By Jason Halstead
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Look for these other Blades of Leander
Child of Fate
Victim of Fate
Alto hammered his fist against the door for
the third time. The door opened before his knuckles could knock a
"Somebody best be dying!" the man answering
the door grumbled. He wore a housecoat over the robes he'd slept in
and carried a lantern in his hand.
Alto tried to look past him into the dark
house. "Not yet," he said, "but the night is young. I'm here to
fetch my friend."
"Friend? No friends of yours here," he
grumbled. "I'm a merchant, not a soldier!"
Alto heard something crash nearby,
accompanied with a loud grunt. He turned and saw the shape of a man
in the darkness scramble awkwardly to his feet. Alto looked up and
saw an open window with light streaming out around the silhouette
of a young woman.
"What's this?" the merchant shouted. His eyes
narrowed as she waved to the man that had leapt from her window.
"Kyla? Back to your room!"
"My apologies, good merchant," Alto said.
"Seems my companion's not visiting you after all."
The merchant looked from Alto to the man who
was backing away. He held up his lantern to shine light on the
slender man's disheveled but fine clothes. Buttons were mismatched
and laces untied. He looked back up at the window in time to see
the shutters close. His eyes narrowed.
"You!" He leveled a finger at Alto's friend.
The red flush on his face proved he was incapable of further
speech. He pushed Alto, trying to move the large young man out of
his way. Alto stumbled back but the man tripped on the warrior’s
foot and fell forward onto the cobblestones. The lantern fell and
upended, spilling oil and lighting a rapidly spreading fire.
The merchant scrambled to regain his feet but
slipped on his robes and cracked his chin on the ground. Alto
looked to the fire and the merchant. The older man was trying to
climb back to his knees again, gesturing at the dark figure on the
far side of the river of flames all the while. Alto grabbed him and
yanked him back as the flaming oil neared his housecoat.
"Let me go! I'll have you both imprisoned!
You've no right!"
"You've no right to being burned alive
either," Alto reassured him. "Take off your cloak; we must beat
these flames out!"
The merchant turned and saw that the pool of
flaming oil had spread up against the wall of his house. Oil that
had splattered when the lamp fell welcomed the flames and ignited,
spreading the fire up the wall rapidly.
"My house!" he shrieked.
"Your coat!" Alto reminded him.
The merchant flailed about, ripping his cloak
off and then flapping it in an attempt to beat out the flames. In
seconds, the cloak was soaked in oil and spreading the flames. Alto
grimaced and turned to see Namitus staring back at him with his
mouth hanging open.
"Go for help!" Alto told the merchant.
"My house," he whimpered.
"By the saints, man, go! We'll see to your
family," Alto said.
The merchant turned to glare at Alto's
friend. "Keep him away from my daughter!"
"Would you prefer her honor sullied or
The merchant stared at Alto and then nodded.
He turned and ran off, shouting for help. Alto looked at his friend
while holding up his hand to shield his face from the heat coming
off the wall. "Just the girl and her mother?"
"She has an older brother, too, Jericho," he
Alto shook his head. "Namitus, if we survive
Namitus grinned. "We'll have another story to
Alto scowled and turned to note the flames
had nearly spread to the open door. He plunged through and stared
around at the house. Smoke filtered in, creating a haze and burning
his nose and throat. Namitus joined him and looked around.
"Where to?" Alto gasped.
"I've never been in here," the rogue
"You just were!"
"I mean down here. I used the window."
Alto glared at him for a moment and then
turned and rushed deeper in, checking doors until he found stairs
that led up. Together they climbed to the second story of the
house. Namitus led the way. He pointed at a door on their left and
then moved farther down the hall to a door on the right. Alto threw
the door open and saw a girl sit up in bed. In the flickering light
that came through the shutters, she looked younger than Alto by a
Alto opened his mouth but stopped when he
overheard Jericho across the hallway. "Namitus? But you left
already? Is something wrong?"
Alto couldn’t hear the rogue's response, and
then forgot about it when Kyla asked, "It smells smoky, what's
going on? Who are you? This isn't proper; I'm in my bedclothes!
"Your house is on fire!" Alto blurted out.
"Now get out of bed and come with me."
She gasped and stared at him. Alto felt sweat
running down his face. "Hurry!" he exclaimed. Kyla nodded and threw
her sheets back and then leapt out of bed. She went to a trunk and
began to open it when Alto growled and grabbed her about the waist.
Kyla squealed and beat on his back as he threw her over his
"Where's your mother?" he demanded, ignoring
her puny slaps. He moved to the door and looked down the hallway.
Namitus and Jericho were moving out of the bedroom ahead of him.
They both turned ahead of Alto and the struggling girl and answered
his question by heading to the final doorway in the hallway.
Alto waited outside while Jericho roused his
mother and calmed her, and then urged her to follow them out. By
the time she emerged, they were all coughing and squinting. Light
flooded in from Kyla's room as the shutters burned and fell
"Downstairs! Now!" Alto bellowed with what
air he had left. He led the charge, thundering down the stairs as
fast as he dared while he carried Kyla. She'd long stopped fighting
him and now clung to his back as best she could.
"Wait, Father's books!" Jericho said.
"Don't be a fool," Namitus snapped.
"Without his ledgers, he'll be lost," the
young man said.
Alto made his way to the entrance and stopped
as he stood in the archway to the entryway. Flames danced and leapt
up the wall and around the open doorway that led outside. Heat
blasted him and sucked the air from his lungs. He looked up and saw
the sinuous fire flowing along the ceiling like a living beast.
"Blankets!" Alto said. "Cloaks, robes,
"That chest," Kyla cried out behind him. Alto
turned, earning a slap on his hip. "The other way!"
He set her down and opened the chest to see
several folded cloaks in it. "Water? Is there any water?"
"In the kitchen we've a cask, but it's near
full!" Kyla and Jericho's mother said. She coughed and stared
through her fingers at the fire that was devouring her home.
"Stay here!" Alto said. He turned and rushed
back into the kitchen. A larder off the kitchen had the barrel of
water in it. He rocked it in the rest it was in to judge its
weight. It was more than half full and no small task to move.
Alto yanked on it and rolled it out of the
rest, and then crouched low while balancing it on the edge of the
rests it sat in. He backed up and rested it against his shoulders
and neck, and then pulled it tight to his back and straightened
from the squatting position. He leaned forward to balance the
weight and staggered back through the house.
By the time Alto returned to the entrance, he
was gasping and lights were dancing in his eyes. "Help me. Set.
Down," he wheezed out. The flames had spread farther in and were
threatening to overtake the house completely.
Namitus and Jericho rushed to his side and
put their hands on it. Alto squatted down and let them pull the
barrel to the floor. Alto fell forward and gasped, noting how the
air seemed cleaner and cooler near the floor. Of course, he'd
forgotten that heat and smoke rises. "Water," he wheezed. "Soak the
He rose up after a few more desperate gasps
and turned to see the stop had been yanked out of the barrel. Water
poured onto the fabric piled in front of it, soaking it and
spreading it along the floor. Alto looked up, amazed at how he
could scarcely see ten feet. He saw Kyla swoon and collapse.
"Kyla!" her mother gasped. She rushed over
and fell next to her, covering her and pulling her up.
"No more time," Alto mused aloud. He stared
at the water on the floor and looked up at the flaming entryway.
"Wrap everyone in the wet clothes!" he told them. He took a deep
breath of the less dangerous air and rose fully to stand next to
the water barrel.
He saw everyone grabbing the fabrics and
doing as he'd bade them. Satisfied, Alto grabbed the barrel at both
ends and picked it up, testing it. The water that had poured out
had lightened it enough. He hoped. "Get ready! I'll take the
Alto heaved it up, using his arms and back to
hoist the quarter-f barrel and then propel it towards the
entryway. It sailed through the air several feet before crashing to
the ground and bursting open, spraying water across the floor and
clearing a path. "Go!"
Jericho rushed out, several books clutched
against his body that he'd snatched up when Alto had been in the
kitchen. Namitus followed on his heels. Alto grabbed up Kyla. Her
mother finished wrapping her and nodded to him. "Go," she coughed.
Alto charged through the superheated room. If
he'd thought it was hot before, he was sorely mistaken. The flames
sucked the air and moisture from him, boiling the sweat off his
face as soon as it appeared. The wet cloak was steaming when he
burst into the cooler night air outside the building. The cloak,
still damp on the inside, had warmed to the temperature of
A crowd had gathered, including a line of men
running to the nearest well with buckets. They'd given up hope of
saving the merchant's house; instead, the water was being tossed on
the nearby houses to keep sparks that landed from catching. Alto
handed Kyla to a woman he didn’t know and turned back to stare at
the house. He coughed absent-mindedly, trying to clear the smoke
from his lungs. Kyla's mother did not emerge.
Alto hacked and growled, and then took as
deep a breath as his tortured lungs could manage. The sound of wood
snapping and breaking stopped him. He looked up and saw the wall
that had been the side of Kyla's bedroom buckled and start to lean
outwards, no longer supported by the weakened structure that had
been the first to catch flame. Alto jumped forward and ran back
into the inferno. He could smell his hair burning as the flames
tried to reclaim the ground that had been covered in water only
Kyla's mother was lying where he'd left her.
He picked the older woman up and cradled her in his arms as best he
could. Pulling on reserves of strength he didn't know he had, he
turned and ran back out the entrance. He had to leap away from the
falling timbers once he'd cleared the doorway.
Alto laid the fallen woman down once he'd
cleared the immediate threat and then turned, gasping for breath
and feeling as though he was in a dream. Somebody was tugging and
pulling at him, staggering him and threatening his weakened