Image copyright Sue Vincent
Alue nudged the prison door open.
Dawn’s light dappled Glenglisun’s slender towers. The jade patina of jungle growth, of humidity, of misty warmth, swathed the city as if it were fashioned of ancient bronze. Spindly minarets blended into the soaring canopy, and its flowering arches belied the peril within its walls.
Naj crept past her. The goblin moved in a crouch, long limbs corded with muscle, his double-bladed glaive clasped by its wooden shaft. Alue’s breath clogged in her chest. Someone had slipped them a key, left the weapon. Someone had freed them, and yet she cringed at the possibility of arrows tracking them from the rooftops.
At the building’s end, Naj ducked to his right and vanished. She darted after him, hooked the corner, and smashed into Danian. The changeling grabbed her arm, steadying her, and she stifled a curse.
“Quiet,” he whispered. “Follow me.”
“I’m not following you anywhere.” She wrenched her arm from his grip. “You’re a liar and a thief.”
Danian closed the gap, his breath in her face, irises black with fury. She mirrored his glare until he swung away. “Your choice,” he growled and set off for the city’s high wall.
Naj paused. His yellow eyes narrowed to slits, and he studied her as if she were a new specimen of plant life. “Do not die for your stubbornness,” he warned and loped after the changeling.
The patronizing arrogance bristled, but so did the truth. Alue’s last choices had cost her more than her freedom. She raked back her froth of red hair, swallowed her indignance, and dashed after them.
Danian avoided the stone streets, escaping instead over a weave of dirt pathways. He halted in the shadow of one of the grass and mud homes. The wall loomed ahead, draped in a camouflage of leafy creepers. Guards idled by the stone columns flanking a filigreed gate, inattentive, but holding spears no less deadly.
“This way.” He made a short retreat and veered toward a cluster of aerial roots that a large banyan had suspended over the wall. Strangler figs twisted around them. A natural ladder. “We go over,” he whispered and scrambled up. Alue climbed without effort, relying on her elven agility, hands and feet finding easy holds. She jumped to the other side and waited for the goblin. Naj landed with a grunt.
Beneath the canopy, time stalled, the day cast in perpetual dusk. Birds squawked and howler monkeys roared. Danian ran ahead. Alue leapt between giant teaks but struggled through the lattices of vines that snagged her body and tripped her feet. Hands bloodied by a fall, she tried to rip the barriers aside, tempted to scream with frustration. How long until the changelings hunted them?
Naj drew her back. His glaive swung like a scythe, slicing through the tangled underbrush. It swept over her head in a terrifying arc, and a green snake thudded to her feet, severed in two.
“Do not kill here!” Danian ordered. “This is changeling territory. If you make a mistake—”
The snarl of a big cat silenced him, the sound chilling to the bone. And close. Naj spun, his glaive raised. Alue froze, the animal behind her.
“Don’t harm it,” Danian’s hand edged up toward the goblin’s weapon. He met Alue’s gaze. “And don’t move.”
Alue fought the agonizing urge to run, fear trembling through her limbs. She couldn’t bear the predator’s presence at her back. Slowly, she disobeyed, rotating, peering into the jungle’s green depth. A massive panther, a slick blackness smooth as starlit water, crouched amidst the mottled undergrowth, baring deadly fangs. A guttural growl rumbled from its throat as its muscles bunched.
Danian breathed in her ear, “Trust me.”
I’m cheating and sharing a bit of my WIP (still a first draft but edited so that it makes sense). This is in response to Sue Vincent’s Thursday #Writephoto prompt. I couldn’t pass it up.