Scrambling frantically over the weathered terracotta roof tiles, I tried desperately to stay low and avoid falling against the deep gash across my left bicep, as we moved over the town houses towards our destination, at the far west of the city. I winced repeatedly, from both the pain of my wounds and at the clamour made by Tomas as he threw his muscled bulk from roof to roof, resulting in a routine smashing of the expensive ceramics seen in the affluent east districts of Salicia. Suddenly, I spotted a plausible resting spot and made for it with all the speed I could muster, signalling for Tomas to follow; it was a small balcony hanging above one of the side alleys rather than protruding over the busy street, and would provide a brief respite while the guards and bounty hunters searched the roofs above and the labyrinth of passageways and backstreets below. Landing smoothly in a crouch, I waited and a moment later Tomas crashed clumsily into the small, grey stone gallery – an excellent rider, and untouchable in battle, the six foot seven former imperial bodyguard did not identify stealth as a strong suit. “Oof, I can’t stand all this nimble-fimble nonsense Mack”, Tomas moaned while he pulled himself into an upright position, “Seriously how long until...ah shit!” He suddenly broke in, noticing the flow of dark red blood soaking the left sleeve of my dirtied grey tunic, “They’ve really fucked your arm up ain’t they old speedy-sword?”
“I’ve had worse... much worse”, I muttered, grimacing as I tore off a fresh strip of material and bound it tight over the axe wound I had received from the largest of the assailants.
As soon as the remaining five had began to charge, Tomas had moved to his right, grabbed a heavy, steel shoe-shining stool and sent it crashing into one of the assassins, who flew back a metre when the momentum of his charge met the force of Tomas’ throw. The rest had been a blur of action. Lunging forward suddenly, I broke my defensive position and, dodging to the right side of the surprised attacker on the furthest left, I ducked under an overhead swipe, and slammed the edge of my gladius across his stomach. Without pausing, I sliced the blade around his ribs and stopped in my tracks in time to reverse the sword and slam it behind me, burying it into my opponents exposed back. Then, spinning on my heels I brought up my weapon and gritted my teeth with the expectance of an assault from the other assassin. However, the group had misjudged the distance, causing the charge to be too swift; as a result, the other man, nearly as large in stature as Tomas, but with less muscle and more fat, had only just regained composure. After circling each other for a series of tense seconds, we came together. Although I was able to defeat him with a flurry of parries and ripostes, I risked leaving an opening in order to bury my short sword up to the hilt in his chest, which in turn allowed him a glancing swing of his axe to my left arm. Emitting a yell of pain, I winced and wiped the dead assassin’s slippery blood off on my tunic, turning around just in time to see Tomas break the neck of a man he had been grappling on the floor. Looking about for his battleaxe, I noticed it buried into the wooden wall, with a severed head balancing on the horizontal blade. Before we had a chance to breathe out thick, metallic stench of blood, the alarm bells began to ring throughout the district, and so we hurriedly retrieved our weapons and made for the roofs, but not before I reached under the stool and slit the throat of the man Tomas had dispatched early on, who had been out cold from the impact.
“Well, we’ll get it checked as soon as we can, but it weren’t half close was it though?” Tomas chuckled, idly stroking the bloody scratch marks on his cheek, inflicted by his final opponent as the man tried to prevent his neck being brutally snapped by the giant nineteen year old warrior.
“You’re right, we need to be much more careful, and perhaps we should stay out of the cities; that’s if we get out of this one alive.” I voiced. “I mean that once we’ve seen him of course. But we should lie low in the outskirts of the empire, become shadows, until...”
“Until what Mackie! Until Laiku decides to give up hunting us? Until he runs out of cash? Until we raise an army to match his? Not fucking likely now is it. This is shit.” Tomas groaned.
“Alright Tom!” I growled, leaning forward against my knees towards him, “Have you got a better idea then! Let’s not forget that I gave this shit up a good six years ago. I don’t need this. I’ve done all the ‘greatest sword in the land’ crap. I’ve been the most wanted outlaw, and the most revered hero, but if you knew what, and who, I sacrificed to become your average thirty year old city merchant...”
“You’re twenty nine” Tomas muttered.
“Ah who gives a shit!” Realising I was shouting I lowered my voice to a vehement whisper, “What I’m saying, is I gave this person up, the world thought I was dead, even Laiku fell for it! So let’s not forget why I’m doing it! If you hadn’t fucked his daughter, I’d still be happily selling fruit and carpentry at the market, and this sword” I said, gesturing to the shimmering Arcation blade by my side, “Would have stayed under the floor boards, where it belongs!” I had leered forward at Tomas, who sat crestfallen and silent. However fond I was of him, almost as if he were a son, he could be short sighted and impulsive, and sometimes it was too much under the circumstances. My face shone red with frustration under the afternoon sun, and my rant had not finished. “If it hadn’t been for your father, the one person who was willing to understand me growing up, who saved my life, who actually believed in me, then you’d be a series of dismembered body parts, hanging from the Emperor’s window, and don’t forget it! I wouldn’t have come if you hadn’t been his son”. This was of course a lie, but it had an effect on the thick skinned adolescent nevertheless.
“Mack”, he said, sounding surprisingly hurt and unsure. “I’m really sorry, truly, I am.” He said looking up at me nervously, I sighed and looked away for a moment, and then looked back at him. It was strange how this huge, fearsome looking young man could actually remind you so much of a child, I then thought.
“I’m sorry too.” I said, more gently, “That was a bit harsh, but you frustrate me so damn much sometimes. When I’m trying to think of the best decision, you go and moan about it. But it doesn’t matter now, we have to keep going.” I looked around suspiciously, “We’ve lingered here far too long.”
“Wait”, Tomas said quickly, as I began to stand up. “I am really sorry, I don’t think about what I say sometimes; I don’t think about a lot, I just do I, and I’m just not used to this running m’larky. But I thank you so much for what you’ve done for me. You’ve done more for me than anyone I know; you know I owe you everything for that, that I appreciate it so much. Right?”
“Right”, I confirmed with a smile. “Come on let’s go”. Using the overhang I heaved myself up on to the roof and leapt lightly on to the next one. Tomas did the same, but with the usual racket.
“Shit”, Tomas suddenly cried just as I began gaining pace. “What now...” I saw as soon as I turned. About fifteen men were scrambling across the rooftops at a startling speed, heading straight for us. Grabbing Tomas’ shoulders I got him to listen, “Right, the good thing is, they’re bounty hunters, or we’d have half the city garrison up here after us; they won’t give us up”. The streets below rang with the clamour of soldiers and the shouts of officers and police Fascio squads. The city was being torn apart in the search, but luckily, only fifteen men knew how fast the pair would be moving using the rooftops, and those men could be easily lost in the labyrinth of the lawless poor quarter, where I had spent sixteen years of childhood. But we would have to get there first I knew, and even we could not face such overwhelming odds if it came to battle. “Time to run!”, I called to Tomas, and we charged across the shining sea of terracotta toward the shanty towns, with the verdant western mountains ahead in the far distance, while at our heels, for miles and miles the endless, vibrant, bustling sea that is Salicia rose steadily up towards the Palaces on Mount Lakiri.