The sound of sirens made Alarath look away from the stranger. They split in the air in the distance, growing closer every second. They were unlike any warning horn he had heard used in the Empire, too loud and shrill. It sounded less like a call to battle and more the warning cry of a predator. He looked back at the stranger.
As if he’d perfectly anticipated Alarath’s thoughts, the stranger laughed. “I’d suggest running. This world’s changed more than you know.” He tossed a small object to Alarath. Thin, black, and seamless. One side of it lit up as Alarath held onto it. “We’ll talk again soon.”
Alarath crushed the object in his palm and let the pieces fall to the sidewalk. “You think a few empty words will be enough to turn me into your dog? I have a reply for your masters.” He struck forward, thrusting his dagger toward the stranger’s throat.
Before the blade could make contact, the stranger disappeared. His voice came from behind Alarath, “I didn’t, actually.” Alarath spun around. The stranger stood ten feet away, looking as unconcerned as ever. “But that’s why we make plan B’s, isn’t it?”
“What are you playing at?” snarled Alarath.
“A game with a much larger board than you could possibly imagine,” said the stranger. “And which you’re already a piece of, whether you want to be or not.” He tilted his head, listening. “Now, I really suggest you run.” And he vanished.
Alarath spun around, but the man was nowhere to be seen. The sirens were growing louder. It now sounded as if they were almost on top of him. A moment after the disappearance of the man, a white carriage careened around the corner of a building. Lights atop its roof flashed, and the siren blared from it. It screeched to a stop in front of him.
Two men climbed from it, each point a bent metal item towards him. A weapon of some sort? The design and way the men held it reminded Alarath of the weapons he’d seen used by the First Ones. Stronger than any bow and arrow, they’d been able to wound men from hundreds of feet away, killing with ease. If that were the case here, he would have to be careful. Plus, the men who held them… the differences were small, but he could tell they were unlike the others he had seen. They weren’t true warriors, certainly. But they were different from the rest of the untrained rabble he had see so far. There was an edge to them. Perhaps one sharp enough to cut.
“Get on your knees,” said one. “Drop the fucking weapon and get your hands in the air.”
Alarath frowned. They were asking him to surrender? Before the battle had even begun? Perhaps he had overestimated these men. “My name is Alarath of Redakor,” he said. “I am pleased to meet you in the field of battle.” He took a step forward, pulling his second blade from its sheath.
“Stop where you are! I will shoot.”
Stop? No. He had never before surrendered in battle. Why would he begin now? He continued his approach, daring them to strike first.
A noise cracked the air between them. Alarath flinched, his shoulder struck back by a sudden force. He looked down. A small, bloody hole had appeared in his shoulder. Just like the ones that had covered the bodies he had woken up in. One mystery solved, then. Pain chewed at the wound, but he set it out of his mind. He’d had worse injuries.
Before he could take another step forward, four more shots sounded. Pain spiked through his torso, his arms, his leg. He felt the trickle of warm blood down his skin. As he took his next step forward, his wounded leg buckled. Spots of color danced across his vision. He tried to push himself up, and his arms collapsed under him. Impossible. He was Scholar-Lord of the Daeva Empire. He would not be brought down so easily by these men. Stand up. Fight. Rip your enemies apart. Do not die like a dog in the dirt. But soon the pain overtook any semblance of thought, and he found himself drifting in blackness.