‘We’ve got a message for you, friend. Courtesy of the Carvers, who you owe a lot of answers to.’
Ah, fuck. That does make sense, but it puts me in a bind. See, the Carvers did pay me to do some research a few weeks back, I owe them my findings and I really, desperately don’t want to hand them over. It’s a fun story, what I found out and how, but not one for these goons’ ears, nor an alleyway performance.
We’re deep into said alleyway, which to my surprise doesn’t lead to a dead end. Instead, it gets thinner until a dumpster and a heap of extra trash blocks the path, backing onto a metal fence that has the same situation on the other side, leading back out into the next street over. Which is helpful if, for example, one needed an escape route. The floor, sadly, is less so: exactly as one might expect from a grimy alleyway, littered with slippery trash overflowing from the dumpster and thrown from the apartments above. There’s no doors anywhere on either side, so this is clearly just their trash heap to be collected by the city’s refuse service. Which would explain why it’s so piled up and – judging by the smell – ripe.
‘Okay, let’s just take this slowly,’ I say, backing up to the wall on my side of the alley. I try not to make it too obvious, but it’s useful to have an angle on both of them without needing to turn around; from here, they’re both in front of me. I notice the shaved-head man on the right is thumbing the pistol stuffed into the front of his trousers, resting his hand on the grip and cocking, then uncocking, the hammer.
‘Don’t worry, friend. It’s a very simple message.’ The left-hand-man does most of the talking, evidently, even though I’m adamant it must be hurting him with that tooth.
‘Okay,’ I raise my hands, palms facing forward, ‘if not slowly, let’s have it. You’ve been sent by the Carvers to find me and here I am. I’m cornered, nowhere to run – what’s the message?’
Both of the men scoff, grinning. As they do, I put one hand behind the other, hopefully looking like I’m blocking my face. I notice the difference in our skin: my darker tan from years spent on Earkran, versus much paler complexions on my aggressors. They’re not local to this continent. Interesting.
On the back of the hand in front, I start drawing with my finger and thin, glowing red lines follow.
‘We’re not gonna kill ya. The Carvers want their answers, so we’re not gonna break your jaw either – gotta be able to speak to ’em, right?’ The other man laughs. ‘Nah, we’re just gonna show you what happens when you fuck ‘em about.’
‘Really?’ I ask, finishing up the last few lines for the rune. ‘And what happens, exactly?’
I clamp my eyes shut, drawing in energy from around me and shoving it all through the rune. The entire alley flashes bright white and the two men scream, then there’s a gunshot and much more screaming. I’m already bolting for the dumpster as I open my eyes, but I catch a glimpse of one man on the floor, holding his groin and crying into an empty box of soap.
I clear the gap to the trash heap quickly, but just as I’m ready to jump onto the dumpster, another shot claps through the alley and the wall on my left cracks, puffing out smoke and rubble. It throws me, but I’m still carrying speed, so I slam into the front of the huge metal bin and start climbing it instead. Another shot, this time piercing a trash bag and freeing some brown muck to start pooling on the ground where I was just stood. The flash is helping, but he’s getting closer. Before he gets another chance, I’m up on the dumpster and clearing the metal fence. I slide down the curved lid of the other dumpster and jump off onto the floor, stumbling a little before finding my footing and sprinting down the alleyway.
There’s no more shots, just a shout of frustration and sobbing, but in front of me as I reach the end of the alley a Guard is rounding the corner, hand cannon drawn. I slow down, raising my hands and painting my face as panicked as I can.
‘They just – out of nowhere – I didn’t even see them,’ until the Guard lowers their gun and starts looking beyond me, down into the alleyway. I keep walking, waiting until I get past them, then I bolt again, turning the corner as quick as I can. I hear a ‘Hey, wait!’ from behind, but I’m already into the crowd of the street, ducking slightly to get below head level. No one questions or stops me, and every Guard knows trying to find a single target in these crowds is hopeless. I wait a minute or so, walking along the street I pray is heading north, then stand back up to full height.
I shake my head. Shit. I’ve lost her. Now she’ll be waiting for me, ready to gloat that I couldn’t keep up. The direction I’m headed now, I should get to the top of the District eventually, onto the Circular that runs all the way around. Using that, I can walk along until I reach the Boar’s Tusk, which should be to the west. It’ll take a while, but hopefully they’ll both be there, and if not then some clue as to where they are instead.
Some answers, either way, and hopefully – finally – the full story.