I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to get this chapter out. You know when you hit one of those rough spots in your writing where you know what you have to write and you know what you want to write but you don’t really feel like it because you have other things you want to do? Well, that happened to me, thus the delay on this chapter. But it’s here now, so, enjoy. 🙂
“So, I heard you’re pretty tough,” a large, muscular Aelve spat, slamming his fist down on the table.
The person he was speaking to, an unshaven Human, looked up blankly, then glanced around. No one even turned.
“You beat up some of the people in my gang a couple of dawnbreaks ago. Want to explain?”
The man rubbed the stubble on his chin, then shrugged his shoulders mildly. The Aelve stared in disbelief for a moment.
“You do not shrug your shoulders at me, Human. I’m Ta’vich, King of the Streets.”
Ta’vich waited expectantly for the customary look of fear. His addressee just gave him another blank stare.
“Alright, I’m done.” The gang leader picked up the table between them and flipped it towards the man. Before he could react, Ta’vich lunged forward, his fist coming into contact with the man’s jaw.
One punch sufficed to knock his opponent out, and Ta’vich stepped back, satisfaction on his face. “That’ll teach you to shrug your shoulders at me, Human.”
When he turned around and left, the Human opened his eyes and stood up, righting the table. He called for another drink and rubbed his jaw gently. Moments later, the barkeep hurried over with a frothing mug in hand.
“You should have beat him up, Asanthe. Now he will grow more arrogant. And he is a coward. One blow from you would have had him running,” the barkeep said quietly.
“‘Better an arrogant coward than a vengeful one.’ Philosopher Kylh, 601 A.E.” Asanthe took a swig of his drink. “Such words are not mere dribble, Clara. Where is your sister tonight?”
“You can tell?” Suddenly the barkeep became very shy.
Asanthe sipped his drink again.
“How can you tell?”
He grabbed her hand. “You wear a ring. It is so important to you that you wear it all the time, except for when you fill in for your sister. It leaves a distinct mark on your fingers. Your nails are not chipped and broken from years of manning the bar and dealing with unpleasant patrons. You may be twins, but you have a slimmer frame, and that outfit does not fit you as well as it fits Tara. And finally, unlike her, you have a decided predisposition to hang off every word I say.”
She stared at him, then hurried away to serve another customer. He sipped at his drink and let the bitter taste bite at his tongue and the sides of his mouth. Everybody reacted like that. Even in this modern era, knowing too much got you shunned and rejected by others. Still, better he remain rejected and unknown than his secret come to light. Already there were people who suspected him of being more than he claimed to be, and his claim was no light one at that.
Asanthe, wandering scholar and philosopher, studier of the arts and teachings of philosophers before him, that was what people knew him as. If they knew that he was really the last remaining shy-gyth — swordmaster — and the creator of the fifteenth sword art: sym-myth, there’s no telling how many he might have to kill to keep his secret safe; the last thing he wanted to do was kill more.
“It’s very rare that you come to see me, mother,” a tall, lanky man said placidly, addressing the hooded woman behind him.
“I need your help,” his mother replied.
“Another rare occurrence.” The man spoke in clipped tones. “Who is it this time?”
“You know who. He’s back.”
This elicited a reaction; his whole frame went taut. “Not even your best Purists can handle him.”
The Headmistress sighed. Her son had many faults, one of them being his insatiable desire to feel needed. She supposed that in part it had to do with the rough upbringing he had underwent. He had essentially been left in a state of total neglect for the entirety of his younger years. How she — who had willingly given her sickly son to the scientists to mutate — had become leader of an organization devoted to wiping out mutants from Cheridith was beyond her. Life certainly had its ironies.
She reached out and grabbed his arm, an unusual sign of affection from her. “Son, be careful. He was the best they made.”
He gave his mother a funny look of disbelief. “And you would mourn, if I died?” The laugh he let out was all air and no mirth. “Would you not instead rejoice that you wouldn’t have to send your Purists after me?”
She pursed her lips, then turned abruptly and left. He stood silently, brooding, watching her as she strode proudly away out of the small hut he lived in. He shook his head. She was the only person in his life who could exact any emotion from him, and he wasn’t sure if he hated or loved her.
The sun had sunk low by the time Ryke reentered the city. Most people had vacated the streets, and his footsteps echoed hollowly on the cobblestone. Except it wasn’t an echo. Someone was following him. He rounded a corner quickly then flattened himself against the wall of a hut. His shadow’s footsteps stopped, and he peered around the corner to see a cloaked figure hovering uncertainly.
Before he could do anything, the figure hissed, “Duck!”
Instinctively, he dropped. A crossbow bolt bounced off the brick wall, exactly where his head had been. He straightened and quickly scanned the area. Two cloaked figures now ran off in opposite directions. For a moment, uncertainty took the reins, then he threw caution to the wind and ran off after one of them.
Energy coursed through Ryke as he sped after his quarry, his speed giving him an edge. Aylya cast a quick glance over her shoulder and cursed when she realized Ryke was catching up. She could still stay ahead, though, just not by running in a straight line.
Without warning, she ducked around a corner into a side alley. Her pursuer had to slow somewhat before making the turn, giving her a few extra cords. It was all she needed. Springing into the air, she gripped a rafter tightly and pulled herself up. The muscle-up took longer than she’d thought— curse the newfangled heavy crossbows.
Ryke managed to catch up to her as she ascended. He jumped up and grabbed blindly, his fingers catching tightly on to fabric. It was her cloak, and it came tumbling down on his face as the clasp for it broke. He caught sight of a flash of red hair before his quarry disappeared across the rooftop. For a few minutes, he considered climbing up after her, but it would have been futile. Wrapping the cloak around his arm, he made his way back to the inn.