The burning sun hovered above the crimson horizon. Sand and dust blew up forcing those passing along the large highway to shield their eyes. There was a steady stream of travellers trudging along the crowded road towards one of the many gates into the vast city of Khorosa. Most had wrapped a scarf or veil around their face to keep out the sand. There were also those unused to the harsh conditions, who struggled on, their hands failing to keep most of the biting grains out of their vision. The others in the trudging mass seemed not to notice the suffering of the foreigners. They seemed listless, their only aim in life to trudge forward, answering Khorosa’s call.
One veiled man however, seemed to take pity on a woman sitting astride a tired donkey. She was accompanying her husband on his trade visit to the city and from the whiteness of her skin and hair had evidently come from the north of the Agea where snow rather than sand filled the landscape. Her eyes were running and her cheeks were red from the tears that had coursed down them. She hadn’t been aware of the man pacing beside her, looking up at her in concern. What did catch her attention however, was the scarf being thrust towards her from a handsome young man on the road. He too seemed foreign, for his brooding dark eyes and straw-coloured hair did not belong in this place. Here everyone’s skin, hair and eyes seemed the same colour, that of darkened sand.
Upon receiving the scarf the woman smiled delightedly and accepted, offering a wave of gratitude in her native language. The man, understanding the message nodded once before he pulled his hood over his head and wrapped the folds of material around his face as best as he could. He slipped away from the woman’s side into the crowd and she soon lost sight of the kind young stranger, who had disappeared behind a wall of sand as he fell into step with two men.
The crowds trudged on with greater urgency. Up ahead the enormous gates were looming. They were manned by a dozen guards standing either side of the entrance and several feet above it on a platform. They stood utterly still, yet this made them all the more threatening. Upon their chests golden armour gleamed and none doubted the sharpness of their blades and spears.
As the crowd thronged through the gates the guards watched with eagle-like vision from behind golden masks of armour, scrutinising every soul that entered the city. Those who felt the cold gazes rove over them shivered despite the burning heat of the desert. At last, after passing through the thick walls the crowd found themselves in the sprawling city. The large highway continued on as straight as an arrow and as far as the eye could see. It was in this direction that the masses were continuing. Only a few disappeared down the winding side streets and into the covered markets that lined this enormous road.
The woman on the donkey stared around herself in disbelief as she entered the city. Here the furious sand storms were kept at bay and she let the scarf around her face drop. The air had become decidedly more humid and as it clung to her raw skin a world of new smells enveloped her. Overwhelmed, she lifted the scarf once more to block out the new world that was barricading her senses. Her eyes darted left and right, floundering at all this newness she had been thrust into.
There, she saw him again, the kind stranger. For a moment she nearly called out to him, but thought better of it. He and his two companions seemed in a hurry as they disappeared down a side street their heads hanging. They were desperately fighting the urge to look up, as they would surely give themselves away were they to give in to their curiosity and gaze around at this baffling new place. They were dressed in a similar fashion to the many thousands of locals who had thronged through the gates alongside them and as such were sure no one had spotted them for the imposters they were.
Not a single word had passed between them since joining the main road into the city. They were following a plan and communicated only with slight nods in one another’s direction. All three had memorised the map of this part of the city. They all knew where they were going. Of course, this depended on the information they had gathered being correct.
Despite the wide straight bearing of the main highway stretching far into the distance, these smaller streets wound and twisted into confusion. Large uneven cobblestones made walking difficult and the three men found themselves watching their feet while trying to keep track of the side streets they were passing. A thick smell was getting even thicker as they passed into the heart of a busy bazaar. Everywhere they turned bodies pressed against them, bartering for food and wares. Yet on they walked, immune to the chaos of the market.
A sticky heat was rising the further they pressed into the busy life of the city. Outside the strong walls the air adopted a course dryness that fired against the skin and parched throats. Yet here, in the heart of the heaving city, humidity became the enemy. Thick clothes, which had kept out the biting sand in the desert now kept in a torrent of sweat which was making the three visitors exceedingly uncomfortable in the afternoon heat. This too they ignored.
At last the one at the front slowed and glanced up at a faded street sign. A nod passed between the men and they sidled into the narrow lane unseen by the busy crowds. The men walked in single file, their eyes glancing upwards every now and then to catch sight of the numbers roughly painted or chiselled into the stuccoed house fronts. Halfway along the lane they stopped, hovering amidst the shadows cast by the tall yellow houses.
The tallest of the three stepped across the narrow street, leaving his companions stood in the dark. He looked up at an aged building. The crumbling blue shutters were shut and did not look as though they had been opened in a long time. The whole house an abandoned unloved air to it, yet this was the place he had sent to find. Here he would find the help he needed.
After a furtive glance back to see his companions staring at him the tall man reached out and knocked on the rickety door. For several minutes there was no response and so the man knocked harder this time before pushing his ear up against the worn wood to listen for signs of life in the gloom beyond. Inside faint rustlings caught his attention and somewhere, deep inside, the sounds of someone hurrying down a flight of stairs.
The man pulled back and nodded over his shoulders to his companions. As they crossed the lane the door eased open to a crack and a pair of dark eyes peered out from the gloom. After only a few seconds it was wrenched fully back and the three men quickly slid into the old house to find themselves in a dusty hall. Quickly closing the door after them was a short stocky man who seemed quite shocked to see them.
Before they could speak, this short man urged them to follow him down a creaky staircase into an underground cellar where a well-hidden door concealed a small comfortable looking room. It was the only room in the house that had seemed lived in. Only once the door had been shut did the portly man deem it safe to speak.
“You should not have come,” he exclaimed urgently. His dark watery eyes were staring in fear at the tallest of his three visitors. “This is no place for you. Why are you here?”
The subject of his concern faltered for a moment, before he reached up and lowered his hood revealing a dusty serious face.
“Gallus asked me to come Jago,” the young man explained. At these words the portly man seemed affronted and he shook his head quickly.
“No, no, no. I have been told nothing of this. What reason could his majesty have to send you here of all places? This is not a safe place for you to be Eunus. He cannot know you are here. He must not find you!”
“My brother trusted no one else to come.” Eunus’ words were calm, but in his dark eyes there lay a stolid determination. The short man glanced from the prince’s face to his veiled companions. Respectfully, they lowered their hoods and nodded to him. They had heard a lot about Jago Hild from Eunus on their long journey southwards. He was one of the oldest most experienced spies working for the Green Throne and had served not only Gallus, but his father Thale and grandfather Galen also. For the past thirty years the former merchant from Titua had built a life for himself in Khorosa, where no one suspected his double life. Not even his Farojian wife Dinah and their three children.
Living a treacherous double life within plain sight of Emperor Thayos had turned Jago wary over the years. Indeed, every time Eunus met with the man he seemed exceedingly more eccentric. He had not wanted to seek the spy out, but Gallus had spent many hours persuading his brother to trust the peculiar man if he were to reach the city. If his brother trusted him, then so too could Eunus.
“Why did Gallus not warn me you were coming?” Jago broke the silence, turning his unnerving gaze back on the prince urgently.
“He did not wish to jeopardise our safety Jago. You are right, Thayos cannot find out I am here. Any message that my brother sent might have been intercepted and we would not now stand before you.”
“How can you be so sure that he does not know you are here already?” the short man demanded hotly eliciting a sigh from the prince.
“He does not know.”
“You cannot be sure,” Jago warned darkly. “The emperor knows everything. How long have you been in Faro?”
“He does not know Jago,” Eunus repeated firmly. “He would never allow me to enter this city freely. I would have been captured long ago if he was aware of my presence in Faro.”
Jago inhaled sharply and narrowed his eyes at the young man opposite him.
“Not if he had something else in mind for you…”
“We digress,” Eunus interrupted firmly. He could sense the unease growing in his companions though he could not see their ashen faces. Jago Hild was notoriously paranoid and this could spread like a disease if it were allowed to. “Jago my brother did not warn you of our arrival, yet here we stand. We have endured the heat of the desert for many weeks now and would very much like to trespass on your hospitality.”
The suggestion hung heavily in the stale cellar air for a moment before Jago nodded and bustled towards the door.
“Of course. I know this might not look like much, but this is a safe place I can assure you. You may rest here as long as you please. I will be back momentarily. I trust you are hungry.”
With this the portly man disappeared behind the door. The three travellers heard him drag a heavy piece of furniture in front of the door before his hurried footsteps fading away into the rest of the ramshackle house. They looked to one another for a moment before glancing around the dank room. It housed a very meagre ration of home furnishings and the entrance to a tunnel that had clearly been unused for many years. Eunus led the way towards an assortment of dusty settees where he sat down and after inspecting the settee opposite with a furrowed brow Faran joined him leaving Alric stood by the door.
“We will stay here for the night,” Eunus explained. “We will ask Jago where we might start our search. Hopefully we will not have to remain in the city long.”
“How long do you think it might take Eunus?” Faran asked.
“I am sorry to say that I do not know. I do not know where to start our search. Jago should know.”
“I do not trust him.”
The seated pair looked up to their friend who had not moved from the door. His face seemed troubled, as it had done for many days now. A darkness troubled Alric, one that would not be easily lifted.
“You never trust anyone Alric,” Faran countered light-heartedly.
“I especially do not trust him.”
“Alric,” Eunus spoke gently. “I know he seems a strange fellow, but he has been one of my brother’s most trusted informants for as long as he has reigned. Before him my father and grandfather also laid their trust unwaveringly at his feet. He is peculiar, I grant you that, but he is also the closest thing we have to a friend for a thousand miles or more.”
Alric let out a frustrated sigh before he turned from his friends and started pacing the worn floorboards. Eunus watched him uneasily, wishing more than anything to console his grieving friend. An urgent wave from Faran silenced the sympathy that lay on the tip of the prince’s tongue and instead he leaned back in the settee.
It wasn’t long before the quick footsteps of Jago returned. The men climbed to their feet as the furniture that had been dragged in front of their hiding place was moved. The short man bustled in bearing a large platter balanced in his hands. A jug of wine slopped over the selection of cured meats, cheeses, dried fruits and flatbreads Jago had found in the stock cupboards in the house up above. Eunus quickly rushed forward to help him and together they managed to get the platter to the table without any mishaps.
“I know it is not much,” Jago offered apologetically. “But it is all I could find. Now the wine however, this is very good. They grow excellent grapes on the northern shores of Faro where the heat is not so intense and the hills are visited regularly by rainfall. It is very potent though, so do be careful.”
“You will not join us?” Alric’s gravelly voice came, causing Jago to spin around anxiously and face the man who had spoken so darkly.
“Uh no, no, no I’m afraid I cannot. I ought not even be here. I must return to my stall. I should be closing soon. I only came in for a few minutes to check the pigeons.”
“The pigeons?” Faran asked with a curious smile.
“Oh, Eunus will tell you all about them,” Jago chuckled awkwardly and he removed his gaze from the angry young man at the door. Why did he still stand there so?
“Jago, before you leave, please let me ask your advice. I would very much like to know what I am to do next.” Eunus had reached out a hand that closed around the portly man’s wrist with ease. Jago’s eyes lifted to meet the prince’s and he nodded before pulling his arm away.
“You must of course, first tell me what it is that you are doing here Eunus. Why has Gallus sent you into the heart of Faro of all places?”
Eunus lowered his gaze to the table for a moment and he watched as a beetle slowly crawled towards the overpowering smell of the cured meats.
“Eunus I cannot help you if I do not know why you are here.”
He had stalled too long and so with a determined nod the prince looked up once more at his brother’s informant.
“I am here to find a way to stop a prophecy Jago,” he stated simply. The short man’s eyes narrowed for a moment while his keen mind quickly sorted through a lifetime’s memories to try and remember what prophecy might mean so much to the king of Denari that he should actually send his only brother into the heart of danger to end it. “You do know of it. You were there when it was made.”
Instantly the memory of a gnarled old woman shuffling into a silenced temple sent a shiver down Jago’s spine. Yes, he had been there that day. He knew of the prophecy that Gallus sought so dearly to end.
“What makes your brother so sure you will find a way to end it here of all places?” Jago asked urgently.
“That prophecy may have been foretold by a seer in Titua and the elves may have spoken of it as a curse they have known about for centuries, but my brother feels that this is where it was forged. We both know by who.”
“Coming here, it was an awfully big risk Eunus…”
“One that is surely worth it when you consider what is at stake!” The fire in Eunus’ eyes had returned and the strength in his gaze made Jago turn away from him. Here before him sat a true member of the House of Apollo. Yes, Gallus had developed an overwhelmingly calm persona over a lifetime of hardship and it was this level-headedness that was so respected by millions around the Agea. But Eunus, he was like his father and his father’s father before him. Fire and passion fuelled his existence. Jago had almost forgotten how powerful it could be, to be confronted with such strength of feeling.
“You had better start by seeking out one who goes by the name of Delaiah Vel Ren. She lives in the north of the city beside the Lesser Temple of Aius. Do you know the one?” Eunus, who had spent many long hours studying a map of Faro nodded once. “She hides away in a ramshackle house built right up against the eastern wall of the temple. It bears a green door with a dragon knocker. She will reveal herself to you when she sees who you are.”
“Can we trust her?” For a moment Jago smiled darkly and he shrugged his shoulders slightly.
“My friend, no one can trust her. She sells her soul and her loyalty to Asael in return for immortality.”
Eunus narrowed his eyes for a moment and he pulled back from the short man sharply.
“She is a witch?”
“Aye and a tricky one at that. Be careful when you visit her Eunus. She may betray you, but knowing the nature of the prophecy she is the best place for you to start your search. I hope you find what you are searching for. Do not return to this place again once you have left it.”
With this Jago climbed to his feet and hurried back towards the door, skirting round Alric’s brooding form.
“Jago,” Eunus called out. The man at the door paused and turned to look at him. “Thank you for your help, but please, do not barricade the door when you leave.”
“’Tis for your safety Eunus. You can leave through the tunnel. Should anyone have followed you then they will not…”
“Jago, please do not barricade the door.”
For a moment the portly man hung his head, before he nodded hurriedly and disappeared from sight, closing the door in his wake. Eunus watched him leave and stared at the door darkly, Alric’s words rattling through his mind. As he stared Faran sat down at the table and reached out for the jug of wine. He poured three large glasses and then started on the meats and bread with a ravenous appetite.
“Eunus! Stop staring at that door and you also Alric. If you do not join me then I will eat the lot,” he called to his friends, his mouth full of bread. Accompanied by a deep sigh Alric finally abandoned his vigil at the door and joined Faran at the table. The two men ate in silence until eventually Eunus turned around and served himself a small portion of food.
“What troubles you so prince?” Faran demanded jovially.
“He begins to doubt Jago the same as I do,” Alric stated darkly, drawing Eunus’ uncertain gaze onto his. “Is that not true Eunus?”
“I do not doubt his loyalty, but what he said did concern me.”
“What did he say?” Faran asked with a confused frown.
“Only a fool believes that a witch need answer to the devil Faran,” Eunus replied with a sigh. “Perhaps he has been here too long. He is starting to think like…”
“Like them?” Alric’s sudden anger forced the other two into silence. “We should not stay here Eunus. He is right, we are not safe. Not safe from him!”
“We will leave in the morning Alric, you have my word.”
“And what if the morning is too late?”
Eunus looked away from his friend’s furious eyes. Alric had a right to be angry, but Eunus could not allow him to jeopardise their safety or this mission with his paranoia. They needed to rest and remain as inconspicuous as they could. Sleeping on the streets of the city would soon find them drawing unwanted attention from the ruthless city guards. It was common knowledge that vagrants were treated far from compassionately in the golden city. They had no choice but to stay in the safe house.
“What of these pigeons Jago mentioned? What ever did he mean?”
Eunus looked up to see Faran forcing a curious expression onto his face. The prince smiled at him, silently thanking him for offering him a way out of the unpleasant confrontation he had found himself in.
“Yes the pigeons. They were my grandfather’s idea a very long time ago. He wanted a method of communicating with his spies here in Khorosa that did not rely upon the ether.”
“They can be easily intercepted though surely?” Faran countered with a smile. That the idea had been one of King Galen’s, who had been notoriously eccentric, didn’t come as a surprise.
“Well exactly,” Eunus chuckled. “The spies soon stopped using them, but my grandfather insisted someone still care for them. When my father ascended the throne he got rid of the practice, but it would seem our friend Jago is of the old way of thinking. I hear he admired my grandfather greatly.”
“Can we go and see them?”
“I am sure there is nothing worth seeing, but I do wish to breathe the fresh air before we turn in for the night. Alric will you join us friend?”
Both Eunus and Faran looked to their brooding companion, who merely glanced to them before shaking his head brusquely. He had nothing more to say it would seem and so in the ensuing awkward silence the other two men left by way of the rickety door. The house beyond was dark and filled with the creaks and groans that often accompany old buildings. A mountain of dust seemed to be the only permanent resident the old dwelling contained. It didn’t look as though anyone had lived here in decades. Eunus led the way through the darkness using his control over the ether to guide them to the crumbling stairs that had led them into the cellars.
Up on the ground floor there was a little more light as the burning sunset sent shafts of red and orange light into the silent house. Eunus led the way once more, following a little path that had been carved through the thick ever-present dust. Jago’s footsteps were easy to follow and soon the friends had found their way onto an expansive flat roof that had become the last resting place to all manner of household waste over the years. In and amidst the broken furniture a large well-kept aviary housed a dozen pigeons. Faran eagerly wandered over to peer into the cage leaving Eunus behind. The prince cared not for the birds, but instead his gaze had been caught by a blinding sight in the distance.
It was certainly a rare occurrence, but on this occasion the young man was silenced. Without a word to his friend he walked over to the edge of the roof, his eyes never leaving the horizon. He had heard of it, indeed, everyone had heard of it: the Imperial Palace. Eunus had always listened to the descriptions of Thayos’ palace and dismissed them as fairytales. How could a building sparkle in the sunlight? How could any man acquire so much wealth that he could have an entire palace built from the very best marble and crystal? He had heard of the hundreds of spires, domes and columns and had scoffed at the stories. It was impossible, simply impossible.
He had been wrong.
The Imperial Palace was a terrifying spectacle to behold. Lying in the centre of the city within the old city walls, it was well protected with towering fortified walls wrapping around it tightly. Eunus had never seen such a large or grand building. There was nothing like it, no equivalent, in the northern lands. No wonder the southern nations had crumbled under Thayos’ leadership. His wealth and power knew no bounds.
It wasn’t long before Eunus realised Faran had joined his side. The prince looked around to see his friend’s expression matched his feelings. They remained in silence and instead watched as the sun fell and a thousand torches lit the palace up making it possibly more awe-inspiring than it had been during the sunset.
Night brought with it a pleasing breeze and fearing the humidity of the cellar Eunus sat down upon a rickety old table to enjoy the evening as best as he could. Faran, sensing his friend wanted time to be alone with his thoughts, respectfully returned inside.
“Gallus,” the prince sighed quietly to himself, a wry smile forming on his dusty face. “If you could only see it. I know you will never believe me, but the legends are true. It truly is as disgusting as we imagined it would be.”
Eunus shook his head angrily. His frugal and spartan sensibilities couldn’t help but be offended by this gaudy display that Thayos had made so large no eyes could escape it. Why show off his unseemly wealth when it was a well-known fact to the rest of the Agea that most of the southern populations languished in poverty and starvation? While Thayos’ subjects suffered, their emperor lived in the lap of luxury. Luxury that had been acquired through the pain and misery of millions.
The prince didn’t have long to dwell in his dark reverie. Fast footsteps sounded from the stairwell and quickly Eunus jumped to his feet, his hand flying to the hilt of his sword. Within moments Faran had tumbled out onto the roof once more.
“Alric has gone,” he called out to the prince.
“Gone where?” Eunus demanded.
“I do not know. Gone for a walk I would imagine.”
“We must find him then and make sure he comes to no harm.”
“Find him? Eunus he will come back when he feels he is ready to come back. There is no use in following him and dragging him back while he is grieving. He needs time to mourn his brother and he will resent you if you stand in his way,” Faran warned and he moved to stand in the doorway preventing Eunus from leaving.
“And what if he tries to avenge Wilfrid’s death on the first soldier or watchman he comes across? What then?” The prince paced the rooftop uneasily while at the door his friend smiled.
“Alric is angry Eunus, he is not stupid,” Faran countered calmly. “He will come to no harm. You and I both know that Alric is more than capable of looking after himself. He would not want us to come after him so I suggest you let him return when he feels he is able to.”
“This is madness,” Eunus complained and he turned on heel and strode back to his perch where he sat down, his head resting in his palm. Faran watched him for a few moments before he walked forwards, coming to a halt just short of the prince.
“I know you feel responsible for Wilf’s death,” Faran spoke softly. Eunus continued to hang his head and made no response to show he was listening. “I know you feel it is your fault that Alric is grieving and that now it is your duty to protect him. But you must know that you did not force us to accompany you. We have fought in countless dangerous campaigns at your side Eunus and though it pains me to say it, it was only a matter of time before one of us lost our lives. We live a dangerous existence, one we are proud to serve, but it is dangerous nonetheless. Every time I come away on campaign Sophia sheds a tear, for she believes it will be the last time she sees me in this world. It is not your fault that we chose this path. It is not your fault that Wilfrid died and whatever happens to Alric will not be your fault either. So please, rest easy my friend. I know this is the first night that I have felt safe to do so.”
With this Faran turned on heel and made his way back to the staircase. Behind him Eunus lifted his head and stared out at the gleaming white menace in the distance. He wiped the backs of his fingers against his eyes and exhaled tremulously. Faran was a good friend, but he was wrong.
For hours Eunus sat in the darkness. The pleasing breeze that had offered such comfort had long ago started waning, replaced by the stickiness of a hot and humid night. The sounds of the bustling city had made way for those of a sleeping one and soon Eunus felt alone underneath the stars. Most of the bright constellations seemed familiar to him, but their locations in the sky were all wrong. This only served to remind him how close and yet also how far away from home he had come. Though in truth he had travelled far further from Denari when he had fought in the far eastern campaign in Dahnia and during the northern tribal wars of Andurin and Luthrin, but somehow they had seemed closer to his home nation than this barren landscape and this monstrous city.
Even while it slept Khorosa seeped with menace.
Down below Eunus watched as a series of torches moved down the street. He had seen the occasional passerby wielding a small flame to light the way down the narrow lane, but these torches were larger and far more numerous. Despite his curiosity the prince pulled back and looked back to the staircase. Down below an ominous silence swelled up.
The ether upon Eunus’ skin started crawling and within seconds he was on his feet and had sprinted over to the stairwell. Panic filled him as he flew down the staircases. Once he reached the ground floor the silence outside seemed to have reached fever pitch. Without hesitating the prince continued down until he reached the door concealing the secret room where he found Faran sleeping heavily on one of the lumpy settees.
“Faran!” Eunus shouted the moment he appeared. Without hesitation he dove towards his pack and started hastily gathering up as much food as he could into it. “Wake up Faran! We must leave!”
At these words the sleeping man leapt to his feet, his eyes suddenly extremely awake for one who had been sleeping so restfully.
“Leave?” he stammered. “Why?”
“Do not question me. Gather as much as you can!”
Within moments both men had frantically horded as much as they could into their packs and armed themselves with their weapons. Faran ran towards the tunnel, but Eunus held him back.
“No,” he uttered gruffly. “That is not the way.”
“But Jago said…”
“That is not the way!” the prince repeated forcefully and he ran back the way he had come. Faran scrambled to keep up with him until they reached the ground floor where Eunus suddenly stopped. Both men could hear the hushed foreign voices outside the door. Needlessly the prince held his finger up to his mouth to silence his friend before he led the way across the creaking floorboards to the stairs that would lead them up to the roof.
The ether was in motion and Eunus knew there to be mages outside in the street, sending their minds into the depths of the rickety old dwelling. They had run out of time.
“Run!” he hissed suddenly, forcing his own mind to focus not on the task of scrabbling up the stairs but instead to drift out into the ether to mask their escape. Faran helped him struggle up to the roof while down below the front door exploded. Shouting soldiers filled the hall below and Eunus abandoned his task in order to concentrate better on his feet.
The sticky humidity was a relief to Eunus as he and Faran poured out onto the roof. Down below they could hear the frenzied pursuit of the soldiers and without sparing a moment the two fugitives ran across the flat roof. The houses that had been crammed so closely together they formed a pathway for the two men and without hesitation they sprinted across the roofs, conscious all the while that behind them a mass of soldiers were following their escape.
Eunus, who had left part of his mind in the ether plains, sensed the arrows before they hit and threw himself against Faran, protecting him from the storm of arrows that rained down on them. Eunus bent the ether to his will and deflected the danger onto the rooftops around them. He would not be able to do this for long however, as it required far too much of his concentration and soon they would be captured.
Uneasily the prince manoeuvred himself and Faran over to the edge of the rooftop where he looked over to the street down below. A short distance away a cart of hay offered them a chance to escape the soldiers that were closing in on them.
“Faran throw me over your shoulder and make a run for that cart. I cannot protect us from the arrows and run alongside you,” Eunus ordered over the noise of their shouting pursuers. Immediately Faran obeyed the command and with Eunus flung over his shoulder he scrambled across the flat roofs towards the cart. Eunus kept his eyes firmly sealed, fully concentrating on the arrows that had not abated and the men who were only a few yards from their backs.
In his mind’s eye the rooftop lit up and Eunus desperately searched for something he could use to propel at the men closing in on them. Once more he was in luck when he found a woodpile resting up against the side of a chimneystack. Within seconds the prince had reached out in the ether and the wood planks turned into a series of projectiles that successfully tripped up the pursuing men. Behind them several dozen more snaked across the roof, but by now Faran had reached the edge of the house directly above the cart. Without hesitation he flung himself and Eunus over the edge.
They fell for only a few seconds before the scratchy hay broke their fall. It had been more painful than Eunus had anticipated and for a moment the two men groaned and scrambled ineffectively as they tried to free themselves from the hay bales. After a few seconds the seriousness of their situation drove both men out of the cart and they sprinted down this new lane towards an alley. Behind them the torches of more soldiers loomed.
Eunus led the way down the alley where merchants had inadvertently made their escape tedious by storing their stalls along the narrow passage. Manoeuvring around them was time consuming and all the while the shouts of the soldiers grew louder in their wake. Soon the rainfall of arrows would return.
Quite suddenly the alleyway opened up into a branching of similar aisles. The men had stumbled into a sleeping covered market. Escape seemed suddenly more likely and without hesitating the men threw themselves into the winding alleyways, darting down every new route they came across. The market was a maze of lanes and soon the sounds of the soldiers were a distant nightmare. The urgency never left their feet however, not until they emerged on the other side of the market into a quiet deserted street. Not wanting to draw any unwanted attention to themselves the two men hung their heads and slowed to a walk. The street was similarly ancient and rotting to the lane they had found Jago on. There were many dilapidated houses that would offer adequate cover for the night.
Eunus though, urged Faran on and insisted they walk down several more similar streets until he felt safe enough to dive into one of the abandoned buildings. Just why this area had been left in such a ravaged unwanted state neither man questioned, but they were both exceedingly happy to be away from the street and the soldiers that hunted them.
Eunus insisted they climb to the top of the building where they would spend the night on the roof. The walls were too confining and if they were found once again they would be able to escape with ease. Neither man spoke as they made their way silently through the building until finally they reached the humid night once more. The smell of acrid smoke laced the air and when the two men looked out over the city they could see why. There, in the near distance, a bright orange flume was lifting up into the night sky.
Eunus and Faran looked to one another with wide eyes before they sank down against the low wall bordering the roof, their hands tightly clasping the hilts of their swords. There was no doubt in their minds that their supposed safe house was at the centre of those flames and they the intended casualties.