(Note: This is not official version and may be removed in the near future. This do not reflect what is read in the podcast version, nor any other version you may encounter. I have preserved the rough form for posterity — or something like that. This novel has since been rewritten.)
James sat on one of the ridges along the edge of the octagon. None of the others bothered sitting. Darl took a position behind Bourlinch as if ready at any moment to beat the memories out. James watched the water as it flowed down the tunnel off somewhere unknown. He was getting used to the smell now.
It had easily been twenty minutes of them setting around as Bourlinch argued with himself over which tunnel was the correct one. At one point Darl suggested they just split up into each of them, but that idea was quickly shot down as Iliad explained how unlikely it would be that they would find a way out doing that. James wondered what would happen to them if they never found a way out of the tunnels. Even if they were forced to turn back he wasn’t sure he could trust Bourlinch’s memory. What if he forgets? We’ll be stuck here forever.
Darl spoke in hushed whispers to himself. James could tell they were angry, bitter words, each phrase coming as a snap. Iliad tried going down one of the tunnels to see if there was an air current to follow, or some change of smell, but when he came back his face was as grim as before and going down the other tunnels proved just as useless. James felt helpless again. He sat alone and listened.
“What if you read his mind?” Pea suggested.
Triska shook her head. “The memories are buried deep. I don’t think I can pull them forward. I’d likely hurt us both by doing so.”
“Something will jar his memory. I hope.”
James wasn’t convinced. Triska was lying again, a white lie, but still a lie nonetheless. He wasn’t quite sure how he could tell, but something about the way she spoke when she lied gave her away and he took far too much notice in it for his own good. Deep down he hoped he could just believe what she said.
The time went from twenty minutes to thirty, to forty five, and then an hour. Darl was pacing, grabbing and releasing his sword rhythmically. Iliad tried going down the tunnels once more and came back empty handed.
James started to think. He wondered what would happen to Laura if they couldn’t get to her tonight. He wondered what would happen to him if they were caught. Tonight, he knew, might be the only night they would have the opportunity to search for her. Luthien would know what he was up to and would be sending a message east. Then he thought about the power that Luthien seemed to possess. It occurred to him that somehow Luthien might get back to Teirlin’pur overnight using some power that nobody really knew about, or didn’t discuss. Do the people here know about it? Are they keeping it quiet? What about the other cities in Angtholand? Do they know anything?
The questions came out of him in a hurry and he knew that neither he nor his companions would have the answer to them.
When the second hour rolled by without a single bit of progress, Bourlinch let out a cough and a murmur of words that nobody understood. Darl said something and then Bourlinch knelt down and dipped his hand into the water. James started to protest, but before he could do anything the crooked man drank and made an echoing ‘ah’ sound. James pursed his lips in disgust and saw the same looks on the faces of his companions.
Then Bourlinch clapped his hands together, flinging bits of water in every direction and said, “I know now! I see it. I see path. Yes!”
Before anyone could speak Bourlinch tore off down the left hand path. James got to his feet in a hurry and followed. But Bourlinch was too far ahead. The others were behind him, but as he ran the sounds of Bourlinch hiccupping and making odd noises dwindled. Then all the sounds disappeared. He continued, sloshing and slashing. The water grew deeper and deeper. Soon he found himself in waste deep water. The tunnel had taken a dive in altitude at some point behind, bringing the water higher and higher. A giggle sounded as he pushed as fast as he could through the water. He glanced back. Darl gave him a look of triumph. James frowned.
He moved on, pushing with all his might to get himself through the water as fast as possible. The waterline rose again. A pair of small arms wrapped around his neck—Pea. He let the little man climb onto his back. Then the water rose to his chest. He cursed to himself, under his breath. Darl cursed out loud.
It felt like forever. He led the others along the tunnel with Pea attached to his back like a little animal, torch held up to provide light. He groaned as his feet slipped on something gross at the bottom of the tunnel and he didn’t ask himself what it could possibly be. Soon his shoes were being encased in the mud-like goop and he had to fight even harder just to keep moving. He knew he could swim a lot faster than he could walk, but he refused to get any more of his body in the water.
At least I don’t have to worry about my armpits smelling, he thought.
The water let up slightly some distance away from when it had reached his chest. He sighed out loud and smiled faintly. The others seemed pleased too, especially Darl who let out a curse that sounded more like a cheer.
Then the water rapidly dropped to his knees as the tunnel regained altitude. He knelt so Pea could get down and continued.
“That little piece of…” Darl started, only to be shushed by Triska.
James knew what Darl’s next words would be and he grimaced at the thought. Pea would say that’s uncivilized.
The tunnel took a rapid turn and ended in another open space, this time round and without any additional passages. Sitting on a round stone in the center was Bourlinch, grinning with yellowed teeth and wrinkly arms crossed.
“Slow Farthland and Other.”
“I should have your head!” Darl roared.
Bourlinch flinched instinctually.
“Be quiet Darl,” James said. The words didn’t surprise him. He had said much worse and he knew it. “Don’t do that again, Bourlinch.”
“Stench. Filth. I am not. I don’t like.”
“I understand, but you can’t just go running off like that.”
“Not if you want our trust,” Iliad said.
“Come then.” Bourlinch leapt from the stone and went to the far side of the round room. There a gate stood, much like the one they had originally come in—a series of crisscrossed bars held together by bolts.
“Where is this?” Iliad said.
“West side. Just below. By north tower. Wanted tower.”
“Are you sure?”
Before anything else could be said, Pea approached and began to work magic. Iliad helped, jamming his knife, in the same fashion as Darl, into the opening gaps. The two worked slower this time, moving the bars at a snails pace. One by one the bars separated, breaking away from the bolts that were fused into the metal. Metal whined and whistled as the bolts flew off, but no huge bang sounded. It took ten minutes to make a hole big enough for them all to cross through. Then Iliad and Pea slipped through; James followed after the rest, the last one to leave the discomfort of the sewage.
The gate opened up into an area covered in trees and brush. A single path led from underground up into the trees and disappeared. Iliad slipped into the shadows seamlessly, as if he hadn’t ever been there before. James followed into the bush.
The trees didn’t make up a large forest, but more or less a small patch of green and brown that would stick out like a sore thumb in the daylight. The western curve of the wall lay ahead and there the clink of armored men sounded too, but in the safety of the trees they couldn’t be seen.
Iliad took them to the opposite end of the tree line and crouched. James looked out into a maze of buildings that the sixteen towers—only five visible—surrounded like stone sentries keeping watch. Only a couple guards could be seen where the towers were, and he could easily find the dark shadows behind the towers that Iliad wanted them to traverse.
Iliad signaled to James and the others. James followed swiftly, keeping low as they slipped out of the confines of the trees and ran along the shadows of the wall into a huge black void. Something grabbed him and he fell hard, chest first, into a maze of leaves and branches. He managed to muffle his surprise by burying his head into his arm. The others grew still; no sounds escaped their feet.
He felt blind, unable to see more than an inch in front of him. The shadows obstructed his vision entirely. What lay before him was a mystery. After a brief moment of waiting, Darl grabbed him by his shirt and lifted him out of the bush swiftly. He waited to be slapped, but no hit came, no berating, no whispers or anything.
James recuperated, balanced, and followed the sound of the others as they gently tromped through the darkness. He bumped into another bush; a vine grabbed his foot as if alive and he tugged away. The shadows waned slightly; he could see again.
Two guards carrying small torches appeared from the opposite sides of the two towers immediately ahead. They marched in full armor, helms pulled back so they could see clearly in the night and spears held limply to their sides. James watched as they marched; the rest of the group paused. The guards walked and then disappeared around the tower. Iliad forced them on again.
Once they were immediately behind the first tower Iliad stopped.
“We split here. Wait for the perfect moment. The next guard should be walking the perimeter soon. Be patient.”
Iliad whispered so low that James had to hold his breath to hear. He let loose the air in his lungs and took in another deep breath. Iliad was gone before he could say or do anything else. Triska took off after him, Bourlinch crouching naturally low and scurrying along behind. They passed into lighter areas and James glanced up to the parapet. The guards there were facing away. He let out a sigh of relief as Iliad, Triska, and Bourlinch slipped back into shadow, only a moment before another set of guards at both towers appeared and walked by like stiff robots.
Darl tapped him on the shoulder. He turned and looked into Darl’s face.
“We take the next guard,” Darl said, whispering. “Pea, shut his mouth first, as soon as he reaches the center of the tower. Don’t let him say a word, understood?”
“Understood,” Pea said.
“James, just stay back.”
James stood still in the dark and watched as Pea and Darl moved fluidly forward like little wisps of wind in the black of night. They took cover near a small rock, using the shadows to hide their bodies.
He waited patiently. His legs grew tired, tingling and pinging with the onset of sleep. But he didn’t dare stand up or stretch. Such movement would risk making noise or exposing him to the guards walking the wall or the guards walking the perimeter of the towers.
Then the first set of guards appeared. He tried to look over to the second tower, but he couldn’t see the other three. He focused instead on where Pea and Darl were crouched. The guard marched, marched, and then suddenly stopped and touched his throat. The guard looked around frantically, dropped his spear. Then Darl slipped out of the shadows. The guard opened his mouth as if to cry out. Darl crashed a weathered fist into the man’s face. The surprised guard went limp—head flopped to the side—and began to fall. Pea stopped the crash that otherwise would have been inevitable and Darl slung the unconscious guard over his shoulder and ran back into the shadows.
James glanced up at the parapet. None of the guards there had seen or heard anything, or seemed at all interested in what went on inside the walls of the city. He then looked over to the other tower and saw Iliad slugging the other guard into the shadows.
The wait for the next guard seemed like an endless eternity. Time moved at a snail’s pace. James wanted desperately to stand and walk. He hated the idea of crouching in the shadows doing nothing. He wondered why they had brought him along if he wasn’t going to be able to do anything. They could have easily left him at Bourlinch’s shop. But deep down he was grateful that they hadn’t left him behind. He despised the idea of sitting around doing absolutely nothing and being completely uninvolved. At least here, in the shadows of a city at night, he could see what was happening.
The second set of guards appeared and much of the same took place. It occurred to James that no guards who could use magic were placed around the towers. He thought that seemed odd. Why would Luthien keep magic users away from his towers? What exactly is he keeping in there? Is it a weapon of some kind? Something that Luthien doesn’t want in the hands of others?
James stopped thinking about it and focused on Laura. He didn’t have time to worry about what Luthien was up to. This moment was the culmination of weeks of planning and painful journeying. He only cared about Laura now, getting her away from Luthien and away from all the dangers of a falling Traea. He could see the darkness descending over all that had been bright in the world. There was so much hatred and destruction. Arlin City, Ti’nagal, Nor’sigal. All of them destroyed to appease a mad man.
Darl tied to two guards tightly and made sure that they would be out for a while. Then, the old man led around the right hand side of the tower, counterclockwise. James saw the others doing the same, appearing out of the shadows and gliding along the side of the other tower. Then he couldn’t see them anymore.
James crept along the edge. He watched as Darl peered around the corner for a moment. Then the old man turned back.
“Pea, can you silence two at a time?”
“I don’t think so. It’s possible, but risky.”
Darl nodded. “Okay, you stay here. I’ll go around the other side.”
Then Darl was gone, disappearing behind the tower. James waited in the slight shadow along the tower where the light of torches along the road didn’t quite reach. Pea peered around the corner like Darl had.
Then suddenly there was a series of cracks. He stood upright, fully, and watched as Pea disappeared around the corner. He wasn’t sure what to do so he remained still. Then a sharp whisper told him he should move; he did. Once around to the front of the tower he had a clear view of the street. The center of the inner city was a series of buildings, tall and short, mashed together into a giant market. The tops of the other fourteen towers were in clear view and he could make out their crenellated roofs and see the small slits for windows on each of the floors. He thanked God that the lower extremities were hidden by the buildings in the center.
Darl and Pea stood at the front of the tower. From across the way he could see Iliad and Triska lugging two unconscious soldiers inside. Soon James was helping. Darl closed the door with a clank behind them.
“We haven’t got long,” Darl said. “A few minutes at most. Five floors to search. So let’s get at it.”
Then Darl was gone out of the main room—a small circle where several chairs were laid out and a long rug covered in diamond designs of red and silver sat—and up a set of spiral stairs in the back. James and Pea followed.
The first floor opened onto a ledge before becoming stairs again. There was a thin wooden door studded with metal bolts. A metal ring, like a giant earring, served as the handle. Darl tried it; the door clicked and swung open.
James doubled over and started to cough, averting his eyes from the room. Men, or women, he couldn’t tell which, were suspended in wiry contraptions from the ceiling, hung out like mutilated bodies. Only their bodies were not mutilated, not really, but distorted by something else. They were ghostly pale, skin sagging, eyes closed and drooping. None of them looked alive. Strange burns showed through their weak skin, burns on the inside of their body, as if their organs had been lit on fire. They were dead, all four of them.
Darl closed the door with a bang and spat on the floor.
“Those bodies were old,” Pea said reassuringly. “Maybe been there for months.”
Laura is alive. She has to be.
James lunged up the next flight of stairs, desperation gripping him. He took the steps three at a time. His legs strained, but he didn’t care. Pea and Darl were far behind by the time he reached the top. Here another ledge presented itself along with a larger door than the first. This door had no handle. James pushed it open before the others reached the top. He strode in and looked around. Here there were two others strapped and suspended above the floor. They were clearly men, both alive, but not well. He let his jaw drop and looked around the room. The two men were wide eyed. When he looked into their eyes he could see nothing. Their eyes were blank, unnaturally blank, as if the very colors that made up the eye had been sucked away, leaving behind a wide pupil.
He moved over to the arrow slit on the left side of the room and looked out to the other tower. He saw flickers of light and then Iliad looked out at him. The distance was not far enough to keep the look of utter disgust from being visible. James knew that the other tower had much the same issue as here.
Pea and Darl came into the room. Pea looked stunned, the little man’s face curved with the look of discomfort. Darl sneered bitterly, as if ready at any moment to snap.
“Help me with them,” James said, running over to the first of the men. He tugged on the chains and metallic ropes.
“Leave them,” Darl said.
James wanted to scream at that very moment. He cursed in his mind.
“Come, we have to go now. We haven’t time to save them all.”
“But it’s the right thing to do,” James said, not hiding his anger.
“Darl’s right James,” Pea said. “We can’t take them all with us. There’s no way.”
He let go of the chains and let his hand slump to his sides. His gaze fell to the floor, rose to the two suspended men, and then he walked out of the room and barreled up to the next floor. He tripped on the last step and fell, hands reaching wildly for something. The air left him and he coughed. Then he stood up and looked at the next door. Here another three were held; two looked as dead as in the first room. He didn’t wait for the others to catch up before taking the stairs again to the fourth floor.
The fourth floor proved to be much the same as the first three. He counted five more people here, two that looked like they could have been women at some point. He wanted to vomit now, disturbed by the idea that someone could do such things to another human being.
Then fear hit him and he found that he could no longer control his emotions. He let out a grunt and whirled up the last flight of stairs to the fifth floor. There the stairs stopped entirely, leaving a wide space where a larger ledge made its home. A door leading to another room sat there too and off to the side was a ladder that led to the roof where the glowing gems would be.
He tried to door, but it wouldn’t budge. He pushed it harder, no movement. Cries of anger escaped his lips and he began to bang and shove his body harder into the wooden frame. Each time he hit a tear slipped from his face.
Then a huge foot slipped into his vision and crashed into the door. The wood frame splintered and the door crashed to the ground inside, sliding a couple feet. James eyed Darl with a thankful glimmer in his eye and then slipped into the room. This room proved far different than the earlier four. Here there were several bookcases filled to the brim with old looking books. He didn’t give them more than a moment of his time. A lamp was lit in the corner of the room, casting dim orange light over the various chairs in the room.
Something didn’t quite feel right about the room. James couldn’t explain it, but a shiver traveled up his spine and he knew immediately that there was something abnormal taking place here. Pea and Darl were next to him and out of the corner of his eye he saw the little hairs of their arms rising. He eyed his arms and the hair rose there too.
His words were suddenly forced away from him as something invisible struck him in the chest. He yelped and found himself launched into the air. He crashed into the far wall and crumbled to the ground. A sword crashed next to him and he knew that Darl had been disarmed. He looked up and saw crashes of light as Pea deflected pulses of energy from nowhere.
James stood up and marched forward. He looked around the room, trying desperately to see the origin of the magic, but nothing, not even his strange keen sense, gave that information away. More sparks and bolts of bluish light shot out mere inches from where Pea was launching wild shots of magic across the room, pushing aside spells as he went. Books shredded and fell to the floor and the wooden cases broke into smaller pieces and shot about the room as if something had caused them to explode. Then the lamp went out of its own accord. Complete darkness enveloped the room. James saw nothing, not even the night sky or the world outside of the tower. No more magic shot into the room. He could sense it, but it made no attempts to strike anyone. Then orange light filtered into the room, cascading down through everything.
Something invaded his mind. He fought against it. Sparks blew across the room as another furry of magic reached for Pea. The thing in his mind pushed against his barriers, searching for something.
He knew now what it was. It was Luthien, reaching into his mind from somewhere else. The room was a trap of sorts. He felt the wicked fingers of Luthien in his mind, tugging at some deep pool that he had no access to—he hadn’t the ability to read the future. Luthien pushed, pulled, tugged, banged, and prodded every inch of him. He opened his eyes and saw wicked, twisted shadows creep across the floor and form apparitions of living beings. The lamp flickered alive and tall flames pushed out of the glass chimney. He closed his eyes again and fought hard against Luthien.
Get out of my mind, he screamed within.
He opened his eyes again. The shadowy creatures collided, coalescing into one blob of black. Then the shadows formed into something physical, lifting up from the floor. Four legs formed, claws rippling into life as if they were being transported from some other location.
Then a head formed, and long, muscular shoulders. A tail slithered out from the black shape.
James focused on Luthien. He collapsed to the floor with the effort. The lamp flared brighter, pulsing with renewed energy. The shadowy figure became real as blood stained points came into focus in the thing’s mouth. Claws clacked on the floor impatiently.
“Nara’karesh,” he whispered.
Then the creature roared and the gaping maw of the lyphon spilled blood onto the floor. Pea let down his guard and a bolt of magic crashed into the Littlekind’s chest, launching him across the room. The wall stopped his fall.
Nara’karesh roared again, and then suddenly the creature was laughing darkly. James grew frantic. He looked down at Darl’s sword as another burst of magic crashed into a nearby bookshelf. He let Luthien in through one barrier of his mind and grabbed the sword.
The old man looked just in time as James launched the sword hilt first into the air. Darl caught it and twirled around just as Nara’karesh lunged forward. Then James rolled back into his mind. Luthien pushed against the last walls; he fought hard, closing his eyes again to focus fully. Nothing he did seemed to stop Luthien. He tried to trap the invasion in the darkest recesses of his memories, but it failed and Luthien slithered like a snake deeper and deeper. Something struck his arm and he risked opening one eye to see. A shard of metal had hit him, undoubtedly launched across the room because of magic. He didn’t bleed, nor did he feel pain, but he looked at the shard before closing his eyes again.
There were no words that came to him in his mind. Luthien couldn’t speak to him, and neither could he speak to Luthien. He wanted to scream at Luthien, scream out all his anger and hatred towards that man. He wished he had the opportunity to show Luthien the horrors that had been committed. Maybe it would open the tyrant’s eyes to reality.
But he could do none of those things, and slowly it became obvious that he could not beat back Luthien. Whatever it was that was buried in his mind, whatever future that Luthien could glean, Luthien would have it in moments. His barriers were falling like trees in a massive wild fire, like buildings in a demolition. Whenever he put a new wall up, Luthien broke it down. His head throbbed; pings of sharp pain hit his mind. Pain surged through his arm. He looked down, tears bursting from his face from the pressure in his head. He had gripped the metal shard and now his hand bled. New pain shot through him as he realized this.
Then Luthien pulled back suddenly. The connection remained, but it was as if the presence had sensed something and been forced to retreat.
James looked at the shard again. Small trickles of blood dripped to the ground. Luthien surged into his mind again. He squeezed the shard and grunted with the new pain. Luthien fell back again.
Then a smile crossed his face. He looked up at the others, but they were too busy to notice his sudden glee. Darl dodged and blocked swipes from Nara’karesh and Pea slumped over a twisted, splintered chair, fending off further attacks.
James pulled the shard away from his hand and held it up. A deep gash lay there, bleeding small globs of blood. He put his hand down flat on the ground. Luthien pushed again. Then James yelled and plunged the shard deep into his left hand, pushing the blade straight through the back. He cried in pain and more tears came. The connection with Luthien exploded into a myriad of sensations. Pain and confusion twisted through his mind and then the connection suddenly ceased. All he could feel was his hand and the mild throb in his head.
With another yell he yanked the shard from his hand. Blood poured in rivers from the wound. He used the shard to cut the sleeve off his shirt and pulled the fabric away. He took a deep breath and tied it tight over the wound. He gasped for air afterwards and then stood up.
Pea looked on the verge of passing out, desperately fighting off the invisible energies. James gazed around the room. Then the lamp flickered again.
He didn’t hesitate. As Pea fought off the magic, he called upon his own magic and thrust his left hand forward. New agonizing pain attacked him. It was so strong that he couldn’t make a sound. The wall of magic crashed into the lamp. The lamp exploded backward, shattering into a thousand molten shards. The wall collapsed and shot out in a blaze of fire and debris. Smoke flew into the room and dissipated quickly. The darkness of night took over.
Pea fell to the floor. Their eyes met and James could see the stunned, yet grateful look on the Littlekind’s face.
It took more effort than he was prepared to use to move himself across the room. Darl danced with Nara’karesh, bounding nimbly one way and then another, failing to show an ounce of age. Yet Nara’karesh was strong and nimble too, swift and powerful unlike a human being. While Darl had a sword, Nara’karesh had two sets of claws.
Before long, Nara’karesh stripped the sword from Darl. The blade bounced off the floor, landed with a thud, and slid. James stopped the hilt with his foot.
“It’s over for you,” Nara’karesh said, spitting blood. “This is the end of you and your friends.”
Darl said nothing.
“The time has come for the land of the dead to rise. Not the time for Man. Man is over. Man is finished.”
Darl took a few cautious steps back.
James picked up the sword. He knew if he moved too fast Darl would be dead. If he moved forward at all and drew attention to himself, the lyphon would strike Darl down with a single claw. He weighed the blade in his hand. Then he lifted it and took a small portion of magic and fed it through his right hand. He couldn’t grip with his left and refused to try. Being left handed made him feel inadequate as he held the blade like a spear. He pulled a little more magic into the blade. The edges shimmered and then the blade sang as if it had been struck—a tuning pitch.
Then he took a step and threw the blade. Magic coursed through him, through his hand, and into the sword. The blade spun rapidly and shot through the air across the room. Nara’karesh looked over just in time to see the blade as it struck the beast through the upper torso. The force sent the lyphon crashing into the floor and then into the wall.
James stumbled over, feeling the affects of all the magic and pain passing through him. He and Darl looked down at the struggling lyphon. He took hold of the hilt and started to pull the blade out.
“Never threaten my friends,” he said. “Not unless you want to pay the consequences.”
Nara’karesh started to laugh, but could only cough blood. James pulled the blade out and in one long strike he drove the blade deep into the exposed neck. He felt the blade hit bone, pass through and hit the stone floor. The head rolled away, tongue drooling out and eyes wide with fright. Black blood poured from the open neck. He handed the blade to Darl.
“Get Pea,” he said. “Laura isn’t here.”
As he said those words a strange wind passed into the room, carrying with it a collection of leaves and twigs. Then light spilled from a single point in the center. It was white light and soon the light was spreading and pouring into every corner until no shadow existed whatsoever. The light flashed and there in the center of the room appeared Laura, strapped securely in the chains. Her eyes were open, but blank, and her mouth hung loose.
James ran to her.
“Laura! It’s me. Wake up!” He patted her on the face, but she didn’t stir. “Help me with the chains Darl.”
The old man marched over and together they began pulling and working on the chains and the locks that held them. James used what magic he could and split several of the locks in two. Then the last chain fell and he caught Laura in his arms. Her eyes closed suddenly.
Pea stumbled over, suddenly awake. James held Laura and begged her to wake. He could feel her breathing.
Then her eyes fluttered and opened. For a moment she looked up into the ceiling in the same way someone looks into nothing. She glanced around and then she looked at him. He could do nothing but grin wide and toothy. A tear fell from his face. Laura smiled.
“Can you walk?” he said.
She nodded. “Get me the hell out of here.”
James stood her up. He thought for a moment she might fall—she teetered to one side and then caught her balance—but soon all three of them were walking to the door.
Darl went to the closest of the windows and roared, “Iliad, move! We’ve got her!” When James and Pea looked at him reproachfully he said with a shrug, “there’s no use keeping quiet now. He’s already woken the whole neighborhood.”
“And the one next to it,” Pea said delightfully.
For a moment they shared a laugh, but it was short-lived. They ran down the stairs, James close to Laura just in case she fell. They flew down the five floors and were out of the tower in a flash.
“You came for me?” Laura said as they ran into the shadows.
“I had to,” he said. “Nobody else would.”
“That’s very reassuring,” Pea said sarcastically.
Iliad, Triska, and Bourlinch appeared through the shadows. A cry from the guards on the parapet immediately told James that they had been spotted and the gig was up. He didn’t hesitate from running to tell the others what had happened. Instead, he gestured for them all to follow.
“There’ll be time to talk later,” he said.
When they reached the entrance to the sewer system there were four guards waiting. Two had arrows drawn. Before Iliad could draw his own bow, the arrows were let loose. James thrust his magic forward and shoved the barrier into the arrows, which splintered and shot over he and his companions. Laura stood behind them all. James could see her utter surprise, as if she were in a dream.
Pea used a little magic, along with Triska, and before long the four guards were subdued and unconscious from a collection of magical blows and punches from Darl.
Then they slid into the darkness of the tunnel and Pea lit his torch, brighter than before. Laura coughed and complained about the smell, but nothing else was said. Bourlinch led them back, guiding them wildly through the tunnels. They soon came to where the tunnel had dropped low and the water had risen high. Laura lost her balanced and stumbled into the water. Her eyes were glassy. Iliad picked her up without hesitation. James knelt and let Pea climb onto his back. Iliad did his best to keep Laura up. Voices cried out from behind, the sounds of soldiers following in after them.
Then the same thing echoed ahead. Bourlinch paused;
“Tell me which way to go,” Darl said, taking the lead.
Then they were moving again, Darl thrusting hard through the murky filth of the sewers. The voices behind grew stronger as more and more people entered. The voices ahead grew louder.
Soon they came to a long stretch of open corridor. Two armored men appeared on the opposite end, each carrying a torch and a small sword. Darl lifted his sword and ambled forward.
“Stop in the name of Luthien,” the first guard said.
Darl didn’t stop. The old man barreled into the two soldiers who were far too surprised by the action to raise their swords. They fell over together, the first guard unconscious from a blow to the head by Darl’s hilt. The other struggled desperately and swung his distinguished torch upward. It hit Darl in the arm, but the old man didn’t pause for an instant to consider it before he smashed the helpless soldiers in the face. The guard went limp and a small trickled of blood fell from his face.
Darl led on and the others walked over the two soldiers. James stumbled on an arm and then passed with Iliad in tow. Bourlinch spouted orders. They followed the same winding pattern they had when they had first come in to the tunnels. Then, as if it had all happened in an instant, they were at the entrance. The gate had been torn completely off and three new soldiers stood outside. They held their swords at the ready and Darl didn’t wait a moment before plowing through the tunnel at them.
The first soldier crashed to the ground with a gash to his sword arm. Iliad put Laura down and James helped her by putting her against his shoulder. Then Iliad drew his bow and launched two quick arrows into one of the other soldiers. Darl took care of the last.
“Pathetic,” Darl groaned.
“Quick,” Iliad said. “Get to the horses, don’t stop for anything. Mount up and go!
Iliad took Laura from James and ran. James followed. They ran straight down the thoroughfare, avoiding all side passages and alleys. There wasn’t any time for detours or to keep out of site. Alarms sounded from the inner city, giant horns blasting echoing notes across the landscape. Nobody stopped or ceased moving for a moment and no soldiers obstructed their path.
When they reach Bourlinch’s shop, Iliad took the moment to untie all the horses while James, Pea, and Darl ran into the building and started shoving everything into their place. The horses were ready and mounted in five minutes; a feat that James didn’t think was possible. He hoped that they had done it all correctly; else a pannier might slip and fall.
“Take Laura with you,” Iliad said to Darl. “You’re a far more accomplished horseman than I.”
Darl didn’t protest; there was no time for it. Bourlinch scuttled in his shop.
“Thank you,” James said to the crooked man. “Thank you for your help.”
“I will distract. Yes. Distract. You are welcome other.”
That was all that was said to Bourlinch, and Bourlinch did not speak again.
Once Laura was secure with Darl on the saddle of Arna’tu, James mounted Mirdur’eth and turned the steed away from the inner city.
“We ride hard, and don’t stop until I say so. The horses will make it. Trust me,” Iliad said, then kicked his horse and burst down the thoroughfare.
James didn’t have to say a thing as Mirdur’eth and the other Blaersteeds took off after Iliad, with Triska in tow.
The open air of the fields filled his lungs. Outside of Teirlin’pur dark shadows were cast. Thick clouds covered the moon. James glanced up and then back at Tierlin’pur, now lighted by torches. Nobody had seen them leave, but he knew that Luthien had seen this at some point.
They rode hard into the night, traversing the distance to the river in a matter of hours, and following it south.