Bright sunlight burned my eyes, and I opened them back at Bob's corner. A group of kids had gathered, and some were pointing and laughing. I realized that I was lying on my side, with my head resting in a puddle of drool. One of the braver ones darted up, and swatted me with a stick, quickly retreating back to the crowd. I leapt to my feet, and they all scattered screaming. I stumbled back, feeling a little lightheaded, and tried to remember everything I had ever tried not to learn about magic. I was obviously being drawn into this conflict, whether I liked it or not, and I didn't like starting any project without some good info. So I set off back towards my flat to research the subject. As I neared my street, however, I felt the feather twitch, and not wanting to make myself a spectacle again, I jumped into a dark doorway, and crouched out of sight. I quickly leaned into the wall and did my best impersonation of a shadow, and waited for the vision to come. Instead, two huge orcs swaggered past, and I caught a snippet of their conversation.
"Never see So'jer with no magic before, don't feel right about that."
"Ahh, don't worry, job done now, he find nasty surprise when he come home now!"
"You t'ink boss Lazaro let us keep..."
The conversation faded as they turned a corner, but I stayed put, cold chills running down my spine. As far as I knew, I was the only mercenary who had a magic phobia. In fact most of the soldiers I had dealings with were respectable shamans themselves. I alone avoided the spells and incantations that most used to sharpen their reflexes and tune their senses. I never knew why, I just didn't like the feeling of some otherworldly force controlling me. So the orcs could be talking about nobody else, and I didn't like the idea of their "nasty surprise" waiting for me at my flat. I gratefully grasped the fancy at my chest, and tried to think up a plan. My entire weapons cache was back at my flat, as well as all of my money. I carried a little pocket change, but not enough to equip for a job. Especially a job where all of the intel comes in unpredictable visions which bring on periods of unconsciousness. I knew of a pawnshop just down the street that sold weapons cheap, with no stupid questions about permits, so I set out immediately.
With the money I had on me, I was able to get a laser-blade katana, a stun grenade, and an old fashioned bayonet. As I was leaving, I saw a dust-covered little display next to the door, advertising "Merlin's Magik Stunstix". A hokey picture of a wizard, complete with pointy hat and flowing gown, stunning an impossibly huge orc into submission was taped to the wall above a wicker basket full of what looked to be old tree branches. An impulse struck me, and I grabbed one of them, and returned to the counter. "How much for these?" I asked the cashier.
"Ahh, on special today, you take that trash out of my store, I pretend I don't see you. Good deal no? Hah Hah!"
Feeling more than a little stupid, I grabbed another two or three, and walked out the door. I soon realized that without my usual battle gear, (unfortunately back at the flat with the rest of my stuff) I couldn't carry all of the sticks at once. I selected the most hopeful looking one, and tossed the rest into the gutter. I pulled off the small piece of parchment tied to the end of the stick, and quickly perused the simple incantation. It claimed to be able to "Summon the power of the great wizard Merlin to stun your enemies into submission with a single stroke of your powerful StunStik ©." I shook my head in amazement at my impulsive stupidity and went to throw this one away like the rest. I was even more amazed to see that I had instead placed it in my belt next to the old bayonet, and tucked the parchment into my pocket. I shrugged, and continued on my way.
I had two clues to start with, the vision of the sewer, and the name I had heard the orcs mention, someone called "Boss Lazaro". I knew of no such person, but the sewers I knew, although I wish I did not. Since the city utilities had long since ceased to function in anything resembling an orderly fashion, the ancient tunnels beneath the city had been infested by the worst kind of scum. Even rumors of otherworldly creatures, sneaking out into the darkness of night to feed on the city's inhabitants were not beyond belief. At the very least, the stories of dog-sized rats were enough to keep most people out. I had pulled only one job involving the sewers, not coincidentally one of the few jobs that I had abandoned without completing. After ten minutes in the stench and darkness, my crew had been attacked by a pack of the aforementioned rats. After weighing the potential profits against the potential to lose a number of highly important limbs, we all bugged out, protected in the rear by an amateurish fireworks display cooked up by our hired shaman. I had managed to maintain good relations with the contact on that job; I decided that would be as good a place as any to start.
Big Rat, as he referred to himself, greeted me warmly enough, but his demeanor changed quickly as soon as I mentioned "Boss Lazaro."
"Bad news that one, he not got much power, or influence, but he sneaky and mean as troll with the mind rot! You no want have any'ting to do wit him. Here, I got respectable job..." I finally coaxed some information out of him, and realized that I had quite a bit of work ahead of me. Boss Lazaro was one of those accidents of the genetic experiments known as Lizardmen. An ocean-going oil drilling outfit contracted with a shady genetics lab (willing to ignore the long-standing taboo of mixing human and animal genes) to create rig-workers with the ability to breathe underwater, and to tolerate the tropical temperatures that must be endured on the rig. After many failed experiments, they came up with a cold-blooded amphibious man, by using genetic material from many different animals. Unfortunately, the reptile they chose was an alligator, and after creating a few hundred of these creatures, they used their human intelligence together with their superior strength and mouths full of razor sharp teeth to free themselves. A coalition of corp security firms fought a long and costly battle against the so-called "lizardmen" and managed to eradicate them from the city. For the most part. Rumors of a few who escaped into the sewers and survived ran rampant at first, then died away as time passed. Well, this guy was one of those rumors come to life. He had risen to prominence by abducting many street shamans, and stealing the secrets of their power. After he had gleaned all of the spells that he could, he used their bodies in a more traditional way for an alligator: he ate them. Thus, he hoped to become a great wizard, and use his power to resurrect his race. Nobody was sure how he resisted the spells of those he captured, but up to date, not one had been seen again.
At this point in the conversation, Big Rat's video-phone bleeped, and he excused himself to answer it. I watched his face as he listened to the message, and watched the monitor, which was turned away from me. He looked up once at me, with a nervous smile, then quickly punched a button on the console. "I am sorry, this is quite important, please wait in the next room, help yourself to the coffee and doughnuts. I will be with you in a minute."
I thought it strange that his street-wise drawl had disappeared, and even stranger that he would gesture to the front lobby, where his so-called "dry-cleaning" business operated as a front. My kind was not usually welcome in there, as we attracted the wrong kind of attention in such a "respectable" business. Without thinking about it, my hand crept up to my throat, and I grasped the bearclaw that hung there. This time, the transition to another place was a little gentler, and I retained an awareness of my body as well. I took a double take as I realized that I was looking at myself. It took me second to realize that I was seeing the point of view of Big Rat, as he looked back down at the monitor. There, on screen, was my face with an obscene amount of money superimposed across the bottom. As his hand reached toward to console again, I seemed to hear him thinking.
"Wow, that's some good cash there, and I will finally get my money back for that failed job. Thank whatever Gods brought him in here today!"
Back from my body, as if from a great distance, I heard him say out loud, "Please, if you don't mind, this is a matter of great importance, step into the next room please, I will be right with you."
Then I saw the image of an orc with an ugly snub-nosed street sweeper standing in the passageway, and I understood his sudden change of demeanor. I snapped my hand away from the bearclaw, immediately returning to myself and leaped to my feet, the katana buzzing through the air. My first stroke destroyed the monitor and console, and on the backswing I severed his head. The laser edge at once cut and cauterized the wound, and his body collapsed bloodlessly to the floor. With one leap, I crossed the room, and thrust the sword through the curtain into the darkened passageway. A satisfying grunt and I knew that my vision had been correct. I twisted the blade, then pulled it up, feeling the blade pass through bone and flesh until it exited the body. I jumped back from the curtain, and the obese body of an orc bodyguard fell through the curtains and sprawled headlong on the floor. I looked anxiously for the shotgun, and found it underneath him, neatly cut in half by the upward stroke. I cursed myself for a fool; I really could have used one more weapon where I was going. I quickly looked around the office, hoping to find a hidden cache, but before I got a chance, I heard a commotion out front. I quickly grasped the bearclaw, and concentrated on the front office. An all terrain vehicle had pulled up outside, and heavily armed men were piling out and running for the door. I stopped counting at six, and decided to bug out. I must have tripped some kind of security alarm when I destroyed the monitor, and this was the response. I quickly changed my thoughts to the back alley, and saw that a few men were starting towards the back door, but directly across was an old fire escape ladder, and I decided to take to the skies. As I returned to myself, I wondered how it was that I was catching on to the use of this charm so easily. Having avoided magic for most of my life, I had always thought that it would take years of dedicated practice to learn. Yet here I was, after only a few hours, using it like a pro.
I busted out the back door with one leap across the alley and up the ladder. I heard shouts of "There he goes!" and doubled my climbing rate. I got to the top and looked down to see the first one reach the ladder. He jumped and caught the bottom rung, and started to pull himself up. I pulled the pin on my precious grenade, and waited till two or three guys were gathered at the bottom of the ladder, then dropped it. I had never really seen a stun grenade go off, and it wasn't really all that impressive, but it was definitely effective. The grenade went off with a small pop just before it hit the ground, and all of the rent-a-cops within a three-meter circle just froze. The guy who was halfway up the ladder fell off, and landed with a sickening crunch on the guys at the bottom. Even on the top of the building, I felt a sickening wave of what appeared to be hot air rush past, but being well out of range, I only felt a slight tingling in all of my extremities. Realizing that I had only bought myself a little time, I turned and sprinted across the rooftops.
Leaping from one to another, I ran blindly, simply trying to put some distance between my pursuers and myself. Then, in the distance, I heard the whirring noise of a hovercraft, and decided it was time to return to earth. As I leaped between two buildings, I saw a big cloth window awning below. I turned, and jumped down, landing at the top and sliding to the bottom. I somersaulted off the bottom, and landed in the middle of the street. Patrons of the internet café, which belonged to the awning, glanced up, then quickly discovered something interesting on their screens. Citizens of this city learn at a young age to be blind to strange looking people carrying weapons. I ran into the café, leapt over the counter and ran to the back. I shouted to a surprised dishwasher: "Hey, you got a back door?"
He gestured towards a hallway, and I started in that direction. Then I felt that now familiar twitching on my back, and I skidded to a stop and grasped the claw. I looked on down to the end of the hallway, and saw a door with two or three metal bars welded securely across it. I quickly scanned the rest of the building, and discovered that indeed, that was the only door out. I decided to try out my laser blade on the security bars, and continued down the hall. I started sawing at the first one, and was satisfied to see it begin to smoke, then glow, then flow away in molten rivulets. Not very fast, but hopefully, I had some time. But then again, maybe not. I heard the crashing of dishes, and a woman screaming. I looked out into the front, not realizing that I had done it without even touching the claw, and saw four or five heavily armed men hurrying past the front counter. Frantically, I searched the house again for another exit, and this time, I noticed the drainage grate right at my feet. I pulled my sword out of the security bar, still only half way through, and tucked it back into its scabbard on my back. The handle brushed against my neck and I yelped. It was smoking hot, and I realized that the power pack in the handle had probably been close to overheating. I made a mental note to remember how cheap it was, and not overestimate its abilities. I knelt down, and lifted the grate. I just had time to drop into the darkness below, when an energy bolt struck the grate, shattering it. Hot shards of metal rained down on my head and shoulders as I landed on the bottom of the sewer, and waited a moment for my eyes to adjust to the darkness.
To be continued...
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