A Harvest of Broken Stars

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Chapter 19: Thugs

‘Now what?’ Ada asked, as she watched the elf and the halfling disappear under the stone arches that once had been part of the city gates.

Rayn didn’t answer. Instead, she slumped down against an old tombstone and closed her eyes. Ada joined her, and for some time, neither of them uttered a single word. This was the first break or respite since they fled from the inn at Bargetown at noon the day before. Exhaustion overcame them, and they slept until shouting voices woke them up.

‘I’ll break every bone in your puny, piece of shit body!’

Ada opened her eyes, instantly awake. She reached for something but realised she carried nothing to use for defence. Not even the knife she always kept strapped by her hip in the streets of Sandcastle. By her side, Rayn also stirred, but both remained seated on the ground with their backs against the stone.

The graveyard was different in the daylight. From where they were sitting, there appeared to be no order or system to it. New graves nestled between old ones, and statues, tombstones and small mausoleums cast shadows that created hiding places for anyone who did not want to be found.

One such person, a scrawny boy of about twelve, darted between the stones some twenty yards away. Soon, three other boys, bigger and most likely older, appeared.

‘Fine, I won’t hurt you. Just give me the damn necklace, and you’re free to go as you please,’ the larger of them shouted. He was almost as tall as a man.

‘I wouldn’t take him up on his offer, if I was you,’ Ada whispered.

The boy froze as if he heard her. His eyes met Ada’s, and he lifted his finger to his lips, pleading.

‘Hey, girls!’ The older boys spotted the women and walked quickly to stand before them. They were all doing their best to appear as menacing as possible, with smug smiles and puffed chests.

‘You smell of sewage, boys. Go home and have your mama change your diapers,’ Ada dismissed them.

The insult apparently made the pack forget about the boy they chased. The larger boy’s fake smile melted like wax on a hot stove, only to be replaced by a far more sinister expression. One a young woman growing up in the streets of Sandcastle knew all too well.

The boy made a show of grabbing his crotch and looking at his compatriots for support and confirmation.

‘I know what you’re going to smell of when we’re finished with you,’ he said.

‘Good for you!’ Ada forced herself to laugh despite her fear. She regretted her approach to the young thugs, but there was no going back. ‘You can fantasise about that when you fondle each other tonight.’

‘You’ve got a filthy mouth on you, whore! But I know how to silence you.’ He grinned and pulled down his pants to reveal his excitement at the prospect.

Ada laughed again and pointed to the corpse that had been chasing them the day before. It lay face down in the mud a dozen steps to their right, its broken skull clearly visible. ‘That guy said the same thing last night. His was much bigger, though. He was a grown man, not a boy of twelve like yourself.’

‘I’m sixteen!’ the boy protested, looking at the mutilated corpse. After a moment, a smile started to spread across his face. ‘That man has been dead for weeks! I watched him die in the arena at the full moon festival!’ The thug started toward Ada again.

Rayn pulled on Ada’s arm. ‘Let’s go! Even I know that look!’

‘I can’t back down!’ Ada whispered to Rayn, and pulled free. ‘Not this time.’

The boy closed in with his trousers around his knees. His smile was replaced by an evil grin. The other brats hooted and shouted encouragement to their sinister champion. Ada did not know what to expect but prepared as best she could.

The boy’s arms shot out faster than anticipated. He took hold of the front of Ada’s shirt, or what was left of it, and tugged her forward and down. She fell to her knees in front of him, the shirt pulled halfway over her face and his fist pressed against her cheeks. Ada seized his wrists and tried to focus her mind.

The boy smiled down at her and raised an eyebrow. ‘Let go and it will hurt less.’

Ada tried to channel heat through her hands. It did not work. She had no fire to draw thermal energy from. She let go of his wrists.

Rayn shouted and came forward, but the other boys caught her. Laughter and jeers filled Ada’s ears. How tired she was of being bullied, hunted and assaulted. Sick of men, dead men and boys thinking they could do what they wanted with her.

Warmth started spreading in her belly. That other kind of fire. Fuelled by anger and despair.

The thug took her by the hair and started pulling her further down. More fuel for the fire.

Ada channelled the warmth from the belly, through her chest, via her right shoulder and down her arm. She did not need two hands for this job. Sensing the warmth emanating from her hand like a torch, she knew she was ready.

Ada plunged her hand between the boy’s legs. Taking hold of his sack, she squeezed. The sizzling silenced all other noise. For several beats all was still. At last the boy’s body felt what his dim wit could not comprehend.

He screamed.

The thugs surrounding them, stared with open mouths.

‘Piss off before I really get angry!’ Ada said, letting go of the scalded sack.

The thug turned and tried to run with his hands on his groin and his pants around his knees. He fell.

The rest of the gang backed off, mumbling words like ‘sorcery’, ‘witch’ and ‘magic’.

The burnt boy crawled to his feet. Pulling at his trousers, he jumped more than he ran. ‘Stay away from me, you crazy witch!’

Ada watched the thugs run off before she leaned back against the tombstone, closing her eyes. She felt Rayn slump down beside her.

‘Calls of witches and sorcery, are seldom good signs,’ Rayn said.

‘Not even for the witches?’ Ada replied, while her eyes remained closed.

‘Especially not for the witches.’

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