The prison was out of place in Moonlight Forest - it was the only stone building in the place, largely underground. The cells were the remnants of the dungeons of a great castle that had once stood proud here, until the centaurs had destroyed it.
Meroxii cautiously poked her head around the door of her cell, the centaurs' hooves clacking on the floor behind her. Her soot-black skin defied illumination - she looked like a walking silhouette. She saw no-one in the corridor beyond, and took a cautious step out of the cell.
"Hurry!" whispered Mune.
Morexii turned, and was shocked to see Juliexus stringing her bow.
"You never said there was going to be figh-"
"Just walk!" hissed Mune. "We don't have the time."
Morexii increased her pace, heading for the corner of the room, where a barred window allowed a beam of dust-moted moonlight into the corridor. Then, they heard hooves.
Morexii didn't need the frantic whisper of "Hide!" to tell her what to do. Her solid form melted - subtly into the flat shadows on the wall, just as a guard came round on patrol.
"Why are you here?" he barked, brandishing his pike.
"We had special permission to visit the Shadow from the High Judge," said Juliexus coolly.
"Why did I hear no word of it, then?" snapped the guard, clopping his front hoof.
"We saw no reason to alert you," said Mune.
The guard didn't see the silhouette on the floor behind him. It was a silhouette without a body to cast its shadow. It passed up his chest, onto his face and into his eyes. He stumbled backwards.
"I can't see! Unbind me, you evil fillies! Argh!"
Mune and Juliexus fled, Morexii following. Her shadow was stretching like honey from a spoon as she tried to continue blinding the man, but her essence snapped back into solid form and the guard regained his sight long enough to see her hurtle round the corner.
Meroxii heard a blaring horn behind her as the guard came to his senses. At once, six centaurs marched into their path, pikes lowered. Mune let out a whinnying war-throe and snapped three of them with her hoof. Juliexus pulled a bossed shield from nowhere and charged, the pikes glancing uselessly off to either side.
Mune had drawn a dagger. She was jabbing this way and that, clearing a path through the attacking guards. Meroxii found the shadows once more, and raced across the ceiling as a silhouette invisible to the combatants below.
Mune struck gold. She thrust a centaur in his spleen, and he fell forwards onto his front hooves, whinnying piteously. Mune jumped clean over him, her glistening tail swishing agitatedly, and beckoned Juliexus to follow her. She ducked a sword thrust and aimed a well judged kick with her back hooves at an advancing guard, before rushing off at full gallop in pursuit of her friends, her hooves like thunder in the confined corridor.
Meroxii melted from the shadows ahead as they approached the exit. They dived under the descending portcullis ahead and sprinted out between the trees, darting left and right to avoid the volleys of arrows that were spraying towards them.
Meroxii's mind was a blur as she jumped over roots, ducked spiny branches and leapt over bubbling brooks. Mune and Juliexus were just as fast despite being twice as tall, Mune cutting through the undergrowth with her knife, Juliexus buffeting the branches with her shield.
After what seemed like hours they had reached the edge of the forest, the trees thinning as the land rose. The heavens slowly revealed themselves as they neared the summit of the hill.
The fringes of dawn had begun to glow as they looked over the vast plain that separated them from the Tafta Tower. They could see the shadow-shape of Herothi gliding away over the plain, as if a massive eagle was arcing overhead, searching for prey.
Meroxii fell silent as she scrutinised the vista below her. Then she said:
"Why did you do that for me?"
Mune raised her eyebrows.
"We've already told you."
"But you killed your own kind!" said Meroxii, bewildered, "I don't unders-"
"What is a few lives, compared to the entire centaur race?" said Juliexus quietly, as the sun emerged as a shimmering rim on the horizon. "If we had sat tight and left you, Herothi would only have grown stronger. While he remains in this world he draws energy from the sunlight. He would have returned again and again. And the High Judge would have ordered your execution."
"While the rest of our race continues with its prejudice against Shadows, we cannot ally ourselves with them," said Mune, "for the Shadows are the only force who can fight Herothi, and save Karmine from endless darkness."
Meroxii fell silent, staring at Herothi's menacing shape moving sinously over the plains to the distant Tafta Tower outlined on the sunrise.
I finally have a purpose.