A blood curdling scream split the air, pulsing through the very soul of any who heard it. Sarah was ripped from her disturbed sleep by the tortured sound, and after regaining her wits, she looked around the room. It was the same as before she had slept. Either the traitor had been a coward and slept elsewhere or he had come down after she had fallen asleep and left before she had woken.
She was snapped from her thoughts by the creaking of the trap door opening. Maklar lowered himself down into the room.
“I hope this day finds you well, Slave-068.” His voice was already giving her a headache.
“What was that scream just now?” Sarah asked.
“That is the morning call. Each day when the sun should just be spotted on the horizon, a slave is taken to the castle battlements and whipped. When you hear the scream, vacate your bed and head to your designated task.”
“A bell would suffice,” Sarah muttered. Then to Maklar she asked, “And what is my designated task?”
“You will be taken outside with the other slaves and the Masters shall decide your tasks,” he answered then began to climb back up the ladders. Sarah followed.
The ground floor was empty of slaves and the only sound was that of her own footsteps that echoed loudly. Maklar’s footfalls were disturbingly silent. They exited the building and found the other slaves standing in ranks on an empty section of land that resembled a courtyard. Sarah was ushered into her place by Maklar.
Stationed on all sides of the slaves were Forukk guards. At the front of the slaves were several humans who were most definitely not slaves. Sarah recognised a few of them. Stood at the far left were Mr Xion and the young lad Derrick Rol, or Sharkey as he preferred to be called. Both wore the same ornate black clothes as the other humans who Sarah supposed were the “Masters” that Maklar had spoken of.
“Get into rank Slave-001,” came a growl that drew Sarah’s attention. She looked around to find the source of the disturbance.
“The name’s Blake. You understand that, dogface?” retorted a slave who stood leant against the barracks.
“Typical,” mumbled Sarah. “He was always a troublemaker.” Sarah’s thoughts were broken as a new person arrived at the centre of the ‘Masters’. He wore a cloak of feathers and armour of darkened steel. Sarah’s heart seemed to stop when she realised that she recognised the man’s face.
“Blake, get into line. It will only take a few minutes and I know you have nothing better to do with your time,” snapped the man. Blake slowly headed to his place in the line, the whole time mumbling about having lots of better things to do with his time, like sleeping.
The caped man then addressed the crowd of slaves before him. “I am Lord Zendek, ruler of this land, and now ruler of all of you. The rules here are simple. You either serve or you die. Any questions so far?” No one spoke. “The Masters will pick your fates. Serve them well.” He fell silent as his eyes met with Sarah’s. Sarah didn’t breathe the whole time they had eye contact. Blake noticed the look on Zendek’s face.
“Leave the lady alone and get on with your job so we can get this over and done with,” Blake shouted.
“You’re in no position to order me to do anything,” sneered Zendek venomously.
“I never was but I still won the first time around,” replied Blake with a cocky smirk.
Anger contorted Zendek’s face briefly before he regained control of himself. “I believe that much has changed since then. Bring this woman to my quarters and if my friend here tries anything you may show him the error of his ways.” He turned to leave but then faced Blake with a smile and added “Me and Sarah are just going to reminisce on old times so you have nothing to worry about.”
“You scum!” roared Blake as he charged towards the two Forukks who were leading Sarah to the lord. He tackled the closest one but was easily overpowered by the creature. It held him securely while the second delivered a powerful blow to his stomach. Coughing blood he tried to free himself but failed. Another punch hit him and he went limp. The Forukk holding him loosened its hold on him only to be headbutted in its ugly snout.
Sarah joined in the fight by kicking the beast that had punched Blake as hard as she possibly could. Searing pain shot through her ankle as she felt it break on contact with the beast’s armour.
Before anything else could happen, Zendek was at the centre of the scene. In one swift motion he smashed his sword’s pommel into Blake’s face, spun around then brought his still sheathed sword down upon the back of his head. Blake’s unconscious form hit the ground next to Sarah.
Zandek slowly and carefully lifted Sarah from the ground and carried her in his arms. He spoke to the Forukks, “Throw him into the pit.”
“Dill, what happened to you?” asked Sarah in a weak voice. “We all thought you were dead.”
“That name hasn’t been used in almost two decades. Times have changed since back then.”
“You never were good at answering my questions.”
Without another word he carried her off into the fortress.
* * *
The weeks passed by with new meaning. Dill and Blake joined the city guard, and with a bit of effort, had the potential to gain high ranks. Brian went into training to become the next archery instructor and Laura worked as a fletcher in the family business when she wasn’t practicing with knives in the hopes of travelling with the circus. Sarah had signed up to the delivery service, which meant that after her training she could visit new places out in the open world. The job had adventure, danger, and good pay.
Work had just ended and Blake was heading to Dill’s house to check on him as he hadn’t turned up for that day’s shift. When he arrived he knocked but there was no answer.. He tried the door and it opened with a slight creak. Entering the house he couldn’t see anything out of place.
Blake searched all of the rooms but still found nothing. He was becoming worried now. Just as he was about to leave, he noticed something amiss. The door to his right was slightly ajar. This was unusual as, for as long as Dill had been alive, that door had always been locked. No key had ever been found for it. Nobody had seen inside of it in over two decades and now it was open.
Cautiously, Blake opened the door and walked down the dusty steps that met him. There was no light at all. He advanced down slowly, keeping his hand on the hilt of his sword at all times.
When Blake reached the bottom his hands brushed against a wooden surface. He guessed it was another door. After groping around in the darkness he found what he was looking for. Cold metal protruded from the wood. He pushed the handle down and the door eased silently open.
The faint light of a candle lit the room beyond the door. It was a large stone room with bookshelves and cabinets lining the walls. In the centre was a grand obsidian desk that seemed to sparkle in the candlelight. Sat at the desk with his back facing Blake was Dillon. He appeared to be deeply involved with whatever he was reading.
Blake was stunned by the aura the room was giving off. He stood there immobile for several moments. Finally he managed to snap out of it and take a defiant step forwards. The sound of his foot hitting the floor woke Dill from his dreamlike state and made him aware of the intruder.
“Oh, Blake. It’s just you,” said Dill as he snapped his head in the direction of the door. “Come on in. You won’t believe some of the stuff I’ve found out in here.”
Blake entered the room and stood at Dill’s side as his eyes skimmed over the scattered documents on the desk. They ranged from notes, letters, information sheets and more important looking documents.
“I returned home yesterday and an envelope had been delivered to me. Inside was a letter and a key. All the letter said was: ‘Use it well’. I tried the locked door against all hope but it clicked open. I’ve been down here reading since then.”
Blake picked up a sheet and started to read. A look of shock grew on his face as he read further through the paper. As he finished he slowly put the paper down and looked hard at Dill.
“Is all this stuff true?” Blake asked in disbelief.
“I don’t know,” sighed Dill.
“If it is, then you are the lord of the Fallen City. Not like it does you any good as it was destroyed then consumed by the darkness.”
“It was a traitor city. My ancestors almost destroyed Pastrino and all the people in it. If it’s true then that blood flows through my veins,” Dill replied somberly.
Blake placed his hand on Dill’s shoulder and looked him in the eye. “What your ancestors did in the past has no bearings on who you are now. You’re still Dillon Zendek like last week and every other week in your life. Finding this stuff out doesn’t automatically change you.”
Dill stayed silent. Minutes passed by without a sound other than Blake moving papers. The quiet was broken by Dill.
“What have I got here?”
“What do you mean?” asked Blake, confused at the question.
“What reasons do I have to stay here, in this city? I don’t have a family, or any real connection with anyone other than you. I could rise to be captain of the city guard, but what good would that do me? I’m wasted here.”
Blake was genuinely worried now. His friend’s sadness was hard to listen to. “You have me and the others. We’ll always be there for you. We’re your friends, nothing can change that fact.”
“Really? So in twenty years when I’m in a higher position than the rest of you and you’ve all gone and got married and had kids we’ll all still hang out together like we used to.”
“It can never be like it used to be but we can all still stay friends. We can still hang out; we just have other things to do with our time.” Blake reasoned.
“Things more important than our friendship in other words. Can’t you see, there will be nothing for me if I stay here? I could never be lord of this city, only the upper city snobs even get the chance. I could be the lord of Lanstiro, rebuild and repopulate it. Then I could recreate the three cities era of Farava’s history. My name would be passed down the ages and I could achieve something worthy. Plus I could bring back honour to my family’s name.”
“That’s a great ambition, but you know that the city was engulfed
by the darkness. No man who ever entered it came back alive.”
“I’m one of the most skilled people in this whole city, it is in my blood to rule Lanstiro. I also have an invitation to go from my father,” said Dill as he passed Blake a letter. “He said he had begun to rebuild the city but his life was over and that it is only right that his son takes over his life work.”
“I thought your father was dead?” frowned Blake.
“So did I,” answered Dill quietly.
“Come on. Let’s head up and get you some food, you must be starving.” Blake led Dill up into the kitchen where they got themselves some food. Very little conversation passed between them. Outside the sun had already set and a ghostly moon illuminated the sky.
“It’s getting late. I’d better be heading home. Promise me you won’t do anything stupid or reckless and we can talk more tomorrow,” said Blake.
“Yes, I promise. I’m too tired to do anything more today. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Blake left without another word. When he arrived home he poured himself a mug of tea then headed straight to bed. There he lay but sleep wouldn’t take him. Hours passed by and the moon arced across the sky gently. Blake’s mind was racing through what his friend had been saying and something just didn’t fit but he could put his finger on what.
Giving up on sleep, Blake climbed out of bed and paced around his room. He knew that he’d not find any rest while he was so worried about his friend. Something just wasn’t sitting right with him and he needed to know what. Looking out of the window, Blake guessed it would be about five o’clock. He quickly dressed, grabbed a slice of bread then left the house and directed himself back towards Dillon’s home.
This time the front door was locked. Luckily he knew where the spare key was kept. He felt under the windowsill but found nothing, the key was gone. He checked the back door but that too was locked. There was only one option left short of breaking the door down and that was to climb through Dill’s bedroom window which was always open, even in winter.
It was an easy climb but as Blake slid through the window his fears were confirmed. Dill wasn’t in his room. He quickly checked the other rooms and upon finding nothing headed to the newly discovered basement. It too was deserted.
Slumping into the chair Blake sighed in frustration. He could tell Dill had been down here since he had left as the papers were more organised than he had left them. Recognising his friends writing he picked up the top piece of paper. It simply read: I’m sorry.
“Damn it!” shouted Blake as he ran from the house and headed for the city’s west gate.
Within minutes he had reached the large wooden gates out of the city. The doors were open and the two guards lay unconscious on the ground. Although Blake’s breath was ragged he continued to sprint out of the city and towards the forbidden lands.
A dark figure loomed on the horizon. After another minute Blake had caught up with him. Like he had expected, it was Dill.
“What the hell are you doing?” shouted Blake between heavy breaths.
“Following my destiny,” he answered in a levelled tone. “Setting out on the path left for me by those that came before me.”
“You promised that you wouldn’t do anything rash.”
“I’m sorry but I’d already made my decision by then.”
“You can’t just leave like this,” shouted Blake, grabbing his friend’s arm.
Dill removed his sword from its scabbard and pointed it at his friend. “One more match, for old times sake?”
With a grim face Blake nodded and removed his own sword. “But if I win you stay.”
“Deal,” said Dill as he darted forwards and hacked at Blake’s hastened defence.
Blake knew he was outmatched. It was close but he always lost. Not this time though, he thought grimly as he ducked a blow at his head.
Both men were skilled with a blade. Any watchers would have been mesmerized by the show of talent. As the fight lengthened the skill gave way to a more basic combat style. Less graceful but more passionate and desperate. Blake received many small cuts and had given out a fair few himself. Now his limbs felt like lead and sweat dripped freely from his skin. Dill looked in the same condition too. If this was going to be the last spar they ever had then they were both determined to make it a good one.
The end of the battle was near; they could feel it in the air. Both jumped backwards then put all their speed and strength into one final slash. They charged at each other.
Both stood slightly apart, back to back. Blood soaked each man’s clothes and stained the floor at their feet.
“Good match,” said Dill as he dropped his sword.
“Yeah,” agreed Blake before collapsing.
Dill smiled softly down at Blake but made no move to help him.
“Goodbye, my friend. I’m truly sorry that our paths separate from here.” Without a backwards glance he retrieved his sword then walked off into the west, never to be seen in Pastrino again.