“Madame Godani owns this pillar, all the way up to the Upper Shade,” Styx explained as he climbed to the top floor of the complex with Prism. They reached a small platform that rested against the giant column of limestone. Small handholds and footholds were cut into the stone that would allow passage to the heights above. Styx inclined his head toward those handholds and continued, “It shouldn’t be difficult to reach the cavern ceiling, and then we simply have to make our way through the Upper Shade.”
“Is it really that simple?” Prism asked, eyeing the pillar with determination. Styx wondered if Prism would go against Madame Godani’s request that they wait until she had everything in order before they left, but to his relief Prism turned back to look at him instead.
“No,” Styx answered with a light smile, “but I thought it might make you feel better if you thought that we could make it out easily.” He rested his hand against the pillar, feeling its cool surface as he smiled fondly at the memories this particular platform held for him. There were many times in his childhood that he had come to the platform for introspection. From here he could see the entirety of the Lower Shade, and had been able to daydream of exploring the distant shadows. He sighed as the memory faded and he was brought back to his present problems. “In all honesty,” he said, meeting Prism’s eyes, “dodging the patrols once we get up there will be the hardest part. There are only three exits to the surface that I know of, and I’m sure all three will be guarded.”
“I’m not worried about the patrols,” Prism said grimly. He winced and touched his ribs where Fasha had stabbed him. “Unless Fasha is waiting for us.”
“Are you sure you shouldn’t be worried?” Styx asked as he eyed the area of the wound. Though the clothing that Prism wore prevented him from seeing the injury clearly, the entire section of cloth from his armpit to his hip was caked in blood. Prism wasn’t bleeding anymore but he appeared to be getting weaker by the minute. “You aren’t looking too good,” Styx observed. “We need to have that knife wound checked.”
“I’m fine, and we must reach the city as soon as possible,” Prism replied, dismissing Styx’s concern with a wave of his hand. “I can still fight my way up, even if I have to take it easy.”
“But you’re still concerned about Fasha catching up to us?” Styx replied, raising his eyebrows as he shook his head. He glanced worriedly at Prism’s wounded side again as he asked, “What is your relationship with him? It seemed like the two of you had history.”
“Ancient history, best left in the past,” Prism replied noncommittally. He sighed as he saw the worry still present in Styx’s face. “I suppose there is no use in lying to you. This wound is going to take some time to heal, and it will also take quite a bit of my energy,” he admitted, and then shrugged as he continued, “I can handle any common fighter, but Fasha is better than most. At my current strength I wouldn’t stand a chance against him.”
“I saw him get pulled down by that monster,” Styx replied with a shiver, “Even if he does survive, he won’t exactly be in the best shape either.” He laid a concerned hand on Prism’s arm and insisted, “I’m serious though; we should get you looked over before we leave. Madame Godani has the best doctors in The Shade in her employ.”
“We really don’t have the time, though I appreciate your concern,” Prism answered with a patient smile. “I’ll find a Fedain when we’ve made it to the surface. They’re the only ones who can help me.”
“You might have a hard time with that. Fedain are rare in Pentalus. I’m surprised you don’t know that,” Styx replied, shaking his head in disbelief. He took hold of Prism’s arm and tried to drag him back toward the stairs as he insisted, “She really does have the best doctors around, Prism. Come on, Madame Godani is still working on putting everything in order. We have time.”
“No. I’m sorry Styx, but I must insist,” Prism said as he slipped his arm smoothly from Styx’s grasp. “They can’t do anything. I’m sure of it.”
“Why not?” Styx asked in bewilderment.
“I’ve been poisoned,” Prism explained calmly, “My na . . .” he paused as if searching for a different word than he had initially intended to use, “my natural resistance to poison is holding it at bay, but only someone who can pull the poison out of my system will be able to heal me quickly. I may still be able to fix it on my own, but it will take a while.”
“Poisoned!? Is it anything like the poison that mons . . . demon hit me with?” Styx asked, his worry doubling. “Are you sure that we can’t do anything?”
“For the last time, no, there’s nothing you can do,” Prism snapped, finally losing his patience. With a bit more composure he added, “And no, it’s not something from a Breathstealer, though it is still a demonic poison. I’ve felt its sting before.”
“Aren’t the demons still sealed up above?” Styx asked, glancing anxiously toward the ceiling as if looking for the pillars of air that waited for them above. He had only been to Pentalus a few times in his life, but that time had been spent on rooftops where the pillars were in easy view. “How many has Salidar freed?”
“From my understanding,” Prism replied quickly, “only the one.”
Styx shook his head in confusion and asked, “Then how were you poisoned by a demon before this?”
“You’re not going to let this go, are you?” Prism replied. He rolled his eyes and growled, turning away from Styx. At first Styx thought that Prism had been growling in anger at him, but then he watched Prism grip his side again as he breathed heavily.
“No,” Styx agreed, stepping up beside him again. “What aren’t you telling me? I think I’ve proven myself to you enough that you can trust me.”
“I’m not worried about trusting you, Styx, I’m worried about losing your assistance,” Prism admitted, meeting his eyes again. “I think you will have a hard time believing my tale,” Prism explained, “especially due to the knowledge I’ve received recently.”
“Listen, Prism. You may be older than me, but I think I’ve seen my fair share of things in my short life,” Styx replied with a sincere and supportive smile. “You’d be surprised what I’d be willing to believe.” He laughed but it quickly became a shudder as he continued, “Don’t you remember me telling you about the lake monsters? Tall tales are something I’m quite accustomed to.”
“I suppose you have a point, my young friend,” Prism said with a smile. “Very well, I’ll give you the summary while we wait.”
“But you’ll finish the story when we reach the top, right?” Styx asked excitedly.
“If we live that long, then yes. I’ll tell you everything I can,” Prism agreed. He hesitated and locked eyes with Styx, seeming to stare into his soul. Styx was about to comment when Prism sighed and added, “You may need the knowledge before this is over, in all honesty. I suppose it would be good to confide in someone.”
“I’m glad,” Styx replied with another smile. “Now, tell me. Please.”
“Very well.” Prism looked away from Styx and stared off into The Shade, but Styx knew he wasn’t looking for anything out in the cavern. He was searching for some distant memory, and Prism revealed just how distant as he began, “It all started eight hundred years ago, give or take a decade.”
“Eight hundred years!?” Styx exclaimed, “You’ve been alive for eight hundred years?”
“Styx, if I’m going to tell this story, you can’t interrupt me at every point that you find difficult to believe,” Prism replied dryly, frowning in displeasure. “If you keep it up, I won’t bother trying at all.”
“I’m sorry,” Styx replied, dropping his eyes. “Please go on. I’ll keep my mouth shut.”
“Eight hundred years ago . . .” Prism began again, but then hesitated as he waited to see if Styx would challenge him again before continuing, “The demons were unleashed upon this world. They were a scourge such as no one had ever seen before. Who it was that opened the portal from their realm to ours remains a mystery, but, regardless of who was responsible, the action led to the deaths of thousands within the first day.” He shook his head in disgust, the ghosts of those days still haunting him. He took a deep breath and continued, looking into the darkness so that Styx wouldn’t see the pain in his eyes. “By the end of first week the death toll had reached millions, though it began to slow after that. The people of the world had gained their footing, and were fighting back with better success, though it was still a losing battle.”
“Like many of my fellow countrymen, I went to the front lines to do my duty in defending the world,” Prism said without emotion. His mind was filled with images from those days, and he had to repress a shudder as he allowed himself to remember. “It was there that I learned to fight demons the way that I do. It was there that I became the fighter I am today, because every day was a fight for survival. Every day was a chance that your body would be amongst those left to rot on the battle field.”
“The war raged on for two decades, and we lost ground every day. The demons were too numerous, and they only seemed to be gaining in numbers,” Prism went on grimly. “We realized that the gate must have remained open, and a desperate plan was hatched. A small group would venture behind enemy lines to try to shut the gate. We took the greatest of us all, the most skilled warriors, the most capable healers, and the most powerful magi. We would send the best or none at all, for the gate had to be sealed at all costs. We couldn’t win as long as their numbers remained infinite.”
“Obviously you succeeded,” Styx observed, “The demons aren’t around anymore.”
“Oh yes, we did manage to seal the gate, but the demons that were already here didn’t go anywhere,” Prism replied with a mirthless laugh. “Instead, their ferocity increased. With no home to return to, they had little left to lose. The war continued, and we continued to lose.”
Prism winced and reached to his side involuntarily, momentarily pausing his story. As he pulled his hand away he glared at Styx again, daring him to say something about doctors. Upon seeing nothing but genuine concern he returned to his story. “Once again, it was time for a desperate plan.”
“What was it?” Styx asked, forgetting in his excitement about his promise to keep his mouth shut.
“Neredos, the Shining Knight, came up with an idea to lure the demon generals together,” Prism explained.
“Demon generals?” Styx interjected.
This time Prism gave him a hard look and said, “I thought you said that you weren’t going to interrupt?” When Styx mouthed a quick apology and looked down again Prism sighed and explained, “There were six demon generals who led their six armies. Vhor, Ibrix, Nobak, Quay, Aika, and Goden. Those are not their actual names, but those were the names the Gor gave them. Each of the armies were different and made up entirely of one type of demon.” Almost as an afterthought he added, “The type of demon that you faced was a Goden.”
Styx rolled the name across his tongue as he remembered his fight against the demon. He hadn’t thought of it having a name at the time, but it did make sense. Maybe they even had a language. To him it had been a monster, and nothing more, but if they were organized into armies then they must be intelligent. It was not simply a beast that had killed Kutos and Hurr but a dangerous and dedicated killer.
“As I was saying before,” Prism continued, drawing Styx back from his thoughts, “A plan was presented to bring the demon generals together, and end them once and for all. When they arrived, we soldiers kept them busy while Neredos’ mages began to work a very powerful spell. It was the strongest magic that the humans involved had ever dared to attempt, and I believe that it was only because the Gor were lending their support that it worked at all. The demons were sealed in massive pillars of air, apparently trapping them in stasis.” He chuckled as he added, “I only found out recently that the plan succeeded.”
Prism stopped speaking, which Styx took as an opportunity to ask a question. “You only found out recently?” Styx asked with a wry grin. “The demons have been sealed the entire time. What took you so long?”
“Ah, well therein lies the reason why we’re even talking now,” Prism explained with a smile. “I’m human, just like you, and as far as I know, humans normally don’t live for that long. Certainly not for eight hundred years,” He laughed with enthusiasm. “I had the misfortune of being trapped between a demon’s legs when it was sealed up, and I was sealed right along with it. Through sheer happenstance, that was the pillar Salidar chose to dissolve in testing his new knowledge, and I was released with the demon.”
“It took me a moment to realize that things were different, and that I wasn’t on a battlefield anymore. It’s not like me to fail to notice things like that. I suppose I was simply caught up in the adrenaline,” Prism explained, rolling his eyes at the memory of his failure. “Salidar told me where I was,” he went on, “and at first I thought he was hunting the demons, just like I had been, but then Maxthane made a blood pact with the beast . . .”
“Maxthane did what!?” Styx asked in surprise, his grin fading fast.
“You didn’t know?” Prism replied, showing his own surprise. “Why do you think that Goden was in the arena, instead of killing everything in sight? How do you think they managed to bring it down here without being noticed by the citizens of the city above unless it was docile?” With a tight-lipped frown he added, “Maxthane controls the demon, or at least has a semblance of control over it.”
“No,” Styx said, unable to believe what he was hearing, “He couldn’t. Why . . .?” He trailed off again as he felt his anger from earlier returning. Everything Maxthane had said to him, all the promises that he wouldn’t turn out like his father—they were all lies. He felt a pit in his stomach as he growled, “That demon killed Kutos and Hurr, and it almost killed me. How could he do that?”
“Maxthane?” Prism asked, and the look on Styx’s face told him everything he needed to know. “He seems to have a very gentle soul, but he lives in his father’s shadow,” he explained laying a hand lightly on Styx’s arm. “I imagine he is only going along with the plan because Salidar is forcing him to, but then again, nothing in life is certain.”
“No,” Styx whispered, burying his face in his hands, “this isn’t happening. It can’t be true.”
“Sometimes the truth is the worst thing a person can hear,” Prism replied quietly, “but it’s always for the best.”
Before Styx could respond a voice called out to them from above. Drake was descending from the next platform up, he dropped to the wooden planks beside them a few seconds later. “We’re ready,” he said as he caught his breath, “Madame Godani has everything in place to get you up there.”
“Understood,” Prism answered with an appreciative nod. “We’ll be on our way then.” He placed his hand on the wall to start climbing but then sensed he was the only one moving. Looking back at Styx he asked, “Styx, are you coming?”
“Yes,” Styx replied instinctively, but he remained in place until he felt Prism’s impatient glare. “I’ll be right behind you,” he promised. Prism nodded and resumed his climb.
“Are you all right?” Drake asked, his one good eye showing concern.
“No,” Styx answered quietly, and without explaining further he moved to the pillar and started after Prism.
Climbing was something he could do automatically, which gave him time to think about the revelation Prism had given him. Maxthane was directly responsible for the deaths of Kutos and Hurr. That reality was something he now had to deal with, and he wasn’t sure that he could.
Over the short time since they had escaped from the complex Styx had been filled with a longing to return. He had wanted to go back and free Maxthane from Salidar’s influence almost as much as he desired to survive. Only two things had stopped him; one being Prism’s need to escape and his agreement to help, and the other that freeing Maxthane would have been suicidal. Now he had to question the entire idea. Did Maxthane actually want to be freed? Did he want to escape from the life he lived? If so, how could he have so easily allowed that demon to kill, when he could have prevented it with a thought?
Questions continued to plague him as they ascended.
They were passed from one guild contact to another to keep them moving, but he let Prism do the talking, as he was too withdrawn to do anything except climb. His anger rose the more he thought about it, and by the time they reached The Upper Shade it was a white-hot rage. No matter what Maxthane’s reasons for doing what he had it was unforgiveable. He was so wrapped up in his rage that he barely noticed how much the climb taxed Prism, though he did note that Prism appeared to be slowing down the higher they went, and he would clutch at his side more and more often.
The last guild contact left them at the top of the pillar. The only thing separating them from the staircase leading to the surface was a narrow bridge made of ropes and wooden planks. The coast appeared to be clear; meaning they had made it up fast enough to avoid any patrols that Salidar had put in place. He started around the pillar to cross the bridge when Prism pulled him back roughly.
Styx’s anger spiked as he turned to face Prism, but he was shushed as Prism pointed to a shadowy section of the stairs. Styx was surprised that he hadn’t noticed that someone was standing there while Prism had, even without Styx’s better vision in the dark, but he had been distracted by his emotions. Styx took several deep breaths to calm his anger but he wasn’t able to entirely push his rage aside.
Prism studied the person in the shadows critically, and Styx followed his lead. Recognition struck him as Prism set his feet in preparation to dash across the bridge, and Styx laid a staying hand on Prism’s arm, causing Prism to look at him with a raised eyebrow.
“It’s Dogo,” Styx offered in explanation. “I’ll try to distract him,” he suggested in a whisper. “I think I can make him listen. You try to sneak past while I’m talking to him.”
Prism looked at Styx as if he were insane for making such a suggestion. “I can’t let you sacrifice yourself, Styx,” he replied, eyeing the man in the shadows suspiciously. “I’m coming with you. We’ll fight our way through.”
“Hey, you’ve trusted me to lead you through The Shade this far, would you mind trusting me a little longer?” Styx asked with an exasperated frown. “I know how this man works,” he explained firmly, “and I’m sure I can give you the opportunity to get by.”
“All right, I’ll trust you,” Prism agreed with a slight nod, “but if you get into trouble I’m doubling back.”
“Don’t,” Styx ordered with a glare. “They aren’t looking for me, and I can escape back into The Shade if I have to.” With a forced grin he added, “You need to get out and warn Neredos, remember?”
Prism looked torn, but all it took was one more look at the wound in Prism’s side for Styx to know that this was the right course of action. He made the decision for Prism and took his silence as affirmation. “Good. Now, get moving.”
Without waiting for a reply he stepped out onto the bridge and walked toward Dogo’s hiding spot, making no move to conceal his movements. When he reached the other side, he hurried up the stairs toward the exit, knowing that Dogo would get in his way once he reached the right position. He hoped that Prism would be doing the opposite and climb along the wall to avoid notice, but he couldn’t look behind him to see. To look for Prism would give his position away and ruin the entire plan.
As expected, Dogo stepped out of the shadows to block his path before he passed by. “Styx, it’s a pleasure to see you again,” Dogo greeted pleasantly. “I see you heeded my advice and escaped. Too bad you decided to come this way,” he added with a solemn shake of his head, “Now I’m going to have to take you back.”
“I thought you said that people who escaped had earned their freedom, Dogo,” Styx replied in surprise. He had been hoping that Dogo could be persuaded to let him go, but now Styx was worried that he had misjudged how the bounty hunter would react. “What happened to Salidar’s respect for those who had what it took to survive?”
“Two things have changed since then. One, you escaped with someone valuable enough that Salidar was willing to break from his usual pattern,” Dogo explained with a neutral expression, then smiled as he continued, “Two, you managed to capture the heart of the prince, and Salidar wants to make his son happy.”
“Well, unfortunately for him,” Styx replied, barely managing keep his anger subdued, “I don’t want to see the prince. Not now or ever again.”
“Really? Why is that?” Dogo asked, returning to neutral. But his eyes betrayed his amusement as he added, “You don’t like his attention?”
“Not particularly,” Styx growled. “Do you remember a man named Kutos?”
“Yes, of course,” Dogo replied immediately, smiling fondly, “He was a smart man, and brave as well. From my understanding he has become quite the gladiator. Why do you bring him up?”
“From your understanding?” Styx echoed in a murmur, “Do you never watch the fights?”
“If you’ve met Kutos, then you already know I spent a great deal of time in that arena,” Dogo said with a shrug. His arms were still outstretched as he explained, “I don’t return there if I can help it.”
“So you haven’t heard that Kutos is dead?” Styx asked angrily. Speaking the truth so plainly brought him back to his thoughts on Maxthane. He clenched his fists and his teeth to stop himself from growling as his anger bubbled to the surface.
“No,” Dogo whispered in reply, looking down at his feet as he digested the information slowly. He looked back up with a tight frown and asked, “May I ask how it happened?”
“Maybe, but only if you make a promise to me.” Though he hated to use the information as blackmail, he needed leverage if he was going to make it out of this.
“I avoid making those,” Dogo replied dryly, “Why should I now? I can find out Kutos’ fate easily enough when I return with you in tow,” he explained, “I don’t exactly need to know at this particular moment. I’m a patient man.”
Styx was at a loss for words. All of his ideas hadn’t brought him any luck in bargaining, and no matter how patient Dogo was, he would eventually tire of the game and capture him. Out of the corner of his eye, he caught sight of Prism skirting along the wall, already past their position. He had to keep this going long enough that Prism could make it out, and then he could run back the way he came, jumping off the cliff face if he had to, though Dogo would likely throw his bola at him and cause him to drop out of the air like he had the first time, only this time there’d be no guarantee of a safe place to land.
Either way, Prism didn’t deserve to be captured again and brought back to Salidar. Everything Styx had learned about Prism indicated that he was a good man, and good men didn’t belong in The Shade. He smiled as he remembered their conversation on the shore before Fasha had attacked them; he had an idea.
“Because you seem like an honorable man,” Styx answered. Dogo’s eyes widened as Styx added, “And after what I tell you, you will find it to be the honorable thing to let me go.”
“Me, an honorable man?” Dogo replied incredulously. “Interesting. Okay, what is the promise you’d like me to make?”
Styx sighed in relief as he said, “Promise me that you will let me go if you agree that Salidar is in the wrong after I tell you what I know.”
“Very well, I’ll humor you,” Dogo agreed, crossing his arms and settling back on his heels after gesturing for Styx to continue speaking.
“Salidar is making a move on the Everbright City,” Styx began, “He plans to kill Neredos.”
“Nothing out of the ordinary there,” Dogo interrupted. “You’re going to have to do much better than that.”
“His plan is to release the demons sealed in Pentalus,” Styx went on, starting to feel nervous, “And unleash them on the city.”
“Now that is an interesting piece of news, but why would Salidar do something like that?” Dogo asked. “He’s not a man who kills for the sake of killing, nor is he prone to destroy randomly. From the old tales, demons would kill everything in their path; they wouldn’t go after Neredos first just because Salidar asked them to.” He chuckled and grinned as Styx.
“He thinks that he has figured out how to control them,” Styx explained.
“Oh, well I can’t see how he’d have much of a problem then. If Salidar thinks he can control something, he does. It’s as simple as that,” Dogo replied with a touch of finality. Styx’s heart fell as Dogo went on, “Since I’m not against the revolution, I can’t say that anything you’ve said indicates that Salidar is in the wrong. But what does this have to do with Kutos, anyway?”
“Salidar has already freed a demon, and brought it back with him to The Shade, under the control of Prince Maxthane,” Styx spat the name out at the end, and had to push his anger back down before he could continue. “They put it in the pit, along with Kutos, Hurr, and myself, and made us fight the beast.”
“Salidar used a demon in a pit fight?” Dogo asked, seeming genuinely put off by the news.
“Yes, and it was a slaughter. We didn’t stand a chance,” Styx answered bitterly. Guilt replaced anger momentarily as he explained, “Kutos died protecting me, impaled on the end of the demon’s claws. Hurr, on the other hand, wasn’t so lucky.”
“What do you mean?”
Styx took a deep, calming breath before answering, “The demon only pierced his shoulder, but the injury allowed a poison to enter his wound. The poison stole his breath away, causing him to suffocate on the arena floor while the crowd watched. It did the same to me, until my life was saved by Grim.”
“Grim’s a good man,” Dogo replied simply as he mulled over the news. With a confused look he asked, “How did you survive the fight itself? If this demon is as ferocious as you say, match it with that poison and you should be a dead man. Why didn’t it kill you?”
The question stirred his rage up again, and each word was difficult to get out as Styx replied, “It was stopped at the last second by Maxthane, who was controlling it through a blood pact. He was controlling it the whole time. Maxthane killed Kutos and Hurr.”
“Although that is unsettling, I can’t say that it’s not to be expected. There is always a risk when you walk into the arena. Even the most skilled warrior can still slip up at the wrong moment and end up dead to something they never expected. I’ve accepted that,” Dogo said with another shrug. “Is Salidar wrong in staging fights with demons? Maybe, but you don’t have me convinced. I’ll mourn Kutos, but this is the way it is in The Shade. You know that as well as anyone.”
“Why do you keep coming back?”
“Excuse me?” Dogo asked, surprised by the question.
“You escaped from Salidar once. You fought your way out of the arena and won your freedom. Why do you still work for him?”
“I don’t usually,” Dogo replied, shaking his head, “I work for the highest bidder, and when Salidar has a job that means the highest bidder is him. He pays well, and money is survival. Besides, we could do worse for a king.”
“Could we?” Styx asked, his anger riding every word that rolled off his tongue, “Do you not work for him because you found him honorable? Isn’t it because he let you leave, and therefore earned your respect and your fealty?”
“That could be it,” Dogo admitted, “What are you getting at?”
“He’s broken that code. Twice,” Styx replied firmly. “He’s hunting down two people who escaped, one because he knows too much, and the other for no reason other than to make his son happy. He doesn’t care at all about what it will do to those who escaped if they go back. He’s lost track of his honor.”
“Honor this and honor that. You keep on using that word . . .” Dogo said quietly, as if he had not meant to vocalize the thought at all. Resuming his neutral expression he went on, “Still, I suppose you have a point. Say I do let you go, what will you do?”
“I suppose once I get the chance I’ll leave Pentalus and The Shade far behind. I’ve spent my entire life here, but I don’t think I can stay here anymore,” Styx said helplessly. “I can’t let Maxthane have me again. Not after what he did to Kutos. I’ll die before I do.”
“Very well, leave. I’ll tell them that you didn’t come this way,” Dogo said as he stepped aside and gestured to the stairs behind him. With a grin he added, “And I’ll even let your friend go too, considering he’s already slipped past me.”
“Wait, what?” Styx replied, surprised at Dogo’s sudden change in attitude.
“Styx, from the moment Salidar sent the request to me I knew I couldn’t follow through on it,” Dogo explained, his grin becoming a fond smile. “You’re right when you called me an honorable man. I couldn’t believe that he was going against his creed. I had been planning on letting you go the whole time.”
“Dogo . . . why?”
“Why what?” Dogo asked in confusion. “I just told you why I’m doing this. Or do you mean to ask why I harassed you instead of simply letting you by? I wanted to see if you had learned anything from your time down there in the complex. I had expected we would not meet for years to come, but you turned out to be more capable than I had imagined, unless someone let you go.”
“Someone did let me go. Maxthane, actually,” Styx admitted in his astonishment, managing to say the name without any anger.
“Well, that’s interesting. He can’t be all bad if he did that,” Dogo said quickly. Before Styx could argue Dogo continued, “Styx, you’ve already come a long way. I saw potential in you when I captured you yesterday, and I knew from experience that time spent in the service of Salidar was a great way to bring that potential to fruition. Of course at the time I had no idea what Salidar had planned. I might have let you go yesterday if I had known that.”
“Dogo . . .” Styx began, but at a loss for words he gave up trying to explain his emotions and said with a simple nod, “Thank you.”
“I’d be lying to you if I said that I was being entirely altruistic,” Dogo said as Styx moved past him up the stairs, causing him to turn back and regard Dogo quizzically. “I mean, I would have let you go anyway, but remember when I said that I work for the highest bidder?”
“She may not show it often, but your mother cares for you a great deal, Styx,” Dogo said with another smile. “Remember that.” And then he turned and walked back down the stairs and into the darkness without waiting for Styx to respond.
Shaking his head in wonder, Styx realized that Prism had already made it out and would probably be waiting for him up above. He resumed his climb up the staircase until he reached the cave entrance. This entrance was the only one he knew well, and led into a root cellar of a brewery in Pentalus. It was in a poorer section of the city, which made it easier for Shades to blend in since most of the populace wore dirty clothing and bathed rarely. The door to the cellar was wide open, and that meant Prism had already moved out into the streets.
Styx hurried up the steps and out the door without thinking about what might await him. As he stepped into the dark alleyway, he heard voices coming from nearby. There were five men huddled together around a form on the ground. Prism.
It didn’t take long for them to notice him standing there, and one of the men, twice his size, asked him gruffly, “Who the hell are you?”
“What are you doing to him?” Styx asked, ignoring the question while glancing down at Prism’s body. Without considering the odds he took up a fighting stance and ordered, “Let him go!”
“And risk the wrath of Salidar?” the man laughed. “Who do you think you are, kid?
“He’s not important,” spoke a different thug. This one was more his size, but he had an air of authority that made it clear he was the leader of the group. “Listen kid, we’ve had enough trouble today, all right? We could kill you if we wanted to, but I’m tired, and I’d rather not waste the energy I need to carry this guy. You can walk away now and we’ll forget you tried to stop us.”
When Styx didn’t move, the smaller thug said more forcefully, “You’ve got ten seconds to get out of here. Once that’s up, you’re dead.”
“All right, I’m leaving,” Styx replied, throwing up his hands in defeat as he backed away toward the mouth of the alleyway, realizing that the odds were not in his favor, especially while they held the apparently unconscious Prism hostage. “You won’t get any trouble from me.”
“Good choice, kid,” the thug replied with a nod. “You might want to get out of Sabreeza’s territory. He doesn’t like beggars hanging around.”
Styx left the alleyway quickly, but as soon as he was on the main street he put his back to the wall and waited for the thugs to leave with Prism. He drew a knife from his belt and prepared to throw it as soon as one of the men came into view.
The knife soon found its new home in the arm of the large man who had first spoken to him. The man yelped in pain and pulled the knife out of his arm as Styx shouted, “Prism! Get up! Run!” before taking off into the crowded street.
He heard several of the other men shouting at him and begin to chase him, but then they were being called back by their leader. “I told you, he’s unimportant. Sabreeza said that this is the man we want. Get back here and help me carry him!”
Styx looked over his shoulder and realized that he was no longer being pursued, and he let out a frustrated growl before doubling back to make another attempt at freeing Prism. He was now unarmed, and he had no idea how to face five men who were all bigger than he, and decided to shadow them instead, to see where they were taking Prism.
Keeping pace with them was easy as they made their way down the street, and every skill he had learned as a thief helped him to avoid their notice, despite this being foreign terrain. His few forays into Pentalus hadn’t given him enough knowledge to feel comfortable here, and he doubted he would ever feel that way, but he didn’t have to be comfortable to survive.
He followed them until they reached a large building that seemed to serve as some sort of office. When he saw the sign near the large set of double doors he learned it was the merchant guildhall of the district. Prism was carried inside, through a side door, which Styx marked well in his memory.
He couldn’t abandon Prism. The man had rescued him from certain death several times and had only asked to be guided out of The Shade in return. He owed it to Prism to attempt a rescue, but it would take some time to formulate a plan that would work. But one way or another, he would find his way inside.
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