Caru’s eyes slid open against the early morning sunlight before he squinted away to darkness again. He waved a hand against the sky and cursed when a low haze did not appear to conceal the light. Of course, he cursed each time he instinctively tried to use magic and failed in the two previous weeks as well. Rythellas lent him strength to escape from a tightly-guarded prison on the Soulless night, but now even a simple conjuration of shade eluded his abilities.
Damn the humans.
The sun angled towards the city from a northern latitude, though, leaving the equatorial nations from its direct path. Caru stood and looked over the rooftop ledge, an occasional joint popping silently as he surveyed the grand city of Garenesh. Buildings poked and prodded at the sky across the city, but only a few spires in the center really stabbed at it. Those spires formed the Seranian Palace of Light, residence of the nation’s Blood Emperor, Theop. Caru leaned over the edge of the building and spat at the ground three stories down. He hated all Serana had to offer.
Daylight flickered briefly as a small group of ermen flew overhead, wings outstretched so that they might sail on the low winds blowing over the city. Caru’s back itched, muscles flexing impotently yet again. Thoughts of flight would do that. Humans took that ability from him, and he still did not know why.
He would burn each and every one of the creatures if he were able.
Two weeks since they assaulted him, on the night of the Void Moon. Caru blinked, stepping away from the ledge and shaking his head. No, best not to dwell on that memory.
Movement in the distance caught his eye, and he turned to see a human launching from one of the Palace of Light’s highest towers. The human fell briefly before shifting into a smooth descent, held aloft by a military glider, one made of wood and either canvas or thin leather. The single rigid wing could hold a human in the sky for several minutes, but gravity always called them home. Though he could not see detail at such a distance, Caru knew the dark mark across the glider was that of Serana’s Holy Shield. Those launching from the palace itself would undoubtedly be with the Seranian military; people gliding for sport had to do so from towers well outside Garenesh, so as to not interfere in Garenesh’s airspace. When the Glider wheeled around the castle and fell obscured to the east, another launched, then another, and another. Gliders dove from the tower ledges and soared over all of the city’s districts. More flew over the city walls, circling over the capital’s edge cities and farmland. A glance over the skyline seemed to reveal more humans in the air than ermen, nearly more than there were birds.
The military would need to seize the escapee as soon as possible.
Escapees? Caru thought. Smoke poured from more points across the city than his own escape site. He wondered if the military already captured the others. Another scan over the skyline revealed their former prisons, both buildings ending as jagged monstrosities, tops gaping open at the heavens. Those escapes must have been so intense that Caru seemed to have tip-toed to freedom by comparison.
One of the Gliders slipped towards the central train station, making a few passing arcs before moving on. That one was still far enough away to not be an immediate threat, but Caru knew it would be only moments before one came towards the western wall inspecting more rooftops.
With a curse over the ache of a bad night’s sleep, Caru walked to the far ledge and descended down the ladder. He pushed himself from the bottom rung and into a long stride, leaving the alley and walking into the street. Mingling with early morning crowds of Garenesh would certainly make it easier to escape Glider detection, but he still worried over the human bloodmages. Just as humans did not know the entire capabilities of ermen, so did they keep secrets of their own. Most of the abilities focused on military uses, but surely they would not be completely limited to outright warfare.
City streets quickly became disorienting as people nudged and jostled Caru. On more than one occasion, he found himself forced down a street he did not mean to take, guided as he was. A handful of ermen walked through the crowd as well, wings tightly tucked behind them to keep from making more of an impact than was necessary. Ermen on foot usually walked to converse with humans, and that seemed true on this morning as well. Luckily, no one noticed the spatter across Caru’s shirt, but he did make it a point to keep the musty jacket pulled tightly around himself. Could bloodmages detect blood that was not their own? The thought made Caru pause, but the crowd quickly pushed him into motion yet again. Would they be able to distinguish between blood and a half-hearted lie about falling in mud?
He itched to make a run for the Edarian embassy, but knew it would be a bad idea; it was where the Seranian military would expect him to go. Where else was there? In the night’s escape, the Trade District Portal seemed a good idea, as had Garenesh’s western exit. Leaving the city would be the best idea, and as quickly as possible.
A Glider shadow flashed across the street, passing directly overhead. Caru flinched, but bowed his head and pressed forward. No time to jump at shadows, especially while trying to pass himself off as a vagrant. Gliders could move quickly, but they would be of very limited use scouting over one of the largest cities in all of Ilthirios. He turned in time to see the Glider sail over the roof where he had slept and exhaled a silent and thankful prayer for his vacancy.
Head down, hands free. He would vanish in the crowd. He kept eyes on the ground before him, making sure to avoid stepping on feet. Caru seldom looked up, then only to orient himself and to find a better street to move along. With each glance, he made sure to meet no one’s eyes; with luck, no one would remember him. Hopefully the smell of the jacket would keep people from inspecting him too closely. The blood seemed to blend well with the deep brown of his shirt, but he still plucked at his coat, keeping it close even in the day’s heat.
Cirellias held true in the sky. Caru used the satellite as a focusing point. Cirellias o his left meant he was moving north and to his back meant he moved east. Directly overhead, and he would be on Edaria once more, but he knew better than to lose himself to flights of fancy.
Organize thoughts. Yes. He took a deep breath, planning. The first and most important thing would be to discover the status of the other fleeing ermen. If they yet lived, it would make escape easier. He would have someone with whom to plan and would be less prone to panic. Even through his fuzzed memories of the previous night, Caru knew he made short work of the prison guards, but that he had been vulnerable before he was in the clear. Would the other ermen be as strong? Were they oriented towards Destructive or Restorative magics? Caru himself was in the middle with a very slight inclination towards Destructive, a fair balance at each, but excelling at neither. He did not know if the others’ strengths, but a quick look upward again revealed the other broken towers, still smoldering in the daylight.
Thoughts of the Edarian embassy tugged at him, but he muted those. No doubt that would be but a hasty suicide, as guards most likely already encircled its perimeter, perhaps casually so they would not raise erman suspicion. Near his former prison’s ruins would also be a deadly sector of the city, but he had no desire to return there anyway. Maybe the prisons the other two ermen destroyed? No, of course not; if inspectors surveyed his own escape site, they would be scouring those as well. The train station might be relatively unguarded, but he lacked the money to use it since his imprisonment.
That left the Trade District Portal, which would transport him to southeastern Edaria. There might be some progress to be made there, but Caru shook his head, suspecting that it would be monitored as heavily as any other useful location. If nothing else, it would raise suspicions when someone without wings—someone looking very human—attempted to activate the Portal. Caru did not know if he would even be able to activate it; using Portals required some amount of magic, but Caru used them instinctively for so long that he could not recall exactly how much magic it took to use one.
Maybe the western gate would be the best course of action.
Caru nodded to himself, confident, and turned westward at the next intersection. Cirellias loomed invitingly, far in the distance.
The street led into a residential sector, houses of brick and wood lining the path behind sidewalks, fences, then small yards. With his first steps, though, a hush fell over the crowd, first in the distance, then nearing slowly. People always gave bloodmages and their retinues a wide berth as they passed through city streets. Caru held his breath as the crowd split, pushing him near the front passage of one of the houses. He kept his head bowed, shoulder pressing against a fence as he walked, trying not to stumble or stop and stare in fear. Head down, don’t even look at the skullbashing bloodmage. Vision tunneled towards the ground, blocking all else out. Praying that he had yet to break a sweat, he swept his tunneled vision towards the squadron. Caru saw the men and prayed they would not be his executioners.
The two men in front would have been massive, even without their heavy plated armor. Both had shields strapped over their backs and jagged single-handed axes hanging at their hips. They wore bored expressions, one of them actually raising a hand to his face to stifle a yawn as they passed through divided throngs of people. Both clinked and clanged softly as they walked, boulders with grace.
A single lancer moved along behind them, using his long weapon as a walking stick. The tip of the lance swept back and forth as though carving a path through the sky. That one at least looked more alert, or as alert as one can look when using a weapon for casual leverage. Behind the lancer was a bloodmage and a grizzled swordsman, and to their rear was a stern-looking rifleman, marching intently with his weapon held at a rigid angle over his shoulder.
The bloodmage himself wore an iconic long coat over his armor of chain and a boiled leather breastplate. The sleeves stopped at the elbow, leaving the forearms bare; faded pink scars climbed from wrist to elbow evenly like rungs of a ladder. At his left was a swordsman with several chevrons of rank on his shoulder that Caru did not understand. An officer of some sort, most likely. The tall bloodmage bore no weapon, except for a small dagger in a sheath on his left hip. Unless things got out of control, the bloodmage would never use the dagger on anyone but himself. Two frosted vials poked up from pockets in his belt, steaming in the sunlight. Those, Caru knew, contained liquid blood held in stasis, and would be the bloodmage’s first assault. It spoke of the situation’s severity that he walked the streets of Garenesh with vials out in the first place.
“—scorched the interior of the upper hallway,” the bloodmage said.
The officer nodded. “So I’d heard.”
The bloodmage shook his head. “I still don’t know why we had him—any of them—in the first place,” he said in a hushed tone, barely audible to Caru’s ears. Caru looked up and down the street and saw no ermen. “I didn’t know they were capable of that.” The bloodmage glanced up to one of the broken towers.
The officer only shrugged. “We’ve never fought them before. We don’t know what they can do. Do you?”
“No, of course not. Did you hear what happened at the other areas?”
The officer whistled sharply, and spoke softly, now far enough away that Caru could no longer hear. He wanted to know more, but knew it would be more than foolish to tail after that squadron, especially with the rifleman at the rear. Though the infantrymen seemed to think it a lazy morning stroll, the rifleman looked as though it had been too long since one of his bullets spread some brains.
Caru realized he still held his breath and exhaled in long shudder. He lowered his head, intent on the ground before him again. It was a comfort to know bloodmages could not actually sense blood. At least not those of other people. Small victory. It would have been nice to gain more information from the conversation, maybe something about the other sites. Caru knew both had left magnificent swaths of destruction from hearing that single snippet of conversation, but he still did not know if the ermen still lived. If they did, that would certainly give his plans more flexibility.
He glanced to Cirellias again, then turned his eyes back to his feet. They would kill him before putting him in another prison.
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