A Midnight Meeting

This has yet to be decided. But it will focus heavily on the shadowy, hooded man who I've referred to as 'the hooded man' far too many times for it to be healthy or literally acceptable.

He moved through the streets like a wayward shadow. His gait was silent and powerful over the dusty concrete. The only illumination came from a moon concealed by low clouds. Mist tentatively reached at his cloak as he stopped outside the door of a large church.

A rough hatch slid open, and light spilled onto him. His face was hidden beneath his hood, but a strong chin dusted with stubble stuck out. His softly sculpted lips were marred by a deep scar that ran away from the right side of his mouth.

“ What?” came a whiny voice from the hatch. Because of the light inside, it was only possible to make out the silhouette of the speaker.

“I've come to see Dara.” In contrast, the hooded man's voice was much deeper and hinted at a foreign accent.

“Dara's not seeing customers.” The hatch slid shut with a thump. The hooded man waited a moment before knocking. A muffled curse came from behind the door, followed by the sound of an argument. After a short wait, the hatch slid open again.

“Who are you?” came a different voice. This one sounded agitated.

“I'm here to see Dara.” The hooded man was eerily still.

“Like my counterpart says, he's not seeing customers.”

“I'm not a customer.” This caused the man behind the hatch to itch his scratchy beard in frustration.

“Listen, pal, it's the middle of the night and you go around turning up at a guy's door, he's going to be a little worried, y'know?”

The hooded man made no indication that he did indeed know, or even that he didn't. He was the epitome of unmoved. The man behind the hatch leaned out of the light to whisper to his companion, allowing the hooded man to see beyond the door. All the windows he could see through the hatch were boarded up, and the door on the opposite side of the building was barricaded with numerous pews and a table. Before he could take a full evaluation of the building, the hatch was blocked by the second man's silhouette again.

“Alright guy, here's the deal. You leave now, and no one has to wake up tomorrow with a few less teeth, if y'catch my drift.” His bravado was overpowered by his obvious fear, and the hooded man almost smiled.

“I'm not leaving until I see Dara.” Despite the threat from the men behind the door, the hooded man remained statuesque. If there was any fear in him, it wasn't evident.

“Well, don't say we didn't warn ya'.” The hatch slammed shut with almost a sense of resignation before the door slammed open. It was intended to knock the man backwards and put him on the back foot, but he had moved out of the way before the hatch had finished closing. Two men in shabby, dirt-flecked clothes stepped quickly out of the church, one tall and fat and the other small and hunched. The tall one held a bat in two hands in front of him like a sword, while the smaller man held a dull knife tentatively in his left hand. Both were squinting ineffectually into the dark to locate their target.

“Where'd he go?” hissed the smaller man. His knife hand was shaking.

“Run off, I bet.” The larger man said, unconvincingly.

As they stepped onto the dark street, the door smashed closed with a bang, followed by the sound of a deadbolt locking into place.

“Son of a...”

The hooded man stepped away from banging at the door and made a quick visual inspection of the church. It was an old, Gothic-style one with a high vaulted ceiling and large round columns for support. Shadows skulked around the edges of the room which weren't reached by the smoky lantern strung haphazardly from the doorframe. The only other light came from the frame of a door at the bottom of a small set of steps in the centre of the room.

The man approached it in a crouch with his hand resting on the sheath on the waist of his cloak. He waited by the door for a few seconds before kicking hard at the handle and smashing it open. The old, rotted wood gave way easily under his boot and it didn't so much crash as crumple.

Inside was a small room lit by a single candle, containing only a writing desk, some books and a bed. A robed man sat at the writing desk, scratching idly at a page with his pen.

“I wondered when it was you were going to show up. You didn't hurt those two out there did you? It's so hard to find loyal staff nowadays.” The robed man sounded like an old school teacher, vaguely authoritative but mainly just amused.

“You are Dara?”

“I am indeed, and I assume you've been sent to 'collect me'. So you must be Alexander. Correct?” Dara turned in his seat to face his visitor, revealing surprisingly youthful features. Alexander only nodded. “Well, I suppose there's no time like the present.” He stood up with a flourish and swept the documents on his desk into a satchel seemingly produced from thin air. Alexander stood impassively in the doorway as the curious man collected his few belongings. He picked a few books apparently at random to put in his bag before pulling a long sword in a tooled leather scabbard from beneath his bed. He noticed Alexander's gaze shift to the weapon and winked conspiratorially. “Beautiful, isn't it?” He said as he strapped it to his waist. “Not many beautiful things around any more. Lead on, brave traveller!”

Alexander turned on his heel and headed to the entrance, where the banging had ceased. Without looking, he unbolted the door and swung it open to find the coast clear.

“They've probably run off. I don't pay them enough to stand around in this kind of weather.” While he'd been inside, a light rain had begun. “Where to now then?.”

“We head North.” With that, he set off at a brisk, noiseless pace. Dara wondered at it for a moment before following.

“He's certainly as strange as they said he would be.”

The End

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