This is a chapter that I always thought of as a bad chapter, one I dreaded going back to revise. I think it works better this way (and, yes, the original was a pain to edit), but I do know this won’t be a final edit, even if it is somewhere closer. Let me know what you think, and, as always, I hope you enjoy!
With a muttered curse, Caru wove his way through alleys as he tried to quickly put space between himself and the military structure. A single glance over his shoulder revealed the woman’s silhouette, outlined in the kitchen doorway against the flickering lights from within. Something about her danced in his own memories, but Rythellas wandered invisible across the night sky, its Soulless phase showering Caru’s mind with a fevered intensity that prevented focus.
Water? Why did water stand out so prominently in his addled thoughts?
Caru flung himself from another alley onto an empty street, bowing his head down low between hunched shoulders and rushing ahead into yet another dark stretch between buildings. The guards would not forget his fevered escape, and he had no desire to face them again, powerless as he now stood. Muscles in his back twitched at the thoughts of the humans’ torment, but fate dictated he make this journey on foot. The high moon granted Caru a generous reward through escape, but now his destiny would be a matter of his own determination.
As he crossed yet another abandoned street, he realized he had never seen a night sky devoid of Rythellas. Each time the moon disappeared, he had been in Edaria, surrounded by friends and loved ones for the Calming. Though he could not see Edaria from within the city, Cirellias was bright in its stationary point some degrees above the western horizon. Edaria rested beneath that satellite, and it was a beacon to return home from nearly any point on this hemisphere.
A glance left then right along a wide open thoroughfare again revealed nothing; no lights, no people. The emptiness brought another curse. If he could weave through a crowd of people, maybe it would be easier to lose himself to the pursuing guards. A lone man running at night would raise questions even if city guards were not on alert. The bell in his prison tower still tolled loudly, matched by others throughout the city. Caru wondered how long it would be before the entire Seranian military was out in force, but he made himself crush the thought. Panic would only get him recaptured.
Barrels of water sat stagnant in the alleyway. Rats watched Caru’s approach, then quickly retreated to holes in walls as he grew nearer. Tiny eyes still reflected moonlight from perches higher up on the walls, though, bold vermin remaining behind to spy on the intruder. Rainwater seeped into his shoe as he padded silently through a large puddle. The entire alley, as most did in the city, stank of stagnation and cheap booze.
The source—or at least a contributor—of the filthy smell rested at the exit to the next street. A grimy man lay curled in a ball at the entrance of a grocer’s shop, holding an empty bottle as he slept and muttering into what seemed an especially aggressive dream. His left arm flopped almost like a numbed and worthless punch but then returned to the man’s chest, where fingers brushed against the bottle. A rough woolen coat lay some distance away from the grimy man, which Caru promptly claimed, shouldering it over himself as he crossed into the next alley. It was a dull brown, stained, and—much like he owner himself—reeking. The drunkard grunted and flailed his arm one final time before dropping completely from Caru’s sight. He imagined the final motion to be a wave of good luck and best wishes.
The jacket was tight across Caru’s shoulders and stank of liquor and regret, but it would serve its purpose. His shirt still bore blood from the escape and would undoubtedly remain a beacon of his crimes even in the darkness. He jogged through several more alleys, each time finding the streets dark and empty. Somewhere far behind, guards shouted, their voices resonating over the quiet city. Interrogating the drunk man by now, no doubt.
With five more streets between himself and the fortress, Caru finally spared a moment for rest, leaning against the side of a building and sucking in breaths, deep and ragged. Only immense resolve kept his hands from trembling or his knees from giving way. His muscles already burned in a deep fury from the force of his escape. Rythellas had a harsh effect on the erman race, one that went entirely unnoticed by humans. The Soulless night was taxing even when ermen were present for the Calming, but actually letting oneself go to that insanity would be even more detrimental. Tonight was the first time in his life Caru yielded to the lunar fury, becoming truly Soulless if only for a very brief period.
Finding himself more relaxed, Caru moved across the next street at a more casual pace. Despite present aches, yielding to the Soulless nature was . . . exhilarating. Even with only that tiniest fraction of power remaining, he felt truly alive for the first time in his life. The rush, the power, the sheer bloodthirst of it all! If he still had his erman wings, the entire fortress and surrounding city blocks would lay in ruins, if not the whole of Garenesh. Surely human bloodmages would slay him before he could go so far, though. Luck alone kept his prison devoid of them, or at least kept them from discovering him. Though his mind yet raced under dark Rythellas, his body already had spent all of its reserves. Without power to expel, the combat sense of his mind dulled slightly and allowed rational thought once again.
Another alleyway led to a broader street. To the left—south—the street curved slightly but still ended in complete darkness. To the north, though, the city was brighter. A few lanterns lit the path, swaying lightly in the nighttime breeze, and several people walked the cobblestone path. A glance towards Cirellias showed it past its fullness as a dark sliver carved away a fraction of the surface. Just after midnight, then.
He thought to inspect his shirt before pressing further along the street, heading north towards people and light. The blood dried, turning a much darker color. It still made for a huge series of stains over his chest, but hopefully he only looked clumsy, as though he may have fallen in mud earlier. Still, he shifted his shoulders to make sure the jacket covered as much of the mess as possible. Caru held a silent prayer as he approached people. He knew his way around Garenesh well enough, but this was the first time he could recall navigating the city entirely by foot.
As he neared the people, some noticed the stained shirt and soiled jacket, turning away in disgust. Others pointed him out to their friends, laughing behind their hands at the clumsy oaf. Caru adjusted his gait so that he staggered every few paces. Let them think him a drunken fool. A man who may have been fresh from his teenage years called out something Caru did not understand and raised his hand. Caru forced a grin and waved back to the group, punctuating the interaction with a stumble that nearly made him land face-first onto the cobblestone. The group laughed at his antics, cheering loudly before going about their business. Caru waved again and forced another slight stagger before letting his smile dissolve and moving once again toward the lights.
A whistle sounded loudly in the distance, prompting a blink from Caru. Shortly after came a slowing rhythmic sound like a heartbeat, followed by a light squeal. He recognized the lights—Garenesh’s central train depot. It surprised him that the depot would remain open all night, but he never really had much interaction or interest with human transportation systems. Moving along the ground seemed so slow, almost archaic. Much faster to travel by air or Portals, but humans had yet to develop either option.
Caru arrived at the station in time to see the train finally come to a crawling stop. A loud hiss escaped from the engine, followed by another squeal from the brakes. The rhythmic, mechanical heartbeat came to a stop as car doors slid open along the train’s length, spilling droves of bleary-eyed people into the depot proper. Knowing this would be his best chance to blend through a crowd, he waited patiently at the depot exit, leaning against the pedestal supporting a statue of Garenesh’s Blood-Emperor. The fear of being caught kept him from turning and spitting on the monstrosity. The Blood-Emperor loomed menacingly in granite, but held his peace.
Light from Cirellias cascaded through the train station’s glass roof, casting long shadows where it was not conflicted by the depot’s interior lighting. People gathered luggage and suitcases from attendants on the central platform before splitting and moving towards the various exits.
As a group of around twenty came to the depot’s south exit, Caru casually fell into step alongside them, letting their movement guide him. At each street intersection, some broke away from the larger mass, but Caru managed to travel in their midst for some time. He kept his shoulders hunched as he watched his feet shuffle along, constantly adjusting his coat in an effort to better conceal his shirt’s stain.
When another group of two split from the group, Caru realized there were no longer enough to blend with. If he remained, the others would investigate him with greater scrutiny and may wonder if he was a thug or thief. With the stains on his shirt, one may even wonder if he was escaping the scene of some murder. He held his breath as they walked, expecting someone to motion a night watchman if one crossed their path. The breath exhaled as they came to the next intersection, and no one walked away. That much was a relief, as it would only raise further suspicion if he followed someone as they left. He stepped away from the travelers and headed west down that street, Cirellias shining as a beacon calling him home. Someone looked over their shoulder as he left, but did not say anything. They turned with the others and continued walking.
Caru’s chosen path was dim, but it was at least lit. Several people milled about at scattered points down the boulevard’s length, but no one presented a real danger. He kept his shoulders hunched, eyes pointed to the ground. Do not make a scene. Do not be remembered. Stay quiet, stay calm. The black slice marring the Cirellian surface grew wider as time passed. Each hour between him and the prison escape would bring him closer to true, permanent freedom.
He sighed, wishing to again be on Edaria, Cirellias directly and perpetually overhead.
Caru knew there was an Edarian Portal in Garenesh, in the Trade District. That way would require him to stay in the Seranian capital, but may prove more fruitful than making for the city gates directly. If he could get to the Portal and manage to activate it, he could return to Edaria and could explain his case to fellow ermen without human interference. Still, there remained the question of whether or not he could still activate the Portal at all without wings. The Edarian Sentinels at the Portal base would no doubt question his inspection, and that may draw more unwanted attention. Perhaps escape through the city gates would not be a bad choice, after all. If there was another crowd to blend with, it may be possible. Then again, there would also be the option to contact the Edarian embassy. Surely he could find escape somewhere.
He yawned against an open hand and decided to answer that question later. He hardly slept at all the night before in anticipation of possibly escaping without the Calming on a Soulless night. Twenty long hours since he had awakened, and the escape further drained him. Sleep felt in part like a bad decision, but so did collapsing in the street.
Casual glances down several alleys finally revealed what he needed: a ladder propped against the side of a tall building. He looked behind to see if anyone noticed, then stepped between the two buildings and climbed the ladder. A light breeze blew over the roof, prickling coolly against Caru’s skin. It felt nice. He once worried he would never feel a breeze again. The humans may have taken the sky from him, but they would never have the wind.
He stripped the drunkard’s jacket off and used it as a poor man’s blanket. He rested on the side of the roof across from the ladder and finally let sleep overtake his exhausted body.
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