Footsteps echoed through the corridors as a hardened warrior walked around the castle, greeting anyone he met with a few words, never stopping to talk. One would think it was an officer or noble, or at least a mercenary but it was not; it was Zak.
The teen walked through the castle like he belonged there so no one questioned his presence. He was hiding in plain sight and the enemies he greeted casually were none the wiser. He had even redirected several slaves to the storehouse within earshot of guards who figured it must be official business so they should not get involved.
He was not sure where he was going but whichever way he turned he seemed to find the odd slave here and there doing various jobs. He knew from some slaves he had met that many had been taken to the Masters’ private sleeping quarters. He had gotten sketchy directions and was heading in what he hoped was the right way to find the living quarters of the Lanstirian nobles.
Testing his luck, Zak asked one of the guards which way the private quarters were and the man answered with next to no suspicion. Zak had to backtrack fifty yards then turn left and continue down that corridor until he reached the end, then turn right followed by the first left.
Zak smiled to himself, knowing that he was in the right place. It was a huge square room with dozens of elegant oak doors lining the walls. He was about to open the first door when a faint scream came from behind a door three quarters the way around.
Within seconds Zak was at the door. He tried the handle but it would not budge. He tried to kick it down but the oak stayed motionless and Zak jarred his foot. He sighed then readied his axe. He swung the double bladed head at the door and splinters shot out. Another swing followed by a kick and the door was open, or to be precise there was a hole in the door large enough to step through.
The room beyond was fairly simple. There was a double bed, a wardrobe, a desk, a cabinet and two shelves. Zak did not focus on any of this though. In the far back corner cowered a young girl and a fat man stood over her, tugging at her arm in an attempt to force her to her feet.
When Zak had smashed the door down the fat man had turned to glare angrily at him, mild surprise showing on his chubby face. His walrus like moustache twitched slightly. The girl remained crouched, her eyes covered by her hands, crying silently.
“How wude!” exclaimed the man. “You can’t just come and thmath down my door, you thupid thod.”
“What?” asked Zak, forgetting the scene before him as he chuckled at the man.
“If it’s all wight with you, I have a thmall lithp.”
Zak openly laughed then shook his head to calm down. “What are you doing to the poor girl?” he asked as he motioned to the girl who had stopped crying and was now looking up at Zak with wide eyes.
“It’s none of your buthineth what I do with my thlaveth,” said the man, his face becoming flushed.
“Let her go,” said Zak in a low, dangerous tone.
“Don’t talk thuch wubbith. Who are you to owder me awound? Leave me now. Oh, and thend thomeone to wepair my door.” The man turned his back to Zak and focused his attention once more on the girl.
The man had just managed to pull the girl to her feet when Zak knocked him on the head with the end of his axe. The man collapsed onto the bed, releasing the girl from his grasp.
“I hate people like him,” muttered Zak as he picked up the unconscious man and carried him to the door. “Wait here a minute,” he told the girl. She nodded and he left the room.
Zak carried the man across his shoulders like he weighed nothing despite his size. He strode off out of the private quarters and headed towards a place that he had been told to avoid at all costs: the Forukks’ barracks. He knew that he had found the right section of the fortress by the smell that seeped through the gap under the door. Slowly he eased opened the sheet metal door and entered.
It took a moment for his eyes to adjust to the darkness. It was a long, narrow room with nothing but hundreds of ragged mats that lay everywhere without order. Only half a dozen Forukks currently
occupied the room, all of them grunting loudly in their sleep. Zak silently headed towards the closest Forukk and placed the fat man down on the mat beside the monster. As a finishing touch he draped the Forukk’s arm over the man then positioned the man’s hand firmly onto the Forukk’s rear.
Zak laughed to himself as he left the foul smelling room and jogged back to collect the girl. She was standing exactly where she had been when he had left. She fiddled nervously with her fingers, her eyes darting around the room. Much of the tension faded from her body as Zak re-entered.
“Are you hurt?” he asked in a gentle tone. The girl shook her head slightly.
“You think you can walk alright?” This time she nodded her head.
“What’s your name?” asked Zak, determined to get her to talk.
She looked into Zak’s eyes. “K-Kelly,” she murmured in a soft, faint voice.
“Good. Now Kelly, how old are you?”
She answered quicker this time with more confidence but still spoke in a weak voice. “Twelve.”
“That’ll do. Come on, we’ve got to get out of here.” He moved to leave the room but the girl did not follow. “Come on,” Zak said again, this time grabbing the girl’s hand and dragging her out of the door. Kelly blushed wildly at the contact as Zak towed her towards the fortress’ main entrance.
Zak turned a corner and suddenly shot back around, pressing his back against the wall. Walking towards him along the other corridor was a tall, dark haired man who fit the description of the Lord of Lanstiro. Around him were two large human warriors, two grizzled looking Forukks and a small, scrawny man who looked like an assistant or scribe. Even Zak was not crazy enough to attack the enemy leader in the centre of his own castle, surrounded by his guards. Not without backup anyway.
Zak was about to go the way he had just came when he saw a squad of ten Forukks marching towards them from that direction. “Talk about being stuck between a rock and a hard place,” he muttered as he tightened his grip on his axe and the now shivering hand of the girl.
Zak began to concentrate on some spell he hoped would obliterate one of the groups heading towards his position when a thunderous dong rippled through the castle. It rang out twice more, flooding the air with vibrating noise that seemed to take an age to fade.
Both groups had halted and Zak listened intently to see what was happening. He heard running feet from the corridor the lord occupied and for a moment thought he had been discovered. He relaxed fractionally as whoever it was stopped and began to speak to his leader.
“Sir, reports say that someone has invaded the castle and has broken into your bed chamber,” a man’s voice reported.
At first, Zak thought they were talking about him but he had not gone into the Lord’s room. Either the fat man had been passing the Lord’s room off as his own or someone else had invaded the castle as well.
“Hunter! He’s gone too far this time,” growled a man, who Zak guessed was the lord.
Brisk footsteps led away from Zak’s position. He popped his head around the corner and saw all the men disappear around the next bend. He tugged Kelly around the corner to avoid the Forukk that were still heading towards them, then ran down the corridor, retracing his steps to the exit.
Guards swarmed everywhere now but with a mixture of stealth and unquestionable confidence, they made it through most of the castle unhindered. They were about to turn onto the last corridor before the exit when Zak heard another scream. He sighed then ran down a spiral staircase that they had just passed. It led into what Zak supposed was a dungeon. The very air had the feel of death and pain upon it and the smell was a mixture of blood and rot.
Kelly huddled closer to Zak. She was visibly terrified by the place. Zak released her hand and motioned for her to be still. He slowly eased open the rusty gate and slipped into the room beyond. It was a dungeon. There were old chains on the wall, several stone beds with thick leather straps and numerous sharp, painful looking tools lying on shelves. There was even a rack at the far end of the room.
There were six people in the room, two on the stone beds, one in the rack, two hung up on the wall and one stood in a white coat with a hot iron in his hand. On closer inspection, one of the figures on the wall was nothing but a skeleton.
“It hurts you so why not him?” screeched the white coated man.
He pressed the glowing red bar against one of the men on the stones and elected a curdling scream from him. He then pressed in onto the arm of a person Zak could not fully see. This man did not make a sound.
The torturer screeched in frustration and moved to a shelf to grab a corkscrew like device. As he moved Zak got a view of the man on the second slab. His face was badly bruised and cuts and burns covered his chest and arms but he was still recognisable. It was Liam.
Zak walked up to the torturer and tapped him on the shoulder. The man whirled around and received Zak’s fist in his face. He flew through the air and crashed into a shelf full of jars that contained fat leeches.
Untying the straps from Liam, he helped the other teen to his feet then began to free the other men of their restraints. Most could barely stand and Liam did not look too stable either but they could not wait there until they had recovered.
“You all think you can make it just outside then we’ll steal a cart or something to get you to the store house,” said Zak. They all nodded weakly.
Zak supported the two weakest men while Liam and the last man helped each other out. The climb up the stairs was nearly too much for them all except Zak. By the time they reached the top Zak was more or less dragging them along. Kelly clung to Zak’s side making his task harder than necessary but he did not mind. There was only one Forukk guarding the exit and Zak easily defeated it with a blast of Nimula.
It only took a few minutes to find a cart. They emptied the rocks from it then the slaves climbed inside. Liam, despite the pain he must have been in, came to the front and helped Zak and Kelly to pull the cart to the storehouse.