The travelling merchant who called himself Lark kicked over a pile of crates between sprinted steps, and a swear slipped through his lips. The wreckage would slow them, at least.
“Stop there, merchant!”
Bystanders’ startled eyes followed him as he tore past. Ronan, Lark’s red-winged hawk, flew by his side. The two of them rounded a corner in Deemstun’s tunnels and pushed through the bundles of people going about their daily chores. A spinning knife flew past Lark’s head and nicked Ronan’s wing.
The hawk cried and faltered, but drew level with Lark as they ran closer to the circle of light at the end of the tunnel. “Almost there, Ronan!”
As Lark sprinted towards the light, he wished with all his might he wouldn’t see silhouettes of more Defenders at the end. He tore a scrap of paper from his pocket. His other hand gripped a jagged, translucent stone.
Finally, Lark stepped outside. He ran to the edge of the cliff and hurled the stone as hard as he could. He dug into his pockets, pulled out his Seal Card and a marker, and bent over the paper before he could watch the stone disappear into the ever-present fog. He glanced up. Defenders approached from all directions.
Lark carved his message into the paper, and didn’t have time to think twice about the recipient. Ronan cried out again and landed on his outstretched arm.
He scrunched up the message and pushed it, with his Seal Card, into Ronan’s pouch. “Go to Alister.”
Ronan took flight with a screech, and Lark swung his head around to face Baudouin, the King of Deemstun himself.
Baudouin’s smooth skin and sharp features identified him as a man in his mid-twenties—he wouldn’t have been more than two years older than Lark—but his grey eyes held no hint of the joys of youth. His lips pressed in a thin line. He might’ve come across quiet and unassuming, if not for the way he held his long, curved nose high in the air.
Baudouin’s dark eyes didn’t leave Lark’s as he spoke to his men. “Take him away.”