THE flesh of her arms quivered, a shiver ran up her spine. She knew it from experience as the feel of a spell breaking over her. A creeping sorcery, not violent. Clairvoyancy, she guessed, and reached for a pouch at her belt. She continued on, cautious but not unduly concerned. Mages might be rare in the city, but she was an even rarer beast.

The tenements to either side rose high above her, crowding close at their peaks to almost block any sight of the stars. She edged along in the gloom, feet reaching out at every step to feel for obstacles hidden in the dark. The going was slow, but she willed herself patience. “Chary kinda night,” she sung softly, an old reference to an almost forgotten literary romance.

Reaching a gap between buildings, she looked down the side alley to see a faint light. A heavy man with the air of a bouncer stood beneath the source, shifting his weight from one foot to the other, hands fidgeting with his collar, his lip, something at his belt. Agitated. Probably high on aspis, which was pouring out of Empire lands, flooding the market.

She took a slingshot from her tool belt. Nothing more than a kid’s toy, it was common amongst the slum kids for hunting rat. Short range, but accurate, silent, and leaves nothing behind. She put a stone in the cup, took aim at the light.

The sound of breaking glass accompanied the complete darkness that filled the alley. She stepped forward, hand returning to the belt pouch. She took a handful of the dust, flung it into the air as she moved as quickly as she could while remaining silent. She could see almost nothing, but knew the baurite ore would be hanging in the air, screwing with the mage’s sorcerous senses. She would be only as blind as the rest of them.

The tingling feeling returned, and she looked up. Though she saw nothing, she felt the mage there, in a room overlooking the doorway. He was pulling back, wary of the anti-thaumaturge in the alley.

The bouncer was hammering on the door now, yelling for a new light. It was a minute before it swung open. The man in the entrance immediately found a steel-headed bolt in his chest, as a shadow swept into the doorway, leaving a long gash in the side of the bouncer as Aias stepped past with seax in one hand, crossbow in the other.

She kicked the falling corpse of the first man backward, into another standing behind with a cruel looking spiked club in one hand. She lashed out with the long knife as he struggled a split second with the body, finding the artery in his neck before he could recover. The three men hit the ground, still.

Taking to one knee, she pulled the lever on the repeating crossbow, made sure the bolt lay true in its groove, then headed for the stairs.

She was half way up when a door opened in the hallway above. A light shone out, silhouetting three figures clutching an assortment of weapons hurrying toward her. They didn’t notice she was so close until the first fell to a bolt between his eyes. She dropped the bow, rushed in with seax, opening the stomach of one man, punched the other below his rib cage. The broad blade fixed to her forearm opened the man wide, and her fist sank deep.

“Stop!” A commanding voice rang out along the hallway, and she stopped elbow deep in gore to see someone staring at her, hand outstretched, a blue fire licking the edge. Pressure pushed down on her limbs, the air about her crackled.

The mage continued in the same imperious air. “Who sent you, assassin?”

Her lip curled into a sneer at the insult. “I am not part of your petty wars, mage.” she leapt forward, her hand snapping out to take the magicker by the throat as they both crashed to the floor. A tingling ache ran along her arms and chest, light arced from their bodies, the crackling noise rising, the hall becoming the site of a small storm cell as lightning struck and cracked. The hand around the mage’s throat clenched tighter.

With a frightened gasp the sorcery disappeared, leaving the pair in the light of the oil lamps, shadows flickering menacingly. The mage’s attitude had gone from confident superiority to outright terror in an instant. His lips formed a word. A realisation. A curse.

“You figured it out now, mage? Without your tricks, you’re as scary as a lost little girl. And your tricks don’t hurt me. My blood is death to magic. Mage killer. That’s me – Aias Valen, warlock hunter. Take that name with you to the Abyss, and tell Dacra that there’s more of your kind coming.”

It was the last words the mage heard before drifting into darkness. Teeth clenched in a vicious smile the last vision he saw.

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