Rats in the City
Part One – Assailants in the Night
The rasp of drawn steel that echoed through the tight confines of the alley roused Peregrine’s attention from her near inebriated meanderings and musings. Her hand fumbled for the broadsword at her side and she cursed as she clutched at an empty scabbard. A short figure in a voluminous hooded cloak dashed at her, a mere shadow in the night shrouded alley, holding a rusty short sword in hand.
Even after an evening spent carousing through the seedy inns and salubrious taverns of the sprawl of great Qaiqala, her head muddled by the fumes of ale, she reacted on instinct. As the sword stabbed at her, she stepped aside, bouncing off the wall of the alleyway, before punching with all of her might. Her fist connected with a face beneath the hood, and in response there came a sound that sounded much like a squeak. To Peregrine, the face beneath her fist had felt odd, as if not exactly shaped like a normal head, though her thoughts were not coherent enough to ponder more on the matter.
“Ware behind!” a voice called out, the words slurring together. Peregrine span about, almost tripping over her feet, in time to see another figure rush at her, while beyond that she could make out a tall, dark haired man in obsequious finery wrestling with a third cloaked assailant. For a moment confusion wracked at her addled thoughts as he sought to remember who the man was. Then memory came flooding back. Blade; a man she had met early in the day, performed an unusual job with and then spent the spent the evening drinking alongside of. For a soft lowlander, he seemed a reasonable enough sort, not entirely unskilled, though as of yet she had not seem him perform in a fight.
Putting such thoughts aside, she faced down the attacker coming at her. Just as short as the first, he came on with a scurrying motion. Peregrine kicked out with a vicious blow as he neared, almost overbalancing, but it caught the assailant on the leg beneath the cloak. A squeal sounded and the attacker staggered away, limping. As he did, Peregrine thought she caught a glimpse of something trailing across the ground from beneath the cloak. Between the shadows of the night and the ale she had drunk, she was uncertain what she had seen, and so she ignored it, turning towards where Blade struggled. The taller man, with a much longer reach, had wrested the sword from his attacker, and rather than risk a strike the third assailant had scampered away.
Blade laughed sardonically as the trio disappeared out of the alley. “You messed with the wrong victims,” he called out after them, “For Fianna of the Aedring and Carse of the Red Blade are no easy marks.”
Peregrine approached him, still rather unsteady on her feet. “Thieves?” she asked.
“Aye, my good Peregrine, thieves. In this part of town they are as thick of thieves.” He stopped, running through what he had just said in his mind and then laughed. “The drink seems to have addled my thoughts to some degree,” he conceded. He took a moment to look around. “It must have done so if we came this way.”
“Where is here?” Peregrine asked. “And where is my sword?” she added.
“I am not too certain exactly where here is,” Blade told her, “But it is in a bad part of the sprawl of Qiaqala. I would not have come this way if I was more sober. As for your sword, you swapped it for a jug of ale.”
“I did?” Peregrine asked. A frown formed across her forehead. “Why did I do that?”
“Because we had no money to buy the drink with. Maybe we should have told the thieves that.”
“Did something strike you as odd about them?” Peregrine asked, trying to think through the muddle that had settled upon her mind.
“Odd?” Blade took a moment to consider the question. “They were somewhat on the short side.”
Peregrine shook her head. “Not that, not alone. Something else seemed unusual about them yet I can not really put my finger on what.”
Blade shrugged and started on his way again, wishing to be removed from the area. He wove a winding way through the alley, half bouncing from the walls. “Where was it we were headed?” he asked, tossing aside the rusty short sword.
Peregrine stooped down to pick it up before shaking her head. “Somewhere,” she responded. “I can’t exactly recall.”
“In that case I shall let you know where it was when we get there,” Blade replied, giving an extravagant wave of his hand.
“Do that,” Peregrine said. She peered as best she could at the sword, given the lack of light and her own state. Crudely made, and rusted in parts, it would no doubt break before long, yet it was a sword when she had none. The hilt of it was made for a small hand as well, hers only just fitting around it. Tucking it into her belt, she followed Blade from the alley.