Chapter 2 – The Magician
“There are many things one can say, but only a few that one can do. Focus on what is to be done. Explanations will be crafted after the fact by those who agree with your actions. You are then free of doubt to choose the one that best suits your mood.”
Julian, Face, Hawthorne, and Katrina spent the next day attending to their newly acquired residence. The old house was a burnt out husk of a building. The fire had consumed nearly everything on the interior of the structure, though the building itself was still holding up reasonably well. It had been constructed mostly of block, and the fire appeared to have burned hot and fast enough that the concrete structure survived. They would be able to make good use of the place if it could be put back in order.
There were piles of ash strewn about where furniture had once been located. Most of the day was spent carefully pushing and sweeping these piles out of the house. When they worked too hard or fast, the piles would billow up into the air, making the room uninhabitable for a period of time until the dust and ash had settled down again.
It took time for word to spread around the neighborhood that the building was once again occupied. Many curious people came by but none interrupted the gang on that first day until later in the evening. It was at that point when a sharp knock came from their front door.
This was unexpected. They had not established a process for dealing with the public nor for dealing with other gangs. They were unprepared; learning would be a series of trial and error surprises.
Julian considered what the most appropriate course of action would be and finally came to a quick decision.
Let the big man open the door.
“Face…I’m going to let you handle this kind of thing until we figure out something better.”
He was met with a raised eyebrow and a look of annoyance. “Right. Thanks for the permission to answer the door.” Face grumbled, but the decision made sense. He was the muscle of the group, and if there was a task suited to those abilities, including absorbing an ambush, then that would be his job.
Face went to the front door to the building and swung it open. “WHAT?!?” was the only question he had for the uninvited guest. In front of him stood a tall, thin man. His long, dark, stringy hair hung down his back and fell sloppily in his eyes. He looked like some kind of grim reaper, skeletal and lost in sunken features. He kept a piercing gaze that did not flinch even at the harsh introduction.
Quietly, but sternly, the man responded and held out an envelope, “You are summoned. The details are inside.”
Face looked at him with contempt, and then looked at the envelope without acknowledging the fact that it was being presented to him, “Summoned? I don’t think so buddy.”
The man casually dropped the envelope at Face’s feet, stepped back one pace, and turned to leave. Face could feel his blood boiling and nearly found himself offering a lesson in manners to the man before Katrina rushed over and pulled the door closed.
“Idiot! Do you know who that was? You’re lucky you’re still breathing!” She snatched up the envelope from the floor and tore it open.
“I’m lucky? I’m lucky?? Excuse me, but Mr. Vision-o-Death there is lucky I didn’t put his teeth out the other side of his skull.”
Before she finished opening up the envelope, Katrina decided to educate her companions on their mysterious messenger. “Look, that man is known as Skylar. He is Riven Turnbill’s friend and councilor. Among other things, he is also rumored to be Turnbill’s personal assassin. So, I doubt dentistry was in the cards for you.”
That was enough to get everyone’s attention. Face asked the obvious question, “That little guy? He looks like he’d snap in half if the wind blew the wrong direction.”
Katrina nodded, “No one really gets it. From the stories I’ve heard, Skylar never really engages in a fight. He kills alright, that’s for sure. People have seen him do it. He’s good at it. What no one gets is how he manages to keep himself alive. I mean, you’d think he was dying just from looking at him…”
Julian decided to take the discussion in another direction. “Well, that kind of person wouldn’t show up without a reason, right? So what’s in the envelope?”
Katrina tore the rest open. “It’s a request to appear at Turnbill’s mansion tomorrow morning. Apparently there is a meeting of the various gang leaders.”
Hawthorne waxed his thoughts on the matter, “Probably a welcome party, some drinks, maybe even a special handshake… It’s nice to be the center of attention for once.”
Julian let the joke slide without saying anything. “Actually, I’ve heard rumor that Turnbill has been increasing his required kick-up payments lately. The meeting is probably something along those lines. I get the feeling that the only thing that matters to this Turnbill guy is the monthly income reports. This may make things harder on us since whatever rate he’s putting forth is based on the other gangs’ income levels and we have no idea where we stand in all that.”
That was a sobering thought for all of them. There would be responsibilities placed on them now. Accountability to an authority who likely did not accept failure or its subsequent excuses.
“But tomorrow will be a new day. We will deal with this meeting as it comes, and then we will have our afternoon appointment with our potential councilors. She set up the meeting with them…” Julian paused, his thoughts becoming disorganized. He once again could not remember that woman’s name. Had he even asked for it last time? They were so busy with the contract and all that… Wait…did he actually see her sign the contract? Julian’s frustration was rearing itself for an outburst, but despite losing his place while speaking, he kept his cool. “She set up our meeting back at the Thirsty Fish tonight over dinner. So, this meeting with Turnbill may really be a benefit to us in deciding which of these people we should go with.”
Hawthorne whistled a long winding tweet from his lips, “Yes sir, it’s just that kind of positive attitude that will keep this ship upright and steady.”
Face frowned and lightly punched Hawthorne in the shoulder. “Positive attitude?”
“Upright and steady.” Hawthorne retorted without concern as he readied a worn down cigar for smoking. “Upright and steady.”
Their first night in the new mansion passed without incident. Together they had worked to bring some of the furniture from Katrina and Hawthorne’s previous home to their new hideout and managed to put together some make-shift sleeping arrangements. Morning came quickly, and after they gathered up their various weapons and garments, the gang made their way for the one place in town absolutely no one went to without a purpose: the estate of Riven Turnbill.
Turnbill lived in a four story building that might as well have been a tombstone for the rest of Penny Lane. It sat on the eastern end of the street, and aside from being one of the taller buildings in the area, it was no more distinguishable than any other building in Seaside. Turnbill did not even employ the use of guards or thugs around his home. There were occasional attempts on his life by those who were unfamiliar with Turnbill’s reputation or by those who thought themselves more capable than their predecessors. These attempts were proven to be catastrophically incompetent time after time.
The guards whom Turnbill did employ were of the personal variety and were almost always limited to two in number. There were numerous employees in the direct pay of the man; however, only two were given direct access to his person. The first was Skylar, a man of sinister intent and unpleasant mannerisms, whom the group had encountered earlier. The other…
“…is his witch, or at least, that’s what the rumor is.” Face liked telling this story. He was happy to do so yet again as he walked with the others. “I admit, I didn’t know who that Skylar guy was, but that doesn’t mean you can ignore what I’m saying here. The guy keeps a witch with him. You can’t always see her…you know, on account of her being a witch. She’s always around though. People that fuck with old baldy get disappeared by the witch. It’s true. It happened to one of my pals.”
“Which pal?” was all that Julian was bothered to say on the matter, having known Face almost all of his life but never having heard about this particular “pal.” “I’ve got to say, I don’t think you’ve got too much credibility here Face.”
Face bellowed his response, “Oh, you’ll see! There’ll be a witch and then you just tell her that she doesn’t exist. Go right ahead, I bet you’ll even convince her of it.” He laughed a little before Hawthorne put his twist on the issue.
“There may be something to it. One of the fellows who attempted to ‘do something about’ Turnbill actually came to me for help. Naturally, I listened to his story and his request for help after he failed to shoot Turnbill dead. Then I shot him in the leg and closed the door. Like I’m going to help some failure of an assassin…”
Katrina suddenly remembered the incident. “Oh yeah…I’m glad that guy made so much noise afterward. It helped Turnbill’s men to find him and get rid of him.”
“Yuuup. Well, anyway. That old boy did say something about a woman in all black who took a bullet out of nowhere for your boy Turnbill. Didn’t think much of it at the time, but maybe…”
Face nodded triumphantly. “See? Witch. I told you.”
They arrived at Turnbill’s mansion to find Skylar awaiting them. He was perched on the side wall of the stoop leading into the house. “You’re not late, but you’re the last to arrive.” Skylar looked disinterested as he said it, but his expression changed to a sullen scowl as he punctuated his remarks with a jeering, “Lazy.” A rapier sword hung loosely on his left side and clanked gently against the stoop as he shifted his weight. “Go upstairs to the second floor. The others are in the meeting room overlooking the courtyard. Go anywhere else and I will consider you to be trespassing.”
Julian considered that this may be an opportunity to find out something about this man. It was unlikely that he would assault them here so long as they did not pose any threat to his boss. “Well, now Mr. Skylar…or is it just Skylar? That name of yours could work either way you know.”
There was no response from Skylar on the matter, only a cold, dead-eye stare.
“Mr. Skylar it is then! I have to apologize for the rude behavior of my associate here when you came to call yesterday. You see, we had just taken up residence in that place, and as I’m sure you can imagine, it was simply a wreck inside. Wall to wall carpet? No sir, wall to wall ashes was more like it.” Julian watched for any change in composure as he began his inane verbal assault on the man.
“Now, normally we would have invited you in, especially considering that any friend of Mr. Turnbill’s is a friend of ours, but until we get into the swing of the business of doing business here, it seems that we’re simply out of anything that might make for comfortable accommodations. But, what I’m really trying to say is that any time you feel like coming by for a visit or just to get a listen to the word on the street, then by golly, make sure to come by and talk with me first. After all…”
Apparently that was enough. Skylar got to his feet and shut Julian down, “I’d sooner rip my own fingernails off than converse with you. I do not associate with the hired help or with the slaves.” The words came off his lips so easily, with such dripping venom that even Julian paused. After a second or two, both Katrina and Hawthorne found themselves taking particular exception to his words, both of them having resided in places where indentured servitude was still a working practice. Skylar whipped his coat as he turned his back on them and disappeared inside.
Julian could see Katrina had shifted her weight forward to attack and that Hawthorne had stepped forward with his left foot to take a shooting stance. “Easy guys, easy…that was the response I wanted to see. We just learned that he’s short tempered. He sees himself as better than those around him.”
Hawthorne was still on edge. “Knew that by looking at him.”
Julian continued, “Sure, sure, but there’s something else. Face did you catch it?”
“Yep, he has no compunction about saying it to your face. Which means he has little concern for his future relationship with us.”
Katrina chimed in, “That makes us seem somewhat expendable, doesn’t it?”
“Indeed. Some things like that need to be understood if we want to keep our heads. So, it doesn’t matter if this thing starts to work out well for us, remember, we’re all replaceable tools to these people. Only the four of us are going to have any interest in our own continued survival.”
Julian could have been a preacher or politician’s speech writer if he had gone through proper schooling. Instead, his career would begin by leading his friends into the lion’s den.
The second floor stairs brought them up squarely before the large double doors to the conference room that Skylar had mentioned. The room itself was oval shaped with the long measurement reaching from the entryway to the end of the room where several large open windows looked down into an open courtyard of the city. This particular room was constructed such that it protruded from the main building wall out over the surroundings. The long portion of the oval shape allowed for the various windows to make full use of the fresh air movement in what could have otherwise been a stuffy, dark room.
Julian led the way with Hawthorne walking directly behind him. Face and Katrina followed but walked next to each other. Julian reminded himself that the room was full of hustlers, scam artists, and murderers. As they actually entered into the room, several conversations quieted down and nearly everyone took a long hard look at the four of them. Julian decided to ignore their gazes, and he took the group towards the right hand side of the room. He recognized several of the faces present and could deduce a few more based upon rumor and speculation.
Fat Franny was the most recognizable. Her rotund and ample figure gave the impression that she was a baker or a pastry chef. Julian could not find anything threatening about the woman. She looked…almost pleasant. He briefly considered that this very idea might be to her advantage. She had not paused to notice them as they entered. Instead, she continued her conversation with a stern looking older man with a well groomed and very full beard.
The man was clutching a walking staff that was adorned with religious paraphernalia. That had to be Father William. This man gave a gentlemanly nod to the group as they walked in, which Julian did his best to return. Hawthorne tipped his hat at the show of respect, and the other two remained apart from the issue of greetings.
The man known as Yardly stood out clearly and had no need to be identified. Rumors of the man’s appearance were entirely true. His height was approaching seven feet tall. His arms and chest appeared as if they might burst from the wiry muscles hidden inside them. His clothes were old and tattered, ill-fitting for a man of his size in many ways. However, his most noticeable trait, despite his great height, was the deformity in his head. Yardly’s creator seemed to have balanced his great attributes of height and physical prowess with legendary ugliness. The man’s brow was hard-set over his eyes and extended past his eye sockets, his jaw was massive and lacked symmetry, one side of his mouth drooped and a red line from his lip could be seen where drool constantly irritated his skin. Yardly had lost most of his hair, or it had never grown in. Unfortunately, for this man, places where his hair had taken root were wild and isolated and as such, random protrusions of hairs fell about his head and face. Yardly could not have been less concerned over the arrival of four new House Masters. He had not even looked their way, keeping his gaze out on the open courtyard.
In contrast to Yardly were two figures that Julian recognized as Annie and “The Duke.” They were paying great amounts of attention to Julian and his entourage, talking quietly to themselves in a closely, almost too closely, paired group. Annie was a relatively pretty girl. Curly black hair dangled and bounced at her shoulders and she took great care to employ make-up and cosmetics to her appearance, unlike many of the women Julian knew in his life. Annie’s lips were a vibrant red, and her cheeks were a warm color. The Duke was a strapping young man, likely younger than Annie. He wore baggy trousers of the variety preferred by the dock workers, yet he wore only a vest on top and let his muscular chest draw its own attention. They were the first to engage in any kind of dialogue with the group, and it was The Duke who first moved towards Katrina.
“You have a wild, untamed look about you stranger… I find such things to be… irresistible.” The Duke leaned one arm against a nearby wall as he began conversing with Katrina. “Tell me, no, please give me the honor of knowing your name…Miss?”
Katrina hated this man. From the moment he opened his foul mouth to speak to her, she hated him. In another place and in another time, she would have fed his own eyeball to him for speaking to her in such a manner. Julian’s warning about the nature of these people kept her in check for now though.
“YOU may address me as Glorious Paladin of the Shining Rajian Order in Service of the One True God, Graceful Lady Katrina O’Malley.” With the exception of her bluntness as she began, her worlds rolled off her tongue with a loving pride that set her apart from the things and people around her.
The Duke was highly amused at this and a wide, mischievous smile grew across his lips. “Well my Lady Katrina O’ Malley, I…”
Katrina held a hand out to pause him from going one word further. “You will state my full title until we are properly introduced, do I make myself clear? As you have taken an interest in me, and I would presume mean to court my hand, I expect that your attention was held fast enough that you undoubtedly remember the entire title and that I should have no need to repeat it to you.”
The Duke stammered in response, “I..um, yes, well, perhaps another time.” Completely deterred, he took up his place next to Annie and did not bother them again for the remainder of the meeting.
Julian and Face waited for Katrina to turn back to them after the interruption. Face could not hide his delight. “I think I just fell in love with you myself.” Julian did not bother to hide his smile. “Well, I managed to remember the whole thing the only time you tried that shit on me, didn’t I, Ms. Paladin?”
Katrina allowed herself a small smile. “Thus we are here today.” She winked at both of the men and proceeded to pull a flask from under her armor, taking a quick swig of it before turning her attention back to the gathered gangsters in the room.
Hawthorne tugged at Julian’s sleeve to quietly get his attention. “Who is that?” He nodded to a person of smaller stature sitting in the corner of the room nearest to Julian and the rest. The person rarely looked up. When he (or she) did look up, it was under the cover of a hood and done so with obvious hesitation. Whoever it was appeared to have little or no interest in any of the assembled guests in the room, and Julian was unsure if it was another gang leader or just someone’s underling who had been told to sit quietly while the others attended to business.
“Probably no one but I honestly can’t be sure one way or another.”
“That kind of behavior and mindset is dangerous Julian. No enemy is beneath notice.” Hawthorne took any opportunity to quote the old axioms of his profession.
Come to think of it, Hawthorne is right. Even if that person is a nobody, that is no excuse to ignore them.
This made Julian give the room another look over. Two people, one male and one female were in quiet negotiations on the far side of the room. Julian recognized Honest. The other person he was unfamiliar with but the man looked as though he was someone in the shipping or ship building business.
A man who was better dressed than the others in this colorful gallery of personalities was keeping to himself and was the only one of them to take a seat at the table. He was distracted or at least uninterested in most of the others present, but his attention did keep moving back towards one small woman who was standing just inside the doorway with her back up against the wall. Julian feared that his staring at this man might be noticed, but the man’s gaze never really left the young woman. Face walked near enough to Julian that he was able to quietly inform him, “That’s Rick. Calls himself ‘Rick the Ruler.’ He runs most of the prostitution and gambling around here. I hear he’s kind of a sick-o.”
Julian nodded, “Duly noted.”
That left only one of the other House Masters to identify. Julian should have done it sooner. Switchback was pacing the floor at the head of the oval table nearest the windows. The man simply could not keep himself still. He radiated aggressive movement and appeared to be agitated, as if the whole arrangement and meeting were directly devised to annoy him.
Finally, he blurted out, “I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m sick of waiting. Time is money and my time is very valuable. Turnbill is already clutching us by the berries as he digs through our pockets for treasure we rightfully earned, and now he thinks to summon us like some kind of king? No. I don’t think so.”
Both Katrina and Face stepped in front of Julian and Hawthorne expecting trouble. It was a moment too late as Switchback’s attention focused in on Julian. “Well Ho-ly Shit! Look at what the fuck we have here amongst us. Didn’t we meet in the tavern just the other day?”
Julian stayed quiet.
“I think we did! I think we did! All that talk and all those drinks…I was a little too nice I think. There you were sizing me up and moving in on territory that should have been mine. Very clever, kid. Very clever…Thing is, I’ve got a long memory and a bad temper. Enjoy yourself and your status today kid. Enjoy it now. All these people here? They know me; they know what I’m going to do to you. You don’t hear anyone speaking up or stepping in do you? No you don’t. You’re alone kid.”
Switchback popped one of the numerous knives he kept on his possession into his hand and deftly twirled it around.
“You’re lucky that we’re in Turnbill’s house or I’d be carving your ambitious ass up and feeding it to you. Nothing I hate more in this world than sneaky little gits with more gall than sense…”
That was when Face heard a noise from behind them, something stirring in the corner. He turned to see the person in the cloak from before dash up from the floor in a fast and agile manner. Face thought that perhaps this Switchback person was about to strike at them by means of his hired men, but the figure from the floor moved towards Switchback instead of Julian.
Switchback went on, “You see, you ain’t got any friends here, Jack…Every one of these killers are thinking the things I’m saying, it’s just that I’m the only one who’s willing to put my cards on the table… and you? You can’t even draw a high card. You…”
That’s when the world seemed to stop for a second. A tremendous dull “thud” of a noise reverberated off the walls of the room and made the stomachs of those who had combat experience turn over in preparation to vomit.
The small figure from the corner of the room had emerged, stood up and taken the form of a person with purpose. That figure had then proceeded to dash at Switchback and subsequently landed a kick squarely in Switchback’s chest with tremendous, sickening force. Switchback never got to finish his last statement. Instead, he was ejected backwards towards the open window where his legs hit the low ledge of the window sill, tripping him and forcing him to fall backwards out of the window into the courtyard below.
Switchback may have screamed if the air had not been forcefully removed from his lungs by the brutal strike.
The person who took such daring action now quickly pulled back the hood to reveal the face of a young man, approximately in his mid-twenties, whose eyes were shining with a hint of madness. “I swear to God, if I had to listen to that guy for one fucking minute longer…Wait…” He paused, looking purposely thoughtful. “There’s no way that fall killed him. Hang tight people, I’ll be back…soon.”
The room was in complete shock. The looks on the faces of those gathered explained the situation with clarity for Julian: This does not happen here. Not in this place. This is a new thing in the world of gangsters. Assassination is not done this close to Turnbill.
The room was full of fear.
The new entry into the world of this criminal organization wasted no time, jumping up on the table and using it as a clear path to run out the door. Not two steps beyond the door, he paused, rushed back in and dropped to one knee in front of the quiet young woman who had been the object of Rick’s attention just a few seconds ago.
“My most humble apologies, Ms. Sherry. I hope I have not done anything to frighten or worry you in any way.”
The young woman appeared oblivious to the violence at hand but was thoroughly pleased by the man’s overstated apology. She laughed a little bit at the man’s ridiculous behavior, but the laugh was cut short, almost muted, as if the woman were not very good at laughing. Julian recognized that kind of emotional response right off, but he could not immediately place where it came from. Katrina looked at him, puzzled as well; she asked him quietly, “So, she’s a mute, hrm?” Julian nodded in agreement as Katrina’s observation put it together for him.
The wild man turned back to the rest of the gang leaders before leaving. He pointed to the young woman. “Oh and…she had nothing to do with this. If you even let that thought cross your mind, I’m coming for you next…”
With that he ran full speed, down the stairs, and to the courtyard to where he had just unexpectedly removed Switchback from the proceedings.
No one in the room could avoid running over to the window to observe what would happen next. Switchback’s body was lying in a crumpled mass in the street. The fall was long enough to seriously injure him, but he was trying to right himself and get back to his feet. Clearly, he was not yet dead but the fall was hard enough that he was barely functioning.
As the young man came into view in the streets below them and casually walked up to the Switchback’s struggling body, Annie could not contain her excitement any longer. She grabbed Duke by the vest and nearly purred at him, “Oh, I want that. We are SO going to have that.”
The Duke slowly removed her hands from his vest and straightened his clothing. “Indeed we will.”
Disgusted by the vile pair but intrigued to see where this whole thing would go, Julian got himself a corner of a window to watch the impending show develop. Some would tell the story differently in the following years; however, the next ten minutes would shape the course of Seaside and the struggles of Penny Lane for years to come.
The man walked towards Switchback with a jaunt in his step, as if he were excited over his work. Switchback was attempting to crawl somewhere, anywhere. His body was obviously in shock and convulsions of his arms and legs made even his feeble attempts at escape ineffective. Seeing Switchback trying to get away from him, his assailant began to grandstand everything that he said from that point forward.
“Heh heh, no way man, we’re not finished yet.” The young man pounced on Switchback’s prone form and straddled his chest, grabbing the gangster by the hair and forcing his head up from the ground. “The name is Tin…let’s talk terms. Nod your head if you agree…” Tin bounced Switchback’s head off the ground twice to simulate him nodding his head. “Great.” The younger man looked back up to his audience in Turnbill’s meeting room. “We’re getting along great! Thank you for arranging this meeting!” He waved up at the assembled cast of characters, the insanity in his voice matching the madness of his actions.
People were beginning to gather in the courtyard. The public display of violence was doing its job of getting attention. Several members of Switchback’s gang were arriving as well. The sight of their boss in a crumpled bloody mess in the streets of Seaside was enough to prevent them from engaging this new stranger. If he was able to best Switchback, what real hope did any of them have of stopping this now?
Tin’s attention turned briefly away from his victim and that gave Switchback his last real opportunity to save his own life. A knife slipped out of his sleeve and he made a final desperate slash towards the younger man’s throat. The strike never really got anywhere close to hitting its target, and instead, Tin grabbed Switchback’s striking arm and began to slowly direct it back down at him. “No, we aren’t doing that Mr. Switchback.”
Tin’s voice had retaining an element of mirth to it thus far, but that slipped away as the knife began to penetrate Switchback’s shoulder, sinking into the socket of the man’s arm. “You DO remember me…don’t you?” Switchback screamed as the knife did irreparable damage to his body. Muscle and tendon ripped as Tin guided Switchback’s own hand and knife into his flesh. The sensory overload was finally too much and Switchback lost consciousness.
Tin relaxed a bit and looked around. Every eye on the street was trained on him and he could see the assembled gangsters in the loft of Turnbill’s meeting room. Quietly he said to himself, “Not done yet…” He pulled a vial from his coat pocket and put a small amount of liquid to Switchback’s lips. The man stirred violently but regained consciousness.
From above the scene playing out below, Julian looked to Face for confirmation. “Rush?”
Face looked uncomfortable with the whole incident but had to agree, “Yeah, that had to be Rush.”
Hawthorne quietly asked in a slightly embarrassed tone, “What’s all this? We rushing out of here?”
Julian quickly clarified, “No. The vial he poured. It’s an expensive designer drug. Very, very addictive, but the user gets a savage rush of energy and strength. Rumors were that it has potent healing powers too.” Hawthorne nodded his understanding. Katrina’s attention snapped at the promise of a new chemical to imbibe.
Switchback was confused and in tremendous pain. He found himself being screamed at by someone perched on his chest. “WE WERE TALKING! PAY ATTENTION!” Tin slapped Switchback viciously and began dragging his body by the damaged arm towards a nearby bench. Switchback howled in pain and a vivid line of blood followed behind him. Tin threw the man’s body up on the bench and sat beside him, his arm placed around and over Switchback’s shoulder as if they were old acquaintances.
Tin spoke quietly to Switchback, “Pretty fucked up way to spend a morning isn’t it buddy?”
Tin began digging through the other man’s coat and pulled out a set of small knives. “How many of these do you have…it’s ridiculous, really it is.”
Tin tossed the various knives to the ground carelessly. The small dose of Rush that Tin had given to Switchback was enough to revive him briefly but the blood loss and shock were taking their toll on him. It was obvious to everyone watching that the man was dead at this point, but that did not prevent Tin from continuing his “conversation.”
As if he were performing for those watching from above and in the street, Tin was all the more grandiose in his words and actions.
“Switchy, what is happening with you? I think you’re fading on me. I’m worried about you. Do you think you can really run an entire gang in this condition?”
Switchback did not move, so Tin shook his head in a negative response for him.
“That’s what I was thinking too. It’d be best if you just left everything to me from now on. You can take some time off, go sailing, maybe pursue some coin collecting. That sounds fun doesn’t it?”
Again, Tin shook Switchback’s head, this time in the affirmative.
“We’re agreed then! Splendid.”
Above the courtyard scene, the other gang leaders were watching with varying degrees of amusement and horror. Rick and Yardly watched with faces of stone. No hint of emotion escaped either of them. Franny held her head in her hand and braced her other arm on her hip. “He’ll be worse than the last one…” was all that she quietly muttered on the matter. Annie and the Duke were the most entertained, watching with eager anticipation and unrestrained excitement over the whole mess. Honest and Wet Jack gave each other knowing glances but kept quiet on the matter.
Soon enough, Tin stood up from the bench and took a step forward, screaming at the top of his lungs. “Everything that this man owned…I now own! Anyone who owed this man a debt, now owes me a debt! Master of the House Switchback, what was yours is now MINE! Your money, your land…”
The body that had once been the man known as Switchback had been dead long enough for the curse to take hold. It began to twitch and the undead monster that all humans are bound to become began to awaken. Tin quickly moved around to the back side of the bench and grasped Switchback back by the hair. He pulled down and back as hard as he could, taking Switchback’s head and leveraging it against the seat backing of the bench. The movement broke Switchback’s neck entirely and the undead monster was destroyed before it could become a true threat.
“and now your life!”
Upstairs in Turnbill’s meeting room the emotions on the events playing out were mixed. Several of the assembled people quietly bid good riddance to Switchback who had never been a particularly easy or welcomed member of their ranks. Still, the mood seemed to suggest that change in general, was more unwelcome than even a gangster with bad attitude and a penchant for violent behavior. No one with the exception of Annie appeared pleased that this “Tin” person was making such an audacious and bloody entry into their midst.
Hawthorne approached Julian and pulled his other two associates in close. “Well now, what have we gotten ourselves into?” Face looked around to gauge the mood. “I don’t think the others expected or welcomed this kind of thing. Something is going down here that’s different than anything before.” Julian nodded. “Yes and it has taken attention away from us.” Katrina’s attention moved to the entryway of the room and instead of responding to Julian, she replied with a curt, “Shut up. Look…” to move their attention in a similar direction.
Due to all the commotion below, no one had noticed that Turnbill had entered the room. Turnbill was a large man with the physique of a lifelong day laborer. His skin tone was darker and bronzed in a permanent tan, suggesting many hours of work under an oppressive sun. Turnbill was bald but he wore a closely cropped beard that consisted of little more than facial stubble. He was never seen wearing any clothing other than his usual black sailors garb and a black leather trench coat. His attire never changed, even during the hottest parts of the summer. He appeared to be unarmed, but in truth, the weapons he kept in his possession were the two individuals flanking him as he entered the meeting room. On his left was Skylar, who always kept pace when talking with his friend and master.
On Turnbill’s right side and one step behind him, walked the most sinister and soulless looking woman that Julian or the others had ever seen. She appeared to dress in a manner that matched Turnbill, black leather on black fabric. Her clothing was tight in places where the fabric met her body and the leather portions hung in moving but layered sheets, much in the way plated armor would work. She carried a long sword across her back and kept her head tilted down slightly allowing her hair to fall in her face, obscuring her features. That same hair was raven black, and while quite long, it was bound and tied in various places and by various means as it hung down her back. That she was the first to speak out of the three surprised not only Julian, but everyone present in the room.
“Master. I will attend to the interloper… unless of course you object.” She spoke with the slither and venom of a snake.
Turnbill held up a hand and refused her, “Thank you, but no Rozalin. What is transpiring below does not conflict with the orders I will be setting forth today. Please put it out of your mind.” Turnbill’s voice was deep and resounding. It was almost melodic. He spoke with the kind of baritone authority that would have made him one of his generation’s great orators had he chosen such a path.
Rozalin nodded understanding and stepped back slightly. “I sense another. By your leave Master, I will investigate.”
Turnbill seemed to agree to whatever Rozalin had in mind and responded with a knowing, “Go then.”
Skylar scanned the assembled gang leaders. He looked as though he were deciding which of them he would skin alive for his evening meal, but despite his foul intent, the man did nothing. It was clear that he was there as Turnbill’s guard dog.
Turnbill’s presence demanded attention. The remaining leaders were now focused on him and whatever edict he was about to hand down to them. Maintaining concentration was difficult though. From behind, they continued to hear that mad man Tin yelling and screaming. Fortunately, Turnbill would be brief.
“Watchman is gone. His replacement is here and will be expected to begin delivery of required payments after the next full month has passed.” He turned to address Julian and his friends. “Which of you is head of this house?”
This was a moment of truth for them. Julian considered taking the lead on this, but instead devised an alternative plan after observing how only the gang leaders were allowed into this meeting, but how Annie and the Duke were both allowed in on account of their equal privilege. “We are a Syndicate. We are THE Syndicate. We are head of this house.”
Turnbill was unfazed. “Understood. Have your chosen councilor report to me in one week. Your required payments shall be 100 coins per month.”
A collective gasp went through the room. This payment price was double what it had been only a month ago. Murmurs of discontent began to spread. They knew what was coming their way.
“That payment price is the same for all of you. The price has increased 100%.”
“How are we supposed to?…”
“Where do you think that’s?..”
The embittered responses were flying fast from the gang leaders. Julian had no expectation of what he would need to procure for Turnbill at the outset, so he had no rage to vent on the matter.
Skylar stepped in front of Turnbill and snarled at them, “Shut up. All of you, shut up now.”
Order was restored. Turnbill continued.
“The price has increased 100%. Further, the rules…no longer apply.”
Rick was the first to realize what this meant. “You are allowing expansion? We can go past the division line?”
Turnbill answered with one word, “Yes.”
Rick smiled and sat back in his chair again. “Well, goddamn…”
Honest was the next to question the proceedings, “The rules against competition and open conflict are no longer in effect?”
Turnbill replied again, “Correct.”
Face, Hawthorne, and Katrina all looked to Julian for an answer as to what this all meant. Julian could only shake his head that he did not understand either.
Father William had been standing near Julian while observing Tin who was still ranting in the streets. While the others asked Turnbill their remaining questions, he looked down on to the blood stained streets and the raving mad man who was holding the world hostage down there. Quietly and almost sadly he looked towards them and said, “Bear witness to the world where the rules no longer apply.”
Behind them, Turnbill ended the conversation. “Then, that will be all. We will meet again at the start of the new month.” He turned and left. Skylar followed him but never turned his back on the other gang leaders.
Father William had seen enough. He knew where this would lead. He left without staying to observe the rest of the incident.
Outside, Tin had not ended his conversation. The bloody and mangled corpse of Switchback was serving as an anchor for all that was occurring below. Tin’s yelling and screaming had been an amusing public spectacle despite, or perhaps on account of the killing of a well-known gang leader. People could not look away as the young man of unimpressive stature sung his own praises and made wild threats at nearly every recognized name in Seaside. A strong sense of herd mentality was present in the crowd as the danger Tin posed was clearly looming, but so long as they weren’t the last one he laid hands on, they felt relatively safe. That held true until Tin produced a glistening, polished-silver handgun from his coat. The gun was clearly a custom design with a longer than normal barrel and an advanced mechanical scope positioned atop the gun.
That was when the women and children in the crowd finally got around to screaming. This was the measure that caused men to step in front of their families. The game, the public spectacle, was over. Everyone was now in danger.
His status as the center of attention had been reaffirmed. Tin crowed with glee, “That’s right, that’s right. Look this way. Now you’re getting it. Now we’re conversing like civilized people. Don’t worry; most of your lives aren’t worth the price of the bullets for this bad boy.”
From above, Hawthorne could barely avoid his perverse interest in the scene. “That weapon looks incredible. I…I have to have it.” Face elbowed him in the shoulder. “Don’t start with that now.”
Hawthorne was inspired, “Hey, why not now?” He began to unpack his rifle and set the sights up in order to snipe this upstart from the safety of the window. Julian was impressed at the speed with which Hawthorne was ready to take action. His rifle was already trained on the young man in the street. Katrina was the voice of reason among them in this instance, “If you miss, or if he sees you…He’ll be up here pretty quick you know. Maybe you can hold your shot to see where this actually goes, hrm?”
Hawthorne was not pleased by this advice, but he relented nevertheless.
Tin climbed up onto the bench, waving his pistol about as he did. He used his foot to crumple what was left of Switchback into a pile on the bench and then partially stood on his body to get additional height above the crowd.
“Where are the men loyal to this sack of garbage? Show yourselves!” Tin yelled from atop his perch but found no one willing to respond.
“You think I intend to kill you, but no…that’s not my game. Come forth, show yourselves, and stand before your new Master of the House!”
Slowly, the members of Switchback’s gang began to filter themselves out of the crowd. They understood that the process by which power and loyalty shifted in Seaside was one of loose rules and one where boldness was often rewarded. Twenty or so of Switchback’s men appeared. The rumors of his pack-like behavior with regards to his gang were true.
“There we go! There we go! And the Councilor in service of Switchback? Which one of you is it?”
An older man of around 50 years in age stepped forward. His face was hard and weather worn. He had drawn back silver hair and his voice was as jagged as his appearance. “ ‘ere Sir. Switchback called me Dr. Nails.”
Tin jumped off the bench and met the man eye to eye. “Wonderful. You now work for me.”
“Understood Sir. How shall we address you and what are your orders?”
Tin’s eyes were glassy and insane looking. Dr. Nails had served in Switchback’s gang for many years and had not been this afraid of another man for a long, long time.
“Dr. Nails, you may address me simply as ‘Tin.’ As for your first order…Demand that one of your men hand over his pistol to your care.”
“Sir, pistols are illegal and we abide by…”
Tin gave him a sour look.
“Right, as you command.” Dr. Nails called to several of Switchback’s men before finding one who was armed with a handgun.
Tin questioned him, “Is it loaded?”
“Appears to be in working order?”
“Fire it into the air.”
Dr. Nails raised the pistol and fired it into the air. The gun’s explosive shot echoed through the courtyard.
“One shot remains?”
Tin leaned towards Dr. Nails, “Shoot me in the head.”
Tin clutched his own pistol and pointed it against Dr. Nails’ head, right to the temple. “I will not ask again…”
Dr. Nails put the gun to Tin’s head and pulled the trigger.
Again, nothing happened. Dr. Nails was now sweating beads of quickly falling sweat. Tin removed the gun from his head and turned back to the crowd.
“Bear witness, here and now…I AM INVINCIBLE. I CAN NOT BE KILLED. This is a new day and the land that was previously in the care of Switchback is now MINE.” Tin was playing the wild showman and he was doing it well.
Above the show, in Turnbill’s meeting room, the gang leaders were casting doubtful glances amongst one another. Somehow, this new player had arranged an elaborate hoax.
Switchback’s men let loose a tremendous cheer at this, their new leader was brazen and skilled…surely they would profit from this.
Tin turned on them with savage fury, “SHUT UP! Shut up, all of you! You…worthless, stupid, shiftless, nothings! I don’t want your praise…or your loyalty. Leave now, while I am willing to let you leave alive.”
Confusion ran through the crowd. They did not move.
“Idiots…You are fired! Go away. Go home. You are not wanted anymore!”
One of the gang members finally became vocal, “You can’t run Switchback’s operation without us! Who do you think you are?!?” Behind this man, the others cheered.
Tin played the moment up, “Who am I? Who am I? I may as well be God in your eyes! Nails! Give this man a gun.”
Dr. Nails complied and tossed the small firearm to the outspoken gang member.
“Go ahead pal, take a shot. Take as many shots as you want…”
Tin was walking towards the man slowly, almost shambling along. “Better hurry up though…”
The gang member scoffed and lowered the hand gun at Tin. He pulled the trigger and…nothing. He tried again. The gun failed him yet again. Yelling at Dr. Nails, the man cursed his name, “You set this up you bastard! This is some kind of trick!” In one last measure of anger, the gang member pointed the gun at Dr. Nails and shot.
The gun fired and Dr. Nails dropped to the ground from the shot. The gang member let loose a confused cry before dropping the side arm. Dr. Nails fell to the ground dead, blood spilling out into the streets.
Above the growing conflict, Hawthorne let out a, “Holy crap!” He had been genuinely surprised. Turning towards the other gangsters there, he said, “This is a good hoax right here, let me tell you…”
Below, Tin dashed at the shaken man and grabbed him by the collar, screaming, “I CAN’T DIE! I DON’T NEED YOU. Now run! ALL OF YOU! Run! Tell everyone you meet what you saw here. Switchback’s streets are MINE! Anyone operating anything other than legitimate businesses in my district will be murdered in the streets!” He threw the man back causing him to stagger and fall.
The crowd was horrified, but he still had their attention. The air was heavy, and everyone there was afraid to speak, much less move.
Tin put forth the rest of his terms, “No one residing in my district shall pay tribute to anyone other than me. Under no circumstances are any street hustlers or gang members permitted on my streets. Families and businesses in my district shall pay no tribute to anyone other than me. The mandatory minimums…are abolished!”
This statement drew shock from the crowd. The mandatory minimums were payments that were required to be made as part of the gang’s payment to Turnbill. Most, if not all, gangs employed this as a means of taxation, passing it on to the people who lived in their territories. Tin was changing the rules. “Payment is a flat 10%. This holds true for any and all in my district. If I find that you are paying less than your share, there is only one punishment…I will kill you.”
Tin let those words fall with emphasis. He repeated them again.
“Those that live and work in my district shall know safety and security like no other place in Seaside. To those people, my reign will be invisible. Anyone who thinks they can disrupt the order I will establish shall find that I will rain my streets in blood and in terror.” He turned and looked back to Dr. Nails. “Someone clean that up before he turns. NOW.” Several civic minded people overcame their fear long enough to prevent an undead monster from rising up in the streets.
The gang members took the opportunity to flee the scene. Uncertainty hung heavy in the air, and as Tin gradually turned towards Turnbill’s mansion, he let his attention and threats fall away from the crowd. People hurriedly left the courtyard and begin telling others what they had seen.
Tin regarded Turnbill’s mansion and let forth one last outburst before pulling up his cloak and disappearing into the chaos of the city. “This is the nature of power! Turnbill understands this. Skylar understands this. The rest of you had better take heed as well.”
By nightfall that night, Tin’s small but loud rampage would be the talk of the City.
He ran through the back streets away from the slums. He ran hard, so hard that his chest burned and his breathing was short with exhaustion. When he was sure that he was alone and unwatched, the young man known as Tin finally stopped and slumped against a back alley wall. He threw his cloak hood back and looked up towards the midday sun. Clouds were covering the city and he could feel the pressure dropping. It would rain soon, perhaps any minute now.
He slipped his hands through his hair and took a long deep breath to control his emotion. His chest relaxed and his breathing came more naturally, to the point that he could finally chuckle to himself. The laughter after that came down like the impending rainfall, hard and plentiful. He laughed to himself so hard that he had to hold his sides to keep from feeling the muscle cramps forming in his ribcage.
“Oh man, it worked…It actually worked!” The adrenaline rush was all-consuming. He needed this. He needed the thrill. Anything to pull him out of the recent blackness that had weighed so heavily on his mind of late.
“This really might work.” Laughing again to himself, he sarcastically mocked his own words, “I’m going to kill you all, bwahaha!” Of course, he would have more killing to do, but the brazen nature of his ploy would hopefully keep it to a minimum. His name could carry some weight now. She was right to tell him to copy Turnbill. The means by which he carried out the plan was his alone, but the spark was easily attributed to her clever streak.
Now that the pressure and anxiousness had passed, Tin was almost enjoying himself. The rain started to gently fall and it was pleasantly cooling. Tin looked upward to allow the fresh rain to wash some of the sweat off of his face. That was when he first noticed a smell carried along the subtle breeze accompanying the rain. Sweet and heavy, the aroma lingered enough that Tin was able to turn his head towards its origin to discover a woman sauntering down the alley towards him.
He thought nothing of this at first and instead simply returned his gaze to the ground and pulled his hood over his head to once again conceal himself. Then he heard the oddest thing from the woman, “How easily man is corrupted…and yet, how difficult to make him just.”
Tin turned slowly to regard the woman. He lifted his cloak from his eyes enough to see her but not enough to reveal his features. A stranger meeting him in an out of the way alley, quoting scripture to him that could easily be applied to his recent actions was too much coincidence for Tin to accept. This situation was foul; his instincts told him that. He decided to buy a bit of time by quoting a response to her passage. “A leader must be two men. To his flock, he must be the good shepherd. To the wolf, he must be the butcher.”
Together, the pair finished the last line, “The reverse may also be true in times of darkness.”
The woman was in close proximity to Tin now, within twenty feet or so. She held a long pipe gingerly in her hand, and her appearance was distractingly beautiful. She realized that he had actually heard her own words and not those she wished him to hear. This man was not what she had expected… he was something more. If he could see through her illusions without even trying or realizing that he was doing so, then that would make him one of the Old Kin, perhaps even one of the chosen twelve. The possibility of such a random occurrence leading her to one of them gave her a thrill that bordered on sexual in nature.
Be mindful of dangerous beauty. The thought ran through Tin’s mind and he kept his wits together. He would not be distracted by the slinky nature of her thin green dress nor by those mesmerizing green eyes.
The woman smiled upon him and remarked, “Never did I imagine I would find you here. I came to you expecting to find the wrathful little beast that so drew my favor just a short time ago. Instead I have found something so much more dear, so much more…valuable to me.” She took a step forward.
Tin was now completely unsettled. Something was wrong. He took a step back.
She continued, “I’m surprised you were not made aware of the price of power. You and I cannot avoid this…attraction, this…satisfaction. Admit it, what you’ve done was…righteous.”
Tin could not refute her. Only a moment ago he was bragging to himself about his own actions. He was glad to have those murderers and thieves fearful of his wrath.
The moment he thought the word “wrath” the woman’s eyes lit up with a rich unnatural green color. “Yes! Do not fear it. Embrace your natural gifts. You could circumvent a thousand years of nothingness if you only accept the gifts you were born to inherit.”
The woman looked immensely pleased with herself, like a lover reuniting with an old flame unseen for many years. She held out a hand towards Tin. “There is no good, there is no evil. There is only nature. There is only power and weakness. Freedom and servitude. Do not think that the life you crave is within your reach if you are unwilling to accept the gifts the world has given you. The peace you so desperately desire is closer than you think.”
Tin could feel the pull of her words and a sense of raw power deep inside his gut. He felt the call of authority, the call of power. He struggled as visions of those he saw as corrupt and evil were vanquished by this power. She shared this vision with him and stood by his side as it played out. Only by looking out of the corner of his eye did he see his younger brother and sister fleeing from him in this vision, each one terrified of him for reasons he could not understand. Then he looked to his own hands that had wrought this destructive power and saw great scaly purple claws instead. A heavy chain was bound to those claws and he could not move it. Instead, the chain moved him. At the end of the chain was the woman, holding onto it, keeping him as a pet for her own devices.
“Lady, nature may be too stupid to know the difference between good and evil, but I assure you that I can see it quite clearly.” Tin dashed backwards and as he did, his pistol went to his hand without hesitation. He fired two shots at the woman, aiming low on her right side and high on her left side. He paused, expecting her to be staggered, after which he would finish her off and leave; however, the woman did not fall as expected.
Tin realized that he must have missed and now he carefully leveled the weapon at her. She looked at him with cold, dead eyes and began walking forward, discarding her pipe as she went. He fired the gun again. His aim was true and centered on her chest. For a brief second, he saw the ricochet flash as the bullet hit the wall behind her.
Was she doing something to his eyes to make him miss?
She snarled, “You’re not paying attention human. You think you have the power and authority to challenge me?”
Tin gritted his teeth and let out a savage response, “Fuck off Lady, you’re done.”
Bam. Bam. Bam. His final three shots in the gun went off, each one aimed directly to her heart. Each bullet stopped short of touching her and began to unravel in front of her.
“Oh, your answers are so simple and direct…You fail to comprehend though. You can NOT stand against me. How could you be so blind? I offered you the keys to the kingdom.” The bullets hung in front of her, spinning in place. The unraveled metal began wrapping together, forming a single metal spike nearly 3 inches long. “Now I find that I cannot have you, so…no one shall.”
Green air swirled about her and the makeshift bullet began spinning before her. “Be gone.”
Tin realized now that he was about to die. Somehow, he had challenged something that he had no business engaging. He had wished for his own death for years now, but as death hung threateningly in front of him, he realized that he never wanted it to come to him this way.
Shadows enveloped him and darkness came at him from all directions. This was not the darkness of death though, this was something else, something comforting and cool. A woman who might have been a negative image of his previous encounter was now before him. Her garb was dark and ill defined. She wrapped him in the cooling darkness. Movement was slow but easy. The bullet from the woman in green was spinning towards him, aimed at his heart. Wrapped in his cloak of darkness he was able to step aside from the deadly piece of metal and snatch it out of the air entirely. The danger averted, the new woman in black turned to him and touched him lovingly on the face saying only, “Leviticus… sleep.”
He tried to resist but was unable to hold back as his body betrayed him and collapsed under his own weight. Tin held on to consciousness only long enough to see the woman in black step forward to defend him. He heard her speak a single sentence and then blacked out.
“Envy, Queen of Jealousy…it is not yet your time.” She drew a long sword from its scabbard and balanced it in her right hand. The scabbard remained in her left. Her posture demonstrated her defensiveness over Tin.
The woman in green, recognized now as Envy spoke with pure glee, “So I’ve found one of your hidden ones. The presence of a Guardian confirms it. This marks the third time in this city alone that I’ve had such good fortune…”
“Silence monster!” The dark Guardian went about her appointed task and assailed Envy, charging towards her, long sword prepared to strike.
Envy gracefully twirled to avoid the initial strike and then gathered burning white light to her hands and motioned as if to throw it towards the Guardian.
Tin’s Guardian raised her scabbard and the magic splashed against it like waves against a shore. The scabbard absorbed the magical blast and the Guardian’s sword glowed in response as if it had devoured the power.
Envy readied herself again and took a two sword fighting stance. She then spoke two words, “Agony. Irony.” Swords appeared in each of her hands as she said the words. With “Agony” came the larger sword and with “Irony” came the shorter one. “Already I have eliminated two of your kind. I’m getting more efficient at it. You should be grateful that I will not make such a mess of things this time.”
Envy attacked the Guardian, her twin swords relentlessly stabbing towards the darkly clad woman’s chest. The Guardian deflected more than half of Envy’s assault with the scabbard alone. The fighting was difficult to manage in the alley and neither combatant could claim any real advantage. Were the area more open to the Guardian’s fighting style, she may have overtaken Envy, whose sword work, while formidable, was supported heavily by magic. This particular guardian’s weapon was able to drain magical energy and that forced Envy to rely on skill alone.
The pair fought like alley cats for several minutes with Envy taking early aggression, only to find that she was genuinely outclassed by the swordsmanship of this Guardian. Envy thought to herself that perhaps she had miscalculated; her earlier successes against these Old Kin were the result of indirect combat and not outright force of arms. She knew that she should relent and approach the pair differently in the future, but her goal was so close, so near to her that she could taste its blood on her lips. She would not retreat just yet.
The Guardian countered her attacks and movement blow for blow, fighting her to a standstill and moving her further away from her target. Envy knew that the blades carried by the guardians were capable of killing her outright. She could not win this dual by attrition.
As they continued to cross swords, she became less and less sure she could defeat this Guardian at all, but why? What could be the source of strength for this Guardian?
It was then that Envy recognized the ferocity with which this one was fighting. She had seen it in Tin earlier. The Guardians take their strength from their charge’s resolve. That was key…now she had a means of victory.
Like a snake, slithering hypnotically in front of its victim, she chided the guardian, “You think you match me by yourself? A soon to be GOD…and you, a lowly mud elf from a time forgotten think you can challenge me without his help?”
The guardian was paused by this statement. Envy was falling, slowly but surely to her sword and now she thought to taunt her? But…was she right in this? Did it matter if Leviticus was granting her the will to challenge this old monster? Of course it did not matter, she would…
She would be distracted ever so slightly. Envy’s sword Irony slashed at her lower leg and dropped her to the floor. The guardian was on one knee before the Queen of Jealousy, and she could see now how her one small failing had come to endanger everything they had worked so hard to defend. Envy stepped up and parried the Guardian’s sword to the side.
“I am better than you; better than you and your whole miserable lot. I have bathed in the blood of an entire race. How would you dare to stand before me…?”
Envy screamed out suddenly. Why was she in pain? Her enemy lay defeated at her feet, merely awaiting a coup de grace. What was this sensation of death tearing through her?
Then she heard the sound.
She looked down to see her own blood pouring from her belly.
There was the little man from before, struggling to stand up, his pistol hanging limply from his hand and a drunk look on his face. “So, tell me. Am I the butcher, or am I the good shepherd?”
Envy, though wounded, scoffed and healed herself. The wound from the human weapon closed and the bullet fell to the floor. It had only wounded her briefly because her attention had been so firmly focused on the Guardian. She moved to approach Tin, her target finally within her grasp, when once again her insides were torn asunder. This time, the Guardian at her feet had extended her blade up through Envy’s stomach and was twisting the blade in her belly. This was not a wound she could simply ignore. Envy staggered back, off of the blade, gasping in shock.
Tin could not keep himself awake. It had been a heroic effort to pull himself out of the Guardian’s magic. It had been enough, but Tin was truly spent now. He collapsed, unknowing if his efforts had saved either his life or the life of the strange woman who had come to his aid.
Unlike Tin, Envy was now full of knowledge. She was full of knowledge of fear. Her new wound would not heal by her own powers and the Guardian was beginning to will herself off of the ground in order to finish her.
Furious at her failings, Envy took one last attack at the Guardian, but this time she put all of her effort into disarming her opponent of the scabbard. With her wounded leg, the Guardian was unable to maintain a grip on the thing. Its ability to drain magic thrown far enough away to be ineffective, Envy quickly cast a spell that would dematerialize her and return her to a safer environment.
With a sudden burst of light, Envy, the Queen of Jealousy was gone, but not before delivering a warning to Tin’s Guardian.
“For these insults, I will make him suffer like no other. While you will devote your soul to protecting him, in the end, I will see to it that your existence has been meaningless.”
With that, she was gone. Tin’s Guardian fell to her knees in front of the young man’s exhausted form and quietly begged forgiveness for transgressions unknown. Tin’s Guardian muttered sorrowfully, “Thank you…thank you…thank you…” before tending to their equipment and making a hasty retreat.