Aton ran all the way back to the palace, and in through the gate. He heard commotion above him. He sprinted through the shadowy palace and up a flight of stairs. As he approached the level with the royal chambers, he met Captain Bailen running down towards him.
“Prince Aton!” Bailen shouted. “What a relief you are here!”
“What do you mean?” Aton asked. “Where would you expect me to be?”
“Uh—here, of course, but I was worried that after your parents—and you weren’t in bed, either.”
“What do you mean?” Aton felt his confusion turning to dread. “My p-parents?”
The Captain flushed, eyes wide and breathing intense. “They’re not here, my prince. No warning, they’re just gone.”
“Well, I wouldn’t be so worried if I knew where, would I?” Bailen answered, urgency removing tact from his tone. “Come see if you can figure it out.” He turned to lead the way back up the stairs. Aton followed behind him.
As they jogged through the halls, Bailen shouted orders to members of the Guard. Aton had left a quiet palace only a few minutes before, and now it seemed everybody in the palace was on the search for his parents.
They trotted to a halt as they reached his parents’ chambers. Bailen pointed at the door latch and hinges. “No forced entry. You know the doors are normally kept unlocked. Tonight was no different because as usual, we had our sentries.” He addressed the guards, one on each side of the double doorway. “Tell Prince Aton what you told me.”
“There’s barely anything to tell, my prince,” the female one answered. “We were here, posted two hours ago, still fresh enough—”
“Get to the point,” Bailen prodded.
“Yes, sir. Nothing was happening, then we heard a yelp and a crash. We rushed in and the King and Queen were both gone. We checked the room and the balcony, then raised the alarm. That’s all we have to tell, except what you can see inside. The bed—”
“Thank you,” Bailen said. He led Aton inside. “You can see from the state of the bedcovers that there was some, but little, struggle. It appears that your parents may have been seized forcefully and quickly, before they had any time wake up and react. There sits your father’s sword in its rack on the wall, same as every night while he sleeps. It’s never so far from him as it is right now.”
Aton looked around and took in the room. Nothing was out of place except the bedcovers, evidently thrown to the foot of the bed at the moment of seizure. As the guards had said they checked the balcony, Aton saw the glass-paned balcony doors open. He trotted to the balcony and looked out, then down at the palace wall with its pattern of blocks protruding minimally out of the wall face. It would be too far to jump down. It would be too high to get up. Sure, the blocks’ edges would be climbable, but nobody could climb it fast enough to avoid being caught in the act, right? Besides, this was within a compound wall around the palace with the same design as the palace itself. Anyone not using doors would have to make that climb over the outer wall, then up the wall of the palace itself.
But then Aton noticed scuff marks on the blocky protrusions below him. A tingle of fear struck him as the realization hit. “Block the Thallenrose and lock the city gates!” He shouted at the top of his lungs now. “Send the signal now!”
Aton ran, sprinting through the hallway and down to the ground level. Guards followed him as he ran. Others would be sending a visual signal right now, over Grendhill’s rooftops to Guard posts at the city’s gates and at the edge of Thallenrose Square. The gates would be closed and barred until another signal was given, and nobody would be allowed to approach the Thallenrose platform. Anybody arriving would be apprehended and held.
As Aton exited the palace compound, he heard shouts from the palace Guard tower. “The Square post is not confirming the order! The Thallenrose guard has not confirmed the lockdown!”
Aton ran as hard as he could. Unencumbered by armor as were the guards, and blessed by Aguneg’s Gift, he outstripped all the others and covered ground at record speed.
Aton reached the edge of the square and stopped, cautious. He looked into the square and saw two people step onto the Thallenrose. He barely heard a whisper from the platform and they were gone.