It was a good eleven days later that found van Joss staring at his reflection in a mirror. Behind him, looking menacing even relaxed, stood no less than four members of the Order of Grim, all four sets of eyes focused narrowly on his back. But, for all of their latent menace and danger, van Joss ignored his guards.
Instead he focused on the long-bladed knife whose razor's edge he had pressed against his face. For a moment his hand trembled as a blizzard of thought and emotion sleeted through his mind. Then, slowly and carefully he drew the blade away from his face to stare at his hand. The tip of the blade, honed to a fine sharpness, was red with his blood. But he ignored that as well as he stared hard at his trembling hand.
After what seemed like an eternity, the trembling slowed then halted. Now rock steady, he raised the blade once more to his face and, with a smooth stroke, began the process of shaving off five years of matted beard.
"The man is left-handed!" one of the guards whispered with astonishment to his comrades. "An abomination against the Maker." That statement triggered a hushed conversation between the four with the occasional glance being thrown at van Joss's lean figure.
All of which the man ignored. Wiping the last of the beard from the knife's blade, he turned his attention to his hair. It didn't take long before the sharp edge and the now steady hand had removed all of the stringy, greasy hair from his scalp as well. Unfortunately it left van Joss looking more like a walking corpse than a man.
But, just as he had ignored things less important before, he ignored this as well, carefully pouring the dirty water with its burden of filthy hair into a nearby drain hole. He then swiftly worked the pump to fill the large porcelain basin with clean water. This he used to clean himself off, using both a rag for scrubbing and the knife to remove any lesions or unwanted adhesions.
After the lean man had cleansed his body and dried off, he turned to the small pile of clothing Kala Uthon had provided. They were simple: a homespun tunic of rough and raw cotton, tanned leather breeches, a pale shirt of linen, socks of wool and heavy boots of leather. Each item he slipped carefully on, making sure they fit enough to give him space to gain back some weight.
Clean and clothed, van Joss finally turned to his guards.
"I will see Uthon now," he rasped, still unused to using his voice after such a long time. One of the guards nodded and, forming up around the slender man, they led him into a short corridor. Beyond the corridor, the small group entered a large room filled with a number of people working at a variety of tasks. From finishing leather to honing swords, each had his or her task and they worked unwaveringly at it, ignoring the small group as they passed through their midst.
The small group returned the lack of attention, ignored the craft people to push through the room as quickly as they could to reach the door in the opposite wall. This opened into a second short corridor, which the group traversed in a matter of steps.
The corridor opened into a larger passageway that ran through the center of the warren that was Blood Canyon, the headquarters of the largest and most powerful of the Orders of Death, the Order of Grim. All around the small group black-cloaked men and women firmly strode, heads high as they went about their business. Passing through their midst, the knot of guards and their slender ward stopped in front of a large building whose carved facade jutted out into the passageway, which was lit by great torches flickering high on the walls.
The small group slipped inside and van Joss's escort quickly guided him to a small, austere room where Uthon sat at the head of a small, oblong wooden table. In front of the big man was a slender scroll marked with the Order's seal. A single torch in the room's corner lit the small chamber.
YOU ARE READING
Hand Over FistScience Fiction
Like a phoenix, they arose. From the ashes of a world burnt by massive nuclear holocaust and frozen by a millennia of nuclear winter. They are the Fisted Races and they struggle against the tattered remnant of Humanity for what little resources ar...