It was late at night when Hadden left Kyle and James’ apartment. They’d offered to let him stay for the night, but his mind, still set on Mountain Time, kept telling him that it was just late afternoon.
With sleep nowhere near coming, he opted to walk the distance from their home to the disused tube station in Ealdwic that hosted the Agartha portal. A little chill air would help clear his mind from the alcohol, and maybe he could get fish and chips on the way.
Self-absorbed in his thoughts, he didn’t notice when he crossed that uncertain threshold that separated regular London from the hidden ward of Ealdwic.
There was no physical barrier between the two, excluding the police barricade by Mayqueen, but an attentive observer would notice the subtle differences: a shift in the air; the odd gait of one of the passersby; a deepening of the shadows.
It was from those shadows, in one of those alleys that seemed to lack illumination by design, that the attack came.
The first blow struck his head, opening a bloody gash right over his ear. The second hit him behind the knees, and he tumbled to the ground, hard. Only the instinct to roll around saved him from a third blow on his spine. Fuck. What the hell?
Hadden used the momentum from the roll to pull himself up and faced his adversaries. There were three of them, dressed all in black, faces shrouded in balaclavas and wearing batons. As soon as the was back on his feet, they resumed their attack.
Hadden managed to parry one attack, two, even land a kick on one of his assailants, but three against one was an unfair fight and once more the batons collided with his body. He fell again, every one of his limbs ringing in pain. There was blood in his mouth. He hadn’t tasted blood since-
The attack had stopped. The three fighters were standing around him, equally distant to each other and from him. What they were waiting for?
Unless they were not here to kill him. In fact, his mind told him, now that he had a moment to breathe, that if someone wanted him dead, this was a rather inefficient method of going at it. No guns, no magic, just melee combat.
No, this was something else. A message, maybe? But he hardly knew anyone. Oh.
Curled on himself, he doubted the assailants could see his lips open into a grin. Hadden breathed in and, along with the air, he let another invisible force inside his body. His knees stopped hurting. The wound on his head started stitching itself close.
The three had probably noticed a change in his posture. They started to close in on him, batons raised, as he-
A honey-golden wave shook the ground around them, making the three stumble as Hadden got to his feet again, preternaturally quick. Anima cohered around his fists in the shape of knuckles. With renewed strength, Hadden punched the first, kicked the second, barely felt a baton hit his back, and turned to elbow the third fighter in the face, following that with a roundhouse kick for good measure.
The other two fighters returned for more. Hadden, now caught in the excitement of combat, would have gladly given them a few more rounds, but the anima inside of him started surging, begging for release. Well then. Time to test his powers.
Hadden let a low growl out and swung his fist in a bolo punch. Blades of anima extended from his knuckles, cutting into the two opponents and hurling them against the nearest wall.
Fatigue suddenly assailed him, his breath coming up a little short, the pain from his wounds growing less distant. The three, however, remained on the ground.
Hadden turned his head to a figure that had so far remained in the shadows. A woman, apparently Latina, wearing a red and black uniform. Templar cut, although with none of the usual white and gold trimmings.
“Not bad. Not good either, but I’ve seen recruits do far worse on their first surprise attack.”
Hadden let his breath steady before replying. “I’m gonna assume Spanish sent you?”
The woman nodded. “Correct. Even though you’re not an active field agent, it is necessary that you learn how to defend yourself.”
“I know how to defend myself.”
“Clearly not. This situation took you by surprise. It took too long for you to summon your anima. As an evaluation of-”
His forehead collided with her nose.
The woman staggered back a couple steps, wiped her bloody nose on her sleeve, then produced a smile that would not have been out of place on some feral cat eyeing a prey. “Okay. Well. Point taken.”
Hadden cracked his fingers. “I wasn’t trying to make a point. That’s for making me get blood all over my favorite jacket.”
There was a light chuckle from one of the three figures on the ground. Another actually raised their hand in a thumbs up.
Hadden felt himself chuckling in return.
The woman, apparently unperturbed by the mirth, picked a business card out of her pocket and handed it to Hadden. “Go to this gym. They cater to people with your talents who can’t or won’t train in the proximity of Temple Hall. You get free, magical dry-cleaning too.” She smiled at Hadden’s face, this time good-naturedly amused. “You’re not the first, you know. We’re good at this gig.” She didn’t specify whether she meant secret recruits or people getting blood on their jacket, but he figured it was both.
She snapped her fingers in the air. “Come on soldiers, let’s clean this up so that Mr. Secret Agent can go home to his bed. Be seeing you, blonds.”
Before he could formulate a reply, the four of them were gone, blended once more in the Ealdwic shadows.
Hadden let out a groan, the pain in the back from the baton sticks suddenly all too vivid. The healing had kicked in, but the painkillers didn’t seem to have taken the message. The drive home was going to be fun.