A small boy in a dirty blue tunic squinted, looking about nervously as the Westerner in the suit and hat lead him through the narrow alleyways of Steelhead Shanghai. The man's white glove held his his grubby little hand gently but firmly. Leather boots splashed through ankle-deep puddles, and the boy did his best to jump over the pools in his sandals. The man waved his cane at the cluster of rats swarming over a pile of garbage, dispersing them as they passed.
He spoke in a halting Mandarin, the tones slightly off. "Is this near your home?" He pointed with his cane. "That way? Maybe that way?"
"You! Stop there!"
The pair froze in place as three burly men in black silk stood shoulder to shoulder, blocking their way.
"You think you can steal our children?"
He stammered "Nyet..." as he looked behind him to see another squad of men blocking the way they came "No! He was lost! I was bringing him back!"
Knives and cleavers glimmered in the trace of moonlight that leaked through from between the crumbling buildings.
"How much money," the man said in a louder tone, "how much?"
They only chuckled. "The tong doesn't take money from scum like you! Give us the boy!"
"So you can ransom him?" He raised his defensively, and beckoned with his other hand in a gesture he knew they would find offensive. "I think not."
The tong surged towards him from both sides. The man pushed the boy against the wall before he slammed the hook of his cane down on the first man's wrist, twisting his arm and making him scream in pain and drop his blade. He then snapped the cane back down and jabbed the hook of his cane between the leader's eyes, just as he planted his boot squarely in the chest of the man charging him from behind. The other two thugs in back pressed themselves to the walls as the thug fell backwards into a murky puddle.
As the ring leader collapsed, his two assistants grabbed him under his arms before he could sink in the alley filth. The tong lurched backwards instinctively as they heard the ring of steel being drawn from the length of the cane. The gentleman kept the tip of his sword-cane leveled at the eyes of the criminals in front, and cast a quick glance backwards at the other two still standing, waving the shaft of his cane threateningly.
"You fight like a monk! But you won't leave here alive! There's no way out of here!"
"You're right...no where else to go..."
White wings unfurled through slits in the man's jacket. The darkness of the alley was shattered by a brilliant white light. Rats screeched and fled as the thugs covered their eyes.
The boy, unlike the members of the tong, did not look away. He stared, mouth agape, and brushed his hand lightly along the white feathers.
The tong retreated around the corners and into the safety of the darkness they knew.
"Do you see your home, child?"
The boy pointed forwards. "Yes! Just like day! Four doors down on the right!" He ran ahead, the winged man following steadily behind as he sheathed his blade back in his cane. The boy pounded on the door. "Mama!"
The tattered door swung open on protesting rusted hinges as the woman rushed to scoop him up in his arms. She shut her eyes tight, stunned from the unexpected light. The boy tried to bow as best he could while being squeezed by his mother.
"Thank you Mister Angel! Thank you!"
The boy craned his neck upwards as he watched the winged man hoist himself to a fire escape, leap across to another other and clamber to the rooftop.
"You are welcome!" He shouted. "Do not get lost again!"
After a momentary snap of flapping wings, the slums were again enveloped in darkness, but the excited chatter of the residents quickly rose and spread to every corner.