I couldn't tell what time it was, but it must have been late. The basement was completely silent, save for the occasional creak or groan from the floor overhead and Kris' soft breathing as she slept, cat-like, in the far corner of the room. I lay awake, staring up at the ceiling, peering at the minute cracks that ran through the peeling plaster. For some reason, I couldn't sleep. Whether it was the heat - for the basement did grow very humid at times - or just my brain out to spite me, I didn't know. I looked down at my hand, running a thumb over the minute scar just under the heel of my hand. It was almost invisible, just the faintest of white lines showing up against my skin. I had to admit I'd done a pretty good job with it, I'd been nervous about the whole procedure at first, but a combination of desperation and haste had forced me to finally go through with it.
Suddenly, I heard a thud from the ceiling. Not a loud one, but loud enough to cause Kris to stir slightly in her sleep. I sat up a little straighter, shifting into a crouch. The hairs on the back of my neck prickled, and I kept my eyes locked on the door. Something told me that that hadn't been just a coincidental thud. Whether it was instinct telling me this, or just my own paranoia at being caught, I had learned long ago that such feelings were rarely wrong. I crouched there for what felt like hours, lurking against the wall like one of the weathered gargoyle carvings on the sides of the old stone churches scattered throughout Alarbor's streets. For a while, all was silent again, then I heard the sound of muffled voices from the floor above us. More thuds, softer this time and more rhythmical. Footsteps.
Scampering across to Kris, I shook her gently awake. She blinked at me, wiping the grit from her eyes and fixing me with an irritable glare. Then came the voices again, clearer than ever. They must have been right outside the door, for we heard them as clearly as we had the guards back in the Arena's tunnels.
"... There must be sommat in 'ere." said one voice. "Rat's bound t' have supplies holed up in 'ere somewhere."
"What about that door? Looks like some sort o' basement, let's take a look. Grunt, Rafe, you guard the rat, don't let him try any funny stuff. If he makes a break for it, shoot him. Skink, come 'ere, let's get this thing open."
It didn't take long for the intruders to force the door open. Kris pulled the pistol out from its holster, finger curled around the trigger, while I slipped instinctively into a fighting stance. From above, outlined by a dim glow from the light on the floor above, four figures slipped cautiously down the stairs into the cellar. All were armed with various makeshift weapons; one carried a club in one hand, while another had both hands wrapped around the hilt of a machete. For a while we remained unnoticed, lurking in the corner of the basement, obscured by the gloom and standing as still as a pair of statues. Then someone found the light switch and the argon bulb spluttered reluctantly into life. The figure standing nearest to us, a whispy little man with bulging eyes, blinking in the light of the bulb, turned to scour our corner. Catching sight of us, he let out a startled squeak. Before he could utter another sound, I sprang forward and seized his skinny neck in a headlock, cutting off his half-formed cry.
"Hai!" came another voice. I whipped around, the man still struggling in my grasp, only to find myself staring down the barrel of a sawn-off shotgun. Its wielder was another man, an enormous scar running down the left side of his face and a nose that had clearly been broken one time too many.
"Drop him." he hissed. "Drop him or I swear I'll blow ye brains out afore ye can move."
I blinked, was that voice familiar? I could have sworn I had heard it before somewhere, but the memory was vague and indistinct. I loosened my grip on my captive, peering intently at the man's face. Those scars, so strangely familiar, but how? Where had I seen this man before? The man hefted his gun again, the sleeve of his jacket falling back to reveal a tattoo shaped like a snarling tiger's head. Then it clicked. I did know this man. I had worked with him for years. I had thought he was dead.
"Lucatz?" I breathed. "Is that you?"
Lucatz's eyes widened. "How do you know my name? Who ... no. No, you can't be."
"It's me." I said, looking Lucatz straight in the face. "Don't you remember? All those years on the streets, the raids, sleeping in the old warehouses? It's me Lu. It's Gavin."