By the time they had been in the gang for a month, all three were in the top twenty of the most reliable members. They were valued, and while not universally liked, were very much respected. After what happened to Damien, no one wanted to get on the wrong side of Laurence’s strong arms.
Days trickled by, and they began rising in the ranks quickly, turning heads but making a few enemies in the process. Yun was unaffected, but occasionally someone would grass Laurence or Louisa to the Bobbies and they would have to quickly escape from groups hunting them. The presence of some kind of police force was much lower in the desolate strip than the majority of Spirit, but there were still men and women who were in the employ of Robert Anvale in the area.
Calling the Bobbies on a job was the simplest way for someone to attack the value of a person within the gang without either attracting their attention or their ire. Often the ‘hit squad’ that would be sent to deal with gangs of thieves was comprised of people who could even take on Saints, despite being of Earthen rank themselves. They achieved this through a combination of extremely precise teamwork and an affluence in the Dominus clans Break Talismans. A Break Talisman was a key tool for anyone in combat. Looking like simple pieces of paper, they contained the aura of a peak person of the tool’s equivalent tier. This aura could do one of three things depending on the will of the original maker; they could bind a target to a location, stun and befuddle a target, or shatter a construct made of mana.
These talismans were extremely effective, because they ignored the skill or strength of their target and the talismans themselves increased effectiveness multiplicatively. They could be applied at a distance as long as you could see the target, and did not wane in power over distance at all. Their only real weakness was that, like all talismans, they were single use. Once they had run their course or were overwhelmed they would turn to dust.
It was precisely these talismans that Laurence and his friends began encountering six months into their tenure in Spring Street. They had fast become valued members of the gang, by bringing in consistently large scores as a team of four. By their third month Laurence, Jim, Yun and Louisa had all been upgraded to solo rooms, which turned a few heads, and made the displaced gang members disgruntled. People snitching on their claimed ground increased dramatically, and almost every single job they staked a claim to in the gang main hall was covered with Bobbies by the time they arrived.
It got to the point where they would stake four targets per job and they could only hope for the best that the person or people who were snitching would pick the wrong target. They got lucky for three straight months, but eventually they rolled snake eyes.
They were attempting to break into a vault that had long been considered unbreakable, a single room covered from roof to floor in arrays that all covered each other. If someone attempted to sever a single seal then they would immediately trigger the rest of the arrays, which in turn would force them away and repair the broken array. It was a process that many would have failed, but Laurence thought that there should be a way in without having to break any of the arrays. He did not get the chance to test his theory, however, as the moment he worked out the first step to opening the room he heard a voice echo into the building.
“Law the Young! We, the good men of Sir Robert Anvale’s policing force, have you surrounded. Please give up, else we will be forced to employ talismanic effects”.
Laurence lowered his hands, separating them from the streams of mana that controlled the arrays in front of him. He sighed. The last six months had changed Laurence. He was taller, a lot more people savvy and that knife-like edge he had was safely sheathed behind a façade of friendliness. It was not just his person that had changed either, his skill at making arrays had leapt a level. Unfortunately he had reached a bottleneck within his cultivation path.
He had now spent two years learning from the Book of Creation, he had reached and understood everything he could from the book, but the simple fact of the matter was that he was stuck. Not a single one of the ninety-nine Myriad Manifestations seemed to fit the bill for him, but he needed to make a Manifestation to ascend to Heaven. It was impossible otherwise.
So here he stood, a peak Saint, his team near him and the Bobbies surrounding them outside. He frowned, quickly popping a few Iksara Seeds into his mouth. Iksara Seeds were a relatively common produce for apothecaries as the plant thinned the blood. The seeds themselves had the added bonus of speeding up cognition to almost double the normal pace that it ran at. For the minute or so that it was active in the body a person would think with the speed of a god.
Laurence looked out the window of the building and then decided on his plan of attack. “Guys, I’m the one they want. They don’t want you as much, so I will draw them away. I should be fine, but I will need to punch through the thickest part to draw them away”.
“Brother, that’s insane,” said Yun. The boy was still of equal height with Laurence, despite their difference in effective ages. At over a meter and a quarter he was beginning to loom over Louisa, who had not grown at all in the time. Jim was the same height as both the other boys, his year not appearing to give him much advantage in that regard.
“I agree with Yun. If we all push through the weakest point of the barricade, then we should be able to get out easily. We’re three Saints and an Earth challenger. It’s not like they can stop us”. Jim was often the voice of reason in the group. Where Laurence was intelligent, Jim was wise. He could think up ten reasons why any of Laurence’s plans needed to be curtailed within moments, but he would never outright say that any idea was wrong. It just was not the way he worked.
“Not this time”. Laurence pointed at the more dense part of the perimeter, then at the men on the nearby roofs. “Look, the Bobbies are two thick over there, and the men up there are ready to jump down at a moment’s notice. If I dash out and punch through there, then there is a chance I could get away. If we go through the weaker point then the guys up high will target us as well and there will be two losses. Likely you, Jim, and you, Yun. Louisa is simply too hard to hit when she doesn’t want to be”.
Yun growled, but said nothing. “Fine, Law,” said Jim, “but if you’re caught… You better not say anything about the gang. Orwell would have a fit, and whomever is snitching will have a field day”.
“Trust me”. Laurence smiled a wan smile as blood began dripping from his nose. He swore. “Damn, backlash”. Stemming the bleeding with some mana, he looked at his friends. “Okay, as soon as they focus on me, just run in the opposite direction”.
Laurence moved to the window near the front of the building as the rest of his team moved to one near the back. He wiped the blood off his face and then raised his left hand. Releasing a rope of light out into the crowd, he managed to latch onto a bobby with ease. The young man looked at the beam of light that wounds around him in a confused manner before he was jolted off his feet, towards Laurence’s window. He yelled out in shock as he closed on the window before it shattered and a young boy used the man as a springboard for diving into the crowd below. There was a sickening crunch when the boy’s feet hit the ribs of the airborne man, and then another as he landed on the shoulders of the nearest bobby.
Laurence was like a whirlwind of broken bones and torn flesh as he passed through the crowd before him. He did not aim to kill, as he knew they took great offence at that, but instead he maimed as many men as he could before the talismans began landing. Step by step he pressed through the crowd until finally he broke through, which turned out to be more of a curse than a blessing.
While Laurence was tall for his age, he was not tall in general. He was an eight year old boy, and stood at about two thirds of the height of an adult. For that reason, he had been mostly hidden by the crowd of flesh that had surrounded him, and for the same reason, the Break Talismans began training down on him thick and fast the moment he came into sight.
The first talisman was nothing to the boy. They were earth rank talismans, and while they could knock out an elephant, they were simply not enough to deal with a Saint like Laurence. The second hit and he brushed it off, as he did with the third, fourth and fifth. Then the sixth landed and it sent a jolt through his body. The Bobbies had cottoned on and had begun to use Saint level talismans.
The next wave came thick and fast, with Laurence ignoring the wave of three, but the fifth Talisman knocked him down. He was having to use more and more mana to dispel the effects of each talisman, to the point where he had drained half his reservoir in around a second. He stood and pushed on, he had to give the rest time to escape. He said he would, and would stick to his promises, no matter the cost.
The next three talismans did not knock him down again, but did obliterate his eyesight. A white flash concealed the world around the boy, but his truesight could still see his surroundings. He could see that Yun and the rest were clear of the barricade, and that there was only one bobby following them. They were free.
He smiled as he felt the next eight talismans lock him down for good, paralysing everything but his vital functions. Laurence lay there, occasionally twitching and making a gurgling sound, but even his vocal cords had been locked in place by the near twenty Break Talismans used on him. Gross. He thought to himself. I’m peeing. An unfortunate effect of the body-locking spasms that he was having was that he lost control of his bladder. Well it could always be worse.
The men, rather professionally, moved in and placed a talisman on him to make sure that the binding persisted, then they picked him up and moved him off, a couple of people kicking him for the sake of their injured comrades. As Laurence was carried off, he just hoped this would not take too long.