Chapter 10, Part 5

“I…I don’t know!” Ilnorat stammered. “This just…doesn’t make any sense!”

“Allow me to shed some light on the situation,” Alessandra said in a soft, dangerous voice, placing herself in between Torea and Ilnorat and crossing her arms across her chest. “How I killed Bezzum is irrelevant. The important thing for you to remember, is that I did kill him, and I did it with ease. If you have a problem with me being Clan Master, you are welcome to challenge me, and I will gladly destroy you. Otherwise, get used to the fact that I am now the Clan Master.”

“I…,” Ilnorat began, and swallowed hard. “Yes. Of course, Clan Master. Forgive my indiscretion.” Alessandra stared at her coldly for a few moments, and then she suddenly smiled warmly.

“I understand this is an unusual situation,” she said. “I’m kind of having a hard time believing it myself. I know a lot of people in this clan don’t like me, and I don’t expect people to fall in love with me immediately just because I’m the Clan Master now. But I do hope you, and everyone else who dislikes me, will give me a fair chance to do a good job.”

“Of course, Clan Master,” Ilnorat said, bowing her head. “I will do my best.” She turned and followed Meachen out the door, and Vegora followed after both of them, nodding to Alessandra in respect as he left.

“You handled that well,” Torea said in an impressed tone as soon as the door closed.

“I’ve never lacked for confidence, Torea,” Alessandra said, settling down in the chair behind what used to be Bezzum’s desk. “Now I’ve got the power to back that confidence up.”

“So it would seem,” Torea said, rubbing her chin. She looked as if she were going to say more, but Alessandra cut her off.

“I know, Torea,” she said, holding up one hand. “You want to know what happened. I will tell you…someday. But for right now, I need you to tell me how to be Clan Master.”

“I’m glad you’re willing to take my advice,” Torea said, smiling. “I have to admit, the first thing I thought, once I got over the shock of seeing you kill Bezzum, was that you were going to want to charge in headfirst and completely change everything here. You’ve always been more than a little stubborn.”

“And that stubbornness has served me well, wouldn’t you say?” Alessandra asked, spreading her hands wide. “But this is what I’ve wanted my whole life, and I’m not about to screw it up by being stubborn. I know Bezzum ran this clan well. As much as I hated him, I have no intention of fixing what isn’t broken.”

“I’m very glad to hear it, Clan Master,” Torea said, bowing her head. “Well, shall we get to work?”

“One thing, first,” Alessandra said. “I know you and Bezzum were…close, and I just want you to know that I had no intention of hurting you, and I’m sorry if his death grieves you.” Torea studied Alessandra for a few moments, her lips pursed.

“May I be honest, Clan Master?” Torea said, and Alessandra nodded. “Bezzum was a miserable bastard, and I’m glad he’s dead.” Alessandra’s eyes widened in shock at these words, and Torea laughed. “Surprised? You shouldn’t be. You saw the truth of who Bezzum was better than most of the people in this clan. I did as well, but that’s only because I worked side by side with him for many years.”

“But…but…you slept with him! I thought…”

“Occupational hazard,” Torea said with a shrug. “Bezzum didn’t exactly trust his Clan Leaders, but he trusted me more than the others, because it’s hard to keep secrets from a woman who shares your bed.” Alessandra stared at Torea, dumbfounded, and then all of sudden she burst out laughing.

“Torea, you conniving wench!” she exclaimed. “I never had any idea! I could never understand how you got along so well with that gutter slime, and now I finally find out that you didn’t! You are truly a master of deceit!”

“Goes along with the job, usually,” Torea said with a shrug. “If I had been too open about my feelings toward Bezzum, you would have liked me more, but I would have been sidelined by Bezzum, if not exiled. Conversely, if I acted like I was completely on Bezzum’s side, that would have increased my power and standing, but you wouldn’t have trusted me at all. It was a delicate balancing act.”

“Why even care about whether I trusted you or not?” Alessandra asked. “I’m just a nobody. Or at least I was, until today.”

“I’ve always seen potential in you, Alessandra,” Torea said intently. “I knew you had it in you to be Clan Master someday. Granted, I didn’t think it would happen so soon, but I knew it would happen.”

“That’s…that’s pretty high praise,” Alessandra said, taken aback. “I kind of wish I’d known that, especially when you were dragging me through the halls to physically throw me out of the building.” Torea blushed slightly, but she continued to meet Alessandra’s gaze.

“You know I was just doing what I had to do,” she said firmly. “I explained why I had to go along with exiling you at the time, and I stand by those reasons. I had a plan in place to overthrow Bezzum and replace him, eventually. I was hopeful that you would stay alive long enough for me to become Clan Master and then find you and end your exile. But I guess those plans are irrelevant now.”

“I feel a little bad about that,” Alessandra said with a slight shrug. “You would have made a great Clan Master, Torea. But I have no intention of swapping places with you.”

“Nor should you,” Torea replied. “You earned your place, as it should be. Now enough of this. We need to get some work done, and then you need food and some rest. Let’s get to it.”

To be continued…

Chapter 10, Part 4

Immediately, she stepped back to avoid the spray of blood from his neck, and with a twist of a wrist she pulled the other dagger out of his gut and let his body fall to the ground. As it fell, she bent down and cleaned the blood off of her daggers by wiping them on Bezzum’s shirt. She was conscious of the fact that there was total silence in the arena as she did so, but she ignored it for the moment. All she wanted right then was to savor the fact that Bezzum had died at her hands.

Finally, she stood up and surveyed the crowd in the arena. There was a look of total shock on every face. Every eye that looked at her was round in astonishment. She turned around slowly and made eye contact with every single person surrounding her, and as she did so, she was confident. They knew. They knew that she was the best, that she deserved to be the Master of Clan Mekoval. Finally, she had what she’d spent her whole life chasing.

After what seemed like an eternity, but was probably only a few seconds, Vegora stepped forward, and grasped her wrist to lift it up in the air. “Behold, the new Master of Clan Mekoval!” he yelled in his thin, reedy voice. He looked as stunned as everyone else in the arena, but his voice was strong and clear as he called out. There was no response, but as if the sound of Vegora’s voice were a charm that broke the magic spell enthralling the room, the silence disappeared, replaced with the sound of muttering as the members of Clan Mekoval began to discuss what had just happened.

“We should go up to, er, your study,” Torea said, stepping forward. “Give everyone a chance to process what just happened.” Alessandra nodded. Part of her wanted to gloat, to rub it in everyone’s faces how wrong they’d been about her, but she knew that was not how she wanted to kick off her tenure as the Clan Master. She needed these people, needed them to, if not like her, at least respect her, and bragging about how she was the greatest probably wasn’t the best way to accomplish that.

Torea led the way up to what used to be Bezzum’s study. Alessandra allowed her, even though she obviously knew the way. It’s my study now, Alessandra thought in a daze. She wasn’t sure why she was dazed. Maybe just because the thing she’d wanted for so long, the thing she’d thought had been taken away from her forever not that long ago, that thing was finally hers. She was the Clan Master of Clan Mekoval. Even though there had been no doubt about the outcome of her challenge, thanks to the new powers she’d obtained from Ilimay Ladron, she still couldn’t quite believe it was real. Just an hour ago she’d been an exile from her clan, and now she was its Master.

Torea, Vegora, Alessandra, and the other two Clan Leaders, Meachen and Ilnorat, entered the study, and as they entered, Torea turned to Alessandra. “I can’t believe that what just happened is real,” she said. “How did you do it? How did you beat Bezzum? You’ve been in exile for three weeks. By all rights, you should be weaker than you’ve ever been. And you did something that I’m certain none of us Clan Leaders could have done. How?” Alessandra smiled a small, secretive smile.

“I think I’d prefer to keep that a secret for now,” she said mysteriously. “In the meantime, I’m sure there’s work to be done. I’ve been out of the loop for three weeks. I have no idea who’s out on jobs or what’s being planned or anything.”

“We’ll prepare a report for you as soon as possible,” Vegora said. “Until then, I can tell you that there are only two teams out right now, Hesikal’s team and Zenmor’s team. Bezzum was planning to send out Niechao’s team tomorrow night, but of course it’s now up to you whether that job goes ahead or not.”

“Show me the writeup for that job, and I’ll make a decision as soon as possible,” Alessandra said, and then she yawned. “I could use a bowl of stew and a nap in a real bed.”

“I can imagine,” Torea said, and then she smiled. “I’ll have somebody clean out your quarters and bring you up some stew.” She turned to the other Clan Leaders. “I think it’s probably best if we leave the Clan Master to get used to her new study for a little while. I’ll bring her up to speed about the clan’s situation.”

“I think that sounds good, Torea,” Vegora said, nodding. “Meachen, Ilnorat, what about you?”

Meachen was a short, bluff, bald man with a thin beard and no mustache. He made up for his lack of stature by being thickly muscled, but despite being short and stout, he was one of the quickest and quietest thieves in the clan. He nodded as soon as Vegora spoke and turned to leave immediately.

Ilnorat was not so agreeable, however. She was a tall, thin woman with olive skin and close-cropped black hair. She had several small scars criss-crossing her face, including one near her mouth that gave her a permanent scowl. This was appropriate, as it suited her personality perfectly. Of all the Clan Leaders, she had always been the one who liked Alessandra the least.

“I’m not ready to just accept this child as our Clan Master and be done with it,” she said in a petulant tone. “We all know that Bezzum was more skilled than her! There is no way she should have been able to kill him, and so easily! Aren’t we going to investigate this? Are we going to just let her usurp a position she doesn’t deserve without a whisper of protest?”

“What is there to investigate?” Torea said wearily. “The rules governing this sort of thing are pretty simple, as you well know. She challenged him. He accepted. She killed him in full view of the entire clan. Are you accusing her of cheating somehow? How would that even work? There are no rules in the arena!”

To be continued…

Chapter 10, Part 3

The arena in the Mekoval clanhouse was somewhat inappropriately named. It was nothing like the huge arena near the center of the city where gladiator contests and mefutal matches were held. It was, instead, merely the largest room in the clanhouse. Nor was it used simply for challenge duels. It was also used a classroom sometimes, sometimes as a training room, and most commonly it was used as the clan mess hall. And yet, the challenges held such a key place in the mythology of how Clan Mekoval thought of itself that it was referred to as the arena, regardless of how little it was actually used for that purpose.

Despite her mood, Alessandra couldn’t help grinning as she walked into the room, trailed by Halidasa. Finally, she was going to get her revenge. It actually made her want to giggle that Torea, Mikaelo and Halidasa were so worried about her. Oh, if only they knew. She could almost feel the power coursing through her veins. Bezzum was going to try and toy with her, but she was the one who was going to end up toying with him. It was enough to make her want to howl with glee!

The center of the room was cleared for the challenge, with all the tables pushed up against the walls. Every member of the clan was already there, at least all those who weren’t currently out on jobs. She received a variety of looks from the people in the room. A number of them simply looked surprised that she was there. Quite a few looked rather pleased at the thought that (as they saw it) she was about to be destroyed by Bezzum. Only a very few looked like they were worried on her behalf.

She would win them over, she knew that. Once they saw how powerful she’d become, they would know that she was worthy of being Clan Master. After all, once she killed Bezzum, she would be Clan Master, and no one would dare challenge her once they saw how strong she was. She caught the eye of a few people who had expectant looks on their faces and gave them a wink, and laughed at the confusion they displayed. They really thought she was going to lose, and they couldn’t imagine how she could be so confident. Well, they would learn.

She took her place on one end of the cleared-out space, and watched Bezzum approach from the other direction. He directed a nasty grin at her as he entered, which she returned with another wink. His grin became even nastier in response, but Alessandra was certain that there was a hint of doubt in his expression. He knew how strong he was, how skilled. He knew that under normal circumstances there was no one in the clan who was nearly good enough to best him. His confidence wasn’t arrogance. He really was as good as he thought he was. So for Alessandra to be as confident as she was, it had to be eating at him a little. Or so she assumed.

Vegora strode forward out of the crowd and took his place at the center of the circle, with Alessandra and Bezzum on either end. He looked at Bezzum and nodded, and then he looked at Alessandra. He gazed at her impassively for a moment, and then he shook his head and turned to the crowd.

“Gathered members of Clan Mekoval,” he intoned, “we are here to witness a challenge to the leadership of Clan Master Bezzum by Clan Member Alessandra. This is a battle to the death, and the winner will take his or her place as the Clan Master of Clan Mekoval. At my mark, the challenge will begin.” Vegora stepped out of the circle, back into the edge of the crowd, raised his hand, and then brought it down quickly and yelled, “Begin!”

As soon as he did so, both Alessandra and Bezzum drew their daggers and began circling each other. Bezzum had a predatory gleam in his eyes and a feral grin on his face. “I’ve been waiting for this day for a long time, chiela,” he hissed, barely audible over the roar of the watching crowd.

“If I’d known you had a death wish, I would have indulged you sooner,” Alessandra shot back. She tried to smile sweetly at him, but she was pretty sure the look on her face was just as fierce as Bezzum’s. He snarled at her in response, and then lunged at her.

Like a serpent, Alessandra dodged out of the way. Bezzum blinked in surprise, but recovered quickly and was immediately back on the attack. Once again, Alessandra slipped away from the bite of his blades, but he was relentless. Again and again he attacked, and again and again he failed to make any contact with her body. Finally, in frustration, he lunged at her again, and when she danced out of his way again, he slipped and fell on his face. Leaping up again, he snarled at her in frustration, and this time, the smile she gave him in response was indeed perfectly sweet and innocent.

“What happened to you?” he rasped.

“I learned a few things while I was in exile,” she said with an innocent shrug, and then it was her turn to attack.

Her blades flashed like lightning, and no matter how hard Bezzum tried to dodge or parry, every time her daggers lashed out, they drew blood. After a few minutes of this, Alessandra drew back to admire her handiwork. Bezzum was covered from head to toe in little cuts, and the floor of the arena was wet with his blood. With a howl of rage and frustration, Bezzum leaped at her again, and Alessandra very nonchalantly stepped out of his way, leaving him to sprawl on his face on the floor.

“How are you doing this!” Bezzum roared, as he sprang to his feet again.

“My little secret,” Alessandra said with a wink. “You know, it’s almost a shame this is a fight to the death. I would love to watch you beg for mercy right now. But I think it’s time to put an end to this little game.” Faster than a human eye could follow, she lunged forward and plunged one of her daggers into his gut. Bezzum’s eyes widened in pain and shock, and Alessandra grinned. “Enjoy the last few seconds of your life, chiela,” she said, and then with her other dagger she slit his throat.

To be continued…

Chapter 10, Part 2

She fell silent, and the two women stared at each other for a few moments, Alessandra with fire in her eyes, and Torea with sadness and pity in hers. Finally, Torea looked away and shook her head.

“If that’s your decision, then so be it,” she said. A small, sad chuckle escaped from her lips. “I suppose it doesn’t matter now anyway. You challenged, he accepted, and there’s no way around that. If you tried to leave the clanhouse now, I would have to kill you.”

“You would have to try and kill me, you mean,” Alessandra replied, her eyes still smoldering. “Don’t underestimate me, Clan Leader. I have no intention of dying today.” And with that, she spun on her heel and stormed out of the room, leaving Torea alone with her grief.

A few seconds later, she turned a corner and ran into Mikaelo. “Alessa!” he gasped. “It’s true! You really are here!”

“Yes, I am here, and before you ask, yes, I did challenge Bezzum,” Alessandra said.

Moi tuval, Alessa,” Mikaelo swore. “What in the abyss are you thinking?”

“I’m thinking that I’d rather die than face another minute of exile,” Alessandra replied calmly. “You have no idea what it was like.”

“I don’t, you’re right, and I’m sorry, but Alessa…,” he trailed off helplessly, and then he whispered, “I don’t want you to die.”

“Trust me, Mikaelo, I don’t want to die either,” Alessandra responded. “I learned a few things during my exile. You might be surprised at how this challenge turns out.”

“Are…are you sure that exile didn’t…mess up your mind…or anything?” he asked.

“Look, you’re going to just have to trust me,” Alessandra said, exasperated. “Besides, what does it matter to you if I die? I was an exile. You were never going to see me again anyway.”

“Well…I had…plans,” Mikaelo said lamely.

“You had plans,” Alessandra replied, her voice flat.

“Well…yeah!” Mikaelo said. “I mean, Bezzum’s not gonna be Clan Master forever, and I thought…maybe…when we was gone, I could convince whoever took his place to revoke your exile,” he finished with a little shrug. Alessandra stared at him flatly, her hands on her hips.

“Well, whatever,” she said with a slight shake of her head. “It doesn’t matter now. I’m here, my exile is over, and I’ve challenged Bezzum. You know as well as I do that a challenge can’t be withdrawn once it’s accepted. If I tried to back out now, you’d kill me, right?” Mikaelo hesitated for a moment, and Alessandra got right in his face. “Right?” she asked insistently.

“Yes, yes, of course,” Mikaelo sputtered, backing away hastily. “The good of the clan always comes before that of the individual. I know that. But…Alessa, you have no idea how hard it was to have to bar you from the clan house.”

“Oh, I have no idea how hard it was,” she said flatly, and then she screamed, “I have no idea how hard it was? Let me tell you something,” but he never found out what she was going to tell him, because they were interrupted by Halidasa.

“Um, Alessa?” she said diffidently. “The Clan Leaders told me to tell you that it’s time.”

“Fine,” she said, ignoring Mikaelo. “Let’s go.”

Halidasa and Alessandra made their way through the halls of the Mekoval clanhouse to the arena. Halidasa was uncharacteristically silent as they walked, but Alessandra wasn’t really in the mood to talk, so she didn’t press Halidasa at all. Instead, she focused on her anger toward Mikaelo. How dare he presume to lecture her on how hard life had been for him over the past few weeks? She was the one who’d been living in hovels, stealing just enough to survive. She was the one who had fled from roving mercenaries, and was apparently being chased by demons. All he’d had to do was keep her from reentering the clanhouse after she’d been thrown out! What a hard life that was!

She was so wrapped up in her fuming that it took her a moment to realize that Halidasa had stopped. Turning, she asked, “Hali? What’s up?”

Halidasa was silent for a moment, and then she shook her head and said, “I…I’m having a hard time wrapping my mind around what’s happening here. You’ve…always been one of my best friends, and I…I…I don’t want you to die.” Alessandra was stunned for a moment, and then she smiled.

“Oh, Hali, you’re such a sweetheart,” she said. “Trust me, I don’t want to die either. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the outcome of this challenge.”

“But that’s just it, Alessa!” Halidasa wailed. “I don’t want Bezzum to die either! I know you hate him, and I know he hates you, but he’s always been good to me! He’s been like…he’s been like the father I never had, and I don’t want either of you to die!”

Now Alessandra was truly stunned. She’d known that Halidasa and Bezzum were close, but for her to think of him as a father? She was having a difficult time processing that little bit of information. A father? Who even cared about having a father? Nobody in the slums had a father, at least not one who took care of them the way fathers in the city took care of their children. Alessandra didn’t know who her father was any more than Halidasa did, and that had never bothered her, but apparently it did bother Halidasa.

“Hali,” she said quietly, “I don’t know what you expect me to do. I can’t back out of this challenge now, and even if I could, it would just mean a return to exile. I can’t go back to that life, Hali. I won’t. You don’t know what it was like.”

“I know, Alessa,” Halidasa said, sniffling. “I know the rules. But that doesn’t mean I have to be happy about it.”

No, Alessandra thought with a frown, I suppose it doesn’t. She turned and began walking down the hall toward the arena again, and now her anger had been replaced by…confusion.

To be continued…

Chapter 10, Part 1

The sun was about halfway down to the horizon when Alessandra stood in front of the Mekoval clanhouse once more. Nobody knew she was there, of course. She was completely invisible, to sight, sound and touch. As far as the guards squatting by the door were concerned, the street in front of them was completely devoid of the presence of a young woman named Alessandra. She grinned as she watched them, highly amused at their ignorance. Of course, she would have been just as ignorant as they the last time she was in their position, but she ignored that fact. There was no way the guards would know she was there, not until she was where she wanted to be and she chose to reveal her presence.

The problem was, the door was closed. Alessandra suspected there was some way she could use her power to pass through a closed door, but she didn’t know how to do it, and she didn’t want to experiment with her powers now. She wanted to keep herself and her powers a secret until the appropriate time, so instead she just waited. She would wait for someone to leave or enter the clanhouse, and then she would slip through the door before it closed again.

Fortunately, she didn’t have to wait very long. Alessandra was perfectly capable of waiting for long periods of time. It was an essential skill for a thief, but that didn’t mean she liked it. This time, however, she’d only been waiting about fifteen minutes when a woman she recognized as a member of Clan Mekoval appeared and headed for the door. The guards nodded to her as she approached, opened the door for her, and she and Alessandra passed through. As soon as she was inside, Alessandra made a beeline for the Clan Master’s quarters.

It was strange being back in the clanhouse again. Even though it had only been a few weeks since she’d been exiled, it felt like it had been an eternity. So much had happened in those few weeks, and Alessandra felt like a completely different person now. Added to that was the fact that this place still wasn’t actually her home anymore. She walked its halls, but she was still an exile. Gaining fantastic new powers hadn’t changed that yet, but it would. She was about to end her exile, and accomplish so much more.

She found herself outside Bezzum’s quarters. Looking around, she saw that there was no one in sight, so she decided to try and move through the door without opening it. In a few seconds, she would want to be seen anyway, so she figured at this point it was okay if she screwed up and had to just open the door herself and walk in. Closing her eyes, she thought for a second, and then did what felt natural. She felt something…shift, and then she heard a scream and a thump. Opening her eyes, she found that it had worked, but that she had become visible in the process. Bezzum was sitting at his desk, his eyes round in shock, and Torea was standing next to him, looking nearly as startled.

“What in the seven levels of the Abyss are you doing here?” Bezzum roared, getting up from his desk. “And how did you get in here?”

“I’m here,” Alessandra said, in a surprisingly level voice, considering she was almost as surprised as Bezzum, “to issue a challenge to you.”

“Girl, don’t be foolish,” said Torea, coming towards her. “Promise to leave here at once, and never return, and I will give you safe conduct out of the clanhouse.”

“Absolutely not!” Bezzum bellowed. “I should kill you where you stand! Issue a challenge? You can’t issue a challenge! You’ve been exiled! I’m going to cut you down like the dog you are!”

“What’s the problem, Bezzum?” Alessandra said with a sly grin. “Are you scared?”

“Scared!” Bezzum shrieked, his face turning red with rage. “I- You- How-!”

“You’ve always wanted to kill me, Bezzum,” Alessandra purred, emphasizing the Clan Master’s name. “Now’s your chance. Just you and me in the arena. You know I’m no match for you. You can finally finish me off, once and for all.”

“Alessandra, what is this nonsense?” Torea said, a note of desperation in her voice. “Did you forget what I said to you?”

Bezzum held up a hand to cut her off. “You’re right, chiela,” he said to Alessandra, his voice turning cold. “I have always wanted to kill you. I never thought you’d be so foolish as to challenge me, after what I did your precious Kriesaio, but so be it! I hereby revoke your exile! You are now, once again, a member of Clan Mekoval, and as such, I accept your challenge.” He grinned, a cruel smile without a trace of mirth in it. “Enjoy the last few minutes of your life, chiela.” Then he brushed past her and left the room.

“Alessandra, what are you doing?” Torea asked in a low, worried voice.

“I decided that if I’m going to die, I’m going to do it as a member of Clan Mekoval,” Alessandra said proudly. “Exile was hell, and I have no desire to go back to that life. Death is coming for me, sooner or later, and I’d rather face it on my feet in the arena, then lying on a gutter in the outskirts.” Then she flashed Torea a grin. “Besides, you never know how a challenge is going to turn out until it happens.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Torea said fiercely. “You know how strong he is. This isn’t going to be a quick death! Remember what happened to Kriesaio! He is going to toy with you, make you suffer! He’s going to shame you in front of the whole clan! Is that really what you want your legacy to be?”

“He’s already shamed me in front of the whole clan!” Alessandra roared, rounding on Torea. “Have you forgotten how you dragged me, kicking and screaming, and threw me out of the clanhouse? Have you forgotten how he made sure that the guards on the gate were my two best friends? I have nothing left, Torea! The clan was my life, and he took that away! Just let me choose my own death, okay? At least this way I have a chance of regaining my honor!”

To be continued…

Chapter 9, Part 4

In a flash, she launched herself at the first man, intending to rain down a flurry of punches and kicks. Instead, her first punch was so powerful that it sent the man flying twenty feet. He crashed into a brick wall and slumped over, unconscious. The other three men stared at her for a second, their mouths hanging open in shock, while Alessandra stared at the man she’d punched, with her mouth also hanging open in shock. Then the three men yelled and charged at her at once.
In a few seconds, it was all over. Two punches and one kick were all it took for Alessandra to dispatch all three men, and then she was standing there, taking deep breaths, staring in awe at the unconscious men slumped all around her. There was no longer any doubt in her mind. Ilimay had somehow transferred her powers to Alessandra, and even better, somehow Alessandra instinctively knew how to use those powers. She took a deep breath with her eyes closed, and then, with a quick look around to make sure no one was watching, she turned invisible again and slipped off into the night.
The rest of the night she roamed the slums, zooming from one part of the city to another, beating up thugs and then disappearing again. She had plans for these new powers, but she needed to make sure she knew what they were capable of before she put them to use. During one fight, she deliberately allowed herself to get hurt, and then, once the battle was over, she willed her flesh to heal itself. During another fight, she willed a fireball into existence and flung it at one of the thugs she was fighting. At one point she attempted to fly, but she felt instinctively that such a thing was not possible, and sure enough, her feet remained firmly planted on the ground.
All night long, she raced, snuck, and fought her way through the slums. She didn’t seem to tire at all, and she didn’t know if that was because her newfound powers meant that she didn’t get tired, or if she was just so excited about her new powers that her body was running on adrenaline. A nagging voice in the back of her head told her that maybe she should think about what happened a little more, maybe reflect on it a little, but she shoved that voice back down every time it surfaced. This was the most exciting thing that had ever happened to her in her life, and she didn’t want to sully it by thinking too much about it.
Finally, the light of the sun began creeping into the streets of the slums, and Alessandra, for the first time since before the demon showed up in her hut, started to feel a little tired. She wanted to be at peak performance before she put the first part of her plan into motion, so she decided to search the outskirts for a place to sleep. There were so many abandoned buildings on the outskirts that finding a place to hide for a few hours was easy, especially considering her speed and her ability to turn invisible.
Her last thought before she drifted off to sleep was to wonder if she could stay invisible even while she slept, and sure enough, when she woke up in the early afternoon, she was still completely invisible. Because of her confidence in her new powers, she had slept more soundly than at any time since she’d been exiled. In fact, her sleep had been even deeper than most nights when she lived in the Mekoval clanhouse. For the first time in a very long time, Alessandra was confident that things were going to be alright.
She stood in the doorway of her new hovel with a broad grin on her face, brimming with exuberance, confident that today was the day her exile would end. She had a plan, and there was no reason for her to delay carrying it out. Actually, she thought, as her stomach growled, maybe a slight delay would be fine.
Obtaining money for food was easier than it had ever been, of course. She found that not only could she hide herself from sight and sound, she could even buffer herself in such a way that people couldn’t feel her when she touched them. Pickpocketing had never been such a breeze. In fact, she obtained so much money, she was able to buy as much food in one trip as she had in the entire previous week. She only intended to eat a portion of it, saving the rest for later, but once she started eating, she found that she couldn’t stop until it was all gone. That had unsettling implications for the energy costs of her new powers, but she refused to let that bother her. She had a plan, and once she carried out that plan, everything else would fall into place.
Once she had eaten and drank, she felt refreshed, more refreshed, in fact, than she’d felt in a long time. She wondered about what that might mean, but not for too long. She sat on a park bench with her legs crossed and her arms stretched out along the back of the bench. The bench was half rotted and any trace of paint that might once have been applied to it was long lost to the elements. The park that the bench was in was a small, shabby thing, with a pair of bedraggled, scrawny trees, and a few sprigs of wilted grass. Despite these bleak surroundings, Alessandra was happier than she’s been in a very long time. Maybe ever. Everything had gone wrong for her lately, but that changed today. With these new powers, she would be able to take what was rightfully hers, and force her universe to bend to her will. Starting today, everything was going to start going her way. She knew it.

To be continued…

Chapter 9, Part 3

Finally, with a primal roar and a flash of purple light, Ilimay was able to free her arms from the demon’s grasp. She whipped around and tried to drive her sword into the demon’s chest, but the demon was quicker. It plunged one of its clawed hands into Ilimay’s chest, and the scream she emitted was even more wrenching than her previous one, but as she screamed, she dropped her sword, reached up with both hands, and grabbed the demon by the head. Immediately the demon shrieked, and then it flashed a brilliant white and disappeared.

As soon as the demon was gone, Ilimay collapsed onto the ground. Her breathing was labored and her face was ashen. Weakly, she gestured for Alessandra to come closer, and Alessandra did so, feeling shaken to her very core. Members of the Order of Sunaru were viewed as akin to gods by the people of the slums, and now that Alessandra saw one of them broken and bleeding in front of her, she had no idea how to process it.

“Come here,” Ilimay said hoarsely. Alessandra knelt down close to her, and Ilimay coughed weakly. Then she reached up and touched Alessandra on the cheek. As soon as she did so, Alessandra felt as if she were racing down a long, narrow tunnel at an incredible speed. Images and sounds and sensations flooded her mind, faster than she could possibly process. It seemed to go on and on for an eternity, but in reality it lasted less than a second. As soon as it ended, Ilimay’s hand dropped limply to her side, and Alessandra recoiled with a gasp.

“What…what did you do to me?” Alessandra said in shock, but she didn’t get an answer. She reached out and touched Ilimay’s neck, feeling for a pulse, but there was none. Alessandra recoiled in shock. How could a member of the Order of Sunaru die? They were supposed to be invincible champions of justice. And yet she had just seen one destroyed by a demon. Her mind couldn’t process it. She stood up and backed away slowly, her hand over her mouth in horror. And then, she turned away and started running as fast as she could.

It took her a few minutes to process what was happening. At first, all she could think of was Ilimay’s broken, bleeding body, lying in the gray dust of the outskirts. That image consumed her mind, and she was blind to all else that was going on around her. But gradually, something else broke into her consciousness. She slowly became aware of just how fast she was running. She had always been fast, the fastest member of Clan Mekoval, in fact. But now she was moving at a speed which made her previous top speed look like the top speed of a fat, old man with two broken feet.

She stopped suddenly, and looked around at where she was in awe. She had been running for…what? Five minutes? At the most? And yet she had come an eighth of the way around the city from where she started. Even if she’d been able to maintain her top speed the whole way, there was no way she would have been able to travel that distance in less than an hour before.

Before? Before what? Before Ilimay touched her on the cheek? What had she done? Had she transferred her powers to Alessandra? Why would she do that? Because she was dying? Alessandra stood there, on the very outskirts of the city, her mind racing, trying to comprehend what had just happened to her.

And then, a broad smile crept across her face, and she was gone.

***

The first thing Alessandra did was try to figure out the extent of her newfound powers. At first, she was running at top speed into the slums, but she quickly realized that she shouldn’t draw attention to herself, and slowed to a normal walk before she encountered any people. Night was just falling, so there weren’t too many people out and about in the slums, but she didn’t really want anyone to see her running at superhuman speeds and start spreading rumors. As soon as she did see some people, she thought for a second, and she did…something. She had no idea what she was doing, just that she knew it felt right. Whatever it was, it had the intended effect. She was invisible.

A huge grin broke out on her face as she looked down at her body and saw nothing but the ground beneath her. She started walking down the street, and then realized that her disguise wasn’t perfect. Her feet still made noises as she walked. She thought for a second again, and then did something that seemed right again. Then she stomped her foot as hard as she could, and her grin grew even wider. Completely silence. Now nobody could see her or hear her. Perfect for a thief.

She strolled down the middle of the street, and not a single person so much as glanced in her direction. Perfect. Now, could she undo what she had done? She found a dark alley with no one in it, thought about it for a moment, and then she looked down at herself in the faint moonlight. It was hard to tell, but it seemed as if she was perfectly visible once again. Smiling, she made her way out of the alley, and as she did so, a voice yelled to her.

“Hey there, pretty lady!” a man yelled drunkenly at her. A spike of fear shot through her heart as she realized that this man was much larger than her, and he was accompanied by three other men who were just as big as him. They lurched toward her, shouting suggestions and insults as they came. For a split second, Alessandra panicked, and then she remembered what she’d been doing. She had superhuman speed, and the ability to turn invisible. Why not superhuman strength?

To be continued…