'The Job' - Short story for critique

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Tzalaran
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'The Job' - Short story for critique

Post by Tzalaran » February 3rd, 2010, 11:00 pm

Wrote this a while ago, and just got around to revising it. It is a scene that didn't fit in the timeline of the novel, featuring the main character and the encounter that triggers his arc in the novel (well, the arc i'm revising in anyway). It is going to be posted to my blog (which is basically just a repository for background and worldbuilding online for my friends and i at the moment) as a writing sample, after i have a couple of people i work with critique it. Thought i should let the posters here tear it apart as well. ;)

4,100 words, and i hope you enjoy it.
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This is what I hate about my job; the endless waiting. You have to watch your mark’s daily routine, learn their weaknesses, and determine where they feel comfortable. The more details you know about the mark, the easier the job becomes. Usually, the employer would provide this information, and I hated working blind in what should be a simple process. Run in, take the mark down, and vanish back into the city.

The name of the mark, Trakshul Zzorngaz, and his turf were all I’d gotten. He had quickly advanced, now running a four block area around the Khalar market for Folzant. When that was all the information provided, I tried to turn the job down. Kruz wouldn’t allow it for some reason, and I again wished reading the flat grey eyes in the scaly face of the Dernak was possible. The lips on his maw betrayed nothing, and the lord gave me no more, but my gut told me he was hiding something.

So I waited, standing in an alley across from Trakshul’s main office, in the shadows. A week straight of tailing him had left me with a bad taste in my mouth, and no hint of why anyone would want this guy eliminated. All the merchants of his area spoke well of him, he wasn’t cheating on his spouse, and spent every evening with his five children.

The most puzzling thing about the whole situation was there was absolutely no evidence of him associating with warlocks. There hadn’t been a job lacking a servant of the fiends since I’d started doing work for Kruz-Alzeen. After a week I’d not detected one tie to Axius or Dranzeem, and that got under my skin. I hadn’t taken a job on a regular Tilian in a long time, and I wondered why the fee I could command would be spent on this underboss.

Shadows grew across the street as Tzol finished his path across the sky, and I waited. After a while, I recognized the muscle that was entering the office. This was the enforcer who always walked Trakshul home for the night, and irritated from waiting I decided to force the mark’s hand. I moved from my lookout spot into the steady stream of traffic that always flowed through the Hollows during the day, and headed to the mark’s home.

Trakshul lived less than two city blocks from his office, and I made my way to his home with no idea of what to do. There was a feeling growing in the back of my mind that I had no reason to follow through on this job, and that if I did kill him, it would haunt me forever.

From the time that I’d run from my future in the Zarachtil Tzolanzen, my life had taken an unforeseen turn. All the training for combat, all the stealth lessons, and all the things we’d been instructed to do no longer seemed right. Maybe it was spending so much time with my brother’s friends that made me feel differently about what I do, maybe it was just my brother’s influence, but this wasn’t the time for a moral dilemma about the way I make my living.

Reaching the home, I slipped out of traffic and moved to the rear entrance. Out of habit, I checked the hilt of my tulwar strapped to my back and a grim resolution to my course of action settled on me. I pulled my hood farther over my head, and checked the streets to make sure no one was watching before I pushed the door inward and moved into the home.

“Kralgan, if you touch that door again I’m gonna tell your father.” The voice came from a Moglith woman standing over an iron wrought stove. She was small for her kind, but her limbs were well muscled from the constant work she was required to do around the house.

“I’m not near the door momma.” The cub’s voice came from a doorway across from me, and a teenage moglith with his mother’s frame walked through the doorway. “Tzargan and I were…” He stopped abruptly seeing me standing there, and his mother turned to look at her son. She noticed me as she began to chastise the boy, and her mouth hung open before she began looking for an instrument to defend her cubs with.

“I suggest you calm down and gather your cubs to the table.” I opened my cloak to make sure they both could see my instruments, and their eyes opening wide let me know they got the hint. “If you were going to die, it would be done already. We need to talk, and I need the cubs’ in here to make sure nothing clever happens.”

“Kralgan, get your brother and sisters.” She turned to face me and was controlling her emotions well. “What is this about? Why bring my cubs into this?”

“What would hurt your husband more, losing you or losing his business? Someone wants your mate dead, and what I want to know is why.”

“He’s made enemies coming up like he did. They hire thugs to off their rivals all the time.” She sneered at me with that comment, and the anger that comment usually brought didn’t come. As much as it pained me to admit it, she had a point.

“Those kinds of enemies can’t afford me.” Kralgan began moving his siblings to the kitchen table, and I drifted to the other side of the room to take up the position I wanted when Trakshul returned home. The cubs took their places at the table, and I waved my hand to one of the open chairs offering the woman a chance to sit. She moved to a chair, and I moved the empty chair by where she was sitting.

“What do you want?” She asked.

“Does your husband have dealings with warlocks?”

“What do you mean warlocks? Those are just cubs’ tales to keep them…” She trailed off as I pulled back my hood and leaned over her.

“There is more truth to cubs’ tales than you’d ever guess.” I stepped back and walked over to my chosen spot. “That is why your husband isn’t dead right now. I’ve found no trace of him associating with the demons or their minions.” I looked at her again, and the realization that I was dead serious appeared on her face.

“Trakshul is just a warrior, trying to make the situation for the Tillians who live here better. He wouldn’t work with anyone who was trying to abuse the people.” She looked at me, and I wanted the mark to get here soon. Holding innocent Tillians hostage bothered me, but I had to get the truth of the situation before I could make the decision on what to do with the job.

“You’re the Tzarkal aren’t you?” Kralgan’s question stopped my thoughts in their tracks, and I glared at the cub. Looking to his mother for a moment and seeing a strange look of shock on her face, I looked back to the cubs.

“Who?”

“The Tzarkal, you’re the hitman who has been taking out the lords in the merchant district and here. I heard papa talking about it to some of his bodyguards the last time he let me go to the office with him.” He looked at me with a strange expression, “You don’t look that tough, you know. You’re not big enough to scare my papa’s enforcers.” His chest puffed out, and I struggled not to laugh.

“Well, I’m certainly not the Tzarkal, and I’ve not heard of this hitman before.”

“What is that bone there?” The younger boy pointed at my tomahawk, and I shifted my cloak back and pushed the treasure of my youth forward so they could get a good view. The oldest son looked at his mother, but she just stared at me. Maybe she was staring at my gear, wondering why I’d not killed her and her cubs, I didn’t know. The two boys began whispering to themselves, and their sisters began to squirm in their seats, the energy of youth attempting to burn through their skin, forcing them to swing their arms and legs.

“The cubs can get up and move around, as long as they stay in here. I’d prefer to not harm any of you, but if it is necessary I’ll do what must be done in my position.” I said. She nodded to me, calling her daughters to play on the floor by the stove. The boys continued to whisper and look at me. After what seemed like hours the front door opened and a booming voice filled the house.

“Zariana. Great news. You know the...” He stopped talking as he came into the room, and recognition came over his features as his eyes found me in the far corner. His hand reached for a blade, but with uncommon self control for a Moglith he resisted drawing steel and sat next to his wife, giving her a soft pat on the back. He looked at her, wordlessly asking if the cubs or her had been harmed.

“Who have you crossed recently?”

“What?”

“Who would hire me to kill you?”

“I don’t know. Whoever you usually work for I’d assume.”

“Not likely, you can’t be worth my fee based on the area you run.” His eyes grew wide as I spoke, and he looked to the table.

“How long have you been following me?”

“Over a week. You have no mistress, only go to the boss when called, don’t drink or have any vice whatsoever. But the most important thing is that I’ve seen you make no deals with warlocks.” I looked at him, and it was time to hear him confirm my suspicions. “Have you served creatures from the lower planes during your rise in the city?” I waited for his answer, eager to jump on any hint of a lie.

“No. I’ve made friends with the tenants and shopkeepers, and have enough of a reputation to keep my counterparts from picking a fight with me.” He looked at his sons and smiled, waving them over to him. “I’ve not worked knowingly with any warlock. There may be some who hide it from me, but I’ve never followed their direction willfully.” He looked back to me and he was relaxed.

“Folzant has many warlocks in his employ, most of what he does is at their direction.”

“That’s why you’ve been working through his advisors?”

I nodded.

“That explains why he’s not pushed me to do things for him. I wasn’t on the inside, just made one less problem area while he struggles to stop you from wrecking his business.” He looked crushed, and pushed his large fists into the table. “I never put it together.”

“So we’re back to why I’d be hired to eliminate you. The longer I tailed you, the more I was convinced you weren’t a mark I’d take, but I can’t figure out why I’d be forced into the job.” I shook my head and stared at the cubs, who were beginning to get over their fear.

“What happens next?” He looked at me, and I smiled to myself.

“I return the contract and tell him I’m not a hatchet man, and if he ever tries to use me as such again I’ll take the fee and kill him instead.”

“Won’t that make you a target?”

I shrugged and moved back to the door, stopping at the exit and looking back to the Moglith and his family. “If I find out you lied to me, you’ll wish we’d ended it now.”

“I’ll stick with the territory I have now and stay out of trouble.” He looked at his wife and passed her a loving smile, “We’ve just got a new property that will let us live well for the rest of our lives.” He looked back to me, the smile engraved on his face.

“Good luck keeping it.” I pulled my hood back over my head and exited the house. Unsure of my next move, I leaned against the building and let out a deep breath. Low voices carried through the walls, his sons asking why he didn’t fight me. His reply sparked the kindling of my anger, creating a blaze that grew beyond my control.

“I’m a warrior, but he is a killer. Pray you never have to look into eyes like his again, because you might be taking your last breaths.”

Walking to the Devil, each step I took fanned the flames of my rage. Things had been going nearly perfect, and I knew that it had been too good to last. Still didn’t temper the disappointment that came when things changed.

###

The Horned Devil was busy, with many of the gangs sitting down in the basement waiting for their companions to arrive so they could compete in the pit. Valok mariners sat in the ring around the hole in the floor smoking and wagering amongst themselves, and two Moglith guards leaned upon their spears. I moved over to the bar and waited for the bartender to finish his tasks. Mornak hobbled over to me with my usual, and I flipped a zzar to the ex-gladiator. A smile that split the Moglith’s face quickly appeared, and I shot down the zarzn and moved to the basement to wait for Kruz.

Other patrons moved out of my way, I guess I looked angry. I forced myself to relax, and pulled the hood of my cloak farther over my face to avoid unnecessary attention. There weren’t any of Kruz’s underlings in the basement, so I stopped and took a sip of my drink before going to sit in the back room at one of the gaming tables.
Kazf, the priest of Zilanon, sat in his customary booth as far away from the pit as possible. A bowl of the daily stew the cook had thrown together sat on his table. Dodging around some of the young gang members who were heading to the bar, I slipped around the many tables and looked for a table that suited my purpose.

Deciding that I didn’t care to play with the Feznar and pair of Dal-Shiz who occupied the dice game, I joined the Valok playing kronark. The entire table looked at me as I pulled back one of the empty chairs, and they didn’t appear pleased to have a newcomer. I pulled back my hood and tossed my small coin pouch on the table. They took one glance at the pouch and were satisfied that I could afford their stakes, and I sat down and looked to see if Kruz was here. No sign of him yet, so I got comfortable and took a long drink.

The sailor to my right passed me a long stemmed pipe, and I took a long puff of the mild intoxicant and passed it on. I removed the contents of my purse onto the table, and began placing it into convenient stacks of brass, silver, and gold. It wasn’t all my money, but it would be enough to keep me in the game until Kruz finally showed up. A groan arose from the table, and the sailor across from me broke into a laugh, and the golden chain hanging from his nose to his ear flopped around as he scooped the coins lying in the middle of the table.

I sat there, chipping in the ante and folding whenever there was action by the sailors, watching the stairwell for any sign of Kruz, and passing the pipe along as it came around to me. The Valok began to eye me suspiciously as my brass and silver stacks dwindled, and I decided I’d better actually play a hand soon. The tiles hadn’t been there for me, and when I drew a high pair I put one of my zzar into the pot. A few Moglith toughs walked down into the basement, and I saw the Dernak I was looking for walk towards the table he usually sat at while running games for the gangs.

Most of the Valok backed out of the hand, with only the nose chain sailor calling my bet. The tiles lying in the center didn’t help me any, so I tossed in another zzar hoping that he’d decide playing the hand wasn’t in his interest. His brows clenched together, and he looked at his tiles before nervously pushing a stack of silver to match my bet. I turned over my tiles, and relief flowed over the man’s face. He turned over tiles that beat mine, and I smiled at the sailor before grabbing my last two zzar and placing them in my pouch.

“Good hand. Thanks for the game.” I moved to stand, and pulled my hood back over my head.

“You’re done?” The sailor who’d just won stared at me, his arms spread over the table to scoop up his take.

“Lost all I want to for today.”

“You sit down and just gave us ten gold, rarely even playing.” He sat up straight, leaving the coins where they sat on the table. “If you’re going to look for us later, you might as well try to take your gold back now.” He looked ready for a brawl, but I had another in mind.

“I was waiting for someone to show up, and needed something to pass the time.” I smiled and spread my hands out attempting to be non-threatening. “If nothing else, consider it payment for you sharing your herbs. Thanks for giving me a pleasant distraction while I waited.” I gave a nod of my head to the sailors, and walked away from their table and over to where Kruz had set up shop.

Gang leaders were lined up to compete in the pit, chasing after a hidden purse placed somewhere in the maze below. It was a favorite way for the younger enforcers to make a name for themselves, and there rarely were any deaths from gangs fighting below. Fights in the darkness had a way of calling creatures not part of the game to come join the fun. Many of the gangs ended up working for bosses of the city who learned of their exploits here, and that drew in so many that Kruz was able to make running this game his largest earner. I circled around the line and was next to the table on the side Kruz occupied before his muscle could block my path. Kruz looked at me and with a wave of his hand warned off his guards.

“Tzal, what can I do for you?”

“Might want to send the contestants away before I say anything else.” The anger in my voice startled the Dernak, and the lips of his maw twitched as he rapped his three clawed fingers on the table. His pointed ears had snapped forward, and he turned so that both of his eyes could focus on me.

“Please come back in five minutes and we’ll get the games set up.” Kruz looked at the gang leaders, and I opened my cloak letting them see my tomahawk and axes. With one glance at my harness the toughs disappeared, and I pulled out the small bag that contained the advance fee for Trakshul. A flip of my wrist tossed the bag on the table in front of Kruz, and I felt my nostrils flare.

“I’m not a hatchet man for any of your clients.”

“That sounds like a threat.”

“I won’t kill good Tillians so you can profit.”

“You’re making a dangerous decision here cub. My client is not going to appreciate the job not being done, and he may decide that the fee can be used for you.”

“Let him. I’ve been hunted for a long time, one more thug looking to join in won’t bother me.” My hand was fingering my tomahawk, and I think only the effects of the Valok herbs were allowing me to control my temper.

“You’ve not been hunted by people who know the city better than you. My client will want retribution, and there is already a bounty on your head from Kranak and Folzant. Don’t push away the only ones who will look out for you.” He tossed the coin pouch back to my end of the table, the thin lips around his mouth pulling back in an arrogant smile.

“Tell him where to find me, and we can take care of it anytime.”

“Tzal, you’re a good skulk. Don’t be a fool and have all the lords of the city chasing you in addition to the Zarachtil Tzolanzen. No one can withstand both.” He shook his head at me while talking, and the condescension in his voice brought my rage back in an instant.

“The first time I worked for you it was for fiends and their servants, and I’ve turned down all jobs that didn’t fit the criteria. If you ever try and get me to kill someone not aligned with the fiends again, I’ll strangle you and then go after your client. That’s a promise Kruz.” I snarled at the boss and turned on my heel. The muscle Kruz had brought with him came towards me, and I pulled my tomahawk from its sheath and waited for them to make their move. Two of them moved to draw steel, and I looked forward to unleashing my anger on the fools who dared to stand in my way.

“That is enough!” Krabuz’s voice startled me as he stepped from behind one of the supports. “No one draws steel in my establishment. If you want to fight take it into the pit.” He was looking at the Mogliths, and I slipped my tomahawk back into its sheath, hoping the old Dal-Shiz hadn’t seen it in my hand. The Moglith thugs backed away and Krabuz turned to me enraged.

“Get out of my establishment, Tzal.” Krabuz said as he pointed upstairs. “Go.” I turned to look at him, and decided keeping my mouth shut would be for the best, as the venom in his tone echoed in my ears. With a glance at Kruz I headed to the stairwell, bumping into one of the toughs with my shoulder as I passed. He snarled at the contact, and I sneered back before moving up the stairs.

Mornak, the ex-gladiator mountain that served the bar at the Devil was staring at me as I ascended the stairs, and the guards around the balcony watched me as well. Mornak hobbled on his missing leg over to my side of the bar, and motioned for me to come closer to him. I moved over to him and wondered what he wanted.

“Head out the back way. It will give you an extra few minutes throwing Kruz’s enforcers off your trail.” Mornak said, his normally booming voice barely a whisper. He quickly moved across the bar and opened the door to the kitchen, motioning for me to follow. Almost preferring to fight off the enforcers just to vent my rage, I hesitated for a moment. “Don’t think about it. Even you will have trouble with everyone Kruz will call in.”

He was probably right, and I followed him into the back room. Mornak hobbled through the narrow walkways between the massive shelving units that covered the floor of the kitchen. Large double doors led to the main storerooms and Krabuz’s office, but I followed the Moglith to the back door to the alley.

“Why’d you do it Tzal?”

“The mark was clean. I’m not a hatchet man for gold, and now they know it.”

“No, why come here and pick a fight with one of the lords? Why not just move on?” Mornak’s large brow was scrunched together, and I didn’t know how to answer his question.

“I guess after years of running, I’d rather live here than start running again. There comes a point where if you don’t stand for what you believe in you won’t get another chance. This was the time, and my position on the matter should be crystal clear to anyone thinking of hiring me in the future.” I looked to the bartender and shrugged. He nodded his head and flashed me a wry smile.

“You earned my respect, but can’t say Kruz will want to look at you for a while.” Footsteps came down the hall, and Mornak moved his large frame toward the racks of supplies before looking back to me. “Get on your way Tzal, come back tomorrow and I’ll let you know what the word on the street is.”

“Thanks Mornak.” I pulled my hood up and headed into the late afternoon streets, making my way home to wait for the fallout from this job.
---

Thank you for reading.
I'd rather hate myself for failing, than hate my life for never having tried.
"Success leads to stagnation. Stagnation leads to failure." - Vlad Taltos

Yoshima
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Re: 'The Job' - Short story for critique

Post by Yoshima » February 4th, 2010, 11:54 pm

Wrote this a while ago, and just got around to revising it. It is a scene that didn't fit in the timeline of the novel, featuring the main character and the encounter that triggers his arc in the novel (well, the arc i'm revising in anyway). It is going to be posted to my blog (which is basically just a repository for background and worldbuilding online for my friends and i at the moment) as a writing sample, after i have a couple of people i work with critique it. Thought i should let the posters here tear it apart as well. ;) Well, since you've given me permission to tear it up... ;)

4,100 words, and i hope you enjoy it.
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This is what I hate about my job; (I think this should be a colon because "the endless waiting" is a fragment, not a complete thought) the endless waiting. You have to watch your mark’s daily routine, learn their weaknesses, and determine where they feel comfortable. The more details you know about the mark, the easier the job becomes. Usually, the employer would provide this information, and I hated working blind in what should be a simple process. (This sentence interrupted the flow a bit for me. Rephrase using the short syntax you've been using?) Run in, take the mark down, and vanish back into the city. (Great.)

The name of the mark, Trakshul Zzorngaz, and his turf were all I’d gotten. Trakshul Zzorngaz had quickly advanced, now running a four block area around the Khalar market for Folzant. When that was all the information provided, I tried to turn the job down. Kruz (who's Kruz?) wouldn’t allow it for some reason, and I again wished reading the flat grey eyes in the scaly face of the Dernak (...I know this is probably explained in your book, but if you're going to be posting this as a short story of sorts I think you should tell us who the Dernak is and why he's scaly--scaly as in old, I'm assuming?) was possible. The lips on his maw betrayed nothing, and the lord gave me no more, but my gut told me he (maybe put the name of the scaly dude here instead; I forgot his name already) was hiding something.

So I waited, standing in an alley across from Trakshul’s main office, in the shadows. A week straight of tailing him had left me with a bad taste in my mouth, and no hint of why anyone would want this guy eliminated. All the merchants of his area spoke well of him, he wasn’t cheating on his spouse, and spent every evening with his five children. (Good.)

The most puzzling thing about the whole situation was there was absolutely no evidence of him associating with warlocks. There hadn’t been a job lacking a servant of the fiends since I’d started doing work for Kruz-Alzeen. After a week I’d not (hadn't) detected one tie to Axius or Dranzeem, and that got under my skin. I hadn’t taken a job on a regular Tilian in a long time, and I wondered why the fee I could command would be spent on this underboss.

Shadows grew across the street as Tzol finished his path across the sky, and I waited. After a while, I recognized the muscle that was entering the office. This was the enforcer who always walked Trakshul home for the night, and irritated from waiting I decided to force the mark’s hand. I moved from my lookout spot into the steady stream of traffic that always flowed through the Hollows during the day, and headed to the mark’s home.

Trakshul lived less than two city blocks from his office, and I made my way to his home with no idea of what to do (I'm not a fan of the "and" structure here. You've been using mostly short syntax so it feels a little out of place to me. Separate?). There was a feeling growing in the back of my mind that I had no reason to follow through on this job, and that if I did kill him, it would haunt me forever.

From the time that I’d run from my future in the Zarachtil Tzolanzen, my life had taken an unforeseen turn. All the training for combat, all the stealth lessons, and all the things we’d been instructed to do no longer seemed right. Maybe it was spending so much time with my brother’s friends that made me feel differently about what I do, (period.) maybe it was just my brother’s influence, (period.) but this wasn’t the time for a moral dilemma about the way I make my living.

Reaching the home, I slipped out of traffic and moved to the rear entrance. Out of habit, I checked the hilt of my tulwar (this might be a silly question, but what's a tulwar?) strapped to my back and a grim resolution to my course of action settled on me. I pulled my hood farther over my head, and checked the streets to make sure no one was watching before I pushed (open) the door inward and moved into the home.

“Kralgan, if you touch that door again I’m gonna tell your father.” The voice came from a Moglith woman standing over an iron wrought stove. She was small for her kind, but her limbs were well muscled from the constant work she was required to do around the house.

“I’m not near the door momma.” The cub’s voice came from a doorway across from me, and a teenage moglith with his mother’s frame walked through the doorway. “Tzargan and I were…” He stopped abruptly seeing me standing there, and his mother turned to look at her son. She noticed me as she began to chastise the boy, and her mouth hung open before she began looking for an instrument to defend her cubs with.

“I suggest you calm down and gather your cubs to the table.” I opened my cloak to make sure they both could see my instruments, (period.) and their wide eyes opening wide let me know they got the hint. “If you were going to die, it would be done already. We need to talk, and I need the cubs’ (no apostrophe; plural not posessive) in here to make sure nothing clever happens.”

“Kralgan, get your brother and sisters.” She turned to face me and was controlling her emotions well. (Personal preference: I think you should omit "turned to face me" because I think it's sort of a vague action, while her controlling her emotions clues us in to her character.) “What is this about? Why bring my cubs into this?”

“What would hurt your husband more, losing you or losing his business? Someone wants your mate dead, and what I want to know is why.” (Good.)

“He’s made enemies coming up like he did. They hire thugs to off their rivals all the time.” She sneered at me with that comment,and the anger that comment usually brought didn’t come. As much as it pained me to admit it, she had a point.

“Those kinds of enemies can’t afford me.” (new line) Kralgan began moving his siblings to the kitchen table, (period) and I drifted to the other side of the room to take up the position I wanted when Trakshul returned home. The cubs took their places at the table, and I waved my hand to one of the open chairs (comma?) offering the woman a chance to sit. She moved to a chair, and I moved the empty chair by where she was sitting.

“What do you want?” She (no caps, me thinks) asked.

“Does your husband have dealings with warlocks?”

“What do you mean warlocks? Those are just cubs’ tales to keep them…” She trailed off as I pulled back my hood and leaned over her.

“There is more truth to cubs’ tales than you’d ever guess.” I stepped back and walked over to my chosen spot. “That is why your husband isn’t dead right now. I’ve found no trace of him associating with the demons or their minions.” I looked at her again, and the realization that I was dead serious appeared on her face.

“Trakshul is just a warrior, trying to make the situation for the Tillians who live here better. He wouldn’t work with anyone who was trying to abuse the people.” She looked at me, and I wanted the mark to get here soon. Holding innocent Tillians hostage bothered me, but I had to get the truth of the situation before I could make the decision on what to do with the job.

“You’re the Tzarkal aren’t you?” Kralgan’s question stopped my thoughts in their tracks, and I glared at the cub. Looking to his mother for a moment and seeing a strange look of shock on her face, I looked back to the cubs.

“Who?”

“The Tzarkal, you’re the hitman who has been taking out the lords in the merchant district and here. I heard papa talking about it to some of his bodyguards the last time he let me go to the office with him.” He looked at me with a strange expression (period), “You don’t look that tough, you know. You’re not big enough to scare my papa’s enforcers.” His chest puffed out, and I struggled not to laugh.

“Well, I’m certainly not the Tzarkal, and I’ve not heard of this hitman before.”

“What is that bone there?” The younger boy pointed at my tomahawk, and I shifted my cloak back and pushed the treasure of my youth forward so they could get a good view. The oldest son looked at his mother, but she just stared at me. Maybe she was staring at my gear, wondering why I’d not killed her and her cubs, I didn’t know. The two boys began whispering to themselves, and their sisters began to squirm in their seats, the energy of youthattempting to burn through their skin, forcing them to swing their arms and legs.

“The cubs can get up and move around, as long as they stay in here. I’d prefer to not harm any of you, but if it is necessary I’ll do what must be done in my position.” I said. She nodded to me, calling her daughters to play on the floor by the stove. The boys continued to whisper and look at me. After what seemed like hours the front door opened and a booming voice filled the house.

“Zariana. Great news. You know the...” He stopped talking as he came into the room, and recognition came over his features as his eyes found me in the far corner. His hand reached for a blade, but with uncommon self control for a Moglith he resisted drawing steel and sat next to his wife, giving her a soft pat on the back. He looked at her, wordlessly asking if the cubs or her had been harmed.

“Who have you crossed recently?”

“What?”

“Who would hire me to kill you?”

“I don’t know. Whoever you usually work for I’d assume.” (I think you need a dialogue tag or two above, just for clarity. I can guess who's talking, but since there's multiple people in the room, it wouldn't hurt.)

“Not likely, you can’t be worth my fee based on the area you run.” His eyes grew wide as I spoke, and he looked to the table.

“How long have you been following me?”

“Over a week. You have no mistress, only go to the boss when called, don’t drink or have any vice whatsoever. But the most important thing is that I’ve seen you make no deals with warlocks.” I looked at him, and it was time to hear him confirm my suspicions. “Have you served creatures from the lower planes during your rise in the city?” I waited for his answer, eager to jump on any hint of a lie.

“No. I’ve made friends with the tenants and shopkeepers, and have enough of a reputation to keep my counterparts from picking a fight with me.” He looked at his sons and smiled, waving them over to him. “I’ve not worked knowingly with any warlock. There may be some who hide it from me, but I’ve never followed their direction willfully.” He looked back to me and he was relaxed.

“Folzant has many warlocks in his employ, most of what he does is at their direction.”

“That’s why you’ve been working through his advisors?”

I nodded.

“That explains why he’s not pushed me to do things for him. I wasn’t on the inside, just made one less problem area while he struggles to stop you from wrecking his business.” He looked crushed, and pushed his large fists into the table. “I never put it together.”

“So we’re back to why I’d be hired to eliminate you. The longer I tailed you, the more I was convinced you weren’t a mark I’d take, but I can’t figure out why I’d be forced into the job.” I shook my head and stared at the cubs, who were beginning to get over their fear.

“What happens next?” He looked at me, and I smiled to myself.

“I return the contract and tell him I’m not a hatchet man, and if he ever tries to use me as such again I’ll take the fee and kill him instead.”

“Won’t that make you a target?”

I shrugged and moved back to the door, stopping at the exit and looking back to the Moglith and his family. “If I find out you lied to me, you’ll wish we’d ended it now.”

“I’ll stick with the territory I have now and stay out of trouble.” He looked at his wife and passed her a loving smile, (period) “We’ve just got a new property that will let us live well for the rest of our lives.” He looked back to me, the smile engraved on his face.

“Good luck keeping it.” I pulled my hood back over my head and exited the house. Unsure of my next move, I leaned against the building and let out a deep breath. Low voices carried through the walls, his sons asking why he didn’t fight me. His reply sparked the kindling of my anger, creating a blaze that grew beyond my control.

“I’m a warrior, but he is a killer. Pray you never have to look into eyes like his again, because you might be taking your last breaths.” (What a creep. I hope the MC kills him at some point.)

Walking to the Devil, each step I took fanned the flames of my rage. Things had been going nearly perfect, and I knew that it had been too good to last. Still didn’t temper the disappointment that came when things changed. (Good job! I really liked this. I mostly just don't understand what's going on with the warlocks and stuff, but I'm sure that's explained later.)

###

The Horned Devil was busy, with many of the gangs sitting down in the basement waiting for their companions to arrive so they could compete in the pit (kind of a clunky sentence.). Valok mariners sat in the ring around the hole in the floor smoking and wagering amongst themselves, and two Moglith guards leaned upon their spears. I moved over to the bar and waited for the bartender to finish his tasks. Mornak hobbled over to me with my usual, and I flipped a zzar to the ex-gladiator. A smile that split the Moglith’s face quickly appeared, and I shot down the zarzn (what's that??) and moved to the basement to wait for Kruz.

Other patrons moved out of my way, I guess I looked angry. I forced myself to relax, and pulled the hood of my cloak farther over my face to avoid unnecessary attention. There weren’t any of Kruz’s underlings in the basement, so I stopped and took a sip of my drink before going to sit in the back room at one of the gaming tables.
Kazf, the priest of Zilanon, sat in his customary booth as far away from the pit as possible. A bowl of the daily stew the cook had thrown together sat on his table. Dodging around some of the young gang members who were heading to the bar, I slipped around the many tables and looked for a table that suited my purpose.

Deciding that I didn’t care to play with the Feznar and pair of Dal-Shiz who occupied the dice game, I joined the Valok playing kronark. The entire table looked at me as I pulled back one of the empty chairs, and they didn’t appear pleased to have a newcomer. I pulled back my hood and tossed my small coin pouch on the table. They took one glance at the pouch and were satisfied that I could afford their stakes, (period) and I sat down and looked to see if Kruz was here. No sign of him yet, so I got comfortable and took a long drink.

The sailor to my right passed me a long stemmed pipe, (period) and I took a long puff of the mild intoxicant and passed it on. I removed the contents of my purse onto the table, (omit comma) and began placing it into convenient stacks of brass, silver, and gold. It wasn’t all my money, but it would be enough to keep me in the game until Kruz finally showed up. A groan arose from the table, and the sailor across from me broke into a laugh, and the golden chain hanging from his nose to his ear flopped around as he scooped the coins lying in the middle of the table. (too many "and's.")

I sat there, chipping in the ante and folding whenever there was action by the sailors, watching the stairwell for any sign of Kruz, and passing the pipe along as it came around to me. The Valok began to eye me suspiciously as my brass and silver stacks dwindled, and I decided I’d better actually play a hand soon. The tiles hadn’t been there for me, and when I drew a high pair I put one of my zzar into the pot. A few Moglith toughs walked down into the basement, and I saw the Dernak I was looking for walk towards the table he usually sat at while running games for the gangs.

Most of the Valok backed out of the hand, with only the nose chain sailor calling my bet. The tiles lying in the center didn’t help me any, so I tossed in another zzar hoping that he’d decide playing the hand wasn’t in his interest. His brows clenched together, and he looked at his tiles before nervously pushing a stack of silver to match my bet. I turned over my tiles, and relief flowed over the man’s face. He turned over tiles that beat mine, and I smiled at the sailor before grabbing my last two zzar and placing them in my pouch.

“Good hand. Thanks for the game.” I moved to stand, and pulled my hood back over my head.

“You’re done?” The sailor who’d just won stared at me, his arms spread over the table to scoop up his take.

“Lost all I want to for today.”

“You sit down and just gave us ten gold, rarely even playing.” He sat up straight, leaving the coins where they sat on the table. “If you’re going to look for us later, you might as well try to take your gold back now.” He looked ready for a brawl, but I had another in mind.

“I was waiting for someone to show up, and needed something to pass the time.” I smiled and spread my hands out attempting to be non-threatening. “If nothing else, consider it payment for you sharing your herbs. Thanks for giving me a pleasant distraction while I waited.” I gave a nod of my head to the sailors, and walked away from their table and over to where Kruz had set up shop. (I'm already convinced that your MC is a decent guy (aside from his occupation, of course), so I'm not sure if you need the card game section. I mean, it did show me the culture and that's cool, but to be honest I found myself skimming for when he finds Kruz.)

Gang leaders were lined up to compete in the pit, chasing after a hidden purse placed somewhere in the maze below. (I'm a little confused about this pit. Maybe remind us of the devils or whatever playing in it, or what it looks like.) It was a favorite way for the younger enforcers to make a name for themselves, and there rarely were any deaths from gangs fighting below. Fights in the darkness had a way of calling creatures not part of the game to come join the fun. Many of the gangs ended up working for bosses of the city who learned of their exploits here, and that drew in so many that Kruz was able to make running this game his largest earner. I circled around the line and was next to the table on the side Kruz occupied before his muscle could block my path. Kruz looked at me and with a wave of his hand warned off his guards.

“Tzal, what can I do for you?”

“Might want to send the contestants away before I say anything else.” The anger in my voice startled the Dernak, and the lips of his maw (...what's a maw?)twitched as he rapped his three clawed fingers on the table. His pointed ears had snapped forward, and he turned so that both of his eyes could focus on me.

“Please come back in five minutes and we’ll get the games set up.” Kruz looked at the gang leaders, and I opened my cloak letting them see my tomahawk and axes. With one glance at my harness the toughs disappeared, and I pulled out the small bag that contained the advance fee for Trakshul. A flip of my wrist tossed the bag on the table in front of Kruz, and I felt my nostrils flare.

“I’m not a hatchet man for any of your clients.”

“That sounds like a threat.”

“I won’t kill good Tillians so you can profit.”

“You’re making a dangerous decision here (comma?) cub. My client is not going to appreciate the job not being done, and he may decide that the fee can be used for (on?) you.”

“Let him. I’ve been hunted for a long time, one more thug looking to join in won’t bother me.” My hand was fingering my tomahawk, and I think only the effects of the Valok herbs were allowing me to control my temper.

“You’ve not been hunted by people who know the city better than you. My client will want retribution, and there is already a bounty on your head from Kranak and Folzant. Don’t push away the only ones who will look out for you.” He tossed the coin pouch back to my end of the table, the thin lips around his mouth pulling back in an arrogant smile.

“Tell him where to find me, and we can take care of it anytime.”

“Tzal, you’re a good skulk. Don’t be a fool and have all the lords of the city chasing you in addition to the Zarachtil Tzolanzen. No one can withstand both.” He shook his head at me while talking, and the condescension in his voice brought my rage back in an instant.

“The first time I worked for you it was for fiends and their servants, and I’ve turned down all jobs that didn’t fit the criteria. If you ever try and get me to kill someone not aligned with the fiends again, I’ll strangle you and then go after your client. That’s a promise Kruz.” I snarled at the boss and turned on my heel. The muscle Kruz had brought with him came towards me, and I pulled my tomahawk from its sheath and waited for them to make their move. Two of them moved to draw steel, (peroid) and I looked forward to unleashing my anger on the fools who dared to stand in my way.

“That is enough!” Krabuz’s voice startled me as he stepped from behind one of the supports. “No one draws steel in my establishment. If you want to fight take it into the pit.” He was looking at the Mogliths, and I slipped my tomahawk back into its sheath, hoping the old Dal-Shiz hadn’t seen it in my hand. The Moglith thugs backed away and Krabuz turned to me (comma) enraged.

“Get out of my establishment, Tzal.” Krabuz said as he pointed upstairs. “Go.” (new line) I turned to look at him, and decided keeping my mouth shut would be for the best, as the venom in his tone echoed in my ears. With a glance at Kruz I headed to the stairwell, bumping into one of the toughs with my shoulder as I passed. He snarled at the contact, and I sneered back before moving up the stairs.

Mornak, the ex-gladiator mountain that served the bar at the Devil was staring at me as I ascended the stairs, and the guards around the balcony watched me as well. Mornak hobbled on his missing leg over to my side of the bar, and motioned for me to come closer to him. I moved over to him and wondered what he wanted.

“Head out the back way. It will give you an extra few minutes throwing Kruz’s enforcers off your trail.” Mornak said, his normally booming voice barely a whisper. He quickly moved across the bar and opened the door to the kitchen, motioning for me to follow. Almost preferring to fight off the enforcers just to vent my rage, I hesitated for a moment. “Don’t think about it. Even you will have trouble with everyone Kruz will call in.”

He was probably right, (period.) and I followed him into the back room. Mornak hobbled through the narrow walkways between the massive shelving units that covered the floor of the kitchen. Large double doors led to the main storerooms and Krabuz’s office, but I followed the Moglith to the back door to the alley.

“Why’d you do it Tzal?”

“The mark was clean. I’m not a hatchet man for gold, and now they know it.”

“No, why come here and pick a fight with one of the lords? Why not just move on?” Mornak’s large brow was scrunched together, and I didn’t know how to answer his question. (If he didn't know, technically he wouldn't say the next bit. Just sayin'.)

“I guess after years of running, I’d rather live here than start running again. There comes a point where if you don’t stand for what you believe in you won’t get another chance. This was the time, and my position on the matter should be crystal clear to anyone thinking of hiring me in the future.” I looked to the bartender and shrugged (after such a speech I think shrugging is an odd thing to do.). He nodded his head and flashed me a wry smile.

“You earned my respect, but can’t say Kruz will want to look at you for a while.” Footsteps came down the hall, and Mornak moved his large frame toward the racks of supplies before looking back to me. “Get on your way Tzal, (period) come back tomorrow and I’ll let you know what the word on the street is.”

“Thanks Mornak.” I pulled my hood up and headed into the late afternoon streets, making my way home to wait for the fallout from this job.

Notes: Too many "and's." They were everywhere and the ideas they linked didn't always flow together. And the names. Sooo many names. It was a lot to keep track of, especially since many of them sounded alike. Now, since this is an extra to your book, I wouldn't worry about it too much. However, if you're going to be posting this as a writing sample, make sure on your website you have a place where you list all the species/names so the reader at least has a resource to look at. Knowing what all the different species were would have helped tremendously in forming mental pictures (for some reason, I kept picturing tigers and lizards walking around...). Other than that, I thought it was really interesting with the crime bosses etc. and I liked spending time with your MC. Hope to read more about him someday. :)

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Thank you for reading. My pleasure. :) [/quote]

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Bryan Russell/Ink
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Re: 'The Job' - Short story for critique

Post by Bryan Russell/Ink » February 12th, 2010, 5:01 pm

Moved this thread up in All Things Feedback for convenience. Hope this helps.
The Alchemy of Writing at www.alchemyofwriting.blogspot.com

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