Light At The End Of The Tunnel
The merchant was selling the ‘best and freshest fruits’ of Aludin as he put it to the passing crowd, although having eaten them the day before, there was no truth to their claim. Still, it was the easiest stall to take food from and as the fat man waddled over to some curious customers looking over some purple carrots.
Distracted as he tried to hypnotize them with his slick words and fast tongue, he took his chance and reached for a couple of the largest and plumpest looking red fruit and snatched a couple apples hanging on the line above him, hiding them under his cloak before he slid back into the crowd, becoming one with them.
He walked amongst the crowd, keeping his ears alert to to catch any news that might be worth hearing. If he had learnt something in his many years on this earth, was that certain people, for some bizarre reason, thought that amongst the crowds they could talk on just about anything. Yet just as it had been yesterday and for the past fortnight, the news and hot topic of discussion amongst the people was all the same.
He slid from out the crowd, taking a small backstreet filled with puddles of waste and rainwater. The streets had become pure mud and he hopped onto the drier parts, avoiding sinking into the mud as many of the carriages had done in the last few days.
He had never been in the Eighth Ring, or as it was officially called Brasslov and he had always imagined it too be far greater than the Ninth ring. How wrong he had been.
It was only slightly better here in the Eighth Ring yet people still lived in poor conditions and seemed miserable. There were less homeless and people living on the streets though.
A couple passed by him and they too were discussing about what had happened that late night a fortnight ago, aboard the train heading to the capital and how everyone aboard the train had disappeared off the face of the Earth, with families, friends, husbands and wives pressuring Urok to give them answers.
Well, just about everyone had disappeared.
The heralds a couple of days after his and Skora’s escape had announced that Governor Hichami from the south, aboard the train, has survived and he had listened in stunned horror as the herald had relayed what he had told the people in his conference in the First Ring of Urok.
‘We will keep you updated day by day as we work hard but what happened on the train was an act by bandits, thieves, crime families and Magi, working together as one in a daring mission to halt the infallible train service and abduct every passenger aboard the train” he had told the people.
“We are not clear on their motives but are waiting on a ransom yet these low lives have assured us that their hostages are alive and well and we work by the hour, waiting on further demands, though let it be known we will not give in easily to such petty and despicable groups of terror” he had declared and Koatsu had almost found it impossible to believe what he was hearing. This story was almost as outlandish as people riding giant things called dragons, Demons or a good meal in this Ring.
“We have the identities of two of those involved in this despicable act. I was escorting two high level prisoners myself, two Magi, who fled the scene and are believed to be on the run inside either the Seventh or Eighth wall.
“My brave colleague and close friend, Koshin, tried to reason with them but they took abducted him too, laughing as they fled the scene along with their comrades” he had further proclaimed and he remembered at that moment, feeling as if every eye was on him though that was impossible and his body growing hot as he had gritted his fists and clenched his fists.
“We will be raising security and patrols inside the walls in question and we will work with The Scales and The City Guardians to provide details and sketches of the two scoundrels, who go by the names of Skora and Koatsu, as soon as possible.”
‘I should have left him in the hands of those creatures’ he angrily thought to himself as he took a right and pulled the hood tighter over his face as a group of soldiers walked past him. He waited until they had past completely past him and walking up to the wall in front of him, he checked that no one was looking his way and quickly tore down the poster that had been hung up.
He looked down at it. He couldn’t read what was written but the sketches looked up to him and he saw himself in one box, Skora in the one beside it and he saw numbers underneath them. He stuffed it inside his cloak, crumpling it to a ball as he walked on and as he took a left down the slope, he chucked it into a puddle, the ink running and paper covered in mud.
It was only one poster but now there was one less poster hanging about.
Despite the official story having convinced most people, who now called for Magi’s heads and damned the low lives of this world, during the nights when he sat in the corner of tavern, inns and pubs, he had heard the whispers of the people who voiced their true opinions.
Most of them had heard from a friend of a friend who’s friend had heard screams and strange noises coming from the tunnel the night in question and how they hadn’t witnessed anybody leave the tunnels, not so much as one bandit.
Eyebrows were raised further when the entire area had been declared off limits for a full day, with high order people coming down all the way from the First Ring as they met with other high ranking officials and the train service had been suspended for a week, causing a lot of losses and a food shortage during that time, which was still felt today.
There was even a rumour that the Overseer himself, had been down to the site of the incident.
He knew what he had seen that night but what he didn’t understand why Hichami or Aludin were lying about the events that had transpired.
He wasn’t going to start shouting out from the rooftops the truth, yet, since that day, he had been constantly looking over his shoulder and had slept so little, his joints ached and large bags had fallen under his eyes. All this time he had dreamt of freedom yet now that he had it, he felt as imprisoned as he had back in that carriage, worrying about the soldiers apprehending him but worse things worried him. What he had seen in that tunnel, what he couldn’t explain, that worried and terrified him the most.
He had told Skora that they would have to leave Urok for good to be safe yet the added security had made such a notion virtually impossible.
And the thieves and even the more dangerous people he wouldn’t normally associate with, had been harder to find than a good meal. If only he could contact one of them, they could have arranged a safe passage or as was more understood amongst such people ‘Clearing the house’ but he had no contacts here and the places which he thought would be attended by them had turned up nothing. They all seemed spooked by the recent events.
He reached the end of the slope and found himself before the Temple. People were coming and going, their numbers growing more frequently by the day as faith seemed to grow and the Seven Gods and Goddesses as well as the Almighty seemed to give people that feeling of safety after the confusion of the last fortnight.
He joined the people walking up the stone steps before he shrewdly leapt down, jumping the fence and pushing himself against the wall of the Temple. Like a shadow, he crept along the walls until he reached two large stone doors, one slightly ajar, just how he had left it. He pulled it slightly open before he slid inside and slowly pulled back on it, leaving it just open so it wouldn’t completely close.
He was in complete darkness and he fumbled to the side where he had left the candles and reaching into his pouch, pulled out one of the little ‘Fireballs’ as he called them, casings containing a trace of water and in this case, wood and concentrated his energy. The casing burst and he directed the small flame that he had produced and light up the candle.
The flame flickered and light up the crypt, the headstones and stone tombs had been eerie and intimidating at first but he realised there was nothing to worry about here, the dead couldn’t hurt you, not physically anyway.
“Skora, it’s me” he called out and he heard rustling in a corner and Skora emerged from behind a statue of an elderly man. He pulled out what he had stolen from the market place and they laid it out on a tomb, splitting it between them and digging in, filling the emptiness in both their bellies.
“What’s the word Koatsu?” asked Skora as he bit into some bread, ripping it apart with his teeth.
“Same old, same old. It’s like everyone’s become a good Samaritan all of a sudden. Maybe they have, maybe we’ll actually be stuck here forever” he said angrily “If only in the opposite bloody wall, then I’d know where to go but this place, it’s all new and strange to me and I don’t know who to trust when anyone could sell us out for gold.”
“I’m sure we’ll find someone who can help us. Remember how long it took us the first time we left Urok? Not many people are that brave” said Skora.
“Or stupid because it is a stupid thing to do” he said, laughing dryly “If only we could get more food, remember when we used to pull the old ‘He’s my brother and I’m his brother?’”
Skora laughed at that “Yeah, though I was always the dying one. We slept in many beds thanks to that and I still remember the Maillies family’s feast. Mmmm.”
“Oh yeah, they were great people, all of them were once they heard our woeful tale and sometimes they’d even give me a job or two” he said.
“Do you remember when we accidentally returned to that family with eight kids? When the father opened the door and saw me beside you and he was like ‘Wait, shouldn’t he have died three months ago?’ I’ve never ran as fast in my life” said Skora.
“Hey, how was I to know we’d been to that house before. I can’t keep track of everywhere I go” said Koatsu thinking about that night and how it seemed they hadn’t stopped running until the break of dawn and that’s when he chucked an apple at the wall, the juices exploding across the room.
“Even if we could find someone, how could we pay them?” he cried to himself as he held his face in his hands for he knew there was something that could possibly pay for their freedom if the opportunity presented itself and it weighed heavy on his chest.
“And we can’t make any money, we can’t even do it the honest way, for if anyone recognises us and tells the soldiers, it’s all over” he said in despair and for a while nothing was said as Koatsu pouted, unable to look at Skora.
“I’ve been thinking Koatsu” said Skora and Koatsu turned round to see him rubbing his hands together.
“What is it Skora?”
“Well, we don’t know anyone here, that’s true and we’re wanted. Even if we find someone who could help us over the wall might be that they think handing us in is less of a risk than getting us across the walls, especially now that they are guarded and patrolled all day and night with more men than ever” said Skora.
Koatsu nodded in agreement, the possibility of being back stabbed, had always seemed the likely scenario.
“But that’s it” said Skora “They’re guarding the walls, not the tunnels of the walls.”
Koatsu looked down at his little friend. He sometimes came up with both the strangest and most intelligent ideas at times but this was, this was…
“Pure craziness Skora, that’s what you are, what are you talking about?” said Koatsu.
“If I’m not wrong, you told me that that they’ve reinforced the walls but they’re not patrolling the tunnels now are they?” he said.
“Right. But they’ve now blocked the entrances of each tunnel and now they only open them twice a day, once when the train enters and leaves a city” he replied raising a finger in the air “Not only that, they’re only operating one train at the moment from what I’ve heard and they’ve got Soldiers on the train now.”
“Yes but we don’t have to get on the train, we have to just get through the tunnel and not the seventh tunnel let me remind you” he said.
‘He was right’ he thought to himself ‘The seventh wall was the thickest, that is why they had taken so long to escape it but all other walls, well, they were normal wall thickness’ he told himself and he recalled how they had passed through them in a matter of a second or two when they had been on the train.
That was on a train though and to run from one end to the other, with a train moving at full speed and before they closed off the tunnels, that would be difficult to do and pull off…
He turned to Skora “Brother, you’ve given me an idea.”