A vaguely human-shaped shadow crept along the outermost wall of Raitom, like an inky insect seeking the moon’s touch. Reflex halted Sergeant Kyr Rondera’s patrol. His guardsmen stared at the wall above the jails as their superior shouted the alarm. The shadow dropped near enough to a lamp post that they made out a lean, masculine form. It then darted into the streets.

A prisoner had escaped.

“Check the logs,” Kyr barked. “Find who is missing!”

The guardsman he had addressed scrambled away while the other two members of the patrol joined their Sergeant in pursuit. The moon sat high in the sky, but the light from the sliver was dim. The Sergeant’s night vision, honed over years of hunting nocturnal beasts in the plains, barely kept pace with this living shadow. The escaped prisoner remained just on the edge of his line of sight as he raced through cobbled alleys alongside his guards. Whoever this man was, he was quick.

Barrels lurched from the darkness, forcing Kyr to pivot and swing out of the alley. The crash behind him indicated his companions had not been so dexterous. He alone now chased the fugitive, who vaulted over crates and disappeared onto the rooftops. Kyr threw his helmet to the ground and leaped. His boot caught a lip in the brickwork and he propelled his body toward the roof opposite. The momentum carried him high enough that he snagged a handhold on the tavern’s sign post. Metal whined together as he hauled his body up onto the rooftop. His armor was not suited to such a chase, but he had no time to discard it.

His gaze darted left as the shadow dropped again into another alley. The ring of metal echoed over the rooftops as Sergeant Kyr lunged after the man. He landed heavily on his feet in the alley and twisted around in time to see his target turn down a road deeper into the outer district, into the direction of the merchant lane. The shadow fled as if on wings. At this rate, Kyr might never catch up with him. The unidentified man was skilled and much swifter than the young officer who sought him. Doubt seeped into Kyr’s thoughts. No one had outrun him before.

But it was not Kyr’s nature to give up in spite of this. He turned down the road and ran. Panting, he skidded to a stop in yet another alley into which his target had slipped. Then he paused. No insects sang. No birds called. The night fell silent aside from the shuffle of a solitary black dog that looked up when the Sergeant took slow steps forward. Alert eyes scanned the alley, but there was no sign of the shadow.

He had vanished. Kyr had lost sight of him just long enough to miss the direction he must have taken next. With a strained exhale, the Sergeant rubbed the bridge of his nose. Losing a prisoner on his watch would not bode well for the promotion he sought.

Kyr’s gaze drifted to the dog that now sniffed his boots. The animal was smaller than the hounds in the barracks, standing to Kyr’s knees at its shoulders. Its fur was long and wiry. No purebred dog Kyr had ever seen, it must have been a stray – a friendly one. In no hurry to return to the prison to be chastised by the Captain for his failure, the Sergeant knelt and brushed a hand over the dog’s side. He had expected the deep black fur to be coarse, but it was smooth as a bed of silk, downy soft. Kyr’s eyes subtly widened and he coaxed the mutt’s head up so he could better examine it in the poor lighting.

The dog’s tail wagged lazily as its brown eyes met Kyr’s gaze. For a moment, Kyr marveled at just how human those eyes seemed.

A breeze tousled Kyr’s hair as he stood. Metallic footsteps echoed through the streets, indicating his patrol had finally caught up to him. He joined them, and then led them back to the prison. As they approached, the guardsman he had sent inside previously hurried out to meet him.

“Sir,” the man called. He hesitated before going on, his eyes squinted. “The prisoners are accounted for and present. No one in the prison log is missing.”

Kyr’s brow furrowed. He cast a glance back toward the dark streets. “Then who did we just pursue?” he mused.

“I am not sure it was a prisoner, sir,” the guardsman answered.

Kyr shook his head, and then rolled his shoulder to dismiss the strange shadow he had just chased through the streets. At the very least, the Captain was unlikely to scold him for losing someone who had done little wrong except to break curfew and suspiciously climb on walls and buildings. Why the man had scaled the wall outside the prison when he had not been a prisoner himself escaped Kyr’s understanding, but without any wrongdoing he had no cause to pursue further and raise an alarm in earnest.

“Let us finish our patrol, then,” he bade.

The Sergeant glanced once more behind him and thought that he saw that black dog trot away just outside the yellow light from the lamp posts.

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Background Music: “The Hunt” from Genesis by Miguel Johnson.