Sasha and I sat behind the small rickety tavern drinking away the massive headache Erik had created. The lone bartender pretended we weren’t there, deciding that it wasn’t his place to listen to our misfortune. He cleaned glasses in the corner since there were no other patrons at the break of dawn.
“What a coward. This is going to set us back a few nights.” said Sasha.
“Why don’t we just continue on without him. We’d be wasting are time reconvening with Jared.” I suggested.
“He’s not some insignificant soldier. We don’t know his motivations. What if he decides to spread classified information with the King, or work with the king to defeat the Duke?” Sasha responded.
I wasn’t convinced Erik had deserted Sasha and me. He was the one to delay are escape everytime we conversed and I didn’t think he would desert me, at least I hoped he wouldn’t.
“Then how are we going to scout out the capital in time? We’ll lack important information on the King’s defenses.” I said trying change Sasha’s mind. Nothing good came from involving Jared.
“This town has told us enough. Look at the absence of men wandering the streets. How many men are crowding this bar? The king has snatched every able bodied man and has brought them to the capital to reinforce his army.”
“So you’re content with relying on rumors?”
“My sight tells me what I need to know.” Sasha said.
Soon Sasha would realize what I had done, but I wanted answers on where Erik had gone. He wasn’t a selfish man nor was he a coward. Something was certainly off about this small town. The woman roaming the streets showed no remorse for their lost young men. It was almost as if they didn’t care that their loved ones would be used as cannon fodder for the King.
As dawn brought light through the sole window, the monsters bodies contorted, compacting their snouts and shaping their body to look almost human. Their teeth remained jagged and their skin was still unusually pale. I watched them gather themselves. My eyes were bloodshot from lack of sleep. I had worried that the barrier would disintegrate while the freaks were transformed. All I wanted was some rest. I hoped to get it soon.
“What are you?” I asked, somewhat disgusted and somewhat in awe of their savage strength.
“Our followers have been called many names, twisted into your legends. Some call us vampires, some call us jackals. I was once like you mage. Weak. Now you sit hunched on the ground, worth less than a rat. “
“You’re the one who looks like a rat.” I scoffed.
“I’d rather look like a rat than be one. Besides, soon my power will condense and I’ll have more control over the shift. You’re fate ends here. Mine belongs in the higher realms.”
“So your kind can use the nexus?”
“Many powers exist in the world that can access the nexus. You mages are nothing special. It surprises me the great nexus accepts your parlor tricks.”
“You can’t be serious.”
“They be flying boats powered by the sun. I haven’t seen any but there no other reason the King would be so caught up playing with wizards.”
“You’re insane.” I grumbled.
So far I hadn’t found any revelations on what might have happened to Erik. The few who would talk about issues in the village were clinically insane. Talks of monsters lurking in the night, of secret projects the government was performing were most of what I heard. They were all very different. It seemed that there wasn’t much of a consensus of what was going on.
“Hi, I know this is pretty forward of me, but has anything been bothering you lately? I asked a hunched woman in front of me.
“Ok lady. I’m just looking for my friend.” I mumbled as I walked away.
I turned my head to look at the hunched women who had called me back over.
“Did your friend disappear? I might have an idea where he is.”
“There’s a group in town that takes the young men. They say they come from the King but I used to work in the Capital. I know what the legion looks like and these men don’t look like they’re from the King’s legion. Their skin is too pale. Their teeth are too sharp.”
“Where can I find this group?”
“I don’t know where they go. They do, however, show up every other Saturday to round up any boys they missed. They say the King desperately needs reinforcements.”
“And what do you think?”
“I think they might work for the king. They might not. I know they aren’t part of the legion. They took my boy. If you’re going to find out where they took your friend could you find out what happened to my boy?”
“I will. What’s his name?”
I nodded. I would have to meet with these men. For now , though, I would hide within the city. If I ever met back up with Sarah, it would be better to ask for forgiveness than be outright denied on the request. I knew she wouldn’t want me to look for Erik. I was too close to him.
They’d find me eventually. The Duke had lots of resources and could easily find any deserters that left his army, especially if Rayan was involved. I needed to act fast if I was going to find Erik and avoid the Duke’s men.
“You must be the new guy. Strange that you didn’t come on a Saturday.”
“What’s so special about Saturday?” I asked.
“That’s just when people arrive. They always arrive.”
“Has anyone tried to escape?” I asked as I looked down at the chain locking my feet to the ground.
“Often the new try but few survive. If you fail, that person is usually chosen for the ritual. Sometimes they just kill them for the fun of it.”
“Well, I’m going to escape. This isn’t my first time breaking out of a prison.” I said with more confidence than I currently had. Crom had done most of the work when I previously escaped.
My eyes wandered around the large cold stone room. The other prisoners were evenly spaced throughout the room, chained to the wall. It was more comfortable than being strapped to a wooden chair but still uncomfortable. Two prisoners were placed on either side of me.
To my left stood a frail prisoner, a veteran. It wasn’t often that people like him were chosen. I didn’t know why he wasn’t chosen and I’m sure he wouldn’t tell me. I tried talking to him but it was as if I wasn’t there.
The man to my right was newer. I could tell by his sturdy body and slightly tanned skin.I didn’t have to ask. He was very talkative. I figured his previous neighbors hadn’t interacted with him much so he was thrilled to have me next to him.
“I hope for your sake that you don’t go through with it. You seem like a good fellow.”
I just nodded. He wasn’t going to change my mind and it wasn’t something worth arguing over, especially with other ears in the vicinity.
“Tell me about them.”
“There are five of them, although two of them rarely come down here. Two of them come observe while keeping to themselves. Taunting them gets them to respond but I wouldn’t recommend doing that. The last time someone did that his head was cracked open like a melon. It wasn’t pretty.”
“Tell me about the talkative one.”
“He’s got an ego. He loves talking about himself and what’s going wrong in the kingdom. Any issue you can think of, he has a solution. If you can put up with his snarky attitude and warped perspective, you can learn a lot about what’s going on outside. Obviously I can’t tell you how accurate his info is.”
“Does he have a name?”
“Calls himself Warwic.”
I nodded again.
I tested the strength my shankles only to feel a sharp pain in my ankle. I stepped back, crouched and pulled on the chains keeping me trapped. They didn’t budge.
“I wouldn’t do that now.” cautioned my neighbor. “I suspect there’s a snitch in the room. You don’t want to be chosen on the next choosing day.”
“You’re right.” I said as I dropped the chains and sat on the dirt floor.
“I doubt anyone will remember this, you didn’t spend a whole lot of time trying. We’ll get our first break soon anyway. You’ll be able to stretch and clean up a little. You’ll figure out the routine soon enough.”