They locked eyes across the tops of crowded market stalls and in that instant, recognition flashed across the young man’s face. It was rapidly followed by fear. The youth spoke urgently to a much shorter person standing next to him, someone invisible to Arras, but there was no doubt with whom he was communicating; it had to be the young man’s female companion, his lover. Arras had found the runaways and this sorry little episode should soon be over.
Forbidden love destroyed lives, and this man and woman, despite standing in the bright sunshine of an idyllic autumn day, surrounded by the bustling, mundane world of a busy fruit market, had already fallen into the abyss and were lost souls. Arras knew many thousands of men serving Hellyn who were capable of resisting love’s draw and who suffered in near silent pain, denying themselves what the body and soul craved, but there were always a few who would fall prey to the intoxicating addiction. Love was like kokera or morfyn; once tasted, it was almost impossible to give up, and to the afflicted, easy to justify dying for.
Arras alerted his companion to the presence of the runaways without taking his eyes off his target, almost a hundred yards away.
“Dayle, look to the northeast corner of the square, I see Marc and he has Leah with him. You take Leah, Marc’s mine. Let’s go!”
With that, Arras took off at a sprint across the plaza with Dayle on his heels. It was packed with people but the inhabitants of Hellyn had a third eye for guards, especially ones who looked terrifyingly exotic like Arras. One glance at Arras and Dayle parted the crowds as softly and easily as cutting flesh with a blade. Arras was glad he stood out in a crowd, it was more often helpful than not. Marc had of course turned to flee at exactly the same moment Arras launched himself forwards in pursuit, but the path to him was miraculously clearing without him needing to thrust people out of his way or shout. It was as if the locals knew exactly who was the target of Arras’s chase.
As he sprinted between the masses of brightly colored cloth and baskets, Arras glimpsed the tiny Leah dressed in yellow and red traditional Gallorian clothing, running towards the east exit of the square. Marc was already headed north, so this meant they’d decided to split up and take their chances alone. He was very surprised Marc would leave her; he’d assumed they would be inseparable until death parted them.
“I see her, in red and yellow, headed towards Blackfriar’s.” Dayle’s shout was from close behind him. Arras was confident Leah would be an easy catch. Dayle wouldn’t have to hurt her.
He chased Marc up Hengate seeing him disappear around the first left turn, still significantly ahead of Arras. The street was almost as busy as the market, but once again, pedestrians melted away from him as he ran, averting their eyes to avoid attracting his attention. The citizens of Camden would not get in his way chasing his target, but neither would they help him catch Marc by intentionally tripping him up or blocking his path. They weren’t that stupid, they could easily get a knife in the stomach for it. This really wasn’t their problem and certainly not worth dying for.
Immediately they were in the gloomier, narrow back streets. The number of shop fronts plummeted making it harder for Marc to slip unseen into a merchant’s store and take cover. In Marc’s shoes, Arras would have done precisely that, just off the main plaza, but Marc hadn’t taken the opportunity. Perhaps he feared an aggressive response from a shop owner realizing he was running from the guards.
It happened as Arras hoped, Marc making his fatal mistake after no more than four turns, choosing to run into a curved alley serving the back exits of run down row-houses. Marc wouldn’t know until he got half way down that there was no way out at the end. Already Arras blocked his only easy exit.
If Marc didn’t want to fight Arras in this foul alley, reeking of stale urine and littered with obscene amounts of dog and probably human excrement, he could enter one of the high-walled flagstone yards belonging to the terraced houses. He might even find a backdoor unlocked and could try traversing the house, exiting out the front, blending back into a crowded main street. Aggressive guard dogs and violent locals often defended the backyards of this seedy neighborhood, but Marc was sure to be desperate now. Would Marc dare turn and fight Arras instead?
Frantically tugging on a gate that refused to open, Marc froze for only a millisecond as he caught sight of Arras coming around the corner. He ran to the next gate that also stubbornly resisted him, and then he started to clamber up the crumbling wall as Arras sprinted down the alley towards him.
Arras scaled the wall shortly after Marc and upon reaching the top he saw Marc was trapped in a tiny, overgrown yard with no dogs in sight. He still didn’t pull his knife, there was no need yet. Marc was frantically trying to kick open the kitchen door. It was solid with well-built hinges and lock, designed not to give way from just a few kicks. Arras would have gone for the window immediately he realized the door was impassable, throwing one of the bricks lying around in the yard through the glass, but Marc hadn’t given up on the door yet. Perhaps breaking the glass didn’t appeal to him, or he hadn’t noticed the convenient pile of bricks by the locked gate. This is what separated the alphas from the others, the experienced from the novices. Camero often exhaled more common sense in one breath than others possessed their whole lives, and regularly demonstrated excellent judgment, but Marc Camero wasn’t thinking straight right now. He was panicking, not calm, and wasn’t using his eyes.
Arras leapt down lightly from the wall and slowly approached Marc who turned to face him, his hands coming up to defend himself. The agitation he’d been displaying, calmed, and his eyes lost their fear as he prepared for a fight. That was more like it, now Marc was showing his mettle.
“Marc, you can’t escape, it will be easier for you if you give yourself up peacefully. That way you won’t get hurt,” Arras said soothingly. His voice and manner exuded his own calm aura and the knowledge that he had complete control over this situation.
“Never, Arras,” muttered Marc, clenching his jaw.
Marc clearly intended to fight to the death, although he must know he didn’t stand a chance. Arras had sparred this youth in a friendly match two summers ago on Trials day, and Marc of course hadn’t scored a single point, even though he’d spent much of his short life training to win a fight. Arras was just so much faster and more skilled. He really didn’t want to kill a Camero here; it wasn’t good for the locals to have a person die in their backyard, even if it was only a Camero and not a Gallorian.
“What were you thinking, Marc?” he asked, wondering if Marc could be talked out of a fight. “You’ve thrown away not just your own life, but also Leah’s. My colleague caught her seconds after you split up. She would never have run without you, and your lives weren’t that bad. You must have known what happens to runaways, it’s never any different. They are always hunted down.”
“Leah was…very unhappy…I couldn’t stop it and I couldn’t bear it any longer. I had to do something about it.”
The bitterness was clear in Marc’s voice and pain now distorted his eyes. Arras already knew why Leah was unhappy and also knew that this was the most likely reason they had run. Hers was a common enough complaint.
“We are Cam, not Gallorian, we don’t get to choose how we serve.” It wasn’t the first time Arras had uttered these words.
“Unlike you, we both look Gallorian,” muttered Marc. It was true; Leah and Marc blended in remarkably well with the locals, something Arras could never do.
“We could have lived as Gallorians, worked to support ourselves and harmed no one,” said Marc, betraying astonishing naïvety. As if a Cam could ever be free.
“But how could you ever hope to evade capture? As if you could outrun us? We never give up the hunt. You must have heard the stories.”
Marc didn’t answer, instead his gaze steeled as he once again prepared for a fight. There was no defeat in his eyes yet and this conversation was just delaying the inevitable.
“How can you think you have a chance of fighting me off now?” pressed Arras. “You know who I am.” This was an unsubtle attempt to undermine Marc’s self-confidence and persuade him to give up without a fight.
“Hellyn took my freedom. I wanted it back, however briefly, and now you’ve taken Leah from me, and she was my only reason for living. I’m not afraid to die fighting you, Arras. I won’t serve such a cruel and abusive beast.”
With those last words, the conversation was over. Marc launched himself at Arras who reacted instinctively and it was over in a few seconds. Arras easily dealt with Marc’s flying kick aimed at the center of Arras’s chest. Instead of full on, the kick caught him a glancing blow that did minimal damage, and Arras was already on Marc, pressed up against him as close as a lover, aiming a single jab to Marc’s throat designed to cause instant spasm of the larynx, making it difficult for him to breathe. That was followed with a yank down and back on his right shoulder, whilst simultaneously almost caressing Marc’s jaw and chin with a palm thrust upwards, taking his balance and slamming him hard to the ground at Arras’s feet.
He flipped the stunned Marc over and had one arm pinned behind his back whilst Marc was still choking from the throat jab and whiplash to his neck. He dropped the heel of his palm onto the center of Marc’s spine just where the cervical vertebrae met thoracic vertebrae. This was guaranteed to shock the nervous system, and he took advantage of Marc’s transient four limb paralysis to tie his hands together behind his back, gag and then securely hood him.
Life was over for Marc. There was no forgiveness in Hellyn, no second chances. Camero and Camista like Marc and Leah, who denied their obligations and refused to serve as directed, were terminated. Marc and Leah perhaps didn’t know it, but they were fortunate that the method and moment of their executions would be under Arras’s control. It would be pain-free and he would ensure they were oblivious to the deed. Others who doled out justice across Hellyn were rarely so kind.