Chapter 4 Air

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“We should go, Ari,” Crofton says, leaning close to her ear. “You’re only making them angrier.”

Waving him away from her, Ari smiles at the man across from her. “You giving up already, Modi? I thought you said you were good at this?”

The man, Modi, snarls at her and slams coins down on the table. “One more round, all or nothing.”

“I don’t know. That doesn’t look like enough to be worth another round.” She motions to the small pile of money sitting on her side of the table.

Sneering, Modi slams his hand on the table. When he lifts it there’s a large gem beneath. “How about now?”

Eyeing the gem, Ari smiles. “Roll ‘em.”

Modi grabs three dice and hurls them onto the small table. As they come to a rest the small group gathered around makes surprising noises. He’s rolled two ones and a three. His snarl momentarily turns up into a smile.

“Beat it if you can, girl.”

Ari stares at the roll a moment longer before grabbing the three dice. She locks eyes with Modi and shakes the bone dice in her hand, the rattling sound overpowering the excited whispers around them. Crofton closes his eyes and groans, unable to watch.

Breathing deeply, Ari rolls the dice. As the dice tumble against the top of the table she releases a long sigh, keeping her eyes locked to Modi’s. The dice come to a stop and the crowd is shocked into silence.

Both Ari and Modi look down. Three singles. Impressed cheers erupt around them and Ari beams.

She grabs her winnings, standing as she does. “Guess you aren’t the best anymore, are you?”

Yelling angrily, Modi throws the table to the side, slamming it into bystanders. Ari and Crofton leap back as Modi draws a dagger. “YOU CHEATED!”

“Hear that, Crofton?” Ari eyes Crofton, signaling him with her fingers to get ready. He quickly grabs the gem and puts it in his bag. “The call of the sore loser isn’t as beautiful close up as they say.”

Modi lunges for the two, but Ari throws her hand in front of her. A gust of wind blows Modi back and she shoves Crofton through the crowd. “Time to go!”

“Get them!” Modi roars from behind.

Ari and Crofton run out of the alley and head down the street, followed closely by a group of Modi’s thugs. People quickly move out of their way, but the few who don’t are nearly knocked over.

“Damn it, Ari! You shouldn’t have antagonized him!” Crofton yells.

Laughing, Ari slams into him to make him turn. “You can’t honestly tell me that wasn’t exciting?”

“I’ll tell you what I think if we survive this.”

Trying to lose the gang behind them, the two head for a crowded market. Ari leaps over a table as Crofton slides beneath. They snake their way around stalls and spill things into the path of their pursuers. A second group of gang members blocks their exit from the market and they’re forced to head down an alley leading to a dead end.

Thinking quickly, they scale the walls, using windows and anything else they can grab to climb up. Reaching the roofs, they see the gang members following. Ari grabs Crofton and they leap from roof to roof, heading east.

The sun on her face and the excitement of the chase brings a wide smile to Ari’s face and she releases excited yells, catching the attention of people below. The shouts of the pursuers reach their ears and Crofton peeks behind. The gang members are getting closer.

“If you get me killed I’ll never forgive you,” he gasps.

Slamming her hand into his chest, they come to a stop before they run off the edge of the last roof. They’ve reached the last house before the canyon opening. The old city of Kellahn stretches out before them. The bridges crossing the canyon filled with the day’s crowds.

“Where you going to run now, girl?” a wheezing voice says from behind.

Ari and Crofton turn to see the gang blocking their only other way out. More are arriving, panting and gasping for air. Knives, swords, and clubs wave threateningly at them.

“What now?” Crofton says.

“We could fight them.” Ari laughs at Crofton’s expression. “I said could.”

Searching the rooftops for anything useful, Crofton spies Modi stomping his way towards them. “Shit, there’s your new friend.”

Ari turns and stares down into the canyon, until something catches her eye. She grabs Crofton’s arm, forcing him to look at her. “Do you trust me?”

“No.”

“Now’s the time to start.” Dragging him after her, she leaps from the roof into the canyon.

The gang, including Modi, who runs to the edge of the roof, stare in shock and disbelief. Crofton’s screams reach them as they watch the two fall.

Ari takes a deep breath and releases a larger gust of wind, slowing their fall enough that when a passing supply trolley moves directly beneath them, they land on it safely. The trolleys travel on wires connected to both sides of the canyon. It was a faster way to send things from one side to the other for those who could afford the cost.

As they reach the opposite side of the canyon, Ari leaps off the trolley. Crofton follows and the two head further into the city until they reach an alley close to the wall of the canyon.

They fall to the ground, gasping for air and Crofton glares at Ari. “You’re insane.”

Ari laughs. “I know.”

“Was it really worth it to piss off those guys?”

Pulling out the money she won, Ari hands half to him. “The game was rigged, Crofton. That’s why they kept getting angrier as I won.”

“Rigged?”

“One of Modi’s goons would use magic to mess with the dice. My magic was just stronger.”

Sighing, Crofton shakes his head. “I’ll have to take your word for it.”

Ari eyes him as she catches her breath. “Do you ever wish you could use magic?”

His eyes lock onto her face, wide with surprise. “I’ve already told you my answer to that question.”

“And now I’m asking you after being chased by a gang and jumping off a cliff.”

“No. I’ve never wished I could use magic.” He pulls out the gem and hands it to Ari. “Here, this is yours.”

Holding her hand up, Ari laughs softly. “It’s fake. Keep it if you want.”

A loud slam causes both to jump. They look towards the entrance of the alley. A group stands there, blocking the only way out of the alley. They each wear matching green cloths on their arms or legs. The largest of the group stands at the center, his green cloth covering his head. His eyes are locked on Ari and his expression is one of disgust.

Slowly standing, Ari and Crofton keep their eyes on the knives, pipes, and clubs in the hands of this new group.

“I haven’t ruined your rigged games, too, have I?” Ari asks, a nervous laugh in her voice.

The leader sneers at her. “You’re not welcome here, mage. You either, mage lover.” The group voices their agreement and a few of them slam their weapons against the surrounding buildings for emphasis.

“Excuse me?” Ari demands, stepping forward. Grabbing her arm, Crofton keeps her from moving too close to the gang.

“You mages walk around this city like you own it and the people who live here. We’re sick of it and we’re sick of you.” The leader pulls out a long knife and glares at Ari. “We’re going to take back this city by getting rid of all the mages and those who sympathize with them. Starting with you two.”

The gang closes in on Ari and Crofton, forcing them back to the wall of the canyon. Ari clenches her fists, feeling her magic gather slowly. A small breeze circles her, but Crofton suddenly tightens his grip on her arm.

“Don’t use your magic. It’s what they want,” he whispers quickly. He draws two knives from hidden sheaths and steps in front of Ari.

Realizing what he’s doing, Ari shoves her way to stand next to him. “I can fight without magic.” She pulls her own dagger from its sheath and the two stare at the approaching group.

“What the hell’s going on here?” a voice calls from amongst the gang. A man has appeared in the center of the gang, unnoticed by everyone. A large bag is slung over his shoulder and he glares at the gang with dark eyes. His black hair is pulled back in a loose ponytail, allowing several strands to fall forward. He doesn’t appear to have any weapons, but those standing around him still quickly move out of reach.

“Who the fuck are you?” one of the gang asks.

“Get out of here, mutt. This doesn’t concern you,” the leader says, turning towards the newcomer. He motions to his men to get rid of him.

Two members grab the man’s arms and try to shove him out of the alley. As soon as they grab him, he releases his bag and steps back quickly, pulling his arms together. The two members slam into each other, stunned. The man then grabs his bag before it hits the ground and swings it into their heads, sending them flying towards the building next to him. They hit the wall hard enough to create cracks before falling to the ground unconscious.

The man meets the leader’s eyes and throws his bag to the side. “I’m going to ask again. What the hell is going on here?”

The leader’s eyes flash to his unconscious men and back to the man. He tightens his grip on his knife. “You better rethink leaving, mutt. If you don’t, we’ll have to kill you, too.”

A fresh wave of anger passes through the man’s eyes and he looks from Ari and Crofton back to the gang surrounding him. He opens a small black bag on his belt and reaches inside. He pulls out a mace, the weapon seemingly appearing from nothing. The gang reacts with shocked noises and nervously eyes their leader.

“He’s a magic user,” Ari says under her breath. She stares at the black bag on his belt and wonders how his magic works.

The man aims the mace at the leader of the gang with one hand while pulling a dagger from the bag with his other hand. “My name isn’t mutt. It’s Kemp and I’d like to see you try to kill me, weakling.”

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