Chapter 10 – Inside the Cathedral
“We need a distraction,” Gabe said, trying to act as though nothing had happened. That Azroth’s sham of a life hadn’t just gone up in flames. “Otherwise, we’ll never get past the guards on the grounds.”
“Leave the distraction to me,” Azroth said, feeling reckless. He’d be the one to turn in the Sapphire Star, and then he’d get himself as far away from here as possible. He’d be rich enough to purchase land and make a real name for himself. “The rest of you get to that pile of dirt. Once the guards disappear around the other side of the building, run to the recessed door around the left side. I’ll meet you there.”
“Be careful, Fen,” Gabe said, clapping him on the shoulder, giving him a pitying look that he shrugged off.
Ariel’s pleading eyes tried to meet his, but he refused to acknowledge her. Azroth’s heart turned to stone. He wanted no excuses and no explanations. He’d seen it all. Ariel was Riddick’s. Not his. The northern crime lord and his goons, along with Gabe and Ariel, crept to the massive pile of dirt and waited.
Cloaking himself further with the shadows, Azroth made his way to the other side of the cathedral. Years had passed since he’d attempted to call on this much power, and he wasn’t sure he could control the fire the way he used to. Yet, with the anger simmering beneath his skin, he was confident he could provide a distraction at the very least.
The wretchedness of jealousy fueled the magic gathering to his fingertips. He’d have to be careful. Otherwise, he’d end up burning down this whole building, which was the last thing he wanted.
Flames shot out from Azroth’s hands before he realized what was happening and jumped back in shock. The Fire was more tightly tied to his emotions than he remembered. Was that part of growing up? His birth father, Nero, always claimed strong emotions, such as anger, brought about great power. Wesley, in a sense, agreed. His firm belief that love brought about greater power had been drilled into Azroth’s head so deep that he wondered if Wesley had seen the future. Had he seen how much Azroth’s emotions fueled his gift? Anger was harder to control and burned out quickly. Love burned steadily and was a more reliable source of power.
Yet, if Wesley’s power from love had been so great, why hadn’t the man fought back after his capture by Nero? Why hadn’t he tried to escape from the dungeon? These and other questions chased each other around his mind until he felt sick. Azroth’s arms hung limp at his side.
“Why did you leave us, Wesley? Why didn’t you fight and get Imogen away before our fragile world shattered?” Azroth whispered to the wind. “Are you happy with what I’ve become?”
A breeze wafted by him, brushing against the tears Azroth fought to keep in check. Crouching down behind an empty wagon, He drew in quiet breaths to calm himself but couldn’t help asking the skies, “Why did you abandon us?”
It was almost as if Wesley stood next to him as words entered his mind. I never abandoned you. But some things are worth dying for to protect, including you.
Azroth peered around, but he saw no one. The breeze brushed by his face again, and Azroth could swear he felt Wesley’s hand on his shoulder.
Keep going, Ross. The life I promised awaits. Wesley’s words echoed into the recesses of his mind, then faded altogether. Azroth wanted to shout for Wesley to come back, but the soldiers on their horses were making their way over to him. It was now or never.
Azroth conjured a snake thirty feet long and made of flames to slither on the ground. It flickered in and out of existence until he reached for the dragon tattoo on his arm with his mind. The sleeping power of the fire drake stirred, solidifying the snake as it made its way to the horses coming around the cathedral.
The snake coiled up in the middle of their path, and sparks flew from its mouth as it gave a crackling hiss. The horses, who’d spotted the fire snake before their masters, shied away, snorting.
“What is going on?” one of the soldiers said. “Easy, easy. There’s nothin’ to be scared of.”
Azroth urged the snake to dart forward and snap at the horse’s legs. The lead horse reared up and stomped heavily at the red snake. Azroth then sent it after one of the other horses and grinned as he saw the chaos he was causing.
One of the soldiers jumped down to soothe the snorting beast. Azroth made the snake attack the man’s boot. The soldier leaped back in fright as the snake tried to bite him repeatedly before slithering away beneath a wagon and disappearing into nothingness.
The horses continued to toss their heads and stamp nervously as they tried to figure out where the snake had gone. Amid the confusion, Azroth darted toward the now unguarded side door, where he found Ariel, Gabe, Riddick, Phillip. Thankfully the other thief lord hadn’t brought all of his hyenas.
Gabe had the door open, and Azroth led them inside before turning to lock the door behind them.
“You’re locking us in here?” Ariel asked, incredulously.
Azroth gave her a frosty glance. “I can either do this or when the guard comes by to check it, he’ll notice that it’s unlocked and be alerted to our presence.”
“Where do we go from here?” Gabe asked, before the pair could start arguing.
Azroth pressed his lips together to keep the words he longed to throw at Ariel trapped inside. They would either keep the jewel in plain sight in the chapel or upstairs in the attic. He highly doubted they’d keep it in the priest’s dormitories.
He motioned for them to stay put while he checked out the chapel. All he saw was a bored soldier wandering around the empty room. Creeping back to the others, he shook his head before guiding them up the stairwell. A crash sounded behind them, and to Azroth’s horror, Phillip had bumped into a candelabra and knocked it over.
The bored guard from the chapel came rushing, as would any other nearby guard. Azroth swore quietly before grabbing Ariel’s hand and running to a hidden cupboard beneath the stairs. He pushed everyone inside the cramped space before climbing in himself. As he closed the door, he placed a piece of fabric over the latch to muffle the sound and ensure they didn’t get locked inside.
The sounds of heavy booted feet pounded down the stairs, and voices called to one another.
“Do you see any sign of intruders?” one man asked.
“I checked the access door, and it was locked,” another voice said. “If there are intruders, they didn’t come in that way.”
Azroth smirked as Ariel’s scowl fell on the back of his head.
“Check the alcoves. They may be trying to hide. Grab a torch.”
The heavy boots tramped back to where the thieves hid. Azroth held his breath but was confident the soldiers wouldn’t think to open the cupboard. They likely didn’t even know it was there. The masonry hid the door’s hinges, and the wood had been plastered in brick fragments to hide what it was.
Azroth thanked the fires of heaven that he’d spent so much time here.
Once the sounds of booted feet left the area, Gabe hissed to Phillip, “How do you lot steal anything if you’re so careless? That was a rookie mistake and a big one.”
Phillip didn’t reply, but the atmosphere in the small cupboard rippled with a tense energy.
Azroth pressed his ear against the door, but he couldn’t hear anything. He let out a small breath—time to go.
He cracked open the cupboard and saw no one. As they all exited the closet, Gabe turned to Riddick.
“You lot are staying here. Ariel, Fen, and I will search the upper rooms,” he whispered.
“So you can ditch us after you find the gem?” Riddick argued. “I think not. We’re coming.”
Gabe gave Riddick a hard stare. “If you come, that one,” Gabe pointed at Phillip. “stays down here. He can keep hiding in the closet, but he is not coming.”
Gabe and Riddick glared at each other like a pair of dogs ready to fight, hackles raised.
We don’t have time for this. “Come on. We need to get moving. But the next person to make a racket like that is getting left,” Azroth whispered.
He led them back out to the stairs. Glancing at the chapel, he saw the guard pacing around, looking more alert than before. Azroth led the others up the stairs and paused at the first level. They had to ditch Riddick. There was just too great of a risk of being caught if they all stayed together. If he were honest, he’d have preferred to do this alone. He’d have had a much greater chance of getting out of here alive. At the moment, the odds were not in his favor.
A guard wandered around the open space of the second level, alert. This task seemed more impossible with every passing moment.
The guard ducked into a room to check it, and the group continued up the stairwell to the next level. Then they reached the attic.
Two guards were stationed up here, and a chest stood between them. Azroth’s heart sped up. They were nearly there. Azroth took a step forward, but turned back when a quiet cry of pain caught his attention. Gabe was slumped to one side, and blood seeped between his fingers.
Azroth’s simmering fury took over. He aimed a fireball at Riddick’s smug face, and Ariel shoved Phillip down the stairs. The sounds of Riddick and Phillip toppling down the stairs drew the attention of the two guards. They came running with swords out.
Between his rising panic at getting caught and the lack of color in Gabe’s face, the flames danced on Azroth’s fingertips. The dragon rippled on his forearm, itching to be set loose after sleeping for so long. Directing the magic at the oncoming threat, Azroth released the Fire Drake, who burst into life on the wooden attic floor.
The drake licked at the wood, but Azroth commanded it not to touch the floor. The drake curled its head around to glare at him, but it obeyed. The beast advanced on the two Tellidine soldiers, who screamed in terror before turning to run.
Looping Gabe’s arm over his shoulders, Azroth heaved his friend to his feet. They’d have to hurry to get him out of here alive. Ariel’s face was almost as pale as Gabe’s. Some of his anger at her cooled. Whatever she’d chosen to do to him, Gabe getting hurt was the last thing she’d wanted.
As the fiery drake advanced, Azroth, Ariel, and Gabe stayed close to its tail. They were so close to the chest now. Ariel rushed forward and picked the lock on the chest. A commotion on the stairway alerted him to more soldiers making their way up here and colliding with Riddick and Phillip.
“It’s empty!” cried Ariel.
Azroth stared down at the open chest. Blue satin lined the inside, but no treasure hid within. And Gabe was dying beside him. However, the material showed signs of an item resting there not long ago. That meant the jewel was here somewhere.
The drake flared its wing, and the fire within it howled. Azroth whipped his head around to find Riddick prowling forward, his knife dripping blood off its point. Fresh burns covered his face and neck, mingling with the blisters from the day prior.
“That gem is mine,” Riddick snarled. “Give it to me.”
Azroth glanced at Ariel.
“Get Gabe out of here as soon as you see an opening,” he said
“What about you?” she asked.
“I’m done, Ariel. I’m not coming back.”
Hurt flickered across her face, but she nodded and came to Gabe’s other side.
“I’m sorry, Fen,” Ariel said. “I shouldn’t have hurt you like that.”
“Too late to take it back now,” he said. “Get ready to go.”
Leaving the fire dragon to keep the soldiers cornered, Azroth slipped out from beneath Gabe’s arm, wincing as Ariel staggered beneath the full weight of her brother, and grabbed the chest by the handles.
“You want it, come get it,” Azroth said before dashing up the stairs leading into the spire.
Riddick was on his heels, knife outstretched.
Coming around the first bend, Azroth kicked open the door to his left and slammed it into Riddick’s face when the young man launched himself forward. The sounds of a knife hammering into the wood frame echoed out in the hallway.
Azroth clicked the lock into place and set a chair beneath the handle. Then a voice spoke from the corner of the room, causing him to whip around.
“I had a feeling someone would try to steal the gem tonight, but I hoped it wouldn’t be you.”