The screams, the explosions—they jolted Jaysynn awake. Slowly, the black veil lifted from his vision as his heavy eyelids opened. The ringing in his ears was drowned out by the cacophony. He stared groggily at a pile of rubble that was once the wall of the restaurant across the street. Panicking crowds trampled drywall and glass—and sometimes each other—underfoot. The stench of smoke invaded his nostrils. The young man found himself slouched against a brick wall, his head throbbing. The back of it was wet, so he touched it. Blood. Had he been thrown against the wall? Yes, he thought. By a blinding white light.
Jaysynn shook his head to regain his bearings and forced himself to stand. He quickly and reflexively pulled the hood of his dark green shirt over his scratched face and earthen hair. With his hand resting on the hilt of the knife on his belt, he looked up and down the street, seeing a river of people running around overturned or burning cars. Smoke rose in black plumes, coalescing into ominous clouds above the city of Thyrion.
Fighting the pain in his stiffened muscles, Jaysynn ran against the oncoming crowd for half a block and slipped down the alleyway. The three- or four-story building was a hotel, so it had a radio antenna tower in the corner. He climbed the triangular rungs of the antenna with desperate speed, his gloved hands gripping each rung tightly to keep his seemingly heavy body from falling. He never took his eyes off of the top of the structure. Halfway up the antenna tower, he jumped onto the hotel’s roof. He ran to the edge of the building and surveyed the scene.
Everything he’d seen on the street below stretched for miles in every direction. Skyscrapers burned and crumbled. Towers of flames rose above the cityscape. People screamed, glass shattered, sirens blared. The sweet and acrid smell of exhausted magic filled his nose.
Jaysynn looked down at the crowds. They were lost and terrified sheep without a shepherd. I have to do something! I have to help them! A young woman’s face suddenly appeared in his mind’s eye. What about Kyrie?
Immediately, he turned to run toward the antenna.
An explosion thundered in the distance.
Jaysynn looked toward it and saw a plume of fire shoot from the spire at the center of the Emperor’s Palace one mile away.
Jaysynn’s heart quickened; his throat tightened. Mother, Father, my siblings. Did they make it out?
The screams in the street ripped through the sooty air. Jaysynn glanced down at the death and panic below him. But they need their prince. Those people down there actually care about me.
For an eternal minute, Jaysynn’s agonized mind argued back and forth. Finally, with a sigh, he whispered, “Blood is thicker…”
Jaysynn jogged fifteen feet away from the hotel’s edge and then sprinted toward it. He leaped off the roof, feeling like a bird. He whipped through the rising smoke, which stung his eyes. Blinking to clear his vision, he nearly lost sight of the roof of the shorter building across from the hotel. He landed, instinctively tucking and rolling on impact. Without stopping, he kept running. A crumbled chimney obstructed his path, but Jaysynn leap-frogged over it. Reaching the next ledge, he jumped across the street and clutched the edge of the next building, pulling himself onto the roof in one quick stroke.
Jaysynn accelerated. Suddenly, an explosion ripped through the seventh floor of the taller building next door. Glass shards and debris rained down. Jaysynn covered his exposed face with his arms. He sensed something big falling toward him and spun sideways like a dancer. Crash! Jaysynn caught a glimpse of a desk out of the corner of his eye as he kept running. Glass crunched under his running shoes with every stride. He prayed the shards wouldn’t pierce their soles.
The next building was taller than the one he was on, but it had a fire escape. Coming to the roof’s edge, he leaped over the narrow street toward the fire escape. He grabbed the metal bar, but suddenly its metal frame groaned as it was ripped from the weakened building’s wall. Jaysynn looked over his shoulder and saw a crowd of people part as he and the fire escape tumbled toward them. The top of the fire escape hit the other building, lurching on impact and shaking Jaysynn loose. The young man tucked and rolled as he landed.
Catching his breath, Jaysynn glanced at the taller building’s entrance. The door was open. He ran inside the building—an old apartment complex—and found a staircase, which he bounded up. Five floors later, he shoved through the half-broken wooden door leading to the roof. His destination would be behind him, so he looked over his shoulder. Halfway to the Palace. Flames still rose from it.
BOOM! The roof shook under his feet. Jaysynn dashed toward the ledge. He fought to keep his balance on the quaking roof. A few strides from the ledge, he felt the building start to dip. It’s collapsing! He jumped from the roof as the building crumbled under another explosion. Below him were burning cars and screaming people. Nowhere to land! But as he fell, he saw a power line swing past him, freshly severed from the falling building but still securely attached to the other end. Reflexively, he grabbed it. He was surprised he felt no jolt. Clutching tightly, he swung over the destruction below. He hit the opposite wall, bending his knees to minimize the impact. His bones still jarred.
Jaysynn climbed up the dangling wire, which hung from a corner of the building. His muscles burned and screamed like his city. He reached the top and dragged himself onto the roof.
For one long minute, Jaysynn lay slumped on the floor, panting and sweating and bleeding. He licked the perspiration around his mouth in a desperate effort to soothe his bone-dry mouth. It only stung.
Just a few more blocks, he thought, wiping his burning forehead. The Palace loomed nearer.
Jaysynn forced himself to stand, shaking his bleeding, foggy head to clear it. He breathed deeply and ran. He knew this city. He’d created a map of it in his mind during all those nights of tracing across its rooftops and through its streets. The next few streets were narrower, making them easier to jump. He descended to shorter and shorter buildings until he came to one directly across from the Palace’s gates. He came to the ledge, then dangled himself from it, gripping the edge with his fingertips. He let himself drop to a window frame, which he gripped, and then he jumped. Spinning in mid-air, he landed on the ground ten feet below him, rolling.
His muscles burned as he straightened, not missing a stride. Sweat and blood stung his eyes. He wiped his forehead, clearing his vision. Dozens of Thyrian soldiers ran through the burning cars littering Imperial Avenue in front of the Palace. They were pushing back a panicked mob, but without using any magic-powered guns. Jaysynn could almost blend in with the dark green uniforms.
As he approached the four-lane street, cutting through the panicking crowd, he leaped onto the trunk of a car. He sprang to another car, barely avoiding the flames consuming it. Now people noticed him. Citizens cursed at him. Soldiers demanded he stop. Jaysynn ignored them all. Like a frog jumping from one lily pad to another, Jaysynn leaped to the next car, narrowly dodging soldiers’ hands. He jumped onto one more and then onto the sidewalk in front of the Palace’s steel gates. On either side of the twelve-foot gateway were bronze statues of the mighty Thyr preparing to throw a thunderbolt like a spear.
Jaysynn was surrounded by soldiers. He pulled off his blood-soaked hood and turned to face them. Their eyes widened. “Stop staring and protect the Palace!” he ordered, pointing at the crowd. They quickly obeyed.
“Prince Jaysynn!” called a familiar voice.
The young man looked to his right. A tall man wearing a tattered black Thyrian military uniform approached him. He was a general; only generals wore black. His chiseled face bore crimson dents. Slate-gray eyes commanded Jaysynn to stand still. White-speckled dark blonde hair hid under his glossy cap. His name—Gen. Xander Dracon—was stitched in white letters above his ribbons.
“I feared you were still inside,” Dracon said.
“Where is my family?” Jaysynn demanded.
“They’ve not come out.”
“Then get them out!”
“I can’t spare any men to send into the Palace,” replied Dracon, motioning toward the chaos before them.
Jaysynn closed his eyes and clenched his fists. Without thinking, he started climbing the Palace gates. Dracon tried to grab him, but the prince quickly climbed beyond his reach.
“What are you doing?” shouted Dracon.
Jaysynn reached the top of the gate and slid down the other side. He looked the general in the eye. “Saving my family.”