Damn it!” roared Billy as he smashed his fist through their room’s door. After he withdrew his hand he looked through the hole to see the stunned face of Commander Mike Nakai, whose hand was poised ready to knock.
The door collapsed towards Nakai and crashed to the floor, the man sidestepping just in time. He walked over the door and entered the room. The three boys and Dawn were all in there. Billy was wrapping his hand in bandages while Zak was opening nut shells by smashing them with his axe. Trey seemed to be lost in thought as he stared out of the window and Dawn practiced with her scimitar in the centre of the room. An immensely small man was shooting a candle on the other side of the room from where it stood with a miniature crossbow. Nakai shrugged and pushed the tiny man from his mind.
“What do you want?” asked Dawn as she removed some stray hairs from her face.
Nakai hesitated for a moment then spoke. “I’m sorry about my Lord. He is a rather selfish and uncaring man, but he wants what is best for Onlasar.” He hesitated again as if pondering something of huge importance. “Even if we win this battle we’ll be defeated by the beasts of the west. That is where you wish to go, is it not?”
Trey spoke in a serious manner. “We were. Now we can’t. We’ll fight here with you and if I live then I’ll head west. What the others do is their choice.”
“What do you plan to do when you reach that accursed place?” asked Nakai.
“Find and free the captives, cause widespread chaos, the usual,” Trey replied.
A smile appeared upon Nakai’s face. “I believe you could do it as well. If you don’t get yourselves killed, you four will become great warriors in the future. If we all somehow live through these hard times then it would be a great honour to spar with you.”
“I look forward to that day,” replied Trey. Zak smiled widely at the thought of fighting Onlasar’s finest warrior.
The Commander gave a deep sigh. “Head to the city armoury and take your pick of weapons and armour. Your place isn’t in this battle but in Lanstiro. I don’t care what the Lord says on this matter, I’m confident in my decision.”
“What! Really, you’re letting us leave. Won’t your Lord punish you?” asked Billy.
“Even he wouldn’t dare punish the best warrior in the city, who also happens to be commander of its armies, just before such an important battle. After the battle if I live then who knows. Now go! Be as stealthy as possible. My little brother, Liam, will meet you there and show you a secret way out of the city. I must go; I have an army to prepare. Good luck.”
“Thank you Commander. I’ll never forget your kindness,” said Trey holding his hand out. Nakai took it and shook.
Dawn gave a curtsy full of respect. Billy nodded his head to him. All four gathered up their belongings and left the room, Billy slinging his lutar in its new leather carry case over his shoulder opposite his bow.
As Zak passed Nakai he said, “I look forward to the day we cross blades. Until that day, don’t die, I know I sure as hell won’t. I’m not passing up an opportunity to fight you.”
Nakai laughed. “If it’s at all in my power I’ll not die.”
With that the group ran off towards the royal armoury. All guards seemed to have been told to abandon their posts to train civilians instead, so getting into the castle was easy. Finding the right door in the monolithic structure was quite another matter but they managed it. As promised, Liam stood by the armoury door, twirling a key in his black nailed fingers.
“Hey,” Liam said as he opened the door. It took quite some effort as the door was a huge slab of stone on hinges. He lit some torches that hung on the walls inside and stepped back so the others could enter.
The room beyond shone with metals. Shields adorned the walls and weapon racks were arranged in tightly packed aisles. There was a stunning assortment of weapons, from swords, spears, axes, maces, bows, crossbows, daggers, halberds, hammers, and some Trey had never even seen before. The back of the room was dedicated to shining armour.
The group stood unmoving, too amazed by the weapons to think straight. “Take your pick,” said Liam in his deadpan tone. This got them to react. The three boys felt like they were in the world’s greatest sweet shop.
After exploring the room’s contents thoroughly they began to choose what they wanted. Trey decided upon a large broadsword, thick bladed near the hilt but gradually growing thinner towards the point. Its handle was wrapped in drake leather and runes glittered upon its blade. It was heavy but Trey was confident he could wield it. As for armour he chose a thin plate cuirass, plain in design but made from a surprisingly strong metal. Long plated vambraces encased his forearms and rounded pauldrons protected his shoulders, the metal curving upward slightly at one end to guard his neck. Steel greaves with large tear shaped centres in a black sheen led to leather boots that sported rough metal plates.
Billy chose a fine yew bow carved with eagles, a short bladed rapier, and several throwing daggers that he hid around his body. After a moment of thought he also slung a light, single handed crossbow onto his back. He fought his way into a full bodied suit of chainmail then fitted flexible leather spaulders, vambraces and greaves. Lastly he found a two pieced plate crafted to look like two hawks in flight that were fastened around his chest and upper back. With the lutar stubbornly strapped to his back he looked overburdened but the weight did not seem to bother him.
Zak kept his axe but replaced his two old swords for a pair of brilliant katana, each with small glowing blue runes that formed the image of a lightning bolt. The cuirass that drew his attention was one that had been shut away inside a cabinet in the corner of the armoury. It was a black metal similar to that which the Forukks wore, but where their armour was basically designed and poorly made, this was slender and filled with sleek curves and points, giving the illusion of a demonic face across his body. His spaulders were gauntleted hands that grabbed each shoulder, the fingers reaching down his arm as though trying to claw at the leaf patterned metal below them that covered both limbs from fingertip to shoulder. His greaves were no less disturbing as they were a close knit spiderweb of steel, each gap in the metal filled with a smaller criss-crossing of silver threads. Once fully armed he looked easily capable of being some kind of hellish villain from old legends.
Dawn took little other than a bow with arrows as she already had the Heptalli royal scimitar. Her robes were already suitable for battle, each layer immensely thin but any arrow fired at it would become tangled before inflicting heavy damage. Based upon what Commander Nakai had worn at the banquet, she selected a delicate, brightened steel chest guard that cut off before reaching her stomach and a single paulder over her right shoulder.
Once everyone had chosen, Liam gave them camouflaged scout cloaks to help avoid detection. He then led them through corridors in silence.
Eventually he stopped in front of a plain door. Behind it was a small room filled with mops, brushes and buckets. Liam pushed on a broom handle and the back wall slid open.
“A hidden passage in a store room, how traditional,” scoffed Billy.
“It’s dark but safe,” said Liam as he started down the tunnel.
“Aren’t you going to light some torches so we can see?” asked Dawn.
“No. I like the dark,” replied Liam as he was submerged into the thick darkness. Dawn gave a frustrated sigh then followed.
The tunnel sloped slightly down, leading them underground. Trey was starting to get accustomed to the absence of all but the sound of their breathing and footsteps when the tunnel ended. He heard metal rungs clatter then the slow groan of old hinges followed by a dim light.
After a brief climb up the ladders they found themselves in a cellar with only narrow slots near its roof providing light. A few crates and barrels occupied the room but other than them it was empty. At the far end of the cellar, dusty stairs led to a large door that opened into an equipment shed. Trey guessed they were in one of the many farms outside of Onlasar’s walls. Shears, sickles, rakes, wheelbarrows and other useful farming items littered the walls.
“Anyone who lives beyond the city’s walls were taken to the castle,” explained Liam as they walked through the deserted farm. Even the animals were gone, taken to a secure location within the city.
“You can get back to the desert by following the main road. You’ll have to find your own way to your deaths, as that’s where you are heading,” said Liam as he pointed towards the main road to and from the city.
“Cheerful as always,” muttered Billy.
“I have to go back to the city. I hope your deaths are quick.”With that he walked back towards the farm.
“We hope to see you again,” called Dawn as she waved goodbye. Liam just carried on walking.
“Fine!” she snapped angrily. She turned and stamped off down the road. Trey, Zak and Billy quickly followed.
It was the same road they had followed to the city so they hoped the sandspeeder was still at the desert’s edge. Minutes passed by and soon the distant yellow line on the horizon became a huge expanse of sand. They retraced the path through the desert they had taken earlier in the week. The speeder was still there, but it wasn’t alone. Three more sandspeeders surrounded the royal speeder they had used. One stood at either side then one at the back. The only way not blocked was back towards Onlasar.
Yellow robed figures stood guard around the area. Trey counted twenty although more could have been out of his view. He considered abandoning the speeder and finding their way through the desert on foot. He was sure that Dawn would know the way. That idea was dropped though as Trey realised with dread that they had been spotted.