Thaigmaal, also known as Mount Thaig; the Capitol City of Haral. Land-locked on all sides by three different Empires, the tiny Kingdom was considered neutral ground and enjoyed unprecedented peace.
From a distance, the city looked like a jewel that had been placed neatly at the intersection of the Tuyahn desert and the Thaig Mountain Range. White spires rose up out of a sea of two and three-story buildings. Its five-meter walls had been warded against the heat by the Mage Warrior of Tempre. Without question, it was a city worth visiting.
Midnight in Thaigmaal brought cooler air and an unnerving stillness, like some dangerous predator waiting to pounce. But, in this case, the prey was a small group of street urchins running silently in single file, maneuvering in and out of the shadowed back alleys like theyd done all their lives.
Although Taigmaal was beautiful like a desert flower, there was also a seedy underbelly, like any settlement where thousands dwelt. Night brought out the vermin along with dozens of other unpleasant smells that dare not show themselves in the light of day.
The leader turned abruptly down a narrow alley, motioning the others to continue while he knelt on the cobbled stone streets and kept an eye on their trail. ”Keep going; its all clear. ”
Just like that, the four became three and sprinted down the alley. Arriving at the dead-end, the gangly twins knelt down and clasped hands.
”Up you go, Rat, ” one of the twins whispered.
The smallest of the group had stopped a few meters away. Something wasn right… The youth known as Rat crouched low while he scanned the alley. They had come to the merchant section of town; three-story buildings surrounded them, commonplace in the district since most shop owners lived above their businesses.
”Something is wrong, ” Rat muttered. Instead of approaching the twins, he studied the route up. First, they would boost him to the balcony; from there, he would climb up another story to a window kept open to let in the night air.
”Hurry! ” The twins whispered simultaneously, making a sound loud enough to alert their lookout.
Rat scowled and glanced over his shoulder at Brim, the groups de facto leader. ”Shit… ” He darted toward the twins and leaped onto the clasped hands of his friends. A moment later, he shot upward into the darkness.
Two bony but surprisingly strong hands latched onto the edge of the balcony before effortlessly pulling himself upward. Rats fingers found holds in the space between bricks where the filler had eroded. Without using his feet, he moved spider-like up the wall until he could grasp the window frame.
”Welcome! ” Strong hands gripped his wrists and yanked him upward through the open window. Instead of maintaining their hold, he was tossed against the nearby wall.
Rat pushed off the floor with his hand and turned enough to kick off the wall with one foot. He landed in a crouched position, his street weapons held in his hands. ”What is this? I haven broken any laws. ”
The group consisted of three men; two stood between Rat and the window while the third placed himself in the doorway to the next room.
”Breaking into this shopkeepers home to rob it is against the law. ” The man in the doorway spoke; he wore peculiar black leathers with a gold design embroidered on the right shoulder.
Rat leaned forward, resting his weight on the balls of his feet. ”Of course it is! I was only climbing to the rooftop for a nap. ” He gestured over his shoulder. ”I didn actually enter, those pulled me in against my will. ”
Rat appeared to relax for a moment, offering a pleasant smile before darting between the two men. One step, and he was clear, diving through the open window before anyone could touch him.
The railing of the lower balcony one floor below slammed into his ribs with a sickening crack that took his breath and threatened to release his last meal as nausea welled up in his throat. That sickness faded instantly at the scene in the alley below. A figure in black was handing a leather pouch to Brim.
”Brim? BRIM! ” The youth forced himself to move; bracing his foot on the railing, he leaped toward the adjacent balcony as his heart squeezed in anguish. ”
The shouts of alarm rose in volume as Rat landed nimbly, clambering upward toward the rooftop despite his injury. But, unfortunately, three figures arrived at the same time.
Rat crouched slightly, his weapons held low. ”My mates turned me in for the bounty? ”
The leader of the men nodded. ”You must have been careless, cast-off. ”
Rat noted the groups positioning, two of them had already moved to flank him. So the only viable option would be a three-story drop to the street below. ”Cast-off? Im no cast-off. ”
”No? Then roll up your sleeves for me. If you check out, Ill let you go. ”
Rat nodded and pocketed his weapons, two long nails that he salvaged from a burned-down building. He rolled up his left sleeve, stopping a few steps from the man before raising his arm. ”See? No fur patches. ”
The man leaned closer, his eyes narrowing in anger. ”Those little bastards must have conned us. Round them up! ”
”Wait. ” A womans voice spoke from the edge of the roof, soft and smooth like the purring of a cat.
Rat felt the hair on the back of his neck stand up. Living on the street had tuned his senses beyond what could be considered normal, yet she appeared behind him without notice. He turned toward the woman, well aware that the man hed been speaking to was closing in. ”I passed your test. May I go? ”
The woman was dressed in black like the others. She wore a hooded mask that hid everything except her bright green eyes. ”Roll up the other sleeve also. ”
”Matrea? ” The guards voice echoed his confusion; it was common knowledge that the corruption was always on the left forearm.
Rat flinched when the mans strong arm gripped his shoulder. ”Whats after that? My pants, maybe? You some sort of degenerate? ”
”Watch your mouth, street-rat! ” The man slapped the back of the youths head. The shaggy head flinched forward before slamming back into the guards face with a sickening crunch.
With no choice, Rat charged toward the edge of the building. He would have made it, but his injury slowed him, and the woman called Matrea cut him off.
e being troublesome, ” twin daggers appeared in her hands. Although her tone sounded amused, her black-steel blades waved a complex pattern in front of her.
”Sybasi fighter? ” Rat muttered a curse, just when he thought it couldn get any worse…
”Surrender peacefully and I promise you won die on this roof. Does that sound good? ”
”Very good, ” Rat agreed. However, if you toss me over the edge, I won die on this roof. ”
Matrea grinned behind her mask; under other circumstances, shed find the kid interesting. ”Be smart, y… ”
Her words were cut off when he flashed forward, striking at her abdomen. With the roof at her back, Matrea was forced to block with her dagger.
Rat faked a second stab before stomping on her foot and ducking under an impressively fast counterstrike. Unfortunately, his step forward teetered him on the edge of the roof. Instead of panicking, he pivoted on one foot and clutched her wrist while leaning backward.
Matreas eyes widened in surprise; dropping the dagger in her hand, she attempted to twist free of the youths grip. Unexpectedly, he released her and then stabbed her face with the nail he still retained. Only a reflexive twist of her head saved her from a life spent half-blind. The point of the nail dug into the soft flesh near the corner of her eye.
The fight that spanned a half-dozen attacks and counters lasted only a few seconds. Then, Rat slipped off the edge of the building while Matrea was able to keep her footing and take a step back.
The woman stared at the empty space where the kid had been standing. ”I didn want this to happen. ”
”Little bastard had it coming! ” Her guard approached, sword drawn as he scanned the area. ”We should bring the body back. Just in case. ”
”No. ” Matrea surprised him by pulling back her hood and mask. Then, ignoring the blood that ran freely down the side of her face, she glanced around the area for her dropped dagger. ”The two of us got our asses kicked by a street rat. Im going to forget it happened. ”
”I didn get my ass kicked. ”
Matrea shook her head slightly and headed toward the roofs stairs. ”Your broken nose says otherwise. ” She didn voice the question foremost on her mind. Where did a street rat learn Sybasi knife fighting? ”
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