Ankit and the Champions

Book Cover - Ankit and the Champions A figure holding a club stands facing the Refuge Arch.

Recommended: If you haven’t done so, read Ankit and the Uncle of Refuge first.

Part 1: The Barons’ Champion

Perched in the tower of Old Town’s Araki temple, Ankit had a clear view of Refuge Gate and all its comings and goings. The stout stone stylings of the gate, the city wall surrounding it, and the abandoned temple were at odds with much of the city’s newer architecture—orphaned from their past, like Ankit.

A calm, clear voice rang out. “You know you’re supposed to be through the gate before curfew madam.”

Below, a Protector stood before the gate, barring passage. She spoke kindly to an older woman, a cleaner. Ankit guessed her trade based on the implements sticking out of her pack. The officer towered over her, intimidatingly official in her dark green coat and cap. The cap had the silver band of a Captain around it. In contrast, the aged cleaner was hunched-over and wearing a worn, colourless dress that may well have been an old curtain before she’d wrapped it around herself.

“Sorry, sorry, it was the boss. He wouldn’t let me go before I’d done all and every window. So sorry.” She bowed as she spoke, fearful.

Considering her, the Protector asked, “you have a family at home?” 

“Yes officer, my kids, and theirs. Late bringing them tea,” she said, bowing lower still. She began to shake.

“Do your best not to miss curfew again, will you?”

The old lady’s shoulders relaxed. She looked up at the Protector like she’d never seen such kindness in her lifetime, even less so expected it herself. She hurried through the gates under the scornful eyes of the other Protectors. Not one of them said a word.

In his experience, few Protectors would have shown such understanding. In his short time observing her at the gate, this one seemed to care. That was their core purpose once—or so he had heard. Despite what he’d seen of her, he found it hard to accept she might not have some hidden agenda.

Night time. An archway, the city gates, set int an ancient stone wall.
Refuge Gate

The Temple and its tower had become Ankit’s favourite hideout. It sat at the highest point inside the walls and, to the south, had a clear view of the entire city. That wasn’t why he loved it; it was the view to the north that he was here for. He could see all the way to the Low Gates, where they shattered the horizon. Also, there lay the road that left the city behind. He had spent many days and nights, over many years, picturing himself walking that road. Somewhere out there, over the Orphan’s Pass, was Waysmeet, then the Mid Gates. Clear those, and you’d finally face the High Gates—the limits of the known world—and in their shadow, the Broken City.

Leaving had been Ankit’s singular focus for years now. Amass enough Coin to disappear north, find a place far away from Refuge, and live in peace. Recent events had only reinforced this and he was now more certain than ever that he’d be better off out there. Alone maybe, but free. 

“They’re looking for you, you know.” He knew Zac’s voice, but this sudden appearance startled him so much that he instinctively reached for his club.

He steadied himself and searched around to check that they were alone. Having satisfied himself that they were, he allowed his anger to show before looking back to the north, hoping it was clear that he had nothing to say.

“I would say I’m sorry, but I doubt you’d take it for sincere,” Zac said as he sat on the ledge beside Ankit, his black boots thudding against the stone. Despite his anger, Ankit couldn’t help but picture the comical sight of Zac climbing the tower in his chunky footwear. He laughed on the inside.

“Everyone’s looking for Uncle.” As Zac spoke, Ankit could feel his searching gaze. “The Arakiists put forward their first death sentence in years. Their judgement was swift, with the number of children that died in that blast. That’s why the strict curfew and the watch on the gates.” 

“Not the Baroness and her Blackboots though, I see,” Ankit spoke his mind. For a moment, he wasn’t even sure he’d said the words out loud.

“Ankit, you know he was the reason they were there. The plant may have been booby-trapped, but—” 

“You knew though… you knew who he’d send. You’re no less to blame—” Ankit felt he might throw up as Kirto’s bloody face flashed into his mind, “—you’re as bad as them Zac, Uncle and the Baroness.” 

Since the morning of the Fishmongers Incident, and the painful memories that had been unburied, Ankit had uncovered more. He now remembered almost everything since he and Zac first arrived in Refuge. Albeit just a blur of fighting and running, stealing what they had to, hiding from the gangs, and sleeping wherever they could. For a while, that was all the two of them knew. Until the kids came along with mouths to feed, and that became their purpose.

Then, the kids were taken away in Black Boxes, and everything fell apart. Ankit remembered saving them and losing Zac—or so he’d thought. The kids grew up. He knew he couldn’t protect them forever. Some joined gangs, a few disappeared, and others died. 

Before all that, his memory was still in fog, and every time he reached into it he felt only pain. 

Ankit went to stand up. He needed to run, to burn off all this emotion. Zac grabbed his arm, immediately regretting it as Ankit stiffened—rageful—he released his grip, faltering, “I don’t ask for, nor expect, your forgiveness. I am who I am. I just came to tell you that the Protectors think you were involved. I don’t know how yet, but you—” Zac stopped and glanced at his feet, then continued, “—where is he, Ankit?”

Ankit looked at Zac, then looked away. He could answer, it would be easy, but he would not. 

Zac’s brow was scrunched with confusion. He practically begged, “why are you protecting him?”

Ankit snapped his gaze back at him violently. The very notion made him feel sick all over again. He stared for a few moments, then made to leave, but not before Zac’s face relaxed into a knowing smile. It was infuriating that Zac seemed able to see straight through him. 

“That officer below, her name is Kaarin, she’s… different. You should talk to her, tell her the truth.” Ankit paused and glanced at Zac. He was looking north, and just for that moment, it looked as though he too wanted to be anywhere but here.

He stepped out from the ledge and dropped to the pitched roof below, sliding down until his feet caught on the ancient gutters. His knees bent, loading up, and he transitioned forwards smoothly and jumped, clearing the gap to the next building, where he continued to float away over the rooftops.

Sometime later, he sat on a steel girder high in the upper reaches of the old Underhalls storehouse. Looking down, he could see Uncle’s shack and door-desk. Kirto’s place, the rickety old shack he’d called home for a short while, wasn’t far. He couldn’t bring himself to look at it. The scene below was abuzz with activity, so he watched from the shadows where no one could see or reach him.

“We’ll continue to tear this place apart unless one of you tells us where Uncle, and his lackey Ankit, are hiding. It’s a simple matter. Really!” screeched the present Champion of Refuge, Jeen, easily recognisable between his sharp features, gaunt figure and lavish clothing. It couldn’t be more apparent to anyone that this was the last place Jeen wanted to be, down in the squalor of the Underhalls. 

The office of Champion had stood for something once, or so the old-timers would say. Not in Ankit’s lifetime. Now it was little more than a ceremonial, rubber-stamping role in service to Baronage House. No longer a voice for the people, as intended. 

The first Champion was the leader of a long and violent revolution in the Second Age. The people of Refuge rebelled against a broken and corrupt system where the Barons held all the power. They forced the House to accept that the people should have a voice in their government. The compromise was the office of The Champion, elected by the people and carrying an equal vote in the house with veto powers. Well-intentioned, but it hadn’t taken long for subsequent Champions to be corrupted, and the system quickly reverted to form. 

“We’ve all the time in the world. Frankly, I’ve always thought the city would be better off if we just burnt the Underhalls out and purged all this filth,” he squeaked. This Champion didn’t even try to hide his distaste for the people he was supposed to represent.

A Protector came running in from a nearby tunnel, shouting, “They’ve been spotted in the Cloth Quarter!” 

Champion Jeen was elated. “Thank the Titans!” 

Good, the plan was in motion. Now to get as many of Uncle’s orphans out of this place, give them a fighting chance. It had taken Ankit weeks to arrange things. For the ones he trusted, he’d found work and shelter with some of the merchants he’d worked for over the years. For the others, he could only give them a clean break. A few Coin, a chance to prove themselves in a job. The rest was up to them. It was more than he’d ever been given.

He climbed down and approached Uncle’s shack with caution. He whistled, as agreed, and they emerged from their hidey-holes and shacks.

“Where’s Muut?”

One of the orphans pointed down a tunnel. “She had to go help with the distraction. No one else would do it.” 

Ankit felt his heart jump into his throat. Muut was like a sister to Kirto. In the short time he’d known them, he’d grown quite fond of the quiet little thing. She reminded him of someone he couldn’t remember. 

He needn’t have worried as Muut appeared moments later, ran up to him, and hugged him. Somehow her affection had never bothered him as it had from others. 

“All ok?” 

Muut nodded in response.

“Right, if you’re all ready, let’s go. Does everyone remember the plan? Any sign of trouble and you scatter, and we meet back here tonight.” 

Each of the orphans nodded. They followed as Ankit broke into a jog and led them into one of the tunnels that led back towards the Port District. 

First up, Flowermarket.

Continued on Page 2 with Part 2: The Orphans’ champion


  1. Pleased to hear there’s more to Ankit’s story….look forward to it!

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