The streets of the Hollow had changed drastically since Marissa’s last escapade. At first she wandered a bit randomly, somewhat lost. Guards were everywhere, preparing the city for the invasion. Marissa hid under her wide hood to avoid being recognized. Eventually she spotted the familiar landmarks of the neighbourhood, unchanged despite the years. She came upon the narrow back alley with the vines she and her friend Nikke used to climb, the gateway to their childhood hideout.
Muscle memory kicked in. In a few surprisingly swift movements, and despite her bags, she grabbed onto the edge of the roof. She pulled herself onto it and made her way through the rampant vegetation. Marissa was caught off guard by a voice.
“If that is what you want, then I suppose I am the best person to ask.”
The princess froze. The voice was that of a woman, and yet it had an edge, an intense confidence to it that made it intimidating. Marissa breathed deeply and took careful, quiet steps towards the voice. She came upon a beautiful woman in a dark green dress shelving a dagger in a hidden scabbard strapped to her thigh. Kneeling in front of the woman was a small figure. Marissa immediately recognized her childhood friend. A smiled forced itself onto her lips, not that she had any will to fight it. She thoughtlessly ran from her hiding spot, dropping her bags and cape on the way, screaming Nikke’s name gleefully.
The adrenaline of having a veteran quester accept to become her mentor was still flooding her system when Nikke heard a familiar, overexcited voice scream her name. The next thing she knew, the junior princess of the kingdom had tackled her to the ground. Nikke couldn’t help but laugh at that thought. She had finally been reunited with her regal friend.
Angel let the two girls laugh and talk and giggle for a while. At least now she knew for sure the girl she had talked to before the princess arrived was genuine. The princess and an orphan, childhood friends. Who could have imagined that one? After pondering that thought for a little while she decided it was time to once again focus. Angel cleared her throat. The girls immediately fell silent.
“Ok, back to business ladies. First things first, princess, where do you need to go?”
Marissa was caught off guard by the question. She hadn’t exactly planned it this far. “Well, anywhere safe really. I just need to get out of the city before the walls are closed and the army takes over in preparation for the invasion.”
“Wait, what kind of escort mission is this? Hasn’t the crown assigned you a drop-off point? Somewhere where the army can take you under protection and take you overseas?”
“To be perfectly honest, this isn’t official business. The crown doesn’t know I intend to leave the city. Nobody know I’ve even left the castle.”
Angel frowned and crossed her arms. She had walked into an illegal quest, commissioned by the princess no less. This job didn’t start once outside the walls, it had already started. In fact, those walls were the first obstacle. She couldn’t back down either. Admitting to taking an illegal quest had dark implications, for her own career and for the already very fragile place of women within the questing world. Not that she ever backs down from a challenge.
For a second, Nikke was scared that Angel would back away. However, after a few seconds, a new fire sparkled in her eyes, a fire of determination. “OK. I’ll take the job regardless. But we need to find a safe way out of the city. The main doors are all monitored by the army, even more than usual. We’d need someone with connections, someone who we could talk to without attracting attention. Someone-”
Nikke smiled and chimed in. “Someone like a tavern boy at one of the Lion Road’s most famous tavern?”
“Well, yes… That would be ideal. But do you actually know such a person?”
Arthur was laying on his bed, flipping a coin, dark thoughts in his head. All of the city’s underworld said it didn’t stand a chance against the oncoming imperial army, and Arthur had no way out. If the city was his grave, it was also safer than out in the fields of the nation. By now, the boats would already be crowded with refugees, so even that escape route was cut off. He was stuck, back against the wall, and that wasn’t a good thing. Arthur wasn’t used to being stuck.
He wasn’t used to people knocking at his door either. Few were those who knew where he lived, though most of the inhabitants of the Hollow knew him by name, and one of the sharpest lads in the city. Yet that Nikke girl had stumbled in that very morning. Arthur heard the knock of fist on wood from his bedroom. He glanced outside. The sun had just set. He took a dagger and hid it behind his wrist. At this time, anything could come knocking. However, the last thing he expected was three hooded women, one of them being the junior princess, another the orphan who he had welcomed that morning, and the third a woman too beautiful even for the most expensive brothels of the noble district. Arthur frowned, not exactly eager to trust these three women. “What is this about?”
“Hey Arthy! Remember me right? We met earlier today. I need to be snuck out of town along with these two fine ladies. We thought if anyone knew a way out of town, it was probably you”.
Arthur sighed, sheathed his dagger in a scabbard on the back of his belt, and rested against the doorframe, crossing his arms. He smiled. Arthur had never been called “Arthy” before. This seemed almost surreal to him. “The city is going to be burned to a crisp before the end of next month. I could sneak you out of town, but what do I get in return?”
Angel stepped forward. “Well, as you said, the entire town will probably be burnt, so money isn’t exactly a useful commodity in the long run, and neither is staying behind. However, we could take you with us. I’m a high level quester. With me, you’d be safe on the outside.”
Arthur smiled again. This may just be the escape he was looking for.
Huzzah! All the pieces are together, the action can begin…. Finally…. Ish. Dunno, depends if BW wants to set things up more or escape the city next time around, or something else entirely. Find out soon! And yea, these pieces do seem to be the longest ones we write. This one is just over a thousand words. It seems that is the minimum word count to make a coherent addition to an already rather complex plot (4 main characters, which is huge, a brand new world and society, an oncoming threat, etc…)
Previous chapter here.
First chapter here.