A Harvest of Broken Stars

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Chapter 34: Hunt

Ada drifted among the spirits of Sha’ton, searching for anyone who could help her escape the dungeon. Her recent experiences, the dire circumstances and the powers of the starglass resting against her skin had greatly enhanced her ability to reach out beyond the limits of her physical being. The initial surge of optimism had faded, however, as the limitations of her magic were gradually revealed to her.

The first problem was that she did not know whom to call upon for help.

Most inhabitants of the city were commoners. Shopkeepers, maids, children, whores, brawlers and drunkards. Whom among them would be able to help, even if they wanted to?

Eavesdropping on their words, even their emotions, soon became tiresome. They were concerned about small problems, thought about inconsequential matters and gossiped mindlessly among themselves.

There were a few exceptions, though. People of power and position, that stood out like bonfires in the night among the common rabble. Ada encountered experienced bounty hunters and gladiators, elves and dwarves who had lived longer than any human, and a noblewoman who used subtle magic to charm and manipulate her peers and business partners.

Ada could listen to their words as easily as if she stood right next to them, but accessing their thoughts and feelings were far more difficult and dangerous. They were more guarded than the common people, and far more resistant to scrying magic. Furthermore, if they detected an unseen presence or an attempt at breaking through their protective barriers, any one of them might be able to counterattack in some way or another.

Sha’ton thrived on conflict and competition. Benevolent souls were few and far between, and those rare individuals rarely reached the higher echelons of the hierarchy in the city.

Ada found that going unnoticed among a crowd of people was a lonely, depressive existence. Her attempts at whispering or talking to a few isolated individuals had been unsuccessful. From their reactions, she had learned that they had noticed something, but could not understand her words or identify the source. Some had waved in the air, as if to chase off an insect. Others had been startled, and hastened to find the company of others. Like a child, scared by some unidentifiable sound in the night.

Manoeuvring in this state was not like walking around in the city. It was more like swimming than walking. Physical objects were different, and she could pass effortlessly through most barriers, like wooden doors and walls. Even people, though that was quite unpleasant to both Ada and the unfortunate victim. Some materials, like solid rock and thick oak, provided more resistance. Thus, Ada carefully floated along the streets, more or less following the unobstructed routes she would have if she’d been walking.

Everything looked different, too. Inverted, somehow. Things that were normally not prominent or even visible, could glow or radiate as Ada observed them. Solid objects, walls and buildings, might fade into pale, almost see-through sheets. People looked different as well. At first, Ada saw them as patches of light, some surrounded by an aura. She would recognise some by how they felt, rather than how they seemed. Now, she had learned to identify their toned-down physical characteristics, and could perceive them as beings more similar to how they would seem if she met them in the streets.

Under different circumstances, Ada might have found the experience quite thrilling. But now, her body was dying in a cold dungeon cell, and she did not have the time to explore the entire city in search of the ideal saviour. As her desperation intensified, she let curiosity guide her through the streets.

Ada felt the emanations of anger before she heard the shouting voices. She soon found half a dozen men chase a single individual through the streets, and followed them. The prey made the hunting pack work hard, by darting into side streets and alleys, knocking over tables and barrels as he ran.

Their prey was the halfling called Hobble.

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