Thursday, August 29, 2013

ALTERED Sneak Peek: Meet Dante (And TATTOO Scholarship update)

From Chapter Four:
He’s young, not much older than myself.   Even though I know he can’t be Guild—not here in the Icebox—his presence, the dominant way he stands, blocking our path, makes me anxious. There’s something familiar in his stance—maybe his self-assuredness reminds me of Erik—but it feels like more than that.  His hair is cropped close to his head and even though I can’t see them in the dark, I know his eyes are brown.  
    I’m not sure how .
    Greta continues her hysterical ravings behind us, and Jost attempts to step around the Sunrunner, but he holds up his hand.
   “What’s this about, Greta?” the Sunrunner calls out to her.
   Jost could probably take him, but he doesn’t move.  I could use my own considerable skills to get away, but I’m rooted to the spot by the familiarity I feel. The Sunrunners patrol the nicer blocks of the Icebox during the designated commerce hours, but even they’re indoors once darkness arrives.
   “They’re thieves and hooligans,” she rants.  
   “Is this true?” he asks us.
   Jost squares his shoulders and takes a step closer to him.  “No, we paid her more than what an old book is worth.”  
   Greta hobbles closer to us and when she hears this, she shakes her cane again.  “No amount is enough when dealing with your type.”
   “Hey now.” The stranger stops her. “I’ve never seen these two before, so I know they can’t be too much trouble.”
    The only reason he thinks this is because he hasn’t seen us before.  I know differently.
   Greta’s face screws up and she gives a large huff.  “I didn’t ask for your help, Sunrunner.  You’re as bad as they are, so maybe you don’t mind keeping company with thieves.”
   “Some of my best friends are thieves,” he says, his lip tugging up.  The movement, though slight, flashes through my mind.  One side curves more than the other, but his lips never give way to a smile.  I’ve never seen him before but something about him is so familiar.  “You should get inside.  It’s after hours, and there are scarier things than an old crippled woman creeping about.”
I dislike how he speaks to Greta.  But there’s no time to call him out on it. Lockdown is imminent, which means the makeshift lighting system will power down for the evening, extinguishing the solar street lamps completely, and casting the whole crumbling metro into blackness.  The rumors of snatchers and cannibals replay in my mind.  We have to get out of here.
    “We need to go,” I say to Jost.
    “Good riddance,” Greta calls from her shop’s doorframe.  “Remember thief, you reap what you sow!”
   “Thank you for your assistance,” I tell the Sunrunner.  Despite the necessity of moving on, I’m reluctant to see him go.  I wish I could unravel his mystery, or, at least, the tangle of knots he’s made of my nerves. “We have a friend to find so we can take shelter.”
   “Better to let your friend find you at this hour,” he advises, but I shake my head.
    “Not how it works.”
    “Ad, he’s probably already back at the hotel.  We can’t waste time looking for him when we have ten blocks to travel to get there ourselves,” Jost reminds me.  His tone is practical, and it almost convinces me, but I’m skeptical enough of his motives to insist once more that we look for Erik.
    “I’m headed back west,” the stranger says.  “If you don’t mind falling in with a Sunrunner, we can check for your friend along the way and then you’re welcome to come inside our safe house near the grey market.  Ten blocks is too far to safely travel at this point.  The Rems will be out soon.”
    “Thanks, but—“ 
    “Sounds like a plan,” I interrupt Jost, whose jaw tenses at my rudeness.  He doesn’t disagree with me though.
   “Excellent.  Now I know you’re thieves, but I don’t know your names,” the stranger remarks as we head back toward the narrowing alleys where we left Erik.
   “I’m Adelice, and this is Jost.”  It occurs to me too late that I should have lied.  If the Guild is looking for us, they’ll advertise our names.  Even if they’re anti-Guild, the Sunrunners might see us as something of value.
   “Dante.” He holds out a hand, which Jost shakes awkwardly as we hustle toward safety.  Dante takes mine next, raising it to his lips.  It’s possibly even more awkward than his handshake with Jost.
   “Thank you again,” I say, trying to sound sincere,  “for stepping in back there, and for helping us now.”  
    Dante’s helpful demeanor seems out of place in the Icebox.  Normally I’d wonder if we were walking into a trap, but I feel inexplicable trust in Dante.  I try to shake the warm tendrils of it from my head and heart, but they refuse to budge.  It is this more than anything else that pushes me into following him.  
   “My motives aren’t entirely pure,” Dante says.  “Greta’s a cynical old crone, but something about you spooked her, and I’m eager to find out what.”
   “I have no idea,” I lie.  “We were looking at books, talking with her, and she lost it.  I didn’t understand half of what she was saying.  I thought she must be crazy.”
   “Greta’s angry, but she’s still firing on all cylinders.  One of the few left who remembers the Exodus,” Dante says.  “She said something about your kind.  You have no idea why?” 
   “No.” I keep my eyes to the shops and sidewalks, searching for Erik.  I wonder what he means by her remembering the Exodus.
   “No matter,” he says.  “I’ll sort you out yet.”
    The statement leaves me uneasy.  We might not be walking into a trap, but we aren’t going home with a friend either.  The street lamps have faded completely now, and only the faintest afterglow remains.  The roads are empty, but every now and then I glimpse a moving shadow.  
   “We won’t find your friend this late,” Dante says, a note of apology in his voice.  He flips on a handlight, which is only bright enough for us to see one another.
    “He was near here when we left him,” I say, squinting to no avail.  We’d have to walk right into Erik to find him now that the lamps are powered off for lockdown.

   “We’re close to the house.” Dante directs us a few doors down.  His hand skims my back to guide me in the right direction but he removes it quickly, but not before my body reacts to its presence.  For a fleeting second, I feel calm.  Safe.

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