They turned to her, and the smirk was gone, obviously. She was angry, half-raving, not to say distressed, and she was definitely hurting a lot, but she wasn’t stupid.
The game was still on.
“No, he’s not oneva’us,” Jamie intercepted their argument, “Scavengers don’t kill each other, we’re competitive, yeah, we can even get each other killed, but we don’t just grab at each other’s throats and squeeze.” The Street Rat coughed and tried to get up, but fell.
“Agh!” Jamie complained and, in a frail yet high-pitched voice repeated, “throw ‘im ova!”
“Don’t do it, ya brain-deads! She’s playin’ ya, she just said it! Right there! We get each other killed, she just said it!”
They got him up in a meaningful silence.
“NO!” the Schoolboy protested, “SHE’S JUST USING YOU, DON’T BE PAWNS! IDIOTS, NO!”
Jamie frowned hard, her entire body shivering in protest, so very much more due to the fact it was used to much better. The head had always taken such good care of it.
Man, this hurts… Jamie thought, realizing there was very little acting to his weakness right then.
When she opened her eyes again, the Schoolboy had his feet on the ledge and was trying to save his own life, kicking it.
“NO!” he pleaded, angry as always, “GUYS C’MON, NO!”
“You screwed up, man,” Jordan said.
“Went just too far,” Peyton agreed.
“Weren’t even smart about it,” Max said, in complaint.
“DAMN IT!” the Schoolboy yelled up, into the skies. “DAMN YOU, JAMIE, DAMN YOU TO THE VOID AND BACK YOU EVIL LITTLE BITC—WAH!”
It was anti-climactic, really. One moment, three pairs of hands were pushing against one sturdy and stubborn body, and the other, he was gone.
His yell dissipated quickly into the distance at a speed ever increased by gravity.
The Schoolboy was gone out of her life forever.
Jamie sighed, and lied down on her back…her pain now feeling more cathartic than anything else.
He’s gone… the Street Rat thought, and glad of it.
It was so high up over there they didn’t even hear people on the ground screaming. If the Schoolboy hit someone on the way down, that death would be on them, but who cared? Not Jamie, it was the price of victory. He was out of the running. Her most hated opponent, the first human being that had stolen from her. He was gone.
I’d be dammed if I had to deal with him for the rest of my life… Jamie thought, spitefully.
“Well that’s cool,” Cameron said, “he didn’t hit anyone.”
“How can you tell?” Jordan asked.
“Everyone leaving,” Cameron pointed out. “Either he hit someone without friends, or he didn’t hit anyone.”
“Just another murder,” Alex said, shrugging and still holding her nose.
“Yup,” Cameron agreed.
They weren’t that rare in Neyrk in the first place, but especially at a time like that, with the overpopulation trying to thrive in the brink of annihilation. Well, some people would kill for bread.
The Street Rat had killed for peace. Her own peace, but still.
Jamie heard footsteps stopping all around her. She opened her eyes, not betraying how relieved she actually felt by allowing the pain to control her expression.
“Ouf…can ya believe that guy?” Jamie asked.
“Well, yeah,” Peyton commented, “that’s why we threw ‘im ova.”
Jordan extended the hat to her, Jamie didn’t even notice it had come off. She smiled at him warmly as she took it.
“Thanks. Hate to admit it, but I’d been toast if you shmucks hadn’t shown up,” Jamie said.
They smiled knowingly at each other.
“You knew we would,” Peyton said, crouching to smile closely at her. “Yer the Street Rat.”
“This was an ambush,” Cameron pointed out.
“Set by you,” Alex followed up, annoyed.
“And you know we’d follow through,” Jordan commented, sitting down while Peyton got up. “Ain’t many chances either o’ us will make the Teens…but yer a shoe in.”
“You can trust us,” said Max, “so don’t forget us.”
The Street Rat chuckled and finally allowed victory to seep into her smile, letting her cocky smirk form even through the pain.
“No worries,” Jamie said.
“Arright,” Peyton looked around, “Shadow Conclave or home? Where’d ya want to go to get healed up?”
The Street Rat looked up, breathing through a sore chest.
“Holy Lady,” Jamie said.
They all, without exception, reacted perplexed.
“What?” Cameron put forth.
“She has good healers,” Jamie said, “I seen ‘em.”
“They ain’t any better than the Magni granny, are they?” Alex pointed out.
“’Course not, but I gotta talk to her,” Jamie said.
“Why?” Jordan asked.
Jamie laughed, and then groaned because it hurt her.
“Will ya pea brains just get on wit’ it?” Jamie said, still in a very good mood despite all the pain. “Falk’s airship can arrive at any minute, I need to be in shape before then, and I need to’ve talked with her by then, too.”
“Arright arright,” Jordan waved a hand, “ya guys go, I got it.”
“What?” Jamie asked.
“Ok,” said Max, “aright,” added Alex, “I guess all of us showin’ up’d be bad, yeah,” followed Cameron.
“Hey,” Jamie said, comically unsure of what was going on.
They just left them alone, much as she expected.
After the door to get into the building closed, Jordan glanced down at Jamie knowingly. The fight had gotten him sweaty and, for some reason, it had also gotten rid of his shirt. It was something that distracted the Street Rat somewhat.
“Seriously?” Jamie asked. “Yer still interested? Lookin’ at this shape I’m in?”
“It’s not about the now, ya should know that,” he smiled yearningly at her, “it’s about the potential later.”
“Oh, and ya know the potential, do you?” Jamie asked, mildly playfully.
“I’ve seen Sarah, haven’t I?” Jordan answered.
“Yer assuming I’ll be Sarah, then? I can pretty much guarantee that ain’t happenin’,” Jamie said.
“Well, A Sarah, not much as that. That Sarah wasn’t very fun. What was your maid name? That was more the kinda girl I’d like,” he said in jest.
“You think I’d be a girl? Over a boy?” She asked.
“Oh,” he put his hand over her good shoulder, which showed good foresight, “no doubt, Jamie.”
Jordan was playing for position, of course. Like they said, the Street Rat was headed for greatness, especially now that her stalwart and hated rival was gone from the competition, and the only other one remaining was actually in good terms with her, Nergui.
Well, she could use him. Jamie reached out with her good arm and brought his face in. And lightly kissed him.
It was more exciting than passionate, she had never actually done that with meaning, but it was enough to get her blushing, which she knew would help with him. Jamie pulled him away after a fast, unsatisfying second.
“You didn’t know where else to go,” Jamie said in a low voice, “or what else to do. Getting to the Holy Lady was the easiest.”
Jordan held a bemused expression for a couple seconds, and then giggled and shook his head.
“Right. I was actually there when the Holy Lady got hurt, I know Amara got healed…so that makes sense.” Jordan said, shaking his head in amazement. “You knew I’d be the one to stay behind and carry you, didn’t you?”
Jamie let her hand fall, as well as her head. She was exhausted.
“That potential you see now?” Jamie asked, in a faraway voice.
She looked up at the sky, remembering the first time she did so in that particular manner. Really looking, really taking it in in all of its infinite expanses. It had happened right after she was beaten up and deprived of her weekly earnings, for the first time. It had been when she decided she was not going to be a victim ever again, even if that meant forever playing one.
“I’ve always seen it,” Jamie stated.
The Street Rat did not lose consciousness this time. After last time, she learned her lesson. Jordan, strong boy that he was, gingerly carried her over to their destination like a true gentleman.
“I said get outta the way, lady!” he yelled.
“Ah! Ah, sorry,” someone reacted.
“Cripes!” he barked. “’Carryin’ a hurt girl, here, get out the damn way. Hey, kid, scram!”
“Oh, honey, it’s okay, no need to cry…” the mother looked at Jordan disapprovingly.
“Don’t look at me like that, lady,” Jordan protested. “The world’s ending, cripes, keep yer damn brats close, will ya?”
Jamie giggled lightly.
There was a certain vulnerability to being carried like that, but she didn’t mind much, it certainly beat walking on her own. Her shoulder was still in a tremendous amount of pain, it didn’t seem to be dissipating at all.
Jordan was mostly focused on traversing the crowd without causing further damage to Jamie. In the state things were, that was easier said than done. Not only had he to avoid people bumping into them accidentally, but people were desperate and scared. There’d be fights to avoid, and indeed, Jordan narrowly made his way out of three violent breakouts.
The Street Rat was in too much pain to talk straight, even if she could still think. The truth was that evacuating the city would be very difficult if the masses didn’t calm down.
The easiest way to accomplish that was for the Lady of Light to show up. Yet, for some reason, Amara had stayed under barred doors, supposedly still healing from her shoulder-shove with death. The Shadow Conclave knew otherwise, they were sure she was fine, and they needed her to do her job as a spiritual leader.
Jamie had been tasked to make that happen.
There were two reasons why she believed she could. One, Amara had wanted to know who the Street Rat was, Jamie could use that. Second, whatever third party would perhaps decide against making Jamie’s presence known to Amara would be remiss to do that with a clear conscience if she was pretty hurt.
Plans within plans, Jamie thought, proudly.
It always had to be like that. You plan then you plan for if it succeeds and you plan for if it fails. And so on. Whoever gets farther with it wins.
Jordan banged on the door to the Chancellor’s mighty building.
“HELP!” he yelled. “KID DYIN’ ‘ERE, HELP!”
Someone not inclined in the least bit to admonish them showed up, even if they were wearing the white robes of the Church of Light. The weak-looking man was about to send them away but balked at the sight of Jamie. As expected.
“Child, what happened to you?” the priest asked.
“Got beat up,” Jordan said, and he tried to extend his arms but didn’t manage too. “I’m really tired. Please? Girl says she needs the Light Lady.”
“It’s Lady of Light, child,” the priest corrected, “use the proper title.”
“Sorry, right. And?” Jordan asked, playing his looks to a T.
“I will take the girl to our healers, but I don’t see why–”
“Tell Amara that it’s Sarah,” Jamie pointed out, “or the Street Rat. Tell her both, please, she knows me, I know she’ll…” Jamie wobbled her head and pretended to faint.
“Oh, by the Light!” the man stuttered. “Very well, please, let me take her.”
Jamie loosened her body and allowed her head to turn away from the man as she got carried inside. Through the hair that was waving in front of her right eye, she observed where she was being taken. If the man took a suspicious turn, Jamie was ready to punch him in the throat and make a run for it.
He didn’t, however. The Priest took her directly to an infirmary where differently robed people were located, not members of the church, but mages, along with other people needing healing.
Is he not going to tell her? He has to, Jamie thought, slightly worried.
“Julia!” he called out. “Julia, I have a girl here, she needs urgent help!”
The Street Rat closed her eyes.
“Oh my,” Julia reacted.
When she hit the bed, Jamie groaned and opened her eyes, pretending to regain consciousness.
“Wah, where am I?” Jamie asked, scared, “who are you?”
“I’m only here to help, child,” Julia said, as calmly as possible seeing as her face had smears of blood and sweaty dust from working too long without a shower.
Jamie looked around, scared.
“Where’s Amara?!” Jamie asked, still frightened. “Where’s the Lady of Light, I need her!”
“Child, please, she’s too busy with—”
Jamie interrupted by starting a panic attack but didn’t get the chance to fully show her prowess before a familiar voice popped out from the entrance to the room.
“Settle down, Sarah.”
She immediately stopped, looking upon the fully recovered visage of Amara, wearing the tremendously lush costume people knew her for using when she wasn’t playing the part of Lady of Light.
The Street Rat immediately relaxed.
“I really need to talk to you,” Jamie said, calmly.
“I imagine so, why else would you be here?” There was little kindness in her voice or demeanor, but her over-displaying presence in the midst of the sick and sinning magic users told a different tale, as did her actions. “You will get healed. And then we will talk.”
“Can’t we talk meanwhile?” the nervous breakdown was all but gone then, Jamie sounded casual, even if a bit hurting since the pain was very real. “I’m kinda behind schedule.”
The lady who would heal Jamie gasped and everyone held their breath.
It occurred to Jamie, watching Amara’s dramatic poise, that maybe she had gone too far. It would be a really silly way to mess up.
“No, child, I’m afraid we’ll talk later,” Amara said, patiently, focusing on the fact Jamie was a kid to normalize the environment. “Do try and find Sarah, will you? A bit of her at least, it would do you wonders.”
The comment would fly by everyone, but Jamie knew exactly what Amara meant by it. It was part insult part warning.
Sure, Jamie thought quietly, I’ll show ya respect, Amara. The Street Rat lied down and relaxed so that the healers could work. I’ll grovel and do whatever you need, long as you do what I need.
Jamie went through the particulars of what was going to happen next in her mind, as a reminder. Either Amara wasn’t doing her job because she didn’t want to, or because of her husband.
As magic glowed over Jamie’s body, its invisible power prodding over her flesh like ice air, she went through the possible conversations in her head. She thought of what Jamie would say followed by what Amara would say, back and forth and so on, as if picturing a chess game. It all depended, in the end, on who knew who better. Jamie obviously had the upper hand in that regard.
Finally, she added the possible presence of the chancellor himself, either from the beginning or from a possible point of interruption.
The Street rat was really tired and very much wanted to sleep, but Falk and the rest could arrive at any moment, she couldn’t miss it. Additionally, every hour of delay on working the Holy Lady endangered some branches of the plans. Depending on the delay, it could even be worse than failure.
So Jamie didn’t sleep. Soon as the arm was fixed, and she was strong enough to walk, she got up and walked out.
“Girl,” Julia protested, “girl!”
“”m good, thanks!” Jamie said, waving her away.
The medic wouldn’t abandon the infirmary, especially when a soldier was at the door, ready to greet the Street Rat.
“You Sarah, right?” he asked.
“Yes?” Jamie answered.
“Okay. Sorry,” the Soldier said, quite awkwardly, “the Lady said it was you, but you don’t look like a girl.”
Jamie smiled contently.
“Looks can be deceiving.”