::Altrega Beach, Albrook.::
This back-alley was a well-trod thoroughfare for some of Altrega Beach’s least reputable denizens. The commercial block it cut through lead right from one suqallid refugee slum to another, allowing for the transfer of illicit goods or an expeditious escape from the APD.
This evening, however, it appeared to be entirely off-limits. A score of badly-beaten Triad Blue Lanterns lay strewn about, mutedly groaning in pain on the decidedly unhygienic ground, their cuts, scrapes and bruises a warning to other low-lifes that this back-alley was not currently open to through traffic.
Beyond the graveyard of beaten badguys, two figures continued their fight unabated. One of the combatants was human, hailing from the nation of Fabul in the Crystal Dimension. His head was shaven bald save for a single, long queue of dark hair flowing down from the crown of his head. He was thickly muscled, but also incredibly quick and agile; the dao sword he held in his hand was an ancient heirloom of his family, and it thrummed and pulsed with the flow of chi energy from its wielder. His name was Jin Gangdao, and he was a Red Pole in the notorious Golden Axe Triad.
His opponent was a tall, gray-feathered avian humanoid wielding a flashing blue-bladed katana that seemed to sing with deep magical enchantment. He hailed originally from the Gate Dimension, from a region in the North Eastern part of the Zenan continent known as the Denadoro Mountains. A “Mystic” they called him, one of several races of sapient beings gifted with arcane powers by the enigmatic Magus during the middle ages. His name was Osprey… and he was unemployed.
Both men were highly skilled. Both extremely well-trained. These two swordsmen were each the equal of the other. But Gangdao appeared to only hold his opponent in contempt.
“This time, the magic sword-girl is not here to save you from me,” the Triad said, nearly spitting the words, as he spun around and swung out a leg to see if he could catch Osprey unawares with a kick.
Almost without effort, Osprey ducked under the kick and pressed his counter-attack. "You’re just sore that I turned down your Triad’s (admittedly very generous) offer of employment."
Gangdao smirked as he turned aside Osprey’s predictable attack, and returned with his own. “I am sure you have since realized it was your loss. The Golden Axe could have taken care of you better than the little girl who fights the bad men for you.”
“It’s not such a bad deal I have, really,” Osprey said. “Room and board. All the pizza I can eat. ManaSeed and streaming video.” In a puff of shadowy smoke, Osprey suddenly vanished. For a moment, Jin Gangdao was perplexed; but he recovered as his ears perceived something beyond mere sound. He spun round just in time to catch Osprey’s blade as he emerged from the shadow behind Gangdao. Gangdao rolled over backward and regained his footing, bringing his blade back up just in time to parry three more rapid cuts.
“Fortunate, then, that you turned us down,” Gangdao said. "And good riddance. You fight like an Eblanese dog."
Osprey couldn’t help but smile. Should he take that as a compliment? If Kamiko were here, perhaps she might show this Triad bastard how a Samurai fights…
This was all the opening Jin Gangdao needed. It was a momentary, almost negligible lapse in Osprey’s guard; something Gangdao could not have anticipated, but it was there all the same. The briefest of all weaknesses: an emotional response. As Osprey paused, unseen parts of him moved by the Triad’s expression of ethnic antipathy, Gangao pounced.
Before Osprey knew what was happening, the Triad Red Pole was upon him. He slipped under Osprey’s guard, and with preternatural swiftness from his off-hand, he poked, prodded, pressed and twisted. His fingers and thumb worked up and down Osprey’s torso, working an intricate network of nerve-endings and chakra points. By the time Jin Gangdao was done, Osprey found he couldn’t move at all; none of his muscles, his limbs, his fingers, even his mouth and his eyelids. He was as good as a statue: utterly paralyzed.
“I would give you the death you so richly deserve,” Gangdao said, with a cunning grin. "But I think it pleases me more to leave you to live with the humiliation of this defeat."
As it became evident that Osprey had been utterly immobilized by Jin Gangdao’s nerve-touch technique, the beaten Triad gangers slowly began to stand. Those who were less injured than the rest helped their less-well-off bretheren to their feet.
“Now, if you’ll excuse me,” Gangdao said, tauntingly, as he slid his heirloom sword back into its scabbard, "I do have somewhere else I need to be. An appointment which your intercession has very nearly made me late for. But we will see to your reckoning on that score next time we meet."
With a gesture, Gangdao waved his men on. They proceeded through the alley with haste. As the last of the Triads disappeared, a third figure emerged from the shadows. He was human of middle-age, wearing an old faded denim jacket and lovingly-worn khaki slacks. Unlike Osprey and Gangdao, this newcomer did not possess a stupidly magical or chi-enhanced sword.
He approached Osprey, and, after taking a moment to examine him, extended his index and middle fingers together and began to work, in reverse, the combination of pokes, prods and twists across Osprey’s torso that had rendered him inert. When he was done, Osprey pitched forward with a gasp, and he dropped Shiva’s Edge to the ground with a loud clatter.
The man swung out his arm to catch Osprey before he fell over. Not questioning who his savior was at first, Osprey leaned on him readily, took a moment to catch his breath and steady himself. Then he paused and tried to maneuver to see who his rescuer was, in the dim light filtering into the alley.
“Hey! I know you!.. You’re…” Osprey blanked. “That guy. Crap. Terry’s friend, Mario the… plumber?”
“Klyde Munro,” the man said, taking a step back and extending his hand. “And I’m a tailor.”
“That’s totally what I meant,” Osprey said. He got really dizzy just then, and had to lean against the wall to steady himself.
Klyde leaned in to help Osprey, or at least make sure he didn’t fall down. “Come on,” the tailor said, "Let’s get off the streets, hmm? My shop isn’t far. I can brew up some tea, let you relax a spell, maybe give Terry a call to let him know you’re okay."
Osprey (who had basically been Roxanne’s permanent houseguest ever since Egmont got attacked by the ancient Taznikanze rock demons) didn’t like to impose on people, but at that moment his head was still swimming from Jin Gangdao’s nerve-point attack, so he found he literally couldn’t say no. (his mouth wouldn’t form the word)
Klyde reached down carefully, picked up Shiva’s Edge and replaced it in its sheath. Then he took Osprey’s arm across his shoulders and slowly walked him away from the alleyway.
When Osprey came to, he was spread out on a warm, inviting couch. A black and white TV was playing quietly in the background, and propped up not far from him was Shiva’s Edge, standing there leaning against the couch’s arm as if the sword itself were keeping watch over him.
Osprey swung his legs around and pressed his fingers into his head. He groaned and forced his eyes back open. On the coffee table in front of him was a half-drained teacup. Testing it with his finger, he found it was ice cold. How long had he been here? How long had he been asleep?
The door quietly creaked open, and Osprey instinctively reached for the hilt of Shiva’s Edge. He relaxed his stance when he saw it was just Klyde.
“You’re awake,” Klyde said, with an avuncular smile. "I hope the tea did the trick."
Osprey shut his eyes and nodded. “Ogansweed leaf. This is arcano-medicinal tea from Denadoro… with a sedative side effect. You knew it would put me out.”
“And I also knew you’d recognize it when you came to,” Klyde said. "I apologize, but I’ve found that no remedy is better for quickly shaking the effects of a Fabulian paralyzing palm attack than Ogansweed tea."
Osprey stood. “No apology necessary,” he said. “It was a good call. I am recovered.”
“I’m glad,” Klyde said, the smile never leaving his face. "You also have visitors. When I called over to your and Terry’s apartment, your roommate Roxanne answered. I told her what had happened… and she told me she’d been trying to get in touch with you for hours."
Osprey winced. He reached down to his pocket and felt at his cell phone. It was shattered. He thought he might have felt his phone take a hit during the mass melee against all those Triad gangers… it must have taken a harder hit than he’d thought. Replacing it would not be cheap.
“So she is here?” Osprey asked.
“She is,” Klyde said. "… Along with a couple other people from Guardia who say they know you."
Osprey tensed. Were the Guardians after him now, too? Had Director Chalasser decided to go after Osprey, possibly for aiding and abetting the Shield? Had Osprey’s widely-circulated resume lead Terry’s enemies right to Roxanne’s front door?
Klyde seemed, somehow, to know exactly what Osprey was thinking. "Relax. Roxanne thinks these guys are on the level, and so do I. Once you hear what they want… I’m sure you’ll agree."
Klyde reached out and took Osprey by the hand, leading him through the door. They passed from a homey sitting room into a humble living room. Sitting in easy chairs, clustered around a mahogany coffee table, were Roxanne and three others Osprey didn’t recognize: two feline humanoids (one male and one female), and a silver-and-blue R-series robot.
The male feline stood. He was massive and easily dwarfed everyone else in the room (even the R-series). Though he was plain-clothed, Osprey noted he had the bearing and posture of a military officer.
“Osprey,” he said. "I’m very glad to meet you, finally. I think I could use your help. I’m Captain Barry Svensgaard of the Guardian Space Fleet… and I believe a network of robot slavers has set up shop here in Albrook, and they’re getting help from some of the criminal enterprises already here in the city…"
Osprey just stared at Barry, beheld his massiveness, and then started to process what he’d just said. He turned and looked at Klyde.
“Okay,” Osprey said, “Are you sure all you put in my tea was Ogansweed?”