I stood next to the box, even though there were no words coming out of it. Even the crowd outside the window was silent.
Goodbye? After saying all that and putting us in this dangerous situation, he was just going to leave? At least tell the guards to clear the way, damn it.
“So that’s Gecko Ross,” said Ben.
“Who the hell is he?” I asked.
“The new leader of the Side Party. I’d heard he was stirring up trouble but I didn’t know he was crazy.”
You probably didn’t know he was a douchebag either, I thought.
“We should leave,” I said, crouching to avoid being seen from outside the window as I made my way to the back door.
“What about the supplies?” asked Ben.
“No time, we need to get as far away as possible.”
I looked out through a crack in the door. There were no guards in sight but I made sure to open the door carefully. I still had a foot inside when the jabber box came back to life.
The now familiar voice of Gecko Ross, fiery leader of the Side Party, shouted:
Explosions punctuated his command and a series of shouts arose from out the window. Throwing caution to the wind, Ben and I ran into the street behind the inn. We stuck to the shadows of the buildings to avoid the waning sunlight. Guards streamed out from buildings behind us, but none of them chased us.
They had bigger things to deal with.
“Any idea where Elenor and the others could be?” I asked.
“The shop they went to is that way, near the center of the city,” he replied.
Near the center of the city? I did not want to go there right now.
“What are the chances they’re running for the gates and we can meet them outside?” I asked.
“They’re probably coming to look for us.”
Of course they would come looking for us, the inn was right next to the square. I resolved, at that moment, to always decide on an emergency rendezvous point before entering a city, and to always avoid politics like the plague.
We sprinted across the road and made our way to the inner walls. All the windows and doors we saw on the way were shut tight. Small bands of people scurried around in the shadows like us, while some of the bolder ones walked around wearing masks and rags while brandishing makeshift weapons.
The number of guards increased exponentially as we neared the inner walls. A group of people wearing black and white clothing had surrounded a guard and were beating him with sticks, stones, and household objects. Further in, groups of guards were pushing people to the ground or beating them with the flats of their blades.
The first corpse we saw was an old man lying in a pool of blood with an arrow in his throat. A middle-aged woman was crying next to him while an angry mob assailed the wooden doors of the guards’ barracks. Another scream pierced the air as we left that place behind.
The jabber boxes that people had put next to their windows had mostly been taken away but the few that remained replayed the same words repeatedly:
“A state of emergency has been declared. All citizens are advised to stay inside their homes for their own safety. Failure to comply absolves the government from any responsibility for your wellbeing.”
Ben said that we were almost there, but I had been expecting to meet the others on the way. Had we missed them or did they leave the city after all? Or maybe they’d gone towards the market, expecting us to still be there?
As we reached the gate that led to the inner city, Ben grabbed me and ducked behind a building. Peeking out, we saw dozens of guards facing off against a mob of masked figures in black and white. The guards’ swords were unsheathed and the turrets on the gate were whirring. There was a fully armored knight on a pedestal, just like the one in Sett.
The mob stood behind a red semi-circular line that bounded the area immediately in front of the gate. To the right of the mob was the shop Elenor and the others had gone to, and on the left, were three familiar buildings – the guilds. The red, yellow, and blue buildings looked almost identical to the ones in Sett.
There was no sign of Elenor, Sally, or Jerome.
“This is your final warning. Disperse!” said the knight on the pedestal.
In response, a single masked figure strode forward. Even the mob around him was confused by what she was doing. The figure turned around and took off the black sheet covering her clothes, and the mob hushed.
At first, I thought it was just the Side Party flag: a white rose on a black background, just like the ones I’d seen in the square. However, although the color scheme was the same, the flower was not a rose. It seemed vaguely familiar, as if I’d seen it very recently, in fact.
It was… a poppy.
The poppy was incinerated along with the rest of the masked figure, as the turrets began to shoot.
The people in the mob scattered but none of them ran away. Taking cover behind buildings and trash cans, they threw stones at the guards behind the red line. One of them even came to the building we were hiding behind, but didn’t say anything after seeing my covered face and the marks on Ben’s cheeks. That person pointed a finger at a guard who then promptly collapsed with an icicle lodged in his head.
The guards ran out of the red semicircle and fought the masked figures. Despite having better armor and weapons, the guards had a tough time beating back the figures because they kept ducking inside buildings or hitting the guards with magic.
I grabbed Ben. “They’re not here, let’s go.”
As we left our spot at the corner of the alley, the ground shook. Looking over my shoulder, I saw a crater in the ground, a hole in the corner of the building, and a charred corpse. Screams, shouts, and explosions rang out in all directions.
I had no idea where we were going. We couldn’t leave through any of the gates because they were guarded, and the secret entrance we’d entered the city through was on the other side of the city. The only thing we could do was hunker down in a relatively safe part of town and hope for the best.
We ran to the outskirts of town and came across a group of unmasked people who ran inside a burning building right next to the wall. I heard boots marching on the ground and turned around. A contingent of guards was headed towards us. On the other side of the street were masked figures with Molotov cocktails and stones. There were no alleys to duck into nor any buildings to hide in, except for the burning one.
“What do we do?” I said, backing up against the wall. The guards and the figures ignored us as they inched closer to each other.
“I don’t know!” cried Ben.
The last vestiges of sunlight reflected off the guards’ swords as they closed in. A tall masked figure snapped his fingers and lit a torch. He passed it to the person beside him and lit another one. The burning building was the brightest light source and since it was behind us, our shadows stretched between the two forces, soon to be trampled upon by their feet.
“Val,” said Ben
“Do you have any magic that could get us out of this?”
Magic? Right, this was a world of magic.
I imagined the shelf in the back of my mind, and it appeared. The Cannon hadn’t done anything when I tried it, so I reached for The Tempest. It had a faded leather cover, with its title stenciled in golden ink. It opened on the first page, flipped through to the last page, and hovered in the back of my head.
I didn’t feel any different. Maybe it had given me some magical powers but I couldn’t tell what they were? I snapped my fingers. I pointed them. I imagined hellfire falling raining down upon my enemies. But nothing happened.
Was it useless after all? Maybe I couldn’t use magic. Was it because I was from Earth? As the guards charged and the figures lit their molotovs, I prepared to avoid getting killed in the crossfire.
However, I felt a strange sensation in my chest. It wasn’t a bad feeling, in fact, it made me feel strong, more confident about myself. I could get through this, no sweat. Those swords didn’t even look scary, and those cocktails? They were for drinking, dummies.
Seriously, someone needed to stop that scuffle before people got hurt. Someone powerful, self-confident, and with just the right amount of crazy to risk getting burnt alive and sliced to pieces at the same time. Someone like that Gecko Ross character. Now that’s a leader with presence.
I was sure that if he’d strode up into the middle of that fight, everyone would’ve stopped and listened. In fact, I was so sure of it, I felt offended. An uppity douche like him fixing an important fight like this? Nay, only someone pure of heart, full of wisdom, honor, and integrity, could stop this battle.
Someone like me.
I let go of Ben and strode into the middle of the road.
“Hello friends! How about we put those nasty weapons away and have a chat, hmm?”