Extended Ending, Chapter 40

Chapter Forty

To Rescue a Summoner

In moments, Savatay and Orthel came upon the doorway out of which the soldiers had exited. It was set in the wall to their right, a solid oak door bound with iron bands. The handle was fixed with a lock, but Savatay quickly found the appropriate key from the dungeon master’s ring and released the lock’s mechanism. He looked farther down the corridor in which they stood. “I’m not sure where this leads, or if we should continue straight ahead. What say you, Orthel? Can you divine anything that may suggest a route to us?”

Orthel closed his eyes. “I sense distress emanating from either passage. Though I would suggest the passage from which the soldiers brought that man in bondage.”

Savatay opened the door and peeked through. The corridor was lit with more torches, and the brightness spilled over into the other hallway. “At least we might be able to better see our adversary, should we encounter one,” the elf said, stepping through the doorway.

In this corridor, doorways lined the walls, all closed. “We must have reached the dungeons,” Savatay said. He tried the handle of a door. “It is locked. Do we attempt to open every one in search of Arius’ father?”

Orthel shook his head. “The dungeon master mentioned that he was guarded by a squadron of King’s Men. If indeed the ‘he’ to which he was referring was Justis, and not some unfortunate yeoman.”

“Then we continue until we encounter such a guard.”

Although the passage was well illuminated, the stench did not dissipate. “I feel as if the walls press ever closer,” Orthel said with a shudder, “despite the light that proves the corridor is wider.” Almost fifty paces away, the passage branched off to the left and right.

“Such a maze they have created here!” Savatay remarked. “’Tis a wonder the King’s Men themselves don’t lose their way.”

Upon reaching the bifurcation, Savatay again put his hand to the wall. “Left or right,” he murmured. “Which to choose?” The passage to their right turned sharply to the left after ten paces while the left corridor continued straight for a greater distance.

Orthel began to raise his hand when a shout came from the right corridor. The voice echoing through the passage said, “Bind him! The King wishes for him to be brought so this dragon rider might be more easily persuaded to assist the dark master.”

Savatay looked to Orthel. It must be Justis.

Orthel nodded. What is our plan? How shall we save this man?

With our swords, we shall cut through every King’s Man who stands in our way! For Arius!

For Arius, Orthel said.

Then with faces set, they drew their swords and sprinted down the passage.

Upon cornering the bend, they immediately encountered five King’s Men. The first two soldiers jumped and yelled their surprise, but were slain before they had a chance to draw their swords.

The remaining three were quick to ready their weapons, and grasped their swords, waiting. Their eyes darted from Savatay to Orthel, and they licked their lips.

Without warning, Savatay leapt forward, slashing at the nearest King’s Man. The elf’s sword scored a mark on the man’s arm, biting deep into his flesh. The soldier just bared his teeth and advanced. Savatay stepped back to avoid a two-handed swing, letting the sword whistle past his nose a hair’s breadth away. He hacked back, but the soldier parried his blow and returned one of his own. The two adversaries traded blows with equal ferocity, but the elf’s speed soon slipped past the King’s Man’s guard, cutting into the man’s neck. The soldier dropped to his knees, spilling his blood on the black stone floor. Another King’s Man took his place as he fell. Savatay raised his sword, dripping red, and swung.

Orthel was likewise engaged with the enduring soldier. He struck high, and as the King’s Man lifted his sword to parry the attack, the elf hooked his blade and sliced at the soldier’s legs. The sword bit into the chainmail, drawing a flow of blood from the man’s thigh. Grimacing, the soldier hacked at Orthel’s neck, but the elf easily evaded his attempt. The man stepped forward even on his injured leg. It’s as if he feels no pain! Orthel marveled as he switched to a defensive fight, the man’s intensity apparently increased by his wound. With such an immunity, remarkable advantage does he gain.

A single bead of sweat emerged on Orthel’s brow, but it was quickly whisked away. The elf moved forward, pushing the King’s Man backward, the soldier’s swings toggling from blows to parries. A moment later, Orthel severed the man’s hand, but the soldier continued to fight with his other, his face betraying no sign of discomfort.

After the loss of his hand, the King’s Man’s blows were slow and clumsy. Several strikes later, Orthel was able to thrust his sword into the man’s heart. Without so much as a cry, the man collapsed, his face plummeting into the stone.

Orthel looked to Savatay. He had just dispatched his opponent and spat on the man’s corpse, surveying the four other bodies. “They fought strangely well, for humans,” he mused.

“Yes, and it seemed as if our blows effected no signs of pain from them. Even though from such wounds a steady flow of blood did stem.”

“Curious,” Savatay murmured. “No matter. We have not the time to think on it now.” He turned his gaze to the corridor that extended into the castle’s bowels. “What concerns me is where the prisoner might be. They seem to have taken Justis deeper into the dungeons.”

“There will be more patrols the farther we progress. And our strength may wane, if they all have such immunity to pain as these soldiers did possess.” 

“Regardless, we press on!” Savatay exclaimed as he bounded forward. Orthel followed close behind, the orange glare of the torches lighting their way.

The corridor soon dipped lower into the earth, and the walls grew blacker despite the steady glow of torchlight. The passage turned left, then right, continuously bending and weaving. “At least the passageway lacks any forks,” Savatay murmured. “Although the sporadic doorways do concern me, should one of them be the true path to our destination.”

Orthel tapped his chin. “It also weighs on my mind what the King’s Men did say: they were to bring Justis to the King in his throne room, though it seems as if we are following a route that leads us farther away.”

Savatay stopped and thrust his sword point into a crack between the stones in the floor. “It does seem as if we are running through an endless maze, my friend. I begin to wonder not only if we’ll ever find Justis, but if we ourselves will ever find an end to this passage. The stench threatens to overwhelm my senses, and the blackness of this corridor leeches the very warmth from my bones.”

A shrill laugh suddenly pierced the air. Savatay whirled around, lifting his sword. Orthel too brought his blade to the ready.

“Speak, whoever laughs so!” Savatay cried.

The laughter continued, only increasing in volume, echoing throughout the entire corridor.

“The cackle flows as if from the very walls themselves!” Orthel cried. “I cannot discern how into this passage it delves.”

Savatay opened his mouth, but before he could respond, a crash echoed down the hall from whence the elves had come.

“What could have caused that monstrous noise?” Savatay wondered aloud, calling out over the incessant laughter.

Another crash sounded, louder this time, and the corridor shuddered, sending a cloud of dust upon the elves from the ceiling.

“Could it be?” Savatay nearly whispered.

Again, a subsequent crash reverberated through the tunnel, closer this time.

“The dwarves’ defense employed against us here?” Orthel answered. “It sounds as if such disaster is indeed near.”

Savatay went to the last bend in the passage and looked toward the sound of the crashes. His face paled. Turning to Orthel he cried, “Run! He’s bringing down the tunnel!”

The elves burst into sprints, following blindly the course of the passage. The crashes followed behind them, gaining ground. Orthel glanced over his shoulder and swallowed. The black stones of the ceiling were crumbling down into the passage, leaving piles of rubble in their wake. The advancing collapse grew ever closer to Orthel and his companion no matter how fast they ran.

When the stones were nearly falling on their heads, the turned a corner and emerged in a vast chamber whose ceiling rose ten paces above their heads. The collapsing tunnel caused a pile of debris to spill into the room behind Orthel and Savatay, but the walls of the chamber and the ceiling stood strong and only shuddered. The elves surveyed the room: it was bathed in a red glow, casting an eerie light on its contents. The source of the luminance was hidden, but it did not flicker or waver. In the center of the chamber there was a human-sized cage, constructed of metal bars that converged to form a dome at the top. Near the cage several tables were arranged, all with metal instruments of varying sizes and construction upon them. There was another table farther away, this one with leather straps affixed to it. Dark stains marred the surface of the white marble, and pools of some liquid had gathered at the fixture’s base.

“There is pain in this room,” Savatay said. “A latent pain that even time will have trouble erasing.”

He advanced toward the cage, narrowing his eyes. “Orthel!” he exclaimed. “There is someone in there!”

The elves rushed to the enclosure. A figure huddled at the bottom of the cage, curled into a ball. Thin rags were draped over the body, and a simple cloth was all the clothing it wore.

Savatay circled around the cage. “It appears there is no door,” he observed. He sheathed his sword and grasped two of the metal bars, attempting to pry them apart. After a minute of effort, the bars had only moved an inch. Savatay grunted. “Even for elven strength, the metal is too rigid.”

He reached a hand into the cage and jostled the prone figure. “Prisoner!” he called. “Can you awaken?” He shook the body more vigorously, parting the grimy hair from the prisoner’s face, revealing a man’s features. The rags slipped from his body, uncovering a slim silver bracelet on the man’s wrist. Savatay gasped. “It is Justis! Come, Orthel, we must free him.”

“There must be some trick,” Orthel said as he put his sword in its scabbard. “There is no visible door; it is like some convoluted limerick!”

He examined the bottom of the cage. “It appears as if there is some type of door cut into the metal at the base. But it can only be accessed if the cage is lifted up a pace.” He looked to the floor. Metal spikes jutted up from the ground around the cage. “It seems as if the King’s Men have added precautions against someone simply laying the cage on its side.” He put a hand on the cage and tried to shift it. “And its weight prevents it from easily being plied.”

“The Morgat must use their sorcery to lift the cage as he is taken in an out,” Savatay mused. “Unfortunately, magic is of no use to us here. We must find a means to lift this cage manually.”

He cast about the room and quickly located a coil of rope. He measured out a length and tugged at it. “It seems as if this is strong enough to bear the weight of the cage. Now we must find a pulley system and anchor.” Although there was no pulley, Savatay found several hooks and a metal rod as thick as his two thumbs. “Good,” he said. “I can use these double sided hooks to suspend the metal rod above the cage, and we can run the rope over the rod which will spin as it rolls while in the hooks.”

He walked over to where the wooden beams for the ceiling descended and met the wall. Nimbly jumping and climbing onto one of them, he scuttled to a rafter that was directly above the cage. He jabbed two hook ends into the beam and put the metal rod between the two empty hooks. With the improvised pulley in place, he threaded one end of the rope up and over the metal rod so that equal lengths rested on either side. He called to Orthel, “Fasten one end of the rope to the top of the cage. I will come down, and we will use this system to lift it.”

Orthel did so, adeptly applying a knot to the juncture of metal bars at the top of the enclosure. Savatay scurried down the beam and pulled on the end of the rope that was not tied to the cage. “Good, it seems to be holding. Though with the wooden beam, I know not how much time we will have.” He set his feet on the ground and got a good hold on the rope. Orthel did likewise. The elves breathed deeply, and pulled.

Slowly, the cage started to rise from the ground. A tendon bulged in Savatay’s neck and a vein throbbed in Orthel’s forward, but the elves continued to pull. The wooden beam screeched its protest, squealing as the weight of the cage pulled on it from below. When enough space had burgeoned beneath the cage, Savatay cried, “I think I can hold it myself! Go open the door!”

Orthel slowly let go of the rope, but when his hands left it completely, the cage started to descend despite Savatay’s bellow. Gasping, he said, “I cannot hold it!” and it crashed to the floor. The disturbance did not appear to affect Justis.

“We must use magic,” Savatay finally decided. “But it cannot be a lasting spell. When we have lifted the cage as high as we can, we must put something underneath it. The only thing that appears strong enough is the granite table. I will use magic to fling it underneath the cage, but not so far under so as to block the door. That should support enough of the weight so that I can manage to hold the rest up with the rope.”

Orthel nodded, and they both lifted the cage again. When it was a pace above the ground, Savatay plunged into his magical reserves and cast a net of energy around the granite table. He felt a sharp stinging sensation, and his senses grew hazy. “Savatay!” Orthel cried. The voice focused him somewhat, and with a roar he pushed away the tingle in his thoughts and flung the fixture beneath the cage. The granite crashed through the wooden tables, scattering the metal tools about the floor. Just as the table slid into position, an external force snapped the magical tendrils that connected Savatay with the granite. The severed magic whipped back into Savatay’s mind and he swayed, nearly losing his grip on the rope.

Darkness clouded Savatay’s vision, but he was dimly aware of Orthel leaving his side to examine the bottom of the cage. He barely managed to concentrate his efforts on keeping the cage suspended: the granite table only rested under the outermost rim, but for now it was enough.

The stinging in Savatay’s mind grew worse, and a profuse sweat broke out on his brow. A buzzing noise was adding to this stinging, and invaded his ears with a persistent hum.  He severed his connection with the magic, but it did not alleviate his discomfort.

“Orthel,” he said, his voice hoarse. “If you might hurry a bit.”

The other elf said something, but Savatay could not make it out. At last an exclamation came from Orthel, and Savatay focused on the elf. The door to the cage swung open and Justis dropped into Orthel’s arms. The elf brought Justis to safety, and said, “You may let the cage fall now, Savatay! We have rescued Justis from his doomsday!”

Savatay slackened his grip, and the cage tumbled off the edge of the table. Savatay staggered a bit, steadying himself on Orthel’s shoulder.

The other elf looked with concern. “Savatay, are you well? Your eyes look as if they are off in some faraway dell.”

Savatay shook his head. “Using magic seems to have had an impact on me, though if it is from some affect of this room or my own weariness I cannot tell.” He looked to Justis, carried like a child in Orthel’s arms. “He is still unconscious,” Savatay murmured. “We must find a way to escape this chamber.”

The rubble blocked their exit in the direction from which they came. The elves glanced about the room. “There,” Savatay said, pointing to a square opening in the opposite wall. It was barely half the elves’ height and just as wide. “I know not if that is an exit, but it is the only viable option available to us at the moment.”

He walked to the egress and knelt down to look through. The ambient red glow continued into the passageway, illuminating a narrow corridor. “It looks as if we’ll have to crawl through,” Savatay said.

“And Justis?” Orthel asked. “How might we get him through the pass?”

“We will slide him through,” Savatay answered. He went back to the cage and collected some of the extra sackcloth. “We’ll lay him on this and hopefully it will ease his passage.”

Orthel nodded, and after Savatay arranged the cloth on the floor, the elf gently laid Justis atop it. Savatay crawled into the channel, grasping a piece of cloth and sliding Justis along behind him. Orthel entered after, and helped coax the man along the passageway.

They hadn’t gotten more than twenty paces when Savatay suddenly stopped. “Orthel,” he said as he turned back to face the elf.

“Yes, Savatay?”

“I’ve only now just thought of something.”

“And what might it be that’s given you an inkling?”

“The King’s Men were supposed to take Justis to the throne room, not to the torture chamber. And where is his guard? A prisoner of his stature is sure to be watched at all times.”

Orthel sat back on his heels. “What might you be suggesting? That this man is a ploy, a decoy? Contemno’s way of jesting? He wears the bracelet, with no break in the links. It appears authentic, and not only when one blinks.”

“Yes but even still, the situation rests uneasily on my mind. Perhaps…”

Before he could finish, the man began to stir. His arms and legs twitched, and beneath his eyelids, his eyes rolled wildly. He began trembling violently, and as he did so the insidious laughter filled the passage as it did before. Savatay tried to draw his sword, but the cramped corridor prevented him from pulling his blade from the sheath. He swallowed. “We are weaponless,” he stated.

Orthel made his religious sign just as the man’s eyes opened. Instead of the blue and green that should have been there, the eyes were a piercing red. The flesh began to melt away from the tranquilizing glare, revealing the grotesque features of a Morgat. The creature rose from the floor, and the passageway expanded to accommodate its master, though for Savatay and Orthel the corridor remained dwarf-sized.

The Morgat was now cloaked in its black robe, and lifted the hood to conceal its hideous face. Then it spoke: “So here ends your feeble attempt to rescue the Great Master’s prisoner!” the creature’s voice hissed through the scarlet atmosphere. “Though you will not be killed: no, you will be imprisoned and will soon be well acquainted with the room from which you just fled!”

Its cackle bit into Savatay’s skin and he shivered. “No,” he threw back. “You assume in your vile mind that because we are unable to use our swords, and because magic is beyond our reach, that we will succumb to your venomous acclamations.” He tossed back his head and bared his teeth. “But today you will learn of the ferocity of the elves!” With a mad leap, he flung himself into the Morgat, enveloping the creature with his embrace. 

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