“Where exactly did you have in mind?” Achara asked. “And who would be of interest there for me?”
“The destination is my old monastery, and the person of interest is the abbot there,” Camon answered. “It’s through him that I came to you, but we need to make haste for now.”
Achara and Camon snuck out onto the back street and moved at a brisk pace. They ducked down another street, then another, trying to keep the general direction south and avoiding the main avenues. Occasionally, they saw patrols of Inquisitors moving about up and down the main streets and in and out of the upper city. They had enlisted the help of Imperial soldiers to bolster their numbers.
“They want you bad, don’t they?” Achara asked.
“It’s probably been a lifetime or two since they’ve even had the opportunity to bag a Paladin,” Camon said. “They will do whatever they can to find us. We need to keep moving and try not to talk to anyone and stay out of sight.”
They came to an avenue that came down from the upper city towards the west gate. Like every other avenue in the city, it was teeming with soldiers and Inquisitors moving towards the northern part of the city.
“It looks like they are mobilizing north to organize a manhunt there from the apartment probably,” Camon said. “That gives us an advantage given that we are going to the south side of the city.” He waited for an opportunity to cross. One came after about five minutes after a squad of soldiers passed them from their hiding place on the street. Camon and Achara scooted across the avenue and ducked into an alleyway across the way between two busy establishments. They kept moving down the alley as quickly as possible, then stuck more to some of the side streets and backways in the city, not stopping for even a moment.
After more than an hour of walking, they were in the southeast quarter where they had been that morning. The streets were busier than they were in the northern part of the city with more people out. There were fewer soldiers and Inquisitors. Camon and Achara took advantage of the activity and mingled with the pedestrians. They came to an alleyway between two shops that were closed. Camon looked both ways to see if anyone was watching, then ducked down the alleyway with Achara close behind him. “This is where we used to sneak in and out of the city as kids. There is a rampart that was built up here, which makes the wall considerably lower, and much easier to scale.”
“How do you intend to do that?” Achara asked.
Camon smirked, “You’ll see.”
He lifted several crates where he found a length of rope. He coiled it, threw it around his shoulder, and then went completely to the alley’s back. They could see the city’s lower wall towering behind the buildings. Several crates had been stacked up at the end of the alley against the wall, but not quite enough to reach the wall’s top. Camon started climbing them and gestured Achara to follow. He regularly checked his footing to make sure every step was secure before taking the next. When he got to the top of the pile, he was slightly higher than the adjacent buildings’ rooftops, which were only a few feet away. He was facing the wall, then turned left and looked at the rooftop there, then counted, “One. Two. Three.” He leaped from the crate onto the rooftop and landed with ease. Achara followed close behind. They crossed the rooftop to the next building, which was slightly higher with a sloped roof. They pulled themselves upon the roof. From there, they climbed to the pinnacle of the roof near the city wall, which was at this point only about waist high and two feet away with a small alley between the building and the wall. Camon jumped from the pinnacle and grabbed the wall, then pulled himself up. Achara soon followed.
They snook along the top of the wall with battlements on one side and the city buildings on the other. They could see the activity below along the streets but did not linger. After about a minute of walking, Camon stopped and looked over the wall’s edge, then removed the rope from his shoulder. He tied a loop in the middle of the rope and then passed one of the loose ends through it to make a larger loop. He looped the larger loop around a battlement and pulled it tight, then threw both loose ends down.
“One end will tighten the rope, and the other will loosen it. Make sure you grab the right one before you go down,” Camon said. He grabbed the tightening end, lowered himself over the edge of the wall, and worked his way down until he was on the ground. Achara soon followed, and when they were both on the ground, they pulled the other end of the rope, which pulled it off the battlement to the ground. He coiled the rope then put it around his shoulder again.
“It’s probably best that we split up here,” Camon said. “They will be looking for us together. Follow the wall west, but stay as close to the wall as possible. You’re less likely to be seen that way. You’ll come to a ravine that leads away from the city toward the river. Get down in the ravine and make your way towards the river. A bridge will cross the ravine, which is the river road leading west. Take the road west until you come to a bridge crossing the river. If there are no Inquisitors or soldiers there, cross it, and wait for me on the far side. Otherwise, wait for me on this side of the river. It’s about half a day’s journey, so it’ll take several hours, even at a brisk pace. I will wait here for about half an hour and will follow you. Try to avoid contact with anyone, especially patrols.”
“I will,” Achara said. She then turned and left Camon.
Camon looked up and then put his back against the wall and sat down, looking over the field in front of him. It was a grassy, rock-strewn knoll sloping down towards the river that reflected the moonlight. He could feel the cold, moist air setting in, and he was ill-prepared for it. The wall offered protection from the wind, but he could hear it picking up as it howled over the wall’s top.
After waiting for several minutes, he stood up and made his way west along the wall’s base using it as a guide. There was no path, but it was traversable. After some time, he found the ravine he told Achara about. He climbed down into the ravine, being careful not to slip on the slimy and mossy rocks. At the bottom of the ravine, a small brook flowed out of a culvert from the city. It was foul-smelling and was only a trickle. Camon then moved along the ravine, hopping from rock to rock, zigzagging across the ravine. Twice he paused to let a patrol pass on the wall, which was still visible. The ravine curved, and the wall went out of sight, and he was able to make better time.
Eventually, he came to the bridge, where he climbed out of the ravine and onto the road. The road was deserted in both directions and well lit by the moon. The city wall was several hundred yards off by now to the north. “So long, old friend,” he muttered towards the city. He then turned west and made his way along the road. He pulled his cloak over his head to offer some protection from the north wind, which was still blowing steadily. Once he was away from the city, he could see clouds in the north and whispered in the wind, “The snow could have waited just one more night…”
He quickened his pace and continued west, almost trotting as he went. He was eager to be both away from the city and at his destination out of the weather. The night went from clear to cloudy, and then after several hours, the first snowflakes began to fall around Camon. They were large, wet, and soppy. After some time, the snow soaked through his cloak and his clothes. It was cold and miserable for him, but the only thing that made it bearable was the fact that he was nearly at a jog now as he continued west along the road. Camon had built up heat, and he knew if he stopped, he would be at the risk of hyperthermia. He hoped Achara was faring better than he was. He finally passed the farm fields and made it into a forest. The trees were bending in the wind, and the rustling of leaves was almost at a roar. The snow was still coming down but was being blown hard to the ground, which was now soaked. The road itself was slick now, and Camon had to be mindful of his steps. He had slipped a few times but had managed to catch his fall.
After what seemed like an eternity, he finally reached the bridge along the road that crossed the river. He looked around for Achara, but she was nowhere in sight, and the bridge was deserted. Without hesitation, he ventured onto the bridge, which was slicker than the road. He was careful, taking his time and calculating his steps on the bridge. It was hard to see anything at all in the snow and darkness. After making it across the river, he looked for Achara but did not see her. He decided to wait. He waited for several minutes, pacing back and forth, trying not to stop, but there was still no sign of Achara. Concerned, he decided to break the silence and yelled her name into the darkness. There was no answer. He turned the other direction, then shouted again, and like before, there was no answer.
“Shades,” he muttered. “Where are you?”
Camon then threw back his cloak and reached into his pocket. He pulled out a gray stone and put it in his left hand and clenched his fist around it. He opened his right hand, palm to the ground, and started humming a guttural tone as he swept his right hand back and forth. He pivoted a full turn, then reversed his direction, pivoting again. After repeating this for a few seconds, he then stopped abruptly and looked straight ahead. He saw nothing, but he started walking slowly, then quickly, then he broke into a full sprint. He came to a large tree next to the road. At the base of the tree, he found Achara sitting with her knees to her chest and arms around her knees, shivering.
“Shades, girl!” he shouted. He put the stone back in his pocket and reached for his sword and pulled it out. He whirled the sword once, and it began to glow white, where he then jammed it into the ground next to them. Keeping one hand on the hilt, he pulled Achara as close as he could. The ground around the blade began to steam. “Hang in there, kid,” Camon said. He held the sword intently as Achara’s shivering lessened. After half an hour of maintaining the sword’s white-hot blade, Achara was able to sit up. Her face was red now from the heat of the sword, and she was practically dry. She continued to warm herself for another fifteen minutes.
“How are you feeling?” Camon asked.
“Better,” Achara replied weakly.
“I’m a fool for separating. We should have stayed together,” Camon confessed. Achara gave a slight smile. “We’ve still got about two miles to go before we get to the monastery. Do you think you can make it?” he asked.
“I…I think so,” she replied.
Camon loosened his grip on the sword, and the light faded away. He stood up, sheathed the blade, then helped Achara to her feet. They started down the road on the south side of the river with Camon helping Achara walk with her arm around his shoulders. The pace was slow but steady. Achara began to regain her strength as they moved and eventually was able to walk on her own, although not fast.
They continued down the road for another hour in the snow that was beating down. Several times both Achara and Camon slipped but were able to regain their footing. Soon, they made it to a pathway, and Camon led her down the path. They came to a low wall with an arched gateway that was closed. Camon went to the gateway and used the knocker on the gate. After several minutes, a figure of a man emerged from the darkness bearing a lantern. “Who goes there?” he shouted.
“It’s Camon,” he shouted back.
The man picked up the pace and came to the gate and opened it. He was a monk hooded in a heavy robe with a belt at the waist. He looked Camon and Achara up and down, then ushered them in. He then shouted for another man who came out. They took Camon and Achara’s things and helped them down a stone-paved walkway to a building, where they opened the door. The heat from inside blasted Camon and Achara’s faces, which was welcomed. The two travelers entered a refectory, and their escorts slammed the door behind them.
“Come, come,” the man pursued. The other man ran off to an adjacent room and returned with a bundle full of robes and blankets. Achara and Camon took the robes and blankets and went into adjoining rooms to change. They returned dressed in the robes and went and stood by the remains of a massive fire that was now smoldering in an open fireplace at the center of the refectory. They remained there for a long time in silence, warming themselves until they were dry.
“You’re stronger than you know,” Camon said.
“Lucky, I guess,” Achara said.
“The Inquisitors will have been alerted to our presence because I ignited my blade,” Camon said. “They will be coming this way. We should be safe here at the monastery, in any case. Their scrying skills are effective but not precise. I think the best they will be able to tell is somewhere west of Rahtneua though relatively close. They’ll probably assume we fled.”
“I hope our luck holds,” Achara said.
“I don’t know how you can call what you just went through ‘lucky,’” Camon commented.
“I could despair, but what good would that do?” Achara said. “I found a long time ago that hope is an ally, even if it doesn’t seem like there’s any at times. I think that’s what kept me from giving in back there or any time in the past.”
“As I said, you’re stronger than you know,” Camon said.
They went back to watching the fire until one of the monks came back in. “We’ve prepared some places for you to stay,” he said. “Please, come this way.”
Camon and Achara followed the monk out of the hall and through an adjoining hallway where the monk led them with a lantern. He then stopped and gestured to his left and right, “Your rooms.”
“Thank you,” Camon said.
“Yes, thank you so much,” Achara followed.
Achara went into her room and closed the door behind her, and Camon did the same. The room was modest with a low bed, a simple wooden chair, and a small bedside table with a lit candle that flickered. Camon’s things were set on the floor next to the table. The chamber was cold, but dry. Camon closed his eyes and sighed before pulling back the woolen blanket on the bed and climbing in. He leaned over, blew out the candle, and in the darkness laid his head on the pillow and fell fast asleep glad to be warm.