Chapter 7

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            Rika sighed and dropped her chin into her palm. Drumming her feet against the plinth of the statue she was currently sitting on, she continued to watch the traffic go by. While it was certainly more exciting than the traffic back home, when did you ever see one rider’s horse try to mount one pulling a cart, it didn’t change the fact she was kind of bored.

When Damek had told her to wait for him by the inn while he found where the mage lived, she’d thought this would be a great time to get to know Ahisu better. But he’d disappeared almost as soon as they’d taken rooms at the inn. And without a word to her. She frowned, kicking harder at the stone. Things would be so much better if she just had something to do.

Nearby movement caught her eye. She watched a small dog trot towards her and leaned forward, making a beckoning gesture with one hand. It ignored her, walking right past before turning into an alleyway. She sighed again and leaned onto her hands, her back resting against the statue of some guy in long, toga-like robes.

Almost of its own accord, her hand slipped into the bag she refused to take off, and touched the book inside. She shivered. Checking the book a second time had been a mistake. Seeing everything she’d thought and felt in print on the book creeped her out more than she was really willing to admit. When she got back home, in her mind there was no if about her getting back, she was going to bury the book somewhere. She didn’t want anyone seeing it. At least not while she was alive.

Still, she had to admit, it was kind of cool to be in the world of her books. Now that her return was all but certain, she felt relaxed enough to enjoy the experience. She wondered what magic would look like. She hoped it was impressive, with lots of coloured lights and loud noises, rather than just the spell effects happening. She wondered if she could learn any magic before she left…

A high pitched yelp shattered her thoughts. Rika sat straight up, looking around. The cry came again, from her left, so she slid off the plinth and moved towards the sound. It wasn’t until she rounded the corner into the alley that she saw what was making the noise.

Cowering by the back wall, back hunched, was the dog she’d seen walk by earlier. What had it yelping were the two men standing a few feet in front of her, both holding rocks in their hands and wearing identical smiles. Smiles that seem to ooze cruelty and smugness to Rika.

She raced forward, shoving her way past the men then turning sharply so she stood between them and the dog. She glared at them, her hands on her hips. “What do you two think you’re doing? How could you hurt a defenseless creature like this?”

The more muscled of the two exchanged a look with his partner before shaking his head. “It’s a street cur. No one wants it so what does it matter? It’s just going to starve to death anyway.”

His clean shaven friend smiled at her. “I think it’s best you move along there, missy. We’ve got no quarrel with you.”

“You do if you’re going to keep hurting this dog,” Rika snapped, her chin up as she took a step forward. “Keep at this and I’m going to call the cops!”

The muscular one frowned. “Cops?”

Remembering where she was, Rika said “The guards then!”

Their faces lost the faint looks of amusement they’d been wearing. The beardless one took a step forward, eyes boring into Rika’s. “I don’t think that’d be a good idea, missy. Definitely not something I’d recommend doing.”

Rika took a step back, trying to settle her body into the stance she’d been taught before. But one week of karate two years ago hadn’t left her with much beyond knowing that kicking someone’s knee backwards was a good way to take them out. She couldn’t remember learning anything about what to do when there were multiple opponents before she’d quit. She could feel her heart picking up speed as adrenaline hit her system. Even her body knew this wasn’t going to end well.

It was the clean shaven one who darted forward and grabbed her wrist. Rika cried out, kicking up with one foot, trying to hit him in the groin. He caught her blow easily, brown eyes hard as amber they met her grey ones. She tried to pull herself out of his grasp but he was too strong. The smirk that spread across his lips told her that he knew it as well.

She inhaled deeply, preparing to blast his ear drums with her shriek, but the sound of running footsteps from the alley’s mouth had her head snapping up to look. Her eyes went wide and her heat rose at the sight of the blue-haired man sliding to a halt just inside, gaze running over the muscular man in front of him. “Damek!”

He jerked to stare, taking her in first, then the man who still held her immobile. His eyes narrowed and he moved closer, dividing his attention between the two men. “I think you ought to let her go. Now.”

The one nearest Damek shook his head. “What are you, her bodyguard?”

The look Damek turned on the other man was one that looked like a promise of violence to Rika. “I said now.”

“Just hit him, Parnach,” the man holding Rika said. “We don’t need this.”

Rika chose that moment to try to jerk away again, successfully freeing her leg, but ended up brought up short by her arm. Her attacker’s grip tightened so that she felt like her bones were being crushed, and yanked her forward so he could grab her other wrist. She tried to swing away, but he caught her, trapping her so that she was face to face with him.

She could see over his shoulder and movement had her watching wide-eyed at what was happening with Damek. As the taller man struck out at him, Damek blocked the fist with one forearm, shoving the blow upwards. Before his opponent could recover, he sunk his fist into the Parnach’s stomach, making him double over. With the other man’s head now in easy reach, Damek drop kicked it. Parnach collapsed to the ground, senseless as a stone.

He noticed her stare and met it. “Don’t move.”

Rika froze, as the man holding her half-turned, eyes immediately going to his fallen friend then to Damek. But he wasn’t fast enough. Damek was already there, hands shooting out and squeezing the joints of his hands so that he was forced to released Rika. Once she was free, he lashed out with an elbow strike, hitting the man squarely in the back of the head. Like the first man, he dropped to the ground without even a groan.

Rika looked down at her ex-captor then to Damek. His green eyes were brighter than she remembered as he looked her over. Seeing no visible wounds, he hissed “Explain to me what part of stay by the inn was confusing to you.”

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