Choose Your Own Adventure 53: Taking The Bull By The Horns
Your choice — book it to Alederik, and finally get to the bottom of this problem that won’t leave you alone.
While your patient and his friends are distracted, you move towards the back of the building. The rear exit, on the far side from the dirt road.
Before you step out, you make a small ward with a bit of chalk. Then you cloak yourself in magic and silence your footsteps. You break the ward, its purpose — hiding your spellcasting — completed.
Focused on Alederik, you remember your training — open the door, while invisible, but step aside from the opening. Let it drift. Wait to see if anyone notices before stepping through. That was a wise decision, as Commander Beleyev is clearly following the usual protocol. There are sentries around the town. One uniformed young man steps toward the door, hand on the hilt of his sword. You swiftly step around him, and bash his face against the wall before he notices your presence.
He will be missed, or seen, in fairly short order. You dash to the shelter where you have been sleeping, which is luckily on this side of the main road. You take care not to step in puddles or dusty areas. A mysteriously appearing footprint would give you away.
You gather your pack. You always keep a few supplies in a bag, just in case. Just in case. Including the problematic spellbook. You retrieve your stolen sword from under the firewood where you hid it, making sure no one watches as you do so, and add each item to your invisibility as you go. Then you take a horse, and flee unseen and unheard.
You are further in luck, as the road south to Alederik is not significantly guarded. They were expecting you to flee from the capital, as in your recent movements, not towards it. You have a little time to yourself as you run as fast to the south as your horse can carry you. But it’s still possible that they may realize where you have gone. Beleyev isn’t stupid. Therefore, you take precautions. You prepare spells for great speed and for the deflection of weapons, both of which you can cast at a moment’s notice, but neither of which will last for more than a few minutes.
They catch up to you at sunset. They must have had extra horses that you didn’t see. They were either well-prepared, or knew you were here. With your vague recollection of Beleyev, either is possible.
Your first move is to hold stock-still, by the side of the road. With you invisible, they may just pass you by. In fact, they are uncomfortably close when a man wearing thick spectacles shouts and points in your direction. Beleyev, riding a black horse in front, raises a hand. She is the same as what you remember, although there are premature grey streaks in her black hair.
You can easily hear the sound of half a dozen crossbows being lifted. And that dry, raspy voice says, “Severel, surrender. It’s better that way than if we have to turn you into a pincushion.”
A fragment of memory flickers across your mind. You and Karet Beleyev, taking a break after training, drinking the clear water drawn from the Derinin River that flows through the city. The woman in memory wears a philosophical look, not the hard and angry one you see now. “Don’t spread this around, I don’t want trouble — but I’ve been wondering. Which part of the oath takes precedence, the part to the Empire or to the Emperor, if there is a conflict between the good of one and the other?”
“There can be no such conflict. The Emperor is the Empire.” Those were your words at the time. The correct answer. One that still gnaws at you in a way you can’t quite pin down.
But first, the problem at hand.
Option 56: You’re outnumbered, but not surrounded. Time to run, until you’re in a more favorable position.
Option 57: You know the commander, and she didn’t shoot you immediately. Maybe you can talk your way out of this.
Option 58: You’ve recovered quite a bit from your ordeal, physically and mentally. If you’re careful and clever, you can probably take them in a fight. Which will go better if you surprise them when starting it.