The corridors were empty, even the sounds from the party beyond the palace walls were only faint echoes. Ikimu walked the length of his royal suit one last time. He was sure that he had waited long enough. The festival of fire had been going since dawn and now the sun was reaching its peak. If he delayed too much more the burning of the palace would begin and all his plans would be worthless.
He opened the door to one of his wardrobes in the dressing room and stepped in. After a quick fumble in the dark he managed to press the release switch and a hidden compartment popped open. From it Ikimu retrieved a backpack and a small purse.
In the main room he stripped off his formal attire and put on a set of old clothes he had managed to keep away from his servants. The rings and necklaces he had been wearing were either discarded or slipped into the purse which he tied about his waist and hid under his shirt.
There were a series of distant crashed from outside. Ikimu resisted the urge to go out on the balcony. He knew what scene would greet him. The streets beyond the walls of the palace would be packed with people. A bonfire would be burn at each intersection. On the horizon the fields of yax would be burning tinting the sky orange, and watching over it all would be the sun, now large and enflamed by the gods.
“A time of change indeed,” the King mumbled to himself, mirroring what the priests called the festival of fire. “Well they can change their ruler and rebuild the palace just as tradition states, but they will not take me with them.”
He glanced around what had been his bed chamber for the last twenty years and let out a long sigh. Then he walked over to another closet and stepped inside.
This time he pulled the door closed behind him, shuffled his feet so he was standing on exactly the right spot and then, using both hands, pushed at two panels. There was a grinding sound and he felt the brush of cold air against his face. He took a careful step over the threshold and put out one arm. Rough stone greeted his searching fingers.
The winding stair was treacherous in the dark. Ikimu stumbled a number of times. In his mind he followed the route on the scroll he had found. He suspected that the steps were from of an old tower that had been part of the previous palace. A lantern would have helped him, but there was no guarantee that the light would not be seen and the last thing he wanted was to be discovered. For the king to avoiding the burning would be a sacrilege beyond any in living memory.
After what seemed an eternity Ikimu reached a wall. It took him a while to find the latch that opened the exit. All the time he feared the smell of smoke would greet him from the other side and he would find himself trapped.
Beyond the door was a more familiar sight; the underground sewer system each incarnation of the palace was built on. Here light provided by thinly spaced torches and he was more certain of his route. It was not long before he knew that the city was above him and soon after that he was climbing the stairs to a door that let out to a narrow alley.
The fresh air was like nectar to his lungs, the cacophony created by the festival an assault to his ears. He closed the door he had emerged from and turned north. His goal was to leave the capital and head to one of the coastal cities, but while the fires ranged in the fields he would not be able to travel. Instead he would hide in the backstreets.
“What do we have here then?”
The gruff voice at his back made Ikimu jump. He turned to find two men staring at him.
“Now do you want to let us search you or is there going to be a problem?” the larger one asked.
The king never got a chance to reply. In the blink of an eye he was pushed up against the alley wall. He fought back, and one of the men hit him. Still he tried to break free. As he struggled a searing pain made him cry out. His attackers stepped back and Ikimu slumped against the wall. The hand he held to his stomach became warm as his blood covered it. Strength began to ebb from his legs and he slid down until he was seated on the floor.
“If you had played nice we wouldn’t have done that,” the man told him.
As he spoke the other stepped forward and pulled the backpack from Ikimu, then he searched for his purse. Both attackers whistled when they saw the contents of the pouch.
“You must have robbed someone real rich. Thanks for passing it on to us.”
The men laughed as they walked away. The king watched their receding forms until he lost consciousness.
The sky was dark when he awoke. There was no feeling in his legs and they refused to move when he tried to lift himself. His vision was blurred and it took him a moment to realise there was someone crouched in front of him. From what Ikimu could make out the man was a beggar.
“So you’re still alive. Well it makes no difference, you won’t be needing these.”
Ikimu saw his shoes being waved in the air. He tried to tell the man that he needed help, but he could not form the words.
“May you do better in your next life,” the beggar said, and then he stood.
The king lost sight of the man as his vision greyed over once more.
30 April 2010
CCTV footage of a New York city street has been released showing the last hour of a man’s life. During the time he spent bleeding to death on the sidewalk twenty five people passed him by; none of them attempted to help him or call the emergency services, despite an ever growing pool of blood. He was fatally injured after coming to the aid of a woman who was being attacked.
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