“Go!” Dell said as they rushed up the hillside near the back.

As they had suspected, Dell saw that there was indeed a back sally gate, surrounded by high palisade walls, and no guards. This was no true gate. It was a backdoor escape hatch.

He followed Sorika and Dorrin to the door. It was locked.

“Give me a moment.”

“Where are the fires coming from?” Dorrin asked.

“I don’t know,” Dell said, “but keep low. Don’t let them see you here!”

He wondered if it could have been Mai who set the place ablaze, but then he thought not. That hadn’t been their plan, so why would they do it?

It didn’t matter to the knight right now. Perhaps he would find the answer to his question later. For now, they needed to get this sally gate open and then be ready to flee with the entire group.

There was no way he would allow anyone from the Emblazoned Party to be left behind, much less its leader!

“Come on!” he complained.

“I’m going as fast as I can,” Sorika said calmly.

And yet, Dell still heard the edge there, an edge only he was privy of. “I wasn’t talking about you, Sor.”

“They will be fine,” she said. “I don’t know why this lock is harder than the others.”

As the bells tolled, battle horns blew and men ran through the camp as they responded to the harsh commands of their captains while they coalesced near the front gate.

“Why are they going outside of the front gates?” Dell asked.

“Maybe this alarm has nothing to do with Yoreno and the others,” Dorrin said. “Maybe this camp is being attacked from some other force?”

“It’s possible,” Dellwyn said. “Still, I don’t see how they’re going to get here unseen through all of this!”

“The fog is still here,” Sorika said, then the lock clicked open. “Got it.” She swung the heavy gate open with the help of Dell.

“We need to wait for them,” he said.

“I know.”

[[[This is not a double post. The next chapter is below. I forgot to post it.]]]


“Wait! Wait!” Yoreno called as Lev made to move out of their cover.

A group of the camp warriors rushed past, their swords and spears in hand. How were they supposed to get to the others without being seen?

“We can’t get to the others like this,” Yoreno said.

“You’re right,” Mai said. “I wish I was an enchantress right about now.”

“I wish I had wings,” Lev said.

“What are we going to do?”

The warriors had all gone, but there were a few stragglers, wearing their black pantaloons and head coverings.

“I have an idea,” Yoreno said. “Lev, help me take those guys out.”

“All right,” he said.

Yoreno stepped out and called them. When they turned, they were utterly surprised, but then revealed their weapons and came forward.

Lev darted out from behind their cover and shot the one with the spear. As he went down, Yoreno surged forward and cut two more down.

Mai struck the fourth man with a magical spell that cut through him.

“What was the point of this?” Lev asked.

Dell bent to one man and pulled off his head wrapping. “Put that on.”

“What?” Lev asked. “It’s disgusting.”

“Just do it.”

“Is this a disguise?” Mai asked.

“Do you have a better idea?” Yoreno said. “Look, all these warriors are frantic. Someone is out there firing the encampment and they’re sortieing out of the front gate. If we put these on and move quickly, none of them will give a moment’s thought about us in the middle of their base.”

“Well,” Lev said, scratching his chin. “I guess you have a point.”

They put the rags on over their heads.

“I’m ready,” Mai said.

“I changed my mind,” Lev added. “This is never going to work.”

“We have to try,” Yoreno said as he wrapped his head and face with the red fabric. “We can do this, meet the others and get out the back gate.”

“We’re dead if we stay here,” Lev said. “Lead the way o’ intrepid leader.”

“Shut up,” Yoreno said, then made his way to the main thoroughfare at a brisk run with Mai and Lev behind him.

As he ran, he moved past a group of swordsmen. One of them looked at him strangely, but said nothing, and Yoreno did nothing to betray the fact that he didn’t belong to the camp.

For all any of these warriors knew, a group of them had put on different attire and armor for whatever reason. It wasn’t their place to ask questions.

Leading the way, the fog was quickly losing its hold on the land as the heat from the various fires though out the encampment, along with the heat of the morning sun, was beginning to make it dissipate more fully.

Despite that, waves of smoke wafted through the encampment now, giving them some partial obscurity.

Instead of continuing to take the main thoroughfare leading to the front gate, Yoreno cut a path to his right, staying up close near the structures nestled near the cliff’s edge.

He then found a way leading down and then up past a sentry outlook. They had made it. Through the commotion, the screaming captains and the beast riders moving toward the gate, they had found their way to the base of the hill.

Yoreno made his way up.

As the back gate came into view, a shaft flitted past him as he moved just in time to dodge the arrow. It was Dell.

He was shooting at Yoreno!

“Take off your mask!” Lev said from behind.

He had forgotten to do that. He grabbed at the loose piece of fabric and untwined it from his head in one motion. Once the head wrapping was loose enough, he tore it wholly off his head.

Then he waved his sword.

Dell seemed to recognize him, because he beckoned Yoreno forward. Breathing heavily, he came up short as he met the others.

“You made it!” Dorrin called.

“Barely,” Yoreno said. “This whole camp is in an uproar.”

“We thought it might have been you three who set the place afire.”

Mai frowned. “We did no such thing.”

“Let’s stop standing here and get out before someone sees us,” Lev said. “By the way, Dell—you’re a horrid shot with that thing.”


They filed out of the back sally gate and made their way down a dark corridor of wet rocks. Mai called out an incantation and the crystal inserted into her staff lit up, giving them light to see by.

She moved to the front, grunting as she went. The pathway was very narrow.

“I can’t believe we made it out of there!” Dell said excitedly.

“We’re not out yet,” Yoreno said. “We need to get to safety—to a place where we won’t be found—otherwise we’re going to end up like our friend Yarsha.”

“Yeah,” Lev said. “You remember Yarsha, right?”

“Look,” Mai said. “The cave. It’s opening up—wait!”

They came into a larger space that had lit torches. Sorika slowed. “Someone’s here,” she whispered.

“I can sense auras.” Mai said.

And then—where the natural light came from—shadows followed as heavy boots thumped across the rocky ground.

A man came though the dark speaking a language Yoreno didn’t understand. As he came out of the shadow and they were all revealed to each other, the man’s eyes widened. He took two steps back and then turned, an alarm.

There was a snap and something passed through the air and hit the sentry in the back. Flailing forward, he fell onto his face.

“Nice shot,” Mai said as she followed the motion of the sentry’s fall with her eyes.

“More,” Sorika said.

Boots echoed from the passage ahead.

It was a group.

“Mai!” Yoreno called. “Light!” He stepped forward, sword held high. “Get ready!”

Four men appeared, one of them with a bow. He loosed an arrow—and Yoreno would have missed blocking it, but Mai’s barrier stopped the shaft. It penetrated the magic, then fell harmlessly to the ground.

Yoreno rushed out of the barrier and cut one of the bowmen down, then clashed blades with another fighter. He parried Yoreno’s blow, forcing his sword down to the ground.

He stepped in, coming close for a killing blow, but Yoreno raised his sword, hilt first and blocked the blow.

He back stepped as a commotion of blades and flying shafts followed when the Emblazoned Party attacked the three men still standing.

They all went down quickly, with one man taking an arrow to the neck. Sorika had snuck behind another and slashed him in the back, stunning him long enough for Dell to stab through him with his sword.

The last man went down from a crossbow bolt to the chest.

Everyone froze, their heads swiveling toward their tracker.

“Good work, Dorrin,” Lev said.

He smiled. “Thanks.”

“We need to armor up,” Dell said. “We can’t keep hauling these sacks.”

“You’re right,” Yoreno said. “We’re going to need protection.”

So far, they had all fished out their weapons, but putting on armor took a considerably larger amount of time. But now that they were relatively safe, it was time to gear up and be ready for a fight.

Just in case.


About the author


Bio: Some believed me to be a wandering samurai, or a vagrant, or possibly a ninja—though perhaps in my infinite mystery, I am none of these things. Whichever the case, I wander home as Odysseus did after the great Trojan War in some realm unbeknownst to our world. And—by direct theft of a quote from a certain dwarf named Varric Tethras—"I occasionally write books."

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