Sin - By Firebrand, Chapters 12 & 13, Fantasy

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Sin - By Firebrand, Chapters 12 & 13, Fantasy

Post  Firebrand on Thu May 10, 2012 11:46 am

Chapter 12

Ludwig could hardly believe his luck. In a purely random sweep of the city, he had found the three demons the Chancellor so feared. They had spoken of overtaking the Council, and the Royalists. Well, more correctly, they had said that they weren’t going to join the Royalists, but it came up in the conversation, and the Chancellor, in his increasingly paranoid state, would not think to question it.

Ludwig raced through the halls of the Council Building, hardly caring that he looked undignified. He knocked on the door to the Chancellor’s workroom, and entered without an invitation.

“Ludwig!” the Chancellor snapped. “What is it? I know I said you report to me, but that doesn’t mean you can just run in here whenever you please.”

“I have urgent news. About the rogue sorcerer.”

The Chancellor put his tools aside. “Speak.”

Ludwig nodded. “On a routine sweep, one of the messenger demons I was controlling passed the Shield and Sword Inn. She saw several people through a window on the top floor, and took a closer look.

“Once there, she saw three powerful demons, a messenger demon, two human males and a human female. This matches a least a part of the group that you saw through your scrying pool.”

“So they’re in the city? They survived the demon at Wide Crossing?”

“From the reports, they thrashed it and sent it packing. I also questioned the guards put on duty at the South Gate the past few days. Two guardsmen say that they let a young woman calling herself Lisana the Great and Terrible into the city. They claim that they thought she was joking. They were under geas, so they spoke the truth. This girl is exactly as you described. She has potential, but aside from flinging fire from her wand, she has little skill at the moment.”

The Chancellor sighed. “All right. Well, a group that matches their description proves nothing. Do you have anything more to report?”

“Yes. They talked about Harrison. And from their conversation, the demon deduced that the girl was to be apprenticed to Vonrist, the sorcerer who died a few weeks ago.”

Ludwig had his suspicions that the Chancellor was involved in Vonrist’s death, and from the way the man paled, his suspicions were all but confirmed. The spymaster continued. “They also spoke of the Royalists, more specifically, joining them.”

The Chancellor sat bolt upright. “Joining? You mean… they have not joined them yet?”

“Right. I think that they should be apprehended immediately.” Ludwig grinned. “I can bring word to Astrid, and she can mobilize the militia…”

“No. No, wait. If these people wish to join the Royalists, I feel that they shall. For if they were able to handle such a powerful demon at Wide Crossing, it testifies to their skills. Soon, they will be contacted, and the Royalists will come and appeal to them.”

Now Ludwig regretted his white lie. They had stated outright that they had no interest in joining the Royalist faction. But the Chancellor was adamant. He would need to tread carefully…

“But, sir. Another report came in yesterday. The younger swordsman in their group attacked a member of the nobility unprovoked.” Well, the report had said that the noble was accosting a young woman, but he could leave that detail out. “We have yet to identify the noble, for I heard he left in a huff, but the nobility are already demanding satisfaction and reparation.”

The Chancellor sighed. “Damn. Well, there will be other opportunities to find the Royalists. I suppose you are right, we will have to bring them into custody. But… well, let us wait for two days. See if they act. Inform Astrid that she is not to let any groups matching their description leave the city.” The Chancellor rose and walked across the room, to a door hidden behind a tapestry. “You are dismissed, Ludwig.”

Ludwig nodded in a crude facsimile of a bow, and then ventured a question. “And Chancellor, where are you going?”

“To make Astrid’s job easier. At this time tomorrow, no one will have any excuse to leave Castle Town.” Then, the Chancellor exited, the door closing behind him with a slam.

***

Anjaru bristled. “Mistress, it is no longer safe in Castle Town. We must leave now.”

Damin sighed. “I agree, my friend, but we would not get far if we don’t supply ourselves and our horses. We may not last long on the road otherwise. Besides… we don’t know which road to take.”

Kelrick chewed his lip. “But Anjaru’s got a point. After that sparrow near the window… and now all these armed men. Who are they anyway?”

Sin too had noticed the influx of what seemed to be guards around the city. However, their uniforms did not match those of the standard guard, or even those of the few soldiers he had seen.

Damin cringed. “It’s the city militia. In the Capitol, every man who does not live in poverty is required to spend two years in the army, as a foot soldier or cavalla. When his term ends, if he served admirably, he is offered a high position on the city watch, the guardsmen we saw. Others are assigned to the militia, a special regiment to defend the city in times of crisis. The fact that they are mobilizing does nothing to ease me.”

“You know a great deal about this,” Thalia said simply.

Damin shrugged. “I once wanted to enlist in the King’s Army, before Harrisholt entered our self-imposed exile. But Harrison convinced me that my place was in the village, and I saw he was right. Before he did, though, I learned much of the military hierarchy within the Capitol.”

While Lisana and Damin purchased feed for the horses, a young woman in the bustling crowd caught Sin’s eye. She pointed at his friends, then at Sin, and then a quiet side street.

Sin looked at her in confusion. The young woman sighed, and picked her way through the masses of people. She grabbed Sin’s arm. “We need to talk.”

“Do I know you?”

“No, but I know about you, and your friends. And if the lot of you value your lives, you’ll follow me.”

Sin motioned his friends over. “This woman would like a word with us.”

Anjaru glared at her. “What is it?”

The woman glanced around furtively. “Here is not safe. Quickly now, follow me.”

Kelrick shook his head. “You probably have a group of thugs lying in wait, ready to beat and rob us. Well, forget it. We can’t draw any more attention to ourselves.”

The woman scowled. “Men. Look, I swear by the Light, I mean you no harm. Quickly, follow me. We’re making a scene.”

Lisana shrugged. “She has a point. Let’s just hear what she has to say.”

The woman nodded and darted into the street. Sin and his friends quickly followed her, and she led them in through the back door of a building. Sin found himself in the deserted kitchen of a pub of some kind.

He wrapped his hand around his knife, ready to pull it from his belt with the slightest provocation. “All right. What is it?”

The woman sat atop one of the counters. “Okay. I’m sure you realized Castle Town is no longer safe for you anymore. It won’t be safe for anyone soon. There are great powers at work here, powers beyond your comprehension.”

“I doubt it,” Kelrick growled. “I’ve seen a lot in my time.”

“The Chancellor knows you’re here. The reason the militia is walking the streets is to keep you within the confines of the city for the next two days, to keep you under observation.” Seeing their panicked glances the woman sighed. “Don’t worry. This building is warded. People who aren’t invited into it can’t even see it.

“But regardless, you need to get out of the city. I have friends who can do that, and take you to where you need to be. There is a straw merchant by the West Gate. Tell him Thea sent you. He’ll get you out.”

“And where would he take us?” Anjaru demanded.

Thea rolled her eyes, as if it was obvious. “West. To the Royalists. Where you need to be.”

Chifumi’s eyes shone. “Ooh! Everyone, let’s do it! It’s what Harrison would have wanted.”

Sin shook his head. “For once, I don’t give a damn what Harrison would have wanted. We agreed that we weren’t going to fall in with the Royalists. So no, Miss… Thea, was it? We’re not interested. I don’t know why you’re helping us, or who your friends are. But we're not following your agenda.”

Thea scoffed. “Oh, really? Would you rather be chained in a dungeon, only to be executed for suspected treason?”

Lisana nodded. “We’re strong. We can fight our way out. We have friends outside the walls. They’ll help us.” Not exactly true, but not a lie, either.

Thea sighed. “You’re not going to change your mind, are you? Well… I’ve done all I could. Be on your guard. Because soon, your entire world is going to come crashing down.” She reached under the counter she sat on, and drew out a package wrapped in coarse brown paper. Thea passed this to Lisana. “Here. You might need this. Now, whatever happens next… stay safe.”

She got up, and walked out of another door that was concealed as a panel in the wall. Sin and his companions sat in silence for a moment, and Lisana opened the parcel. Inside was a scarlet cloak trimmed with wool. It was made of rich fabric, a fabric that seemed familiar…

“Hang on a minute,” Sin muttered, and ran his hand over the cloak. “This is the same kind of material the peasant woman was selling yesterday!”

Damin shrugged. “Perhaps it is just a common make, at least here in the Capitol. Probably just a coincidence.”

“There is no such thing as coincidence,” Thalia rebuked him.

Anjaru shuffled his feet. “Regardless of how this came to be, I think it is safest for us, in light of this information, to pull back to the inn. From there, we at least know our escape route.”

***

The group all moved into Sin and Damin’s room that night, with all of their packs. They slept in shifts, two keeping watch while the others tried in vain to calm themselves enough to sleep. Anjaru had mapped out an escape route that afternoon. If they climbed out of their window and leapt down using two adjoining rooftops, they would land in front of the stables.

Damin had snuck out and outfitted his mare and Dusty in their saddles, ready to leave at a moment’s notice. Lisana practiced the motions for what spells she knew, ready to cast them should the need arise. Sin and the demons polished their weapons, waiting for what the next day would bring.

Sometime just before dawn, all of the company fell asleep, as if dropped by a spell. They were awoken to the sounds of tolling bells. Every bell tower in the city was chiming in harmony, weaving together a forlorn music. “What’s going on?” Sin asked as he rubbed sleep from his eyes.

“It’s not an emergency signal,” Damin reported. “It sounds like a funeral march, more than anything else.”

“Let’s go to the Light Shrine,” Lisana proposed. "It seems like other people are headed there. We can lose ourselves in the crowd."

Seeing no better alternative, they agreed. Carefully, they made their way through town. Black banners had been hung from almost every door and window. The city militia stood on every corner. The air of Castle Town was tense and charged.

They soon reached the Light Shrine, the religious center of the Capitol, a tall marble building with marble ionic columns. A large crowd stood outside in the chilly morning air, seemingly keeping vigil. Lisana went up to an old man and tapped his shoulder. “Sir? What’s going on here?”

The man blinked in surprise. “You’re from outside the city, aren’t you, my girl? Yes. Of course you are. Well… you’re still a part of the kingdom. You deserve to know.”

“Know what? What’s going on?”

The man sighed. “King Gustav is dead.”

“No!” Sin cried. Harrison had told him that Gustav was a good man, a fair man. And from what he had heard from his mentor, the Chancellor had been positioning himself to usurp the throne. Sin had always regarded that as a conspiracy theory, but suddenly, it seemed very plausible. He had heard through the grapevine that the Prince had run off some years ago, the Queen some time after him. The Princess was apparently too young to take the throne.

“What happens now?” Lisana asked the man.

The man let a ghost of a smile play at his mouth. “The Regent will take control. He will rule us fairly until the Princess can marry and take her father’s place.”

Sin sighed with relief. Good. Someone stood between the Chancellor and absolute power. “Who is the Regent?”

The man blinked. “Ah, yes, you aren’t from around here. Why, it’s the Chancellor, of course.”

Anjaru dragged them away from the Light Shrine. “It’s not safe here. Whatever that woman said yesterday, we have to leave. Now.”

Damin nodded. “Right enough. Hold on. What’s this?”

He moved over to an announcement board. On it were three pieces of paper that read ‘wanted’. The three posters depicted two men, one young and one older, and a young woman. Sin read the descriptions.

“Two swordsmen of proficient skill, wanted for inciting civil unrest and accosting the city’s citizens. The woman is a sorcerer, wanted for… Light forefend!”

Lisana shoved him aside. “Wanted for… killing the king! Supposed to be working with the swordsmen, and controls three incredibly powerful demons. Thought to be an agent of the Royalist faction. Who are these people?”

Damin was trembling, his normally calm demeanor crumbling. “Sin… Lisana… it’s us. See, they even look similar!”

Sin grabbed the posters and ripped them to shreds. “Lies! It’s all lies! We haven’t even been near the palace! Any sane person would know that!”

“Sin,” Lisana whispered. “We’re not from Castle Town. We’ve been trying to find information about a sorcerer who died weeks ago, and was likely tied to the Royalists. People will already be suspicious of us.”

“But you have an alibi!” Kelrick murmured. “Last night, you stayed at the inn. You didn’t leave that room all night.”

Anjaru was shivering, and the warmth of his cloak did nothing to ease him. “A room where it is easy to access the street or the rooftops. A room that had no lantern lit. They can use that against us.”

Sin’s shoulder’s slumped. “We’re doomed. Anyone leaving the city now will look suspicious. Damn!”

“These posters must have just gone up,” Damin replied. “Perhaps not many people have noticed them yet. Quickly, let’s go around to all the places we’ve been and tear them down, so no one will recognize us. Then, first thing tomorrow, we’ll go see that straw merchant Thea told us about, and get out of the city.”

Kelrick nodded. “We’ll go faster if we split up. I’ll go with Mistress Lisana. Anjaru, take Sin and Chifumi. Thalia, you work with Damin. At sundown, meet back at the Shield and Sword.”

***

A man rode alone through the night, thundering down the West Road. He emerged from the Hallowed Forest into the starlight, and saw Castle Town for the first time in years. The moonlight illuminated the dark hangings on the tallest towers and ramparts.

The man reigned in his horse. “Light, no. I’m too late. I’ve failed.”

The stallion beneath him gasped as it tried to catch its breath. The man pitied the poor creature. He had nearly killed it in his rushed flight to the Capitol. And for nothing.

The man dropped out of the saddle, his legs groaning in protest. Suddenly, hot tears of rage and grief welled in his eyes. He whirled and punched the nearest tree, the rough bark bruising his knuckles. The pain helped him focus, brought him back to the present.

The Chancellor was in charge now. The Princess was unreachable. The man had no place in Castle Town anymore. He had left it long ago, on an urgent mission. And he failed. He took the bridle of his horse, and led the tired beast slowly into the forest.

He would have to go back. Preparations needed to be made, and time was short. The crushing weight of his failure would lift with time, and he had no time to mourn.

War was coming.

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Re: Sin - By Firebrand, Chapters 12 & 13, Fantasy

Post  Firebrand on Thu May 10, 2012 11:58 am

Chapter 13

The attack came in the middle of the night. Sin was roused from his sleep by the door to the inn slamming open, and booted feet clattering up the stairs. Anjaru and Damin, who had been on watch, were already on their feet. Kelrick, Thalia and Lisana were waking as well.

“Fuzzball,” Sin hissed. “The militia’s here.”

Chifumi, curled at his feet, clambered up onto Sin’s shoulder. “Let’s go,” she whispered.

Lisana’s right hand was clenched around her wand. She looked at Sin as she threw on the red cloak Thea had given her. “If we don’t make it out of here tonight, there’s something I want to tell you…”

“Mistress Lisana,” Anjaru hissed. He had propped the window open and was assisting Thalia in climbing out. The Ice Maiden shifted into her animal form, a pure white cat with startling green eyes, and bounded down across the nearest rooftop to the stables. “It’s your turn.”

The Air Master helped his mistress out, and as soon as Lisana was on the other side, the door to the room was ripped off its hinges by a concussive blast. The militiaman who stood on the other side held the shattered remains of an amulet in his hands.

“You are under arrest by order of the Regent!”

Lisana lunged forward and jabbed her wand through the window. “Fire!” A plume of white-hot flame burst from the tip of her wand, and struck the man in the heart of his armor. He was sent flying back, trying to extinguish his smoldering mail.

“The rooftops!” he bellowed. “They’re escaping from the rooftops! After them!”

Sin and Damin vaulted out of the window. The guardsman turned to Anjaru. “Sin, Chifumi and I will distract them, lead them on the wrong trail. Go north. They won’t expect that. I checked the area when we were taking the posters down. It’s flat until about five miles out, where there’s a ridge. If you can, wait there until dawn. If Sin and I don’t join you by then… carry on. Presume us dead.”

Sin turned to Kelrick. “Stay with Lisana. She needs you to keep her safe.”

The Hellhound nodded. “May the Elementals look favorably upon you.”

“And may the Light guide you to our next meeting. Quickly now, be off!”

The two demons and Lisana jumped down to the stables, and Sin watched as Dusty and the black mare thundered out, charging down the street. Guardsmen and militiamen swarmed to block their path. Lisana tried to turn Dusty away, but Kelrick howled from atop the mare’s back.

Anjaru, racing alongside the two riders on foot, rolled out of the way as Kelrick sent a wave of fire into the crowd of guards. Many pulled back, but others threw out amulets that shielded them. The horses continued to run forward.

A white bolt flew from Dusty’s saddle, and transformed into a woman in a pure white traveling gown. Thalia came out of her cat form and landed lightly on the street, creating a battery of icicles. These made the guards flee, for they had exhausted their protective charms. The horses and demons barreled past, and Damin took Sin’s arm.

“We have to hurry. They’ll be safe.”

Sin nodded. The two of them raced across the rooftops, leaping over small alleyways. Behind them, they heard the shouts of militiamen, growing ever closer. Sin and Chifumi vaulted over a wider gap in the roofs, a gap that the militia could not make weighed down by their armor.

Damin followed quickly, but came just short. With a cry, he slid down the slope of the shingles, scrabbling for purchase. His hands dug into the gutter that ran along the edge, and he dangled over it, his legs waving. The guardsman tried to haul himself up, but nearly fell further.

“Crossbowmen! To your marks!” someone shouted below.

“Damin, quickly, take my hand!” Sin shouted.

“No, get out of range!”

“You idiot! Take my hand!” Sin hauled the man up by his wrists and dragged him out of the crossbows’ reach. Damin gasped for breath, trying to recover from the shock of nearly dying.

“They really want us, don’t they?” he said softly.

Sin nodded grimly. “That damn Chancellor has them convinced we killed King Gustav. It was probably Kutayara, wasn’t it?”

Damin inclined his head. “Probably. The Poison Brewer is the Chancellor’s pet assassin.” He got to his feet. “I’m better now. Let’s go.”

As the two men began their flight again, they saw militiamen scaling ladders onto the roofs. “Damn, and double damn,” Damin hissed. He drew his sword. “Looks like it’s going to come down to a fight.”

“That’s stupid,” Sin muttered back. “We’re outnumbered, at least ten to one. We still have a rooftop open."

“You have a rooftop open. Go, Sin. I’ll… I’ll see you later.”

Sin slid to a halt, and Chifumi grabbed some of his hair. “You don’t mean…” the monkey cried.

Damin nodded. “You and Lisana need to get out. Not me. Harrison said I was to guide you to the city. Now, since the city isn’t safe, I need to get you out.”

“Damin, no!” Sin shouted. “You have a wife! Children! Don’t you want to see them again?”

“My sacrifice will allow you to get out, and you will keep them safe.”

“Damin, Harrison wouldn’t have wanted this!” Chifumi shouted.

“Harrison’s gone! We both saw that!” Damin squared his shoulders and dropped to a defensive position. “Now it’s time for me to sacrifice myself for the people I care about, as he did.”

Sin walked back to his friend and teacher. “Harrison had no one to stand beside him in the end. You do. We’re going down together. Chifumi, go to Lisana.”

“No.” The monkey balled her little fists. “I’m staying here with you.”

Sin couldn’t order her to go, because he wasn’t a sorcerer. He wouldn’t waste his breath trying. The militia closed in around them, about twenty men. All held either a sword or a mace, and a shield. They circled, preventing any escape.

“On my mark,” Damin murmured. “Now.”

He and Sin lunged forward, their blades glittering in the moonlight. They fell upon the militiamen, hacking away as best they could. Sin ducked under a mace blow, and as he rolled across the flat wood of the roof, the amulet bracelets on his hand clinked. He had all but forgotten about them, as he was so accustomed to their weight on his wrists.

“Damin! Get back!” Sin grabbed one of the bracelets off of his left hand, the side for offense. He sent a silent prayer to the Light, that this would work, and it wouldn’t make the situation worse. He ground the bracelet under his foot, and braced himself.

A vortex of fire roared to life around him. Chifumi shrieked, and Damin pulled in closer, trying to get into the center where the fire would not reach. The flames seemed to have been combined with a wind spell, for the attacking men were picked up and swept away, their armor smoking and sparking.

They were dumped none too gently on nearby roofs. The nearer ones groaned in pain. Sin took a deep breath. “Well. Let’s keep going. Maybe we’ll get out of this city after all.”

The continued on, pushing towards the North Gate. Occasionally a flash would illuminate a nearby street, showing them Lisana’s progress. Sin was happy to see that she seemed to be progressing steadily. Then, he reached the end of the roofs. A giant gap of empty air separated them from the nearest buildings, two stories below. Then, there was an open plaza before the North Gate. This was the end.

***

Lisana clung to Dusty’s bridle. The draft horse was galloping faster than she thought possible. They had been forced to take a roundabout route to the gates, because the city militia had blocked off many of the main roads.

Alongside the sorceress, Kelrick rode straight as a ramrod, ominous fire sparking at his hands. Anjaru and Thalia ran alongside her, keeping pace with the racing horses.

She saw the giant vortex of fire that erupted atop the buildings, and then the two shadowy forms that fled. “Kelrick,” Lisana said softly. “Go help them.”

“I can’t,” Kelrick replied. “I’m under orders.”

“Whose orders? What orders?”

“Orders to keep you safe. I can’t do that if I go help Sin. He can take care of himself.”

“Kelrick, I order you to go help Sin!” Lisana cried.

“He’d never make it in time,” Anjaru replied. “I’ll go.”

He drew his cloak around him and transformed into a falcon. The Air Master winged away after Sin and Damin as a group of militiamen cut Lisana and the other demons off.

Thalia hissed, and created four gigantic icicle spears to rain down on them. Kelrick hurled fireballs, and Lisana used any spell she could think of. They pushed through, but only barely.

“North Gate is just ahead!” Kelrick cried. “Come on!”

***

Damin and Sin stood perched on the edge of the building. “Looks like your little display only prolonged the inevitable,” Damin sighed.

Sin glanced at the new crowd of guards approaching them. There were only five of them. Perhaps he and Damin had a chance. But even if they fought them off, they were cornered. They had nowhere to run, and would be easy prey for the next group. The young man gripped his sword tightly. “Well, we won’t go down without a fight. Be wary of any amulets.”

“I don’t suppose any of those things Harrison gave you will give us the ability to fly?”

“Nope. I don’t think it works that way.”

As the group of five drew closer, Sin realized that only two of them wore armor, and the armor was unlike that of the militia. This was the armor of an elite soldier in the kingdom’s army. The other three were strikingly beautiful, but also had a primal glint in their eyes.

“Demons,” Chifumi hissed. “We know them.”

Sin glanced at Damin. “Really?”

“Well, I know two of them,” Damin replied. “Sin, meet Kutayara the Poison Brewer and Shiradre the Spider Queen.”

Sin gulped. The two demons that had killed Artos, the Demon King. Was the third one Talreya, the Queen of Darkness?

No. The third demon was male, but had a dark and sinister air, along with close-cut black hair. He wore a long overcoat that seemed to blend with the shadows. This man might not have ruled Darkness, but he was certainly affiliated with it.

Chifumi bared her little teeth. “I know what those humans are. Harrison showed me a picture in one of his books! They’re War Mages! Trained in magic suited for battle! And they’re supposed to be really good fighters too!”

Sin glanced at the four amulet bracelets he still had. He doubted all the magic in the world could save them now. He took a deep breath and prepared to fight the demons.

Shiradre moved first. She lifted the hem of her gown, and a black cloud seethed forth. “Go and get them, my pretties!” she cackled.

“Don’t let them touch you!” Damin cried. “Those spiders are poisonous!”

Sin nodded in affirmation. He jumped over the cloud of spiders and at Kutayara. His sword plunged into the demon’s leg, and Sin expected him to buckle under the steel.

Kutayara laughed. “Artos made the same mistake!” He pulled the sword out and tossed it back to Sin. “Fight me like a man!”

With a wave of one of the War Mage’s hand the gash on the Poison Brewer’s leg was healed. He lashed out at Sin with a sword that seemed to pulse green. Sin instinctively knew that just one touch of that blade would mean an agonizing and slow death.

Damin had engaged the man in the dark robes in combat while Shiradre called out ever more spiders. The War Mages crafted spells as the demons fought.

Sin found himself pushed to the edge of the building, and knew this was it. Damin likewise was cornered, and the two men from Harrisholt glanced at each other, sharing a final salute.

“Brace yourselves!” a voice shouted from the darkness above.

A column of wind descended, knocking the demons and war mages off their feet. A man in a long flapping cloak descended from the heavens, and grabbed Sin and Damin’s collars.

Sin looked up at Anjaru as he carried them out over the open air. “Anjaru! This is amazing! We’re flying!”

“No, we’re not,” Anjaru replied shortly. “We’re falling slowly.”

The man in the dark coat rose to his feet. “Anjaru! You should know better than anyone that no one escapes Reyaf, Defender of Night!”

Anjaru groaned. “All this posturing. Get it over with.”

The demon, Reyaf, leapt from the side of the building, using a similar technique as the one Anjaru used to manipulate the wind. “Kutayara, I require your knife!”

The Poison Brewer reached into his robe, and passed Reyaf a green dagger. The Defender of Night rushed at them, holding his arms close to speed up.

Anjaru glanced over his shoulder. “Gale.”

A raging wind swept between Reyaf and the fleeing group. The demon howled in indignation, and hurled the dagger. It flew straight through the wind and struck Anjaru’s left calf.

The Air Maser dropped several feet before recovering. By now, Sin could make out North Gate. It was closed, the solid oak doors barred with iron. With their current altitude, they would never make it over the wall. Ten War Mages were gathered around the gate, and a few more stood atop the parapet.

Damin glanced at Anjaru. “I’ve cheated death three times tonight. Pretty soon my luck is going to run out. And I fear it just has.”

Anjaru said nothing, but Sin could tell that deep in his heart, the Air Master agreed with Damin. His mouth was set in a thin line, and his face was pale from the poison.

As they drew close to the gates, bolts of lightning flashed from the War Mages' fingers. Anjaru tried to avoid these, and while he succeeded, he also lost more altitude. At their current rate of descent, they would just slam into the gate.

Then, there was a loud explosion from a nearby street. Lisana, Kelrick and Thalia barreled down the thoroughfare, and straight into the War Mages. Thalia used her ice magic to hold off the sorcerers, while Kelrick spread his hands wide.

“Hellfire!”

The North Gate was consumed in a blaze of blood-red fire that vanished as soon as the wood and steel that made the door had been devoured. Anjaru dove through the gap, pulling Sin, Damin and Chifumi with him.

“Gale,” he hissed through clenched teeth, and a rush of wind buoyed them upwards as they passed through the archway, giving them precious altitude. It seemed their escape was giving Anjaru hope, and through that, strength.

In the plaza, Lisana fought bitterly with what spells she knew. Still, she was no match for the highly trained War Mages. In a last, desperate attempt, she opened herself to the magic as Harrison had taught her.

Kelrick and Thalia were two brilliant lights in this magic vision. Kelrick was a bright red and orange flame, while Thalia’s fire burned pure blue and white. She reached out for those two Powers, and channeled them through her, by a will that was not entirely her own.

She raised her wand, and words surfaced in her mind. Lisana spoke them, invoking the terrible power of the magic. “Blistering wind, scorching fire! Two opposites for one desire! Heat for the rage and passion of many, Ice for the longing and envy of any! Two forces unite, fight until the end! Darkness and Light, both shall defend! Give me your strength this night, show my enemies your holy might!”

The spell left her feeling drained, and she slumped forward. In the air before the gate, seven giant, jagged pillars of ice fell and embedded themselves in the cobblestones. A brilliant corona of fire appeared in the middle of the pillars, becoming as brilliant as the sun and swallowing the War Mages.

The horses screamed in fear, but Kelrick drove them forward. As Lisana approached, the fireball exploded high into the air, creating a brilliant beacon that could be seen for miles around. The pillars shattered, driving icy daggers into the War Mages atop the wall.

Thalia grinned. It seemed as though they would escape! Then, the sound of a cavalry troop coming down a nearby street shattered the victory. The horses the soldiers rode were battle-trained and fresh, bursting with speed and power. Dusty and the mare were exhausted from their flight, and never meant to undertake something like this.

A cloaked figure darted in front of the cavalry troop. “Halt!”

“Out of our way!” the captain called. “This sorceress is a murderer and fugitive! Do not obstruct justice!”

“I am justice!” the figure cried. “And I command you to halt!”

“Move, foolish girl!”

The young woman threw the hood of her cloak back. Lisana gasped at the familiar face. “Thea?”

For it was indeed. Thea stood their, looking exactly as she had the day before, except now a crystal diadem glinted on her forehead. She threw her shoulders back. “Crown Princess Dorothea commands you to halt!”

The man's horse slid to a stop, and he signaled his company to do the same. “Crown Princess! What are you doing in the city?”

“What I do here is my own damned business, captain! Now, take your men and go! These people are under my protection!”

The captain looked flustered. “But, princess! The Regent’s orders…”

Thea strode up to the captain’s horse. Though she was much smaller than the man, she still managed to look very intimidating. “Captain. As heir apparent, my decrees carry more weight than those of the Regent. And soon, I will sit on the throne. If you like your head on your shoulders, where it belongs, then you will comply with my demands.”

The captain gulped and began to give the order for his soldiers to turn back. “Halt there, trooper!” a woman called from the top of a building. Her blonde hair whipped like a banner in the wind. “The princess forgets that I have absolute command over the troops of the Capitol, as Army General! Now, seize the criminals and take Princess Dorothea away! That’s a direct order!”

Now the captain truly looked torn. Finally, he nodded to the General, and motioned his troops forward. Thea snarled at him. “I will not be defeated so easily! Fire!”

A wall of flames fifteen feet high rose up in front of the cavalry. Their horses screamed with fear and nearly threw their riders. “Demons, to me!” Thea cried. A large feline with silver fur bounded out of an alleyway, snapping and growling at the cavalry. Now the horses did turn and run. A small boy with pointed features appeared at Thea’s side.

The princess glared up at the Army General. “This is not the end, Lady Astrid! We may not have the ability to meet on the field of battle, not yet. But rest assured, this is a declaration of war!”

Then, the boy seemed to pull the shadows around Thea and himself. They vanished, lost into the night. Lisana heard the Crown Princess’s voice in her ear. “I’ve bought you time! Now go!”

Lisana and her company charged through where the North Gate used to be, and emerged onto the wide rolling plains of the north. In the sky above, Damin called down to them, “Keep going! Don’t wait for us! We’ll catch up to you!”

“Like hell you will!” Reyaf shouted as he appeared on the wall. The two War Mages from the top of the building accompanied him. “By the power invested in me by Lady Astrid, I order you to bring them back, and to hell with what the princess says!”

The War Mages grimaced at taking orders from a demon, but wove their spell nonetheless. A powerful wind screamed down from the north, pushing against Anjaru’s feeble working. It began to drive them back to the walls. To the Chancellor.

Anjaru murmured something, but shook his head. “I can’t do it. I can’t save us.”

Sin turned around as much as he could, and saw Reyaf leaping from the wall towards them. His hands had turned into ugly, wickedly sharp talons. He cackled madly. “You won’t escape me again, Anjaru!”

“No!” Sin shouted. He reached out his hand in a pitiful attempt to stop him. There was a sharp crack, a flash of light, and Reyaf’s face contorted in surprise. The Guardian of Darkness fell to the ground and lay in a broken heap.

Sin stared at his hands. Had he just done magic? Damin and Chifumi were staring at him too. “Talisman,” Sin lied. “It activated because there was powerful demon energies in the air. To protect me.”

Satisfied with the explanation, Damin and Chifumi nodded. The attack on Reyaf had distracted the War Mages enough that Anjaru had been able to shift the wind into something from the east. Now they glided westward, falling into the great, unknown darkness.

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