Ankit and the Champions

Part 2: The Orphans’ champion

“Now, what about you?” Nejja asked. Her long, white hair still wrapped up in a hairnet, a long day in Fishmongers behind her. “I still can’t convince you to come and take things over for me? Once this is all cleared up.” 

Ankit knew what was being offered. She had made it before, and anyone else with his background would have jumped at the opportunity. Nejja had no family he knew of, just her business and employees. She was an outlier, a rare example of success through honesty and kindness. That did not mean she was weak or easily taken advantage of. He had seen the other side of her too, and she could fight ferociously for what was hers. In this way, Nejja had earned herself the respect of everyone in the Port District. 

He didn’t have the heart to tell her that there was no clearing this up, not this time. He would not allow her to get caught up in his mess.

“No, I don’t suppose your feelings have changed. The city still weighs you down? I understand.” She considered him, and her eyes welled up. 

Considering her trade, Ankit had always found it peculiar that Nejja’s home never smelt of fish. Instead, a strong aroma of herbs and spices wafted in from the kitchen. The four orphans seated around the table nearby looked around in a daze. It was unlikely any of them had ever smelt such a thing, let alone had a good warm meal like they were about to be treated to.

Ankit had long known he could turn to Nejja in a crisis. She would move mountains for those she trusted—trust was more valuable to her than Coin. In the past, he’d resisted unless he could work off his debt. Now he had little choice. Having played some small part in the predicament Uncle’s family now found themselves in, he was determined to find sanctuary for as many as possible. To Nejja, he brought some of the younger orphans, those he judged most trustworthy.

This was his last stop before he could leave. He’d given what he had to give, and now it was time to move on. He looked over at Muut. Unlike the others, her gaze was fixed on him. 

Ankit looked Nejja in the eyes and broke his silence, “I couldn’t be more grateful for this.”

“Oh… really—” she responded tearfully, ‘—you owe me nothing young man! I’ll put them to good use and keep them safe, don’t worry. I do wish you’d reconsider, but just promise me you’ll be safe?”

“I will be, once… once I’m on my way.”

“Any idea where you’ll go?”

“Away from here,” is all Ankit could offer. He instantly regretted his choice of words, seeing the sadness etch itself more deeply into her wrinkled face, adding quickly, “thank you for being so kind to me.”

“You deserve it, my young friend. As unlikely as you feel it may be, if you ever find yourself back in the city, you will always have a safe place to call home.”

Ankit nodded, then turned to leave by the back door, but before he could open it, he felt a tug at his jacket. He turned, and Muut hugged him tightly around his waist. Nejja left towards the kitchen.

Ankit dropped to his haunches and spoke, “you’ll be safe here. Listen to Nejja, avoid the Underhalls… and the gangs.” Muut nodded her head vigorously. He considered her momentarily, then continued, “if you run into any Blackboots, say ‘take me to Zac’, and do your best to tell him I told you to do so. Can you say that? Try for me?”

“T—ta—take me t—t—to Zac,” Muut stuttered. Ankit smiled at her, and she did her best to smile back, then hugged her and left.

Checking first to see that no one was in the alley, he made his way through Fishmongers towards the Cloth Quarter, where he had hidden his pack on a roof. He had almost nothing to his name, and nothing all that precious. A change of clothing, his club, Kirto’s knife and an old pack of cards. The cards were something he’d had since before he could remember. A fading, hand-painted deck for a game he had no knowledge of and had never seen anywhere else. These few items were all that stood between him and leaving the city for good.

As Ankit turned into an alley behind a hardware store, he heard a gruff voice from the shadows. “I hoped I’d be the one to find you.”

He turned and found himself facing a large miserable-looking Blackboot. She was taller than Ankit by a small margin, but two or three times his width, her skin was pale, and she had short patchy hair—like a mangy dog. He knew her. Her name was Teeka, and she was a bully.

She stared as if waiting for him to make a move, react, or say something. When he gave her nothing, she poked, “I took great pride in informing the Protectors that you were in charge of that little Phungz lab that blew up. Uncle’s second in charge.”

Ankit didn’t move a muscle, so she went on, “They went straight to the Araki and laid it all out. Like Uncle, there’s now a death warrant out for you too.”

At that, he inhaled, though he made sure she couldn’t have noticed. He remained as still as he could, searching for an exit. This news would no doubt complicate matters. Still, the Protector’s reach, and their interest, typically ended at the City walls. He just needed to get out before they caught up with him. 

“I’ve always wondered why the boss has given you a pass all this time, but I no longer care. This’ll be the end of you, finally.” She took a deep breath, and a wicked smile stretched over her puffy face.

Ankit saw it, his path. It was now or never, time to go. He bolted forwards, running directly at her. Teeka was startled and stepped backwards just as he’d hoped she would. 

“Protectors, he’s here!” she screamed.

He didn’t slow down, which made her step back again. This time she caught her heel and started to stumble. Perfect. Reaching a sprint, he tucked low, then jumped to his right, his foot bouncing him off a low ridge on the wall. His next footfall was on Teeka’s shoulder, and he sprung off her, grabbing a ledge above. He pulled himself onto the roof and set off, flying from rooftop to rooftop, headed for the Cloth Quarter.

Behind him, he heard whistles and shouting. The Protectors had reached Teeka. They would not easily be able to track him, but he needed to keep moving. Fishmongers fell out of sight as he approached the next district.

Shortly, he dropped down onto the low roof of a house on the border of the Cloth Quarter and Old Town. Reaching into the chimney stack, he pulled out his sling-pack and swung it over his head in one fluid motion. Then he was back on the run again. Dropping from roof to awning and then lower to street level, he crossed the High Street before he made his way over to the tram line. It was dark, and there weren’t many people around, so he quickly climbed up one of the Tram’s overhead gantries and dropped into the electrician’s nest. He sat down and tried to get comfortable. The next service wasn’t for another hour, so he had some time to rest.

A figure leaps through the air while running over rooftops against the backdrop of an industrial city.
Ankit’s flight

Loud whistling stirred him. Keeping his eyes closed, he listened. The source wasn’t far off, in the direction of the Factory District. He sat for a moment, trying to persuade himself to stay out of it, but his curiosity didn’t take long to get the better of him. He leapt over to the roof of a nearby building and headed for the commotion.

When he arrived, he watched silently, trying to make sense of what he was witnessing. A large group of Protectors seemed to have intercepted a shipment of Phungz, which was unusual. They never interfered with the Phungz trade. Most were on the Gangs’ payroll.

Several motor carriages, branded as whisky trucks, were stopped in an alley with their backs open. Smashed-open crates of Phungz lay on the floor, and the Protectors were all over, doing whatever they do. One of them was showing the Arakiists around. Ankit couldn’t hear him, so he crept around to get a better vantage point. As he did, he spotted another oddity. 

A group of children were lined up against the wall, their hands restrained, under guard by armed Protectors. 

The strange bit. The kids’ eyes were glowing with soft white light.

Ankit had seen this before. He’d seen it in addicts who’d taken a dangerously high dose of Phungz, the nasty kind that turned you dead inside. He used to know kids in the Workhouses who did it. They would be blank—their eyes milky, sometimes glowing–and would do what anyone told them to do. The worst part, the more they did it, the less they’d return to themselves afterwards.

“Honours. This is the work of Uncle and his subordinate, Ankit. They have these children move their shipments about in return for Phungz,” the Protector told the Arakiists. It sounded like he almost believed it himself.

“Evidence? Connecting the fugitives to this shipment?” One of the Arakiists asked. Ankit realised he had never heard one speak.

“Eyewitnesses, Honours. Placing the fugitive Ankit at the scene.”

Interesting, I don’t remember that. Another pillar in Baroness Rockerax’s conspiracy, perhaps. Uncle and Ankit were ideal scapegoats, so sacrificing a little of her Phungz, and labour, in the interest of smoking them out made sense. It would be compelling evidence to the Arakiists, and the kids were in no state to stand witness or defend themselves. She certainly wouldn’t want this all coming back to her in any way, as unlikely as that was.

Ankit sat there for a while, wondering whether there was anything he could do. Eventually, he convinced himself that the youngsters would end up back in the Workhouses, no worse off than before. He couldn’t save them all. 

A harsh klaxon sounded as he made his way back towards the High Street. The source was a loud-speaker rigged to a nearby streetlight, part of the city-wide emergency announcement system.

“Attention, attention,” a shrieky voice crackled as the klaxon faded. “A city-wide curfew is in place with immediate effect. The Protectors are undertaking a search for two dangerous fugitives. Everyone is to return home immediately, with no exceptions. Once more, a city-wide curfew is in place with immediate effect. No one is allowed outside of their homes until the curfew is lifted. Anyone suspected of harbouring the fugitives will be subject to summary judgement by the honourable Araki.” 

Ankit listened as the message repeated, each time punctuated by the klaxon. The Protectors were getting desperate. Curfews were implemented in Refuge only as a last resort. Days had passed since the explosion, and they had nothing to show for their work. Their thinly veiled illusion of law and order was at risk.

All this made Ankit wonder. Perhaps there’s more to all this? The lengths they were going to to get Uncle out of the picture were extraordinarily ruthless, even for a Baron.

Why him? He hadn’t seemed all that influential

Regardless, they would never find him. He had seen to that and felt no regret. They’d never be able to parade him for his crimes—or put his execution on show. Kirto deserved not to be forgotten so easily. Even if it did mean their search would concentrate on Ankit.

What a mess. 

He held his head in his hands, then cursed himself. No time for self-pity! A slow rumble was building in his chest, the Tram on approach. Ankit readied himself to drop down as it passed.

Back to Refuge Gate. Out of sight.

Continued on Page 3 with Part 3: The People’s Champion


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

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