“That’s not the way. Can you get me over there?” Mantis pointed towards an alley between two houses.
Toler had been ordered to assist Mantis with whatever he asked for, and as much as he hated it, he couldn’t get out of it. He forced his way towards the alley, dragging Mantis behind him. They fought through the torrent of men, and disappeared down the passage.
“Where now?” Toler asked as they ran. “The protective barrier strengthening the gates is controlled by us. When more of us arrive we can remove the enchantment.”
“By that time I’d be dead,” Mantis said, wiping sweat from his face with his sleeve. “You need me to lead you to the Sultan. And you need to keep me alive, not give me advice.”
He was right. Toler had been given precisely those instructions: do what he says, keep him alive.
They left the alley, crossed a deserted street, and entered another alley. Two guards heading in the opposite direction met with cracks from Toler’s staff and hit the floor. Mantis’s eyes lingered on them as they passed but he said nothing.
The clatter of battle faded as they worked their way through the maze of expensive two- and three-storey houses owned by the lords and ladies of Aratta. Women, children and cowards were locking their houses and battening down the window shutters. They acted like supporters of Razin in public, but behind closed doors they all supported the Association. They’d give them no trouble.
Mantis stopped. “Here,” he said.
A stone block structure stood detached from the other buildings. It had an octagonal footprint with a domed roof. And there was something unusual about it, something Toler couldn’t place. Then he realised: it had no windows. The only feature in the blank façade was a wooden door braced with thick steel bars. Mantis nodded at the bolt securing the door. Toler blew the lock with a blast from his staff and the door swung open.
The building was a hollow shell. Toler judged it to be around three storeys to the ceiling with no internal floors, aside from the sand-covered ground floor they walked in on. Mantis pushed the door closed behind them. A single beam of sunlight from a hole in the roof illuminated the building.
“Now what?” Toler asked.
Mantis jogged to the centre of the space and dropped to his knees. He began sifting through the sand until he found a metal ring. Realising what Mantis was doing, Toler helped clear the trapdoor and heave it open. A black void waited below. Mantis went ahead. Toler ignited his staff and set off down the curved stone staircase after him. At the bottom, a long, straight passageway, carved into the stone, sloped gradually downward.
“How long has this tunnel been here?” Toler asked.
“Six years. Razin built it as an escape route in the event that the brotherhood betrayed him.” He scampered ahead of Toler, his shadow stretching ahead in the staff light.
“Betrayed him?” Toler said, jogging to keep up. “He betrayed his people…”
“Not my words, Master Ramone,” Mantis said as he ran. “Take up your argument with Razin when we find him.”
“This is pointless. The protective barrier encloses the entire palace, not just the gates. It can’t be tunnelled under.”
Mantis kept running. “It would be pointless if a hole in the barrier hadn’t been made,” he called back.
Toler stopped. It wasn’t possible. “No one could breach our enchantment.” Yet, as soon as he said it, he began doubting himself. How else had this tunnel come to be there?
“It is possible and they have,” Mantis said, pausing to catch his breath. “We’ve already crossed the barrier. Hurry up with the light. I can’t see where I’m going.”