by D. G. D. Davidson

Her name was Mademoiselle Anne Defoy, but to the criminals of Godtown, she was the Ragamuffin, or “Rags” for short. By day she was a fourth grader at Valhalla Primary, but by night she was the temple city’s most feared preadolescent dispenser of vigilante justice.

It was midnight and Rags was chasing her quarry across Godtown’s rooftops. With little light except from the red-tinged clouds hanging low over the blasted high-rises, expansive slums, and towering temples, she leapt nimbly from pinnacle to spire, steeple to minaret, dome to balcony in the closely packed Old Quarter, her white sneakers squeaking whenever she landed. She had no fear of losing her quarry: Muffin, her dragondog, was with her, and once Muffin had a scent, no one could escape him.

Rags jumped onto the marble shikhara of the enormous Khanak Bhavan Temple and stood balanced on its tip, her voluminous pink dress fluttering in the cool night wind. Muffin landed beneath her and prevented himself from slipping by gripping his claws around a carved relief of Rama and Sita.

“His smell is faint,” Muffin grunted, “but it’s coming from the east.”

Rags’s catlike ears prickled. The word “east” held dark connotations for her, reminding her of that day years ago when as a mere kindergartner she was crucified atop Meru, transformed by a twisted combination of Ayurvedic medicine and mad science into what she now was.

Muffin sniffed. “No . . . he’s headed southwest toward the refinery.”

“Let’s go,” Rags said.

They jumped out of the temple complex and over two low tenements. Several more bounds brought them into the circle of ghastly light surrounding the Kimmel Refinery, a grisly maze of steam-belching pipes and throbbing machinery. Its lone stack stretched into the sky and blazed with fire like a blasphemous finger raised against the gods. Here, the Elysians desecrated the heavenly Tuaoi Stones in order to feed them to the beastly, demon-possessed mecha that had made them masters of the world at the price of their souls. And here, in this fragment of hell thrust up into the holy city, atop a globe-like storage tank, Rags and Muffin landed before a glum-looking Kaaliya Bhatnagar.

Most of the thugs Rags and Muffin hunted down were Elysian expatriates, but Kaaliya was a local. A heavy who hired himself out to minor crime bosses, he was trained in the martial arts taught in Godtown’s temples, but he was human, and Rags–only half human herself–had yet to meet a human who could equal her in combat.

“End o’ th’ road, Kaaliya,” Rags said.

“I told you, Ragamuffin, I didn’t do it!”

“You were with ‘Iron’ Lung Shi-yu when ‘e kidnapped the Jagdish kumari and pulled Heaven Seed from ‘er brain,” Rags answered.

Kaaliya backed down the tank’s narrow walkway, dripping sweat. “I don’t work for Iron Lung, and I never extract Heaven Seed! My rule’s no women, no kids, and definitely no hybrids–“

Rags reached under the large bow on her back and drew her dual Jericho 941 handguns. “I hate liars,” she said, and opened fire. Kaaliya staggered as each bullet struck one of the hundred and eight Sastravidya pressure points on his body. Rags used rubber bullets; they hurt–a lot–but to someone skilled in the mystical martial arts, they could do no lasting damage.

After Kaaliya weakened, Rags holstered the guns and rushed in to fight hand-to-hand. Kaaliya entered a mantis stance. Rags moved into a leopard crouch. They began exchanging blows. Kaaliya proved strong and quick, but Rags, though only ten years old, had a freakish advantage: she could manipulate the vital prana circulating through her nadis, making herself hard as stone. As she fought, her spiritual eye opened, she was one with Brahman, and the little girl fell away; there remained only a knot of infinity, an instrument of the unrelenting wheel of vengeance.

She also had Muffin. When the dragondog bared his teeth and entered the fray, Kaaliya’s nervousness became terror and his attacks became wild. Rags and Muffin were perfectly coordinated: they were more than dog and mistress, or even closest friends; the two became one, bound by the oath they had sworn in their blood.

Kaaliya screamed as he threw his misdirected punches. He saw a white blur, and then Rags’s left sneaker got intimate with his face. The world tilted and he found himself face down on the grating. He rose to his knees, then his feet. He had one choice left. Wiping blood from his mouth, he spat, “You don’t understand anything! Do you know what they do to seed-suckers in the prisons?” He stepped back toward the walkway’s edge. “I’m not going to prison.”

He tipped backwards. Rags activated her Pyara Force, the magic innate in all hybrids. She could feel the Heaven Seed gland in her skull squeeze tight, and pressure rippled across her body as space-time warped. She reached a hand toward Kaaliya and opened her mouth to command him to stop–

Inertia won over magic. Rags and Muffin ran to the edge, but a glance downward made clear that Kaaliya was beyond help: a Sastravidya master can take a lot of punishment, but he can’t survive a five-story head-first drop onto concrete.

A voice called out, “Miss Anne!” A handsome man in a black trench coat sailed out of the gloom and alighted on the walkway. It was Rags’s mentor, the pediatrician and part-time vigilante, Dr. Gabriele Darcangelo. “I’ve been looking everywhere for you. My informants in Southside told me Kaaliya was doing a minor job in Chetak Circle when the Jagdish–“

“Already got ‘im,” Rags interrupted. “I couldn’t save ‘im, but he won’t hurt no more little girls.”

Darcangelo doffed his fedora and pushed a lock of black hair out of his eyes. “Oh, Miss Anne,” he sighed, “he had an air-tight alibi. Kaaliya Bhatnagar was innocent.”

 ————————————–

D. G. D. Davidson is a Catholic science fiction writer and archaeologist who currently roves around the Midwest.  He is the author of “Dragonsaint,” which appeared in volume 4 of MindFlights.  He is at work on a Rag & Muffin novel, and he blogs at www.scificatholic.com.

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