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Dyritican Annals - The Book of Kings: Marked

By writerscompass All Rights Reserved ©

Adventure / Fantasy

Chapter 8

“But Devon didn’t Graduate, Sir. He disappeared after Finals.” The man behind the desk gave a sour look to the Battlemaster.

“Oh, how typical. Good guy, bad guy. Typical story.”

“I did manage to find him.” This seemed to interest the man. “It’s funny though. He’s happily married now; lives a quiet farmer’s life with three lovely daughters and a becoming wife. When I spoke with him he seemed quite agreeable.”

“Go on.”

“His name was never called, you see. The judges didn’t think he was quite Knight material. You must not only be good at what you do but you must have the heart for it and it simply wasn’t in him. He didn’t play fairly and therefore was disqualified.”

“I am aware of the requirements of a Knight, ol’ boy.” The man replied gruffly.

“Yes, of course. Unfortunately Devon refused to speak of our Legend. One account that might interest you is the account of Knight Kale, Sir, a very good friend of Bace.” The Battlemaster pleaded.

“Perhaps another time. You have used up your time, I’m not afraid to say, and I have prior arrangements I must attend to.” The man behind the desk stood, still shrouded in shadow and walked from the room. The master looked down at the stack of testimonies still in his arms.

“We’ll find you yet, Bace.” He said.

Bace had been through unimaginable things in his short lifetime. He had almost died on nearly eight occasions. He had been trapped inside a burning building, been pierced by two arrows in the chest and stomach, almost drowned close to three times and that was only the beginning. The Academy had been a hard eleven years but now it laid hundreds of leagues behind him and he was more terrified than he had ever been in his life. His gelding tossed its head excitedly as it stared at the ocean for the first time. The same shore Bace knew too well. He was home and all he wanted to do was turn and run. He could live with that. He stopped his horse as they crested the hill to the small village on the shore below. He started to turn his mount away but the well-muscled animal stamped and pushed forward.

Bace leaned back in the saddle as they started their descent into the foggy crater. They followed a path packed deep into the ground by cattle until he found the same road he used to take to town every day as a child. He recognized the sturdy, well-worn track that led to his house even through the dense fog. Taunt leapt forward excitedly when he spotted an old draft horse. Bace recognized the draft and smiled as it greeted them. As they drew closer they snorted and tossed their heads happily. Bace jumped down from the saddle and stroked the draft’s nose. She was nearly ten when he left as a child and he could tell she was well worn. A low light suddenly flickered as the door opened and Bace turned as a small voice rang out.

“Hello, who’s out there?” Bace immediately recognized the voice. He stepped forward slowly and released the reins. His legs were shaking. He steadied them and stepped forward again; forgetting about the fog and not realizing his mum wouldn’t be able to see his face. “Wait, stop. Who are you?” She asked and drew further inside.

“Wait.” Bace managed to say. Though his voice was barely audible the door opened slightly. He finally stepped into the light and saw his mother looking at him, trying to recognize the face. Bace swallowed. His mother was still more beautiful than ever.

“Who are you and what do you want?” She asked. Bace looked past her, seeing the familiar kitchen and warm fireplace. His mother saw where his gaze was headed so she quickly stepped out and closed the door. Like a mother bear she stepped forward but Bace could see the fear in her eyes. “Well? If it’s my house and belongings you want, you can’t have them.” She said. Bace wasn’t breathing.

“You don’t recognize me.” He finally said and the woman held the lamp out and scanned him. A flame of recognition lit up her eyes suddenly and then they became cloudy with tears. She shook her head.

“Mum, it’s me.” Bace whispered. Her hand flew to her mouth as the tears started down her cheeks. She breathed in shakily and lowered her hand.

“Bazil?” She said quietly. Bace broke her gaze, afraid of what her reaction might be. He glanced up again as she set the lantern on the ground and stepped forward. Before he could say anything more he felt the warm embrace of his mother wrap around him. He tensed, not sure what to do but as his mother wept into his chest he slowly lowered his arms. His legs went numb as he caught his breath and finally returned the embrace. The woman, who thought she’d never see her son again, felt the powerful arms wrap around her and she too felt warm tears soak into her hair.

“Your father would have come right away, had he known.” His mother said as she poured him a warm cup of coffee. Bace took the mug and thanked her. “Especially now that you’re a Knight. I wish he could be here. He’s out at sea for weeks at a time now, ready for anyone who will hire him. May I see it?” She asked, pointing to the insignia on Bace’s chest. He unclipped it and passed it to her. She scanned every inch of it and then leaned across the counter to clip it to his chest again. He tried to smile but she could tell that something was on his mind.

“I have to leave tomorrow.” He suddenly said. His mother nodded slowly.

“I understand.” She said sadly and drew away. “Your father will never believe me.” She said.

“Here.” Bace dug the banner he had also been given and handed it to his mum. “Keep it and show it to- dad.” He stumbled quietly, still getting used to the words. She took it gently and smiled down at it. Tears filled her eyes again. She set it on the table and smoothed it flat then looked up.

“So, are you going to tell me all about your adventures? Do you have a girl?”

Bace woke early but was surprised to see breakfast already on the table. He sat down and smiled at his mother. She joined him and they ate quietly together. Neither spoke until Bace stood outside. He mounted but felt the saddle bags pressing in on him. He opened one and was hit with the aroma of dried fruits, nuts, and fresh bread. His mother smiled up at him and took his hand.

“You take care now and visit whenever you can.” She said.

“I’ll send word as soon as I’m on my way. I live about a week’s ride from here.” He said quietly and then his mother stepped back. He kicked Taunt into a smooth canter but they were only a few strides away when he heard his mother call out. He turned and she pulled her shawl tighter around her as it caught in the wind. She ran forward. Bace dismounted but his mother had reached him by the time his feet hit the ground.

“You have a sister.” She was breathing hard as she spoke over the wind. Bace stared back, astounded. “I was already pregnant with her when you left. She’s nearly eleven now. She works with her father on the waters. She loves it.” The older woman looked up at her son. Height did not run in the family. She couldn’t tell what he was thinking.

“What’s her name?” He asked.

“Paige.” Bace broke her gaze and watched the waves roll in. He looked back at her and nodded. “I didn’t know how to tell you.” The woman watched her son carefully. She noticed a shift in his eyes and knew what was coming.

“Mum-” He began but she interrupted him and placed her hands on his cheeks.

“You were forgiven a long time ago.”

Bace ate up the distance quickly between his home and Gail and entered the city only a week later. Gail was a hardy city and the people were generous and proud of their Knights. Bace had been offered many positions in different cites but none provided the feeling of home like living a walk away for Kale and Stephen. He liked Gail and didn’t find it practical to move to a city he wasn’t familiar with. After being given a two week leave to visit family he was then required to return and start his new life as a Keeper; the first level of Knighthood where he enforced basic street laws.

Bace was left to his own devices, other than reporting in at the beginning and end of the day. They were all expected to apply their own weapons to their service and in return they were given food and a small house to live in. Bace had been assigned to a small brick building right along the river that ran to the Quay at the other end of town. He was pleased with the initial look of the building but couldn’t count the number of repairs it needed on two hands. Other than holes in the thatched roof, cracks in the walls, and smashed windows Bace was happy to see that the structure was well built and he was proud to have his own space for the first time. He walked his mount into the building and turned him into the stall next to the door. The floor boards were cut off along the stall barriers leaving bare ground for its inhabitant to live on.

“You get to sleep with me.” He said quietly as he pulled the saddle off and into his room across the hall. He threw it on the bed and then roped off the stall door. The other half of the building hosted a small kitchen at the front with a table separating a small couch and a stove at the back of the house. He turned to his horse.

“Not a lot to graze on, is there?” He said quietly and dug an apple from his pocket. Taunt grabbed it quickly and then ate it at the other end of the stall so his Master couldn’t take it away. The loft above the stall had been filled with fresh hay so Bace climbed the ladder and threw some down. Taunt tossed his head and started munching happily. After climbing down Bace returned to his room and placed everything his mother had packed on his bed. He was interrupted as Taunt started vigorously pawing the ground.

“Relax, we have until tomorrow.” He said but then felt rather than heard someone enter the building. He straightened and fisted his dagger as he walked from the room. Kale jumped back, holding up his hands in a signal of surrender.

“Easy there.” Bace lowered the blade and tossed it back on the bed behind him.

“What are you doing here? I thought you were heading home.” Bace asked.

“I guess I changed my mind.” Kale shrugged and looked around the room.

“I’m surprised you found the place.”

“I just looked for the ugliest place in town.” Kale replied and Bace slapped him in the gut as he walked into the kitchen.

“I was just about to make some coffee.” He said.

“Oh no, not for me. I just wanted to pop in a bit. My landlady has me running a few errands for her.” Bace sensed something in Kale’s voice. He glanced at him. “What?” Kale asked. Bace looked away.

“You seem a little off.” Bace replied.

“Yeah, well I haven’t been sleeping very well lately. My landlady is kind of- different and I’m pretty sure she’s planning something.” Bace glanced over and tried to hide a grin.

“Guess you better get going then. Wouldn’t want to upset her.” Bace looked up again but Kale was gone. He looked over at Taunt who seemed to shrug back.

Kale rode away quickly and glanced down at the list. As the streets became more crowded he tied off his horse and started down the street on foot. The first few items were an assortment of fruit. He started for the fruit stand and the owner eyed him up as he approached. Kale took the bag offered to him and started filling the order.

“Five oranges, four apples, four pound of grapes.” He mumbled to himself and then sealed off the ties at the top. He paid the owner and then turned. If he hadn’t been looking down at the list Kale probably could have avoided colliding with a small figure rushing past him. He felt a shoulder hit his gut so he lowered the list from his gaze. He lowered a hand but felt his breath catch in his throat as small fingers slid into his. He pulled up a young woman about his age and watched her dust herself off.

“Wow, you’re like a brick.” She giggled. Kale stared blankly with his mouth open. “Well, see ya.” She waved slightly and then turned into the crowd. Kale looked down at the list again but found that he no longer had it in his grasp. He quickly scanned the ground, patted his pockets, and then ran for his horse.

“And then you dropped the list.” Bace was saying to him a few minutes later. Kale had just finished telling him everything that had happened and was now sucking back a cup of cold coffee. Kale nodded and then looked at the sack of fruit.

“She’s gonna kill me.” He hung his head as Bace walked him to the door.

“Take care, Kale.” He said as Kale mounted. Bace handed the fruit sack up and then watched him ride away. When he entered his house again Taunt was watching. Bace noticed his gaze and stopped what he was doing.

“Don’t look at me. I’m not finding his girl.”

Kale came bursting through the door the moment Bace had his blanket pulled up to his chin. He rolled out of bed and entered the hall. Kale was panting.

“Did you run here?” Bace asked. Kale bent over, trying to catch his breath. “You know, most people might find it more appropriate if you would knock.” He said calmly. Kale straightened, still panting.

“Sorry, I didn’t know you’d be in bed already.” Bace walked into the kitchen and placed the kettle on top of the stove.

“Coffee?” He asked. When he turned, Kale was already sitting at the table. “Kale?” The young man looked up from with his eyebrows raised. “Coffee?” He asked again.

“Oh, sure.”

“Something wrong?” Bace asked as he grabbed something for Kale to eat.

“No, I just wanted to visit.”

“That’s the third time today.” Bace joined Kale across the table and set a biscuit before his friend. Kale pursued his original statement.

“I’m fine.” He said shortly. Bace raised an eyebrow.

“Okay.” Bace shrugged and then stood to check on the kettle. He could feel the floor quivering as Kale’s leg shook. It didn’t take long for the kettle to warm so Bace soon had a cup ready for his company. He sat down again and slid the mug across the table to where Kale sat. Kale drank and then shoved a biscuit to the back of his throat. Bace watched with a strange expression on his face; he knew it would only be a matter of time.

“This is good coffee.” He took another sip and then stood. Bace didn’t move from his seat. “Well, I guess I should be going.”

“Sit down.” Bace said quietly.

“What?” Kale asked.

“Sit down.” A little more forcefully. Kale sat slowly and waited for Bace to speak. The bearded man leaned forward on the table. “You going to tell me what’s going on?” Kale looked down and wrapped his hands around his mug, placing it between them. “Kale.” He only needed one more word.

“I’m leaving tomorrow, Bace. My mother insists I come home.” He said and it appeared that a large weight was lifted from his shoulders. His legs stopped shaking. Bace leaned back wearily and then stood.

“When does your ship leave?” He asked.

“Tomorrow morning at first light.” He stood with Bace and together they walked to the door. Bace opened it and walked them outside. Kale held out his hand and Bace clasped it loudly. They drew each other in and briefly embraced. Kale stepped away and started backing down the street.

“Take care, Bace.” He smiled lightly. Bace nodded and watched him turn and disappear down the street. After watching for another minute Bace turned inside. He shut the door and stared down the open hallway. The small space suddenly felt very lonely and the emptiness stole the long hours of sleep Bace had been hoping for that night.

The woman was cunning but she was had taken to a definite routine. Bace had been following her and studying her movement for two weeks already. His Battlemaster had assigned the task to him specifically to break him in. It wasn’t easy, but Bace felt up for the challenge. He hadn’t gone unnoticed at the Academy and many Battlemaster’s had wanted him on their team. He had a few master’s swarm him on the streets after Graduation offering him a job. After consulting with his Headmaster, they chose one together and Bace was quite pleased with his choice.

Battlemaster Scott was well liked among City officials. He was nearing fifty but you couldn’t have guessed by looking at him. He was fit and his experience gave him an air of confidence Bace could only hope to have one day. His gate was easy and he treated each of his Knights as if they were his own kin. Under his command were thirty-three men. If battle were to ever come to the city, they would be his to command and he would be theirs to solely follow.

Bace watched the woman emerge from her small shack and followed her quietly in the shadows. He had escaped from his uniform for the past two weeks and instead wore rich garments. As soon as they made it to the richest end of the city Bace stood and inserted himself into the crowd to blend in. The woman disappeared into an alley as she always did and emerged in her own rich garb. Bace watched as she bumped into a man and lightly apologized. The man tipped his hat to her and continued. She walked further and then bumped into another. This time Bace caught her snakelike wrist whip into the man’s pocket and then quickly withdraw as they separated. She apologized again and the man quickly apologized in return. She stuffed his pocket watch into her purse and then pursued a young woman flirting with a Knight Bace had placed along the Gypsy’s morning routine. Throughout the weeks Bace had managed to figure that the woman made three times the highest wage per day by stealing from the richest pockets in the city. Now that Bace knew what to look for it was quite easy to spot the quick flick of her wrist.

There was one thing about the woman that Bace hadn’t been able to master. The woman had the amazing ability to disappear into the crowd and emerge suddenly a few storehouses down often leaving Bace flustered and tired. She was always one step ahead. Bace had relayed his concerns to his Battlemaster after watching her for the first week.

“Don’t think twice about it, Bace. Follow your instincts and you’ll be able to follow her step for step before you know it. Learn from her.” Bace hadn’t had anything to say to his master’s odd remark but only today was he slowly starting to understand. He had managed, for the whole morning, to never lose sight of her. He let himself succumb to the natural movement of the busy crowd and somehow always found himself only ten feet behind her.

“Bace? Bace! Is that you?” He suddenly heard a loud voice calling over the crowd. He was tempted to ignore it and continue, but he suddenly felt an exuberant presence beside him. He quickly turned. “Oh, Bace, I almost didn’t recognize you without your uniform on. You’re so fancy today. Oh, look at this!” As she reached for Bace’s embroidered pockets Bace turned to see that his asset had stopped in her tracks and turned to see what the fuss about a uniform was about. For a moment, the eyes of the two, hunter and prey, met and Bace saw the realization dawn on the woman’s face. Bace turned back to his neighbor, who seemed to have a unique fascination with him, and quickly threw his hat into her arms before turning on his heels and running for the storehouse decks where the crowds were much thinner. He looked around for her but couldn’t catch sight of her dark hair. Bace had been told that the moment the woman even caught the slightest whiff of an Official on her tail she would disappear for a month before being seen again. Bace couldn’t lose her now. Thankfully, in her panic, she was causing a disaster of commotion in her wake as she pushed through the crowd.

Bace sprinted down the decks and launched himself into the crowd, yelling something undeterminable as he took after the woman rushing to the other side of the street. His message was apparently clear as the crowd seemed to move out of his way as quickly as they could. By the time Bae reached the other side he had lost sight of her again and now had nearly half of the population in his vicinity staring at him. Bace looked around and spotted the only person still moving and jumped forward again. The crowd gasped and moved as he pushed through. By the time he made it across again he could see the woman already reaching the other side of the street. He sprinted down the decks for a few more storehouses but then slowed. He could follow her all day like this. She was small and could easily make it through the crowd much faster than her broad-shouldered pursuer. She would always be one step ahead until she found the perfect moment to disappear.

Bace turned into the nearest storehouse without hesitation and ducked down. The shop owner watched him dig out his insignia and flash it up to the wary eyes. The owner nodded and continued as he normally would; gesturing for the rest of the shoppers to do the same. He thanked the owner and then asked for a back door. It was quickly presented to him so he stepped out and sprinted down the back alley until he figured he had caught up. He turned down the alley and quietly peered across the street. He caught sight of the woman, who had mistakenly continued her zig-zag through the crowd. She suddenly passed only three feet in front of Bace who lunged immediately up onto the deck. She managed to avoid his grasp and jumped back into the crowd with Bace only a foot behind. As she hit the swarm of ambling shoppers Bace grabbed her arm and pulled her back. Her reaction was catlike as she ripped a long dagger from its sheath and lunged for Bace’s neck. He ducked and then grabbed her other wrist and cracked it against his knee. The blade flew from her grasp and she cried out in pain. The crowd, having seen the flash of steel, cleared the area and watched the young man contain the Gypsy. Bace held her firmly and when he was sure he had her under his control he whistled loudly. The shrill sound broke through the air and the people around him drew their hands over their ears. It only took a second for the four men Bace had positioned around the area to ride forward in their uniforms. They dismounted and slapped Bace on the back. The woman snarled at Bace as the other men laced leather cuffs around her wrists.

“Why don’t you try livin’ with nothing. Maybe you’d be leavin’ my people alone then. Coward!” She yelled back at Bace before being dragged off to the dungeons. Bace watched the woman disappear into the crowd for the last time and then became aware of the applause breaking out around him. He nodded at a few and then returned to collect his uniform. On his way, he heard a loud voice yell over the crowd again.

“Bace! You dropped your hat, dear!” He heard the familiar voice yell.

That evening Bace found himself off duty early and met his new companions at the Journey’s End. Bace had visited the bar a few times before but never to drink. The room was dark, as were all bars in the evening, and a large fireplace burned brightly in the corner. It was getting late so most men had cleared out already.

“Faster than anything I’ve ever seen.”

“I don’t think ‘is feet even touch th’ ground.”

“It was like he was flying.” The three men snorted with laughter. They were three of four men to have seen Bace in action today. Apparently they were all impressed with the speed at which Bace could project himself in such a short distance. Bace glanced over to the Drinkmaster as the men continued to ramble. The master caught his gaze and walked over with the coffee jug in hand. He poured half a cup more before Bace held up a hand. He nodded and the man walked away.

“This one’s on the house too.” He winked at Bace as he walked away.

“He’s not kiddin’, Bazil.” The three, who had been sipping on ale for the entire evening suddenly let out another conversation of boisterous laughter. It filled the room but Bace kept his tired eyes on the fire across the room.

“Faster than a snake he is.”

“Snake! Ha! Snake’s nothing compared to a hound.”

“Them thing’s got legs I should say.” The two started laughing as they realized that the last bloke wasn’t at all listening to their conversation but had, instead, caught sight of his wife entering the bar. Bace watched her give him the ‘look’ as she walked over. Matt withdrew and submitted his mug as she pulled him up. She patted Bace on the shoulder and then pulled her husband out the door. Bace had met the man’s wife earlier that week and she seemed to take a liking to him immediately. Both her and her husband seemed to treat him as a younger brother. He had been invited twice for supper already and then spent a long evening with them. He waited for them to leave and then stood. The men opposite from him looked up groggily.

“Time t-go ’lready?” The man named Barron asked.

“I’m afraid so, Barry. We must get you home to your wives immediately.” He dragged them to their feet and then pulled them over to the counter. After digging out the proper amount of change from each man’s pocket he grabbed each man’s arm and pulled them outside. Both men had wives waiting at the door for them. Each thanked Bace and then withdrew inside.

When Bace returned to his bed that night he found the words of the Gypsy woman return to him. They had been on his mind throughout the day but now, with nothing to distract him and only silence filling his ears, they consumed him.

Bace did not have a new assignment. He wandered the city during his shift, stopping the occasional child with slick hands to reprimand them in front of their parents and dropping into the bars to remind the people that the law was waiting just outside. Two weeks went by and each night Bace would return home wide awake and bored. At the end of his first month on the job Bace received a letter. The letter he had been hoping for but dreading to read. The small parchment was folded neatly and sealed with a dull red wax. He opened it and felt the immediate presence of his mother as he read her spidery handwriting. The message was brief; for the longer the message the more expensive it was to send.

My dear Bazil,

Your father and sister have returned home and will be landed for the next six weeks. We would all be delighted to have you in our company.

Yours truly,

Mother

Bace placed the parchment on the table and sat down, resting his face in his hands. He let out a sigh and then looked up at Taunt. He raised an eyebrow. The horse seemed to chew thoughtfully and then tossed its head. He lowered the eyebrow and then stood and walked over to the horse. He stroked its soft nose and then turned down the hallway. He walked up to the window at the back of the house and leaned out. The sound of the river below filled his ears. He stood for a moment, silhouetted against the stars, and then pulled himself up so he was sitting on the sill with his legs dangling over the water. He took a breath and then jumped nimbly to his feet and swung around so his belly was pressed against the side of the building so he could grab on to the roof above to steady himself. He grunted and then pushed off so he could pull himself over. He quickly scrambled on all fours to the angled top of his roof and stood to test the creaking foundation beneath him. He gazed around at the multitude of roofs like his and then studied the flat-topped buildings made of hardened clay. The city was glowing white under the stars.

Bace stood for a few more minutes and then jumped down the angled roof. Once he neared the edge he leapt and landed silently on the neighbor’s roof which was flat, unlike his own. He had started the ritual only a few weeks ago and found that not only his stamina was improving but his agility as well. Every night he would sprint over the roof tops; forcing himself to react quickly without the time to stop and consider.

“Whoops.” He suddenly grunted and he slid to the ground between two buildings. His legs and arms caught on a few laundry lines as he slid but they slowed him down enough for him to land on his feet. He rolled forward to cushion the fall but was pulled back mid-roll as he reached the end of the line. He lay on his back for a few moments to let the pain pass and then started pushing off women’s clothing that he had never seen before. He unwound a string from his ankle and then heard a gasp from behind him. He quickly stood and turned to face the street. Bace almost stopped breathing. The forest-woman stood at the end of the alley with her hands on her hips.

“You!” She said and stepped towards him to snatch a slip from his hands that he had picked off his head and now held away like it might spring to life. “You bore-headed-” She lunged for him as he started scaling a rope still attached to one side of the alley. He climbed out of her reach just in time and was up and over the top of the building before she could say anything more. He disappeared but then peered back over.

“Leave me alone.” He whispered down at her.

“You left me in the woods and then insulted me in the city.” She yelled up at him, just above a whisper.

“You deserved it.” He whispered back.

“I was alone. I could have died!” Her voice was getting louder.

“Then maybe you shouldn’t have gone into the woods in the first place.” His voice lowered.

“And maybe you should have just-” His head disappeared so the woman stopped. “Hey.” Her voice rose. The head suddenly reappeared. She thought she saw him holding a finger to his lips.

“Shhh.” She was right.

“Did you just shush me?” She said up. “I’ll have you know-” She began but the man was suddenly beside her. She felt a hand clasp around her mouth.

“Seriously, shut up.” He whispered and glared into her eyes. Their gaze broke as he checked the street. He crouched suddenly and crept forward to the edge of the alley. He slipped behind the cover of her water barrel but then realized he was alone. He looked over and saw the woman staring at him in the middle of the alley. “Would you- mm.” He growled and then crept towards her and grabbed her arm. She felt him tug before she stumbled forward and then crouched with him in the shadow of the barrel. She was overwhelmed by his presence. For years she had watched him ride through the street and now they were inches apart. She closed the inches and pressed against him. He felt the pressure and turned to her. She saw his eyes widen with confusion but he quickly turned his attention back to the quiet voices coming down the street. He forgot the woman as the pair walked only a few feet from them talking in low voices.

“What are they saying?” She said after they passed. Bace didn’t hear her. One of the two was a student only a year behind him. The other he didn’t recognize. After a few more minutes of careful analyzing Bace turned to the woman who seemed to be sulking.

“Unbelievable.” He said quietly. The woman whipped her head around.

“What?” She hissed at him.

“I can’t believe it. Do you know what those men would have done had they seen you in the alley? Do you ever think?” He said. She gasped and stood.

“Of all the men that could have tripped over my roof tonight. I don’t know why it had to be you.” She pushed past him and stepped into the street.

“Those men would have killed you.” He whispered.

“Those men are no different from you.” She fired back before disappearing around the corner. Bace listened to her fade into her house and then turned back to his mess. He quickly scaled the buildings to tie off the broken ropes and hung the laundry before continuing his run. He pushed himself harder than ever before to keep his mind from carrying him over to the Dainer student’s house. He pushed himself so hard he forgot until he suddenly flew onto his own roof. He had been warned too many times to drop his suspicions of the Daini invasion by many people but it still ate away at him.

He clambered down to the window and swung himself in. As his feet hit the ground he felt an immediate presence in the dark almost as startled as he was. The presence reacted much faster. Bace heard the whisper of steel on leather and quickly whipped out his own to deflect the startled reflexes of whoever he had found in his own home. Their blades met and Bace managed to brush it aside as he threw himself over and slammed against the wall. Bace landed on his hands and feet and quickly scrambled forward. He heard the ’swoosh’ of a blade above him and he only had a moment to regain his footing before the blade was at him again. The man was wearing black so Bace could only see the shining blade, swooping like a vicious bird of prey towards him. He ducked and threw himself forward so his shoulder slammed into his opponent’s gut. The two collided and flew back down the hall towards the window. They hit the wall but the man suddenly twisted them around and Bace felt a strong hand wrap around his throat, pinning him against the wall beside the window. The other strong hand cracked Bace’s wrist against the sill and he felt his blade slip and fall into the river below. He finally caught the glint of the man’s eyes. Then the shine of his smile in the moonlight. The young Knight struggled to break free but his vision was swimming as he tried to gasp for breath.

“Bazil, son of a fisherman.” The voice threatened. Bace tried to scream as the short dagger carved into his shoulder. The man’s attention suddenly focused on where he placed the dagger. “Marked, marked, prey of the dark. Slay he who bears the Ender’s mark.” He chanted. Bace’s eyes widened with shock as the cold steel of a dagger suddenly bit into his stomach. The man pulled him forward and then slammed him back again a foot over. Bace could almost sense what the man was about to do next so he quickly grabbed onto the window sill as the man suddenly pushed him back, this time without the wall to stop him. Bace felt the cool air surround him as he flew out but his grip held firm to the sill above. His feet dangled as he gasped for breath. A heavy boot slammed into his fingers but his grip didn’t falter as he looked down to the water below. He looked up again and saw the boot slam onto his fingers again but couldn’t feel it.

Couldn’t hear it.

He couldn’t feel anything.

He was weightless.

Then he couldn’t breathe again. He felt a weight pushing all around him, carrying him away as a cool pressure pushed at his body. He gasped but felt his lungs fill with something thick.

Blood?

Was he drowning in his own blood?

He opened his eyes but the world was strange. Dark and light. Then dark again. He had never realized that darkness felt like something. Dark and light. Swirling together to become one. Then dark again. He felt the pressure cease and his body stopped rolling. His heartbeat was slowing. He could feel the blood pounding in his ears. Then came the claws. Slashing at his back and hooking onto his clothing. They stopped and then slashed again, this time grabbing on and pulling at him violently. Then there was light. He felt his body slam against something hard and then it hit his chest over and over. He felt his heart kick again and then became aware of his chest heaving. A pair of hands rolled him over and his head cleared even further as his lungs seemed to be folding in on themselves.

“That’s it, throw it all up.” He suddenly heard a voice and his eyes recognized a soft lamp above his head. He rolled over on his stomach and rested his forehead against the boardwalk. He heard the rushing of a few more footsteps coming down the boardwalk towards him. A few more lamps gathered around. He rolled again onto his stomach and looked over to find the face of his savior. He was a Knight, most likely on dock patrol. The man was sitting and shaking water from his sleeves. A woman was suddenly crouching beside him. The Knight noticed him staring.

“I’m afraid there’s no swimming after dark, my friend.” He laughed as Bace turned over and started hacking up the remaining water inside of him under the concerned gaze of the young woman with a long shepherd’s staff.

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