The Beginning After the End (Vol. 8.5): Amongst the Fallen
Not a Safe Life (Part 3)
Not a Safe Life (Part 3)
Dec 16, 2021
Two men in fine robes strolled past the mouth of the alley. From their dress, the way they spoke, and the fact that they moved so casually after dark, it was obvious they were Alacryan mages.
I motioned for Jarrod to keep his head down until they'd disappeared around a distant corner.
Once the way was clear, we darted out of the alley and down the street, keeping close to the buildings in case we needed to quickly hide again.
We were heading toward the eastern edge of the floating city, where—hopefully—one of my father's contacts would be waiting for us.
Despite Father's hesitation, he'd been incredibly quick to organize everything once he set his mind to it. Jarrod had arrived at our house just after midnight, as I'd directed. He had hidden in our home for the last two days while the rest of us went on with our normal duties.
It was really exciting. I hadn't expected it to feel so good to do something to fight back—to resist.
We twisted and turned through the alleys, avoiding main streets wherever possible and listening carefully for any other night-time travelers, most of whom would certainly be Alacryan guards. If we were caught then it would all be over.
A scream pierced the chill night air, causing my heart to jump into my throat, and Jarrod flinched so bad he nearly toppled over. Our wide eyes met, and we waited. The rumble of low voices somewhere nearby followed the scream.
Signaling to Jarrod, I led us to the end of the alley we were crossing through, ducked behind a stack of weathered crates, and peered out into the road.
"—punishment for engaging in trade without a license is quite severe, you realize?"
The speaker was a stocky guard. His back was to us, so I couldn't make out his features, but he was obviously someone of authority. Three other guards ringed a thin woman who looked about fifty. She was on her hands and knees on the hard stone. Her entire body trembled.
A deep bark came from an open doorway nearby, and a large, gray mana beast—a shadow wolf, I thought—burst out, causing the door to slam against the side of the building. It snarled at the guards and lunged forward in defense of the woman, but four spells hit it at the same time.
The shadow wolf flipped in the air and struck the ground with a whimper, pierced by ice and burned by lightning. I could just see the broad chest heave once, then again, more slowly, and then the mana beast was entirely still.
The kneeling woman wailed, her tortured voice echoing through the city around us. She tried to claw her way past the guards to the dead wolf, but the man in charge grabbed her by the neck of her old robes and yanked her upright.
"Trading without a license and assault on a soldier of the Alacryan army? I'm authorized to execute you here and now…but I've heard the Testers at the academy need subjects for the live fire drills." He half-turned so I could see his profile, glowering at her as if he was holding up a particularly disgusting insect, not a human woman.
Then, he smiled. "Might as well be of some use before you go."
I met Jarrod's eye and mouthed, "Is the artifact active?" I knew it was—it had been since before we even walked out my front door—but felt an anxious drive to check anyway.
He held it up and nodded.
I wanted to help the woman more than I'd wanted to do anything in my life. Images of Jarrod and I rushing into the street in a blaze of spells played over in my mind, and for a moment I thought maybe we could even do it. If we took them by surprise, hit them with our strongest spells before they could bring up their defenses…but fear kept me where I was.
We looked on helplessly, our mana signatures hidden by the artifact Jarrod carried—another gift from my father—while the Alacryan soldiers marched the sobbing woman away. They didn't even bother to dispose of her bond.
I didn't move even after they'd gone well out of sight. I didn't move until Jarrod's hand on my shoulder caused me to nearly jump out of my skin.
"Sorry," he said quickly, his hand jerking away from me as if I had burned him.
I shook my head and pulled the hood of my cloak more closely around my face, hiding the tears streaming down my cheeks. "Let's go."
We met no one else until we reached our destination: a small storage facility that had been built right at the edge of the city. It was unused, belonging to a family that had been taken by the Alacryans early on, and it was also located in one of the poorer parts of Xyrus, meaning fewer patrols.
Something shuffled on the flat roof of the building. I had to push mana into my eyes and squint to see it in the gloom: a large, winged mana beast. It was lying flat, hiding as effectively as it could.
"What is that?" Jarrod asked quietly.
A voice answered from the shadows next to the building. "A blade wing."
The blade wing rider stepped out so we could see him, though his features were mostly hidden in the poor light. Despite the danger, he was grinning. "A beauty, isn't he?"
"If you say so," Jarrod said nervously, his eyes flicking between the mana beast's silhouette and me.
I took Jarrod's hand and led him forward. "You'll be fine. Father says Tanner was top of his class at Lanceler Academy."
The rider snorted, then quickly covered his mouth with his hand and gave us an apologetic look.
"The truth is," he said once we were standing right next to him, "if it weren't for the war, I'd still be at the academy and never would have been allowed near a blade wing. Despite everything that's happened, I can't imagine never having met Velkon up there and learning to ride…"
"And it's…safe?" Jarrod asked, his hand gripping mine so tightly it ached.
Tanner shrugged. "If you're talking about Velkon, yes, he's safe…so long as you don't do anything aggressive toward him—or startle him—or irritate him too badly. But if you mean our escape—the flight out of here—well…" He shrugged again.
I pulled my hand out of Jarrod's and pushed him toward the building. "Get going. A patrol could come by any time."
Tanner gave me a nod, then guided Jarrod—who kept glancing fearfully over his shoulder at me—toward a ladder that went up the side of the storage facility. My once-classmate's face was so pale it practically glowed in the dim starlight.
I stayed to watch them both mount the big blade wing. Its long, stony beak nipped at Jarrod when he first approached, but a few soft words from Tanner settled the creature down. When they were both on and strapped to the wide saddle, Velkon twisted around so it was facing away from me, then dove off the roof and flew straight down into the clouds below, soundless except for Jarrod's frightened yelp.
I glanced around nervously, but there didn't seem to be anyone nearby.
The thrill of success hummed through me. I'd done it.
Jarrod would be flown to a small village in the east of Sapin, near the Wall. With the mana-suppression artifact as cover, he would begin life as an orphan boy of no import, under the guardianship of a close friend of my father's.
Thank you, Father, I thought wistfully.
Without Father's aid, this wouldn't have been possible. He had found Tanner, the blade wing rider, and he'd called in a favor with the retired merchant who was to watch over Jarrod. He'd also pulled the artifact out of the auction house and gifted it to Jarrod without any expectation of reward or payment.
It had been easy. So easy, in fact, that I couldn't help but wonder if, with our privilege and wealth, we could do it again. How many mages suffered like Jarrod? How many could we help flee the city?
The war between Dicathen and Alacrya is over and Arthur Leywin has vanished. In the uncertain aftermath of this decisive loss, a few familiar faces navigate peril both political and moral as they are now forced to make a difficult choice: accept life under Vritra rule or keep fighting despite impossible odds? As Dicathen falls, Mica Earthborn, Lilia Helstea, Emily Watsken, and Jasmine Flamesworth must each answer this question for themselves.
NOTE ABOUT READING ORDER: to get the best reading experience, Amongst the Fallen should be read after volume 8 of The Beginning After the End (make sure you've read up to episode 868).