Kazue made his way quickly through the cramped, narrows streets of Kaineng City, wrinkling his nose every so often at the unpleasant odors permeating the vast sea of slums and shanty towns. As he moved, he glanced with distaste at his surroundings, shaking his head sadly at the filthy, decrepit peasants wallowing in the rivers of liquid waste that ran freely down the streets from the overflowing sewers below. All while the ministry and the emperor live a life of opulence and leisure, he thought to himself angrily, speeding up his movements as emotion got the better of him. No matter what our purpose is here, what we’re living for, it’s not this.
Darting through a slender gap between a towering pair of ramshackle tenements and emerging at the top of a rickety flight of wooden stairs, he vaulted nimbly over a railing and landed in the center of what appeared to be a garbage dump. Four stone walls lined with heaps of junk and trash surrounded the enclosure. Set into the wall directly in front of Kazue was a small, run-down door, made almost indistinguishable from its surroundings by the heavy graffiti that covered both it and the stone walls. It would be easily missed, even by the most practiced eye. Walking over to the door, Kazue knocked three times. There was a moment’s silence, and then a faint, scratchy voice sounded from behind the door.
“What is your business here?” it asked.
“I’d like to purchase some fish,” answered Kazue placidly.
“Very good, sir,” said the voice, and the door swung inward silently.
Standing in the doorway was a short, thin man wearing a plain blue tunic. Kazue recognized him as Lo Min, a fellow member of the resistance and caretaker for this particular safe house. Lo Min had always been a pleasant sort, and though Kazue had never gotten to know the man intimately, they were on speaking terms. As Kazue looked him over, he noted that Lo Min was wearing a very pained expression. As he opened his mouth to ask why, Lo Min cut him off, his tone apologetic.
“I’m sorry, Kazue,” he said shortly.
Puzzled, Kazue again started to speak, but his words died in his mouth as a white-gloved hand loomed out of the darkness and seized him roughly by the chin, tilting his head upward at an uncomfortable angle as another hand holding a short, glittering dagger snaked across his neck. Before Kazue could intervene, the hand drew the dagger swiftly across Lo Min’s throat. Blood sprayed grotesquely from the open wound, drenching Kazue as he backed away in shock and panic.
As Lo Min’s corpse hit the ground, Kazue felt a hand seize him roughly by the shoulder, attempting to pull him into the safe house. As he felt himself being pulled forward, his reflexes kicked in and he snapped back to reality, knocking the hand away instinctively and looking around frantically. What he saw almost put him back into shock: about half a dozen figures in white masks, clad in elaborate uniforms of white and grey. The Ministry of Purity had found him.
“Oh sh-“ Kazue began in panic, but they were on top of him before he had time to finish his expletive.
The ministry soldier who had killed Lo Min, a woman who, by the cut of her uniform, appeared to be an officer, lunged at him with the dagger, attempting to stab him in the shoulder. Why would she go for my shoulder, he thought dimly, dodging the strike. Then it hit him: they want me alive!
Deftly evading another swipe with the dagger, Kazue slammed his foot into the woman’s torso, sending her sprawling backward into the midst of the soldiers who had bottlenecked behind her. Taking advantage of the ministry’s brief period of inaction, Kazue turned and ran, desperately trying to organize his thoughts. Who could have betrayed us? Was it Lo Min? One of the others, perhaps? Someone had to have sold us out.
Reaching the top of the staircase, he heard the ministry soldiers’ heavy footsteps behind. He had to lose them, and quickly. Darting back through the alleyway, Kazue emerged onto a main roadway packed with people. Perfect, a crowd, he thought excitedly, but before he could enter the throng, a burly ministry guard seized him in a chokehold, lifting him off the ground. Choking and gasping for breath, Kazue flailed his arms fruitlessly. As he did so, his fingers came into contact with something on the guard’s belt: a sword!
Fighting to stay conscious, Kazue grasped the sword and yanked it from its sheath, stabbing blindly at the body of the ministry guard. As they struggled, onlookers screamed and yelled hysterically, scurrying out of the way. Kazue was pleased to hear a grunt of pain as he felt the sword pierce the guard’s torso. His vision beginning to cloud, Kazue stabbed with the sword again and connected a second time. He shoved vehemently, pushing the blade deeper into the ministry guard’s flesh. The guard shuddered and sank to his knees, releasing Kazue in the process. Gasping for air and clutching his throat, Kazue struggled to his feet and staggered away into the crowd.
Jo sat stone faced across from Kazue as he related the story, knowing what he was going to ask her and dreading having to give him an answer.
“I was able to shake them in the market, but only just,” Kazue finished, shaking his head at the memory, “Who knows how many people are looking for me, Jo. If someone talked, they likely know everything about me. Except you, of course. I never told anyone about you.”
“You want to leave, don’t you, Kazue?” Said Jo abruptly, cutting him off.
Kazue blinked, surprised at her sudden response, then replied, “It’s the only way I’ll be safe, Jo. I’ll come back. You think I would turn my back on you, on Cantha after I’ve spent so much time fighting for you both?”
“I think you mean to come back, Kazue, I really do. But what happens when you leave, if that’s even possible, and you live somewhere far away with no ministry and no emperor and not a care in the world?”
“I plan,” said Kazue firmly, slamming his fist on the table, “I gather allies, garner support, build an army. I do that, then I come back and win back Cantha. I have contacts who can get me on a boat tonight, then I’ll –“
“You’d forget about Cantha, Kazue. You’d forget, and when you’d remember, you’d push it away because life would be good and you wouldn’t want to think about it. You’d never come back.”
Kazue stood up from the table and moved behind where Jo was sitting. Resting his hands on her shoulders, he said softly, “I won’t forget you, Jo. I could never forget you. No matter where I’ll be, I’ll always want to come back to you.”
“No you won’t,” said Jo, closing her eyes and drawing in a deep, steadying breath, “Because I’m coming with you.”
Waves lapped gently at the rocky shoreline, causing the small sloop to bob lightly at its mooring outside a dark, gloom-filled cave. Jo sat at the boat’s prow, gazing out across the open ocean.
“You sure you want her along?” asked the cloaked Order of Whispers agent in a hushed tone.
“No, but she wants to come, and nothing’s going to stop her,” Kazue replied, glancing over at Jo and smiling faintly.
“Right. Well, Agent Fey here,” the agent gestured at another cloaked figure that seemed to have appeared out of thin air next to him, “is going to be your captain and navigator.”
Kazue reached out and shook Agent Fey’s hand heartily, “Thank you so much for helping us, Fey.”
“The liberation of Cantha is in the Order’s interest, though you’ll have a tough time garnering support, what with the whole elder dragon issue. Still, you’re lucky Zhaitan’s dead, or we wouldn’t be having this conversation. “
“I’m just glad Agent Redding here bothered to contact our little resistance at all.”
“Standard procedure,” said Redding.
“Well,” said Fey, “Tyria is a long way away, we’d best get underway.”
“Right, let’s go then,” Kazue replied excitedly.
As Fey and the small Order of Whispers crew made final preparations before casting off, Kazue stood with Jo at the bow of the ship.
“Weigh anchor and drop sail!” shouted Fey. Within minutes, Kazue and Jo could feel the small ship moving away from the place that they had called home their entire lives. Help is on the way, thought Kazue as he took one last look at the rocky shoreline. Tyria will help us. They have to, and when they do, we can all move forward together, toward a brighter future.
Intrigued by the turmoil and unrest shaking present day Cantha? Be sure to check GuildMag’s new Cantha Issue for more information and speculation on the state of this mysterious, faraway nation.
Special thanks to Dayo, Redwolf, and Tavoc for helping with the images.