I moved towards the Duke’s army. Leaving was tempting but I was certain that Erik was still alive, but I knew he wouldn’t be for long if I didn’t relay the news to Jared. I wasn’t sure he’d be alive even if I told Jared. I couldn’t think of a better plan. Rayan was far more effective at tracking than me anyway.
It didn’t take long for me to scavenge the tattered remains of the empty room. Only a small silver coin and a vial filled with a red liquid were noteworthy. I pocketed them and headed for the door. I started my journey back to the Duke’s army.
I trudged and trudged over the rocky terrain. My feet were blistered from the constant walking. My feet were telling me to stop while my brain knew better. I witnessed what happened to prisoners who stopped. One bite to the neck ended their miserable existences.
I didn’t know where we were headed or what was going to happen to the rest of us. They still seemed to need us or at least thought we were worth enough to keep, even though we were clearly slowing them down.
The wolf-like men herded us into an open clearing. I figured this was where we were going to stop for the night. Some of the silent beast men collapsed to rest while others kept watch. They didn’t watch the forest for predators. They watched us.
It was unnerving trying to sleep while these killers were staring at me. Being tired and worn down made it easier though.
“Get up!” screamed one of my captors.
I scrambled to my feet, still sore from yesterday and exhausted from a lack of sleep. The group was told to lineup so our shackles could be reattached to each other. I waited for the others to line up.
“Hurry up.” shouted the impatient guards as I slid behind the person that had betrayed me. I wasn’t sure whether I would get an opportunity to get revenge but that didn’t mean I would try to make his life miserable
Every time the guards eyes strayed from me, I’d kick his legs and pulled his chain, causing my neighbor to stumble. He knew better than to involve the beast men. They’d make life harder for the both of us.
As we climbed elevation, I realized that the beast men were heading towards the capital, albeit through the dense forest to avoid the main road. I felt more pressure with every step I took. We’d been traveling for nearly two days already. The capital was near, maybe a days hike away.
Soon the captors ran out of forest to hide behind. Trees became sparser, revealing the tiny imposing walls of the capital. The capital was a small speck in the distance that was slowly growing larger. Eventually the city’s imposing walls weren’t so small.
“These are trying times. What’s your business in the city?”
“They kidnapped us!” screamed someone lined up behind me. A pain filled groan soon followed. I guessed it was the same guy.
“Nonsense. These are prisoners: deserters from the King’s army.” said the lead captor.
“Ok. Do you have the proper papers?” asked the guards.
“You know how tough it is to get those sorted in such a short time. We have a letter from the village Lord if that would suffice.”
“Alright, let me see it.” said the guard, snatching the paper out of the captor’s hands.
“The dungeons are in the Northeast region of the capital. Would you like any escorts to show you the way?”
“No, that shouldn’t be necessary.”
“Alright. Be careful. The Duke’s army isn’t far away.”
“We’ll be alright.” responded the pale man.
The pale captors hauled us into the city. They kept us compact so we wouldn’t bump into anyone in the pact city. Corinth was large but the capital made the city feel small. The capital’s high walls were awe-inspiring. If I wasn’t trapped, I would walk the walls and explore the large city.
After zigzagging through the streets, we were quickly shoved into an old run-down inn in the city slums.
“Hey what’re you doin! We’re not open.” said the astonished barkeeper behind the bar. I was certain the sight of chained men entering his business wasn’t common.
With one hand, the pale captor crushed the barkeeper’s throat. Like sardines, we were packed into the small backroom. Only the dim light of a single candle lit up the dreary room we all found ourselves in. It was the only time we had gone unsupervised.
The frail ones only lasted seconds as a few of the newer prisoners decided to slam their heads against the stone wall. I didn’t hesitate to grapple with my betrayer. He was still strong but I managed to trip him up and send him onto the ground. I pummeled him repeatedly with my fists. Blood covered my hands and his body lay limp on the ground.
I felt someone grab my back so I smashed my elbow into whoever was behind me. He stumbled back. He was a small man, his hair long and matted like most of the other prisoners. I shuffled off the ground and introduced my knee to his stomach. He keeled over. The crunch of his neck let me know he was dead.
I looked over finding only two other people alive. One was completely new. I guessed he had been recruited with the last batch of prisoners and a tannish man that had primarily kept to himself. They were wrestling each other.
I watched in horror as the tannish man stabbed the new prisoner with some sharp object he scrounged from the room. The new prisoner got ahold of the tannish man’s head and smashed it onto the floor, but it was too late. Blood flowed out of the new prisoner’s wounds. He was going to die.
For the first time in awhile I was alone. Soon the pale men would return. I only savored my independance for a minute. I had to prepare, to gain my freedom back.
“Halt.” screamed the soldiers patrolling the Duke’s camp.
I raised my hands in the air and slowly walked towards the three men on duty. Their insignia suggested they were from the first battalion, which were Jared’s troops. Their dull iron armour suggested they were basic soldiers, who came from a poorer background. I reckoned they were enlisted. “State your affiliation and business within the Duke’s encampment.”
“I’m one of the Duke’s wizards. I have news to relay to Jared and the other generals.”
“And I’m a unicorn. You think I was born yesterday?” shouted the youngest of the three. Or maybe just the least experienced.
“Hey, Dorn.” said one of the other guards while nudging the younger guard. “I recognize him. He’s telling the truth.”
Dorn’s face turned pale. The upright soldier’s body deflated as his confidence drained out of his body. He was clearly not a fighter, nor a courageous man.
“Well. I’ll show you to Jared.” stuttered the young soldier. “If you would follow me, that would be splendid.”
I followed the the young soldier as he slowly walked me over to the tent where the other mages stayed. It was similar to the tent that had been used before, but its smaller size indicated that it was different. The same white canvas held up the sides. I wondered what happened to the old tent.
I took a deep breath and stepped into the room.
“Guards!” screamed Jared as I walked into the tent. Soldiers rushed in block off the exit of the tent.
“Thought to come crawling back after deserting the army. Didn’t have enough spine to stick with your escape plan.”
“That’s enough Jared.” Rayan said. He stood behind the strategy table with Jared and Sarah. “Let the man speak.”
“As you know I abandoned Sarah to search for Erik. Unlike Sarah, I doubted he had left on his own free will. I got numerous leads from locals and eventually came across his captor.”
“How do you know Erik was captured?” Jared replied snidely.
“Well I can’t be certain-”
“You fool.” You came back here without any evidence that Erik was captured.
“I may not have seen Erik with my eyes but the circumstances around his disappearance make it likely that he was taken.”
“Erik is a mage. Very few have the means of subduing our kind.”
“I came across a group of soldiers, supposedly working for the King. I followed them. Half of them were mercenaries. The others were beasts. I kidnapped one of the mercenaries, he related them to the myths of vampires and werewolves.
“And you believed him.” Jared scoffed.
“I saw what they did. How they killed those mercenaries.”
“Probably some parlor tricks. You’re a-”
“I’ve seen them.” interrupted Rayan. “ When I was young. Back in the small village where I came from. They murdered about half of town. People would disappear. Bears are what most people thought caused the disappearances. Claws marked most of the wood in the town. The King sent some men to eradicate whatever was causing the disappearances. When I was young I dreamed of becoming a soldier, so when the came to the town I followed them. Their deformed snouts and unparalleled strength are what I remember. I remember them tearing through the King’s men like butter. The soldiers were able to kill one but the other escaped. I started learning to track to find the missing creature. To kill it for killing my aunt, my uncle, my community.”
“So we’ll send troops to go save Erik.” I stated.
“We’re at the brink of war. We can’t afford to waste troops looking for that traitor.” Jared stated.
“ Rayan will you lend me some troops?” I asked.
“It’s best if we avoid those creatures. Erik is most likely dead. We have other concerns anyway.” he responded.
I gripped the shiv in my hand tighter as I heard the click of the handle being turned. My palm was sweaty and I couldn't risk dropping it.
As the door creaked open, only the door stood between me and one of the beastmen. As he began to close the door, I lunged lodging the shiv into the monsters neck. He stumbled to the ground. The metal bent as I pushed it into his neck. His skin was hard. It took only seconds to realize I only agitated the beast.
He grasped at my legs, pulling me closer to him. I frantically grabbed for something heavy. My hands found a heavy cast-iron pot. With both hands I picked it up and launched at the monster’s head. The captor instantly fell to the floor, knocked out. A large gash was visible on his forehead.
I could already see the wound slowly healing itself. I dug through his pockets, taking his collection of keys. They jingled in my hands as I tried key after key on my manacles. As time passed, I grew more nervous, glancing periodically to see how long I had before the captors gash healed.
Click. My manacles released from my leg. I pulled at the magma below the surface. It felt invigorating to have my powers back.
I pulled enough lava up to topple the run-down bar. I melted a hole through the back and dove through it. In the distance, I heard screams but I kept running. I had to get away. I worked my way through the street trying to lose whoever was following me. I overused my mana, causing my stomach to churn.
I stumbled into a grimy alleyway. Piles of trash littered the alleyway. I held my breath and dove into the heaps of trash. The smell and my already upset stomach made me release the contents of my stomach. I waited in my own stench, waiting for those looking for me to leave.