155/366 – The Incident in the Alley

Day 13 of 100 Word Prompts: Crime


Zhen walked through the crowded streets of Conichton, slipping between carts to avoid as many people as possible. He checked that his gloves were tight, and the mask over his face secured as he entered the market. The smell of cooking meats and spices made his stomach growl angrily.

Zhen, skirting the small groups of people gathered in the market, snatched a few sweet rolls and an apple on his way through and stashed them in his clothes, sure that he no one saw him. He skidded to a halt when he saw the familiar face of Cai and his friends laughing and strolling toward him. They hadn’t seen him yet but knew that they would if he didn’t act fast.

Cai had the appearance of an average fourteen-year-old, complete with long arms and legs that didn’t quite match up with the rest of him. His black hair cut close to his face as his eyes scanned the crowd, content with seeing it part for his passing. To his right, Yu Xinyi, his best friend, and critical enforcer, walked with a sense of anticipation as he looked at his friend. Behind them, the twins, Chang and Wan Shu’Ren, followed.

“Watch where you’re going!” someone said as they bowled him over, and he fell onto his face.

“Sorry,” Zhen muttered as he scrambled to his feet and began pushing against the crowd. He tried to find the gaps he needed to escape the market, but the gaps often closed with him in it as he heard Cai’s voice growing closer.

“I wonder where that kid is today,” Cai said. “He’s got to be around here somewhere.”

“Which kid? The kid from the smithy or the one from the jewelers?” Yu asked.

“The weirdo,” Cai replied.

“Oh, the blue-haired kid!” Yu replied.

“Keep your eyes peeled for him,” Cai said. “He’s going to get hungry at some point.”

“What about him, boss?” Chang asked, pointing through the crowd in the wrong direction.

“That’s Mao, you idiot. We’re looking for that genasi kid,” Cai replied.

Zhen pushed his way into a crowd of people and stopped. He could feel the people press in closer to him as Cai strolled past them. He thought he was in the clear when someone in the crowd noticed him.

“Pickpocket!” they yelled as they shoved him.

More people began shoving and hurling nasty insults at him as he bounced from person to person before falling out of the group and coming face to face with a pair of familiar gold-thread-embroidered shoes.

“You dare to pickpocket in my father’s market?” Zhen heard Cai’s voice say. “Chang, Wan, help him up.”

Zhen felt the rough hands of the twins grab him under his arms and haul him to his feet.

“Ah, there you are, genasi!” Cai said, a wicked smile spreading on his face as he reached up and yanked the hood back. “So, you’re a pickpocket now? Is that right?”

“No, Cai, I wasn’t picking pockets, I was-”

“Doesn’t really matter, does it? A half-breed like you wandering the streets is an insult to the city and everyone in it,” Cai said, shaking his head. “Why don’t we take a walk so we can have a private discussion.”

Zhen felt his feet begin to drag beneath him as Cai led the way, and Yu fell in step behind him. He looked to the crowd for a friend but found none. Everyone either smiled at Cai or sneered at him as they removed him from the market.

Zhen could feel his heart slamming against his ribs as the twins rounded a corner into an alley. He shifted his shoulders one way and then the other, trying to see if either of them had loosened their grip, but found their fingers painfully close between his muscles with each movement until they came to a halt, hidden behind a few shops.

“Tsk, tsk, tsk,” Cai said, shaking his head as he looked at him with sad eyes. “I don’t know how many times I need to tell you, genasi. Your kind isn’t welcome in my father’s city. It’s practically a crime for you-”

“It isn’t your father’s city,” Zhen said. “This all belongs to the Teshal-”

Cai had moved quickly, slamming his elbow into Zhen’s stomach. The apple that Zhen had hidden pushed further into his ribs, making his stomach threaten to empty itself.

“This is my father’s city,” Cai reiterated as he drew a small dagger. “There is no argument to that fact. Not from you, not from anyone, do you understand me?”

Zhen tried to move again, but the twins kept their grip tight and forced his arms back to his side. He felt Yu’s hands grip his shoulders to stop him from moving even more.

“Now, we are going to put an end to your insult for good,” Cai said as he stepped forward.

Zhen swung his head back as hard as he could and felt a surge of surprise and hope as he heard Yu’s nose shatter from the blow. He kicked his legs up at the same time, snapping at Cai’s wrist, and couldn’t believe his luck when the knife flew to the left and disappeared in a pile of trash.

“You filthy orphan!” Cai growled as the twin on his left hit him in the face hard enough to make the world blur. “You dare to attack me? Chang, Wan, let him go. Let’s see how well he does.”

Zhen felt his legs give out under him as they obeyed their leader’s command without question. He shook his head, trying to regain some vision from the blow. His jaw throbbed where the twin had connected.

“Get up, half-breed,” Cai said.

Zhen staggered to his feet as Cai came around with a kick to the other side of his face. He felt pain explode through his jaw and ear as his body followed his head to the left, and he fell into a pile of putrid garbage.

“Come on,” Cai said, “I said get up. Let’s see how well you can fight me directly.”

Zhen shook his head and moved to push himself up, but felt something hard under his hand. He closed his fingers around it, and anticipating the attack again, pushed himself to his feet.

Cai’s fist had already covered half the distance between them when Zhen turned around and dodged. Zhen’s hand moved fast as the punch glanced off his shoulder. With a flash of steel, Cai screamed and fell to the ground, holding his left eye.

Zhen’s heart slammed in his chest as he rolled away. Cai’s friends ran to his aid, concerned for their boss, and Zhen seized the opportunity to scale the back of a building. He had only just reached the roof when he heard Cai.

“Don’t worry about me, kill the bastard!” Cai screamed, shoving them away.

 

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