An Iliad: Part Five
It was completely dark. And there was no one near. So Azure woke up rather reluctantly, and glanced around. Gray stone walls and metal bars surrounded her completely. She was seated on a mound of straw. A jail cell. Typical.
The Draik stretched and got up, cautiously. Her sword was gone, of course, as were the daggers at her belt, and even the little pouch of sunflower seeds she kept around for snacking. They were taking no chances, by leaving her with any tools, although Azure could not imagine using sunflower seeds to escape, in any way, shape or form.
She took a few minutes to explore her cell. There wasn’t much sightseeing to be had, though, basically just walls and bars. There were no windows, and as far as she could tell, not even a door that was locked. Then how did they get her into the cell in the first place?
Azure’s question was about to be answered, when she heard footsteps. Or rather claw-steps, from the sound of long talons scraping against the cement floor. It was probably her warden or guard, either a Krawk, from the specific rhythm of the claw-steps, or a Techo with overgrown toenails. No one else walked with that gait, but she really doubted it was the latter.
Azure was proven right, when a sullen-looking Darigan Krawk appeared from around the corner and glared at her. She glared back. “Where am I?” she demanded.
“That’s not fer me ta tell. M’lord wants ta see ya,” he rasped.
“I want to rip your head off,” Azure retorted, “but that doesn’t mean I get to, do I?”
“No you don’t,” another voice hissed. Startled, Azure saw another figure materialize behind the krawk. It was a Shadow Blade, judging from its black clothing. The figure removed the hood and mask revealing the face of a Darigan Kougra. She smiled in a feral way. “But I’m afraid you have no choice in this matter, sweetie.”
Azure stared. Did she just call her “sweetie”? Maybe she heard wrong?
“Come along now,” the Kougra purred, “He awaits you.” As she spoke, the bars of her cell melted away, into thin air. Well, now she knew why there was no door.
Carefully, Azure stepped out and was escorted by her two guards along a corridor. She kept her eyes peeled for an opportunity for escape, but there seemed to be no exit. And the Kougra seemed very confident, so Azure guessed that she could use magic or something. Either way, escape seemed hopeless. For now.
“Where am I?” Azure tried asking the Kougra. “Where are we going?”
“You are in our humble abode,” her guard replied in that cloying voice, “Underground, two leagues north of Altador. But don’t think you can go running back to your city to tell your King of our location. You won’t be leaving for a long while.”
Azure was led into another hall, this one actually carpeted. The walls here had wallpaper and it had lights, not flickering torches that lit the other place. As they continued, the hall became grander and grander, the furnishings multiplying, until crystal chandeliers hung the gold-domed ceiling and portraits in jeweled frames covered the wall. In other words, it immediately made Azure think of her rich snotty cousin Amelia and want to throw up.
They entered a room. Or rather a chamber, as it dwarfed Azure’s entire house. She put a paw over her mouth in disgust, refusing to even look at the great mounds of treasure, from antique furniture and golden clocks, to golden silverware, to giant piles of raw rubies and sapphires and even more gold. First it was black that was blinding her, then green, and now her newest taboo color was gold.
They exited the chamber, though another door, to Azure’s relief, and entered a much smaller room. This one was very dark, there being no windows, and only a single candle that flickered feebly on a small table. The door behind them was closed and Azure heard a barely audible click, as it was locked.
There were several pets in black robes crowded around the table. They wore the distinctive black masks and the hoods. More Shadow Blades. At the opposite side of the room was a Shoyru, not wearing black. It was Kalec! Azure’s heart rose, then sank again. If he was also captured, than what hope did they have of escaping? But then it was better than being alone with Creepy Zombie Guy and the others. The Yellow Shoyru did not look too happy, as he was being squeezed into the corner of the room by a huge Skeith’s bulk. Then his eyes brightened when he spotted Azure and he gave her a wan smile.
There was a heavy silence and Azure had a feeling all the Shadow Blades were waiting for someone. And she was right: Moments later, two figures appeared in a flash of light. One of them removed his hood and mask and Azure barely resisted pouncing on them when she saw it was a very familiar Zombie Aisha. Kalec’s eyes widened and his fists clenched. He was obviously not on real great terms with his father’s murderer.
The Aisha smiled that gruesome smirk, his black eyes empty as ever. The other pet next to him still wore his concealments, mask and hood, so it was impossible to tell who or what he was. At the sight of the Aisha’s companion, all the Shadow Blades in the room, except for Azure’s Darigan Kougra and Creepy Zombie Guy, bowed deeply.
“So,” the mysterious Shadow Blade spoke in a low, velvety voice. “Altador has sent this Special Unit to ‘deal’ with us. How pathetic.” He laughed softly. Right on cue, the other Shadow Blades laughed with him, their voices grating like robots. All, except the Kougra and the Aisha, the only ones seemingly unaffected by his spell. Odd, Azure thought. She watched carefully, hoping to find some more information about the mysterious Shadow Blades.
“So Alaric, we killed them all?” the leader addressed the Aisha. “Are those two,”—he pointed at Azure and Kalec—“The only survivors?”
Alaric, the Creepy Zombie Guy shook his head, unfocused eyes like glass marbles. He did not speak a word, but the leader muttered, in a disappointed tone, “I see. So Jerdana is unaccounted for...,”
Unaccounted for? So there was a chance she was alive? Azure’s heart began to beat so quickly, she was sure everyone would hear it thumping.
“But we have disposed of that silly Lord Bracken and the other twenty members of this Special Unit!” the mystery pet proclaimed triumphantly, “Let us hope that that strikes King Altador’s heart and makes him surrender his precious city.”
Azure frowned. What did the Shadow Blades have against Altador in the first place? She leaned forward, her ears straining to hear every detail. She was aware of her guard, the Kougra smirking in amusement, but she ignored her.
“Terelia,” he barked at the Kougra, who immediately wiped the smirk off her face and asked innocently, “Yes, my Lord?”
“Tell our young friends here why we want to see Altador burn to the ground,” he commanded. Now another grin stretched across Terelia’s face and she purred, “Of course.”
The Kougra turned to Azure and Kalec who glared at her. “Listen up, brats. I hope you know little Altador’s history. He grew up in some distant city. The slums, where the governor did not give a rockfish for the peoples’ welfare. So they left. Then they went waltzing off to found a new city, and that silly little Lupe went with them. And naturally, they failed miserably. So what did Altador do? He abandoned them to found his own city, which he thought would be much better than his current one!”
“That’s not true!” Kalec snarled in defense of his King. “The villagers gave him their blessing! He went to forge a better place for them all to live.”
“Sure.” Terelia rolled her eyes. “That’s what they teach you, honey. But it’s all lies.”
“Lies,” she repeated. The rest of the assembled Shadow Blades also cried, “Lies!” Except for Alaric, the Creepy Zombie Guy, who as far as Azure knew, was mute. Terelia muttered something about getting better minions and continued, “He assembled some riffraff to help him build the city. And now we have our newbie King, thinking he’s so great.”
Kalec growled something under his breath.
“But did King Altador think there was someone else already living on his land?” Terelia suddenly asked. “No! In fact, he—!”
“He took our home away from us!” the leader of the whole coven burst in angrily. Terelia shot him a displeased look, but he continued to rage, “That place where his foul city stands is where we once lived. But no more! He and his general Torakor drove us out and burned our villages. They destroyed our lives, and now we shall destroy theirs!”
He burst into maniacal laughter and most of the Shadow Blades joined in. Alaric, of course, did not make a sound, and Terelia snorted. Azure worked up the courage to ask her in a hushed voice, “Uh, why is everyone like that? Who are they?”
“The other members of our lovely family?” Terelia laughed, softly. “Oh they’re just hundreds and thousands of pirates and common thieves we found and captured. Alaric put them all under one of his creative spells. They make obedient servants, but they’re so boring, he might have overdone it.”
One of Creepy Zombie Guy’s creative spells, eh? Odd. Alaric did not strike Azure as being one she would describe as “creative”.
“We have you prisoner,” the leader continued to hiss at Azure. “If King Altador wants you back alive, he will give up his entire city and watch as we take it apart, stone, by stone. If not, he can send more and more of his Special Units into our forests to meet the same fate as yours did. To destroy us, he’ll have to find us, and to do that he will just keep sending more and more Special Units to their doom! And once he runs out of other soldiers, he’ll have to use his own army to search the wilderness for us. And we will dispatch of them, group by group. And once they are weakened, we launch a massed attack and take Altador by force!”
Azure felt her heart thud. He was right. It was a brilliant plan, almost foolproof. Even if Azure and Kalec escaped, the Shadow Blades would only move to another location. Then to find, them, sooner or later, King Altador would have to send another Special Unit to find the Shadow Blades. Then more hostages would be taken and they would be in this position again. Unless... Azure concentrated. Her father Lord Rhys, found loopholes in every contract he signed. Surely there was a fault in this plan, as well? She struggled to remember every lesson he had ever tried to teach her. It was not easy, as most of the time, she was not paying attention to him.
While she was still pondering, the leader ordered, “Terelia, take them back to their cells. We have said more than I intended and they must not escape. Go.”
Azure and Kalec were led out of the room, back though the giant treasure chamber and back into the barren gray corridor where their nice cozy cells awaited. They were thrown into their selective little cubicles and left there. Terelia padded away, along with the weird Krawk guard from earlier.
Now that her eyes were adjusted to the darkness, Azure could make out Kalec’s from in the opposite row of cells. He was sitting motionlessly on his straw bed. Azure could hardly blame him. He had lost his father just yesterday. Or was it yesterday? No windows meant Azure had idea what time it was.
She sat down on her own pile of straw and reran her thoughts. What could they do? She plotted and pondered and somehow a plan began to take shape. Azure glanced at her wrist. In the weak light, she could still make out the glint of metal on it. It was her metal bracer. They had overlooked it, when disarming her. Not much, but certainly more than a bag of sunflower seeds.
“Hey! Kalec!” Azure whispered urgently. There was no reply from the Shoyru. Annoyed, the Draik looked around and found a small pebble on the floor of her cell. She weighed it in her paw and with expert aim, threw it at Kalec. It hit him hard on the shoulder, causing him to half-yelp then turn and glower at her.
In the dim light, Azure began to whisper her half-formed plan. The only way out of it, as far as she could see, was to escape back to the city, and inform King Altador of the Shadow Blade’s position and their plans. But the key was escaping without the any of the Shadow Blade’s noticing. If they did, they would probably move their underground base somewhere else, and the viscous cycle would begin anew.
After she was done, Kalec nodded slowly, although Azure couldn’t really see it. Certainly, there was no guarantee that her plan would work at all, but it was worth a try. But for now, all she could do was wait and continue planning...
To be continued...