Samuel turned to look at the door just in time to see another patron move to block it. The young man, wearing soot-stained clothes that looked like they belonged on a much larger man, set a heavy metal bar on a latch behind the door.
The man blocking the door smiled, held up the palm of his hand, and held a brilliant orange flame between his fingers.
The dozen other people in the bar, patrons mostly, silently crowded the far end of the room. There were no screams, even as ashen-faced stares fixed on what was happening in the bar.
There were no screams. Not yet.
Two other people came out from behind the bar, weapons in hand.
"Escape's not really an option now, Inspectors," Clovis said, speaking carefully to avoid digging Bertram's knife further into his neck.
"The boy that made it out is a military courier," Bertram said. "He'll summon help. So you should all probably sit down and think your next move over carefully."
"Thessa, if this shadow doesn't put the knife down, burn a hole through the cripple's hand," Clovis said, his voice disturbingly calm.
"Do that, and I'll write my name on the inside of his skull," Bertram barked. The shadow pushed a little harder on his knife, forcing Clovis to twist his head back.
"Ang," Samuel whispered. "If this is going to work out well for us, I need you out that door. That needs to be our first priority."
"Boss, they have uniforms outside, front and back!" One of the men standing said.
"It's too early to the orderlies to be here with any real numbers. It's probably just two in front, and two at the back door," Clovis said. "Thessa, this shadow won't kill me. Burn a hole through her hand. Best these three realise now they don't have any leverage."
"It won't be just him I kill," Bertram warned. He pointed one of his throwing knives directly at the man blocking the door. "And Johnathan Woles, I gave that messenger your name. If any of us end up hurt, Oversight will never stop hunting you."
The man Bertram and called Johnathan flinched, and stared at the bartender. "Clovis, what's our play here? I want to help Silas, but if he murdered those people..."
Angela rested her hand on Samuel's shoulder, and whispered, "If any of us get out of here, it should be you."
"No," Samuel disagree. "I want you out there to temper whatever the City sends to put this down. We need Clovis alive, and we won't get that if they send a cleanup crew from Oversight, or worse. If Clovis agrees to let you walk, don't argue."
"Thessa, do something before this idiot shadow accidentally punctures an artery," Clovis growled.
"Shut the burning hell up, bartender. Your thinking has put us into the mess we're in." Bertram said. "Johnathan, get out of the way and let them go!"
"Clovis?" Johnathan asked.
"Clovis," Samuel said, in a slow, steady voice. "This is a hostage situation, and we can't afford more stress. Let Angela walk, and Bertram will surrender his knives."
"Hostage situation? You think you can bargain your way out of this one?" Clovis asked.
"Rejects are involved. If someone in here doesn't walk out saying things are tense but calm, Oversight's coming in here with knives," Samuel said, his eyes locked on Clovis'. Samuel watched the quiver on the bartender's lips, noted the long pause.
The bartender was still listening. Samuel took a small breath and left himself relax just a little.
"Or worse," Samuel added.
"All right," Clovis said. "But the shadow puts his knives down first."
"No," Samuel snapped. "Your word isn't worth the air you'd waste giving it. It's my word we're counting on. Bert, you okay with the terms?"
Bertram, despite the circumstances, actually grinned. "Yeah. If she walks, I'll put the knives down. Not before."
"There you have it," Samuel said. He pointed back towards the entrance. "Angela, head on out, and try to keep them from killing us all."
Angela nodded and marched towards the door. The reject in her path, Johnathan, turned and lifted the heavy bar before stepping aside.
Angela was nearly the door, and Samuel was just beginning to hope things might turn out well, when Clovis opened his mouth and broke Samuel's hopes like smashing a mirror. "Stop her, you idiot!"
Samuel let out a curse as he rushed the reject by the door. The reject turned to stop Angela as she gripped the door, tendrils of fire flickering between his fingers.
A hiss of wind swept by Samuel and something struck the reject's shoulder hard enough to knock him into the wall. Johnathan recovered quickly, just in time for Samuel to close the distance and smash his fist into the boy's throat.
The young reject stumbled backwards off of Samuel's fist and knocked his own head against the wall. He coughed and wheezed as he legs gave out and he slid to the floor.
Samuel turned to the door as Angela shoved it open and turned.
"Come on!" Angela cried out, as another pair of hands lunged for her.
Samuel threw himself into the path, leaning on the man trying to grapple Angela and pushing him to the ground. But as the man fell, he grabbed at Samuel's legs as more hands gripped him from behind.
Angela lunged forward and reached for him. Samuel grit his teeth, and as Angela tried to grab at his coat, he twisted, set both hands on her shoulders, and shoved as hard as he could.
Samuel had a glimpse of a pair of blue-uniformed officers grab Angela and haul her back, just before the door slammed shut.
Samuel was hauled backwards by at least two people, one who was stupid enough to assume Samuel wouldn't hit him. The man's nose made a satisfying crunch and bent at a distinctly unnatural angle.
Samuel had a grin on his face that didn't leave, even when his stomach exploded in pain and he doubled over.
"You simmering twats!" Clovis screamed. Samuel gasped and forced himself upright, turning to see the bartender half laying on the bar, a knife stuck through his outstretched hand. "You left the burning back door open for him!"
Samuel glanced around the room, and nearly cried aloud when he couldn't see Bertram.
Clovis sneered at Samuel, then glanced at the other reject. "Thessa, give the inspector a gentle reminder of what you're capable of."
"Happily," the reject replied, her eyes glowing orange as her lips slid from grimace to sadistic smile. She grabbed Samuel's hand just as someone else grabbed him by the shoulders to hold him back.
Thessa's finger tapped the back of Samuel's hand, and everything he knew and felt, every thought and sensation, was drowned in pain.
It wasn't until he gasped for breath that Samuel realised he was on the floor and had been screaming.
"So," someone said from above Samuel. He blinked through the pain and focused on the ash-speckled woman with a smattering of small burns on her face. "No more stupid heroics, or I do that again. Okay?"
"Yeah," Samuel muttered through gritted teeth. "I think I got the memo."
"Good. Now stand the burning hell up," Thessa said, and walked away.
Samuel pulled himself to his feet and staggered to the bar where Clovis leaning. The bartender was holding out his injured hand to someone, who was trying to wrap it in linen.
Samuel groaned as he sat down on a chair, and cradled his hand. "You have any ice?" he asked Clovis.
Clovis looked at him for a long moment, then reached with his free hand and slid a small metal tray over. "So, Samuel. What's it going to take to get us out of here?"
"Honestly?" Samuel asked. He laughed as he rested his hand in the tray of ice. The sharp pain of the cold was almost enjoyable, as it distracted from the fear gripping at his heart. "If you have a way out underneath the bar, you're better off using it now. Because as far as the City's concerned, taking hostages is an armed insurrection."
YOU ARE READING
Bitter Cold Truth: A Tale of the Everburning CityFantasy
There is no night in the Everburning City. There can never be. Fourteen people lie dead on the platform of Billows Station, killed by fire and rage. And as the perpetrator hides within the millions of people who inhabit the City, the task of findi...