Unknown Author

The rain was coming down hard, blocking vision and limiting inner-city travel, for the most part. A few die-hard patrons of various bars made their way across the near flooded streets to satisfy their numerous addictions to drugs and drinks of all kinds. It was times like this that made Matt glad that he had avoided most of those substances during his youth. Not that he was fully-grown right now; he was only 17, not especially tall, and slender. In a match of strength of any kind, he would probably lose. But strength wouldn't make a difference in a fight with Matt. He was quick witted, with good reflexes, and a very strategic way of thinking. He was cautious, but could easily be reckless when it was needed. Good character was a rare virtue in the dank city of Calimsham, but Matt had it in abundance.

But few of these thoughts actually entered Matt's mind as he slogged through the ankle deep water. He did know that he was bored. This rain had been the most exciting thing to happen to him in a while, and he already hated it. Calimsham rarely saw rain, and was poorly prepared for it when it did come. The citizens of Calimsham were mostly desert dwellers, as was Matt, although you couldn't tell by looking at him. His small figure was the only resemblance he bore to the average denizen of the city; he had bright red hair, and pale skin that burned easily in the ceaseless sun of Calimsham. He usually compensated with a light, green cloak that's hood was pulled low over his face, keeping the sun's rays off of it. He had grown used to being different; however and sometimes considered it an advantage. His earliest memory was of begging on the streets, not too uncommon a sight on the dirty streets of Calimsham, in fact, it was very common indeed, but he had attracted attention because of his looks, and attention almost always equaled coins on the busy streets. Matt was different in other ways, though. Be it his appearance, or his frame of mind, he had always considered himself superior to his fellow street dwellers. It wasn't a thought borne of false pride; Matt was hardly a braggart, but rather of common sense. That earliest memory of begging was only 10 years old, and he knew little of his earlier life, if anything at all. He did, however, retain some mannerisms of his early life, or so he assumed, because he had not allowed himself to succumb to some of the less pleasant "escapes" of the poor. He had at first considered himself lucky, but now he knew that it was something more, although he rarely thought much of it. Few people had any morals in this city. If an elderly lady needed help across the street, he would gladly assist, while others in his situation would mug the helpless woman. He was also a reader, and had spent long nights at the city's less then impressive library, which was really a small hobble with books piled up inside, just like every other house in Calimsham, without books of course.

Of course, Matt had seemingly more important things on his mind as he finally found some shelter in a nearly empty bar known simply as the "bar" by its regular patrons. It retained this title due to most of its patrons illiteracy, and kept it simple to aid passing folk in distinguishing it from the other identical houses lining the street. He stood in the doorway for a moment savoring the dryness, and sat down at a stool by the empty bar. Without much thought, he pulled the hood of his cloak off, revealing his long red hair. He noticed the bartender looking at him with more curiosity then he was used to being viewed with.

"What'll it be, youngster?" The bartender asked, in a voice that was obviously far too friendly.

"I'll have some water," said Matt cautiously, expecting the answer.

"Water!" the bartender yelled, "Boy, if you want water, step outside and open your mouth, now, buy something or get out, this bar is for paying customers!"

Matt was hardly surprised, but he didn't want to go back outside, so he simply sighed and slid him a pair of pennies.

"I'll have the cheapest drink I can get with these," Matt said absentmindedly, for three large men wearing concealing black cloaks had just entered, and Matt's sharp gaze easily spotted them as their seemingly innocent glance about the bar rested on Matt for several seconds. They seemed hardly surprised.

Matt watched as they approached him, hardly noticing that the barkeep had slid him fairly expensive ale, meaning he would be charged extra when he left. If he left alive, that was. He knew the men were looking for him when the bartender gave a slight movement of his head towards Matt, and the men obviously recognized it, he prided himself on recognizing small body movements like that, and he had seen it done in similar situations before. He also knew what happened next in these situations.

"Well, I'll be going now," said Matt, less then cheerfully, he slapped down a silver piece and made for the back exit.

"Ye're not goin' anywhere today!" laughed the old bartender as he leaned forward to grab Matt. He spotted the three men quicken and reach under their cloaks. It was time to act, he had never actually been in a fight, but had witnessed many, and read about more, and had a basic idea on what to do.

The bartender would've easily grabbed Matt and held him for the others, except Matt had been going for his small 3-inch dagger before he had even stood. With an unpracticed yet effective slice with the dagger, he took off one of the bartender's fingers.

"Damn it!" he yelled as the ring finger hit the ground. Matt reacted quickly, grabbing the wounded hand, leaping over the bar twisting the bleeding hand behind the bartender, and snapping the dagger against his throat.

"Back off now, or he dies!" Warned Matt, proud that his fear hadn't shown through in the threat.

"Ha! Drop him now or I'll put a bolt right through him into you!" Responded the largest of the three men. Matt didn't doubt his sincerity, but stood his ground. Moving would mean death.

"If that were true, we'd both be dead now, care to explain that?" Matt was proud of his bravery, but regretted it when he heard a click and the man's body went limp in his arms. Peering over his shoulder, he saw the crossbow bolt lodged in the man's throat. Looking up, he spotted the other two men aiming their bows.

"Sorry I asked," Matt said as he ducked behind the body while it was riddled with bolts, "Well, since we've established that bargaining is out, I'll be making my exit now."

With a mighty adrenaline powered heave, he launched the gory corpse on top of the bar, making sure to remove the poor man's short sword, and change purse, at the same time. Leaping on top of the bar and body, he let out a shout and tossed his dagger at the nearest of the three men. It was easily dodged, but it provided a distraction for Matt to leap off the bar and over their heads. His landing was less graceful, as he crashed into a table, flipping it up. Without true conscious thought, he leapt to his feet, tossing his cloak out behind him hoping to stop any more bolts.

The surprised foes never got a second shot, and Matt was running full tilt through the streets a moment later, weaving an impossible to follow path.

"Who were those guys, and what did they want?" He muttered to himself, "Surely they made a mistake, but it's hard to mistake me for anybody in this city."

Troubled by these thoughts, he crept into a dark alleyway, finding shelter from the rain beneath a cloth canopy two stories up he made barely a sound. Stealth was another skill he had taught himself, knowing that surprise might be his best bet in any fight. He sat down on the ground and rested against an alcove in the wall. With his cloak about him, he was almost invisible. He then examined himself and the goods he had taken.

His legs were skinned and hurting from his poorly aimed jump during his escape, and he had splinters in his arms from the table. After using the now drizzling rainwater to wash his bloody legs, and removing the splinters, he examined the goods. The short sword was nothing incredible, not quite three feet, but it was a beautiful and expensive looking weapon. Slipping that through his belt, he looked inside the purse, and almost fainted. Easily a 150 gold pieces were inside, and Matt was surprised the weight hadn't given it away to him earlier, he had never held that much money in his life. After the initial joy wore off, the true realization of the gold sunk in. No bartender would have that much money on him at once, somebody must have paid him, most likely the three men, too stall Matt while they came. He then remembered that the man had been speaking loud when Matt had ordered water, too loud. He had tipped off the men too his presence, and had been paid handsomely, in advance. Otherwise, he would've just guzzled the water and left in about 30 seconds. Matt wondered how much of his supposed conspiracy was actually true, but he reminded himself that he had almost been killed, there was no need to be careless. The bartender had also had a seemingly unimportant part in the whole affair, just stall and warn, yet had been paid a large sum. Matt knew what that meant, someone very rich or very powerful wanted him dead, and he didn't know why.

"Looks like the rains clearing up, along with my boredom," Matt thought to himself, surprising himself even by cracking a grin.

Matt awoke later that night. The moon hung high in the sky, but the alley that he sheltered himself in saw almost no light. At first, Matt was groggy, almost unaware of where he was. Memory came flooding back to him just as sharply as a snapping trig. Unfortunately, the trig had nothing to do with his memory, but with his current situation. Matt sat perfectly still, knowing immediately that something had awakened him. Noting the lack of light, he went ahead and closed his eyes, straining his ears. He was a cautious man, and would've sat there all night alert and ready even if he hadn't noticed something. Unfortunately, he became dimly aware of something moving near him. Snapping his eyes open he scanned the alleyway, and saw him. The man was moving slowly, wearing a solid black cloak he was almost invisible. What really caught Matt's attention, though, was that he was about five feet away from him, and he was heading down the alley. Matt was instantly grateful he had hidden himself before falling asleep, even though he hadn't expected an encounter this late.

Matt held his breath, not daring to move any muscle, and waited. After several seconds, the man had passed within two feet of Matt's alcove and walked right by him. Matt thought the man would hear his heat beat since it was thundering in his ears. He allowed several more seconds to pass until the man was out of sight before blowing out a breath of relief. He knew his mistake the second he made it.

He heard a quiet whish, and a split second later saw the sword shining in the meager starlight. Matt would've run, had it not been for his terror. As the man strode confidently toward him, he coiled his legs beneath him in preparation for a sprint. The man halted two feet away, and in the dim light, Matt saw it was the smallest of the three men from the bar, the light reflecting off the blade aiding his vision. The man was obviously straining in the darkness to make out Matt, as the illumination was hardly useful and he was still several feet away.

"Maybe it was my imagination," whispered the man, far to cheerfully for Matt's liking, "well, better be safe and make sure!" The man rushed Matt's alcove and hoisted his sword over his head in one fluid motion. Matt's tensed muscles exploded and he half dove and half ran out of the sword's path. While stumbling to his feet and breaking into a dead run (no pun intended) he ripped the neckpiece of his cloak off and cast the whole cloak out behind him, hoping to slow the man.

He charged forward for several seconds before checking behind him and slowing down. He barely managed to dive away from the oncoming man and received a nick on his arm for his slowness. Scrambling out of the way and back the way he came, he passed over his cloak, lying cleanly severed in two pieces on the ground.

He made a quick decision then, knowing that the man could obviously outrun him, and most likely outfight him, he spun about and drew his own weapon, deciding to meet his end with a measure of dignity. He figured if he ran, the man would take him in the back, so he might as well die facing his death, and give himself a small chance. The cloaked man hardly seemed concerned as Matt dropped to his knees and stuck his sword out in front of him with hardly a second to spare, while the man charged him at a full sprint. This move would've skewered most men before they could stop, but the assailant simply leaped, performed a flip and took a healthy swing at Matt while in the air. Matt threw himself onto his side but still received a long gash down his back.

"Crap!" Bellowed Matt in agony. Not being used to combat, he certainly wasn't used too much pain, and the gash was shooting very acute spasms of pain down his back. "This is hopeless, this guy has me dead and I doubt he's broken a sweat yet," Matt thought to himself desperately.

The man rushed again and Matt narrowly deflected the swing, and had to fall on his back to avoid losing his entrails to the following slash. The blade did manage to cut deeply into his hip, however, and Matt could feel the rush of blood over his pants. The pain tripled but he hardly noticed. The man stood back while Matt struggled to his feet, hardly maintaining his balance.

"He's playing with me," Matt thought, knowing he was doomed. He allowed himself to collapse to the ground with his back against the wall. The man approached, sword high above his head. When the man was about within striking distance with his blade, Matt heaved his sword at the man with the last of his fading strength, determined to at least wound the man before his death. Matt's rapidly blurring vision hardly helped though, and his sword skittered harmlessly past the unflinching man.

"That's pathetic, I have to work on my throwing skills," Matt tried to say, deciding to end on a joke, and in too much pain to really care what he said. The man's sword came up for the finishing blow, and Matt closed his eyes. A second later he felt a warm rush of blood splatter into his face and torso. He opened his eyes, expecting to see his first glimpse of the afterlife. Not so. The man lay on the ground in front of Matt, his head nowhere to be seen, and blood running all over both of them and the ground. With fading vision Matt looked up too see another form standing over him, holding a very bloody sword.

"There you are boy!" Cried the man, in obvious relief, although Matt didn't know him. "Just in time I see, looks like you put up a good fight! At least you appear to be worth my effort." The man spoke in an unfamiliar accent to Matt, but he didn't care. After acknowledging that he was alive and had been rescued by this man, the injured Matt passed out.