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May 14

Sunrise Over Infinity Part 8

The Captain lay on a blanket of grass, watching guards make their rounds from over the top of a trimmed hedge. The castle’s elegant walls and towers stretched above him, all made of the same seamless white stone. The palace and surrounding gardens sat on a hill at Cail’s center, overlooking rows of black rooftops and spires sloping down to the ocean far below.

High above the rest of the castle a single tower reached into the sky, its top lost in sunlight.

He ducked back down to where Alexia and Adrian were waiting.

“There are two guards stationed next to the door and patrols every three minutes. Are you sure this is the best way in?”

“Yes, I’m sure,” Alexia said. “There’s a constant stream of people in and out of the kitchen, especially during a festival.”

“What festival?”

“It’s the anniversary of the Empire’s formation. There’s always a parade through town and a ball in the castle afterwards.”

“That would explain why the port was so busy,” Adrian said.

“I’m still not sure it’s a good idea to leave Launcer with Gehard,” Alexia said. “He didn’t exactly do the best job of guarding me.”

“He won’t let Lancer escape, his pride’s at stake this time. He and Maria will take care of things on their end. We need to focus on getting into that castle and finding the advisor.”

“Then we’ll need to convince those guards we’re part of the staff.”

“Captain,” Adrian said, “There’s a group of people with a cart coming towards us.”

“It looks like a disguise had just presented itself.”

– –

The guard picked up an apple from the back of the cart and inspected it. He replaced it and waved the cart through the opening in the castle wall. The cart’s driver urged the mule at its head onward and they crossed the short distance between the outer wall and the kitchen entrance. Once out of sight of guards, the Captain leaned back and knocked on the side of the cart.

All at once, Adrian and Alexia burst from the mound of apples.

“Dear All, it’s hard to breathe in there,” Adrian said.

“It would have been easier if you weren’t lying on me.”

“I was not lying on you.”

“Yes you were, I’ve got bruises to prove it!”

“Quite, you two. We need still need to get inside.”

Alexia climbed out of the cart and brushed herself off. “The best way in is through the kitchen entrance.” She motioned toward a door ahead of them.

Adrian climbed out after her. “Are you sure they won’t recognize you?”

“Not if we slip through quickly. Most of the cooks will be too busy to pay any attention to us.”

Once inside the kitchen Alexia led them through a flurry of cooks and servants and into a grand dining hall. A polished mahogany table sitting at it’s center, large enough to seat an entire royal court. The ceiling above had been carved to look like the sky on a cloudy day.

They left the room and entered the castle’s living quarters, where Alexia said most of the court resided. The building was made entirely of formed stone, rock carved with magic instead of tools. An expensive material, but one Tamarilian nobility seemed to be distinctly fond of. As such even the plain hallway they now walked through was flowing and elegant, with walls, floor and ceiling blending into each other as though they had been grown and not build.

Amid it all, the Captain couldn’t help but feel dwarfed by the place’s grandeur. Ornate lightorb fixtures extended from the walls like leaves from a tree, but even with their glow the edges of the hallway were in darkness.

More than anything, however, the palace felt deserted. And cold.

“Where is everyone?” Adrian asked, drawing his cloak tighter around himself.

“Either at the parade or setting up the ball rooms. We’ll have to avoid the front half of the castle, but everything else should be like this.”

“Where are we going?” Adrian asked.

“To my room, there’s something I need to get.” She stopped at a door.

Alexia tried a key in the door’s lock, but it didn’t work. “It’s no use, they’ve changed the lock. Figures.” She placed her hand over the doorknob and closed her eyes. A warm glow slipped between her fingers as the metal underneath turned red hot. She tightened her grip and slowly turned, letting the deformed metal lump fall to the floor below.

The room’s interior was of the same smooth stone as the hallways, with a single window overlooking a stretch of garden.

Alexia pulled a long wooden box from under her desk, opening it as one would a diary. Inside was a metal rod topped with an orb of crystal.

“It that what I think it is?” Adrian asked.

“My staff, I had to leave without it.” She clutched it to her chest. “It’s good to have this back.”

“Would you two like a moment alone?” Adrian mocked.

“No, we’re fine.”

“Good,” the Captain said. “Then we need to find Panail.”

“His room is in one of the towers on the other side of the castle. He’ll be on his balcony watching the parade.”

Alexia led them back through the hallway to where it intersected a larger corridor. One side of the passage was occupied by a row of high windows, showing the roof of another wing below. Doors and passages branched off to the other side.

“We’re in the castle proper now,” Alexia said, “So we need to be careful not to be seen.”

At that moment a guard rounded the corner ahead of them, followed by a group of his comrades.

“Failing that, I say we run like hell,” she said.

They started in the opposite direction, followed by the sound of armored footsteps. The row of windows ended and they were plunged into another dimly lit passage.

They emerged in an open chamber, three arched passages stretching into the vaulted ceiling. Rows of finely decorated pots lined the walls, in between columns adorned with tapestries. It was a trophy room of some kind.

“Which way Alexia?”

“I’m not sure. I don’t normally go into this part of the castle.”

The sound of their pursuers grew louder.

“Then pick one.”

She glanced frantically between the corridors.

“Soon would be nice!” Adrian said.

“This one.” She took off through one of the arches.

The Captain followed her, the guards closing in behind him.

The hall grew brighter up ahead, revealing a room lined with stone pillars. A red carpet lay along its center, leading to a raised platform, on which sat a golden throne. The room was empty, although the Captain suspected it wasn’t normally.

“Please tell me this is where you meant to go,” Adrian said.

“It isn’t,” Alexia said. “The only other way out of the throne room passes the guard’s quarters.”

Metallic footsteps began to echo from the passage they had just come through. The Captain scanned the room, looking for something they could use to get out.

The ceiling rose in several tiers toward the room’s apex, a row of windows ringing each. The design let in large amounts of light, but provided no means of escape.

The door at the room’s end was heavy and ornamental, clearly meant to impress those who walked through it. Through windows on either side the Captain could see the courtyard, where groups of guards were marching as part of the parade.

Water flowed from behind the throne, filling the room with a soft trickling. It ran along channels set into the ground along either side of the room before disappearing beside the doorway.

“Alexia,” the Captain said, “Boil the water.”

– –

The commander was greeted by a thick fog as he entered the throne room, obscuring his view of everything within.

“Fan out men,” he said, “They’re in here somewhere.”

His men obeyed and slowly they began combing the room. The commander walked with spear in hand, prodding at the thick mists, his comrades nothing more than shadows in his peripheral vision.

The doors at the room’s end opened, followed by swift footsteps.

“They’re in courtyard!” he shouted. “After them!”

The commander charged through the fog and into the clear air of the castle grounds. He expected to see the fugitive Alexia and her companions fleeing down the stairs, but they weren’t there.

“Find them!”

– –

The Captain lowered his hand from where it had been aimed at the door. “They’re gone,” he said through the remaining fog. “Let’s not wait for them to come back.”

They left the room quickly and followed Alexia back to the critical intersection.

“Are you sure about this one?” the Captain asked as she picked another route.

“Positive. Panail’s chamber is right next to the throne room.”

She led them down another sunlit hallway and into a side passage. At the end was a flight of spiral stairs leading up to a tower. Two guards flanked the opening.

“I’ll take the one on the right,” Alexia said.

– –

Panail’s room at the top of the tower was the definition of lavish. The walls were covered in artwork and bordered in delicate carved trim. Sheets of bright silk lay draped over the bed and along the windows. The man himself stood on a balcony overlooking the courtyard, embroidered curtains fluttering around him.

The Captain let the broken door close uselessly behind him, grabbing the man before he had a change to turn around.

“How did you get in here?” he asked as he was thrust into a chair, arms raised around his face. Panail was a short, aging man. His grey hair combed neatly over his balding head. He was dressed in detailed but colourless textiles, partially obscuring the bandages still wrapped around his arms.

“I swear,” he said, “when the Duke hears about this he’ll . . .” He noticed Alexia, “You? How dare you come back here after what you did?”

“Enough games Panail,” Alexia said without emotion. “We all know what you’re planning.”

“Planning, I’m not planning anything.”

“You know,” the Captain leaned in next to the man’s face, “if you don’t help us, I’ll have no choice but to leave you alone . . . with her.”

Panail’s eyes flickered nervously to Alexia. Just as the Captain thought. A veneer of bravado hiding cowardice.

“Do we have an understanding?” he asked.

“Yes,” Panail said, voice shaking slightly. “What do you want from me?”

“I want to know why,” Alexia said. “Why you’re trying to kill Niall.”

“Very well.” Panail swallowed nervously. “There are . . . people, some very close to the Emperor, who think the southern islands would do well under Empire control. They think the islands should be conquered and their heathen practices stamped out. Niall, however, isn’t one of these people.”

“So they want him silenced,” Alexia spat.

“What’s in it for you?” the Captain asked.

“The support of a select few who want to see the war proceed, but can’t afford to say so openly.”

“The important thing,” the Captain said. “Is how we prevent his death from happening.”

“You can’t,” Panail said. “It’s already begun.”

“Then how do we stop it?”

Panail laughed, “You don’t. Niall will be dead within minutes.” He gestured out the tower’s balcony.

The Captain looked and saw a courtyard surrounded by a high wall. The gate at the far end was open and through it the parade was beginning to arrive. At its center was a carriage of gold and indigo. The Duke’s.

“You were just buying time weren’t you?” Adrian asked.

“Yes. And now you’ve been rendered powerless.”

“That’s where you’re wrong,” the Captain said, unbuckling his sword belt. “We’re never powerless.” He handed the belt to Alexia. “Guard this with your life.”

“Where are you going?”

“To save the Duke.” He stepped out onto the balcony.

“That’s crazy!”

“In case you hadn’t noticed, we have a tendency of doing crazy things on this crew.”

The Captain took a running jump and leapt off the balcony, aiming for the walkway that ringed the top of the castle wall. He forced a bolt of energy at the air below him to slow his fall, but still he was only able to grab onto to walkway’s edge. He hauled himself up and broke into a run.

Soldiers were rushing towards him. Dozens of them. The Captain hit the first group of them with a wave of sliver light, rolling as he did under a sword that came toward him.

A line of spearmen blocked his path. He ran full speed toward them. Then he hit the ground with a blast of energy and propelled himself over them.

A watchtower was ahead, marking where the wall turned. Its walls were raised above the walkway and a soldier blocked its entrance.

Placing one foot on a supply crate, the Captain pushed himself up the wall, narrowly grabbing its top with one hand. He pulled himself up and sprinted across the roof, rolling as he landed on the other side.

A single man stood before him. His armor was different than the others’. Less bulky, with accents of crystal and silver. It didn’t take the Captain long to figure out why.

The man sent a bolt of energy toward him. The Captain turned to the side and dodged narrowly, feeling the hair on the side of his face get singed.

The crystal in the man’s armor was the same type they’d found on the lizardmen’s island. It had the capacity to store and release large amounts of energy relative to its own mass, making it invaluable as a both a magical tool and building material. The Tamarilians in particular had found numerous ingenious uses for the material, in everything from lighting to plumbing to, as demonstrated by the mage the Captain now faced, magic enhancing armor.

The Captain went to retaliate with a wave of his own magic, but the soldier raised his hand and the spell dissipated before it even existed.

For a moment the two were at a standoff, the man waiting for the Captain’s next move, the Captain waiting for the man’s next attack.

The royal carriage was now passing almost directly beneath them. The Captain didn’t know what specifically was going to happen to it, but he knew it was going to happen soon.

The Captain charged at the mage, seeing him raise a barrier of white light around himself, but then the Captain changed direction. He leapt off the edge of the wall and toward the carriage below. A spear of light grazed his arm as he fell, but he pushed the pain from his consciousness.

He landed on the roof of the carriage, crashing through it into the velvet lined interior. The Duke was there, dressed in finery of white and violet, his beard bound in gold for the occasion.

“What in the All’s name?” he exclaimed, rising from his seat.

The Captain grabbed him by the shoulders and kicked the door open. Then he pulled both of them from the carriage. They landed hard on the cobblestones and rolled onto an adjacent patch of grass.

The Duke struggled to right himself, a swarm of servants and soldiers rushing toward him. “What kind of madness has possessed you?”

The Captain only pointed. The Duke followed his finger to the carriage. A sudden flash of light sparked within it. The Captain watched the Duke’s expression of anger turn to one of horror as the seat he had rested in only moments before was engulfed in a pillar of white flame.

 

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