Sunlight glinted off the glass spires of Chiaroscuro. Thousands of people bought and sold goods in the thriving port-side marketplace. Young women seeking a husband walked through the streets in sheer silks, escorted by their brothers and uncles. Men of the local culture openly wore swords at their side, a striking counterpoint in foreign eyes to the finely embroidered veils and silken robes they wore. Duels of honor were held to resolve disputes of offense or justice. Past the glass towers was a sprawling expanse of brick and adobe homes populated mainly by foreigners and merchants.
Beyond that stood a building flanked by Imperial soldiers, flying the flag of the Legion. Its stonework was the result of materials sailed from the Blessed Isle for its strength and resilience. Between Chiaroscuro and the savannah the building stood guard. Inside, soldiers milled about in the barracks. Some polished or sharpened weapons while others bet their pay on games of cards or dice. A few snuck drinks of spirits while on duty without worry, knowing their ultimate commander at this site to be a drunkard himself.
Abruptly, the barracks door was kicked open. Meihi stepped through with the force of her kick and looked around at a room full of surprised faces. She held a dagger in each hand. â€œI... donâ€™t see anyone who looks like an Anathema prisoner,â€ she said back to Boke Kin, who lowered his head and sighed. She asked the assembled soldiers, â€œhey, sorry about that. By the way, where is the captured Anathema?â€
â€œDown the hall, holding cells,â€ a soldier replied incredulously.
â€œThanks a bunch!â€ Meihi smiled and closed the kicked-in door. It didnâ€™t latch anymore, but was heavy enough to remain mostly in place. â€œDown the hall then.â€
â€œWe need to work on your approach,â€ Kin made a note out loud. â€œLetâ€™s go.â€ The pair ran down the hallway of the grand stone building. Fresco art depicting abstract dragons and elemental eruptions of power covered the opposite wall. Sounds of terrible singing came echoing down the hall from the furthest chamber. They reached another door which Meihi kicked open before Kin could protest.
â€œArmory,â€ she said after a quick glance. Further down the hall they reached the last door in that direction. The off-key singing became louder. Kin grabbed Meihiâ€™s shoulder and stepped in front of her. He then opened the door with its handle. Inside was a smaller hall running perpendicular to the one they were standing in. On each side of this path were rows of small prison cells. A man in blue-tinted armor sat at a desk near the door, singing in between swigging down what smelled to Kin like alcohol even from several feet away.
The pair walked into the holding cell room. Meihi looked at the drunk man in blue armor with a quirked eyebrow while Kin walked down the path between the cells looking in each for the captive they sought. In the last cell on the left side he found the only current captive in the place. A man swathed in brightly colored silk clothing wearing a peach-colored veil embroidered with gold sat in the cell. He had brownish red hair faintly visible under his layered scarves. â€œAre you the captured... umm... â€˜Anathemaâ€™ I heard about?â€ Kin asked.
â€œYes, it would seem so,â€ the man replied in the high tongue of the Realm. â€œI am Suker Khaljic, and I crackle would be very grateful if you helped me out.â€ He paused. â€œAnd I apologize for my pronounced Firetongue accent fwoosh.â€
â€œAt least I can understand you,â€ Kin said, â€œnow stand back.â€ The man got up from his bench and stepped to the back of the cell. Two mighty swings of Kinâ€™s golden blade cut three of the bars of the cell. They dropped with a clang. â€œAlright, now letâ€™s get out of here.â€
â€œMy eternal gratitude my new snap friend,â€ Khaljic bowed, â€œI will help crackle you fight as best I can despite not having my bow. It was made from layers of local wood snap and bone from strong desert animals, lacquered and strung sizzle with sinew from an elephant from An-Teng. Part of a series made by fwoosh the master artisan Elezan Woodheart of Grayfalls crackle, sold to elite military forces around the world in Realm Year 527. If snap we could find it or another bow, I would be far more help.â€
â€œI see,â€ Kin nodded. â€œWell, letâ€™s work first on leaving.â€ Khaljic stepped out of the cell and walked with Kin. Meihi was still staring at the singing drunk. â€œHey, Meihi, letâ€™s go.â€ She nodded and began to leave.
Through the door from the outer hall stepped a woman with long black hair in full body plate armor. In her hand was a red-tinted sword larger even than Kinâ€™s. Despite her military apparel, she was strikingly attractive. â€œWhat is this?â€ she demanded to know. â€œHey, you bastard!â€ she yelled at the drunk man, â€œTheyâ€™re taking our prisoner! Get off your ass and command... commander!â€
â€œI am commanding!â€ the man replied, â€œSettle down Lisara... Iâ€™m sure itâ€™s... oh wait!â€ He stood up and picked up a blue-tinged sword of his own. â€œWait, the prisoner... escaping!â€ He belched, internal gases shifting as he got up. â€œLisara, stop them!â€
The armored woman rolled her eyes, but then saw Kinâ€™s sword. â€œMore Anathema! Die!â€ Searing flames erupted around her, lighting the room and throwing off intense waves of heat. She struck out at Kin, who barely managed to divert the attack with his fire poker. He returned the favor and slashed toward her with his golden blade. Lisara blocked it with her enormous red sword, big enough to be a tower shield itself.
Khaljic, having no weapons, withdrew behind the drunk manâ€™s desk for cover. Meihi looked at the intoxicated commander and readied herself. He swung clumsily at her with his weapon, but she stepped back out of range easily. Meihi twirled a dagger in each hand and withdrew down the path between cells to gain some distance.
Lisara screamed furiously and slammed her sword down double-handed repeatedly at Kin. He kept his sword up to guard against the onslaught, reinforcing his grip with his personal power so as no to buckle. As she raised her sword another time, he stabbed forward with his poker and caught her in the gut. Iron and steel collided with sparks, and the pokerâ€™s tip began to glow faintly from the fires surrounding the irate woman. However, she felt the hit and stumbled back a step before continuing her own assault.
Meihi hurled a pair of daggers. The man in blue stumbled and fell to the floor. Each of the knives sailed well over him and clattered against the wall. She looked down at her opponent and suppressed a sigh. With one hand she helped him back to his feet. â€œThank you,â€ he said wearily with a smile, â€œoh... Anathema... right!â€
Belying its own ponderous size, Lisaraâ€™s blade rang down like lightning against Kin. He barely managed to withstand the fury of her attack. â€œCrackle her weapon is Flameâ€™s Kiss,â€ Khaljic called to Kin, â€œit is not designed for quick blocking snap as in fencing, but for power. She must be burning personal reserves hiss of power to attack like that. However, her aura shows only normal sizzle signs of flame and not marks of advanced technique. Draw her out and strike!â€
Meihi kicked back off the man in blueâ€™s shoulder and hurled a conjured pair of golden phantom daggers at him. Surprisingly, he managed to intercept them with his sword. The force of moving his weapon was too much for the manâ€™s equilibrium however and he stumbled over into a cell door.
â€œThanks!â€ Kin replied to Khaljic from his knees under the force of Lisaraâ€™s punishing blows. She pulled her sword back and shifted her grip for a horizontal slash. At that moment Kin lashed out with both weapons. His sword slashed through her mortal-crafted armor while his poker smashed her in the hip. Lisara shouted in pain and began to back away into the hallway outside. She called to the soldiers down the hall.
The man in blue and Meihi hugged for a moment.
â€œAlarm! Rally you lazy jerks!â€ Lisara shouted down the hall as she ran. Kin ran out into the hall in pursuit but was not fast enough to overtake her. â€œAnathema are attacking, arm yourselves!â€ No soldiers had come out of the barracks yet, perhaps having not heard her. It was only a matter of a few moments before they were alerted however. In desperation, Kin pulled back his left arm and then snapped it forward. From his hands flew the fireplace poker. It spun horizontally through the air before smacking into the back of Lisaraâ€™s head. She stumbled and fell to the floor.
â€œMeihi, Khaljic! Letâ€™s go!â€ Kin yelled back toward the prison. Meihi and the man in blue shook hands and she left right behind Khaljic. The three chosen of the Sun made their way out of the Imperial garrison swiftly, before Lisara or her commander could regain their senses. They ran until they were a good way into Chiaroscuro to avoid being found easily.
â€œHi,â€ Meihi said to Khaljic with a grin, â€œwelcome to our little circle.â€