Welcome to Fiction Friday, when I attempt to force myself to finish my novel, by exposing you to one chapter a week. Hopefully, you’ll help inspire me to get the remaining chapters finished. Be aware that it’s aimed at the 11 – 13 crowd and that it’s only had a single edit. I was afraid of getting trapped in endlessly re-writing the first chapters, and wanted a completed work before I went back to edit. So you’re getting my juvenile prose raw.
The midday sun shone on the weathered granite walls of the courtyard. Alex had finally managed to finish the multitude of menial tasks expected of a young wizard‑in‑ training. Rubbing the stiffness out of his shoulder, he surveyed the practice area, a courtyard of flagstones and packed earth. He leaned back against the wall of the two‑story dormitory and sighed. Alex resisted the sense of resentment deep within him; in his seventeenth year, he should have been doing journeyman’s work, not the tedious housekeeping tasks of a green apprentice. The breeze moved through the sparse trees that struggled for survival on the rim of the practice area as he walked to his assigned testing area. As with any other trade, magic had a time for drudgery and a time for practice.
But now the make‑work was done. The late‑morning sun struck his fair skin as he seated himself on the marble meditation stone. He looked at the large bronze ball as it squatted before him like some obscene toad. One of the tests of his apprenticeship was to levitate the rune‑covered sphere. Two spans in diameter, the ball was hollow, weighing only a few stones. The runes shimmered in the morning sunlight. They glowed not with the nimbus of power that heralded magical effects, but merely with verdigris that bronze develops over the course of time. Alex composed himself, rubbed his blue eyes, and tried again. He raised his wand, a simple piece of polished ash, and focused his attention upon the bronze sphere before him. He performed the ritual that would release some of the chelar, or magic‑fuel, from the store he kept within himself to power the Lifting Ritual.
As always, Alex looked easily into testing sphere. Focusing his mind through the pallid wand, Alex was able to see the past its outer appearance to the true form of the globe. Although constricted in passing through the wand, the young mage’s mind saw the intricate patterns that made up the inner structures of the testing device. But between Alex and the sphere there remained the same dark cloud that had blocked him since the first day of his studies. He bit into his lower lip, sweat beading on his face, as he tried to force the chelar through or around the obscuring cloud to the true essence of the testing sphere. Suddenly the chelar began to fall away, dropping into the misty abyss that was the cloud. Alex strained to maintain control, but, as always, failed. Alex no longer expected to succeed and so his disappointment was minor. He shook free of his trance and looked at the sun, now almost straight overhead. “I’d better get inside and work with the seeing‑crystal, or Master Balock’ll have my hide,” he thought.
He rose from the meditation stone and stretched briefly before heading into the main building of the school’s small compound. As the eldest of Balock’s students, the only journeyman in residence, Alex rated a room of his own above the school’s laboratory and shop, where he had convenient access to materials. Unfortunately, this also meant that Master Balock had convenient access to him.
Alex entered the doorway of the magic store and cast about, seeking the harsh countenance of his master. But the older man was nowhere to be seen. The convoluted stands of alchemical apparatus bubbled, unattended, with malodorous concoctions. Built into the walls of the room stood marble shelves covered with boxes and bags full of aromatic powders. Glass decanters and terra‑cotta jars crowded each other on their own shelves. Alex’s eyes watered as he crossed the acid‑ stained floor.
He mounted the stairs to his loft above the store. His legs complied only reluctantly as he climbed the narrow stairs. He was physically drained, but he had expended only a small portion of his chelar. His mind still contained a considerable cache of mystic power.
Once in his austere chamber, Alex planted himself on his straw‑filled bed beneath the low ceiling. Reaching over to his crude worktable, he located the stone by touch. He removed the transparent seeing‑stone from its protective green velvet cover. The stone was actually an oblong crystal about a hand long and two fingers thick. Clearer than any glass his father could have made, the crystal scattered the sunlight from the small window into multicolored shards. Holding the crystal in his left hand, Alex sent his mind into the stone and performed the Ritual of Seeing.
Unlike the metal lifting‑sphere in the courtyard, the stone had a regular lattice structure, and there was the small store of chelar that could occasionally be found in nature. Here there was no mysterious cloud to obscure his efforts, and he bent to work. He had only to infuse enough chelar into the stone to activate the power it contained. Once this was done he could command the stone to show him scenes of other places. He did as he had been taught, but the crystal did not respond.
Alex frowned at the crystal and prepared to try again. He pushed his sandy hair back as he regarded the quartz in his hand. Recently quarried in the hills to the north by the Order of the Eye, the seeing‑crystal could be used by the most inexperienced apprentice to view scenes several miles distant.
“Well, boy,” growled a harsh voice from below, “Have you done it yet?”
“No, Master Balock,” replied the young man.
Heavy footsteps sounded on the rough‑hewn steps to the loft. Hurriedly, he tried again. Closing his eyes, he took a deep, cleansing breath to purge the anxiety from his mind. Slowly, with great care, he pushed his awareness into the delicate lattice that was the structure of the stone. He cast about once again, ever so gently, for the tiny repository of chelar that lay within. Holding the crystal in his left hand, he passed his wand over it with his right, palm down, three fingers extended, three times. With each pass, he intoned the syllables of an ancient incantation. As he completed the final pass, frustration took hold of him and he forced more power into the quartz crystal than he had been taught. There was a sharp report. The seeing‑stone burst between his fingers, sending a rainbow‑colored shower of dust to dance in the sunbeams from the window.
Alex’s awareness abruptly returned to the world about him. The room darkened as the tall form of the Master Mage blocked the sunlight, casting his shadow across the unfinished wooden floor. Alex looked at his master’s feet, and slowly lifted his gaze upward. Balock’s jet-black velvet robes draped his slender frame as he loomed over the young man. His hands gripped his ever‑present staff so tightly that they trembled. His hands and face were bone white, his eyes sunken deep into his face. Indoors, he wore his cowl down and his bald head sprouted from his shoulders like a mushroom. Alex braced himself, waiting for the blow. His master’s hand struck him sharply across the back of his head.
“Idiot!” Balock spat. “Do you have any idea what that seeing‑crystal cost me? How am I to teach you any of the Greater Arts if you cannot even master a simple scrying spell? Any apprentice of six months could have invoked that crystal and divined images leagues removed. You are worthless!”
A blow Alex knew better than to try to avoid punctuated every other word. The staff rose and fell across the journeyman’s back and shoulders with the regularity of a water clock. Each blow emphasized Balock’s scathing criticism of Alex’s efforts. To show any resistance would bring a truly vicious beating, one that would make him move carefully for days. Should the beating actually be reported to the Wizard’s Guild, Balock would not hesitate to resort to more subtle means of punishment. Alex’s last such report had resulted in his release from his Articles of Apprenticeship and his promotion to Journeyman, but it had also been punished by a month of magically‑induced nightmares that woke him nightly in a bath of his own sweat.
Still, the appeal to the Guild had provided one benefit. An examination by the Guild Master had revealed what Alex had long suspected, he was fully adept at gathering, storing, and moving chelar about, far more so than most apprentices and journeymen. In fact, some certified adepts were not so talented. It was on the strength of this that he had been released and promoted. Unfortunately, unlike most mages of his caliber Alex was completely unable to channel his power to any practical end. So, like first year apprentices, Alex still washed the kiln by hand, still sifted cinnabar by hand, still used a bellows‑fire to melt gold, and still bore the brunt of his master’s displeasure upon his back and shoulders.
Eventually, Master Balock grew weary of beating the uncomplaining student and ordered him from the shop. “I need these spices from the market and these from the apothecary. Here is the money. Mind you, I know the cost and will count the change. Now get out.”
“Yes, Master Balock,” Alex replied, not raising his gaze.
Mindful of the laws prohibiting journeymen or apprentices from bearing arms within the city limits, Alex wrapped his wand carefully in green velvet and placed it in its accustomed place on the sparsely furnished shelf. Without a channel for chelar, only a very few mages could cast spells of any note. This prevented impulsive, half‑trained students from wreaking havoc within the crowded confines of the city. The law had been composed with swordsmen in mind, but had of late been interpreted to extend to other potential tools of destruction.
Alex couldn’t restrain a smile as he stepped from the two‑story building that had been his home for the eight years he had been with Balock. He certainly hadn’t broken the crystal on purpose, but the beating was a small price to pay to escape the endless disappointments of his studies. Alex had been apprenticed to his Master at the tender age of nine, when his future in his father’s glazier shop had been permanently destroyed by the appearance of his poltergeist. Like a great many mageborn, his untrained power had manifested itself as a destructive spirit. His poltergeist had been particularly destructive, and had wrought such devastation that his parents were certain he was destined for great things in the world of magic. Unfortunately, his training had not produced the powerful mage his poltergeist had heralded.
Alex put the Wizard’s Quarter behind him. The greater his distance from Master Balock, the more refreshed he felt. Altavia was an alpine city, well below the tree line of the Kalrayt Mountains. The sky was a brilliant blue, and puffy clouds raced across the sky under the impetus of a crisp spring breeze. He adjusted his red apprentice robes to cover the worst of his bruises as he walked down the cobblestone streets. The buildings, on average, were three stories tall and were situated far enough apart to allow the spring breezes to blow and keep the air fresh. A good thing, for though the streets were well drained, the ditches on either side of the road still ran with the ordure from the early morning slop jars wives and servants dumped each day.
His first stop was at the weaponsmith’s shop. “Master Theor?” he called as he entered the arched doorway of the old stone building. “Are you open for business?”
The question was unnecessary; as the red glow and the heat from the forge indicated that the weaponsmith was, indeed, at work. The chanting from the forge, however, indicated that the smith was in the process of creating a magical weapon. Distraction could be costly and potentially dangerous. Alex knew this well, and so watched quietly from the doorway. The crimson glow from the forge lit the large man’s ruddy face as he punctuated his chant with the ring of his hammer on the dagger in his grasp.
The room was windowless to protect the valuable weapons from thieves in the night. On the stone lintel above the door were the three skulls of those thieves foolish enough to raid the shop of a weapon‑mage while he was present. About the soot‑streaked granite walls hung many different weapons in various stages of construction. Some glowed with a nimbus of power, while others were rimmed with frost or hung from fireproof stone pegs. Others evidenced nothing worthy of notice. After a few moments, Theor had completed his incantation and quenched the wicked‑looking dagger he was forging in a cask of Temper. Steam hissed and rose from the wooden cask as the smith drew the blade from the mystic fluid and inspected it in the forge light.
“Welcome Alex,” said the stocky weaponsmith without looking up. “Free for the afternoon?”
“Master Balock sent me shopping. He hates to go out during the day.” Alex peered about the shop for outsiders and then, at Theor’s nod, closed the door. “Could I interest you in any chelar?”
The muscular man shook his shaggy head and replied, “If Balock catches you selling chelar he’ll flog the skin off your back, and be within his rights, too.”
“There’s no ban against my selling my own chelar, and he’s got no more right to it than you or anyone else. It’s supposed to be used for my studies, but I can’t use it. I have a use for pocket money, though. Do you want any, or not?”
“All right Alex, it’s your skin. Seven silver for seven days?”
Each spat into his palm and shook hands to seal the bargain, and then the smith stood still as Alex performed the brief ritual to transfer seven days accumulation of chelar to the older mage. The transfer of chelar was one of the few types of spells that could be easily cast without a channel. Since the magic fuel traveled directly from one body to another, no channel was needed. The ritual complete, Theor shuddered as his mystic energies were replenished.
“My thanks, I should be able to finish that dagger this afternoon now.” The gruff weapon‑wizard stroked his short brown beard. “By the heavens, lad, I don’t see why you’re still not able to put it to use. If it weren’t subject to a Guild slander‑suit, I’d say that that master of yours…”
Alex frowned and Theor did not complete his statement. Whatever else it might be, it simply wasn’t smart to criticize a wizard, at least not one within a day’s travel. Alex dared to consider for a moment that while no one ever spoke ill of his master, they never spoke with particular affection, either. A thought was suppressed; he had sworn an oath of loyalty to Balock.
Alex sighed, “Thank you for the silver, but I’d better be about my business or the day’ll get away from me.”
Alex stepped from the confines of the weapon‑wizard’s shop and moved on to Market Square, an open patch of hard‑packed earth at the center of town. Market Square had once been a village common meadow where all could graze their cattle and sheep. As the population grew, space was needed for a place for traveling peddlers, farmers, and other merchants to hawk their wares. Soon the tread of many feet and over‑grazing had turned the meadow into a hard‑packed square of brown earth. The established merchants and local tradesmen owned or rented stalls on the periphery of the Square, while the more transient implored from tents or ramshackle stalls near the center.
Alex wasted no time in dealing with the spice merchant and the apothecary and moved into the section of town known as the Warrior’s Quarter. Here was where the Mercenary’s Guild had its chapter. The large building had enough room to house itinerant warriors between postings and proclaimed itself by the huge crossed swords that formed an arch over the front entrance. To keep an eye on the mercenaries, the Royal Army had a post with a small contingent, the royal coat of arms blazoned over the door. The green, red, gold, and black paint was poorly maintained. The Civic Guard, though they patrolled the entire town, also had its headquarters here to ride herd on everyone else. In less elaborate quarters there were the schools of myriad martial arts. It was one of these that Alex sought. At the far end of High Street, he reached his goal.
The building was of weathered stone, far older than the surrounding neighborhood. The simple ivory‑colored walls rose about two stories into the alpine air. Beyond the open front gate was a short passage leading to the inner courtyard. Once within, the layout of the old fortress was readily apparent. All the facilities were inside the walls that made up the five‑ sided structure. This allowed for maximum space for stabling animals in time of siege, while still protecting the human occupants. In addition, the large inner courtyard gave the old fort something few other holdings had: a place to erect siege engines and return the fire of enemy emplacements.
Those days were long gone, though. Today the courtyard served less dramatic purposes: stable space for the few beasts of burden, and a practice yard for the students. The exercise in progress was rather demanding. One student, smaller than average, was beset by five others. An old split‑rail fence cordoned off the practice field, and the beleaguered warrior had managed to move into a corner where the others could only attack from a single side. The wooden practice blade danced in an intricate figure eight pattern, barring the antagonist’s approach. The attackers thrust blunt practice tips forward in an effort to penetrate the lone warrior’s defense. A dozen feet shuffled on the hard‑packed earth of the practice ground, stirring up the red dust.
Suddenly, one of the attackers over‑extended, leaving himself off balance. The lone defender’s wooden blade leapt from the defensive pattern to rap solidly against the attacker’s head, sending him staggering back. Two of the remaining attackers sought to take advantage of the broken pattern. They were not accustomed to working as a team and collided, stumbling and only just maintaining their footing. The defender quickly pressed the sudden good fortune with a rapid tattoo of blows about the heads and shoulders of those remaining. The sharp, slashing blows skewed their helms, momentarily blinding them. The defender remained the only active warrior on the field, and moved to exploit the advantage.
“Hold!” a voice rang from nearby.
The fighters paused, turning with Alex to face the newcomer. In the doorway stood a tall man with short salt‑ and‑pepper hair and a close cut beard.
“Kelendora,” he said, “these boys are not yet permitted to spar in groups, and they haven’t had squad training yet. You know that.” Unselfconsciously, he pulled in his belly and tucked his shirt into his trousers.
The panting fighter pulled off her helmet, and a cascade of raven‑black hair fell to her shoulders.
“Captain Maledar,” she protested, wiping sweat from her face, “there are no other journeymen here, and I need someone to practice with.”
“Regardless,” he said with a flinty stare, “you know full well that I cannot afford to have one of my students crippled. Not now, not ever.”
Alex watched quietly from the fence, not wanting to draw attention to himself. Maledar had a reputation for a fierce temper, and Alex wanted no part of it. Kelendora drew herself up, her brown eyes meeting the old mercenary’s without wavering. The old man looked her over. “For breaking safety regulations, no liberty, no visitors for two moons…”
Alex winced, reluctant to see his free afternoon wasted in this way. Kelendora’s shoulders drooped, and her sparring partners fidgeted uncomfortably.
“…suspended for good performance,” the old man continued. “You exceeded your training, though against inexperienced adversaries. Never forget the difference between initiative and insubordination.” Kelendora’s face lit up at this unaccustomed and unexpected praise, especially after so near a brush with disaster. “Don’t get too impressed with yourself,” warned the old man with a glare. “If I catch you breaking my brawl‑ban again, you’ll go a full match with me.”
A measured silence dispersed the other students, who found other things to do. His demeanor changed from teacher to friend. “Now,” he said, “get cleaned up. You have a guest.” He gestured toward Alex.
The girl grinned and bent to recover her helm and other practice gear. Her long strides quickly carried over to where her friend waited.
“Well met, Alex,” she smiled.
“Well met, again. That was quite impressive.”
She flushed, and shrugged her armored shoulders. “What was impressive was that I didn’t get flogged for breaking the brawl‑ban. I thought that he would sleep until nightfall after all the ale he swilled at midmeal, or I never would have tried something like that.”
“Kel,” he asked, “what is the difference between insubordination and initiative?”
She pulled the gauntlets off her long, slender fingers and began tugging at the brass buckles that secured her chest plate. “Success.”
“He must have been very pleased.”
“Maybe,” she muttered as she shrugged out of the leather armor that covered her upper torso. Then she led Alex across the courtyard to the well‑pump that served the small school. “Or maybe he’s finally getting senile.”
“I don’t think so Kel. Your master seems too alert to be going senile.” Alex relieved her of her gear and stacked it on the stone bench next to the water trough with practiced motions.
She grinned ruefully and wiggled out of the padded gambeson that protected her skin from the bruisingly heavy armor.
“Wishful thinking, I guess,” she said as she glanced about. “Are any of those children from the apprentice’s wing watching?”
Alex glanced about. “No, they’ve gone inside. Why?”
“Because I have no intention of giving free gawk shows,” she said as she lifted her bandeau over her head, freeing her breasts from its constricting bands.
- While he’d known Kelendora for most of his life, sisterly affection was not what he sought.
Kelendora rinsed herself off methodically and put on a dull‑blue tunic and red belt that were in amongst her gear. They returned the practice gear to the well‑stocked armory and left the school in unusually high spirits. They headed to Market Square.
Market Square had awakened, becoming a anthill of activity. The temple of Ashiah was holding a parade that consisted of a series of portable shrines flanked by drummers and incense‑bearers. The Husbandry Guild had a pavilion of new breeds of sheep, including an matched mating pair with grey‑ blue wool which were being offered for over thousand silver each. That set each of the rare creatures at a cost of four years’ wages for a common laborer.
An eighth part a silver piece bought them bread and sausage from a street vendor. From there the pair wandered to the north edge of town. Just as they reached the outermost fringes of the city, Alex was struck with an idea.
“Kel,” he said, “I’ve got some silver left. What would you say to a bottle of Mestis Gold?”
“I’d say you were out of your senses. Mestis Gold costs more than I see in a month, and with good reason.”
“Maybe so. Let’s find out if it’s as good as the stories say. That tavern over there ought to have some.”
Kelendora looked at a building that would not have been allowed to stand within the city’s walls. The ramshackle “tavern” was two stories tall and leaned at a sharp cant away from the road. The wooden shingles were like tattered scabs and the shutters, where they remained at all, dangled at off angles like dead men on Thieves’ Wall.
Kel glanced toward Alex and sighed. “Alex, I don’t have a very good feeling about this. If the owner of that shack could afford to stock Mestis Gold, he’d be in the center of town, not here on the fringe.”
“Let’s try anyway,” Alex replied optimistically. He grasped her sleeve and pulled her toward the moldy pile of rotting timbers.
“I don’t know about this, Alex,” she said as she gazed at the tumbled‑down structure with some trepidation.
Undaunted, Alex propelled her past the swinging doors that dangled from the rotted leather hinges and into the building’s common room. Conversation ebbed as the couple entered the room. Alex scanned the smoke‑filled room with widening eyes. The patrons of the tavern were dressed in a motley array of fashions, from old tunics and leg wrappings to the more fashionable Lynian styles. All were in a shabby state of repair, and there were a distressingly large number of knives and short swords on the belts of the revelers. The room was furnished with an assortment of mismatched furniture. Long trestle tables jostled throne‑like divan chairs, their upholstery worn and tattered. At the far end of the room, a smoky little fire struggled for survival amid the ashes of many months. The efforts of the feeble flame only added to the thick, fetid atmosphere of dream‑smoke and unwashed bodies. Near the door, a massive man wiped a filthy rag across the bar, allegedly cleaning it off.
“I’m beginning to think that this wasn’t a very good idea after all,” muttered Alex.
- “I’d like a bottle of Mestis Gold, please,” he said.
The barkeep laughed, making a sound not unlike that of a barking dog. “Sure, sure, laddie boy, we got Mestis Gold here, right next to the ten‑star champagne!”
Alex tried to step back as the towering man abruptly leaned over the bar, looming over him. Alex was forced back up against the bar by the press of the patrons who had unexpectedly materialized behind him. He looked to Kelendora for help, but she seemed absorbed in examining a candle‑holder made from a wine bottle. Alex felt a probing hand fumbling with the strings of his purse and concluded that the situation was rapidly getting out of hand. Suddenly there was a squeal of outrage for Kelendora’s general direction.
“Well, well, what have we here? There’s a sweet little bit of stuff under these men’s clothes, boys!”
The press of bodies around Alex lessened, giving him room to move. Over in Kel’s vicinity, however, the situation had taken a turn for the worse. The rabble had realized that there was a woman beneath the uniform she wore. She wasn’t the only woman in the establishment, but she was the only one younger than thirty, and the only one who wasn’t there for economic gain. Leers and suggestive comments, coupled with offers of “employment,” floated over the crush of bodies around her. Enjoying the discomfort of the young wizard, two men forced his arms behind his back while a third forced his face toward Kelendora. There was a sudden squeal of outrage as a particularly sensitive portion of her anatomy was tweaked.
“That’s it, there will be no more!” she shouted.
Grasping the bottle she had been so carefully admiring, she cracked her closest tormentor on the side of his head. His eyes rolled up and he crumpled slowly to the grimy floor. The crowd paused, stunned, and Kelendora quickly followed up her advantage. Like a cobra, the bottle darted out to tap three more of the unsavory crew and send them to the floor.
There was a tense silence as the bodies slumped to the filthy sawdust that covered the floor. There was a murmur of voices as the crowd began to grow ugly.
“You little bitch, what in blazes was that for?” barked a voice from the back.
“Methinks that the ‘little lady’ be too good for the likes of us,” said a greasy little man with but one eye. “Why don’t we teach her better?”
“I’m sure her nanny taught her better manners than that,” said an enormous man from his vantage point atop a nearby table. “Take her!”
“Damn,” thought Alex as his mind raced. Never strong, he was helpless to intervene, particularly with two of the tavern’s patrons holding his arms behind his back. He cast about with his eyes seeking something, anything that could help.
His glance fell upon the fat man standing on the table. It was in essence a huge board covered with metal and greasy wooden plates and crockery left over from the midmeal crowd. More importantly, it was a vast trestle table with a single, wide leg at either end. Alex flushed with anger, fear and frustration. Coming here had been his idea.
Kel was lifted from the floor and slammed down on top of the bar, bursting several pieces of cheap crockery. Suddenly an image leapt to Alex’s mind: the ruined seeing‑crystal of the morning’s exercise. Without his wand to act as a channel he would probably be unable to focus on his target, but he had to try. He turned his eyes toward the trestle table and sent his mind into the wide leg on the near end. Unbound by the tight restrictions of a channel, his mind wrapped itself around the structure of the table leg instantly. The organic structure was far more complex than the simple lattice of the crystal, and far more delicate than that of the lifting sphere. There was a pattern, though, and no innate chelar at all. Abandoning caution, he threw every bit of spare energy directly into the structure of the wood.
The results were nothing short of spectacular. In the space of two heartbeats, the table leg split into several pieces, the pieces shattered to splinters, and the splinters blew to sawdust. A butter‑colored cloud of sawdust surged from beneath the tabletop and obscured that part of the room. The table collapsed, and the massive patron thundered into the crowd like a falling redwood, scattering his fellow revelers like jackstraws. Greasy plates and bottles rolled about under the feet of those still standing, making the footing treacherous.
When the powdered wood settled to the floor, the situation had changed. Kelendora stood with her back to the bar, half‑concealed behind a striking woman in a mail shirt. The grimmest of the rioters stood before the woman, his chin thrust out.
“This ain’t yer affair, sword‑bitch, stand aside.”
“Sorry tall‑dark‑and‑ugly‑as‑sin, I only take orders when I’m being paid. Unless you’d care to give me a month’s pay in advance…”
The mercenary never got to finish her banter. The man twisted his porcine face into a snarl and lunged forward. The swordswoman neatly sidestepped his outstretched arms and caught his ankle with her shin. He lurched forward and smashed into the bar next to Kelendora, splintering the bar‑rail. The warrior spun about and thrust her dagger into his back, catching him between his ribs just under the right shoulder blade. The man went limp and slowly slid to the floor, the wound making a sickly gasping sound. Movement ceased.
Alex moved to break the silence when lights exploded in his head. A blow stuck him from behind. Then the lights went out.
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