Chapter VIII

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Enver was an ugly city. It was clear its founders had spared no thought for beauty or grace, or, it seemed, very little thought for anything at all. Squat, dirty buildings rose wherever there was room, and sometimes where there wasn’t.

Its sprawling roads and alleyways were laid out haphazardly, and the streets were always thick with the stalls of vendors selling all types of wares, making them difficult to manage even if you knew where you were going. The lack of a central plan was clearly evidenced by frequent dead ends and inefficient twists and turns. To an outsider, the place could be a maze.

Corwin, while no outsider, was not exactly familiar with this part of the city. He cursed at himself under his breath, using language a child with a proper upbringing would only scratch his head at.

Everything he'd learned in his time on the streets had taught him how important it was to know the area. Always have a way out. Hunger, and the fact that too many people in the area he called home knew his face, had caused him to try somewhere new before he should have. Stupid. Now he might pay for it.

Corwin's heart raced as his short legs carried him speeding past the booths and alleys of the crowded street. He weaved neatly between two merchants and heard a satisfying thud as his pursuers proved unable to match his nimble move.

He took the stolen moment to dash down an alley way. The smile creeping across his face was short lived. A bricked up dead end loomed in his path. Oh hell, he thought, as he turned back to the street, hoping to slip out before they realized which alley he had taken.

No such luck.

They approached in something like a crouch, their arms spread wide. Despite the dire circumstance, Corwin almost laughed at their caution. Though both were almost twice his size, it seemed the chase had given them ample appreciation for his quickness. Not as dumb as they looked.

Corwin paused to rethink that; it would take an awful lot of stupid to be as dumb as these two looked.

His thoughts were interrupted by the winded voice of the boy on the right. "Okay you little twerp, we've got you now. Toss over the money and we won't hurt you." he said, the words pushed out with effort from an ugly, pock marked face.

His cohort chirped in, still wheezing as he attempted to regain his breath, "Oh no, Bill, I'm gonna hurt him. He led us on a hell of a chase, and I hate running. I'm gonna make sure he never runs from anybody again, that's what I'm gonna do." He gave a gap toothed grin.

The first boy, Bill, smacked the other in the back of the head, wiping the grin from his face. "Of course we're gonna hurt him, dimwit, but now he knows it. Now he won't hand over the coin and we'll have to go digging for it." He wrinkled his nose. "I ain't keen on that. I think I can smell him from here."

Corwin took the few small coins in question from his pocket. He held the coins out in a tiny, grimy hand. "Please, take it, just don't hurt me." His voice quivered with fear.

An ugly grin spread across Bill's face. "Oh look, it can talk." His grin widened. "Let’s see if it can scream."

He approached, reaching to grab Corwin between his outstretched hands, but before he could get a grip, Corwin flicked his wrist, sending the coins rolling into the busy street beyond the mouth of the alley.

Both of the older boys glanced at each other, then made a mad dash after the bouncing coins, the smaller child forgotten. Corwin followed just behind as the distracted pair rushed from the alley, and used the chance to vanish into the crowd.

* * *

That night, after a long, cold walk back to the area where he made his home, Corwin sat with his back against the chimney on the roof of a modest building, his tiny form balled against the night's chill. A tiny trickle of heat seeped through the bricks behind him, only just keeping him from freezing. His clothes offered little protection; hardly more than filthy rags, they were either too large or, in the case of his constantly pinching shoes, much too small.

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