“A shadowy figure appeared, dragging a sword along the stone. It solidified into a humanoid shape, charging at the two warriors, who raised their swords.”
Chapter One: The Fire
Clink. Gavlin tensed. Clink. Clink. He turned to look at his companion, Denarth. Clink. Clink. Clink. Anticipation was painted across Denarth’s face. Clink. Clink. Clink. Gavlin turned back to the massive crater in the side of the ravine. Clink. Clink. Clink. Clink. His eyes narrowed. The gash began to omit a fiery glow. A shadowy figure appeared, dragging a sword along the stone. It solidified into a humanoid shape, charging at the two warriors, who raised their swords. The monster jumped out of the gaping hole (which was starting to look like a mouth more and more), and plunged its sword down. The blade hit the ground, shaking with power —
“AAAAAHHH!” Miles jumped up in his bed and hit his head on the low ceiling. He rubbed his head, thinking about the nightmare. He had it every night, and as a result, barely got any sleep. But today, he was going to need every last scrap of energy he had. Today, he would finally finish training and become a guard — one step away from being a full-fledged knight. He sighed and tried to fall asleep again. Thirty minutes later, he was still awake.
“Okay,” he whispered to himself, “I’ll go to my cove.”
He could climb to the roof of the bakery he lived in, and from there he could run across the rooftops until he got to his “cove.” The cove was a ledge that jutted out near the top of the local Count Tower. It was originally a window, but it had broken so many times that it had been covered with stone. The windowsill was still there, however, and some of the wet clay they had used to cover up the window had slid down and expanded the windowsill.
Miles rolled out of bed, threw on his squire clothes, and opened his door. It opened into a hallway with stairs at the end, but instead of walking forward, Miles turned to face the wall on the right and started climbing the loose boards. When he reached the top, he jumped to the other (repaired) wall and squeezed through a trapdoor. The night air felt good on his face. He stood on the roof for a moment, his eyes closed, the wind blowing his dark tufts of hair to either side.
He opened his eyes and started running across the roof. He jumped the gap between the roofs but tripped when he landed. As he lay sprawled across the stone roof (which was actually pretty comfortable), he noticed a fire coming from about three blocks away. He leapt to his feet, only to remember all his training gear was a block away in the Gladian Academy. He had a spare in his cove, but that was seven blocks in the other direction, and besides it would take him too long to climb the tower and then descend back to the rooftops. The fire was getting stronger; he didn’t have much time left to make a decision.
And so Miles made the best mistake of his life. He jumped from roof to roof, trying not to think about the hard cobblestone beneath. When he reached the street the fire was on, he swung down into an alleyway, then vaulted a fence and skidded to a stop in front of the inferno. It was a warehouse. The front door had collapsed, but a window on the upper floor was still partially accessible — the only problem being it was on the upper floor. He heard screams for help coming from the basement.
Miles turned around and climbed the storefront opposite the fire. Once he was atop the building, he ran to the back of the roof, and then bolted across it, jumped off the wooden shingles, and cleared the narrow street. He landed on the house next to the blazing warehouse and dropped onto a windowsill. Miles swung sideways and slipped through the semi-open window into a long, narrow wooden hallway. His shoe snagged on a bent board, and while he was bending down to free it, he heard another yell from below.
Miles rushed down the hallway to a stairway at the end, but before he got there the ground below creaked and gave way. A shower of dust and smoke followed him down two floors until he landed painfully on the cellar floor. The first thing he saw was a family tied to the wall: two parents, a girl, and a young boy. Smoke and fire licked at their feet but strangely avoided actually damaging them. The second thing he saw was the reason why.
A fiery beast was staring at him from atop a big keg of ale. It had narrow white slits for eyes and a forked tongue. Miles instinctively grabbed a charred stick of wood and held it defensively. The monster seemed to narrow its eyes even more and then lunged. Miles jumped out of the way and scrambled to his feet. Before the beast could attack again, Miles ran at it and stabbed its claw straight through into the floor. While it was trying to free itself, Miles ran to the family and tried to unhook the chains from the wall.
There was a pole embedded into the wooden wall; the end curved into a lasso-like shape. Five chains were clasped around the loop, running around the group of people and then circling back into the pipe. The chain links were made of pure steel, with veins of bronze running through the metal and clasping the links together. Miles would need a red-hot sword to cut through it, something he most definitely did not have. He could unhook the chains from the pipe, but there was even more steel binding the chains to the loop. The only option he had available to him was to pull the hook from the wall, unless he could magically conjure up a sharpened sword, which wasn’t exactly an option. Miles eyed the pipe. It looked aged, and the wooden wall surrounding it was coming apart. If he could pry the boards away, maybe he could —
Miles whipped around. The monster had ripped the makeshift spear out of its claw and threw it at Miles. He ducked just in time, and the blazing stick stuck in the wall above the chained family. Miles glanced down at the claw he had injured. Tar colored blood covered it, yet the monster showed no sign of pain. Sweeping his eyes around the room, he saw no other weapon, except — Miles suddenly realized what he had to do.
“Come on, beast. Kill me, or are you too dumb?”
He taunted the monster as he backed up, coming closer and closer to the chains. Finally, it lunged. Miles jumped away just in time, as the monster’s claws cut through the air and came in contact with the chains. Its claws made quick work of the steel, and before the beast had time to realize it, the family was free and running.
The monster roared at them and began to chase them, but before it got very far, it felt something in its back. When the chains had been broken, the force of the impact had yanked the pole out of the wall
Now, Miles had thrust it into the beast’s back. He pushed his shoes into the ground and pushed the pole through the monster. The beast saw the jagged end of the metal thing protruding through its chest and then collapsed on the floor dead. But when it died, it released its grip on the fire it had started, and the blaze kicked up steam.
He started to go for the stairs, but as he was running, some of the cross beams holding up the stairwell crashed down and blocked it off. The only other way out was the same way he got in, the hole in the ceiling. It was too tall to jump, but maybe he could climb the kegs and jump from there. The only problem was the kegs were big round barrels, and Miles didn’t see any place to gain purchase. He would have to climb on something else to get on top of the kegs. There was a rack filled with empty bottles, but it wasn’t nailed to the ground and would be risky.
BAAANNNGGG!!! A section of the wall caved in, almost crushing Miles. He climbed on the rack, balancing ever so carefully. It started to shake, and he lunged for the kegs just as the rack collapsed. He crashed into a keg and tried to regain his breath. He vaguely acknowledged the keg shifting and rolling under his feet. And then, he actually acknowledged the keg shifting and rolling under his feet, and a jolt of fear shot through his spine.
He backed up to the top of the keg, then ran and jumped like his life depended on it — which it did. He just barely managed to grab the edges of the hole and dangled over the raging fire. The wood he was holding was burning, and ash was getting everywhere. He choked on smoke and started to pull himself up. He hoped adrenaline would kick in, but it didn’t, until — “TIMMY! TIIMMY!”
The little boy Miles had freed was crying, and from the direction the sound was coming from, the toddler was near the front door. His plead for help gave Miles the adrenaline he needed. He pulled himself up into the hallway and raced down the hallway, vaulting a chunk of ceiling that had fallen. The stairway had broken, so he jumped out of the window and grabbed the shades from outside. Then, he jumped to a pole and slid down to the little boy. He looked up quizzically at Miles.
“It’s all okay! Just go over to your family!” Miles coaxed.
“NO! I want Timmy the Kitty!”
“Are you a knight?” the boy’s mother asked. “Timmy is our family cat. I thought he escaped with us, but apparently he got trapped in the front hall. And now little Kevin won’t leave. I mean, we all love Timmy, but there is no going back in there.”
Miles eyed the warehouse door. It had collapsed even more, and now most of it was smoldering on the street. He slipped through the opening and looked around. To his right, there was a long hallway that ended in a collapsed doorway, and to his left, there was a cat surrounded by flames. It was unconscious, meowing faintly every so often. He rushed to it, vaulted the flames, jumped back into the hallway, and started to run toward the doorway. However, he had pushed his luck too much.
The roof caved in, and he just managed to get the cat outside when the whole hallway crashed down on him. He was stuck in a tiny alcove, the fire drawing ever nearer… Miles closed his eyes.
Talia watched the Count Tower from across the street. She had been waiting over a week to get everything just right, and finally the day was here. It would be an easy job; so why was she so nervous? She had pulled off way more dangerous plans, why was this one so nerve-wracking? Because this is a Count Tower, she told herself. She ignored the fact that this was the third time she had stolen from a Count Tower. Before she could continue down this line of thought, two things happened. (Sort of.) The window opened, and Talia noticed a warehouse burning near Gavlin Street, about ten blocks away.
She glanced back up at the window, but hesitated. Why am I having so much trouble with this job? she thought. Talia took a deep breath and turned away from the Count Tower. She turned away from days of work. She turned away from clues to who she was that would threaten her life if found by the guards. Yet she turned away and raced toward the fire.
In almost no time at all, she was at the fire. There was a family near the front door. It seemed they were trying to pull a young boy away from the warehouse, who was wailing and yelling at the (collapsed) door. Suddenly, a boy about Talia’s age slipped out of a window, swung from the curtains to a pole, and slid down. He was about Talia’s height, with light brown skin and dark hair that he kept at his side. Talia recognized his red and black striped shirt as the Royal Guard colors, but he was too young to be a knight; he must be a squire.
The baby screamed something at the squire, and what appeared to be the toddler’s mother told the squire something that made him turn back to the house, slip through the door, and disappear into the wreckage. Talia watched the door with as much anticipation as the family. After a nerve-wracking minute, a cat sprang through the door, and the family rushed forward.
Suddenly, chariots dashed toward them. Atop the first was Prince Dengar VI, King Goliath’s third born. He was ruling Gladia while the king was sick. And, unfortunately, he wasn’t the nicest person alive. The prince got out of his golden chariot (yes, it really was a golden chariot), and walked over to the family. Talia didn’t want to see what Dengar was doing, and besides the squire was taking too long getting out. She slipped through a window and descended a couple of stairs. Near the door, the roof had collapsed. There were a couple of slits, and Talia could see the unconscious boy. The boards were too hot to touch, but she was a thief. She pulled a knife out of her dark cloak.
Any passerby would have thought the sight of Talia trying to free the squire would of been ridiculous, but any passerby hadn’t been a top-notch thief for almost a decade. She slid the knife between the boards, and within ten seconds, the boy was free. He was unconscious, so Talia kicked him in his ribs. Hard. The squire groaned. Talia rushed away. When she got back on the roof, she saw something she hoped she would never have to see. Prince Dengar was murdering the family.
Miles woke to someone kicking him in his ribs. At first he thought he was back in the roof of his bakery. Then, he remembered everything that had happened.
Am I in hell? he wondered.
It sure wasn’t heaven; his side hurt, his shirt stuck to his side, and he had several splinters in his hand. Screams nearby jolted him back into reality. He was up in a second and at the door in two more seconds. And then Miles, the youngest ever to fight a Flym, learned the truth about Prince Dengar the Sixth.
“What do you want us to do with these ones?” Five knights were with the Prince. Three were holding the family, one was at the chariot keeping the horses, and one was watching the rooftops.
“Kill them! And do it quickly. Dawn’s come early today, and soon Gavlin will be up. If the procession comes through, the whole plan will be for naught. We’ll have to wait another century, and §‡ﬂ€ won’t like that.”
Miles couldn’t understand one of the words, but it sounded like a name. It reminded him of the roars of the monster in the play the castle put on every three months, Goliath the Hero. He wondered who Gavlin was. It rung a faint bell in his mind, but he couldn’t put his finger on it. He charged outside, and before the knights registered what was happening, he had kicked the one with the horses in the stomach.
The others yelled, but the prince waved them down. Miles and the knight he had kicked exchanged blows. Miles kicked him in the shin. The knight grabbed Miles’s leg and threw him into the chariot. As Miles struggled to his feet, the knight charged him. Miles ducked under him and slipped the knight’s sword out of his scabbard. He quickly stabbed the knight in the back. Miles expected him to start bleeding, but instead fire spread throughout his body. Miles turned and faced the other knights.
One handed the child he was holding to his companion and drew his sword. He and the one who was watching the rooftops started to circle Miles. He raised his sword protectively. Everyone who was there couldn’t understand how Miles fought back, including him.
He was nervous until one of the knights charged him. Then, something instinctual took over. He parried the knight’s swing with ease. He pivoted in time to dodge a swipe to his legs and slid on the ground, cutting one of the knight’s legs. Like the other, it burst into flames.
But the wound wasn’t fatal. The knight — it — snarled at Miles and started to stab at him violently. Miles jumped to his feet and climbed onto the chariot. He fended off both knights, until the one he had stabbed through the back earlier climbed back to his feet and leapt back into the fray. He surprised Miles and soon had him dead to rights, when an arrow sliced through its head. It stumbled backward, and three more arrows pierced it through the heart. It burst into flames once more, this time burning to ashes.
Talia swung down from the rooftop where she had shot the monster and drew a pair of daggers. Together, she and Miles defeated the remaining guards. And then, piercing screams stung through the air. They turned just in time to see Prince Dengar murder the child, the bodies of the others strewed carelessly on the cobblestones. A burning rage overtook Miles.
“MURDERER!” he shouted, and charged the prince.
But Dengar was stronger, faster, and wiser than Miles. He easily overpowered the squire and would have killed him if not for Talia, who cut the ropes holding the horses to the chariots. The resulting mini-stampede distracted Dengar for enough time to let Talia jump on a horse and grab Miles, pulling him up with her.
Miles looked behind him. Dengar’s eyes switched from their usual dark green to a fiery red. Fire spread through his body; his hands and feet burned and reshaped themselves as claws. The prince became the same type of creature that Miles had just fought, albeit much more powerful — and much more terrifying.
Miles started to slip out of consciousness, slipping off the horse as well. Talia twisted around just in time to grab him, and the last thing Miles saw was Talia’s concerned face as she tied him in place with ropes from the chariot.