The Hope of Elantris (Page 3)
"What do we do?" he asked with a shaking voice.
"We run," Matisse said, rushing out of the room.
And the children followed. Rather than be left behind in the dark, they ran after the light, Tiil and Teor helping the smaller ones, Idotris trying to hush those who began to cry. Matisse was worried at bringing light, but it seemed the only way. Indeed, they barely kept the children moving as it was, herding them in the fastest way out of New Elantris-which was also the way directly away from the screams, which were now frightfully close.
That also took them away from the populated sections of New Elantris. Matisse had hoped that they’d run into someone who could help as they moved. Unfortunately, those who weren’t out practicing Aons were with her father, practicing with weapons. The only occupied buildings would have been the ones Ashe had indicated were being attacked. Their occupants. . . .
Don’t think about that, Matisse thought as their ragged band of fifty children reached the edges of New Elantris. They were almost free. They could-
A voice suddenly yelled behind them, speaking in a harsh tongue Matisse didn’t understand. Matisse spun, looking over the heads of frightened children. The center of New Elantris was glowing faintly. From firelight.
It was burning.
There, framed by the flames of death was a squad of three men in red uniforms. They carried swords.
Surely they wouldn’t kill children, Matisse thought, her hand shaking as it held its lantern.
Then she saw the glint in the soldiers’ eyes. A dangerous, grim look. They advanced on her group. Yes, they would kill children. Elantrian children, at least.
"Run," Matisse said, her voice quivering. Yet, she knew the children could never move faster than these men. "Run! Go and-"
Suddenly, as if out of nowhere, a ball of light zipped from the sky. Ashe moved between the men, spinning around their heads, distracting them. The men cursed, waving their swords about in anger, looking up at the Seon.
Which is why they completely missed seeing Dashe charge them.
He took them from the side, coming through a shadowed alleyway in New Elantris. He knocked one down, sword flashing, then spun toward the other two as they cursed, turning away from the Seon.
We need to go! "Move!" she urged again, getting Idotris and the others to keep going. The children backed away from the swordfight, moving out into the night, following Idotris’s light. Matisse stayed near the back, turning with concern toward her father.
He wasn’t doing well. He was an excellent warrior, but the soldiers had been joined by two other men, and Dashe’s body was weakened by being an Elantrian. Matisse stood, holding her lantern in trembling fingers, uncertain what to do. The children were sniffling in the dark behind her, their retreat painfully slow. Dashe fought bravely, his rusty sword replaced by one that Sarene must have sent. He knocked aside blade after blade, but he was getting surrounded.
I have to do something! Matisse thought, stepping forward. At that moment, Dashe turned, and she could see cuts on his face and body. The look of dread she saw in his eyes made her freeze with fright.
"Go," he whispered, his voice lost, but his lips moving. "Run!"
One of the soldiers rammed their sword through Dashe’s chest.
"No!" Matisse screamed. But that only drew their attention as Dashe collapsed, quivering on the ground. The pain had become too much for him.
The soldiers looked at her, then began to advance. Dashe had taken down several of them, but there were three left.
Matisse felt numb.
"Please, my lady!" Ashe said, floating down beside her, hovering urgently. "You must run!"
Father is dead. No, worse-he’s Hoed. Matisse shook her head, forcing herself to stay alert. She’d seen tragedy as a beggar. She could keep going. She had to.
These men would find the children. The children were too slow. Unless. . . . She looked up at the Seon beside her, noting the glowing Aon at his center. It meant light.
"Ashe," she said urgently as the soldiers approached. "Find Idotris ahead. Tell him to put out his lantern, then lead him and the others to someplace safe!"
"Someplace safe?" Ashe said. "I don’t know if any place is safe."
"That library you spoke of," Matisse said, thinking quickly. "Where is it?"
"Straight north from here, my lady," Ashe said. "In a hidden chamber beneath a squat building. It is marked by Aon Rao."
"Galladon and Karata are there," Matisse said. "Take the children to them-Karata will know what to do."
"Yes," Ashe said. "Yes, that sounds good."
"Don’t forget about the lantern," Matisse said as he flew away. She turned to face the advancing soldiers. Then, with a quivering finger, she raised a hand and began to draw.
Light burst from the air, following her finger in the air. She forced herself to remain steady, completing the Aon despite her fear. The soldiers paused as they watched her, then one of them said something in a guttural language she assumed was Fjordell. They continued to advance on her.
Matisse finished the Aon-Aon Ashe, the same one inside of her Seon friend. But, of course, the Aon didn’t do anything. It just hung there, like they always did. The soldiers approached uncaringly, stepping right up to it.
This had better work, Matisse thought, then put her finger in the place that Galladon had described and drew the final line.
Immediately, the Aon-Aon Ashe-began to glow with a powerful light that was right in front of the Soldier’s faces. They called out as the sudden flash of brilliance shone in their eyes, then cursed, stumbling back. Matisse reached down to grab her lantern and run.
The soldiers yelled after her, then began to follow. And, like the children before, they went toward the light-her light. Idotris and the others weren’t that far away-she could see their shadows still moving in the night-but the soldiers had been blinded too much to notice the faint movements, and Idotris had put out his light. The only thing for the soldiers to focus on was her lantern.
Matisse led them away, into the dark night, carrying her lantern in terrified fingers. She could hear them pursuing behind her as she entered Elantris proper. Sludge and darkness replaced the cleanly cobbles of New Elantris, and Matisse had to stop moving as quickly, lest she slide and stumble.
She hurried anyway, rounding corners, trying to stay ahead of her pursuers. She felt so weak. Running was hard as an Elantrian. She didn’t have the strength to go very quickly. Already, she was beginning to feel a powerful fatigue inside of her. She couldn’t hear any more pursuit. Perhaps. . . .
She turned a corner and ran afoul of a pair of soldiers standing in the night. She paused in shock, looking up at the men, recognizing them from before.
They’re trained soldiers, she thought. Of course they know how to surround an enemy and cut them off! She spun to run, but one of the men grabbed her arm, laughing and saying something in Fjordell.
Matisse cried out, dropping the lantern. The soldier stumbled, but held her firm.
Think! Matisse told herself. You only have a moment. Her feet slipped in the sludge. She paused, then let herself fall, kicking at her captor’s leg.
She was counting on one thing: She’d lived in Elantris. She knew how to move in the slime and sludge. These soldiers, however, didn’t. Her kick proved true, and the soldier immediately slipped, stumbling into his companion and crashing back to the slimy cobbles as he released Matisse.
She scrambled to her feet, her beautiful bright clothing now stained with Elantris sludge. Her leg flared with a new pain-she’d twisted her ankle. She’d been so careful in the past to keep free of major pains, but this one was stronger than anything she’d gotten before, far stronger than her cheek cut. Her leg burned with a pain she could barely believe, and it didn’t abate-it remained strong. An Elantrian’s wounds would never heal.
Still, she forced herself to limp away. She moved without thinking, only wishing to get away from the soldiers. She heard them cursing, stumbling to their feet. Still, she kept going, hopping slightly. She didn’t realize that she herself had made a circle until she saw the glow of New Elantris burning in front of her. She was back where she had begun.
She paused. There he was, Dashe, laying on the cobbles. She rushed to him, not caring any more about pursuit. Her father lay with the sword still impaling him, and she could hear him whispering.
"Run, Matisse. Run to safety. . . ." The mantra of a Hoed.
Matisse stumbled to her knees. She’d gotten the children to safety. That was enough. There was a noise behind her, and she turned to see a soldier approaching. His companion must have gone a different direction. Yet, this man was stained with slime, and she recognized him. He was the one she had kicked.
My leg hurts so much! She thought. She turned over, holding to Dashe’s immobile body, too tired-and too pained-to move any further.
The soldier grabbed her by the shoulder and pulled her away from her father’s corpse. He spun her around, the action bringing other pains to her arms.
"You tell me," he said in a thickly accented voice. "You tell me where other children went."
Matisse struggled in vain. "I don’t know!" she said. But, she did. Ashe had told her. Why did I ask him where the library was? She thought, berating herself. If I didn’t know, I couldn’t give them away!
"You tell," the man said, holding her with one hand, reaching for his belt knife with the other. "You tell, or I hurt you. Bad."
Matisse struggled uselessly. If her Elantrian eyes could have formed tears, she would have been crying. As if to prove his point, the soldier held up his knife before her. Matisse had never felt such terror in her life.
And that was when the ground began to shake.
The horizon had begun to glow with the coming of dawn, but that light was overshadowed by a sudden burst of light from around the perimeter of the city. The soldier paused, looking up at the sky.
Suddenly, Matisse felt warm.
She didn’t realize how much she’d missed feeling warm, how much she’d grown used to the stale coolness of an Elantrian body. But, the warmth seemed to flow through her, like someone had injected some hot liquid into her veins. She gasped at the beautiful, amazing feeling.
Something was right. Something was wonderfully right.
The soldier turned toward her suddenly. The very ground seemed to be shaking. He cocked his head, then reached out and rubbed a rough finger across her cheek, where she had been wounded long ago.
"Healed?" he said, confused.
She felt wonderful. She felt. . .her heart!
The man, looking confused, raised his knife again. "You healed," he said, "but I can hurt you again."
Her body felt stronger. Yet, she was still just a young girl, and he a trained soldier. She struggled, her mind barely beginning to comprehend that her skin was no longer blotched, but had turned a silvery color. It was happening! As Ashe had predicted! Elantris was returning!
And she was still going to die. It wasn’t fair! She screamed in frustration, trying to wiggle free. The irony seemed perfect. The city was being healed, but that couldn’t prevent this terrible man from-
"I think you missed something, friend," a voice suddenly said.
The soldier paused.
"If the light healed her," the voice said, "then it healed me too."
The soldier cried out in pain, then dropped Matisse, stumbling to the ground. She stepped back, and as the terrible man collapsed, she could finally see who was standing behind: her father, glowing with an inner light, the taint removed from his body. He seemed like a god, silvery and spectacular.