Before the leader has time to shout orders, the man, Kemp, is already on the move. He knocks the feet out from those closest to him, sending them sprawling onto the ground. He slams his mace into their sides hard enough to cause injury, but not enough to cause life-threatening damage.
As the gang comes to life, they surround him, tightening their circle. Weapons fly through the air, but never seem able to hit Kemp. Instead, he uses his dagger to block as he swings his mace into the sides of his attackers. He kicks out at one member, throwing him into two of his comrades.
One gang member swings his club at Kemp’s head. Kemp easily blocks, but immediately realizes the man was a distraction. A second gang member thrusts his knife at Kemp, aiming for his left side, the side he holds the dagger. Kemp is unable to swing the mace effectively and opts to shove the first gang member back, using the force to also clear himself from the path of the second gang member’s knife.
As the knife passes harmlessly in front of him, Kemp brings his elbow down on the back of the second gang member’s head, knocking the man unconscious. The first gang member attempts another attack, but Kemp is ready for him and slams his mace into the man’s stomach. The man doubles over and Kemp brings his knee up to meet with the man’s chin. Blood pours from the man’s mouth as he nearly bites his tongue in half. He falls back, trying to stop the bleeding and get enough air into his lungs.
Members of the gang who haven’t fought yet, fall back. Several even run out of the alley, knowing they have no chance. The leader of the gang steps forward, grabbing a dropped club from the ground.
The leader swings the club at Kemp only to be blocked by Kemp’s dagger. Kemp attempts to swing his mace at the leader, but misses. The leader has a longer reach and, even though it’s only by a few inches, moves his body clear of the mace’s path. However, he thrusts his knife at Kemp simultaneously, catching Kemp off guard. The blade slices into his side, but he maneuvers his body with the blade, avoiding a deep cut.
Bringing the mace back in a less powerful swing, Kemp is able to hit the leader of the gang in the side. The blow isn’t as strong as his first swing and only manages to knock the leader off balance a little. He thrusts his knife again as well as bringing the club down harder at Kemp.
The force of the club forces Kemp to one knee and as he angles himself to avoid the knife, the leader kicks at his other leg. Kemp falls to the ground, his hands slamming into the earth as he catches himself.
Yelling with a mixture of triumph and rage, the leader raises his club and brings it down with all of his strength. There’s no time for Kemp to move out of the way.
A large gust of wind slams into the leader and sends him flying into the nearby wall. Stunned, but not unconscious, the leader tries to stand, but his vision goes in and out of focus.
A hand grabs Kemp and pulls him to his feet. He looks into the green eyes of the girl the gang had been attacking, her dark brown hair falling across her face. The other one, the blond boy with her, has already grabbed Kemp’s bag and waves to the two to move.
“Let’s go before they regroup,” the girl says leading Kemp out of the alley. She turns and raises her hand, creating a gust of wind that fills the alley with sand, creating a temporary smokescreen.
Kemp allows her to lead him for a short distance as he puts his mace and dagger away. The boy in front darts through the city with a knowledge only one who’s lived in it their entire life can. The girl continues to glance behind them, searching for any of the gang who may have followed.
They cross one of the many bridges connecting the sides of the canyon and finally come to a rest once they reach the other side. The boy’s led them to a large square. Vendors have their stalls set up and the smell of cooking food fills the air. The square is crowded enough to prevent anyone from openly attacking, but large enough the three can sit and chat without the fear of being overheard.
“What a rush! That was amazing how you took all of those bastards on at once!” the girl says excitedly, laughing loudly.
“We’re lucky you showed up when you did,” the blond boy says, handing Kemp his bag. His blue eyes study Kemp, cautiously. “Who are you exactly?”
Setting his bag next to him, Kemp leans on it and smiles. “Kemp Romijn. I arrived in this city yesterday. The building those guys kept hitting with their clubs was where I’d been sleeping. The owners were afraid to do anything, so I figured I’d step in and clear them out. Didn’t know they were mage haters.” Kemp eyes the girl. “Thanks for the help with your wind magic.”
“Like I was going to sit there and let him kill you.”
“Are you a mage, too?” Kemp asks the boy. The boy shakes his head. “Well, who are you two? I think it only fair I learn the names of the two people I rescued.”
“Ari,” the girl says quickly. She motions to the boy. “And this is Crofton.”
“What kind of magic were you using?” Crofton asks motioning his head to Kemp’s small black bag. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Untying his black bag, Kemp waves it in front of him. “Are you really curious?”
He tosses the bag to Crofton. He catches it and carefully opens it. Peering inside, his eyes widen.
Ari leans forward, trying to see into the bag. “What is it?”
“There’s nothing in here except a few coins. But where were those weapons coming from?”
Holding his hand out, Kemp grabs the air and pulls. A sword appears, being drawn out from nothing as though an invisible sheath was floating in the air. When the blade is halfway out, Kemp releases the hilt and the sword disappears.
“Amazing,” Ari gasps.
“The black bag is mainly for show so people aren’t as freaked out, but I can pull a weapon from anywhere.”
“Are you creating them from nothing?” Crofton asks, tossing Kemp’s bag back to him.
“Not exactly. All of the weapons are real. At some point I found them, bought them, or, a special few, made them. It’s kind of hard to explain. My magic allows me to carry them with me wherever I go by placing them in a different world until I need them. However, I’ve found there is a limit to the number I can, for lack of a better word, store in this other world.”
“What’s the limit?”
Ari whistles. “That’s still a lot of weapons. Can you go to wherever the weapons are being held?”
Shaking his head, Kemp ties his black bag to his belt. “I’ve tried, but no. I’ve heard of others with similar magic who are able to, but I’ve yet to find anyone.”
“What about where you’re from? None of them could?”
“I’m the last magic user in my village. That’s why I came here. I came to find someone who could help me grow my magic. This city is one of the last refuges for magic users.”
“That isn’t as true as it used to be,” Crofton says. “You saw for yourself, gangs like those are popping up all over the city. Though they haven’t actually started killing magic users.”
“Not outright,” Ari adds. “This city is large and there are thousands who live here. It’d be easy for someone to suddenly go missing.”
“It’s still better than what’s happening out in the rest of the world. Magic is nearly gone from some places.” Sitting up, Kemp looks around him. “I can feel the difference here. Magic still floats in the air.”
“This city hasn’t escaped what’s happening. Magic is fading from here, too. Some lose it over the years. For others they simply wake up one day and it’s gone. There’s a fear inside of every mage that it’ll happen to them.”
Bells ring from across the canyon, signaling high noon. Crofton stands, his eyes widening. “The hoks are flying.”
“What else is new?” Ari asks. She notices the surprised expression on his face and turns her attention to the sky. What she sees brings her to her feet. She steps closer to the edge of the square, watching the great birds.
Confused, Kemp joins the two standing and tries to see what they are surprised about. “What’s the deal with the birds? I thought there were always a few flying around here.”
“They’re flying in a defensive pattern through the canyon, waiting for anyone who still knows how to fly to join them.”
“Look who’s in the lead,” Crofton says.
“I see them,” Ari answers.
Kemp strains his eyes to make out the two flyers at the front of the group. They fly on the backs of two hoks with feathers the color of light blue and purple. One is a man and the other a woman and they guide their hoks with the skill of true masters.
“Who are they?”
“Calston and Bon Lito. They’re the best flyers in the city and in charge of aerial defense. If they’re gathering the other flyers…” Ari’s voice trails off.
“They only do that when something serious has happened.” Crofton turns to Ari. “We should find your mom. She might know what’s going on. It might have something to do with that gang.”
Snapping her head to glare at Crofton, Ari frowns. “We aren’t going to tell her about them. If we do she might panic and ban me from walking around alone again.”
“You’re mom’s a bit overprotective, huh?” Kemp asks, a laugh on his lips.
Crofton glares at him. “Her mom is Meah Flandine Gurek. She has every right to be protective.”
His eyes widening, Kemp stares at Ari in awe. “Wait, that means your father is Ime Gurek. As in, killer of the Blood King?”
Ari’s breath catches in her throat and she fights back the wave of sadness filling her. Sensing her sudden change, Crofton takes her hand in his. “Come on, we should go to your mom.”
Eyeing the two, Kemp realizes he said something wrong. “I’m sorry. I’ve heard so many stories about your father before and during the war I guess I forgot the ones after.”
“It’s fine.” Ari drew in a shaky breath, calming down. “Thank you for helping us, but we should be going.”
“Of course. I’ll see you around.”
Meeting his eyes, Ari’s cheeks flush and a smile plays at the corners of her mouth. Crofton refuses to meet Kemp’s eyes and instead leads Ari away. Watching them leave, Kemp grabs his bag and swings it onto his back. He stares at the back of Ari’s head a small smile forming on his lips.