“What the hell do you mean she’s disappeared?” bellowed Teran, slamming his flagon onto the table, slopping liquid over the brim. “Damn it, Apollo, you were supposed to be keeping an eye on her!” Blue eyes flashed dangerously in the man’s fair face.
Apollo toyed with the idea of beating a hasty retreat, but decided against it. The fact that Teran would probably beat him to the door was almost as daunting as what would happen to him when he was caught.
“I followed her into the market, just like you told me to,” said Apollo, keeping his voice steady. “She shopped around a bit, bought a few things, then the next thing I knew, she was gone.”
Teran’s glare darkened. Apollo forced himself not to cringe under the man’s penetrating gaze.
“You’re one of the best people I’ve got and you lost her.” Teran’s voice was quieter than his glare and sounding all the more dangerous for it. His fingers drummed rhythmically on the table top, near his double edged eating dagger. He stood up slowly.
“I have the twins looking for her…” Apollo said desperately.
“That doesn’t excuse-”
The door to the room slammed open, effectively cutting Teran off. A pair of identical brown haired boys stood, framed in the doorway.
Apollo whirled at the sound. “Well?” he snapped, masking his relief at the interruption in anger.
“She’s not in the city anymore,” said one of the pair, fingering the cheap copper medallion around his neck. “She wasn’t in the market or the area around it.”
“I checked the docks,” said the other twin. He looked from one glaring man to the other. “According to…someone I know there, she got passage on the Dolphin’s Anchor. It’s headed for the mainland. A city by the name of Foroni.”
Apollo paled and Teran let loose an explosive string of curses. The twins looked at each other, then slipped back out the door. Their hastily retreating footsteps could be heard over the blond man’s muttering. Apollo turned back to Teran, who had sat down again.
“Have to get her back here,” he murmured, oblivious to Apollo’s presence. “Can’t make a damn move without her.”
“What?” Teran’s head snapped up, realizing that he hadn’t been left alone by the twins exit. He smoothed the obvious anger from his face and forced himself to relax back into the chair.
“Why can’t we make a move without Eliowy? Why is she so important?” Apollo leaned against the wall and folded his arms, looking more confident than he actually felt. Steady black eyes studied Teran from across the room.
“She has to lead the attack from the castle,” said Teran frankly. “You know that.”
“There are other people far more capable to lead that attack,” snapped Apollo, pushing himself off the wall. Black hair flopped into his eyes. “Why her? Why not you or Vargis or even me?”
Teran was silent.
“Does it have something to do with that little trip she went on last year?” pressed Apollo, advancing a little closer to the table. “Something she found along the way to make her more formidable, perhaps?”
Teran was still silent, but his bright blue eyes glittered.
“A new power, perhaps?” Apollo advanced another step. “Magic, maybe? Is there magic involved?”
“No!” Teran didn’t specify which question the violent negative was appended to.
“Then what the hell is it? Why is Eliowy so gods-damned important?”
Teran rose slowly to his full, nearly seven foot, height, glaring down at his black haired companion. Apollo held his ground stubbornly. “That is quite enough,” said Teran, expression completely neutral. “I want you to find the Anchor’s destination and make arrangements for me to follow. Don’t argue!” he snapped, as Apollo opened his mouth. “You will go now and do as I’ve told you. I’ll have the bribe money ready as soon as you find me a ship.”
There was a brief stare-off then Apollo nodded sharply and headed for the door. He looked back. “I’ll find out, Teran. Sooner or later.” He locked gazes with Teran, then left, leaving the door open.
Teran sat down once more. “Hopefully later,” he said softly. “Hopefully much later.”
By the time Eliowy arrived in the town of Dargon, it was pouring rain. Water dripped down her hood, into her eyes and down her neck, chilling her. Her well worn boots were covered with mud and they squished with each step. Her small pack, which contained little more than a change of clothes, a few personal belongings and a hand harp, had become almost unbearably heavy during the last hour of walking. The sword banging at her hip was like a dead weight, dragging her down.
Eliowy stared down the road leading into the center of town. It was deserted except for a few heavily cloaked figures hurrying to their various destinations amid the clusters of houses. None of the people seemed like the type to give directions. Eliowy sighed deeply, pulled her hood further down over her head, scattering droplets against the rain and resumed her trek into the city, her way dimly lit by an occasional heavy shielded street lantern.
A few of the buildings along the way were lit, but none of them were an inn; not that she had the money to pay for a room. Three…no, four coppers would barely get her an indecent meal, never mind alone a dry place to sleep.
“Damn,” mumbled Eliowy. “Maybe I can play for my supper. Maybe they’ll let me spend the night too. Maybe they’ll like my playing enough to hire me.” Lightning flashed directly overhead, closely followed by thunder. The rain abruptly increased. “Maybe I should worry about finding an inn first.,” decided Eliowy glumly. “Nothing like a dose of cold, wet reality to ruin a perfectly good fantasy.”
She resumed walking, keeping her head lowered to keep the rain out of her eyes. She had walked about a block when a glimmer in the mud caught her eye. A silver piece lay in the road, rain having washed the mud from it. Lightning constantly flickering from cloud to cloud, caused the coin to flash dimly. Eliowy waited for another burst of lightning before bending down to pick it up. What a stroke of luck!
“What have you found, youngster?” someone asked.
Eliowy jerked back in surprise, tripping over her cloak, as she tried to stand. She found herself staring up at a trio of hooded, armored men. A lantern made it impossible for her to get much more detailed.
The foremost figure moved a step closer and lantern light glinted off the long wood and metal sheath at his side.
Lieutenant Kalen Darklen stared down at the young woman sitting on the ground before him. Rain ran down her face like tears, plastering her hair to the cheeks and soaking her tunic. Lantern light glinted off cloak clasp and weapon hilt and gave her eyes an odd amber shine.
“You all right, miss?” Kalen asked, taking a step forward when the girl didn’t get up. Her fall hadn’t been hard enough to do damage, so there was no reason for her to continue sitting in the mud. He reached down to give a hand up.
Eliowy scrambled back as the foremost figure reached out towards her, not hearing the man’s concerned question. She stumbled to her feet, putting muddy foot prints on the hem of her cloak and tangling her scabbard in its folds. She stared at Kalen as he drew his hand back. The pair eyed one another for a few moments. Kalen with curiosity. Eliowy with rapidly growing panic.
“They must have heard,” she thought wildly. “Town guards are always talking with each other…” She stepped back.
A puzzled frown crossed Kalen’s face. “What is the matter with you?” he stepped forward decisively, to get the girl’s face back in to the light.
That settled the matter for Eliowy, who promptly panicked and bolted.
With a started shout Kalen and company chased after her, the bouncing lantern making the shadows dance crazily along the walls. People were not in the habit of running from the guard, even in Dargon and Kalen’s curiosity, not to mention his concern, was aroused.
Eliowy dodged down the first side street she could find, cloak flapping behind her. “They know!” the thought pounded through her at the same speed as the racing of her heart and the pumping of her feet. “They must have heard bout Tench!” Another junction loomed ahead of her and she skidded into a right turn.
Eliowy had arrived in Tench after several long months of travel and all she had cared about was finding an inexpensive inn and some food. Instead of this, she ran across three men who took exception to her having a weapon much finer than their own. Eliowy’s fight to keep her most valued possession ended with one man dead, another injured and the third running for his life.
Terrified that the last man would call the town guard after her, Eliowy fled the city, not realizing that he and his fellows would not admit to having been beaten by a lone girl.
The footsteps grew closer and she slipped into another alley filled with crates, trying to use her size to her advantage. The fading sounds of cursing behind her was testament to her success. She paused, took several deep breaths, then resumed running.
Eliowy rounded yet another corner and was back on the main street into and out of the city. Without thinking, she started across the street towards the waiting shadows of a nearby alley and was almost trampled by two armored figures on horseback.
In her mad scramble to get out of the way, Eliowy slipped and once again landed full length in the mud.
“Are you all right?” demanded one of the riders, swinging down from his mount.
“Leave her, Rien. We haven’t the time,” the other rider, a female, shifted uneasily.
“We have enough time to be certain she’s all right,” said Rien calmly. He reached down and helped Eliowy to her feet. “Be careful where you’re going next time. You might have gotten hurt.”
“Sorry,” gulped Eliowy. Her eyes scanned the area behind Rien. “I’ve got to go now!” She turned, shook off Rien’s helping hand and ran.
Rien returned to his horse. “Hey!” he heard and turned to see the lieutenant of the guard charging towards him. “Did you see a young girl come this way?” panted Kalen. Rien pointed in the general direction Eliowy had run in. “Thanks!”
Rien remounted his horse as Kalen trotted away. “Let’s go. And you don’t have to tell me that was the city guard.”
His partner simply smiled and looked smug.
Eliowy leaned against the wall of a building, breathing heavily. It looked like she had finally shaken her pursuers. Now all she had to do was find her way back out of the city and she’d be home free.
Shouldering her pack with a sigh, Eliowy moved out into the street again, right into the arms of Kalen Darklen.