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The Fairest

By @GoldFantasy

Freedom

“Shush,” she said but the baby was scared and did what it knew best. Cry.

Boots plundering the floor arose from the children’s quarters and the door burst open only to slam against the chest. The guards shouted their alarm.

“Hurry,” Dean said above.

Mageia reclaimed her footing and quickened her ascension.

“Hey,” a guard shouted from the room and within seconds they were peeking up the shoot. “Escapees!” 

 “Mageia come on,” Dean shouted.

“They’re on the roof,” someone bellowed.

As she passed the fifth floor, she heard thunder approaching the door. It flung open and a hand gripped her ankle. She peered down and shook her leg, catching eyes with the angry guard. When he noticed her eyes he gasped, loosening his hold. She yanked her leg from his grip and kicked at his face. He jerked away just in time. 

“It’s the Purple Thief,” he shouted.

Mageia climbed faster, ears ringing with the guards’ shouting, the baby crying, and her heart drumming. Getting caught was the last thing on her wish list. Then the ladder snagged beneath her as two guards joined her in the shoot from the fifth floor. 

 “In the name of the Crown, stop,” they ordered.

“Come on, Geia,” Dean shouted from above. 

Reaching the top, she felt something sharp enter the back of her left leg. She screamed almost letting go of the ladder. She glared down at the guard, grinning up at her as he pulled his dagger from her calf. He took hold of her bleeding leg. With a hard squirm, she managed to yank free and kicked him clean in the face. This forced him to let go and with a terrified scream fell back down the shoot, crashing into the other below. 

“Take the baby,” she ordered Gibby as Dean pulled her out the shoot. 

Gibby held the crying baby close and ran to the planks as a warning horn was blown. Word had either reached the guard on the wall or the patrollers on the ground below.

“There they go,” someone shouted below spotting Gibby. “Get guards on the other side of the wall. They’re escaping through the forest.”

Mageia blinked hoping to cease the blurring in her vision as the pain in her leg heightened. Dean helped her climb onto her feet to the waiting plank. Lightning bolts shot up her leg and into her chest. 

“Agh,” she cried dropping to the roof tiles. Blood drenched her pantleg and formed droplets around her boot. “You’re gonna have to leave me.”

“No. I’m not going to do that.”

“Dean,” she said grabbing the boy by the collar. “Go. The family still needs a leader.”

“But-,” he managed to say before an arrow swooshed pass his head. They both ducked.

They searched for the archer and noticed the patroller on the wall was running towards the planks, bow and arrow in hand. 

She pushed him to go, knowing she would only weigh them down. 

“Go. That’s an order,” she screamed. 

The boy’s eyes widened in sorrow and rebuttal, but he leaned in and planted a long kiss on her cheek. “Return to us,” he said and sprinted across the planks. He ducked from an arrow that barely missed him. He crossed the wall and disappeared over the side. 

While the wall patroller aimed his arrow over the wall, searching for Dean, she plucked out her dagger and cut the rope. Mageia pressed a hand on the stab wound and seethed her teeth. Thudding sounds arose from the shoot. The guards had recovered from their tumble and the first one was scrambling out with a bloody nose. She forced herself to a limp just as the archer turned his attention on her. His arrow whizzed pass her back, but she kept going and disappeared around a corner clear of his aim. 

Mageia grinned in her disheveled state and dashed across the unleveled roof as three guards from the shoot were now on her tail. She ran to the opposite side of the wide building, staying low to avoid crossing with an unexpected arrow. She peered over the roof’s edge for the privy pipeline to descend and was instantly spotted by guards on alert below.

She cursed, trying to figure out what to do now. A headache formed in the back of her head and her breathing grew into pants despite the pump of adrenaline in her veins. She glanced at her leg squirting blood with no mercy. 

“Hey,” a guard shouted coming around a bend in the roof. 

She then noticed the three nearest chimneys and knew what she had to do. She pulled the dagger from her hairband and threw it with great skill into the pursuing guard’s knee. He buckled over with a scream and tumbled down the side of the roof. His friends came around the bend just in time to chase after him before he flew off the edge. 

The guards distracted, Mageia limped to the chimney with no smoke. She climbed into it and sighed with relief seeing its built-in ladder was still intact. Quickly she descended into the darkness hearing the guards pursuing her above. She managed to make it to the chimney’s end and realized the rest of the ladder was gone. Mageia pumped herself with some encouragement before releasing the ladder to fall the rest of the way down. 

Her injured leg screamed when she landed and buckled in an awkward angle. She felt her muscles stretch as she crashed into the barred door and rolled out of the kitchen’s massive oven. She yelped, holding her leg in an agonizing pain. Blood puddled the cobblestone floor from the wound bleeding like a water spring. Black splotches appeared in her vision and she shook some of them away. The kitchen was closed for the night to her relief, but she still had to find a way out of the Taefo in one piece. 

The door swung open and an armed guard ran in hearing the crash and her scream. Adrenaline kicking in, she climbed to her feet, unsheathed her sword, and locked blades with the guard. He kneed her in the gut, noticing she was weak and injured. Mageia gagged but recuperated quick enough to block his side strike. She stumbled away, to regain her footing and her strength and forced out her sword fighting skills. 

She maneuvered around the kitchen counters, blades scraping and clinging. The descending guards were closer now, so she grabbed a bag of flour and threw it into the man’s face. Blinded and vulnerable, she slammed her body into him, and he crashed into a counter and fell to the floor. 

Mageia dashed into the hallway just as one guard dropped into the oven. Wasting no time, she ran pass office rooms and sitting areas. Faebrin was right about the lack of security. No other guard sprouted from the many halls filled with cells of the condemned who shouted for her help. She swallowed the horror of not helping and turned a corner, straight into two guards searching the halls. They unsheathed their swords, but she already had the advantage of hers being out. 

She slashed at the first guard’s chest and kicked him in the groin. He stumbled back and fell. She sidestepped out of the next guard’s hard stab, grabbed his extended arm and bashed her forehead into his jaw. He fell into the wall, holding his jaw, and slashing at the air because she had managed to slip away.

Shouting guards mixed with condemned wails rung her ears. Lungs near to leaping into her mouth, she ran towards a side door, sliding behind pillars from guards running down halls. She glanced out one window and saw a side gate was open as guards cleared out to possibly pursue the escaped children beyond the wall.

Her roof pursuers scrambled into the hall finally catching up, anger festering their soot covered eyes. They spotted her, and she had no choice but to take a chance for the gate. 

Gods have mercy, she prayed, memories and her future dreams flashing before her eyes. 

Swallowing the pain in her leg, she sucked in a lungful of air and sprinted for the gate with only one guard watching it. 

“Get her,” she heard someone shout. 

The guard unsheathed his sword preparing to fight her to the death. Then two arrows whizzed by her from the wall or the roof, she didn’t know. She only kept going. Freedom was only a few footsteps away. She thought of Dean, her family, and Mageta, strict and loving Mageta who she had hurt and may never be able to say, “I’m sorry,” to again. All of it urged her to keep moving and to conquer the slight limp in her run. 

She raised her sword to strike at the guard and to take his key. Then a new pain, sharp, angry, and direct slid into her right shoulder. The impact of the arrow knocked her to the ground. Her sword swung from her grip and dirt poured into her mouth. She screamed but not out of pain, but of grief.

The gate was just a few steps away. 

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

DEAN

They had to split up. It was the plan with so many children involved. They regathered at the well despite the Taefo’s horn and the guards forming to do a pursuit.

“Where’s Geia?” Jaice said as they lowered eight of the children able to run into the well. 

Dean’s heart leaped into his throat as he shook his head. 

“She’s fine. She can take care of herself.”

“Gods be with her,” Gavin said. 

“Come on. We must hurry before they lose the dogs,” Dean said. 

Gavin, Boras, and Esa took their eight children through the underway while he, Jaice, and Gibby carried the remaining four farther south of the Napan. By the time they followed the river and the forest to its end, dogs barked in the distance behind them. They exited the forest and entered the streets of Strana, wild with celebration. No one paid them any mind as they trailed the walls of the shops and homes and slipped into an alley. 

Dean sighed with relief seeing Trekon and his barrowed wagon. The stench of cow manure mixed and prepared for fertilization reeked the air. Jaice helped the three children, the blind girl, the boy with a crooked leg, and a boy with a stout body of a deformed dwarf into the back of the wagon. She held the baby Mageia was determined to rescue close to her bosom as tears streamed down her cheeks.

“You’ve been spotted, I hear,” Trekon said.

“We did, but we got away,” Dean said.

“Where’s Mageia?” he said. “Is she with the others?”

“No. We left her behind,” Gibby said patrolling the corner. 

“You what?” Trekon said. “What happened?”

“She got injured really bad. She made me leave,” Dean said. 

“She’s going to get caught,” Trekon said.

“No. She’s fast. She will not,” Dean said despite the twist in his gut.

“What is she to do? Hide in there somewhere and find her way out?”

“Whatever needs be done,” he said. “She’ll be fine. Now we need to leave, or we will not be fine.”

Trekon slipped into the driver’s seat as they climbed in the back of the wagon and covered themselves with the blanket. The stench was deathly, but Dean knew this would put off their scent from the dogs. About an hour ride of Trekon weaving in and out of alleys and neighborhoods and passing through a smaller gate of the Mideri Wall, he finally stopped by the alley near his home.

Dean helped the children off and sent Gavin and Jaice on their way to their hidden grate. 

“What are you doing?”

“Mageia was going to stay with you when you meet the others at the checkpoint,” Dean said wishing to cry, but had to stay strong. “She’s not here. So, I’m going instead.”

Before the big man could rebuttal, he returned to the back of the wagon. As they rode, he peeked from beneath the cover and wished he could kill everyone for supporting the Ceremony. He knew there were other ways to please the gods rather than blood sacrifices. He prayed to the gods for Mageia, hoping she was okay and wiped the tears that escaped his eyes. 

He wished he could kiss her again. He wished she was with him under this tarp for him to hold close to his chest. He knew this was a bad idea.

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