The sun was low as three men and a woman hurried across the small plain to an abandoned store. Around them, the sound of distant thunder was mingled with the distinctive sounds of fighting and battle, close, yet for the moment not engulfing the plain.
The building they were moving to was on the corner of two streets leading into the plain, one of which was obstructed with fallen debris from the surrounding structures. Although hard to distinguish in the quickly fading light, the wooden façade of the store seemed to be painted in varying shades of green, and had burn marks on the side facing the blocked street.
Making their way passed the door and setting it back into its frame to appear closed, the four entered the front room of the store, which was otherwise unlit save for the two windows facing out onto either street. The woman, who was carrying a seemingly ordinary pine box, sat down on one of the few pieces of furniture still standing upright.
‘Do you think they noticed us slip out?’ one of the men asked as he shifted an upended table aside to peer through one of the windows, adjusting his monocle as he did so. His question was followed by another roll of thunder, closer this time.
‘They didn’t. I made sure our escape was masked,’ a low-voiced man replied, ‘but we should still make sure we’re not outside when night falls. Especially not while we’re so close to the fighting.’
A sudden gust of wind made the structure creak dangerously, yet remarkably it remained secure. As the wind died down, the light outside had seemed to grow faint and darker, and sombre clouds could be seen developing in the direction of the thunder.
‘We can’t stay here though,’ the third man said, drawing his purple coat across his chest as he searched for something to use as a light source, ‘there’s no telling when these support beams will give way. Why don’t you help look for a light or something?’
‘You won’t find anything in this mess,’ said the Monocle man, turning from the window to look back into the room they were occupying. In the now dimmer light of the room, he could make out the silhouettes of his three companions, the table beside him, and a staircase against the far wall of the room.
‘Might as well go ahead and do this,’ he continued, ‘Phainei.’ As he said the last, the stone in the head of the staff he carried started glowing, producing a blueish light to illuminate the room they were in.
‘Have you lost your mind, you fool?’ the woman said angrily as she looked up from the box she was holding in her lap. ‘Do you want to get us caught?’
‘It’s a simple lighting spell, no one will notice us while we’re so close to the battle.’
‘And don’t you think that they might have placed tracing spell or something on this box or one of us?’ the woman retorted, ‘Your ‘simple lighting spell’ will amplify their ability to find us, once they realise we’re gone.’
‘If they haven’t already.’ Low-Voice remarked, opening a fallen over display cabinet to only to reveal a small spider working on its web.
‘My concealment spell was better than any of the ideas you came up with, which, by the way, were none at all.’ Monocle man said, annoyed.
‘Hey, I know we are all tense, but let’s not start fighting one another when we’re still not safe.’ Purple-Coat said. ‘Anyway, I’ve found this lantern and some oil, thanks to the light of your spell, but now we really should refrain from using any magic, basic or not, unless absolutely necessary.’ He looked at each of the other three as he lit the lantern.
After a few seconds of only the wind, thunder and battle sounds filling the room, Monocle man spoke again. ‘You’re probably right. No need to get all worked up about a lighting spell when there’s so much at stake. Zophos.’ Saying the cancellation spell, the stone in his staff ceased glowing, leaving only the lantern’s light to dance on the mostly wooden walls of the store. Various display shelves and cabinets lined the walls, all devoid of everything but dust, splinters of glass and other rubble.
‘Seems like the fighting has been in here too,’ remarked Low-Voice, pointing at various charred spots in the room.
Outside, the clouds had completely overwhelmed the sky, and rain had started falling, the patter of the drops dampening the sounds of fighting to a mere persistent din now.
‘Come, let’s see if there isn’t a back exit or something to this place so we can get a move on.’ Purple-Coat said, turning to move towards an arch beside the staircase, leading to the backroom of the store.
This backroom was cluttered with broken flasks and fallen over shelves, dark stains of dried up pools on the floor where some of these flasks had fallen. Although faint, the distinctive scent of Elf’s Tear could still be smelled in the former potion room.
‘Must’ve been quite a successful establishment before the war,’ Low-Voice remarked as they proceeded through the room, stepping tentatively over the glass shards, ‘I see several flasks that used to contain Moon Candle nectar. Probably stolen by looters or emptied by the owner. At the current prices that’s quite a penny.’
‘Focus please,’ said the woman, still carrying the box, ‘none of this talk of market prices will matter if we’re caught because you lot aren’t concentrating.’
As they reached the back of the potion room, they were met with two doors. ‘One no doubt leading to the brewer’s station, the other outside to either a greenery or a small garden,’ said Low-Voice. ‘Judging by the direction from the plain we moved, I’d say the door in front of us leads outside.’
However, much to the four’s chagrin, the door leading forward refused to open. After trying to use the unlocking and opening spells and failing both times, the four decided to see where the other door, to their left, led.
Behind the left door they found the brewer’s station. The stone walls of the room were covered in soot and moss, and had several lantern hooks and a broken roof lamp. Most of the potionry equipment was gone, but the room seemed otherwise untouched by looters or battle.
‘Now what?’ Monocle man asked, scanning the walls for any signs of a hidden door or passage, as could be afforded by several wealthier store owners.
‘We’ll just have to either go back out the way we came in or break down that other door,’ Low-Voice said, starting to make for the door leading back into the potion room.
Just then, several voices caused the four to freeze. Purple-Coat quickly snubbed the lantern, lining himself against the stone wall of the brewer’s station, readying his wand as he did.
‘Are you sure the trace led us here?’ a raspy voice could be heard from the main room.
‘Affirmative. I have never heard of a Dioco charm leading someone astray.’ A woman replied to the raspy voice. ‘I am just unsure of where they went from here.’
‘Why? Didn’t you just say…’
‘Yes, I did. But I knew the potion master to whom this store belonged. Being the paranoid elf that she was she always placed anti-tracing charms on her belongings, which in turn is now causing inference. Meaning I could trace those bastards entering, but not where they’ve gone from here while I’m inside.”
‘So what now?’ another voice, high-pitched and posh-sounding, asked.
‘You four search the building while I try and break this anti-tracing ward. It will probably take a few minutes, but seeing as I didn’t pick up that they left before we entered, they ought to still be inside.’
Purple-Coat felt a hand on his shoulder and turned to see the outline of Low-Voice man standing beside him. ‘We need to break through that other door,” he whispered, “it’s our only way of ensuring our work was not in vain.’
Still echoing from the main room, the four could hear the raspy voice person giving out orders to the others. ‘You two go upstairs and clear whatever you can without bringing the building down on us. The count and I shall clear this room of any hidden doors and then proceed to the back.’
‘Let’s move.’ Low-voice said, making his way passed the third man and gesturing for the other three to follow. Quickly reaching the obstructed door, Low-voice man turned to face the other three and hurriedly formulated a plan.
‘When I blast open this door,’ he said, pointing his staff at the door, ‘you three run like there’s a chimera behind you, while I hold them off as long as I can.’
‘I’ll stay with you,’ Monocle man said, ‘we all came on this mission with the purpose of retrieving what’s in that box, no matter the cost.’
‘Very well then.’ Low-voice sighed, before turning to Purple-Coat, ‘But you must go with her and protect that box. Now, stand aside.’ Glancing back at the arch leading to the main room one last time before aiming his staff at the blocked door. ‘Laketai.'