"Business? What kind of business, let's hear it," Claude half-barked, his heart lighter than it had been in weeks.
They were playing right into his hands! He hid his beaming smile and marched on.
"Dammit, are you deaf? We told you to f*ck off!" a dark silhouette cried.
It rolled its fists and stepped forward imposingly. Claude had seen his fair share of thugs, however, and the man was on the ground moaning in less than two seconds.
"So tell me, what shenanigans are you snakes up to?" Claude demanded, his foot digging in the poor sod's face.
The other silhouette stepped forward, having only now processed what had happened to its partner, but a glance from Claude stopped it dead in its tracks, then...
"Stop, let him go!" the silhouette cried, finally.
"Oh, right, there was another one of you," Claude chirped absentmindedly.
His foot lightened ever so slightly, letting blood flow from the poor sod's head where the rocks of the alleyway had cut. Despite what his head had gone through, the bastard had yet to make a peep, however, so Claude thought he might as well try the other one.
He slammed his foot into the nape of the sod's neck, knocking him out instantly, then turned to the other silhouette. The figure took several steps back in response, and its dagger finally made an appearance.
"D-don't come here... I... I have a knife..."
Claude didn't stop.
The figure stared at him, and panic finally fully overtook his mind. His dagger flew in Claude's general direction and the figure screamed as it darted off in the opposite direction.
"S-someone! Q-quick! There's... there's--"
Its words stopped mid sentence as a Magic Missile hit it right between the shoulder blades and it collapsed limply, skidding about half a metre from the blast.
The shot had taken a decent chunk out of the whimp's back, just beside the backbone. It had taken the bone down to the marrow with it, however. The man would be a paraplegic if he survived, which was itself still very much uncertain. Blood bubbled from the hole non-stop however, and the poor man was clearly in a world of pain all its own. Claude felt just the teeniest bit sorry for him. He'd intended to strike his thighs, but his aim had been off -- aiming with a bare hand with a ball of light in it was prone to imprecision, after all -- and he'd hit his back instead.
The man was out cold by the time Claude reached him, and so he was sat with two unconscious fools, one of which would likely never wake up again. He sighed, disappointed in his lack of skill which had once again cost him, and searched the two bodies. They didn't have even a full thale between the two, however.
"What the hell? You call yourselves gangsters but you're all barely more than beggars!" Claude spat in a low voice.
His ears perked as a set of hurried footsteps echoed his way. He heard a man's cry and bunch of footsteps behind that. Claude could just barely make out their outlines. They were more a sense of movement than concrete figures. He was quite surprised and impressed they could even tell he was an enemy, in fact.
Then again, he was the only one wearing a mask and a robe. The former might be missed, but the latter would be noticed even if just his barest outline were visible.
It took the figures only a moment to realise what had happened and come charging at him, weapons drawn.
"Bastard! You think you can rob us?!" one of the figures shouted, Claude neither knew nor cared which.
They started their charge about eight metres from Claude; the last one fell still three metres away from the young man.
Moans suddenly filled the deserted alley as several more figures joined the two already on the ground, these still awake and feeling and giving voice to all all their pain. One of the figures was dead already. It had been in the way of one of the others, and as such had taken the other's missiles in their place. They might survive one, but two, even both on the extremities, were fatal. And Claude wasn't being particularly careful to avoid their vitals either. He only needed one to survive, the rest could die and he'd still be in decent shape.
The final thug, having escaped being struck, lost his nerve and stopped his charge. He didn't remember to run away however, as the cloud cover broke in that moment and cast a ray of monochrome light on his foe. The sight, the dark grey robe, the shawl and mask... it drove his mind back to what he'd seen in the gambling den a couple weeks earlier, and his bladder failed him. He collapsed to the ground, a whimpering, slobbering mess.
"Please... please don't kill me... Lord Magus... I... I surrender," he managed between the chatters of his teeth.
Claude started casting another Magic Missile, then thought better of it and spared the man.
"You recognise me?" He asked instead, in as deep a voice as he could muster.
The sod nodded vigorously, as if given a new lease on life, though his teeth continued to chatter and his eyes never stopped being fountains.
"Y-you're the Lord Magus... P-please forgive m-my offence!" he half-screamed, though in a weak whimper. The sound was most pitiful, and unnerving.
Claude's eyes wandered to his robes, and he finally realised he'd been wearing the same getup every time he'd taken action in his magus persona. He'd not thought a bulletin about him would have gone out to the whole gang already.
"What business does Blacksnake have here?" Claude asked plainly.
The slobbering mess that had once called itself a Blacksnake, sparked another answer, a slight hint of life returning to its eyes. It had finally realised all the encounters must have been just their bad luck in crossing the magus, he was not really out to get them. Or so he desperately prayed, like he'd never prayed before.
"L-lord Magus... Our right-hand came here to negotiate the purchase of shares in the seven taverns by the docks with Shark."
"Negotiate?--" Something weird was going on. "--You're negotiating with Shark? You're not messing with me, are you? Their base is here? I thought they operated around the docks."
"I speak no wrong word, Lord Magus. You might not know it, but the acting commander of Shark, Jerad, lives here. He comes back here every night. Our right-hand decided to corner him here and force him to hand over the seven taverns."
"That doesn't sound right... Didn't you all agree to a truce? Your boss even promised Town Hall he'd not trouble Shark."
"Uhm... Lord Magus, it's the middle of the 2nd month but the convoy isn't back yet, and we've heard they won't be coming back at all. Blacksnake has voided the truce given this information. As for his promise, with the official witnesses no longer in Town Hall, he isn't bound by his oath."
Claude smiled bitterly. He didn't think his father and his friends had been the ones keeping Blacksnake in check.
"We're the biggest gang in Whitestag now, especially with all the top members of Shark gone with the convoy. On top of that our boss is a bandsman in the garrison. Our right-hand's decided Shark should pack up and leave town. The town belongs to us now."
So they were making their moves now, huh? He supposed the martial law had its upsides. If not for it, the town might have had an all-out gang war on its hands.
"You have money, yes?" Claude asked suddenly.
"Uhh... Yes," the sod nodded.
The sod's money pouch made an poor appearance, and it counted the coins inside.
"... A thale and three riyas."
The money pouch vanished from the sod's hands and reappeared in Claudes. He pointed at the sod's three unconscious companions.
"Get their money pouches as well, and any loose change they might have on them. I'll show you hell if you try to hide any of it."
"W-what do you want?" the sod asked, perturbed even more by his tormentor's sudden change in attitude.
"Get to it or you'll end up just like them. Didn't you accuse me of robbing when you came over? Since you're accusing me of it, I might as well earn the accusation. I'll rob you properly. If you work quickly, though, I will not put you down as well."
The sod crawled over to his companions like he was being chased by a lion, but he refused to stand up, afraid his tormentor might just decide he didn't like it and put a projectile through his chest. He crawled back thirty seconds later, three pouches in hand. They had felt rudely empty in his hands, so he'd taken the liberty of adding one of his companions' rings.
One of the poor sods, half his mind starting to work again, started to fight back, but the first sod gave him a good slap.
"Idiot! I'm trying to save your life!"
He offered the pouches the same as he would an offering to the war god, but they weren't taken.
"Empty them into one sack, then count them and tell me how much you have," he heard his tormentor's deep voice order. He felt something sail by his head, and caught a glimpse of the blade-side of an axe, twirled by a vile hand. He swallowed involuntarily, then quickly did as he was told.
"T-two thales, four riyas, seven sunars, three fennies, a-and six pennies..."
"You all really are nothing more than beggars! Do you walk around with empty pouches all day long?" his tormentor cursed.
The sod wanted to explain they never really needed money, they just took what they wanted, but he didn't open his mouth without being told to speak. They'd probably really walk around without so much as a fenny on them if they didn't have the habit of gambling and betting.
"That one over there has a ring as well. Go get it."
He turned around to look in the direction his tormentor had pointed, though he was certain he'd taken the only ring any of them had, then he felt a pain at the back of his head, and the world went truly black.