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Short Stories

By CavyGuru All Rights Reserved ©

Fantasy / Action

Artisan

written 21/03/12

It was a magnificent morning. Amira leaned back into the deck chair allowing the warm salty wind to whip her honey brown hair into a hectic mass of wavy locks. Her eyes wandered over the dawn stained sails and the dozen or so red-capped turns that rested on the rim of the crows-nest. They would be striking land today; maybe even soon if the smoke-hazy horizon was anything to go by. It had been a week. Amira hated sailing, hated the sea. Her element may have been water but there was something about the salty liquid around her now that left her feeling dirty. She was of the mountain creeks and rivers, pristine and clear; solid and unmoving in winter but free and even unpredictable during warmer weather.

An unusual energetic vibration caused her to roll over and she saw a young man looking at her from where he’d perched himself on the railing. His deep blue eyes piercing and analysing.

  ‘Can I help you?’ Her tone was cautious. For the whole trip she’d made eye contact with him at least three times a day, clearly the man had something he needed to say to her. The only thing she liked in him was the feralness of restrained strength.

  ‘Yes…I mean no…I mean I think so.’

Amira flicked an eyebrow, ‘Why don’t you start with your name.’

He made a noise which could best be described as a nervous girly giggle, ‘Trevor Sandler’

  ‘Alright, Trevor, what’s on your mind?’

  ‘Are you…perhaps….. an Artisan?’

Amira stared at him blankly.

  ‘I mean…There’s something special about you and I…I’

  ‘What’s the matter?’ She moved to ease his unstable emotions, more to avoid him attracting the wrong sort of attention, ‘Be careful how you use that title would you… I wouldn’t trust this crew and certainly not this captain.’

  ‘I need your help.’

Sitting up to see him better she absent-mindedly tightened the shirt straps behind her back, ‘I’m not going to promise anything but explain to me how you think I can help you and I’ll let you know if I can or not.’

He moved forward faster than even Amira’s reflexes could catch to take up her hand, ‘Please. It’s my family. My son is gifted and my wife thinks that our baby girl is too. They’ve fled to the country for now but…’

  ‘It won’t protect them for long.’ She sighed.

  ‘No. I didn’t think it would.’ He turned his large green eyes out to the horizon in a silly attempt to hide the disappointment that had been obvious in his tone.

When the Pankhurst Division won the war ten years ago things changed. The ‘gifted’ were identified young and removed from their families for ‘schooling’; which essentially translated as indoctrination. They left the schools either broken or brainwashed.

Amira pulled her hands away from him and stood up, ‘I’m sorry’

  ‘You won’t help me?’ It was a pathetically dismal plea.

  ‘I can’t. I’m not an Artisan.’ At least not yet. ‘You won’t find any Artisans younger than thirty.’

Disappointment paled the intensity in his eyes.

  ‘What I can do…’ She paused for his reaction. ‘Once my mission in Reefside is complete… is send someone to collect your family.’

  ‘How can I help?’

  ‘Help?’ With raised eyebrows she looked down on where he was still kneeling.

He stood slowly, ‘That’s right. I have…contacts in Reefside, of various kinds of professions and not all of them legitimate if you catch the drift. I’m sure we can work something out.’

Amira had to re-appraise him, ‘That explains how a merchant could afford to buy passage on this particular vessel.’

He nodded, ‘I could say the same in return; you’re no Lady of the Courts.’

  ‘Thanks’ Amira walked to the side and peered over. In the east the sun was breaking through the clouds, it sent a blotchy reflection over the calm waters. He probably hadn’t said it as a compliment but for Amira is was; she detested the petty, twitchy childishness of the court ladies.

Five hours later Amira and Trevor stepped off the gang plank and onto the docks. Reefside was an ancient city of carved limestone and sandstone buildings. The city’s icons were the winged dolphin and hippocampus (as in half horse-half fish). Statues filled the court yards of kings, saints and legends but the animal icons were carved everywhere into the buildings, cream and gold walls and roofed with blue slate. Amira was forced to follow Trevor through the backstreets. The map she had been given must have been easily a century out of date as it only vaguely resembled what she was seeing. It took her the best part of an hour to find herself on it only learn that the dock where they’d been dropped off was on the opposite side of the harbour to where the map had suggested.

 After a quick meal to help their stomachs settle back into a stable existence Amira found herself being led away from the water and into the darker depths of the city where the poverty hovels lay carved into a great cliff face. It was truly a warren but the living walls lent themselves to rich carvings, some had been ruined or destroyed by the wind over the many eons they’d been there but there was a pride in the energy, a resilience she couldn’t put her finger on and as she made eye contact with one person after another she recognised the wildness as the same as she found in Trevor’s. Despite the danger in the air she found herself relaxing.

  ‘Down this way.’ Trevor grabbed her hand and dragged her down a light filled corridor.

  ‘I thought we were underground?’ She asked as she adjusted her stride to match his while trying to shield her eyes.

  ‘Mirrors’

She was pulled into the shadows of another corridor, ‘What’s the rush?’

  ‘I didn’t realise how late we are.’

  ‘Late for what?’

The answer was stolen from his lips as they practically fell into an open area. Light flooded into the courtyard. Dust and insects wafted on a draft and the two of them stared on as a lean female figure slowly stood up amongst the shadows of the opposite alley. Amira could feel the energy pulsating from her, an earthy coldness in her dark, half-obscured features. The two women sized each other up for an extended moment; Amira standing in the golden light and the other in the shadows with an amused smile on her face and a bloodied blade in her hand which she didn’t try to hide.

  ‘Well then,’ Her head turned enough for Amira to see the white eye and parallel scars that ran down the left side of her face.

Trevor looked from one to another and back again, ‘Ladies, if I may offer some introductions.’

Amira stared him down, ‘What?’

He stepped forward, ‘Lady Ureya may I introduce, Amira of the Hearthlands.’

Wiping the blade on the shirt of her victim, who had previously remained unseen in the bushes, Ureya replied, ‘I know who she is but why is she here?’

Amira felt annoyed that this stranger knew who she was.

Trevor seemed to be excited about the introductions, ‘I met her during the voyage. If I help her with her mission she’ll help me with my family.’

  ‘I see.’ With a flick of her wrist the blade vanished, ‘And what pray-tell is your mission Amira?’

  ‘A rogue Artisan, a healer, has turned deathdealer.’

  ‘Define Artisan.’ The woman said bluntly as she waved for the others to follow her inside.

  ‘A gifted individual who avoided the governmental snares and was appropriately trained.’

  ‘You hide your gifts well.’

  ‘As do you.’

Trevor missed a step, ‘Ureya? You’re one too.’

  ‘Of course… there are more here than the nobility have been led to believe.’ Ureya closed the door behind them and bolted it. She then looked Amira up and down, ‘You’re very calm for someone who just witnessed a murder.’

  ‘I’ve seen worse, though right now I’m trying hard to work out if you’re worth trusting or not.’

  ‘Fair call I suppose.’ Ureya left them standing in the entrance for a moment and headed deeper into the abode leaving Trevor to show their guest to the sitting area- a small area found under the kitchen by climbing down a ladder.

Amira analysed the décor, tapestries too rich for the hovel district of such a large city had been hung on the feature wall either side of the massive flat screen. Masonic symbols had been cunningly worked into the scenes and the borders; it took a trained eye to spot them. Most of the town had been decorated in whites, creams and various shades of blue. It felt awkward to be surrounded by greens and rich reds. A statuette carved of a black stone with silver veins sat on the coffee table. The plaque labelled it as The Hunt but the swirling form only vaguely resembled a cat at the run.

The sound of someone climbing onto the ladder caught her attention and a child’s feet came into view. The dark pantalets and grey skirt looked strange on a child until she turned to look at the guests. Her sullen expression and glacial eyes caught in Amira’s heart. Only one thing could do that to a child- rape. The girl of perhaps nine shuffled forward and handed Amira a change of clothes and a sealed letter to Trevor. Trevor turned around to read the note while Amira changed. The brown outfit was loose fitting but had ties on the sleeves and legs so it could be held in place. She turned in time to see Ureya drop down into the room with them.

  ‘Any questions?’

  ‘Brown?’

  ‘I have black if you prefer but my legs are longer than yours’

  ‘Why am I changing at all?’

  ‘I would have thought it obvious. I can hardly take you out hunting in that embroidered cream court attire.’

  ‘Hunting? I’m not going hunting?’

  ‘Then why are you here? You were sent to deal with this Artisan weren’t you?’

Amira stumbled, ‘Well technically yes, but I don’t want to kill him.’

  ‘Want and need are two different things. Artisans are a special breed and for one to become a deathdealer is serious business. I think I know who you’re after…’ She flicked a glance at the grey skirt disappearing up the ladder again… ‘But I can’t take them on my own.’

  ‘Them?’

Ureya paused halfway through her appraisal of Amira’s attire and how it fitted, ‘Yes, I believe there are three.’

Amira baulked, ‘I’m not a killer, you can’t expect me to follow you down that road.’

  ‘Not a killer? What are you then?’

  ‘I don’t have to answer that but I’m not a murderer.’

  ‘Here in Reefside the rules are a bit different. Murder means to kill without cause… we have a cause and they must be stopped. Dark Artisans can only be stopped one way.’

  ‘No.’ Amira crossed her arms, ‘They must be brought to justice alive, dead they pose us even more of a threat.’

  ‘I suppose that depends on the manner of their death. Weapons are behind the screen, choose your preference. You don’t WANT to kill that’s fine; if you can find a way to stop them to your satisfaction then you do so but don’t have your heart set on a happy ending to all of this. We will watch them for a while, formulate our plan and strike them hard, all at once in three days’ time.

She didn’t like the idea but she didn’t have another plan, didn’t know another way of completing her mission and had three days to find her alternative to killing THEM outright. The screen gave off an electric buzz as she slowly shifted it aside to reveal the hidden panel.  Blades of various lengths were set out on a sort of magnetic holding device. Throwing knives set in a silk lined box, a set of star blades, hooks on chains and a meteor hammer. Selecting a black lacquered bow and a leather quiver of arrows for herself and the T hooked chain for Trevor, as per his request, she closed up behind her.

Together they set out well after dark. Ureya led them through the backstreets in a significant curve through the city to the temple district where the healers made their home. The sandstone here was rich cream with rusty coloured marbling, red clay tiles rooved the newer buildings. The district followed a stream through what would have once been a lush valley. Great trees still remained, looming overhead as the occasional dark mass and masking their passage from the numerous lofty towers of the temples. The night was warm and the humidity carried the scent of storms. Down in the valley they couldn’t see the ocean and had no way of knowing if the storm was headed their way or not.

Pausing at a dolphin fountain they waited for some sort of sign or movement. Ureya seemed to be waiting for someone and Amira filled the time practicing her water working skills.

  ‘You said you weren’t an Artisan.’ Trevor complained as she recreated patterns on the surface.

  ‘I’m not. I’m only level two and I’m only twenty one.’

  ‘You’re an idiot’ Ureya said quietly under her breath.

  ‘Excuse me?’

  ‘Levels have no meaning, everyone’s abilities are different’

  ‘Fair enough but without a levelling system how do students know they’ve improved?’

  ‘You’re a water worker, as you get stronger you can make a bigger splash- easy.’ Ureya smiled.

  ‘And what about you? What’s your skill?’

  ‘That’s complicated.’

Trevor pulled gently on Amira’s sleeve and indicated for her to drop the subject. No chance.

  ‘What brought you to Reefside?’

  ‘Why can’t you just shut up?’

The abrupt shift in Ureya’s energetic feel made Amira worry. She saw a flicker of movement which must have been some sort of hand gesture as Trevor moved low and slow towards the alley beside an inn. She made to follow but Ureya held her down with a hand on her shoulder,

  ‘Wait for fifteen more seconds then follow him. I’m going left down that way,’ Ureya chin pointed down the main street.

  ‘And what exactly am I looking for?’

  ‘Blood.’

  ‘What?’

A half smile made the scars of Ureya’s face contort unnaturally, ‘I think you heard me. There’s a hunters moon tonight and we aren’t the only predators on the street it seems.’

Amira stood up anyway, ‘I’m going home then.’

  ‘My dear child, as if that is going to change anything at this point.’

  ‘What’s that supposed to mean.’

  ‘Run along as directed please.’

  ‘Not until you answer my question.’

  ‘You’re the bait.’

Amira didn’t hang around to ask more questions. She pelted down the alley as directed but the first chance she found she turned off it. Choosing turns and stairs that would take her down the side of the valley towards the creek she focused her attention on moving as quietly as possible. Water was now her only friend in this remote, unknown place. The world was shades of black and grey as moonlight stole the remnants of colour from her surrounds. A fragrant scent caused her to pause at someone’s garden gate. There was something inviting about it, something safe. A pond a short way inside provided the needed resources to mess with the lock and she slid inside. Using the water a second time to silently relock the gate behind her she looked around for a good hiding place.

Ureya prowled along the rooftops. This district was her favourite playground, she knew it extremely well from her studies here and the uneven rooftops forced her to work harder to remain silent and unseen. That foolish girl should have been better trained; she was everything Ureya had come to detest about the Artisan breed and their strict training program. They really shouldn’t send out paper pushing rookies to do the work of an assassin. They hadn’t even taught her how to properly hide her energy, she leaked a trail any well trained dog could follow and her playing like that in a public place was just plain stupid. Perching for a moment to view down the valley Ureya waited for her prey to head for water.

Trevor moved invisibly through the squeezes between buildings. He was her dog, able to sniff out those with the gift. The more they used it the stronger their scent became. He paused as the squeeze met an alley way and a strong scent, too peppery to be of water alignment. Using a drainpipe he climbed up to the building’s smoke stack and began signalling Ureya that they weren’t alone.

Ureya had not expected company to come tonight. This was about spreading the girls energy signature throughout the district, again tomorrow and on the next night her victim should have come out to play. She ran through the plan, the procedure and everything she knew about her mark. She tried to work out why he’d changed his own game plan. Dropping from her perch into the garden beds below she silently moved to find Trevor. The signal had told her where he was headed but chances were good that she’d beat him to it, if she threw caution to the winds and disregarded her silence. A distant rumble of thunder made her decision for her. With a soft shing she drew her favourite blade leaned forward and leapt into a speedy but endurable pace through the streets.

From her hiding place Amira used a window to see a reflection of the street. In it she saw the sky light up as the storm rolled in off the ocean. Half an hour she told herself, half an hour tops and things would get very wet. If she could last that long she would be fine. The pattering of feet on stones made her shrink back deeper into the bushes but it was overhead that she saw the person fly by. Catching her own breath she froze as the pattering slowed and fell silent. She sensed that whoever they were they were doubling back. They couldn’t have seen her but there were other senses an energy worker could rely on more.

A flash of lightning revealed him, cold eyed and standing in snake stance on the tiled roof, peering down into the garden, reaching in energetically, searching. He seemed more interested in the gate, in the lock, than anything and as the thunder rolled around them he was gone again. Still not confidant enough to breathe Amira tried to work it out. Energy workers were rare if not extinct now. How did one city accumulate so many and did this Rogue Artisan have something to do with it. The only Artisans accepted by society were the healers, surely any others were just fair game to the local population. Ironically her mind shifted to the memory of that haunted little girl and she realised that perhaps they were fair game in this city after all, that they’d had to band together to survive.

Steel on steel made her flinch and she realised that she had stopped paying attention. There was someone at the gate, it rattled roughly again and the sound sent the rattle down her own spine. She closed her eyes, calmed her breathing and focused on the coming storm. Whoever they were they didn’t move too quietly so she doubted they were the man from the roof. She fought her instinct to look. The broken gate fell to the cobbles with a crash and she leapt out of her skin with a squeak. The person in the garden flinched worse than she did and hurried to escape the scene as a light switched on overhead.

A huge clatter to the west forced Trevor to ease his pace. The night air was turning violent and as the breeze died down a heavy laden humidity settled in its place. He entered another squeeze and began doubling back to investigate the sound. Humid air carried more scent and as he moved along one of the market streets more scents mingled and blurred together. He headed back away from the main areas to regain his senses and as he did he fell over the broken gate.

Amira squeaked again at the unexpected noise and held her breath as the current person waited in the alley sniffing the air. Slowly he came into the garden. The light was still on in the building so Amira had no reflection to utilise this time. Silent and graceful he paused at the pond and knelt down,

  ‘Amira, Are you here?’

  ‘Trevor? What’s going on?’ She didn’t move from her hiding place and used the wall to help throw her voice a little.

  ‘It seems everyone is out hunting tonight, everyone including the government officials. We have to get out of here.’

  ‘Why did you bring me here?’

  ‘It was supposed to be a trap for the Mage.’

Amira was stunned. A mage was an energy worker who had decent command over more than one elemental branch, she’d not heard of one existing since the war. ‘You’re not trying to kill me?’

  ‘Me? No. Ureya… your guess is as good as mine but if it’s any consolation she tends to go for bigger fish.’

A flash of lightening confirmed who she was talking to, ‘Alright. I’m coming out.’

  ‘Very clever.’

  ‘What is?’

  ‘Using the garden to hide your scent.’

  ‘What are you talking about?’

He held out a hand to help her up, ‘Never mind. Best that we leave this district for now.’

Amira nodded but he wouldn’t have seen it in the dark, ‘Agreed.’

He pushed her briefly against the wall as he checked the street for others and dragged her out of the garden into the danger of the backstreets.

Ureya cleaned her blade on the woman’s sleeve before sliding it back up her own. Checking the wound on her shoulder she ripped the woman’s shirt for a rag to tie it with. The woman had been a skilled air weaver but her wooden staff hadn’t much use against Ureya assortment of daggers and blades and for an Air Weaver she didn’t move nearly fast enough. Cursing the government training program yet again Ureya stepped away from the body and back into the security of the shadows. It bothered her immensely that the government had sent out its agents. She’d been so careful; hiding her abilities by utilising the mundane, never hitting the same district too frequently over any given period of time and even established alibies and red herrings.

A sound caught her attention and she ducked the wide swing of a broadsword. Swinging back onto her feet she used a short dagger to fling another strike aside and landed a solid roundhouse kick to the youth’s side. The force sent him sliding against the wall as a fork of lightning rent into the night. It lit up her face making it look hollow and frightening. The light lingered a little longer on the scars and they were the last thing the youth saw before the flash of warm house light off the cold steel of her long dagger. Standing she re-cleaned her blade and slid it away. Three in one night was a lot for even her to bear and she was still no closer to the target. With half a moment to glance at the ghost of her little girl she left the scene in silence and continued her hunt.

Lithe and agile she slithered through the squeezes towards the chapel of the spring goddess. Her mark lived near there and her patience was wearing thin. Ahead the street was lit by an open pub and Ureya was angered to see Trevor dragging the text book terror right down Main Street in full view. Cursing herself, and peeved at her apprentices stupidity she kicked herself into action. Another squeeze and she shimmied herself back amongst the smoke stacks and gables. A single dagger was all it would take to get Trevor’s undivided attention and make her displeasure crystal clear. But she would first need to separate him from Amira.

Trevor caught a very familiar scent and slid to a stop forcing Amira to crash into him.

  ‘What the?’ She picked herself up an adjusted the straps on her sleeve for a moment only to be hauled up a different street. The storm broke overhead and the rain brought a relief from nothing but the humid warmth.

  ‘We’re in deep trouble now.’

  ‘You mean we weren’t before?’

  ‘Oh we were in trouble all right but now we’re in over my head.’

She slammed on the brakes this time, ‘you’re head? What exactly have you dragged me into?’ She screamed as a dagger flew past her face and lodged itself deep in Trevor’s shoulder. His left knee gave out beneath him as his body went into shock. She ripped the dagger away and dragged him onto his feet again, ‘Run!’

He fumbled for a few steps then regained his stride.

  ‘Why is Ureya trying to kill you?’

He struggled to get enough wind to speak but as they paused he managed to string some words together, ‘It’s not what you think.’

  ‘That was absolutely one of Ureya’s daggers.’

  ‘Yes it was, this way.’

Amira was pulled into a squeeze she wasn’t prepared for and it jarred at her shoulder fiercely. She felt the front shoulder muscles tear as her momentum kept her moving forward regardless.

  ‘Warning would work.’ She spat through gritted teeth.

Leaping out of the squeeze Trevor found himself flattened. Ureya grappled him from the alley and the two of them slid in the mud into some bins. It sounded like a dog fight for the scrabbling and yelping. The bang of the bins halted for a moment and the two people fell back into the street and in a flurry of rain and mud they stopped in a stalemate, blade to each other’s throats, each holding the other’s weapon.

  ‘Why did you betray me?’ Ureya spat.

  ‘Why did you try to kill me?’

  ‘I asked you first.’

With a muffled grunt Amira was pulled into the shadows.

The bag was pulled away roughly and she breathed in the cool damp air of the cellar as her eyes adjusted to the glare.

  ‘Where am I?’

A gruff voice came from a corner behind her, ‘Do you think we’d go to all this trouble to get you here only to tell you exactly where we are?’

  ‘Alright.’ Amira sighed, ‘Why am I here?’

  ‘Much better choice but I think my own questions are going to come first don’t you?’ The gruff old man staggered forward and put a rather nasty looking tool on the table in front of her, ‘I can make things… uncomfortable for you if you don’t co-operate.’

  ‘The fact that I’m not dead tells me more than you realise, the fact that it’s still raining means I’m still in Reefside and it’s still the same night.’

  ‘What do you know about Ureya Brandy?’

  ‘Very little, I met her this morning… or maybe yesterday morning depending on the time. Either way, less than 24 hrs.’

  ‘Do you recognise this man?’ He held up a photograph.

  ‘No.’

He leaned forward and reached for his tool, ‘Are you sure?’

  ‘Do I look like this is my town? Does my accent not seem strange to you. I arrived by boat yesterday morning. I am here to find a Healer by the name of Dawlins.’

To make a point the man turned the photo over to reveal the name Dr Dawlins written on the back. ‘It seems you don’t know anything of value our business is concluded.’

  ‘You brought me down here for that!’

  ‘I said our business is done, I do believe you still have business with the local magistrate, Artisan.’

Amira’s blood solidified as the reality struck her between the eyes. There was only one way the government dealt with Artisans other than healers and it generally involved a long walk off a short plank. Calming herself again she refused to let the fear take her. Instead she focused on the sound of the rain falling outside, the gushing of it moving off the tiled roof into the street below… a step? Another? Who would be outside in the wet at his hour?

The magistrate entered the room coldly. He didn’t bother to hide himself, didn’t bother on any pleasantries. He just went straight to Amira’s strapped up shoulder. Pain shot down her back and up her neck and he leaned ever so carefully, ‘Well, well little Lady. Look what a pretty little fish has landed in my net. His hand moved, sliding purposefully down and under Amira’s shirt. Her whole body squirmed but being tied to the chair she nearly overbalanced in her attempt to get away from him. ‘No one can hear us down here. No one can see us, no one to come to help. There is only one use I know of for female Artisans and that’s Breeding.’

Part of the wall exploded inwards sending rubble and muck sprinkling over everything in the room. A small amount of dust hung in the air as Ureya swung into the room with her knife drawn. The magistrate had his hands to his face trying to clear the grit from his eyes in vane as the door rattled against its hinges.

  ‘Sir?’ came a muffled voice, ‘Sir is everything alright? We heard a loud noise?’

Ureya helped Amira to her feet as she cut her bonds, ‘can you run?’

  ‘I don’t know.’ It was an honest statement. Technically her muscles were fine but her nerves were shot and her shaking limbs offered little support.

There was something in the way Ureya moved that gave her away.

  ‘You’re not?’

Crouching a little where she stood she drew a second blade, ‘Oh no. I am done running from these bastards.’ The two women waited side by side as the door was rammed over and over again. They waited, bodies flinching with every heavy pound against the door. Amira didn’t know how useful she would be right now and all she could think to do was press herself into the corner amongst some fallen beams and try not to get in Ureya’s way.

As the door burst open Ureya pounced forward. The first figure appeared through the dust and received a long deep slide from hip to shoulder. The man screamed as he wriggled like a worm on a hook before them, trying in vain to hold his shredded body together as the shorter of Ureya’s blades implanted into the back of his shoulder to the hilt. She allowed the falling of the body to remove her blade for her as she turned, stepping forward at the same time to block the second man who had a pistol in his hand. Using the long blade to sweep his hands down she ghosted to the side. Stepping in close behind him she flicked both blades in the air to free her hands so she could break his neck. Poised in snake stance she caught her blades deftly and waited for the others to follow. Seeing how smoothly their comrades had fallen made the remainder hesitate.

Shots were fired but all they succeeded in was showing the room in plaster and adding to the thick dusty mist. For a heartbeat things fell silent. For another heartbeat everyone seemed to be holding their breath, waiting for the dust to reveal the prize. Rough hard hands reached in and lifted Amira from her hiding place. She was too glad to be out of that choking white dust to consider who it was and if they really were trying to help.

  ‘Ureya!’ She shouted down below her, ‘Get outta there!’ Her next words were muffled as she found herself dragged back into the crisp wet shadows of a squeeze. Her shoulder throbbed fiercely and tears stung her eyes as she found herself pulled to the ground. She bit into the hand that gagged her, hard enough to taste blood. She didn’t let go as the hand was pulled away and she felt the flesh tear and the man who held her howled. Unable to maintain her grip she let the hand go and used her own to break his hold on her shirt. Struggling back to her feet she left the security of the squeeze and pelted into the main street.

There was just enough light to see by. The storm had passed and a heavy soaking rain was all that remained but this street had been blessed by streetlights on every corner making her passage easier. But the broken light also made her easier to pursuit.  She could hear foot steps behind her… joined by a second and a third. At the end of the street was a T intersection. It took her so long to decide whether to turn left or right that the wall of a building caught her instead. Her shoulder slammed hard and she felt further injury as he collarbone cracked inside her. Not a full break perhaps but enough to render her whole left arm useless.

Her captors had taken the bow and the arrows but a trump card was pulled through her pocket from a holder on her thigh. Defence was never a good skill of hers but the slim blade was all she had to offer right now. Pushing off the wall she tried to go left but slipped in some undescribed muck that had filled the drain beneath her. Gently picking herself up she could tell she was surrounded. A few unsavoury characters were standing in the pool of light but the glitter of eyes and the pearly glow of teeth told her that there were another dozen or so hidden from view.

She rallied her thoughts, asking herself how she managed to end up here and how she intended to get out of it again. She could feel the storm moving away but the lingering rain was her only comfort. Startled by the sound of a chain she flinched sideways, catching her foot in that cursed drain again. A grunt was followed by something heavy falling in the darkness and suddenly everyone was moving around her. A flash to her left showed Trevor working his hooked chain. Throwing, twirling, lunging catching as bodies fell around him. The sting of metal on metal was on her right as Ureya moved through the crowd with frightening efficiency, spraying blood around to graffiti the walls and slick the already muddy pavement beneath her.

Then there he was; walking calmly towards her through the mass of fighting people; slowly, purposefully with double daggers at the ready and glowing with a supernatural energy. The others would be too busy to help her, too exhausted to save her by the time he got there. Pulling on her foot Amira realised that he put her there. The green glow was of nature alignment and the weeds that trapped her foot would only release her upon his command. He approached still, stopping just long enough for his blades to slice through one of his own thugs that got in his way. The boy fell to the ground in three pieces and he stepped on a thigh as if it were nothing more than a pile of dirty washing.

As he advanced Amira’s mind cleared. She could feel the rain around her; it was all she had left. Gathering her own power, slowly at first but then faster she forced the power into the small blade in her hand. She chilled it. The first sign of a change was tiny beads of ice at the blades tip but as more rain fell over it more ice began to form. The approaching mage paused as he saw his own breath in front of him. The temperature fell further and a light breeze began to waft up from her direction. As if sensing the approaching danger he lengthened his stride, he couldn’t see the growing blade of ice hidden in the folds of fabric at her side.

If she was going to fight she was going to have to be anyone but herself. She was a book worm, what did she know. As she continued to chill the blade, as the mage came within striking distance she found what she was looking for. Accessing a past life she drew it forward to consume her.

The mage raised his blade and stopped. Looking down he saw her hair turn white, saw her eyes go rusty dark and her whole energy shift to flow in another direction entirely.

With a smile on her face she straightened up, ‘What now my Lord?’ Without waiting for a response she lunged to one side the shining white flash of her long iced blade sliced the binds at her ankle like a hot knife through butter and she was suddenly beside him.

  ‘Mages are so rare.’ Her voice wafted, lingering behind her as he turned around trying to figure out where she’d gone. ‘It seems so careless that one should turn rogue.’

He fell to one knee in pain, cradling the bloody stump where his left hand used to be. A light mist was drawn from it as his body heat mingled with the frosty air that surrounded him. Still on his knee he spun; instinct saving him from her next strike. His eyes saw movement in the light but it was only Ureya, poised in the light and ready to come to the book worm’s assistance if it was needed. There was a loud crack of energy that sounded a little like lightning and something felt off about his surroundings. It took him a long moment to realise that the rain had stopped falling, frozen as it fell and now energetically held in place. He watched in horror as each droplet was lengthened into long, immaculately sharp needles.

She was behind him as he stood transfixed. Back to back she gave a knowing smile, ‘Time to confess’

He jumped but because he was already on one knee all he managed to do was fall over. His hands were suddenly stuck to the wall against which he had fallen. Fingers turning deathly cold as the ice spread from the rain-soaked bricks and around his hand.

  ‘Let me go you foolish child.’ He growled.

  ‘Not until you confess. These people have an unnatural power, power that’s not theirs. What exactly have you done?’

  ‘I…I…’

  ‘I’m waiting.’  It was no longer her voice, cold and whispy it sent a fresh shiver through his body.

  ‘I made them.’

  ‘How?’ A third of the needles pelted into his arms, a hundred pinpricks followed by the sting of the dirty ice melting inside him.

  ‘Souls of power were transplanted into gifted bodies, the more souls the more power could be ascertained. I experimented with combinations’ He breathed heavily as he watched more needles form around him.

  ‘These abominations are why the children have been dying.’

  ‘No, we didn’t kill our victims.’

  ‘The empty shells you leave behind, the fractured minds, they are as good as dead are they not?’

  ‘That’s a matter of perspective.’

  ‘Why?’

He flinched as the needles moved but this time they stopped just shy of his face, ‘So I could raise a force to march against the government.’

  ‘Civil wars are dirty and this one is tainted beyond all reason.’

  ‘So what now, Book worm? Are you going to kill me?’

  ‘No.’

  ‘Then what?’

There was no answer. He tried to turn around but he remained glued to the wall by his hands. The silence extended until the ice began to thaw. Ripping his hand and empty wrist free of the wall he turned to see them, the mindless shells of three dozen children coming down the three streets of the intersection to claim their own kind of revenge. Cradling his wrist to his chest again he used his shirt to try and stem the bleeding but found the wound sealed by the ice that had bound him. He staggered forward in his agony and was swamped by the numerous little hands and feet.

Somehow Amira managed to drag her exhausted self back to Ureya’s abode. She was stripped of her muddy bloodied clothing and allowed to climb wet haired and naked into the warm bed. All she could hear was rain, it drowned out all other sounds despite them being so deep in the cliff’s side. Ureya tucked her in gently, checked her adopted daughter in the bunk overhead and made a seductive memory cleansing tea for everyone. If the government caught them there would be no story to tell.

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