You would be forgiven for thinking that Divinity’s Reach just happened. One moment there would have been nothing but an idyllic view, touched only by little dots of farms set upon a land so verdant it surely must stretch beyond the world’s horizon, and then what? Then something happened, something of stone unfolded, rippling out, vast block after block of sunshine-painted rock to stand immense and as a thing of beauty. When about and amongst the city there is no land beyond, but set out upon Kryta’s pastoral green is an edifice endemic, a thing quite rightly of gods.
Personally, I still prefer the forests.
I look up at the basket, some fifteen feet above, at the face of a friend, head barely visible as it pushes past the rim. It is quite a large basket, although it turns out it is not large enough to hold a golem – me. At least the huge red balloon above is, thankfully, capable of lifting all of us – that and the fifteen feet of rope I am clinging to carries my weight well enough.
“What can I do for you, Genni?”
“How are you holding out?”
“Given our current circumstances, I am doing rather well, thank you.”
She beams down at me. Damn, but that is an infectious smile and I do so wish I could return it.
Another head appears: Sadhira, William and Amber’s friend who we know even less about than we do William and Amber. “How is the captive?” she asks.
I lift the arm that is not clutching the rope, but is instead clutching a puny wrist. The asura attached to the wrist does not stir.
“He seems to be unconscious,” I reply. I feel that this conversation is far too casual, but short of screaming, I am at a loss as to what would be considered proper.
Treen’s voice yells breathlessly from somewhere out of sight. “Just drop him!” Treen, it turns out, is not fond of heights. “The fall will do him some good.”
I must admit I had considered letting him go, but we had been a lot closer to the ground then.
“Arrest them at once!” The shrill voice of the asura sets a number of roosting birds to flight.
One of the guards frowns at the asura and it is only as he twists slightly to the left to look down that I get a good look for myself – Agnon. My carer from Rata Sum is standing just behind the two guards and, judging by the colour of his face, apparently fit to burst some blood vessels. His finger wavers as it jumps between Treen and Genni.
“They’re the ones! Go on, arrest them!” he repeats.
The guard sighs and faces us with an apologetic expression. “In the interest of all parties concerned, could I ask that you accompany me. I would rather-”
“Arrest them,” says another calm but authoritative voice from behind the two guards and the asura.
The first guard turns to face the newcomer and his jaw drops open. “What the…?” Identical in every detail as the first, stands another guard who calmly folds his arms and looks his twin up and down.
“Seraph,” he begins to speak to the first guard’s companion, “everyone here is to be taken into custody.” The one addressed as Seraph stammers a response, but the twin scowls. “Just do as I say.”
“No!” A third identical voice cuts across the second and, sure enough, another guard has joined, he too identical to the first. “Arrest yourself,” he commands, sweeping his arm across to indicate the gathered group.
“Nonsense! I should be arrested!” proclaims a fourth, stepping from where he was just out of view by the side of the building. Three of these four identical guards start shouting at each other whilst the first just stands with his jaw still hanging open, his companion tugging at his arm to get his attention.
Then something moves between us and the guards, although I sense it before I actually see it; just as Genni starts to reach for the hilt of her sword, clearly sensing the same thing, the air shimmers and Amber materialises before us. With a small gesture of her hand, all but the original guard shatter into thousands of shimmering fragments and collapse into nothing.
“It’s a trick!” screams Agnon.
Without a sound, Amber raises both of her arms and then drops them in a cutting motion. A swirling, purple haze coalesces around us, Divinity’s Reach appears to vibrate and thrum, then the guards and Agnon vanish.
Treen gasps. “I- what was that?”
“Quickly.” Amber motions for us to follow. “It will not take them long to work out what has happened.”
Genni and I start to follow the black-haired woman, but Treen seems incredulous. “Now hold on a moment. You just vaporised members of the Seraph guard and an asura. What is going on?”
Amber appears indifferent and, in fact, perfectly calm. “At this moment, those Seraph and your asura friend are trying to free themselves from a basement just around the corner. Now would be a really good time to leave.”
“Why? We haven’t done anything wrong!”
“Hardly the point – could we go now please?”
I pick up a muffled crash and the sound of swearing followed by an unmistakable high-pitched bellow of outrage.
“Come on,” says Amber, and this time she does not pause to answer Treen’s protests.
As we move out on to the main periphery thoroughfare that circles the city, I look back to see the top half of Agnon’s body struggling out of a tiny window at ground level, presumably the basement window Amber referred to. Treen notices too, resolves the argument in an instant, and within seconds he is sprinting past me and Genni to join Amber.
Amber chooses another street and we follow at a jogging pace. I wince at the sound of my passing, clanking feet reverberating from the overarching walls, and more than a few curious onlookers, either standing in doorways chatting or leaning from balconies, pause for a moment to take interest.
Looking back to see if we are being followed, I see that William and Sadhira have joined us. The red-haired man offers his familiar cheery half wave and then surges ahead to take the lead with Amber.
“Look out!” Sadhira points and I swivel, too late to avoid crashing through stacked crates piled against a wall. Boxes and dozens of apples fly along with a series of curses.
“Hey! Hey, you! Stop!” Two men emerge from a doorway and begin to give chase, one of them scooping up a broken box shard from the ground and brandishing it like a sword.
Sadhira spins on the spot, sweeping a single arm upwards and I catch sight of a trail of sparks arcing behind her movement. The two men yell with shock as the makeshift sword bursts into flame and they fall behind quickly, reluctant to give further chase.
A familiar but distant cry suggests Agnon might still be on our trail and as we reach another intersection Amber looks to change direction, but a small group of Seraph emerge on our right.
“Go!” William commands and before the guards have a chance to get in front of us, he draws a sword. For a moment I believe that the fool is about to attack the city guard and a cold chill hits me. I do not want to be a part of this. I will be the first to swing a fist if the occasion demands, but bloodshed for what seems no more than a misunderstanding – I cannot allow it. Yet William does not launch himself at the guards; instead, he holds his ground, whipping his blade straight out in front of him, and the guards crash together as if running straight into a wall. As we pass the tangled heap, I detect a faint bluish hue in the air; clearly William is capable of more than swinging a sword.
Certain that the guards are not likely to follow immediately, William breaks from his stance and dashes to catch up just as a wall of fire erupts behind him.
“The flames will not hold for long,” Sadhira advises.
This part of Divinity’s Reach was not built for escaping, lacking the twist and turn of the smaller lanes I have briefly seen elsewhere. I begin to wonder if this will be a failed endeavour and I am seriously considering that if I were to stop and turn myself in, it may just give the others what they need to get away. Whatever it is that Agnon thinks we have done, surely it would be easier to just challenge his claim.
We continue on, bearing left at one point, and then after only a few more yards, Amber switches back to take us up a wide ramp. I have only a few minutes as we ascend to take in part of the city to my right: a cluster of red tile rooftops gather at the base of a formidable outer wall which in turn hosts smaller towers that jut out like odd-looking nests. Across all of this, drifts a rasping, jaunty tune of notes so low my mind conjures an image of dolyaks farting in unison, and as we crest the top of the ramp, I catch a glimpse of sunlight reflecting off brass – then it is gone as we step under an immense arch.
To me it looks like we have arrived at exactly where we started.
“We’ll never make it to the asura gate now,” says Amber, levelling a stare at Treen who shifts uncomfortably but remains silent. “I see that we have two real options: find a place to stay out of sight for a while, or try for the main gate.”
“What about a third option?” I add, noting yet again that Sadhira seems uncomfortable with me speaking, taking a small step away from my side whilst I address Amber. “What about explaining ourselves to your authorities?”
“Do you fancy spending the next six months in a cell?”
“We have not done anything wrong,” I protest. “Why would they want to hold us for six months?”
“That’s how long it could take to hear your case. Listen, I cannot pretend to know exactly what is going on, but the day an asura has the audacity to order around a member of the Seraph like that-”
“Would be a day of accession and, not in the least, justice!”
We are all startled and I have to admit, I am personally quite amazed, as Agnon leaps amongst the group, panting slightly but still wagging his accusatory finger. “If I had it my way, I’d throw you all from the highest point of Rata-”
Agnon yelps and squirms as I grab him by the scruff of his neck and clamp a hand over his mouth. His eyes widen with genuine fear, realising that emboldened by the initial chase, he has forgotten he is not currently supported by the guards.
“Take us to the main gate,” I ask Amber, ignoring the wriggling asura.
Amber nods and we are moving again, out into the open and crossing part of the main thoroughfare. I realise my mistake now, forgetting that the city forms itself about one giant circle and, therefore, we must have travelled part of the way around that arc only to arrive at what I suppose you could call a spoke – much like that of a wheel and therefore similar to where we had headed out from in the first place.
We have travelled no more than one hundred yards when a voice calls across the expanse of cobbled street. “Stop right there!”
Amber drags us all off to our right, ignoring the command as she chooses a gap between two buildings, which could barely be called a road, and which I can barely fit myself into.
“There are Seraph everywhere,” states Sadhira, still bringing up the rear. “We need to think of something fast or we’ll have the entire city on our heels.”
The gap eventually spills us out into a small courtyard filled with a variety of colourful, potted plants interspersed with windows, and on the opposite side, another gap leading out. A number of children stop their play as Amber brings us to a halt.
“Stand to the side there.” She gestures for us all to move off to one side. “Will, take care of the kids.”
William nods and turns to the children, who regard us with half-guarded stares as Amber herds us to a corner of the courtyard. “Right, who here is planning on joining the Seraph one day?” asks William. None of the children answer and if anything they appear more wary of the man. “Oh come on, surely some of you plan on facing the centaur-”
“William,” Sadhira warns, stepping away from the gap and coming over to where the rest of us are gathered. “We’ll have company any minute now.”
For once Amber seems clearly agitated. “When I give the word, I need all of you to remain absolutely silent, and let’s just hope the damn kids don’t give us away.”
I do not know what Amber has planned, but whatever it is, clearly William is not having much luck.
“Children,” I announce, “I am Mr Bear. Mr Bear commands silence – or Mr Bear will crush your tiny heads!” I raise my arms in an attempt to look as menacing as possible whilst uttering a low growl. I am not proud of my performance and fairly certain that I will look back on this later with a smattering of regret.
To a single child, they all scatter with piercing screams, most fleeing down the opposite gap between the buildings, whilst a few clamber through open windows in the courtyard walls.
William’s face has drained of colour, as is the same with Sadhira; Genni and Treen appear indifferent, and I could swear on Mother Bear’s nurturing instinct that Amber is actually smiling.
“Silence now,” she commands as William trots over to join us.
Guards burst through the gap a few seconds later… and completely ignore us. Only one pauses briefly to take in the courtyard, glancing in our direction and not even batting a single eyelid before he plunges headlong into the gap on the other side.
The air stirs and we all breathe. “Invisibility?” asks Treen.
Amber nods, edging forwards to check the guards’ progress. “Getting to the gate is no longer an option.”
“And hiding out is?” Genni thumbs the hilt of her sword. “It seems like we’ve attracted a lot of attention.”
“Unwarranted, I would say,” chips in Treen.
He is right. If anything, we are supposed to be the ones seeking some form of retribution, not the asura clamped underneath my arm.
“Run!” Amber heads back through the way we came. Looking back as I follow the group in a dash for the gap, I see a group of guards jostling down the narrow passage and amongst them a single child, most likely one who just ratted us out.
We emerge back out on the main thoroughfare and this time Amber sticks to the wide open route, hugging the buildings. It seems busier now, with lots of humans strolling along or gathered about in groups chatting and laughing, and I realise that the day is almost done. A deeper orange is starting to settle over the city as the sun gets lower and perhaps this might just be the stroke of luck we so desperately need – night time. Give me a forest and I could probably evade capture, but put me in this city – never mind the fact that every clanking footstep draws unwanted attention – and I am lost in a very different sense.
Voices murmur, a disgruntled shout calls out and then everyone is turning to look. Amber glances around and I follow her gaze to see what must be nearly a squad of Seraph pushing their way through the evening crowds.
Again, we are running, barging past people, crashing through stalls and all I feel is in vain – the net is getting tighter, these guards know their city, even if Amber, William or Sadhira know it too, and it is certain that they will have their quarry soon.
A call goes up, a short blast from a horn answered by another somewhere ahead and then a third clatters along the stone walls deeper in the city.
“There!” shouts Amber, pointing and for some reason William laughs.
William offers a casual salute. “Go, go, I will meet you at the keep as soon as I can.” With that he is off, plunging into the crowd and shoving left, right and centre. People are starting to get angry and one or two even seek to accost the red-haired man.
“What is he doing?” gasps Treen.
“Creating a distraction,” answers Sadhira before she arcs left to follow Amber.
We stop at the edge of a wall; Amber and Sadhira exchange words too quick for me to take notice of as, truthfully, despite William’s attempt, I doubt we have shaken off our pursuers and I scan the crowds carefully for signs of the Seraph.
“You are not seriously suggesting-” Treen’s voice snaps me from my vigil.
“Just get in,” commands Amber.
Hurriedly, I turn to see what all the fuss is about and it is only now I can appreciate Treen’s reluctance. I had failed to notice a wooden gantry that Sadhira is presently in the act of climbing, along with Genni, and at the top of the gantry – a huge red balloon.
Amber shoves Treen onto the first set of steps and then fixes her attention on me, looks me up and down and then back up at the balloon. “How’s the strength in your arm?”
“How long do you think you’ll be able to hold onto a rope?”
A warm feeling surges up inside me. “I have no idea, but I am willing to test it out.” Damn, I really wish that I could grin – at least I am grinning on the inside.
Within a minute, the rest of the group has Treen wrestled into a basket that sits beneath the balloon and Amber is hurrying back down the gantry steps trailing a thick length of rope.
“In the name of the Queen, I command you to desist immediately!”
Amber’s head snaps up, then she throws me the rope as she leaps over the edge of the gantry’s railing and… several Ambers land on the cobblestones in front of me, unsheathe a wicked looking rapier and, as one, charge a sizeable number of Seraph.
“Hold tight, Mr Bear!” yells Genni.
I have only the briefest sense to notice that the rope is running across the palm of my metal hand – I grip it, clutch hold of Agnon and the world falls away with a sudden jerk as I am dragged up to smash through the wooden gantry and swing out over the lower quarters of Divinity’s Reach.
I am going home.
Edited by Amy