Fighting Mist and Smoke

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Passing under the arch leading into the Brewers' Corner and into the Merchants' Quarter proper, Lawrence and the Guild constables began to push themselves through the throng that now stood shock still, eyes wide as they too cast about for the source of the scream. Then the crowd was surging towards the Quarter's entrances, galvanized into motion by another scream, this one a man's. 

It was a terror-filled howl lower and hoarser, rending the air for a second time. Lawrence and a handful of the constables barely managed to throw themselves tight against the gate before they were run over by a living stampede sent into flight by that scream. The rest were simply swept out of sight, their green uniforms quickly carried out of sight.

With blind panic written on their faces, people from all lands and cultures streamed by, desperately intent on getting out of the Quarter. 'What, in the name of the Maker, is going on here?' the young prince wondered as he watched them surge by, howling incoherently.

As if hearing his silent question, shouts began to lift over the crowd's rolling wave of sound, invoking the name of the Maker or ancient guardians of venerable houses. Then they were roughly interrupted by cries of pain and, in shivers of motion and barely sensed color, bodies began dropping to the ground all around them, throats torn out or great slashes opening flesh to air to let loose torrents of blood and life.

"What madness is this?" a constable beside Lawrence managed to snarl before he was spun around to drop to the ground, a dagger somehow sprouting from his eye socket like a perverse flower.

Staring hard at the man suddenly dead on the ground beside him, Lawrence squashed the brief impulse to follow those that had already fled the Quarter and slipped a hand into the small of his back to ease the i'yna free of its sheath. As small as it was, the Xanchaldan dagger was a comfort in his hand.

Then he was alone, the crowd and remaining constables either gone, or dead, their corpses heaped untidily all around him. Coiled in readiness, the young prince let his eyes sweep over the cleared out area, his eyes keen as an eagle's as they studied every nook and cranny, searching for the perpetrators of this unnatural attack.

All around him and everywhere he looked, Lawrence saw destruction. Booths smashed or turned over, good scattered over the wooden boardwalks or ground into the dirt beneath, pieces of fabric hanging loosely from shattered frames and overturned carts, the animals that pulled them gone; it was chaos. 'Surely the crowd itself couldn't have done all this,' he silently mused, the grip on his weapon suddenly slick with perspiration at the realization. 'This is beyond, ...'

His thought was abruptly interrupted by a sound that snatched at his attention, eerie in the silence. Lawrence whirled about, eyes searching and the i'yna held ready.

It had been a shuffling sort of sound, the kind one hears when not really paying attention to what's going on around oneself. Twisting this way and that, Lawrence tried to espy the sound's source. Only to hear it again out of sight, somewhere behind him, like boot soles being roughly scuffed across the wood of the boardwalk. As he turned to his left in search of the source, he caught sight of something shifting into his range of vision from the right.

Hastily he spun in that direction, hoping to find it in the center of his sight. Much to his chagrin and disappointment, however, he found nothing waiting for him there.

Instead, as he stared hard at the space that greeted him, he was jolted roughly from behind, struck by a hard body. Staggered and his wind knocked from his lungs, Lawrence fought to retain his balance as stars danced in his vision.

Before he could refill his lungs, however, he was struck again, and again, the third strike forceful enough to spin him around and drop him to a knee, pain echoing through his body. Even as he gathered himself to push back to his feet, another blow came against the side of his unprotected head, sending a spike of agony rippling through his skull in dull, throbbing echo to the pain now inhabiting his body. The blow nearly stole his senses from him.

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