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The hunt continues.
BODIES LAY STREWN around the miserable wreckage of what had once been Night Town. Voices groaned, timbers cracked and creaked as they were thrown aside, glass tinkled, and someone was sobbing. Drunken arguments kept springing up in different corners, but mostly there was silence.
Veranon was familiar with that kind of silence, had caused it on a few occasions himself, and cursed as he pushed limp bodies away. There was an acrid stench in the air, the overwhelming smell of wild magic tainted by the reek of burnt flesh. Not even the sparkling rain could wash it away. It was enough to make a man feel sick.
Shoving his way free and patting out a few silvery flames that clung to the edges of his cloak, Veranon ran shaking hands over his face and head, feeling the sting of a hundred tiny cuts. Nothing serious beyond the scent of scorched hair.
He’d been lucky. Looking at the people who’d stood between him and the boy, he could barely recognise the ones at the front as human anymore. And to think he’d been annoyed with all those fools who’d been blocking his way.
What a child! He could almost laugh at the way that boy’s magic worked. The damage it could do. Look at the market – barely anything was left. The people had been flattened, like wheat in a gale, the wooden stalls bashed into kindling, the tarverns shattered and smashed. Fire already licked at the buildings that had once made up the walls of this rancid place. Before long the whole city would be ablaze, unless someone acted quickly.
Veranon couldn’t have cared less what became of the Night Town or the wider city. All that mattered was the boy. After an explosion like that he would be weak and vulnerable. A perfect catch. Patting his pockets, he was surprised to find his copper chains still there; even the pickpockets had taken a hit this night.
Raising his hood against the rain, Veranon looped a length of copper around his wrist as a precaution before making his way through the bodies to the platform. It was empty, of course. He’d expected nothing less. Either the boy had made his own escape, or someone had taken him. He was a valuable prize, if one knew how to control him.
Fingering the copper chain, Veranon smiled in anticipation and began looking for the most obvious escape route. The bodies behind the platform weren’t so tightly packed together. It would have been easier to go that way, so that was the way he went.
Scavengers were already creeping in from the streets beyond Night Town. Most scurried away from his aggressive presence like the rats they were. One stopped and stared for a long moment before turning her head. She didn’t scurry like the others. She might have been scavenging amongst the wreckage, but there was too much pride in her. This was no city rat, beaten down by life. It made Veranon curious. Slipping into the shadows, he watched and waited. By the light of the flickering fires, he saw her turn to see where he’d gone and recognised that sharp little face.
The witch woman.
Stepping out of the shadows, he grabbed her wrist and twisted before she could escape. She cried out, legs weakening as he squeezed a little tighter, bringing her to her knees before him.
“Where is the boy?”
She spat in his eye, punched upwards and twisted free while he was doubled over, trying to catch his breath. By the time he recovered she was gone, but he’d seen which way she went and when he could walk again, he followed.
* * *
THE BACK STREETS were maze-like and confusing, but Hawk walked swiftly and without hesitation. He’d been forced to stop running when the heavy silver rain made it difficult to see. Instead he’d called on his magic, trusting it to lead him to the source of the explosion. Now he walked with his eyes half-closed, the gold of his magic drawing him steadily and surely towards the silver beacon of Arien.
Every so often he heard Sir Tobias say something to the soldiers, but Hawk didn’t listen. It wasn’t important. What mattered were the tendrils of silver beckoning him onwards. They were growing thicker and stronger.
People filled the back streets. Some were running. There were adults and children, arms full of their worldly belongings. Others were shouting. Fire bells were ringing. He passed bucket chains, ferrying water from rain tanks and the harbour, hurrying to put out the fires before they could spread to the rest of the city.
Once Hawk might have cared and stopped to help. Tonight there were plenty of people there already, and he was the only one looking for Arien. At least he hoped he was. Who knew what other manner of people such power might draw out of the night? Arien was in more danger than ever.
Tightening his grip on his magic, Hawk quickened his pace, the light of his glow globes flaring anxiously as the silver of Arien’s expended magic grew thicker. He stumbled over something lying across the alleyway and slipped on something else. He looked down and just managed to avoid crushing the fingers of an out-flung hand. Recoiling from the bodies at his feet, he staggered into a wide open space and saw the destruction his friend’s magic had wrought.
“Sweet mountain rivers,” Sir Tobias breathed, edging around the bodies to stand beside Hawk, staring at the carnage. “And we thought he was the one in danger.”
“He is.” Faron walked through the soldiers, having caught up sometime during the hunt. “More now than ever. Power like this is not wielded by untutored young boys.”
“Young boys are wielded by it,” Hawk murmured in agreement, picking his way through the wreckage to the centre of the explosion. The light was brightest here, but it didn’t pulse. This magic was old and discarded: Arien was gone.
Walking through the pieces of what had once been a wooden platform, and the bodies that surrounded it, Hawk half-closed his eyes and saw a line of shining silver leading away from the chaos. It was barely more than a dribble, but it blazed brightly.
“He went this way,” he said, knowing the knight and mage had followed him.
“Or was taken,” Faron replied.
Hawk didn’t care which. All that mattered was that this way led to Arien. So he traced the meandering path around the broken bodies and shattered wood, passing fires and sobbing cries, until he reached the dark alleys of the streets beyond.
Decayed and rotten, they were far narrower than any Hawk had yet encountered tonight, but he was small and fast. The silver magic unfurled before him like a ribbon. Snuffing out the glint of his glow globe, Hawk walked the magic road.
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