I hadn’t killed the guy who lay on the ground at my feet, but it hadn’t been for lack of trying. Barring any unfortunate accidents, he was going to live to experience all the joys that came with a concussion and a fractured skull. That put him in a better position than me though. I wasn’t likely to live to see the next ten minutes with the way his friends were looking at me.
“Badz got himself whupped by kid. I can’t believe it.” one of the two thugs who’d cornered me laughed. His name was Davos. Like Badz, the guy I’d knocked out with a sucker punch from ambush, Davos considered himself one of the local tough guys. I usually stayed well clear of idiots like that but I’d broken that rule for the little boy that was crouched in the back corner of the alley we were trapped in.
Laz was the youngest and newest ward of the Sisters of the Water’s Grace. It wasn’t my job to look after the other orphans the Sisters had taken in. On the other hand, I’d seen the city eat up too many kids already and I’d be damned if I let a piece of scum like the Badz or his crew power themselves up by leeching the life out of another one.
“Laz, you see an opening, you get the hell out of here.” I whispered to him and turned to face Davos and Maraz, the other thug who was blocking the mouth of the alley.
“Gonna be bad for our reps if word gets out.” Maraz said.
“Looks like we’re gonna need to make sure these two can’t talk to anybody then.” Davos said.
I shifted my left foot forward and rolled my shoulders as I settled into a fighting stance.
“Oh look. She thinks she can fight.” Davos laughed again.
Rather than answering him, I just smiled.
Davos was a tall, skinny whiplike guy with greasy hair. He looked fast and I knew he’d be stronger than he appeared. Maraz on the other hand was a beefy, bull-like bald guy. He looked tough and strong, but I knew he’d be faster than he appeared. Guys like them almost always had a lot of physical anima, or body centered magical talent since that was all that had going for them. They looked imposing, and dangerous because they were. It wasn’t just their physical capabilities either. They liked violence, they enjoyed causing pain, and they’d made a habit of both. That was a bad sort of guy to get into a fight with.
Compared to them, I looked frail. I had muscles, but they were thin and lean and I was significantly shorter than either of them. What’s more, I didn’t have the kind of physical anima they did. In fact I sucked at magic. I always had.
Davos bounced forward, all lazy and relaxed until he was within striking distance and then he let loose with a jab to my face. It was quick and forceful. I couldn’t block or dodge it. Unfortunately for him it was predictable, and since I didn’t have incredible physical reserves to fall back on, I’d learned how to take advantage of what openings came my way.
Davos’ punch rocked my head to the side, but I was able to roll with blow to reduce the worst of its effects. I spun with the force, grabbing his arm and pulling him with me so that his arm locked straight out. He tried to pull back but that just pulled me with his arm and helped me fall on his elbow. He screamed as it snapped the wrong way and I broke my fall with a short kick to the inside of his knee. The cumulative damage was too much for him and he tumbled to the ground, dragging me with him. I tried to kick away from him, but he held onto me with his remaining arm and slammed me into the ground as we fell.
My arm took most of the impact, but the pain distracted me and bought him time to grab my head. The next thing I knew he was knocking me against the ground. I saw stars, but my reflexes stayed with me and I grab his hand before he could slam my head against the bricks again. Without thinking about it, I grabbed his index finger in one hand and his little finger in my other.
Davos had a lot more strength than I did, and magic to back it up. If he was focusing he’d have raised an anima shield to prevent the kind of damage I’d inflicted on him. He’d been careless though because I didn’t look like a threat and as a result he’d lost the use of an arm and a leg. If I gave him time to think, he’d raise his defenses. Instead, I broke both of his fingers and then shot an elbow into his face and shattered his nose. I grabbed Davos’ head to put him down for the count, but Maraz pulled me off him before I could.
That was the problem with fighting two guys at once. Skill and determination can only take you so far against superior numbers and might.
Maraz slammed me into one of the alley’s walls and knocked the breath out of me completely. I saw him draw back his fist and moved my head on sheer terrified instinct. Miraculously that was enough to dodge the blow. Unlike Davos though, Maraz had his anima shield in full effect, so punching a brick wall at full force didn’t damage his hand at all.
Faster than I could follow his drew his fist back for another punch. I kicked upwards and managed to deflect the blow at the cost of letting him get his other hand wrapped around my throat.
I kicked with my other foot and caught him first in the chest and then in the chin. Neither blow phased him at all.
Behind him, I caught sight of Laz bolting out of the alley. Maraz’s fist hit me like a piston after that. One, two, three blows and then I felt myself being thrown against the other wall of the alley. I toppled into a boneless heap and tried to force my quickly swelling eyes open. Everything hurt, but I couldn’t afford to let that slow me down.
“What the hell did you do to Davos!” Maraz yelled as he grabbed the front of my shirt and hauled me back up.
I knew it wouldn’t do much good, but I shot a palm strike up into his chin followed by another to his throat. Amazingly he collapsed, choking and sputtering. The idiot had dropped his anima shield thinking he’d beaten the fight out of me!
Before he could recover I boxed his ears and smashed his face with a rising knee strike. I went to press my advantage but he flailed out with a wild strike that caught me in the center of chest and knocked me back into the wall. I felt something crack but didn’t have time to think about it before he roared and charged at me.
Fortunately for me, he was slow because of the pain he was in and too distracted to put up his anima shield again. I ducked under his attack and kicked him right in the armpit. That knocked him off balance enough that I was able to sweep his legs from under him.
With him on the ground without an anima shield and me standing it ceased to be a fight and just became a stompfest. He managed to land one solid punch on my right leg but the kind of head trauma that comes from repeated kicks was too much for the low level regeneration offered by his anima to deal with.
I could have just left the three of them there in the alley. They didn’t know me or Laz, so while they’d probably come looking for me, all I had to do was lay low for a bit and they’d fade away as just another ugly part of the city I called home.
I could have left it at that, except I’m not exactly a saint, despite the best efforts of the Sisters. So I stole their wallets.
I probably should have felt bad about about leaving them penniless but healing spells aren’t cheap and as far as I could see (which after the beating I took was maybe ten feet in front of me), I deserved to get patched up a lot more than they did.
Opening their wallets, I found that crime paid pretty well. The credit talismans were unmarked and not bearer bonded, which was predictable for people who made their living via “extra-legal activities”. It was more money than I’d ever seen before too. Possibly it was all the money they had. I hoped so anyways. The idea of them starving and destitute appealed to me immensely.
I tasted blood in my mouth as I walked down the street away from the alley. People weren’t exactly staring, no one did that who’d lived here longer than a week, but I knew I had to look like a wreck based on the amount of room they were giving me.
On the fairly likely chance that I was going to pass out from internal bleeding before I could walk to a cleric’s clinic, I waved down a hover taxi and had the driver take me to the nearest one he could find.
That turned out to be a twenty minute ride away, which told me that the taxi driver wasn’t too worried that I’d die in his cab, or leave it a bloody mess since I was pretty sure we passed at least three or four clinic’s before we arrived at one that was labeled in Galactic Common rather than any of the local languages.
“Do I look like an out of towner?” I asked him, feeling surly about the extra fare charge.
“You look like a mess. Do you want me to take you somewhere else?” he asked, looking back at me in the mirror.
“No, this’ll be fine. Here, have a tip too.” I said, paying double the fare’s cost. “You don’t want to remember that you dropped anybody off here. It’s more trouble than its worth.”
I saw him delete the stop from his holo-display.
“I don’t know what stop you mean.” he said.
I guessed that he’d done me a favor, taking me to a random clinic far away from the scene of the crime, but with my adrenaline draining away I was feeling the pain of the beating I’d taken too clearly to have room to feel any appreciation for his ‘thoughtfulness’. It was almost worse knowing that what I was feeling was only a pale shadow of what I’d be feeling over the next few days if I didn’t get healed up before then.
With that in mind, I dragged myself up into the “Peaceful Light Clinic” and waved at the receptionist who was minding the empty waiting room. He looked up and looked me over as I entered.
“Please have a seat. I’ll get your paperwork ready.” he said, gesturing to the row of chairs against the wall on the opposite side of the room from his desk.
There was a holovid display that was tuned to a 24 hour news channel on the wall adjacent to the one I was sitting near so I turned to watch it. The usual talking heads were present, doing their best to make the news sound even worse than it actually was. I smiled at the thought that I might hear about three thugs who were found beaten and robbed in an alley but that sort of thing never made the planetary news. People like me, Laz, and the thugs didn’t matter in the big picture of things.
“This just in.” one of the newscasters said, as a ‘Breaking News’ banner scrolled across the holodisplay. “We’re receiving reports that a new warp portal has been detected in the system. The planetary defense grid has been activated and citizens are advised to proceed to the nearest secure location until this threat has been evaluated.”
I sat back and frowned. I’d seen the defense grid activated plenty of times before, but a new warp portal wasn’t something that had ever come up before. As far as I knew, the celestial dragon paths that let people travel from world to world were all pretty well mapped out. A new one opening could mean almost anything.
Somewhere inside me I felt a shard of ice start to form.
My world wasn’t special or noteworthy. We had a few big cities, a lot of little settlements and a ton of boring, empty wilderness. It was possible that a new warp portal would place us closer to the heart of civilization and bring in trade and tourists and all sort of good things.
It was possible, but I knew that wasn’t how the universe worked.
If someone had suddenly developed an interest in us, it wasn’t going to be because they were friendly.
I felt the ice in my chest growing colder and more painful.