This isn’t a final draft, but one that I’m happy with. I’ll edit this a few more times, but thought I was ready to show some progress. Let me know what you think!
The guard’s life ended in a bloody smear, marring the wall across the hallway as the prison cell’s door burst from its hinges. The door crashed against the wall through the guard, echoing through the armory like a cannon shot. Shouts sounded from rooms nearer the ground, but the prisoner still spared a moment to pause and savor the sound and smell of blood, sizzling against the door’s charred and burning splinters. So hard to suppress the urge to rip into the dead man’s flesh with bare fingers as the captive closed a hand around the doorway’s jamb and pulled himself into the dim hallway.
He knelt to inspect the corpse, running a hand over the creases in the man’s uniform. Dead, of course. No hope of surviving an explosion of that force with a projectile of thick wood banded with iron. No, the guard only sat propped against that slick section of wall, a sack of gore barely recognizable as human. The prisoner felt no remorse for the explosion, no pity for the snuffed life, barely understood what had happened at all. The crackling blood sang a lovely song in his ears, a song of power, of strength, force of will. Perhaps only a taste . . . He trailed a finger over the guard’s blood soaked clothing but stopped himself. There was some greater purpose, wasn’t there?
More cries arose from deeper in the complex, shouts and footfalls as soldiers raced to inspect the loud crash from the top floor. Eating flesh was profane, wasn’t it? The prisoner shook his head, but the sweet smell of char and death was maddening. No, no, more pressing matters. He ran a finger over the scabbard hanging at the body’s hip but shook his head again and left the sword.
“What was that sound?” someone yelled from the opposite end of the hallway. Rather than turn to face the respondent, the prisoner bounded backwards into the darkness of his cell, crouched in the pale moonlight glowing between the outer bars. The newcomer ran to his ruined comrade as the prisoner drew upon a seemingly infinite source of magic. Blood smelled even sweeter from his position in the embrace of power, singing softly in his ears. War waged in his mind. Restraint, restraint, restraint. Flame darker than the night sky covered the prisoner’s hand as he waited, burning quietly yet not consuming.
The prisoner bared teeth as the guard knelt to inspect the dead soldier but held his silence. The second guard never seemed to notice that the splinters around the corpse must have come from a door, even with the twisted iron littering the floor. The guard pressed fingers against the dead man’s open neck as though feeling for a pulse. He muttered to himself, shaking his head as he searched frantically for a decision. More men yelled from further below, but they were still far away. The prisoner could feel the man’s heart beating in his mind, a twisted song of panic and fury.
Suddenly, the guard did think to turn and examine the blackened hole in the wall to his rear, where a door once stood. The body was a distraction from more urgent matters. He took a step forward before being rammed hard against the wall, throat held tightly in the prisoner’s grip. Feet kicked and backpedaled feverishly in the expanding pool of blood as the soldier tried to find purchase and regain balance. The prisoner flashed a harsh smile as the man’s flesh blackened and curled, smoking between fingers covered in dark flame. The jugulars worked feverishly against the prisoner’s thumb and forefinger, the larynx bobbing between them as the soldier struggled for a shout. The guard slapped a hand against his own hip, scrambling to yank his sword from the sheath, but it was so hard to fight down the mounting horror as thin wisps from steaming and hissing blood drifted between himself and the prisoner. Slamming his hand harder into the guard’s throat, the escapee claimed the sword for himself. With his right hand, the prisoner spun the blade point-forward, lunging and slamming it into his victim’s abdomen, shoving through meat until the point ravaged the heart. The sound of the furious pulse was ecstasy in the prisoner’s ears, furious war drums of death’s angel. He twisted the blade a quarter turn, then jerked it out again, leaving the body to fall into a pile with the first.
Nothing existed beyond that single moment. He knelt beside the two bodies, barely containing laughter. So weak, so irrelevant, nothing but food for worms now. Such bloody messes from such delicate creatures. They never knew, they never knew. His own heartbeat pounded in his ears, a victorious battle cry. He lived while others died. Was he anything like these men? No, no. He would kill as many as needed.
He turned left, to the opposite end of the hallway from where the second guard had come, the way towards open air and freedom. This was very high in the tower, he remembered. Near the outside. His smile never wavered as he stood and ran, never needing to take a deep breath. Blood and desperation pumped through his veins, fueled again by magic for the first time in what felt like years.
The outer door quickly opened inward as the prisoner came to the exit. One guard of many tried to come into the hallway, but the prisoner lowered his open hand towards the door, loosing magic from his body, black flame filling the hallway before him. The door splintered, revealing the interloper, falling backwards with lifeless eyes and one hand raised over the smoldering hole in his chest. Someone shouted loudly, followed by the metallic ring of wholesale swords sliding from their sheaths.
Men cautiously stepped away from the fallen body, raising weapons to defensive positions. No use. The prisoner saw the star-spattered sky over their heads. Cirellias, the low moon, hung far in the distance, calling to him as a wayward child. Liberty sang sweetly, and no one would bar his path. Darkness offered freedom.
One soldier stepped forward, blade lowered at his side, ready to strike with an upward slash. Perhaps he thought his blade to be more intimidating, but the escaped man never slowed. Instead, the prisoner bounded over the third corpse, jumping high into the air before the soldier. The defender tried to stave off the prisoner’s landing but was too slow. The captive landed against the soldier, pressing a soft-soled shoe against the man’s throat with crushing force. The prisoner felt as much as heard cartilage snapping beneath his foot as he kicked away into a backwards flip, coming to rest with feet planted against the wall above the open doorway.
Others backed away from the fourth body, leveling weapons in various stances to give themselves more room to fight. The prisoner kicked himself away from the wall, black flame covering both hands as he lunged towards the cobbled floor of the tower’s outcropping. Fists crashed into the stone, leaving the rock to buckle slightly before the prisoner expelled midnight fire in a radiating fan before him. Guards fell to their knees as they were consumed, the sounds of their cries louder than the clatter of clumsily discarded blades hitting the cobble. Even the rock could not withstand the attack, shifting red and losing form in the heat. The bodies that still lived cried even louder in pain as the section of roof collapsed in on the floor beneath.
Satisfied, the prisoner stood and crossed the top of the tower to the outer edge, pressing hands against the short wall and staring down at the ground below. The hypnotic buzz in his head told him to take wing and fly into the distance, but nothing happened as he contracted muscles in his back. With a shake of the head, he backed away. No, even now, that would be suicide. Still, the sensation urged him to jump, but he quelled it. Had he considered eating the flesh of humans? So hard to remember.
A frantic bell tolled from a different part of the complex, echoing over the large city. Was it Garenesh? So hard to remember. Cities were only huge collections of people, and people would only be in the way. There would always be more guards. He could already hear shouts and footsteps rushing down the hallway. Black flames surrounded his hands once again, but with less intensity. Magic would drain him quickly; he knew somewhere in the back of his mind that he could not maintain this pace forever. Even when he killed the first guard, the prisoner had been weakened, barely a shell of his former self. The song of destruction in his mind urged him to do so much more then he had, but on a scale he could not achieve. Visions of the city in flames and ruin plagued his mind, but only luck had made him strong enough to escape his cell at all.
He stood at the doorway leading back to the hall and loosed his magic, black flame once again flooding the corridor. A grimace spread over his face as the magic left, draining him. Infinite magic had only been an illusion; every usage drained him weaker and weaker. Vision blurred for a moment but returned quickly. Several bodies littered the hallway, but many more rushed over. A loud report filled his ears, and the high whistle that followed made him painfully aware of the bullet that nearly ended his life. The rifleman kept his eye on the weapon’s sights, already lining up another shot.
So many heartbeats, and none as frantic as the prisoner hoped.
He turned and jumped into the caved-in floor behind, landing among rubble and corpses in the room below. He stumbled over a wooden strut and barely caught himself against the wall. A guard climbed down slowly behind him, prompting another small gout of flame. Instead of bursting into ash, the man only fell into the room with a crash, burning and screaming, loud curses echoing as the soldier tried to pat out the flames through his light armor. The flame quickly spread though, burning the guard alive as more lowered themselves down behind him. Too many to deal with.
The captive turned towards the room’s intended exit, clawing through his mind for magic. Maybe not enough for an attack, but blue flames covered his fingertips to light his path as he ran into the connected hallway. He shoved the door shut as he fled, heart pounding loudly in his own ears. Muscles ached, fear gnawed at his mind. The song still buzzed loudly, though, urging him to kill as many as he could, cause as much destruction as possible. Leave the city in ruins, obliterate it all. Humans were responsible, and they would die for their atrocities. He struggled roughly with logic, nearly stopping and holding hands against his head to keep himself from plunging backwards into his pursuers.
The tower’s interior blurred as the prisoner worked his way through corridors and stairwells. The tower was of a sensible design, elegant and convenient, but panic overrode the escapee’s mind. Every turn seemed a dead end before he made another and saw a different passageway or more stairs. The sound of rushing footsteps always goaded him forward, though, propelling his flight in a blind rush.
With labored breath, he forced his way through a door that opened into a large room filled with rows of long wooden tables. A dining hall, so most likely—hopefully—the bottom floor. Light flickered in a doorway to his left, so he ran for it, summoning a faint black flame around his right hand. It was barely even warm against his flesh, but hopefully enough for one final attack if needed.
He rushed through the open door into a kitchen. Pans and utensils hung from racks bound to the ceiling above stoves and heavy iron cauldrons, arranged into neat rows. He rushed between two lines of pots, still careful not to make more noise than was necessary. The door across the room called to him, urged him forward with promises of the freedoms of darkness. Surely darkness still covered the world outside through that door. He opened his free hand, rushing towards the handle. Someone screamed, high and shrill.
Magic at his fingers begged for release as he turned, but he hesitated. A young woman sat huddled against the last stove on that row, screaming at the sight of him. A light spatter of blood covered his clothes, and surely he looked a madman, manic and enraged. Flame pulsed in his hands, strong enough to ensure one last death. If she continued screaming, the guards would know which way he went. One twitch of his fingers would end her noise. Something flashed in her eyes though as she looked up. Her teary eyes were green, pale and pure, peering out between fallen locks of straight black hair. A memory raced through the man’s mind a moment before his flames vanished. Restraint kept him from howling against his frustration. He grimaced and flung the door open, running into the open darkness and leaving the woman alone.
He clutched his coarse woolen shirt in shaking hands as he scrambled through the maze of dark alleys, hoping to put enough distance and twists between himself and the guards to make his escape. Two huge plumes of smoke and dust illuminated other parts of the city’s night sky. He wondered if he was the only prisoner escaping on beneath the high moon Rythellas in its soulless phase, and found himself wishing the others well.
Caru Freehaven knew the magic abandoned him. All it took was realizing he again remembered his name.
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