That afternoon Dameon and I parted company at Coran’s shop.
“You had better get back to the hideout. I’ll come along as soon as I’ve finished.”
Dameon nodded “Good luck.”
I nodded, “Thanks.” As Dameon made his way to the hideout, I knocked on the door of Coran’s shop.
“Come in,” he called. I opened the door and entered as Coran turned around.
“At least you’re on time,” he said. “Now Miss…” he paused and I realised with a start I hadn’t told him my name.
“Serah. Serah Kreiss,” I said, quickly making an apologetic gesture.
“Miss Kreiss,” he continued. “There are some rules we need to discuss. One is that I pay you weekly. Two, that you will have to help me with my work as well as help me run the store and three, we work from 5am in the morning to 9pm at night. Do we have an agreement?” he asked holding out a hand. I reached out and shook his hand, sealing the deal.
That afternoon I helped him clean up and pack away his storefront. He showed me various little tricks he had in place to help with the process like a small button on the side of the counter that, when pressed, made the entire counter fold-up into the wall of his house. After we had finished he took me around his workshop and showed me all the tools and explained the basic techniques of glass smithing. At 8:30pm we finished packing up and in return for my help Coran gifted me with a glass figure and a small box of tools.
“Work on it at home” he told me. “Make it into whatever you want and come back next weekend so I can assess your skill.” I nodded my thanks and after promising to come back, returned to the hideout.
When I arrived it came as no surprise Dameon had stayed up for me.
“So,” he asked as I came in and hung my cloak up on the hat stand Dameon had found. “How was it?”
“Okay” I replied. “He said that I had to help with his work as well as his shop.”
Dameon nodded unsurprised. “What hours?”
“5am to 8 or 9pm.”
Dameon shrugged. “How much are you paid?”
I returned his shrug. “He didn’t say.”
Dameon nodded again. “Do you work every Sunday?”
I shook my head. “I have to help him make the figures on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.”
“Well you better get some sleep if you’re working tomorrow,” Dameon said as he turned around to turn out the lights.
“I’m not working tomorrow. I start on Wednesday”.
“So you’ll be able to help me search for the sign?” Dameon asked without turning.
I blinked. “I thought you didn’t want my help.”
Dameon nodded. “But I realised last night that I need you because you notice little things I don’t. Serah, I was wrong to believe you couldn’t help me. Please accept my humble apology.”
I bowed. “Apology accepted.” He smiled then looked at the water clock on the far wall. “We had better get to sleep. We have a long day tomorrow”.
I nodded and moved towards the second of the small bedrooms. “Goodnight.”
“Goodnight” Dameon replied as he turned off the lights.
The next day I awoke early to find that Dameon was already up. I walked into the main room to find him sitting at the table, nursing a cup of coffee.
“Morning,” I greeted, yawning. “Sleep well?”
Dameon nodded distractedly.
“You alright?” I asked, pouring coffee for myself.
Dameon nodded distractedly again. I shook my head and sat down opposite him. I was beginning to feel slightly worried by Dameon’s pensive mood.
“Did you have another dream?” I asked after about ten minutes of silence. He didn’t seem to hear me at first but as I went to repeat my question he nodded.
“I saw a land under a blood red sky, a battle field where both sides lay defeated. My banner flew over one side, my brother’s over the other.”
“Did the voice from the first dream say anything?”
“A different voice spoke this time.”
Dameon took a deep breath. “It said, “aid is sent, help will be found. When a friend is betrayed a journey must begin or what you saw will come to pass.”
“A friend who is betrayed?” I asked in confusion.
Dameon shrugged. “That’s what I heard.”
“Hm. Friend who is betrayed… friend who is betrayed” I mused. “Is it you or me, someone we haven’t met yet or someone we know?”
Dameon shrugged again. “I don’t know. Couldn’t mean Coran, could it?”
“A friend? It’s very possible.” I set down my empty cup. “So anyway, what’s the plan for today?”
Dameon sat back and spread his hands wide. “I have nothing else to do so I’ll continue to look for the Sign.”
I stood up, moving to the small makeshift kitchen. “Would you like some help?”
Dameon hesitated then shrugged. “Why not.” He passed his cup to me, “if you’re sure you have nothing else to do.”
I looked up from washing the dishes. “I have a bit of work for Coran, but…” I waved a dismissive hand, “that can wait till tomorrow.”
Dameon nodded. “Let’s go then.”
I nodded, set the two cups out to dry, washed my hands, grabbed two apples from the bowl and tossed one to Dameon as he made his way towards the door. We pushed our way through a new mess of empty bottles and cans and stepped out into blazing sunlight. Instinctively we both flinched and raised our arms to block the glare of the sun. We moved out of the dump and quickly made our way to the main square where street-kid law forbade fighting. It was one of the few places in the city we could actually relax.
We got to the square without any mishap and moved toward the fountain in the middle. I reached it first, brushed dead leaves off and sat on the low wall surrounding it. Dameon followed suit and sat down beside me.
“So” I asked, “have you any ideas where to start looking for this sign?”
Dameon simply shook his head. “Nope”.
“Any idea as to what the Sign might be?”
Dameon shrugged, “it could be anything. A weapon, a person, a notice, anything.”
I snorted. “That’s not very helpful.”
All of a sudden shouts erupted from the west side of the square. We looked up to see a group of four street kids sprint out of a side street, skid to a stop beside the fountain and dive into a cart piled high with dead leaves.
Close behind came six or seven palace guards. They entered the square and started a methodical search of the place. As they moved closer to the cart two street kids burst out and took off in different directions. Five guards broke off the search and chased after them.
The remaining guards moved towards the cart, spears held ready. Just before the guards thrust their spears into the leaves the two remaining street kids burst out and took off towards the east side of the square. One guard launched his spear at the nearest. The spear flew through the air and shot past its target with a half a metre to spare. The street kids got away to safety and the guard, after angrily retrieving his spear stalked away with his companion.
“What was that all about?” Dameon asked.
I shrugged. “No idea and I’m not sure I want to find out.”
Dameon nodded “that’s probably safest.” He stood brushing leaves from his trousers. “I suppose we had better start searching for this Sign.”
I swung myself to my feet. “Sure.”
We set off in the direction of the docks after Dameon suggested that the Sign is likely to be something we wouldn’t see everyday. The docks were bustling with activity and noise. The water was teeming with ships of all shapes and sizes; long, slim-bodied, tall-masted ships, small sail ships and two or three big, powerful battle galleons.
Among them were several sleek, flat-bottomed trading boats from the neighbouring kingdom of Calamascar. The dark skinned Calamascan traders were loading boxes and crates on to a cart that was occupied by two guards and one very disgruntled driver.
“What’s he so unhappy about?” Dameon asked, nodding at the driver.
“He was told to drop his original load and help with the transport of the trade goods up to the city,” I related, my finely tuned cat’s ears having picked up the entire conversation.
Suddenly the sound of fighting came from the left. I turned, angling my ears towards it. Amid the chaos I could distinguish several different voices. Two men were berating a third who, from what I could gather had spilt hot wine on one of them. Suddenly a young girl’s voice rang out asking the men to stop. Needless to say, the two men totally ignored her.
Dameon moved forward, with me a step behind him. We burst through the doors as the first man raised his fist to punch the third man who was cowering on the ground. A second before the first punch could land, a wooden staff hit the man in the back of the head. He spun around in time to receive the other end full in the face. The young girl stood behind him twirling her staff above her head.
“I told you, you should have let him go.” The man’s companion charged at the girl. She spun around to defend herself but suddenly Dameon appeared between them bringing the man up short with a powerful uppercut. The man’s followers throughout the tavern leapt to their feet and the others, seeing someone fight back lined up behind Dameon.
“Who are you?” Dameon challenged, pushing the girl behind him.
The man threw off his cloak to reveal palace livery. “I am Mikal. Appointed leader of this part of the city by the King himself.”
“The hell you are,” Dameon retorted. “This part of town’s always belonged to the Street Kids.”
“Not for much longer.” With these last words Mikal leapt at Dameon. Two of Mikal’s men spotted me by the door and lunged for me. The girl stepped out from behind Dameon twirling her staff, ready to defend herself.
The two men lunged towards me. I leapt into the air and delivered a flying sidekick to one man’s chest sending him tumbling backwards. I ducked, rolling away from the second one as he swung at me. A second roll took me within range of the counter and I pulled two heavy carving knives down from the knife rack. With sturdy bone handles and twelve and a half inch long blades they made adequate weapons.
The girl needed no other weapon and Dameon was a near master of unarmed combat. The other men had armed themselves with table knives, shards of glass and one or two had even grabbed chair legs. Mikal drew a wicked looking short sword and advanced on Dameon who had avoided his first attack. Within seconds the tavern had dissolved into a mass of struggling, brawling men.
Another man lunged at me, aiming for my heart. I twisted quickly, turning the blade aside and flicked both knives into the Shien reverse grip. The man lunged at me again and I caught his downswing on crossed blades. I kicked him in the chest and sent him careering into a table. Two huge muscular thugs advanced on me. The first one swung a chair leg at my head. I ducked and rolled away seeking an escape route. The second thug blocked my way and I retreated against a wall.
Meanwhile Dameon was getting the best of an encounter with three men including Mikal. Dameon had dodged Mikal’s second attack and was now fending off three men at the same time. Suddenly the edge of a knife slammed into his arm but instead of going through it came up short, caught on the brace of diamond amour from the border city of Saffron that Dameon always wore on his lower right arm. The man stopped surprised and Dameon took advantage of this. He grabbed the man by the shirtfront and threw him across the room sending him crashing through a window.
The next instant Mikal lunged at him and knocked him to the ground. He dropped on top of him and proceeded to plunge his sword down.
At the same time the girl was getting the best of seven men. She spun the staff in complex patterns around her body as if daring any man to come within her reach. As three men darted forward, the girl spun her staff around and fended them off at the same time as she knocked out four more that had come up behind her. But more were coming and for a moment the situation seemed hopeless.
Without warning the door burst open and four squads of city guard marched in. They quickly moved among the men breaking up the fighting groups. Suddenly the oblong of sunlight that spilled from the door was obscured by a tall figure. The atmosphere of the tavern instantly went taut with tension and everyone froze as King Mitchell walked in.
Dameon’s brother stopped and swept the dimly lit interior of the tavern with his eyes. He saw me against the wall, wings half raised, ears flattened, tail whipping back and forth, feet braced wide apart and both arms up ready to defend myself. He saw Dameon pinned to the ground, a blade poised above him and he saw the girl still spinning her staff. He nodded a signal to the guards and two grabbed me, knocking the knives from my hand and restraining me. Another one pushed Mikal off Dameon while another two covered Dameon with spears. The girl was restrained and lost her staff.
“So brother?” King Mitchell asked. “What were you trying to achieve this time?”
Dameon resolutely stayed silent. With a disgusted shake of his head the King ordered us thrown into jail. We were forcefully marched up to the castle and thrown into the dungeon. Dameon was chained to the wall while the girl and I were shackled back to back. The guards locked the door and placed two men to guard it. As the guards left I sighed,
“Well, here we are again.”
“Dameon always manages to get us thrown into jail once every two years.” I was exaggerating slightly, but not much.
“And I always seem to be the one who comes up with an escape plan.”
“Allow me to refresh your memory. I came up with the plan last time.”
“No. I came up with the plan and you carried it out.”
“Will you to stop it?” The girl cried suddenly. “Right. Dameon two questions; one, why did the King call you brother and two, do you have a plan?”
Dameon shook his head. “No, I don’t have a plan.” He turned to one side in an effort to ease the pain in his arms. “The King called me brother because I am. I’m Dameon, the rightful prince of Valhall.”
Before the girl could introduce herself I interrupted. “In case it escaped your notice we’re stuck in a dungeon and at the mercy of that freak brother of yours.”
Dameon nodded, “Well, I’m sure if we all work together we can come up with a plan.”
While this conversation was going on I had found a rusty link in the chain binding the girl and me together and was looking for something to break it with. My eyes alighted on a bone near Dameon’s feet with a jagged edge. I jerked my chin at it.
“Kick that bone over here, Dameon?” I asked.
Dameon looked down and kicked the bone, sending it spinning towards me. It spun across the floor and came to rest within reach of my right leg. I hooked one boot around the bone and with a powerful jerk of my leg pulled it towards me. The bone spun sideways and I managed to grab it with the tips of my fingers.
I gently felt along its edge until I encountered the sharp ridge. I twisted so I could see what I was doing and, having located the weak link started sawing at it. After a few minutes I felt the link part. I shifted to the right and with a powerful twist of my arms snapped the weakened chain. The girl gave an involuntary cry as the severed chain pulled on the cuffs making them dig into her wrists. I relaxed all my muscles and in one movement tensed them and forced my arms apart. The chains around my wrists snapped and I stood up gratefully.
Pulling a dagger from my boot I started to work on the girl’s chains and after a few minutes of sawing freed her too. She stood up, shook feeling back into her arms and legs, walked over to Dameon and placed her hands on the manacles holding his arms above his head. I was unable to understand what she said but her eyes burned gold and I heard the distinct sounds of chains snapping. Dameon dropped to the ground and ripped the remains of the chains from his wrists.
“How did you do that?” Dameon asked in amazement.
The girls went to answer but I snapped “No time”, and crouched by the door trying to find a way of forcing it open. Dameon and the girl joined me.
“Actually, one question” I said turning to the girl after a few fruitless minutes of trying to open the door. “Who are you?”
“My name’s Catarina, I was sent by the go…”
“Yeah, yeah, tell us later”, I interrupted. “Right now we need to get out of here.”
Dameon stepped back and studied the door. It was made of heavy oak and fitted with brass studs. The door sat flush with the wall and Dameon saw no way anyone was able to slip a knife in between. The barred window was shuttered and the only keyhole on the outside.
“Shame the hinges aren’t on the inside”, Dameon muttered as he rejoined us.
“Yes”, I replied distractedly, my gaze travelling upwards, “but removing them wouldn’t help.”
“What are you looking at?” Dameon asked following my gaze.
“There are chains above us”, I explained. “They are in some way connected to the door”. I looked at Dameon, “that’s why removing the hinges wouldn’t work”.
Catarina was crouched by the door with both hands pressed to the wood. She stood up suddenly and paced out four meters from the door ending up near the back wall. She brought both hands up in front of her and made a rolling motion as if she was shaping a ball of air. The dust and powdered bones on the floor began to be drawn towards her and it collected in a small whirling ball in her hands. Suddenly she thrust both arms away from her, towards the door. The ball of wind slammed into the door and disappeared.
For a second nothing happened then the middle of the door blew outwards in an explosion of splinters. Dameon was shocked speechless but I was already moving. Without stopping to figure out what had happened I dived through the hole in the door and rolled to my feet as the two guards lunged at me.
I ducked under the first one and dodged the second guard. The first guard thrust a spear at me, I dodged the tip and slammed the edge of my hand into the shaft snapping it. Wrapping a hand around it I pulled the guard in close and slammed the edge of the other hand into his neck knocking him out.
The second guard swung a sword at my head. I spun around grabbing his wrist and propelled him over my shoulder, ripping the sword from his hand. He hit the opposite wall but the thick helmet prevented him from being knocked out. He climbed to his feet, pulled a dagger from his belt and advanced slowly. I backed away aware the guard was a near expert with the knife. He lashed out at my head again aiming for my eyes. I parried his swing away and danced backwards out of reach.
Meanwhile inside the cell, Catarina was explaining things to Dameon “… they granted me all these powers and I’m just learning the extent of them now. That is how I was able to break your chains and the door.” She looked down at Dameon. “Do you understand what I’m saying?”
Dameon looked up from where he was seated on the dusty ledge that had once been a bed for prisoners of old. “I think so”, he replied uncertainly. “Gods and powers, it’s just a bit unbelievable”.
Their conversation was interrupted as I called from outside, “Hey, I could use a hand out here?”
The guard swung at me again. I ducked but he followed up with a lightning fast reverse cut. The blade slashed across my jaw drawing blood but failing to make solid contact. I danced backwards again drawing the guard forward.
As the guard passed the door to the cell, Dameon came through and carried the guard to the ground with a flying tackle. The tackle caught the guard in the side and he was thrown into the wall again. This time as he slammed into the wall, his helmet was knocked off. The guard threw himself at Dameon but was stopped in midair.
I turned around to see Catarina standing in the doorway of the cell, on arm up, hand and fingers spread. The guard struggled in the air, suspended immobile. As Catarina slowly clenched her hand the guard began to gag and then to choke.
“Don’t kill him,” I cried out as the guard collapsed from lack of air. Catarina looked at me in surprise but let the guard drop to the floor.
“Come on”, Dameon called from the far end of the corridor. “We need to get out of here”.
We moved on down the corridor with Dameon in the lead. As we passed through the door at the end of the corridor spears suddenly hemmed us in.
Dameon cursed. The guards circled around us. We were restrained, marched into the Great Hall and thrown down in front of the King.
“We caught them trying to escape from the cells Majesty”, one of the guards reported.
The King sighed, “and so brother, again you try to escape my rule but always manage falling back into it”.
 Saffron city – a very prosperous border city that has some of the most skilled blacksmiths in the world, able of making diamonds into amour and weapons.