Before we get started: This is a bit of a spoiler for The Faithful, as well as showing the direction I am taking one of the POVs after the events of that novel. Read at your own peril!
"What do we have here, boys?" A voice beamed from across the hall. It was hard, nasally, its accent almost drowning out the words.
My head was jerked upright, my vision swimming in the mix of burnt oranges and royal purples. Dozens of men, haggard and unkempt, sat at tables, watching, their laughter cut off abruptly with their boss's exclamation. Despite the scattered plates in front of them, they looked ravenous, staring me up and down as if I were about to be served up. From the glare Big Chops was giving me, I couldn't be sure I was that far off. I tried to find my footing.
One of the men carrying stopped, slammed an uncompromising steel rod into the back of my leg. I pitched forward, was caught again and dragged past the cheering crowd. As I passed, they stood, filtering in behind us. The shouts turned raucous, violent.
Then Big Chops leaned in as I was dumped in front of him. As he went to speak, the place went deathly still as if, for him to speak, he had to suck the breath from the room. He whispered, "My, ain't you a pretty thing?" Laughter followed in bursts.
Up close, I could see the fresh swath of skin where he'd shaved that morning, opting to keep his legendary chops, though it left the rest of his face look dwarfed in comparison. His suit hung off his lanky frame, leaving valleys of rumpled velvet in his wake. He knotted his hands together, as if contemplating what he said. "To what do I owe the pleasure?"
I looked up in his coal black eyes, burning with rage and fire. I said, "I needed a good look at you."
Big Chops laughed, leaning back into his throne built out of dock planks. The entire place reeked of the harbor. This little society, tucked away from the rest of Sandhyanen, rested on the edge of the Dregs and the Docks. They'd built up their black market using discarded containers from the surrounding cities, cleaning them out in the nights before the next shipment day. They were riffraff, scrounging on the bureaucracy and he'd seated himself as their king.
"I must admit I'm surprised to see one of the Family deign himself to come down here."
"Sometimes you've got to adapt."
Once again that sickening laughter. He lit a cigarette, let it rest between his fingers, his black fingernails sharpened to points. He smiled as he took a drag, leaving his face all the more like a weasel. He leaned in. "While it was nice to meet your acquaintance, I must say I'm growing a bit bored." He dug in his jacket, pulling out an antiquated revolver. "If you'll excuse me, I think this meeting is at an end." He leaned forward, casually aiming with no more care than he'd shown in the entirety of the meeting.
I laid there, watching him, eyes trained on the pistol when gunfire erupted at the back of the great hall. Shouts echoed in the confined area as the men at the tables struggled to their feet only to be put down moments later. I kept my eyes on Big Chops, though his face was no longer on me. Instead, his mouth had fallen open, the cigarette dangling precariously on his lip as his hall was seized from under his grip.
His eyes gained a razor focus and settled on me. The cigarette fell from his lip finally, hitting the ground and rolling to the side as he stepped over it. He brought the cold pistol to my forehead, whispered, "You--"
I seized the barrel of the revolver, easing it down as I rose to my feet. "Chops, your operation is now the proud home of Na Creidmhigh." I flashed an easy smile. "Would you like to join our happy family?"
I furrowed my brow, gripped Chops elongated face in my hand, gripping his jaw with all my might. I tried to restrain the venom from my words, but they leaked through. "No, the gods are dead and Keir with them."
Chops's eyes grew, and all he could do to respond was nod. I shoved him away and he tripped over himself, sprawling to the ground. Stepping over him as my men flanked me, I collapsed into his throne and said, "Now down to business, men. We need to retake Sandhyanen."