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When I wake up, it's dark and I'm very confused. Not the sort of confusion that comes from indulging too freely in Gurd's fine ale, and coming round on the floor wondering what day it is. More the sort of confusion that makes me wonder who I am and what my name is.
I stand up, looking around me dumbly. I'm in a large room. There are tables, chairs, half-finished drinks and a lot of cards scattered around. I'm the only person in the room. There's a fire in the hearth, burning low. It's still confusing. I can't make any sense of it at all. I notice my throat is very dry. There are drinks all over the place but I'm drawn to a bottle on the table where the cards are. I pick it up and glance at the label. The Grand Abbot's Ale.
Odd name for a beer. I raise it to my lips and drink it all down.
And then it comes back in a flash. The Grand Abbot's Ale restores my memory. I'm Thraxas, private Investigator, currently engaged in a game of cards with Horm the Dead and various others. Except Horm and all the others don't seem to be here any more. The last thing I remember is Deeziz the Unseen casting a spell. I'd guess it was some powerful spell of confusion. Powerful enough to knock me out, despite my spell protection charm. I wonder if it worked on everyone else. From the way they've all wandered off, I think it has. Particularly as the card table is still loaded with money. People in Turai would have to be very confused indeed to leave money lying around in public.
My cards are still on the table. I flip them over: 7, 8, bishop, queen, all black. I turn over Horm the Dead's cards: four kings. It's a better hand than mine. He would have won. Of course, technically, the game hasn't finished yet. We never got round to declaring our hands. But he's no longer at the table, while I'm still here, which makes me the winner. Thraxas, number one chariot at the card table. I toss the cards in a heap then scoop all the money into my bag.
I walk past the bar and into the rooms beyond. Gurd's room is empty. No sign of him or Tanrose. I check the store rooms. Also empty. I hurry upstairs. I have a feeling there's something badly wrong but I can't quite put my finger on it. My office is empty and so is my bedroom. There seems to be a lot of noise outside. I hurry along to Makri's room. Makri is lying on the floor, drenched in sweat, barely conscious. Lisutaris is beside her, unconscious. I kneel down beside them. Makri opens her eyes.
"Are you confused?" I ask.
"Compared to you, no," says Makri. "What happened?"
"Deeziz. Enemy Sorcerer. Cast a powerful spell downstairs."
"I heard a bang," whispers Makri. "I found Lisutaris wandering in the corridor. I dragged her in here."
"You see anyone else?"
Makri shakes her head.
The noises outside get louder.
"I think the city has just fallen to the Orcs."
Makri attempts to sit up, but fails. She's very weak, and the effort of dragging Lisutaris into her room has taken the last of her energy. I tell her to wait while I check on events outside. I walk along the corridor and go into the small cupboard which contains a ladder leading to the roof. It's an awkward climb, not one that I've made for a while. By the time I struggle on to the roof the noises outside are deafening. People are screaming in panic and confusion. I look north. Dragons are swooping over the city and smoke and flames curl over the Palace. Lord Rezaz the Butcher has taken the city and the population is fleeing as best they can. I struggle back down the ladder, and head for my office. I put on my magic warm cloak, take my sword, my illuminated staff and my grimoire of spells. I put a bottle of the Abbot's klee in my bag, along with thazis and the large joint of venison Lisutaris sent me. It's a heavy load, though not much to be taking away from the city I've lived in all my life.
I now have to get myself, Makri and Lisutaris to safety. I'm concerned about Gurd, but he's not around and I've no way of locating him. It's possible Tanrose has taken him off somewhere. Or it's possible he's just wandered off and has been killed by the Orcs.
Back in Makri's room I ask Makri if she can stand. She shakes her head.
"The Orcs have taken the city. We have to get away."
"Orcs? In the city? We have to fight."
She attempts to rise, but fails.
I pick her up.
"My swords," says Makri.
I pick up her swords and her favourite axe and head downstairs to the back of the building. Luckily the cart is still in the stables. Everyone in the tavern must have been too confused to take it. I dump Makri in the cart and run back upstairs. I don't know how much time I have. The Orcs will be sweeping through the city. If resistance has completely crumbled it won't take them long to reach Twelve Seas. I pick up Lisutaris and carry her downstairs. I throw her in the cart then set about getting the horse affixed to the reins.
When I make it out into Quintessence Street I'm greeted by a scene of terrible panic. People are running everywhere, screaming that the Orcs are here and we're all going to be slaughtered. It's quite likely. But I've encountered Orcs many times, and I haven't been slaughtered yet, so I'm not about to give up now. I drive the horse forward through the crowd, all heading south towards the harbour in a desperate effort to escape from the invaders.
I have no thoughts of staying and fighting. With dragons swooping over the Palace, and Lord Rezaz's army inside the walls, we're already beaten. I don't intend to lose my life in a dark street in Twelve Seas for no reason. I spur the horse on.
Makri emerges from her stupor.
"We're leaving Turai."
"It seems like a good time for a fresh start."
Makri opens her mouth to protest, but lacks the strength, and she sinks back into unconsciousness. Our progress is interrupted when the wagon becomes hemmed in by people and we come to a halt. I look around impatiently for some means of escape but there's nowhere to go. If the Orcs arrive now we're finished. Neither Makri nor Lisutaris are in a fit state to be of any help.
At this moment a dragon flies overhead and a troop of heavily armed Orcs advances into Quintessence Street, sending the crowds fleeing in terror. There is a terrible panic as people dive through windows into houses, climb walls, anything to escape. For a moment I consider just picking up my sword and confronting the Orcs. I can kill three with my sword and another four or five with a spell before I die. That's not too bad. I notice the alleyway on the right looks familiar. I once climbed out of the sewers into that alleyway. There's a manhole cover there. I take Lisutaris in one hand, Makri in the other and drag them over the side of the wagon. It's fortunate that neither of them are heavy women or I'd never make it. When I reach the manhole cover the Orcs are no more than fifty yards away. I open the cover, drop Makri and Lisutaris through it, clamber inside, and pull the cover over my head. Then I descend the ladder as quickly as I can, because if the water level in the sewer is high, Makri and Lisutaris will be drowning by now.
The water is several feet deep. Makri is struggling to stand but Lisutaris is floating face down. Praying that I haven't actually killed Turai's leading Sorcerer, I drag her out of the water.
"What are you doing?" croaks Makri, slightly more animated after being dumped in the sewer.
"Escaping. The Orcs are right overhead. Can you walk?"
Makri nods, and then falls over.
"No, seriously," I say, dragging her to her feet. "Can you walk?"
"I'm strong," says Makri, and falls over again. For a moment I wish I'd just stayed and fought the Orcs, but I grit my teeth and start dragging Makri and Lisutaris through the sewer. It's a tough job but at least I know where I'm going. I've been here before. I was once chased through this sewer by Glixius Dragon Killer, curse his name. I wonder if he had something to do with the appearance of Deeziz in the Avenging Axe. I wouldn't put it past him.
My illuminated staff lights the way but progress is painfully slow. The last time I was here it wasn't only Glixius I had to worry about. I encountered an alligator as well. Damn these sewers. And damn Makri and Lisutaris for being too ill to walk. If an alligator arrives I'll feed them to it and make an escape myself.
After what seems like hours Lisutaris grunts, and starts to come round.
"You got hit by a spell of confusion and the Orcs have taken the city. We're escaping through the sewers."
"We have to fight!" cries Lisutaris.
"It's too late to fight."
"We can't run away!"
"Can you remember any spells?"