A stalkers game (short s.., p.1
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       A Stalker's Game (Short Story), p.1

           John Hennessy
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A Stalker's Game (Short Story)
r’s Game

  by

  John Hennessy

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

  Cover by John Hennessy

  Second Edition December 2012

  eISBN-13: 978-1-4658-3833-9

  Check out my author website:

  https://www.johnhennessy.net

  By John Hennessy

  Novels

  THE ROAD TO EXTINCTION TRILOGY

  Book One: At the End

  Book Two: Into Cinders (Winter 2012/13)

  Book Trailer

  THE CRY OF HAVOC SAGA

  Book One: Life Descending

  Book Two: Darkness Devouring

  Book Trailer

  Praise for Life Descending

  “As good as Game of Thrones.”—Stella Blackmore, Night Owl Reviews

  “A masterpiece.”—Reviewed by Rita V for Readers Favorite

  “A riveting read.”—Midwest Book Review

  “Endlessly imaginative.”—Kirkus Reviews

  “Hard to quit reading.”—Robert Medak, Allbooks Review Int.

  Finalist in ForeWord Magazine’s 2011 Book of the Year Awards

  —fantasy genre

  Short Stories

  A Stalker’s Game (free eBook)

  Note from the Author

  A Stalker’s Game is a short story written after the events of my debut novel Life Descending (The Cry of Havoc, Book 1). This short story was written as a chapter for Darkness Devouring (The Cry of Havoc, Book 2), but modified to stand on its own.

  Table of Contents:

  Also by John Hennessy

  Note from the Author

  A Stalker’s Game

  Life Descending (The Cry of Havoc, Book 1)

  About the Author

  A Stalker’s Game

  Shackled. In the ceaseless darkness, Tom saw images of his family’s faces, drifting in and out, as if they came to say hello and check on how he fared in the severe loneliness that kept him company . . .

  A light burned around the corner. The guards prohibited lights inside the dirt cells, and little light drifted their way. Tom heard a commotion going on down toward the entrance out of the wing, a bustle unusual for the silent nights. Normally, every prisoner lay motionless after work. Sleeping hours were too few to be wasted.

  The images disappeared while Tom listened to a rumbling voice that traveled his way, accompanied by jangling keys. Always a guard on duty, but they only made a ruckus when a slave tried something sly. Those nights were sleepless. This was different. A lit torch breached his retina, so he threw up an arm to shield his sensitive eyes from the harshness of the beaming light.

  “You’ve been summoned to Dwarflord Tirranus’ main chamber,” a guard informed Tom. “He has a surprise for you.” The meter-and-a-quarter figure was now a common sight. Broad-shouldered, stumpy, and taut nearly to the point of being inflexible: a dwarf. The grubby guard shifted his narrow gaze to Tom’s cellmate. “Both of you.” Holding a mighty key ring with hundreds of keys, the guard unlocked the cell door, and indicated with a firm hand that no margin for delay existed.

  Instantly, as always in the presence of a single guard, the paramount notion of escape swarmed Tom’s mind, thoughts of combat, concealment, and navigation that would lead away from his tormented existence. The elimination of the guard would be easy enough, and he bet the odds that all the keys he ever needed hung from the guard’s key ring, but there were no known routes to follow, every area lay shrouded in shadow. A slave never got away from under the mountains. He ascertained the only way for a bound man to see trees and skies again dwelled in the hope to be escorted out by a dwarf, and that concept remained unfathomable.

  Tom forgot the ideas of absconding and squinted at the man across from him. “After you, Paragon,” he said. No reply came from his cellmate, just quick obedience. Entering the two-way hall, he peered toward the entrance where eleven more guards waited to walk him to his Master. He sighted the fulvous robes of a mage hiding behind a couple of the guards, the choker around his neck glowed like molten gold, his undeniable presence ensuring no disturbances broke out. Taking down twelve well-armored guards would be a feat, but the security of the mage sealed the deal. Not a chance to fight for freedom and come out living.

  The two slaves walked the hundred meters to the entrance, passing about fifty slumbering prisoners. Down the opposite way, more than three hundred meters of cells hid in blackness. The trip elapsed in total quiet. The only noise came from rough footsteps, the shifting of armor, and the clinking of tankards fastened by carabiners at the hips of all the dwarves.

  The circumstances of the night remained concealed from Tom, and the guards never spoke, except to each other, but even those seldom occurrences were only laconic teasings. The only opportunities to learn revolved around break time in the mines, but even then you had to talk to the right person, and finding someone reliable varied day by day. The shifts in the mines rotated continuously, never the same, always different faces swapping from the compounds of the four other Dwarflords, which made it hard to keep in contact with anyone.

  The tunnel system proved to be complicated, as they traveled through five other blocks owned by his Master, but twenty minutes later, Tom crossed under the archway into the well-lit main chamber; a capacious square room with a boiling pool at its center, surrounded by six stark white columns. Sumptuous decorations littered the ground and plastered the walls; marble sculptures of Dwarflords past dominated the setting. His Master reclined at the back of the room, who clambered to his feet, using a marble cane for support.

  Only once had Tom been in the main chamber, a few days after he had first arrived, and since then time removed itself, always disregarded, lost, and stolen as a slave in the mines, so he had no clue how long ago his enslavement came. Every day should have been his last, but his body kept on functioning, his veins kept flowing with malign blood.

  Tom gazed at his Master, the Dwarflord’s right knee bowed outwards in a painful manner; the man was a gimp. No memory came to him of his Master being lame, which confirmed the freshness of the injury, relatively. Dwarves healed faster than humans, but not by much.

  At the foot of his Master knelt six other cuffed humans, stained by soot, dust, and unknown powders from the mines. They made no movement, not with so many eyes upon them. The main hall overflowed with other dwarves, not guards, but Tom did not recognize what the different clothes represented, so they could have been anything from noble to tradesmen. Only four other dwarves were as distinct as Dwarflord Tirranus, bearing badges with the sigil of their house, as all Dwarflords attended this special ceremony. A dwarven woman sat in front of his Master, covered scarcely by a fine gold skirt. She alone composed the female gender in the room, and only the second female dwarf he had seen in his time under the mountains.

  No plait clung to her chin like her counterparts; her face remained clean-shaven, and from rumors in the mines, he heard they shaved multiple times a day to keep it that way. Word circulated that a female dwarf’s hair grew faster than grass on the Rhanda Grasslands, which grew a meter a day when fed with enough water. Tom’s eyes fixed on her, not moving even when his Master called attention.

  Her pale, clean skin seduced Tom, and amounted to be the most alluring figure he had ever witnessed before, nothing compared to her attractiveness; it was a pulchritude that assembled all eyes to focus on her. The Dwarflord straddled the long reclining chair, wearing nothing but the hair that shadowed his body; a great amber beard swayed past hi
s waistline, with four distinguishable gray streaks running down the cascade of bush. With a look from him, she began to gratify her Master, bound by duty.

  Pleased, the Dwarflord scratched his stomach; then he held out a rapacious hand that soon clasped a tankard brimming with a sweet wee-heavy ale: a strong malty favorite of the dwarves, aged in bourbon barrels. After he quaffed most of the tankard, he examined the stock before him. Grinning, he said, “My finest Weapon-artists.” He belched, filling the hall. “I have summoned you here for a very special purpose. It is time to forget about plagues and wars, North and South, and all the other foreign nonsense! The first week of Nipha starts tomorrow, which means the Gala of Nipha, welcoming winter’s chill.”

  Nipha sparked dates in Tom’s mind. Alexurgia, the last celebration he had witnessed, marked summer’s end on the thirty-sixth of Tirken. A second date rang over and over within his ears since his imprisonment: the twelfth of Idus. Four months. How could it have only been
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