. The mere thought of the Night Guard troubled her. It troubled her sleep even more. She was physically capable of the service, of course. That wasn’t the question. She hated the institution, and many of the men (and women) serving in it were corrupt on one level or another. It wasn’t as bad in the rich districts. The wealthy and important could not abide by a security apparatus that threatened the status quo. But in poorer quarters, in the heart of Cragsport, the Night Guard often functioned as organized crime. Certainly, they dispatched fights, convicted thieves, dispersed riots, and kept general order. But behind closed doors, a river of blood money flowed. Payoffs for looking the other way. Exploitation of the poor, especially of an un-wed mother trying to make ends meet and keep her legs closed. A bitter taste came to Sonata’s throat as she remembered how the Night Guard had treated her and her mother.

But a Galo always fulfilled his (or her) promises. The family creed. But what kind of family would allow a daughter to eke out a life on the streets with a young, innocent child? Sonata held no more respect for her “family” than a dead dog, and the only ones she had ever had contact with were her mother and uncle. Who were the Galos? And who was her father? She did not know the answer to either question.

“Fellfang, no!” Sonata shouted over the crowd noise. The bullmastiff was trying to pull her into an alley to investigate a pile of crates and a sour-smelling bag of meal. It took all her strength to keep him moving forward. She could recount many times where he had pulled her off her feet and dragged her several painful meters. Quite embarrassing, with onlookers pointing and laughing. That was when she was younger and before her training. Now, she knew how to use her weight to counter-balance a stronger force. Even so, the dog was powerful. She could only imagine how deadly his bite could be.

“Hey, you. How much for the mutt?” Asked a man sitting on apartment steps, surrounded by friends of equally low caliber.

Sonata regarded him casually. “How much you willing to pay?”

He and his buddies laughed. “For that worthless whelp? Two copper.”

Sonata scoffed and waved him off. “His balls alone are worth that much.”

Laughs all around. “You’d know, I suppose,” said the man, receiving jovial smacks on the back from a compatriot.

Sonata yanked the leash. Fellfang stopped obediently, turned and waited. “Guard!” she said, and pointed toward the foul man. Fellfang lurched forward, Sonata giving him just enough length of chain to bring his powerful brisket within a few inches of the man’s horrified face.

His friends scattered, falling over themselves to escape. The object of the insult lay still, his face fixed with terror as white foam dripped from Fellfang’s maw onto the man’s quivering chin. A low, unearthly growl rolled out of the bullmastiff’s throat, his muscles tense along his thick frame.

Sonata leaned in close. “One word from me, my friend, and he tears your face off. Do you wish to reconsider your offer?”

Shaking uncontrollably, the man nodded. “Yes, yes. Ten gold coin. All of it. All I have. Please, just, just call him off. Call him off!”

Sonata pulled back, then tugged the leash. “Release!”

Fellfang whimpered in disappointment, snapped his teeth together, then took his place beside Sonata. She patted him gently on the head. “Sorry. He’s not for sale.”

A foul stench rose up from the man as she turned away. She let another group pass them by, then steered Fellfang back into the street. A minute later they were surrounded by ten men dressed head to toe in dark grey with black boots, swords at the ready.

The Night Guard.

Fellfang growled. Sonata held the leash tight. “Easy, boy. Easy.” She placed her hand on the hilt of her black knife. She waited.

A man stepped forward, keeping a cautious eye on Fellfang. He was dressed the same as the rest, but with a black sash across his chest, red dragon patches along its length. He sheathed his sword and pulled a piece of rolled parchment from his belt. He handed it to Sonata.

“Lady Diamante,” he said, “Captain Nathyn Sombrio of the Cragsport Night Guard requests your company at the Dragon Gate. Immediately, if you please.”

Sonata rolled out the paper and read it.

So it begins...

∞ ∞ ∞

“I was headed there anyway,” she said, handing the note back to the sergeant.

The sergeant tucked it away and nodded politely. “Then you will not mind if we escort you?”

“Do I have a choice?”

It was clear that she did not. They parted to make way, giving a wide berth to Fellfang. The dog wouldn’t survive an assault of swords if it came to blows, but he’d take one or two down with him, and they knew it.

“Perhaps there’s someplace we could deposit your animal for safe-keeping,” the sergeant said. “Captain Sombrio prefers not to have dogs in headquarters.”

“I’m sure he’ll make an exception for me.”

The sergeant didn’t press it. His orders were to deliver Sonata Diamante to the captain, in safety. A public confrontation about her canine would look badly upon the Guard.

They walked three blocks. Their little entourage was given full command of the street. People kept their heads low and scurried along without comment.

They stood in front of the Dragon Gate, a thick double-wide red oak door. The door was open wide, its portcullis down. To enter or exit in the evening, one had to have good reason… or good coin.

The walls of Cragsport were fifteen feet thick and protected by ramparts and battlements at twenty foot intervals. Guards looked down upon the Red Road with jaundiced eyes, ensuring that whoever did beg admittance was not coming for mischief. But it was easy to lie and look respectable. Not all of Cragsport crime was home-grown.

Within the walls lay a labyrinth of passages and stairs circling the entire city. Guards patrolled inside as well, while others guarded arrow slits at fifty-foot intervals. Why so much security, Sonata didn’t know. No army, Pontaboro or otherwise, had even reached the Dragon’s Teeth in a century. It was one of the most naturally protected cities in Mirada.

Attached to the gate entrance and running along both sides of the road were two barracks. Within each were enough beds to hold a hundred men if needed, although there were usually only twenty to twenty-five occupants at any given time. They had originally been built by Emperor Leal III during his reign a century ago and were meant to house his Royal Guard. Now, the Guard used them for keeping a small contingent of reserves handy if serious trouble broke out, and for training and storage facilities, offices, kitchens, and gaols.

Sonata looked at the barracks with loathing. If she were going to have to be a Night Guardsman, then she wanted to be out in the field, in the communities she knew, not cooped up at the Dragon Gate, twiddling her thumbs and swapping dirty jokes with idiots. But with Captain Sombrio in charge, her chances of doing what she wanted were slim. She breathed deeply and stepped into the captain’s office, gripping Fellfang’s chain tightly.

Captain Nathyn Sombrio sat behind a granite desk, his head down in the Rolls, checking off names with a fine quill. He did not lift his head when she walked in, but said, “The Diamond of Viscano has returned, I see.”

Sonata stood quietly, her eyes burning a hole in the top of his head.

“Are you always so disrespectful to your superiors?” He asked, setting the quill aside and closing the book.

The captain raised his head and smiled. His eyes were how she remembered them, deep brown and vacant. His lips were a crooked line of red shadowed with a moustache and beard. In the past, he’d had trouble growing facial hair. It was patchy and silly-looking oftentimes. Sonata had laughed more than once at it. Now thick and full, it covered the scar he’d never live up to.

He stood up. He wore the same uniform as the sergeant, but his sash was a full red with gold lettering denoting his rank. His scabbard too was gold-laced and made of Corodana white leather. Only the finest for the Captain of the Guard.

“When my superior is before me,” Sonata said, “I’ll respond more appropriately.”

Sombrio walked towards her, his eyes never leaving her face. “Come now, Sonata,” he said. “You didn’t have to bring protection.” He motioned toward Fellfang. “We’re friends, are we not?”

Sonata fought the urge to recoil. She held the leash tight to keep her hand from shaking and her legs still. “Perhaps we were once, Captain. But no amount of facial hair will hide the truth.”

That stopped him cold. Come on, hit me, Sonata said silently in her mind. One swing is all I ask. She could see his cheek muscles tense, his eyes blink in rage. He wanted to; she was certain of it. But he was no idiot. Whatever could be said about Nathyn Sombrio, he was no fool. And he was every bit her equal when it came to a blade.

“I’ve apologized a thousand times over for that incident, Sonata, and you know it. I was drunk. So were you. And you act like you were an innocent in all this, as if you hold no responsibility whatsoever. How easily we forget.”

Sonata shook her head. “No, not true. I was not drunk, and I said ‘no’ again and again. Don’t invent facts, Nathyn. They don’t hold water.”

“Don’t you—” Sombrio stopped and rubbed his face, which was growing redder by the minute. He took a deep breath and pulled back. “Let’s not do this again. What’s done is done. It hardly matters anymore anyway. There is nothing you can do about it, and I’ve no need to waste time.”

He returned to his desk in a flutter of cape and papers. He thumbed through the Rolls, found the page he wanted, and slammed the book open. He fell into his chair. He picked up the quill and dipped it into an inkwell. He held the quill forward. “By word of your employer, Borshen Galo, and by your own verbal promise, you have agreed to serve your required term in the Cragsport Night Guard. You are now required to make your mark and seal the agreement in the Rolls.”

Sonata hesitated. She could try to run. Perhaps she could live on the lam for a while, hide out in her safe places around town. Certainly Madam Carla would give her sanctuary. But no. Despite the fear, anger, and loathing she felt, despite this despicable person before her, she’d honor her commitment… at least for a while.

She took the quill and signed her name. She could feel his eyes upon her, could feel his dirty, drunken hands on her skin, her hair. The memory was as strong now as it was on that horrible night.

She fought back a tear and wrote her name. Sonata Diamante. That’s who she was, who she would always be. She signed her name, then slammed the quill into the granite-topped desk, breaking the tip.

Sombrio ignored the broken quill and held out his guard knife. “Your thumb?”

Sonata put it forward, straight and still. No pain, she said to herself. Show no pain.

He drew the blade across her thumb. Drops of blood fell to the granite. She pulled it back, then pushed it into the parchment below her name. She held it there a long minute.

Sombrio grew impatient. “That will do,” he said and pulled the book away. “Sonata Diamante, you are now officially a member of the Cragsport Night Guard. Your first shift begins tomorrow night. Report to these barracks on the Eighth Hour of evening. Do you understand?”

She nodded.

“What?” he asked, rising.

“I understand, captain, sir!”

“Very good.”

“May I go now, sir?” she asked.

Sombrio stared at her with angry eyes. Finally, he nodded.

Sonata turned away, Fellfang following at her heels.


The very sound of his voice sickened her. She stopped at the door, but did not turn.

“It’s good to see you again,” he said.

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