The sun floated directly above the city, and the cobblestones of its streets basked in the warmth of its nurturing solar rays.
Though the illumination seemed to pierce the most obscure recesses of the side roads and alleys, the temperature did not approach that of oppressive. The citizens were not seen utilizing the daily crier to ward off heat exhaustion. No children were seen doffing their shirts to find relief from a scorching sun. The ladies of the city were not observed dabbing their foreheads with kercheif.
It was a extremely pleasant day, one where even the most reclusive of inhabitants felt that it would be a shame to not go out and at least shop for fresh groceries, let alone “enjoy the outdoors.”
On this absolutely perfect of days, Eron lazily strolled through the streets.
He meandered through the market section, a smile on his face as he regarded the innumerable stands filled with delicacies that ranged from freshly caught fish, to exotic nuts, spices, and sweets, to a stand with nutritious leafy greens and oddly shaped, curiously colored vegetables, to a store with fresh, ripe, fruits where he finally ceased his languid serpentine stroll in the sun, pausing to palm and press his fingers into the tender, textured, and fuzzy flesh of a warm, ripe, pink, orange, and red, peach. Having found the perfect, succulent, mid-day snack, Eron willingly relinquished several coins to the owner of the stand, who he was quite sure gave him the briefest of nods, and the sincerest of smiles as they exchanged currency for sustenance.
Eron bit into the juicy, nectar-laden stone fruit over and over again, until naught was left but pit and the slightest fleshy bits of fruit, as he wandered through the streets with no particular direction or purpose. He was happy being out, enjoying the uncommonly wonderful weather. He breathed in the fresh, warm air, that which normally had a hints, of leather, sawdust, and sweat, but instead had notes of coffee, chocolate, cardamom, flowery lavendar perfume, and honey.
Eron found his way, unintentionally, but unremorsefully, to the theater and arts section of the city, where sing-song dictations of lines being practiced floated out of open steel-framed windows. The sounds of orchestral instruments being tuned glided through the air, and to his eager ears.
While traversing this neigborhood, a street musician caught his ear, and Eron spent more than a bar or two, enjoying the dulcet, and exotic sounds the guitarist masterfully produced with his melancholic fingerpicking and lilting vocals.
The sun shone brightly, the air was clean and pleasant, and Eron felt blissful as he continued through the twisting thoroughfares of his placid, and content, city.
He was walking away from the sounds of the instruments, and the store fronts displaying canvasses with vivid expressions of artistic creativity, and sculptures of incredible mastery, in the sun-drenched artsy center of the city, when Eron felt an abrupt chill in his spine, so inconsistent with the euphoria of the day he was experiencing, that he halted his walk, and visibly shivered in the middle of the street.
Everywhere he looked were friendly faces, warm sun-drenched stone, and inviting, appealing images. He squinted, and scanned, but found nothing sinister in front of him, or to his sides. Eron wheeled slowly but found nothing threatening to the direction that had just been his rear. Everything was saturated by the warm yellow glow of the sun. From somewhere nearby, several birds trilled sweet, high-pitched notes, and the frigid sensation that he had just experienced vanished.
Eron scratched his head, and questioned whether he had actually felt that which, mere seconds later, felt so inconsistent with the elation he was feeling on that incredible day. Finding himself unable to justify further contemplation on what he began to think was a trick of his mind, Eron shrugged the phantom icicles from within himself, and continued his blissful stroll.
A short while later, while he regarded a merchants stall, filled to overflowing with large cylindrical containers full of sweet-smelling flowers of varying colors and beauty, the jolt of ice shot through him once more.
Eron dropped the stem that he held between his fingers, and the petals, pistil, and stamen, that were close to his nose, followed the stem back into their former repository.
Eron turned to his left, and this time, the sun, smells, and friendly faces were still the majority of what he saw. However, in the distance, behind the euphoric multitude, Eron saw two crow-black hats bobbing through the crowd. Though it was impossible to know with certainty, Eron sensed, by their incongruity with the immaculate scene, and by the way his body shot chilling warning signs through him, despite the perfect temperature of the day, that these black-hatted individuals were coming for him.
He turned to his right, and began to walk briskly through the crowd. His pace was much more deliberate than the easy-going saunter of the city folk enjoying their inexplicably perfect day, and, as he pushed forward, those he jostled murmured soft utterances of displeasure at his disturbance of their reverie.
Eron maintained his hurried pace for ten to fifteen minutes, ducking into several alleys and side streets, making abrupt lefts, and rights, and making the occasional pause under an awning to look behind him, canvasing for the dark chapeaus.
After several pauses, whereby Eron did not see his pursuers, he slowed his pace, and, finding that the city had maintained its state of ecstasy, fell back into his languid ambulation.
In due time, Eron stopped at a raised pool at a large intersection of many streets. At the center of the pool was a sculpture of a fish with its gaping mouth pointed towards the sky. This sculpture was a fountain, and from the mouth of the sculptured fish, a stream of water spouted, arcing in several directions upon its exit from its narrow source, then splashingly-fed back into its source, the vast pool. Eron found himself engaged in conversation with a group of brightly dressed people about the uncommonly wonderful weather, and incredibly positive energy in the city, when he saw the dark headwear mar his vision once again.
He hurriedly excused himself from the conversation, took several steps away from the fountain and pool, pivoted, and sprinted in the opposite direction of those who, he knew, sought him.
He bowled over a shop patron casually inspecting an outdoor table of jewelry, then careened off of a musclebound juggernaut, ordering food at an adjoining stall. Once again, Eron slipped into alcoves, dove into tiny alleys, and launched himself down broad thoroughfares, as he fled from then men in black caps.
When his lungs burned, and the muscles in his legs felt the consistency of granite, Eron chanced a backwards glance. His chest heaved as he struggled to reintroduce oxygen to his system. Though hot sweat ran down his forehead, through his lashes, into his eyes, and caused his vision to temporarily ripple, he saw no evidence of his pursuers.
Though comfortable with most areas of the city, in his flight, Eron had found himself in an area that was unfamiliar, and unpopulated. He turned and shifted several times, trying to find a marker which might show a place where Eron might have previously visited. He found no such beacon.
Eron searched the unfamiliar area for a long time, hopeful for some familiar marker or sign that might point him to a familiar section of the city. After a long session of fruitless searching, Eron resigned himself to a decision. He decided to pick one of the paths near him, and walk until he found a familiar place, or at least a person, who might give him directions.
He hadn’t taken more than twenty paces, when he heard the clicking sounds of soles on stone.
He didn’t need a backward glance, he didn’t need the bone chilling sensation that gripped his spine, he knew what, or who made the sounds.
He flew down the passageway, panic fueling his aching muscles. At a juncture of paths, his feet guided him to the right, and he fled down a long corridor. The sun illuminated his escape way, and Eron’s feet pounded the stones as he fled down the backstreet, until he abruptly hit a dead-end.
The stone at the terminus was brightly polished, and the suns rays bounced off of the reflective surface, giving Eron the illusion of a clear path until he was mere feet from colliding with the wall.
Before he turned, he could feel them closing in on him from the end of the passageway that he had chosen, and he knew he had no means of escape.
Jet-black headpieces floated toward him, born by figures whose physique he could only guess at from his view at the end of the alley. Eron braced himself as they approached with the slow, deliberateness of beings having all the time in the world.
The brims of their midnight, clergyman’s hats obscured their eyes, but not their sly, sinister smiles as they drew near. Eron took up a position of defensiveness as the pair came within twenty feet of his stand.
The man to Eron’s left muttered something that sounded like “roots” and his counterpart closed the distance.
He moved so quickly that Eron’s reactions to step back and attempt to block may as well have been executed in quicksand. The man flashed towards Eron, drew a short blade from a concealed scabbard at his back, and made two rapid movements, one, a downward slash, and one, by pulling the blade back, away from behind Eron’s ankle.
A long gash opened on the inside of his right thigh, and immediately after, his left Achilles tendon split. Eron collapsed, crashing his knees onto the pavement, the surgical strikes having crippled the muscles in his legs. The blunt trauma on his knees as he collided with the ground, combined with the sharp, piercing pain of his lacerations, overloaded Eron’s senses with agony.
Eron shuddered with the intense shock, and in the briefest of moments that he pressed his eyes together in torment, his attacker shifted to his rear. Eron opened his eyes, saw only the one black hatted nemesis, then felt his arms wrenched behind his back, his shoulders jerked upwards, and his upper body rendered immobile in the grip of the cruel bladesman.
“You thought you’d give us the slip, did ya eh?” The man in front of him snarled.
Eron opened his mouth to retort, but no sound came from his lips. He could feel his mouth making the motions associated with communication, but his ears heard nothing. In the midst of his perplexity at not hearing his thoughts he found himself wondering how these terrible men had attacked him on this perfect, beautiful, and amazing day. He pondered their identities, and their motivations, and he searched for any reasons they might have towards their violent actions towards him.
The man who spoke moved towards him with disturbing slowness. The way he closed the distance between himself and Eron, in his thoroughly subjugated state, was in the opposite way in which his companion approached.
Eron, helpless, observed the creeping gait, the sedate motion of the dark-capped man’s arm and hand as he reach into his coat. Eron viewed the leisurely movement, as his assailant drew the short, menacing dagger. Eron gazed in horror, as his attacker moved the blade, in measured increments, towards Eron’s chest, until the tip rested upon his shirt, applying gentle, pointed pressure to his body. Then the man wearing the dark, clergyman’s hat, and the sly, evil smile, pressed the dagger into Eron’s chest, until the hilt prevented further progress, and the blade pierced Eron’s heart.
Eron felt warm lifeblood spill from his chest. He felt his body sag and weaken, as sanguine fluid poured from his chest and legs, down his torso, and pooled on the stones of the street.
The bladesman let go of his Eron’s useless arms, stepped around him, then joined his accomplice, and stood to his left.
The black-hatted pair turned around, and began walking down the alley, away from Eron.
Eron blinked, and his vision blurred. He was racked with pain and agony from the wounds inflicted upon him. He blinked again, and a flicker of shadow crossed his vision. His body sagged towards the stone of the street, and he took a deep, heavy, coppery-tinged breath.
He stared down the alley towards the two nefarious men, and caught the faintest glimpse of a single, tattooed, word, on each mans neck, tucked beneath the rear brim of their black hats.
Eron blinked, slowly, against the warm, bright sunlight, then, slowly shook his head at the quiver of shadows, and read the inked words.
Fear, and Doubt.