[The previous post will be revised at some point to change the perspective from Billy to Nort]
The two guards were new to the Safety Committee, having arrived from the continent in the past year, and Nort Eggers watched closely as they led the boy down the stairs of the inn. While not among the colony’s founders, the Eggers were a rare three-generation family in Philos; Nort had joined the Safety Committee at sixteen, eager both to protect the colony and to advance his family’s honor. Many new colonists, especially those like these two new arrivals who showed no demonstrable skills, had come fleeing crimes, debt, or unwanted families on the continent, and Nort highly suspected both men under his command were rogues at best, and therefore warranted close observation.
The common room of the inn was crowded, benches and tables filled with farmhands, merchants, and pilgrims to the temple on Eighth Hill. The innkeeper looked up as Nort and his men came down the stairs, leading the boy away. With a quick nod, he then turned his attention back to his guests.
The boy stumbled, falling from the grasp of the two guards and down to the bottom of the stairs. Nort pushed the two men aside, and came down to the boy, his hand on the hilt of his dagger. “Get up,” his voice dripping with suspicion.
He then heard a cry from his left, too filled with alarm for him to ignore. Nort saw a woman walked back from the inn’s fireplace, then saw the reason for her concern — flames had begun to bellow above the mantle, and the bricks above sweltered in a heated glow.
“Soot fire!” Nort grabbed and lifted the boy from the floor. “Everyone, leave now!” Maintaining his firm grasp on the boy, Nort looked back at his men, dismayed but not surprised to see their blank stares of confusion. He commanded them in a tense whisper — “Get these people out of here, then we’ll deal with the fire. Damn you both, move!”
Nort’s caustic tone startled the men out of their befuddlement, and they rushed forward to herd the crowd out of the building. Nort held back with the boy as the conflagration grew in intensity. The innkeeper rushed forward, and Nort was about to call out to him until he saw the bucket he carried was filled with sand, not water. The sand flew into the mouth of the flame, and what happened next was a sight that Nort would recall for the rest of his days.
The fire subdued a moment from the sand’s impact — and then, as if indignant, suddenly resumed in an even great fury, its flaming lips leaping directly at the innkeeper, licking his clothing into a dance of fiery doom.
Nort charged forward, and slammed the innkeeper to the floor. The chimney’s flames subsided, making Nort’s rescue less difficult. He felt the hair on his arms singe as he put out the fires on the innkeeper’s clothes, and when he had finished, he grabbed the man’s face with his hands. The innkeeper was hurt badly, skin horribly burnt, but was breathing.
Feeling a hand on his shoulder, Nort looked up and saw one of his guards staring down at him. “We got all the people out.”
“Well done.” Nort stood, and with the guard’s help lifted the innkeeper to his feet. He then looked over at the fire — and to his amazement, saw that it had returned to its gentle roar, flames no longer reaching from the chimney, the dull red color of the bricks having returned.
“The boy!” Nort shot his glance back at the stairs, and seeing them empty, turned back to the guard. “Did you see the boy leave?”
Frowning, the guard shook his head.
After running up the stairs and crawling out the window of the room where he had been waiting, Billy ran three buildings to the left, then sat and rested against a back wall. Of all the various scenarios that Gil and Ukhala had discussed with him that afternoon, none had included an escape from the Safety Committee. His companions had refused to tell him where they’d be when doing whatever they had planned, leaving Billy with no idea where to turn. He couldn’t go to Judge Oliver’s manor, the fat man had mentioned Crim and Archilochus were there. There was no other option, he’d have to flee to the woods —
The hand from behind him closed over his mouth before he could react, and sharp words in his ear stopped him from struggling. “That was foolish, boy.”
Billy relaxed, and the hands behind him released their grip. The teen turned, and in the darkness his eyes recognized the distinctive outline of Gil.
“We would have rescued you, no matter where they held you. Surely you know that.”
“But I’m tired of being rescued.” Billy made no attempt to hide the annoyance in his voice. “If you’d just let me — ”
“Do you have any idea what forces –”
“My mother — ”
“Is DEAD!” Billy could see the white of Gil’s snarling teeth. “And get over this feeling that suffering the same fate would be somehow honoring her memory, because it’s just as likely to get the rest of us killed as well.” He jerked his head in the direction of the woods. “Ukhala’s waiting for us. We got the prisoner, too. Let’s get out of here, before you come up with some other brilliant idea.”