The Ring of Arimanthi7
By Brittany Marie Ellis
Mina Black stood alone in the moonlight underneath the arched window, staring up at the four-story building she would be robbing that night. She had planned this event for a month and now that the moment was here she felt the familiar flutter of nervous butterflies in her stomach. After doing this job for several years, the butterflies no longer bothered her. They were a welcome signal that her body was getting prepared.
The mansion towered over Mina. The home was outside of town with the nearest neighbor a half a mile away. It was big enough to fit three of the small building Mina lived in on the first floor alone. Trees were everywhere around the building, along with a beautiful garden and plenty of shrubbery. The walls were large gray stones and ornate windows dotted the sides.
The only illumination came from the crescent moon and the few lights left on in various rooms. Mina had discovered in her research that the owner, an old spinster woman, had inherited the mansion and her fortune from her father when he died and now lived a lonely life of luxury. She almost felt sorry for the stranger, but not sorry enough to abandon the assignment.
Mina had scheduled the caper on a night when the woman in question would be out making an appearance at the opera, leaving the mansion quiet and empty. Not only did an empty house make a job faster, it also lessened the chance of having to resort to violence. Mina might have been a thief, but she refused to harm anyone if it wasn’t completely necessary.
The sky was dark and there was no noise other than the chirping of crickets. A crisp fall breeze blew her long, black hair in her face and she pushed away, impatient.
Shaking her head, she focused her attention on the task at hand: locating one of the woman’s rings and relieving her of it. A man named Darin had commissioned the theft.
Mina was scared whenever she went to meet Darin that if she touched him the wrong way he might break. He was reedy with thin, dull brown hair. She could still hear his voice, a thin whisper, explaining what exactly he was after this time. Darin was the curator of the town’s museum. He also had a secret collection deep inside the building where he kept special artifacts, magical items that only certain people were privy to.
“It’s a bright green stone set in silver,” he told her. “You’ll be able to sense its magic when it’s near you.”
She’d smiled at the time like she was smiling now, the way a lion might smile if it could while tracking prey.
Before arriving at the mansion, Mina had cast a spell to make her hands and feet able to cling to walls like Spider-Man. It was a simple spell. Even a low-class wizard could have cast it. Still the magic had sent a shiver down Mina’s spine and tired her a bit. It wasn’t much, like she’d taken a vigorous walk around the block and was slightly winded. She recovered from it quickly and the magic would last for the night at least. Thankfully, she’d cast a permanent spell to remove her fingerprints when she’d first begun stealing professionally years ago. In her line of work, fingerprints were a nuisance.
She’d been born with the ability to perform magic and it was a talent, more useful in her line of work than playing “Beethoven’s 5th Symphony” or painting a masterpiece.
Moving quickly through the darkness, Mina jumped toward the wall in front of her, landing her feet against cold stones, her hands following suit. The gray stone was rough and she made her way up, past the window she’d stood under, all the way to the top floor.
Cautiously, Mina made her way to a window nearly identical to the one she’d stood under and pressed her hand onto the glass. Summoning a sizable amount of magic, she was able to disarm a rather elaborate security system and melt the glass under her palm. She smirked as the rush of magic went through her arm, draining her slightly. Pausing, she listened for any sounds that might herald an unexpected visitor.
Quickly she reached inside and unlocked the window, yanking it open. Hopefully the windowpane would be the only thing she destroyed on her trip through the mansion. Dropping softly into the room, Mina landed on plush carpet in a crouching position, chest heaving, alert to any disturbance.
After a few moments of silence she stood and strolled to the door, confident in her plan. She already knew where the safe was, the place where any sane person would put a magic ring and she had several hours before the woman was expected to be home.
Reaching the door, she eased it open, peering out into the hallway. Three doors down was the library and in there, the safe. Mina almost laughed when she saw it, surrounded by bookshelves that reached the ceiling covered with all manner of priceless books. It was a huge rectangle of dark metal meant to keep out thieves like her.
Unfortunately for the safe makers and the old woman they had never counted on going up against a sorceress. They probably didn’t even know real magic existed. Mina barely needed to place her hand against the lock before it started to spin and the door swung open on its hinges.
However, Mina’s smug thoughts quickly vanished as she was met with empty air. There was nothing inside the safe. Aghast, she leaned inside, hands frantically searching for a ring that was nowhere to be found. Her heart pounded frantically, her carefully laid plans crumbling around her.
Straightening, she realized she’d been so sure of finding the ring in the safe that she hadn’t noticed the tell-tale hint of magic wasn’t nearby. Not only wasn’t it close to the library, it wasn’t even close to this part of the mansion. She wanted to hit herself for being so cocky, but that wouldn’t help the situation at that moment. Mina closed her eyes, partly in frustration and partly to better sense where the ring might actually be.
Ever so faintly, Mina sensed a hint of magic on the other side of the mansion, like a whiff of perfume in the air. She opened her eyes and tried to remember what there was on that end of the building. Thankfully, studying the layout of the mansion for weeks had given her a near perfect mental map of the place.
She hurried out of the library and sped through the house, the magic getting stronger as she went. Finally, slightly breathless, arriving where she believed the ring to be, she pushed open enormous double doors to reveal a lavish master bedroom. Mina looked around in wonder at the opulence.
The vast bed was piled with more beige pillows and silk bedding than any one person needed, and a graceful canopy covered everything. To the right stood a wardrobe that could have fit all of both Mina’s and her young ward, Imogen’s, clothes with room to spare. A vanity was opposite the wardrobe, a gilded mirror resting on top and powders and perfumes took up the remaining room on it. The whole room had a lacey, old-fashioned feel to it. Mina thought just one piece of furniture would have cost more than she made in a year.
Mina followed the magic to the side of the bed where an end table sat. Compared to the other furniture, the end table was plain and sad, a dull white with no engravings to set it apart. Kneeling down revealed that there was a drawer. Mina tugged it in an attempt to get it open. A quick survey of the room showed that the owner had presumably taken the key with her.
Mina grumbled unhappily. This simple assignment had become more of a hassle than expected. Using so much magic in such a short period of time on top of running through the huge mansion was taking its toll physically and Mina didn’t want to waste much more energy. Nevertheless, without a key there wasn’t much she could do and she gritted her teeth, slapping her hand on the drawer, unlocking it. She felt like she’d been running, her heart rate speeding up, her breathing slightly uneven, her muscles becoming sore.
Mina threw open the drawer and inspected it, lifting a pile of papers to reveal a silver ring. Letting out a whoop of joy, she snatched up the prize and examined it carefully. Just touching it she could feel the magic energy pulsing through her body like the bass at a club.
The stone was a jade green color, the silver a bit tarnished but it was still beautifully crafted. Darin had told Mina that it was ancient and priceless, and seeing it, she believed him. Now that she had the desired item, all she needed to do was meet the man Darin had assigned for pickup since he had told her he would be busy all night.
A menacing growl came from the door.
Mina spun around to find a large pit bull in the doorway, blocking her exit. His fur was light brown, muscles rippling under his skin and lips pulled back in a snarl. Letting loose a curse, she slipped the ring in her pocket and raised a hand.
“Hey there,” she cooed in what she hoped was a soothing voice. “Good doggy. Want to let me through that door? I’ll be out of here in seconds.”
As if the dog understood, he stepped forward and growled again, drool dripping from his exposed fangs.
“Shit, shit, shit,” Mina spat out, backing up slightly.
The dog continued forward into the room, cornering Mina. She cursed the fact that her magic required physical contact to work. She highly doubted that this dog would be nice and let her pet it just to cast a spell.
The dog crouched and sprung at Mina. Twisting, she launched herself at the bed, narrowly avoiding seventy pounds of muscle and fury as it collided into the table. Mina reached out a hand but the pit bull turned its head too quickly for her to touch it.
“Stupid dog,” Mina hissed, flipping backwards off the other end of the bed. “I knew there was a reason I was a cat person.”
Charging headlong at Mina, the dog bounced over the bed as she skirted the pillars. As the dog was on the bed, she grabbed hold of the sheets, lifting them high above her head, knocking the dog on its side and dazing it slightly. She had just enough time to lay her hand on its side and put it to sleep.
“There, have a cat nap and leave me alone,” she instructed, walking away. That last spell had turned her knees to jelly and all she wanted was to sleep herself. She would be more than happy to get the assignment over and forget the whole thing had happened as she left the house.
More exhausted than ever thanks to a brisk walk through town, Mina made her way to the bridge overlooking Moon River. The structure was a popular spot for couples on a romantic walk. The worn, red bricks brought to mind times gone by and in the single large arch was mirrored in the water below. At night, the river reflected the light of the moon and was one of the major tourist spots in town and usually there were people with fishing lines dotting the banks even at night. Tonight, Mina had cast a spell, a veil so that no one would notice when she exchanged the ring.
As she drew nearer to the prearranged spot Mina’s footsteps felt lighter and she could feel a weight begin to lift from her chest. Another job was almost over and soon she’d get to go home. That weight crushed heavily back onto her shoulders when she noticed that there was no one where Darin told her to expect the contact.
Hurrying her steps brought her closer, not to an empty space, but to a huddled mass pressed against the side of the bridge. Stepping next to it revealed it was in fact a body, a younger man with a bloody smile marring his neck. Blood splattered the bridge and pooled around his body. His eyes stared blankly into the night sky.
Gasping, Mina stumbled back.
“Good of you to join us,” a voice rang out.
A group of four men each in pressed black suits made their way calmly toward Mina and the body, the speaker leading while the others formed a triangle behind him.
Though he was obviously sick, with pale skin and shrunken cheeks, his eyes were still strong, their ice blue color piercing Mina as he studied her. He held a black cane, using it more as a fashion statement than to lean on. The way he held his body made it apparent that he was used to being in a position of power and he wasn’t going to let anybody take that power from him.
Mina knew normal humans wouldn’t be able to see her or the body while on the bridge. Her body went rigid, but she refused to be cowed by the newcomer.
“I didn’t have anything to do with this,” she said, waving a hand at the body.
The man in front, an older man with an air of experience, laughed. Suddenly, his chest heaved and a fit of coughing racked his body. Mina watched the scene with a cool detachment. Finally the man caught his breath and straightened.
“We have not had the pleasure of being introduced,” the man said congenially, resting both hands on the top of the cane. Mina noticed absently that the cane was topped with a bronze Chinese dragon. “My name is Malcolm.”
Mina snorted. “Like I care,” she snapped. “What do you want?”
“Direct. I admire that. Fine, I would like that ring I know you possess.”
“Like hell.” Mina moved to run, but with a snap of Malcolm’s long fingers the men that had followed him surrounded her.
“We can do this easily and have it done with quickly, but if you insist on being difficult we can use force, Miss,” Malcolm tutted. “It is your decision.”
With a sneer, Mina observed her surroundings. “Three against one. Don’t you think you’re being a little unfair? I mean I’m just one girl.”
Malcolm tightened his grip around the cane and his mouth stretched into a thin line as he glared at her.
“Do you think this is a game? That I am playing? Rest assured, I am not,” he spat. Turning to the man nearest him, Malcolm nodded in Mina’s direction. “Take it from her. Dump her body along with the other into the river when you’re done.”
A shiver of fear ran down Mina’s spine. Mina was tall, much taller than other girls of nineteen, and incredibly strong as well, though most men still underestimated her. The three men, heedless of her age or gender, obviously were part of that group as well. They stepped closer to her while Malcolm strode across the bridge to watch. Mina put up her hands in a gesture of innocence.
“Hey, why can’t we all just play together nicely?” she asked with an air of naiveté. Seeing that the men weren’t taking orders from anyone but their boss, she shrugged, crouching down into a fighting stance.
Before they could realize what was happening, she kicked out, making contact with one man’s shin and whipped out a fist that connected with another man’s nose, knocking his head back with a snap. The bone crunched under her fingers and the warmth of blood splattered her fist.
The adrenaline coursed through her as she fought. She bounced on the balls of her feet, ready to release another strike. The third man had already recovered from the surprise of her attack and he dodged a punch aimed at his cheek. When he hurled his own punch, Mina managed to grab his arm with both hands and, using his own weight and momentum against him, flung him over the side of the bridge to land in the water below.
By then, the second man was standing, blood pouring from his broken nose. Mina squared off against him, ready for another round of sparring. To her surprise, instead of fighting with his fists, the man reached into his pocket and removed a pistol.
Shocked, the air froze in Mina’s lungs. She tried to run, but the first man grabbed her from behind, trapping her in the gun’s sights. In the seconds before the man shot, she managed to whip her head back. The man holding her let out a screech as the back of her skull collided with his mouth and nose. His grip holding her loosened just enough to allow her to twist out of it.
The gunman, startled by the events, shot at her, but it was wild, missing her by inches. The gunman shot again, trying to aim at a moving target. Mina dipped and swerved and nearly managed to avoid the bullets ricocheting around her. The final bullet hit her as she ran past the men, grazing her arm and releasing a thin stream of blood that she ignored.
“Catch her!” Malcolm screamed behind her at his two remaining men. She turned at the end of the bridge, knelt down and rested a hand on the bricks that made up the structure. With her remaining strength, she forced the middle section of the bridge to collapse, creating a gap that was much too large to simply jump over. The three men were stranded on the opposite side of the river.
Mina cast a glance over at Malcolm. If she hadn’t already suspected that he was able to use magic by the fact that he’d seen through her veil, she would have been convinced by his complete indifference to part of a bridge disappearing in front of his eyes. He regarded her with thinly disguised hatred that caused the hairs on the back of her neck stand. She knew with a certainty that he wouldn’t let the ring go so easily.
Putting a hand to her bleeding arm, she turned and ran.
The library was creepy in the darkness. Mina hid within an alcove by the back door. Her arm had finally stopped bleeding, but sharp knives of pain still alerted her to the wound.
“Damn it,” she whispered, punching a nearby wall. If she closed her eyes she could still see the body. She wasn’t prepared for the situation she found herself in.
She attempted to heal her arm, though she knew it was in vain. She had used too much magic when collapsing the bridge and had barely avoided passing out on the way to the library. Her breathing was heavy, coming out in gasps, and sweat rolled down her cheeks despite the chill in the air.
Giving up on her arm, Mina leaned against the library wall. The alcove was tucked away and any random passersby on a midnight stroll wouldn’t notice her in the shadows. There was no way for her to conjure a veil as weak as she was. The brick was blissfully cool against Mina’s sweat-soaked back as she waited for her heartbeats to slow to a normal rate.
Absently reaching her hand into her pocket, she took out the ring. It looked much the same as before, the chaos and death having had no effect on it the way it had affected Mina. She clutched it tightly.
Unexpected resentment bubbled up within her and she raised her arm to fling the ring far away. Just before she opened her fist, however, she thought better of the rash act. Lowering her hand she decided it would be better to find Darin and give him the ring like he’d wanted all along. Let him deal with Malcolm and all that that entailed and she would take the money they’d agreed upon. Before that could happen, though, she had to find him.
The ring sitting on her open palm looked like any other piece of jewelry a woman might own. An ordinary human wouldn’t be able to sense the magic surrounding it.
As Mina held it, the metal gave off a faint warmth, like it had been left in the summer sun. Without warning the gunshot wound on her arm closed, the gash turning into a scab, the scab fading until it was no more than a slightly pink blemish. Not only that, but her tired muscles felt rejuvenated and she felt energetic again. It was as if she’d slept all night and was just waking up, ready to take on anything.
She couldn’t help but let out a soft laugh of disbelief. In all her years, she’d never heard of an item like the one she was holding. It had to have been priceless. No wonder Darin wanted her to steal it instead of trying to buy it from the previous owner.
Which brought her back to the current problem: where to find Darin. So far she had only ever seen him at the museum so that seemed the best place to start looking. Standing up stretched muscles that a minute ago would have screamed in protest. Mina felt like she could run miles without breaking into a sweat, but she figured it would be best to conserve her newfound vigor until she really needed it.
With single-minded focus she turned north.
As she jogged down the empty street, Mina could feel eyes following her. Goosebumps lined her arms and she resisted the urge to rub them. She looked around, trying to see if someone was hiding nearby. Houses and trees lined the street. From the corner of her eye, she noticed movement. Twisting her neck, she was barely able to perceive a man hidden by a veil.
The veil shimmered, calling to mind heat rising off cement on a hot summer day. Mina had to admit it was a good spell, better than the one she’d cast on the bridge, but she wasn’t about to tell the caster that. Instead, she broke out into a sprint in an attempt to find cover behind a car.
The man had already moved, aiming a large gun at Mina. Just as she reached a nearby car, the man shot and something hit the back of her neck.
Her limbs instantly went numb and she sank to the ground, her world going blurry. She mumbled a curse as she saw the man stand over her, and then her world went black.
The first thing Mina noticed when she woke up was the splitting headache. It felt like the worst hangover in history without the benefit of getting drunk the night before. The second thing she noticed was that she had no idea where she was.
Opening her eyes slowly, she glanced around. She was sitting in a rolling office chair facing a massive conference table and floor to ceiling windows spanned three of the four walls of the room. Her hands were tied together in her lap, her ankles similarly bound. Across from her sat Malcolm, surrounded by men different from those on the bridge, his fingers steepled under his chin.
“Hello again,” he said. He didn’t appear to be angry about what had happened the last time they’d met, but Mina didn’t believe he’d forgiven her. “I assume you know what this does now?” He waved a hand in front of him and there lay the ring on the table.
“What makes you think that?” Mina questioned coyly.
Malcolm picked up the ring and considered it. “This ring is the Ring of Aramanthi, a very old, very powerful object. The funny thing about it is that once it has been used, it latches onto the user and only works for them. I tried to use it once I got it and it refused to work. Since I know you were shot on the bridge, but you appear perfectly fine now, I can only assume it was you who used it.”
Mina shrugged. “Too bad for you, then I guess.”
“Why do you want this?” Malcolm asked, seemingly genuinely curious.
“I was paid to deliver it to a guy, so I’m going to do just that.”
With a bitter laugh, Malcolm stood and made his way to one of the windows. “You are young,” he whispered. His thin body drowned in clothes that had obviously been tailored for a fuller frame. “It is a terrible thing to stare death in the face. I had everything: money, health, control over a successful business.” His voice had become harsh and the lines of his face sharpened into a grimace.
He turned to look at his prisoner. Two Malcolms faced Mina, one in the window’s reflection and the real one.
“I am dying, child, of lung cancer.” As if to prove his point Malcolm reached up and tugged his dark brown hair, pulling it off to reveal his baldness. As he replaced the wig, he continued. “I have the money to buy the best doctors and get any treatment in the world and yet I cannot bribe death. I can use magic to increase my strength for short amounts of time but that’s only temporary. This ring is the only thing that can save me right now. Let a poor old man have this one thing.” The man looked worn out and wretched.
Mina felt terrible, but she was determined not to let her feelings interfere with her plans. She had never failed an assignment yet.
“I already promised to deliver the ring to someone else, and I never break a promise,” she explained.
The poor, downtrodden man disappeared when she finished speaking, to be replaced with the hardened Malcolm Mina had left on the bridge. His eyes went cold and his face contorted in fury.
“You little bitch,” he spat, grabbing the ring from the table. “You will use this blasted ring to heal me.”
Thankful that she hadn’t fallen for Malcolm’s act, she remained defiant. She only had a vague idea of how to make the ring work but she didn’t want Malcolm to know that.
“And if I don’t?” she bluffed.
Mina had never seen such rage before. A vein throbbed at Malcolm’s forehead and he rushed towards her, thrusting the ring in her face. Throughout the conversation the men who had accompanied Malcolm had remained quiet. Now Mina could sense them unconsciously stepping forward, ready to assist Malcolm if needed.
“Heal me or else,” Malcolm said. “I hear you have a little girl you are rather fond of, correct?”
At the mention of Imogen, Mina felt the blood in her face drain away and she gaped at Malcolm who smiled.
“Do not think I was unprepared, Miss Black,” Malcolm said. “I have resources at my disposal you could not imagine. Heal me and your precious Imogen will be fine. Refuse and I cannot guarantee her safety.”
Mina laughed. It wasn’t a happy laugh, but one slightly tinged with insanity. Malcolm, taken aback, watched her. Finally she caught her breath and looked back up at him.
“You just screwed yourself over, you know that?” she taunted. “You shouldn’t have mentioned her name. I won’t let you hurt her. You just gave me all the reason I need to make sure you end the night in the hospital.”
With that she spun the chair, turning her back to Malcolm, and kicked it out from under her, managing to knock Malcolm over in the process. The men scrambled to get to her, but the space between the table and the windows were too cramped to allow them all to get through and they ended up crashing into each other.
Not stopping to witness the pandemonium she had unleashed, Mina reached down to grab the ring, pushed off the end of the table, and, using her shoulder, crashed through the window into the night sky.
The room she’d been trapped in had been on the tenth story. Regretting her hasty decision instantly, she twisted her body like a cat, struggling to reach out her hands to the building. As she touched the metal that surrounded the building, the spell she had cast earlier allowed her hands to stick like glue, but not before gravity had dragged her down several yards and rubbed her hand raw like rope burn.
Mina let out a sigh of relief. Using her bound hands and feet to get down the rest of the way was tricky, but she thankfully didn’t have much of the building left to scale. Before hitting the ground, she cast another veil, just enough to slip past those less observant than Malcolm. Hitting the ground, she found a broken piece of glass from the window above and used it to slice through the ropes around her wrists. Clutching the ring managed to heal the slices the glass had left. The novelty of that still pleased Mina until she remembered that Malcolm had threatened Imogen.
Sprinting away from the building, Mina frantically pulled a small phone from her pocket. She had enchanted the phone long ago to withstand Armageddon and it had managed to survive everything she’d been through over the years. Normally she hated calling anyone except for emergencies, but this moment definitely qualified as an emergency.
Managing to dial while moving, she pressed the phone to her ear, praying Imogen would pick up. After the fourth ring there was a pause and then a childish voice.
“Hello?” Imogen said, sleep coloring her speech.
Mina could imagine Imogen, short blonde hair sticking up in all directions, and wearing her pastel pajamas and carrying the stuffed elephant that she never went without tucked in her arm. Imogen was the complete opposite of Mina, kind and caring where Mina was harsh and closed-off. Mina had found the young girl two years earlier and done everything she could to protect Imogen and give her a decent life.
“Imogen, thank God. Are you okay?” Mina demanded.
“Of course. Why wouldn’t I be? I was sleeping though, Mina. You woke me up.”
“I know I did. I’m sorry,” Mina apologized hastily. “Listen, if you hear anything weird outside, you have to call me immediately. I’m on my way home.”
The panic in her voice must have alerted Imogen that something was very wrong because the next time she spoke she sounded wide awake. “Mina, what’s going on? Is something wrong?” she asked, her voice quivering fearfully.
“No, honey,” Mina lied, trying to sound more confident than she felt. With every step she was getting closer to home, but she felt that any amount of distance was too far. “I’ll be there as soon as I can.”
Then Imogen spoke the words that Mina was dreading. “There’s someone outside the house.”
“Imogen, you have to hide,” Mina tried to tell her, but before she could finish there was a loud bang followed by a sharp crash and a tiny voice screaming. “Imogen!” Mina screamed into the phone. “Imogen? Imogen say something.”
Instead of an answer there was another scream, a thump as Imogen dropped the phone and distantly Mina heard the child screaming her name before the line went dead.
Shoving her phone in her pocket, Mina used her magic to burst into inhuman speed and ran through the streets, heedless of anything but reaching home.
Stepping up to the tiny house, Mina already knew what she would find, or rather what she wouldn’t. The plain, wooden door had been blown off its hinges and lay in the entrance, broken into pieces. Calling out softly as she stepped over the wood, Mina held onto the faint hope that she was wrong, that it had all been a dream and she would wake up like any other day, Imogen bouncing on the bed to make her get up. This hope was dashed however when she walked further through the house and found Imogen’s phone, crushed to pieces.
Mina felt Imogen was too young to have a phone, but because she was gone so much on assignments knew it was good to let Imogen have the ability to contact her when they were apart. Imogen had been so proud when she’d received the phone on her birthday last year. Now it was completely destroyed.
Scowling, her hands shaking in rage, Mina stomped out of the house, determined to get Imogen back before anything happened to her.
Mina stood on the remnants of Moon River Bridge yet again. The serene water reflecting the moonlight had managed to calm her down, to think rationally. The body from before was gone, fallen into the river after the structure’s collapse and washed away though spots of blood still dotted what was left.
Mina plotted how best to proceed. She needed to find Malcolm before he found her but if she went in, guns blazing, Malcolm could have Imogen hurt in retaliation and Mina would never forgive herself. No, stealth was what she needed now.
Having made up her mind, Mina turned only to find herself face to face with one of Malcolm’s henchmen. She recognized him from when she’d been tied up in the meeting room. He appeared only a few years older than her, freshly out of college with dark blonde hair and bright green eyes.
“Can’t you leave me alone for five seconds?” she cried, exasperated.
“Come with me,” the man ordered.
“Hell no,” Mina declared as she darted to the side.
The man, thinking quickly, reached out, grabbing at Mina’s shirt. There was a ripping sound as the fabric around Mina’s neck tore.
“This was my favorite shirt, you jerk,” she spat out.
The man just shrugged, pulling her closer to him. He used one arm to hold her to him and with the other hand he reached into her front pocket.
“You could at least buy me a drink,” Mina quipped.
“Don’t worry,” the man scoffed. “You’re not my type.”
Finally, the man found what he was after and pulled the ring from Mina’s pocket. With the silver band pinched between his fingers, the man shoved Mina away from him. She hit the ground hard on all fours, jarring her joints as she landed.
Mina kicked out a leg like a mule, hitting the man’s kneecap and causing his legs to crumble beneath him. Turning onto her back, she flung out a leg to feint a roundhouse to strike the man’s cheek. When the man’s head whipped to the side, Mina reached out for the ring. He drew his hand close to his chest in a fist.
Growling, Mina pounced on him, pinning his body under her legs. Though Mina was tall, the man was taller and just as strong. He managed to shove her off and in turn pin her to the ground. Without warning, Mina drove her knee between the man’s legs, causing him to release a howl. She pushed him off her, reaching again for the ring. This time, when the man tried to keep the ring out of her grasp, it slipped from his fingers.
The item spiraled past Mina and slid off the side of the bridge into the waters below. The two of them both watched in frozen horror as it disappeared from sight.
“Are you happy now?” Mina demanded as she stood. “Now how am I going to give that ring to the one who made me steal it?”
Her mind was already racing on how to retrieve the ring after rescuing Imogen. Bending over the man who looked close to tears, she grabbed his chin tightly and forced him to look at her.
“Where is Imogen? Where did Malcolm take her?” she questioned.
“Why should I tell you that?” He laughed.
With a devious smile, Mina said, “Malcolm’s taken the only thing I give a damn about. If you don’t tell me, I’ll use magic to make sure you’ll never have any kind of relationship again, male or female,” she bluffed.
The man visibly paled under the threat and blubbered nonsense at her until she shook him roughly. “Just tell me where Malcolm is.”
The man managed to spit out an address and she let him go, turning to head where he’d sent her.
When Mina showed up at the address she’d been given, she faced an empty warehouse. It was in an older part of town where not many people went. Trees surrounded the area where warehouses and buildings stood. Most of the buildings had been abandoned years ago and sat in sad disrepair, keep out signs and boarded windows confronting any visitors.
The one Mina was after was one of the few still used, though the pale blue paint could use a new coat and weeds were cropping up close to the large structure. She stood a bit away, hidden by trees and darkness, studying the building. Tiptoeing around to the back of the building, Mina found a window and peered inside.
Boxes cluttered the room, stacked high against the walls. Malcolm stood in the middle of the warehouse surrounded by another group of his suited men. He was busy talking to one of them and not paying much attention. In the corner, in a rickety chair, Imogen sat looking pale and frightened. Mina had no idea what Malcolm had said or done to her but all Mina wanted to do was make him pay for scaring an innocent child.
While peering in at the warehouse, she spotted a skylight set into the roof. The spell on her hands and feet would only last a while longer. She hoped that would be enough time to do what she was planning.
Placing her hands on the wall in front of her, she climbed like a spider. When she reached the skylight, she was able to melt the glass like she had done at the spinster woman’s home what seemed like ages ago. Having created an opening just big enough for her hand, Mina unlocked the latch, eased open the skylight and slipped her thin body inside. Twisting to make her way down the ceiling and wall, she was able to keep an eye on Malcolm, who continued talking, unaware of what was going on above his head.
When she reached the ground, Mina crouched down in the shadows and, with a finger over her lips, darted over to a wide-eyed Imogen. The ropes binding her were stronger and the knots more complicated than Mina had expected.
“You came for me,” Imogen whispered.
Mina shushed the child before saying, “Of course I did. I wouldn’t let anything happen to you.” Her fingers, usually nimble, stumbled over the knots. She had to force herself to ignore the frustration building up in her the longer she was unable to free the girl.
Behind her, someone deliberately cleared their throat. Turning, she saw Malcolm watching her condescendingly.
“So you did come. Now are you willing to give me the ring?” he asked. Apparently the man she’d fought on the bridge hadn’t had the guts to come back to Malcolm and tell him of his failure.
“I came here to bring Imogen home, that’s it,” Mina said defiantly.
“Very well. Take it from her by force,” Malcolm ordered his men.
The surrounding men leaped into action, rushing at her. She barely dodged as three pairs of fists and legs whirled in her direction. Up, down, back she moved, throwing her own punches when she saw an opportunity. Her heart pounded in her chest.
She raised her leg, kicking one of the men in the chest, knocking him backwards into another man. Glancing behind, she noticed one of them creeping up after her. She turned and, using all the force she had, stomped on his foot with her heel, grabbed his head, and drove her knee into his nose.
One of the men rushed at her. At the last moment, she sidestepped him, throwing out her arm to grab the collar of the man’s jacket. She swung him around, releasing him when he’d gained more momentum. The man smacked into a nearby wall, stunning him.
Mina turned to the third man. He danced around her, wary. He kicked at her stomach, knocking the wind from her. When he threw a punch at her jaw, she forced herself to ignore the pain in her abdomen and ducked, feeling the air move above her head. Leaning back, Mina flipped backwards, using her foot to strike the man’s chin as she moved. With a snap, the man stumbled back, his hand flying to his jaw.
He growled and stomped forward. Instead of waiting for him to come to her, Mina darted headlong at him, bending forward and wrapping her arm around the man’s waist. She pushed the man to the ground, landing next to him. Twisting her fingers in the man’s dark brown hair, she slammed his head into the ground hard. When she was sure he wouldn’t move, she placed two fingers on the side of his neck to check for a pulse. Reassured she hadn’t killed him, she stood. Chest heaving, she spun on her heel, ready to return her attention to Imogen.
“Mina!” Malcolm called. He held Imogen by the arm, lifting her so that she stood on tiptoe, a grimace showing her discomfort. In his other hand he held a knife, long and razor sharp.
Mina froze in place, unable to take her eyes off the blade.
“Give me the ring. Heal me or the girl is dead,” Malcolm said.
Mina felt completely helpless. She raised her hands in front of her. “I don’t have it. It fell in a river.”
“You’re lying.” Malcolm stared at her, skeptical.
“I’m not. I promise.”
The disbelief manifested into confusion, then anger on the man’s face. “You lost it?” he cried. “How could you lose something so important?”
“It was an accident.” She tried to explain what had happened, but he was no longer listening.
With one smooth motion, he drove the blade into Imogen’s side. She screamed in pain and Mina howled, completely powerless.
“How does it feel to watch everything you love slip away?” Malcolm hissed, tossing Imogen’s limp body to the side. There was a thunk as her body hit the hard floor and she whimpered as she landed.
“I’ll kill you!” Mina screamed, launching herself at the man, punching him in the jaw, sensing the magic he was using.
Malcolm put a hand to his mouth. “Not bad, a little more practice and that might have actually hurt.”
“I’ll make you pay,” she hissed. She aimed a punch for his stomach, landing a blow that would have winded anyone else, but only seemed to annoy him.
She kicked out at his legs, but he was able to grab her ankle and fling her to the side to tumble among the boxes. She hit the ground hard, knocking the air from her lungs. Her legs sprawled out in front of her and one arm rested partially in a box. She gripped the cold metal that her hand rested against and threw it at Malcolm’s head.
The thick metal pipe, hit him in the forehead, right between the eyes. She would have laughed at how perfect the throw was, but she didn’t have time to appreciate it just yet. While he was dazed, Mina rushed forward and shoved the man with all the strength she could muster, hurling him into a tall stack of boxes.
Slowly, the top boxes wobbled, gaining momentum, until the whole pile tipped forward dangerously. Once the first box fell, the rest followed, pipes and other metal objects spilling out. Malcolm had just enough time to look up before everything collapsed on top of him, burying him until only his feet were visible, a wicked witch of the Midwest.
Moving to the limp body of Imogen, Mina turned the small form over. Red splashed across Imogen’s t-shirt and tears welled up in Mina’s eyes.
“Mina?” the child asked in a soft voice. Her eyes fluttered open and she gave a half-hearted smile.
“Yeah, it’s me, sweetie,” Mina said, brushing Imogen’s fair hair out of her face. She wrapped her arms around her small body and lifted her, being as gentle as she could. “I’m going to fix things.” She hurried to the entrance of the warehouse.
Mina bent over Moon River, straining to sense the magic of the ring. Imogen lay next to her, face pale and eyes closed. Mina gave a silent prayer and dived into the water.
The river was murky, but she didn’t care. Following the magic, she reached out, feeling along the mud and finding nothing. It wasn’t until her lungs seemed like they were going to burst and she was about to abandon the idea when she touched something hard with her fingertips. Scooping up a handful of mud, she surfaced above the water, gasping in air.
When she washed most of the grime away, the ring lay in her hand, shining as if it had never been covered in mud. Climbing frantically out of the river, she crawled over to Imogen, her breathing having gotten even more labored.
“Please work,” Mina begged as she squeezed the ring tightly over the gaping wound in Imogen’s side. In moments, the ring warmed up and Imogen healed, the color returning to her face and her breathing becoming regular. Mina couldn’t stop the tears of relief when the girl opened her eyes.
“What happened?” Imogen asked.
Instead of answering, Mina picked her up and hugged her tightly, refusing to let go even when Imogen complained.
“I’m so sorry,” Mina sniffled. “I let him hurt you.”
“It’s okay,” Imogen said, patting her on the back. “I’m fine now. Can we just go home?”
“In a minute,” said Mina, leaning back to study Imogen. “I have to drop something off first.” She turned, offering her back to the small child.
Imogen climbed on Mina’s back and together they made their way to the museum where Darin was.
The museum was impressive for the small city. It had been built at the turn of the twentieth century and was two stories tall. The local schools would take field trips to explore the exhibits during the day.
The large double doors, oak, painted red, were locked but Mina’s magic easily took care of opening them. She walked with Imogen to the back of the museum where the artifacts not exhibited to the public were kept.
Darin was cooped up with his artifacts, sitting at a small desk studying papers yellowed with age. There was barely any room on the desk it was so covered with clutter and he was so focused on what he was looking at that he didn’t even realize Mina was standing in front of him until she threw the ring down at him.
“What are you doing here?” he asked pushing a pair of round glasses further up the bridge of his nose. His hair stood up at odd angles and the sweater he wore was unkempt.
“I got your blasted ring. The man you sent to meet me on the bridge is dead, though,” Mina told him harshly. “Next time you have a job you want done, get someone else to be your thief. I’m not willing to be shot at again.”
He looked up at her dumbfounded and asked, “What do you mean dead? What happened?”
“Darin, I’m tired. All I want to do is go home. I’ll tell you the whole story another time,” Mina said.
With one last look at the ring, she turned and walked out with Imogen holding tightly to her hand. She had no doubt that Darin would soon realize the ring was tied to her and when he did, he would call her, but she would deal with that when she needed to. She already had a vague idea of getting the ring back for herself someday. At the moment though, she just wanted to take care of Imogen and rest.
Together they walked toward home.
Brittany Ellis is currently a graduate student of Professional Writing at the University of Oklahoma. She was the first undergrad to graduate with a Professional Writing minor and has been creating fantasy worlds since she was a child.