The Little Old Ladies

One night you go out on a run and things go wrong, as wrong as it’s possible to go. You get left behind, marooned in the middle of the worst district in the state, out of ammunition and simples, with six different gangs fighting a war in the street over who gets to claim you. Medicos are big business; you’re worth at least your weight in gold to whoever grabs you. Around dawn the fires die down and the survivors come for you, ring you about and put the whammy on you faster than you can think. You don’t even have time to scream.

They cart you off to the gang leader, an old woman, ancient as the seven hills that support the city, seamed and withered and reeking, and lock you in the room with her. You know you should say something, but you’re terrified, teeth knocking against each other like bumper cars, so you just sit there and shake. She walks around you and pokes at you with her stick, and the witchcraft rolls off her in waves. You make the cross and she laughs at you. God, she says, pfui, we are old friends. She tells you that you can go if you’ll agree to be her apprentice. You’ve impressed her somehow, she sees something in you that says you could be her successor if you wanted to, but there’s a price, your life for your freedom. It’s a symbolic gesture, but it means never seeing your friends again, or your family; you have to renounce everything. You don’t have much of a choice, and anyway it’s not that high of a price to pay. Your only friends are people from the job you quit and your parents died years ago and weren’t that fond of you in the first place.