It was times like this, when he was walking in a soaking, heavy cloak through a city he despised in weather that can only be described as skypiss, that a small part of Klaus wondered why he kept doing this. He was very good at his job. So good that he could have retired years ago if he wanted. Few hunters could make such a claim. But he was still driven to this. Crawling through sewers and dead cities, consorting with scum and in the pay of the corrupt and fearful. When they had started their adventures together, they only wanted to bring more honour to the family name, to make their parents proud, to do well by their city. Not any more. Not since…
Klaus was unceremoniously interrupted, in this case by a trio of thieves. No. ‘Thieves’ implied too much subtlety on their part. These were thugs, footpads. And stupid ones, considering their target. The lead thug drew back his hood, revealing the high domed head, jet black eyes and yellow-grey skin of a No’Xian. This one must have less pride than most of the others. The traditional path of the impoverished No’Xians of the Eights was into the army, the Sentries, food hunting or smithing. Most of the thievery and organised crime stemmed from human incursions into the city. However, the dishonest way of life appealed to many, regardless of species.
Klaus sighed. He hated muggers.
“What do you want?”
The ringleader was puzzled. He was used to his victims showing fear, not boredom. This did not fit in with his plan for this engagement. Normally, he would have capitalised on his target’s fear and apprehension by squaring up to them and attracting their attention while his companions surrounded them. The results of such an encounter would be invariably messy, but it would all be over very fast. This one was not playing along, skilfully moving slightly every time one of the thugs tried to get behind him, and blocking their path. He had to change tack and speak to his foe.
“One wants what you possess, human.” No’Xian extended his right hand, forming his left into a fist and making the punch dagger equipped on it painfully visible.
“What, this?” Klaus inquired, drawing a bizarre, but undeniably dangerous, blade from his belt. The blade resembled a large cleaver, but with a nastily hooked and bladed top, attached to a wooden haft, upon which was mounted both a button and a strange octagonal bolt. The No’Xian looked appreciatively at the device. It looked unique; he had never seen another blade like it; it would probably fetch a good price with a human merchant or one of the lesser No’Xian smiths. He grinned slightly, a facial manoeuvre that did not suit him.
“For starters.” He raised his fist and waved his companions forward. Like a true criminal ringleader, he preferred not to risk immediate dismemberment in a fight he didn’t know he could win. The larger of the two lackeys hesitated, but the other leapt forward without hesitation, drawing a pair of barbed knives with the intention of removing Klaus’ face from his head. Klaus sidestepped and beat one of the knives aside with his blade. Such was the ferocity of the figure’s lunge, he plunged past Klaus, revealing his back to the bounty hunter, who needed no second chance. With a fast and brutal downward hack, Klaus drove his cleaver into the footpad’s spine causing his to yelp loudly and collapse onto the alley floor, screaming in pain, unable to move his legs. Without taking his eyes off the two thugs in front of him, Klaus stamped down forcefully where he guessed his foe’s head was. The screaming stopped.
The ringleader blanched and swallowed apprehensively. Nevertheless, he wasn’t going to back away. Not while he still had a lackey with him, anyway. Out of the corner of his mouth, he made a number of strange clicking and hissing sounds and gestured with his unarmed hand. The large figure to his right shook its head, causing the hood to fall, revealing the noseless, earless, scaly face of full-grown Sssthn. The Sssthn raised itself from the hunched posture its cowl had forced upon it and loomed menacingly over the human bounty hunter. Klaus looked up at the face of the creature in front of him, now a clear foot and a half taller than he was and stared into its protruding, lidless reptilian eyes. A long, slimy tongue slid out of the Sssthn’s mouth and swiftly glided over each of the creature’s eyes, moistening them before snapping back into the creature’s mouth with a brief slurp. Klaus could feel himself being drawn into those large yellow eyes, becoming transfixed and absorbed by their glare. He broke free of the trance with minimal effort and smirked humourlessly at the giant creature, which appeared to be disappointed that its prey escaped its stare so easily.
The disappointment quickly turned to rage and, with a loud salvo of throaty clicks, the reptilian monstrosity lashed out at Klaus with a vicious clawed hand. Klaus ducked low and, in a risky but well-practiced move, darted inside the Sssthn’s long reach and aimed his blade up at the creature’s head. He pressed the button on the haft of his weapon, and the cleaver shot forward with considerable speed and impaled itself in the lizard’s chin. The Sssthn went completely limp and collapsed forward lifelessly. Klaus sidestepped the immense corpse and used the falling giant’s momentum to help him pull his blade free. The carcass hit the ground with a loud, wet, satisfying thump. The ringleader saw that Klaus was now wielding a five and a half foot halberd, instead of the two foot blade that had been there before he had pushed the button. This encounter was not going the way he had planned. Klaus now turned to the final thug, murder in his eyes.
The fight had fled from the No’Xian now and he tried to back away from his ‘victim’. Unfortunately, he had been driven into a dead-end by the fighting and the wet wall behind him told him there was nowhere else to go. With the bravery born of desperation, he lunged forward, fast and low, punching out with his right fist, aiming for Klaus’ side. Instinctively, the bounty hunter hefted his halberd to the left to block the oncoming attack. However, this was only a feint and Klaus felt an explosion of pain as the punch-dagger on the No’Xian’s left handed smacked into his side. Klaus’s armour prevented the blade from piercing his flesh, but took little force away from the blow. However, the strength of the impact was not to blame for the pain Klaus now felt. As the blow struck, the No’Xian’s black eyes flared bright blue and light flashed down his arm. The light coursed through the dagger and into the bounty hunter in the merest fraction of a second, and Klaus shouted in pain, sparks dancing along his skin. The No’Xian drew back his blade and readied to strike again.
Klaus was surprised. This thug had the Talent. No’Xians were an intrinsically magical people, indeed, they were the only people capable of casting ‘true’ magic, instead of merely imitating it. They could channel their feelings, their thoughts, their rage, their very essence into inorganic objects, imbuing them with magical power and abilities that defied even the most skilled human artifice. No’Xian society was built on blood and power, and a family’s position was determined by the power of the lineage. It was uncommon enough for one in the poor Eights to have Talent, but downright bizarre for one of the Talented to sink to common thuggery.
Klaus jerked himself free from the shock and the pain and readied himself for the next attack. Fortunately for him, although it was rare for a No’Xian thief to have Talent, it was not rare for Klaus to have to kill the Talented. When the next blow came (and it came quickly) he was more than ready for it. The No’Xian tried feinting again, but Klaus blocked the armed fist with the wooden haft of his halberd, knowing that the organic nature of the wood would prevent the flow of magic from the No’Xian from entering his body. His assailant’s right hand struck a blow on Klaus’s side, but he barely felt it. Instead, Klaus aimed a kick at the No’Xian’s chest and felt a satisfying sense of resistance as his foot met his enemy’s body, and he followed through, pushing hard with his heel. The force of the blow was so great that the No’Xian left the ground and smacked hard into the alley wall behind him before collapsing to the ground, stunned. If the kick hadn’t already forced the air from his lungs, that landing would definitely have finished the job.
Klaus lowered his halberd; point aimed at his foe’s chest and plunged forward. There was a crack and a squelch as the weapon struck true. The footpad didn’t even have enough air left in his lungs to scream. Klaus dusted himself down (if that can even be done in a perpetual drizzle) and looked around the now unoccupied alleyway. In his younger days he would have felt satisfaction and pride at this accomplishment, but, with all that he had done and seen in his life, he was now a hard man to impress, even himself. He crouched down next the body of the recently dispatched ringleader and reached for the punch-dagger. His hand shot back as he received an unpleasant shock from residual magic in the object (or, more likely, the object’s owner). With a sneer, he kicked the weapon free of the hand that once wielded it and watched as it fizzled softly in the rain. When it stopped, he scooped it up and deposited it in one of the numerous pockets that lined the inside of his heavy cowl. Waste not, want not.
He salvaged the two knives from the first thug and shook his head in disbelief. These were throwing knives, not close combat ones. One strong parry and they’d snap. They were well-balanced though, and the barbs on each blade pretty much prohibited removal from the flesh without severe bleeding. Yes, they were good enough for salvage. He strapped them into his bandolier and rummaged around in his belt pouch. He pulled out what looked like a valve handle and attached it to the haft of his halberd. It fitted neatly onto the octagonal attachment. He turned it and the halberd began retracting, the haft drawing back into itself. He grunted as the resistance of the spring inside increased. After another thirty seconds, he was rewarded with a click and he detached the handle, placing it back in his belt pouch. It took a lot of effort to reset the weapon’s mechanism, but the element of surprise and the ease of transport and concealability made all the effort worthwhile. There was no No’Xian Talent in this weapon, although to the casual observer it may appear that way. This was pure Artifice. Good quality work, well worth the expense. It had cost Klaus more than he cared to remember to get that weapon made. He sheathed the blade and resumed his trudge towards the Outer Eights.