The writing kind, I assure you. I’m trying out Chuck Wendig’s Friday flash challenge this week since I came out with an interesting mix. Rolls of the dice were involved and genres are mixed rather randomly, and the word limit is 1000 words (ish). This story is a Grimdark fantasy Techno-thriller, has a mythological bird and a secret room! I’ll admit, cutting things down to this short is difficult for me, but I think this isn’t too bad, if a little light on the thriller aspect
Read on for What I am
She had sought out Zu and ended up here. The name of her old life, of all she had tried to leave behind, had carried her far through the depths but did not carry the weight to bring her further. Precisely what test she would have to pass in order to see him she could not know.
The greased hair of the door man shone faintly in the errant light of the lantern. Small wordplays had passed his lips and the uninitiated would have been swayed, but they drifted over and through her without leaving a mark. Frustration born of desire lurked behind eyes unnaturally dark in the dank little room. They flashed on occasion in time to a faint lick of the lips. Enough to bring bile to most, but she barely noticed.
A crack and squeal of the opening door, she did notice. The hand on the knife, so out of practice yet nearly as sharp. Her presumed fear enough for the door man to crack an obscene smile as the other entered, but her attention was on the door.
The wrong door.
Smell of grease and whine of servos as the other passed without a glance. The other door, her door, the one to Zu, opened so easily for the other and then he was gone. 3.8 seconds, just enough if her wits still had the same edge.
But she waited. Waited because he was known for honour, though of a code all his own. Waited because this was her only chance and she had already come so far. Waited because beyond the door was unknown, and no matter how sharp the wit hot lead was sharper.
She put her feet up. It made the door man leer, as expected, but that wasn’t the point. Trust had become so expensive even the elite could not afford it, yet with little to lose she was spending like water, hoping someone would want a drink.
That crack again, the same squeal. Louder this time for those that were passing through did so with gusto, bellowing to the ceiling in triumph at some wager won. Elf, goblin, orc and two humans, none entirely themselves and assisted by parts woven of metal and circuits. More leers and taunts, offers that would have had the old her out for skinning brushed off with a smile, for she watched the door man.
His presumption was real, for him now. She watched the group torment the man without mercy, lifting him from the ground and tossing him back as a rag doll for their amusement. Yet she, ostensibly inferior even to the door man, remained unmolested, though potentially offended.
Business. Most important in all this was business, and they knew their boss would not like interference. The door man was just that, easily replaced and probably for this groups amusement in the first place.
Then they were gone and the room was quiet again. Her implants itched and she caught him again as her arm rose to scratch, hoping to catch some glimpse. Another for the skinning list, in the old days.
Something flashed in front of him, garnering complete attention. She watched as his face went blank, the boss reaching through the aether to the peons mind, inflicting some new instruction upon him. The work of a moment and over all too soon, he opened the door and motioned for her to go through.
Another room beyond, this with no door man. No one at all in the small room with only one door, yet six had passed through. Seats lined the walls behind her, all others remaining bare.
She was meant to wait, so she waited, handing out trust.
Eyes watched but could not be seen, both tech and magic. Whether his grand works would have told him she was coming, or if she would leave, was not the question she had to ask, but the one that passed through her now.
Hours went by. This was no longer the time for waiting, she stood and inspected each bare wall in turn. No trip nor trap, no trigger to figure, yet there was a way through here somewhere.
On impulse she stood opposite the door, by the wall, and leaned back. The wall turned slowly and she was in his office.
She took the proffered seat, no desk just another upon which Zu sat. He waited, eyebrow raised, and so did she.
“Respect and trust. Foundations of Honour”
He smiled and stood, grabbing a book from a shelf. A fortune in his hand, his extension of trust.
“Call me Anzu. Moved on from the old days”
“Phoenix. Thought I’d left them behind”
He nodded sagely, she crossed her legs.
“You seek a way to do this”
“I seek what I cannot find”
Pages flipped and a sigh escaped him.
“I know a little of you. I suspect what you seek”
“Can you answer?”
“Maybe. But what is the worth?”
She leaned forward, hands together, a bead on her brow. “All I was. Anything I can be”
Another nod and he took his seat. “Some paths I know, others I can see. Some lead to an end”
“Which is true?”
“You attempted to fulfill your name. Without success”
Fingers clawed into her knees, tang of copper in her mouth.
“Can you help?”
“With your request or an end?”
“They are one and the same”
Smile again, sad this time. “So you see. It will not be easy”
“Irrelevant. Will you answer?”
“Your payment is sufficient. Go through the door to your left and fulfill your name”
There had been no door, now there was. Weapons lined the walls, those men that had passed her stood silent among them. As she walked he spoke again.
“The objective holds what you seek”
She chose her tools, signed the contract.
“You are mine once she is returned, but you may have one day”
A nod and she was gone.