At school Connie was smart and athletic. Both these attributes served her well during her teenage years and they were required once more in the alleyway.
She was smart enough to realise the two dark figures meant her harm; although, to be fair, the large knife brandished by one would have been a strong indication to even the less intelligent that a friendly welcome was not on offer here.
Connie’s athleticism allowed her to stop and change direction in almost a heartbeat. Those hours spent on the sports field responding to the sound of a whistle paying off. This time the prize was not some athletic pride in her fitness but her life.
She could hear her old coach barking orders in her ear as she sprinted down the alley towards the safety of the crowded street.
Connie was fast. She knew she could out run her would be assailants. Nevertheless she was unable to resist looking back to check. The two figures were in pursuit but they did not run instead opting to walk, patiently stalking their prey just as a tiger would do. At that pace they would never reach her. The odds were in favour of even the slowest runner to outrun someone walking.
It was however this moment of curiosity, that need to see behind her when once again she failed to notice what was in front of her.
A stone lay innocuously in her path, too small for Connie to have noticed but large enough to cause her ankle to turn as her foot landed on this nuisance mineral.
With her balance interrupted she fell to the ground, the elegance of her sprint now reduced to an unceremonious flailing as she hit the floor.
Dazed by the speed in which she went from upright to prostrate, her immediate thought was the proximity of her attackers. She looked up to see them approach, their journey still at that stalking pace. There was certainly now no need to run, Connie wasn’t going anywhere.
But she tried to go somewhere, her will to live too strong to just passively lay on the floor and await her tragic fate. Yet despite her resolve to escape her ankle had other ideas.
Any movement she made to continue her journey towards safety was met by a growl of pain that travelled up her leg and forced her back on to the floor.
Her resilience continued and through gritted teeth she crawled towards where the alley opened onto the street; close enough for her to see the people who could save her yet too far away for them to notice her.
Despite her brain crying out through the pain that escape was now a hopeless endeavour, her desire to survive pushed her further albeit slowly down the alley.
Connie turned to see her attackers, they were close now. She could see the blade more clearly, soon this object of destruction will be pushed into her ending an altogether brief life.
Tears began forming in her eyes as any hope of escape made way for the realisation of her death; and it wouldn’t be a pleasant painless death but the absolute opposite.
Her eyes closed as she waited for the inevitable moment of her doom. She need not witness anymore and mournfully submitted herself to her conclusion.
A long shadow formed over Connie, yet it was not from her attackers but from behind her. Connie’s curiosity caused her to open her eyes and standing over her was the man from the pub…Ryan.
“Come with me if you wish to avoid the threat to your life posed by these two people.” he said, holding out his hand to her.
Forgetting he was the reason she had ran in the first place Connie reached up and grabbed his hand. The actual threat in front of her outweighed any potential threat that Ryan posed.
From behind him emerged the woman, Heze. She leapt at the two attackers striking them on the chest. They stumbled back but quickly recovered to swipe at Heze with their blades.
She pulled a weapon from her belt to fend them off. It was a curious object small enough to be gripped with one hand. The handle was curved like that of an umbrella with the end pointed. At the other end it forked off with three blades, one made of gold, one made of silver and the other bronze.
Connie watched as Heze deftly swung this weapon knocking the knives from the grip of the attackers. Then in one quick stroke she dove the weapon into the stomach of one before pulling it out and slicing the throat of the other. They both fell to the ground in a bloody heap.
Heze wiped her triple pronged weapon on the back of one of the attackers before putting it back in her belt.
She lingered over one of the bodies and rolled up his shirt sleeve. Connie could not see exactly what it was but it looked like a tattoo. Whatever it was it caused Heze to flash a look over at Ryan; was it a look of fear? hate? It was very difficult for Connie to tell.
The adrenaline from her near fatal encounter was still running and perhaps in a different scenario she would have been horrified she had just witnessed the violent death of two people.
But they had tried to kill her, they deserved what happened to them. Any concern she should have about how deadly Heze had been was overtaken by a feeling of relief and gratitude. Heze had saved her and with that came an automatic element of trust.
Therefore without protest she limped back to the pub flanked by both Ryan and Heze.
Once inside she sat on one of the worn wooden chairs and rested her injured foot on another. Heze brought her a glass of that potent alcohol.
Heze seemed different from before, her previous warm and friendly attitude had made way for a more icier demeanour. Connie was unsure if any of this clear hostility was directed at her or at Ryan.
“As I was saying Connie” said Ryan “You’re not safe and so best you stay here.”
His voice appeared stronger than before and he was less confused. Connie didn’t respond, the pain in her ankle was matched only by the throbbing in her head. Instead she smiled and nodded her appreciation.
Certainly she had questions and suspected that Ryan had the answers but that could wait. For now she was content to sit in silence and relax. Silence. Connie noted that the music was not playing anymore.
“Ryan. Can I talk to you for a moment” asked Heze.
Connie watched as Heze walked to one of the doors at the back of the pub and went inside, Ryan followed immediately thereafter.
Behind the door was not the toilets as Connie had first assumed but a hallway. Almost immediately as you entered was a wooden staircase that led to the first floor.
Heze waited by these steps as Ryan entered and spoke “Well done Heze that was good wo….”
Heze punched Ryan hard across the face “We’ve intervened. Haven’t we?” she said angrily.
Ryan said nothing, instead rubbed the side of his face, Heze had quite the right hook on her.
She removed her weapon from her belt and begun to furiously stab at the bottom step.
“We’ve fucking intervened” she shouted “You know who they were? You saw their mark!”
Ryan passively held his hands out “Heze” he said, ensuring that he was a safe enough distance to dodge Heze’s weapon if she chose to throw it.
She flashed him a stern look “Don’t Heze me!” She said twisting her weapon further into the wooden step “We’ve intervened! And you promised we would never do that…again.” Her voice trailed off as she completed that sentence.
Ryan stared at Heze thinking of the right words he could say to her. Even if he had those perfect words to hand, Heze was certainly not in the mood to let him speak.
She stood up to face him “Why Ryan? Why have we intervened?”
“I don’t know” he replied instinctively flinching in case another Heze punch was about to arrive.
“You don’t know?” Heze said, twisting the weapon between her thumb and forefinger “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It means I don’t know!” replied Ryan raising his voice before taking a breath and speaking more calmly “Look Heze I’m not sure what is going on. I just know we had to do it.”
“Why? Why now? Why her?”
Ryan thought for a moment then replied “Again I don’t know……It was the music and…”
“The music?!” Heze interrupted “What about the music?”
Ryan put his hands on Heze’s shoulders “I don’t know. I’ll find out Heze. I will sort this. Trust me.”
He flashed a smile at Heze which was met with a strained one from her.
“Now” he continued “Let’s go back in and talk to her. Maybe we can get some answers.”
He turned and opened the door to the main area of the pub.
Connie was gone.