Camon studied the hotel and the surrounding buildings, looking for a way up. The hotel was one of several close-quarter buildings that lined the street. There were no alleys between them. He noted that the roof of the building was slightly tapered but more or less flat. The street itself was busy with pedestrians going about in the evening air. Camon casually walked past the building, inspecting it as if he was admiring its architecture. The guard paid him no mind, and Camon then continued past it and went further down the street.
“Let’s see if we can get behind it. I could see a back corner to the building, but I have no idea if it’s facing another street or if there is an alley back there, or if it’s just another building,” he said.
“From what I could see in my mind, it backed up to another building on another street. We should try and find that one.”
Camon walked further south down the street and then turned west down the next one. It turned slightly north and wove its way through the city. Camon stopped about where he thought he would find the hotel, and he tried to find the top of the building over the buildings on the east side of the street where he expected the hotel to be. After walking a few hundred feet, he spotted what he believed to be the hotel and an alleyway leading up to its back between two other buildings.
“I should have expected this. Upscale establishments wouldn’t want shipments or anything like that coming through the front,” Camon said.
“How does this help us?”
“We should be able to either enter through the rear of the buildings or use these adjoining buildings to get up to the top of the hotel.”
“And we’ll be out of sight,” Achara said.
Camon glanced both ways down the street. Nobody was watching, so he and Achara ducked into the alley and studied the buildings’ sides that formed it. They were almost as tall as the hotel.
“Can you tell if there is anyone in these buildings? They look deserted.”
Achara closed her eyes and went still for a moment, turning slowly around in the process then opened her eyes. “The one on the left has several people in it. The one on the right is from what I can tell empty.”
“Good. That’s our ticket up.”
Camon worked his way down the alley further, then hopped up on a crate under a window. He forced his sword between the sill and window and popped it open. He entered the building. Achara checked both ways, then followed him in, and they closed the window. The room was dank and dusty with old wooden furniture strewn about the room. Camon looked around and found a candle on a shelf and then lit it. They opened the door into a hallway that was equally dank and dusty. They moved carefully, working through the hallways, found some stairs, and climbed them to the top floor. They entered each room looking for a way into the attic or onto the building’s roof and eventually found another staircase behind a door that went up. They climbed it into the attic of the building. At one corner of the attic, they could see light coming in through the ceiling, so they went to the source and found a hole. Camon used his sword to widen the hole, and then he climbed out onto the roof, which had a rather steep pitch. He looked back towards the hotel, and he could see where the pinnacle of the roof met the roof of the hotel. Camon and Achara worked their way carefully across the roof up towards the pinnacle and then climbed from the abandoned building onto the hotel. Camon looked for a way down into the hotel from here, checking for a trap door, stairs, or anything that would grant access to the building. There was nothing. He then looked over the building’s edge on the street side and saw a balcony beneath them.
“Looks like we’ll have to drop down to the balcony,” he said. “It’s at least ten feet. Hang first, then push off and land into a squat to break the fall. Once we are in there, we need to pick one off first, then isolate the second. We’d best wait until they are asleep. I don’t think we have to worry about anyone coming up here, though.”
“This is true,” Achara said.
Camon sat down on the roof and laid back and looked at the sky seeing the three moons in different phases and the bright stars overhead on the clear night. He found familiar constellations and other celestial markers remembering his studies at the monastery. Achara did much the same, recalling her time with her father on summer nights looking up at the stars. For both of them, it was a peaceful time, given the busyness that they had grown so accustomed to over the last few weeks. The hours passed by slowly, and Camon even fell asleep briefly. Achara periodically checked on the mages beneath them and finally noticed they had separated and were on different ends of the hotel.
“It’s time,” she said. “I think they are asleep now.”
Camon sat up and went over to the hotel’s edge. He looked down again at the street, which was now deserted. He then climbed over the edge of the roof and lowered himself down, hanging from the roof’s edge. He then kicked back off the edge and dropped down to the balcony and landed with a low thud. He quickly drew his weapon and scurried out of the way into a shadow nearby and crouched. He looked and waited for a moment, then signaled for Achara to come down. She repeated the drop, but landed almost catlike and went to Camon.
“There are no lights on. I think we’re good to go,” he whispered.
Achara went over to the doors leading out to the balcony and tested them. They were unlocked. Camon came quickly, and they turned the handles, opened the door, entered the room, and then pulled the doors behind them. They waited for several minutes until their eyes adjusted to the darker conditions of the room. They could see the ornate furnishings, tapestries, paintings, and fixtures that adorned the room.
“My best guess is that they are in separate bedrooms off the main room through the door there,” she said, pointing to a door in the room’s back.
“We go right. Take out the one in the room, then go to the one on the left.”
“I’ll follow your lead.”
Camon crept through the room and then into the penthouse’s main room and looked around for a door to a bedroom. He found one that looked fitting, and he worked his way around the edge of the room with Achara close behind. He then put his ear on the door and listened for a few seconds. He reached for the handle and turned it, and the door opened slightly. He carefully pushed it opened, just enough for him and Achara to walk through. They could see light coming in through the windows, and on the bed, a man lay sleeping. Camon walked over to the man, heal to toe, rolling his feet not to make any noise. As soon as he was by the man’s side, Achara came over.
Camon then raised the pommel of his blade to strike the man. As soon as he did, the man opened his eyes and said, “Hello, Paladin!” He threw his hands up, a flash of light came from them, and Camon went flying backward across the room. Achara retreated to Camon’s side. Camon sat up and retrieved his sword lying on the floor next to him. The mage threw up a defensive wall as Achara unloaded knives from her sleeves and belt that hit the wall and fell to the floor.
The mage stood and grinned sinisterly at Camon, and Achara then shook his head, “Did you not think we could see you coming? We’ve been able to track you across the Empire and back again.”
“Can’t we just skip the formalities and get this over with?” Camon said. “We’re kind of busy, you know.”
“Busy? What’s the rush?”
“Nothing in particular. We’re just trying to find out why you want to bring about the end of the world and all that stuff.”
“End of the world? Ha!” the man laughed.
“But since you want to skip the formalities, here… let me help.” The mage moved his arms as if he was forming a ball. An orb of light appeared in the middle. He pushed the ball towards Camon. Camon threw up his sword at the ball, and it exploded, sending Camon back against a wall and leaving a gaping hole in the floor.
“Stop!” Achara cried. “It’s me you want, not him.”
“We already have you, lass. Why should I stop now?”
Achara removed her dagger and placed its point to her chest. “Because I will kill myself if you kill him.”
Camon sat up again, “Achara, no. I’m not worth it.”
“You see, girl. Even he sees it my way. You have been ours ever since you left the outpost.”
Just then, the other man they had seen in the tavern came into the room.
“Ah, the Paladin and his seer. The game of cat and mouse is finally over. The worst part about it is they came to us!” the man said.
“Do all of you sound alike?” Camon asked.
“Sharp tongue,” the man at the door said. “Most people who don’t care about their life will say whatever comes to their mind. They figure, ‘why not? I’m as good as dead anyway.’ You see, girl, the Paladin doesn’t want to live. So, there’s no use killing yourself over his miserable corpse.”
“He’s not a corpse yet,” she said. She moved in front of Camon to shield him from other attacks.
“Smart move, putting yourself in front of him. It will only delay the inevitable, though,” the mage by the bed said.
“What happened to the vagabond that was traveling with you?” the other asked.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Achara hissed.
“The desert rat. You know, the one we sent that tried to kill you?”
“One thing’s for sure,” the mage by the bed said. “Humanity has gotten weak and unreliable. The best they have to offer, a Paladin, can’t even stand in our way.”
“Your arrogance will be your demise,” Achara said.
“And who is going to stop us? Obviously, not him!” They both cackled. The mage by the bed moved along one wall closer to Camon, who was still lying on the floor while the other moved along the other wall closing in on Achara. Camon managed to sit up, and he grabbed his sword and gripped it with both hands and laid the flat of the blade on his shoulder. The two mages tightened their position moving within feet of Camon. They summoned a wall between them. Achara could hear Camon let out a low guttural hum as he gripped the sword tighter. Achara moved back to where she was almost sitting in Camon’s lap as the two mages closed in on them.
“Come now,” one said softly. “There’s no need to resist.”
Achara tried to swipe at them with her dagger, but the wall stopped the blade.
“You see, you can’t resist. Come quietly, and we will make his end quick and easy.”
Achara lowered her knife as she noticed Camon get to his knees and grip his sword with two hands. He was still humming lowly with his head down. The two mages were almost towering over them now with the wall starting to press up against them. Achara placed her hands on it. The heat from the wall started to sear her hands, and she pressed harder back.
Camon stopped humming. “I’ve about had enough of these clowns…” Camon mumbled. He then thrust his sword upwards at the mage to his right, who had come from the bed. The sword broke through the wall and went right through the man’s neck. The man’s eyes opened widely, then rolled back before he collapsed on the floor and the wall with him. The other mage looked on in horror, and then Achara leaped at him with fury. Her dagger caught him in the leg, and he went down to his knees, retreating across the room. He summoned another wall, then used his other hand to cast a spell on his leg, and the bleeding stopped.
“How’s that for the best the world has to offer?” she hissed.
“You are a fool,” he stammered. Achara was pressing in on him with her dagger. When she got close, he grunted, “wrong move.” He then dropped the magic wall and yelled. He swung a backhanded swipe at Achara that sent her flying across the room.
Camon though, was on his feet. He whirled his sword around, and the blade ignited. He ran at the mage who threw up another wall with one hand and summoned another orb with the other hand. The mage stood and charged Camon, and they met in the middle of the room where Camon’s blade clashed with the mage’s orb and wall, causing an explosion that sent them both flying back away from each other. Camon slammed into the wall of the room, and the mage was up against the opposite wall on a table. Camon stumbled to his feet again. The mage wasted no time summoning another orb, bigger than the one before.
“You could have made this easy, Paladin. But now you must pay the ultimate price!” the man shouted. He thrusted the ball towards Camon, who grabbed his sword and ignited the blade as he swept it upward to meet the orb. The blade clashed with the orb again, causing an explosion. The orb blew out the wall and sent Camon falling back out of the building and through the adjacent building’s roof. He landed with a thud, while rubble and debris buried him in darkness.