Heir to the Shadows

Nick is undescribable. His life is a whirlwind of bad luck, secrets and distrust. Cursed at an early age, Nick's life was never going to be easy. Some will stop at nothing to prevent him from revealing their secrets.

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4. Fighting Back

The alley was dark and damp.  Frost coated the slick, slimy cobblestones.  Two men stood in the centre of the empty street; between them a little boy of, maybe, ten years was cowering over something.  The sound of sobbing filled the quiet air. 

"Leave off, boy.  Let us finish," laughed larger man of the two.  The other reached for the boy but pulled back just in time to only be grazed by the stick the boy welded.

"Hey!" shouted Letha.  "Stop this!"

The men spun around, shocked only for a secound, until they spotted Letha standing alone in the mouth of the alley.  They both burst into hysterical laughter.  Finally they turned back to the child, still chuckling.  The largest man aimed a kick and followed through with such force that it flung the boy down the street, exposing an injured, sobbing little girl of no older than her seventh year. 

The smaller man reached down and grabbed a clump of the little girl's ratty brown hair.  She wailed louder and scratched at the man's hand unlessly.

"Stop!" cried Letha, running toward the men automatically.  "Please!  They're only children!"

 

The larger man turned and swatted her easily before she had the time to even land one hit.  The other man was pinching the girl cruelly, harder enough to produce blood.  The larger man removed his leather belt and curled it around his fist.  He reared his hand back, chuckling still.

"Stupid girl," he hissed.

 

"Stop," ordered a sharp, strong voice.  Everyone looked up at the mouth of the alley.  Unlike when Letha had said the same thing, this man's voice and stance carried power, a force to fear.  The man stepped forward out of the shadow and Letha breathed in sharply.  It was the man from the market place but barely.  That man had grace and sophistication like a civilised lord, or even princling but this man was dirty, dangerous and had the appearance of a well-veteraned fighter. 

 

The large man presiding over Letha with his make-shift whip spoke first.  "Leave.  This is business.  For big men, not boys."

The young man walked forward slowly.  He was wearing black trousers, a filthy white shirt with the sleeves rolled to the elbow and something that was the combination of a vest and a waist coat, made of dark leather.  In his hand, he welded a long, sharp dagger that gleamed menacingly. 

"Beating women and children is not a job that pays well I imagine," remarked the man. 

"We do what we have to," said the smaller man, still holding the little girl. 

"Leave now and perhaps I will allow you to go unscathed.  Stay and I can make no such promises," threatened the man.  Letha cast her mind back, scrambling to remember his name but it eluded her hopelessly.

The men laughed irriatingly again.  The larger one stepped toward him and swung his arm back.  Suddenly the young man dropped low and rolled under the larger man's swing.  He reached up and struck the man quickly with the pommel of his dagger on the base of his back.  The larger man roared angrily, helplessly scrambling away.  The young man jumped up from his crouch and twirled to the other man.  The other man released the girl, who collapsed whimpering onto the ground, and launched himself at the young man. 

 

The young man had no chance to deflect the attack and was flung backwards onto the ground by the sheer force of the weight of the short man.  They rolled around on the ground, grappling.  The youg man had dropped his knife and it had skidded toward Letha.  She jumped up and grabbed it.  The larger man ran after Letha and swung wildly a her.  Letha jumped out of the way barely but lost her balance and fell onto the ground.  The larger man fell on top of her.  He grabbed her wrists and used his weight to stop her struggling.

 

"You're a pretty lass, ain't you?" he remarked.  His breath filled Letha's nostrel's, making her feel dirty and unclean.  It was vile.

 

"Get... Get off me," she panted breathlessly.  "Can't breath!"

 

The man chuckled.  "You don't need to breath for this, girlie." 

 

The man's face froze suddenly.  Blood leaked out of the side of his thin mouth and dripped onto Letha's cheek.  She gasped and pushed the weight off her.  She rolled onto her side, her lungs straining for air and her eyes blinking rapidly to stop the stinging tears rising in them. 

 

"Are you alright?" panted a deep voice from beside Letha.  He ruubbed her back calmingly with the heel of his hand.  Her breathing returned to normal faster.

 

"Nick," she said, looking up.  He dipped his head in acknowledgment.  His fantastically blue eyes were filled with concern and affection.  It filled with odd feelings she had never experienced before. 

 

A sudden roar from behind them shocked them from their little world that they had created.  The shorter man flung himself on top of Nick, knocking Letha back.  She struck her head on the cobblestones and immediately blackness swirled in front of her vision.  She vaguely heard grunts around her and then a deep voice speaking to her softly but her brain failed to function or comprehend anything.  Finally she slipped into the abyss that was her subconscious. 

 

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