Princess Cariolta looked around the room in a silent stupor. It was still filled with smoke and feathers. The vibrant silk tapestries which lined the walls smoldered delicately. Gossamer scarves lay strewn about the room, intertwined with splintered wood and shattered pottery. The elaborate mosaic on the domed ceiling glittered through the haze with its shameful depictions of mythical beasts engaged in acts of violence and unlikely intercourse. Her companions stood about like the living dead, trying to gather enough energy to feel the pain that they were in. In the centre of the room lay the headless corpse of a strangely painted lizard the size of a man and in the corner laid an emaciated naked boy who appeared to have just discovered his own genitals and was poking at them with great curiosity.
The memories of the last few minutes washed over her. She had just affected a brazen escape from the world’s most terrifying dungeon, which was immediately followed by an even more brazen rescue attempt from the world’s most terrifying gaoler. They had done this without a single casualty, all due to the help of a boy who appears to have no idea what had transpired.
She began to giggle. She dropped to her knees and giggled hysterically. Kish joined her moments later, and a half mad cackle erupted from Prag. They gasped for breath and fell back to the floor as their minds collectively tried to cope with the madness of the whole thing. The laughter stopped abruptly, though, as Kazé toppled to the ground.
His thick dark fur had masked the severity of his wound. The exhilaration of combat had kept him alert and fighting. With the waning sense of danger, the desperation that had kept him going was pouring out of his hind leg as quickly as the blood. He pawed pitifully at Cailo’s darkened cloak for a moment, stumbled and fell. His thoughts drifted to his family, of the cool night air whipping through his fur as they dashed together across the plains, into the night. Then he slipped softly into the dreamless sleep that balances at the edge of death.
Princess Cariolta flew to Kazé’s side and fumbled to staunch the bleeding. “Gods! There’s so much blood. I can’t even find the wound.”
She was panicking.
Kish’s demeanor turned instantly from that of a desperate fugitive to an officious surgeon. She grabbed Cariolta’s shaking hands and moved her gently aside as she tore off a sleeve of her own damp blouse and pressed it against Kazé’s flank. “Cari, I need you to hold this here while I find a needle and thread to stitch this up. Can you do that?”
“I… Yes, I can… I will… Please hurry.” The princess was trying hard to choke back the tears that were welling up behind her noble eyes.
“Prag! I need something to shave some of that fur off so I can work.” Kish was kneeling by the corpse of Lord Cailo and jamming her sword into his side.
Prag produced a small razor almost instantly. Though it smelled a little foul, it looked wicked sharp. “Where were you keeping that?” asked Kish, somewhat disturbed.
“Don’t ask questions you don’t want answered,” responded Prag flatly “I’ll wash it off. I think I saw a flask in that pile that used to be a dressing table… what are you doing?”
Kish had pried one of Cailo’s ribs from his body and was starting to strip away the flesh that had stuck to it. “Lizard ribs make good needles. When you’re done washing that, find a good thread for stitches.”
To his own surprise, Prag found himself shocked and a little nauseated by Kish’s actions. It wasn’t the carving up of a body that bothered him. It was the lack of hesitation. She had seen a solution to her problem and was now defiling a corpse for a sliver of its bone. She was elbow-deep in purple blood and showed no signs of slowing down. He gave her an unseen nod of respect, and went groping for that flask of liquor he’d seen.
He found it, a lovely silver flask. He popped the top, took a swig, and nearly threw it straight back up. Satisfied that the mystery brew was of adequate alcoholic fortitude to be used for medical purposes, he carefully sanitized his razor and went about finding a thread.
He paused at the cape of the late Lord Cailo. He had a moment of doubt and sadness, but he quickly shook it away before anyone noticed. He carefully drew a long black thread from the cut in the cape and handed it, the razor and the flask of screech to Kish. “This should do the job, I think.”
Kish looked up from the sliver of bone she had shaved off and examined Prag’s offerings carefully. “Good. Wash this for me while I shave Kaz.” She handed Prag the bone needle and turned to face her fallen comrade.
Kish then realized that not everyone in the room had the constitution to be a field surgeon. Princess Cariolta’s entire body was shaking save her hands, which she was focusing all her effort on keeping still for Kazé’s sake. She was making a noble effort to hold back her tears and to hold down her lunch. However, her eyes were bloodshot and her face was starting to turn green, even through the layers of smeared make-up.
“Cari.” Kish said is as soothing a tone as she could muster. “You can let go now. I’ll take it from here. Go find us some new clothes okay honey?” She helped the Princess stand and handed her the spear. “Go on now, he’ll be fine”
Cariolta walked shakily to the door. She pushed the fallen wardrobe aside, walked through the door and closed it gently behind her. She then dropped her spear, fell to her knees and began to retch violently. Nothing in her life had prepared her for watching Kish calmly dismember a corpse. She kneeled, dry-heaving for a couple of minutes, thankful that she’d not eaten anything that day. When she finally regained her composure, she saw a pair of feet standing in front of her.
Looking up through bleary eyes she recognized the face of the friendly lieutenant. The presence of a commoner shook her back to clarity and she rose from the floor with the grace of nobility. “I’m looking for a change of clothes, could you help me?” She said in a tone of voice, which sounds polite but implies a swift execution for anyone who disobeys. It’s the sort of tone that royalty cultivate.
The lieutenant stared back, his eyes heavy and shoulders slumped. “This way miss. I’m sure we can find something.” He led her down the hall and into another room.
The princess was stunned. The room was filled with wardrobes overflowing with clothing. She began rummaging through the closets looking for something appropriate. There was an endless assortment of fancy dress and costumes: ball gowns, tailcoats, faun and fairie costumes, and leather belted gladiator outfits. It was a huge and incongruous assortment.
“The Lord liked to dress up his… guests… before he hunts them,” Said the lieutenant, his eyes on the floor. “You should find some real clothes in the closets on the right”
Cariolta was starting to take pleasure in the looting of the wardrobe “Thank you. You’ve been a great help. Do you plan to come with us? We could use someone like you with us.”
“Someone like me?” the lieutenant cut in coldly “A traitor you mean? Or a coward?”
“No, you helped us. You put yourself at risk to protect the innocent. You’re a good man.” She spoke with the naivety of a child raised on fairy stories of noble knights and damsels in distress.
“I think you misunderstand me, miss. I may have led you to the chambers of a madman to rescue a woman from being hunted for sport and devoured for pleasure, but don’t for an instant believe that I am your ally. I am a soldier of Ashun, a lieutenant in the army of King Ashunar. Those men out there are my subordinates and my comrades. I would have gladly died fighting by their sides would it have served any purpose. They were good men, each one loyal and brave.” His voice was beginning to rise in anger “Were there any chance that my sacrificing myself would have saved even one of them I would have done it gladly. You and your friends, milady, were rightfully imprisoned here under the laws of the land and I have no reason to believe any of you are innocent. Now I’m imprisoned here in this awful manor. Should I take one step outside, the spirits you set free will devour me as they have my brothers in arms. If my some chance I am rescued, I will be rightly put on trial for mutiny and executed.” He finished his lecture and the fire again left his eyes. He was a broken man, waiting for death. His proud shoulders slumped and he turned to walk back down the hall.
The Princess was speechless. This lowly lieutenant had stolen her victory. Their impossible triumph had been twisted into a brutal slaughter. She looked out the window at the silent graveyard they had created. The faces of the prison guards were still twisted in the agony of their deaths.
The boy was enthralled with the actions of all the people around him. They rushed about and pulled things apart. The black fuzzy thing had stopped moving and they were paying a lot of attention to it. Eventually one of them left and the others stopped moving around so much, so he turned his attention to other things.
The metal things around his wrists and neck were starting to bother him. He pulled and yanked with all his strength at a cuff on his ankle. It stretched, creaked and finally popped. Satisfied he moved on to the next one.
Kish nearly tore out the stitches she had made so far because of an enormous bang from behind her. She turned to see the naked idiot pulling at the remains of his shackles. She watched as the steel twisted in his hands. Her mind unwilling to wrestle with the impossible strength of the youth, she turned back to her work. “Prag, is there any way you could get that kid out of here?” She said, concentrating on the next stitch.
“Um…” Replied Prag. He thought for a moment or two, then walked over to pick up the lad’s looted sword which was lying on the ground beside him. The boy seemed to like the sword and would likely follow it out of the room, like a puppy chasing his favourite toy.
Prag grabbed it by the hilt, tried to throw it, and nearly fell over. It wouldn’t budge. It had to weigh as much as several men. Prag noticed that it had shattered the thick marble tiles that it had landed on when the boy fell over. Prag marveled at both the impossible weight of the sword and the even more impossible strength of the boy who had been whipping it around quite casually.
He changed tactics.
He grabbed a hairpin from Kish’s tangle of curls, which received a quiet grumble from the focused doctor at work. He carefully bent the tip and then cautiously approached the boy. Slowly he knelt down and reached for the youth’s hand.
The kid was amazed. The hairy-faced man had walked over and taken his arm. With a tiny little pointy thing he had poked a hole in the dangly thing hanging from the uncomfortable metal thing, wiggled it a bit, and the whole thing came undone and fell off of his arm. Then the man moved away.
The boy crawled towards the man eagerly and produced his other arm. Again the magical man used his little pointy thing and the cuff fell to the floor, once again the man moved farther away. He wanted the thing off his neck too. It was the worst and it hurt when he pulled on it. He tumbled after the man and lay on the floor pointing at the collar. Very gently and carefully the man twisted and twirled the magic stick and he was free. He rolled around on the floor in glee, touching his wrists and neck happily.
Prag was glad that the boy had forgotten about the other cuff on his ankle. The kid had already mangled it past any chance of picking the lock.
“Looks like you made a friend.” Cariolta appeared arms overflowing with clothing.
Almost at the same time Kish appeared at the door. “I’m done. I think he’ll live, but we probably shouldn’t move him for a few days.” Prag frowned “I don’t think that’s a possibility. Somebody will realize there’s a problem up here before long and then we’ll have an army to deal with. We should probably be out of here within the hour.”
Kish considered briefly then spoke up “I suppose we had better get cleaned up then. Come on Cari, let’s find the powder room.”
Prag was left standing alone with the strange boy. “I suppose you think you’re coming with us don’t you?”
He smiled stupidly.
“Well let’s find you some trousers then.”
The next half hour was a flurry of frustration for Prag. He found some clothes for himself and the boy to wear with little trouble. However the boy was insistent on putting on the clothes himself after having seen Prag do it. Unfortunately, Prag had dressed himself quickly and crisply and the boy was mimicking his actions. He had torn two shirts and three pairs of pants to shreds and ruined the only useable pair of shoes around before Prag admitted defeat and started again.
Prag stripped down and then dressed slowly and carefully, allowing the idiot kid to follow along. The kid would have to live without shoes for the time being. Prag then came to a difficult decision: Should he arm the boy or not? The kid was dangerous enough as it was, giving him a weapon could be disastrous. However, he seemed to learn quickly and could potentially be a valuable asset. As he debated with himself, he examined the weapon that the boy had found.
The sword remained where it had fallen and Prag hadn’t enough strength to even move it, let alone lift it. The belt, however, wasn’t nearly as heavy as the sword, though it still weighed almost as much as a grown sheep. The belt was brilliant steel with a soft leather lining. There were two thick chains hanging down on the left side that supported the scabbard; the scabbard itself was hewn from an iridescent white stone and was adorned with delicate silver tracery. The whole thing was covered with tiny etched runes, runes of strength and fortitude. Prag smiled.
As he strapped the belt on, the boy found one of the discarded sheathes that the Princess had been carrying and tried to strap it on mimicking the actions of the older man. Prag reached for the mysterious sword but the boy beat him to it and sat cross legged on the floor examining it.
Prag was worried about angering the lad, but he reached out his hand and gestured for the boy to hand the sword to him. Confused but compliant the boy handed the blade to the mercenary. Prag grabbed it excitedly, but was then pulled to the floor as the enormous weight nearly dislocated his shoulder.
He stared at the blade which had fallen tip first into the floor and whose weight alone had buried it nearly a foot into solid marble. He took off the belt and re-examined the runes. He decided that the runes were not so much to make the blade possible to wield, but more to make the belt strong enough to hold the weight. He boggled as to why such a thing would have been made, but he had found something that could use it.
“I’m going to regret this” He said to nobody in particular as he helped put the belt on the kid. He then strapped on an ordinary scabbard himself and slowly, so the boy could watch, slid a short sword into the sheath.
The boy copied eagerly sliding the brilliant silver blade into its alabaster holster.
After what seemed like an eternity to Prag, the women emerged from their extended stay in the lavatory. They had bathed, fixed their hair and reapplied their makeup. Cariolta looked like a doll. She wore a high collared lavender dress. Her hands were covered by long white gloves and on her feet were tall white boots. Not an inch of skin was exposed, except for her face which was so thickly covered with powder as to make it look like porcelain. Her freshly curled golden locks were covered by the hood of a dark green riding cloak.
Kish had opted for something more practical and was wearing an equestrian outfit with light brown breeches and a thick green wool jacket. Her hair was tied back by two neat braids which started at her temples and coiled around the mass of dark brown waves at the back. She carried two blades, slung low on either hip. In her hand she carried a satchel which Prag had to assume were all the necessary tools to affect such a transformation again.
He felt much outclassed and he laughed. He was now a royal bodyguard rather than a fellow fugitive. He liked that arrangement. It meant that he might get paid at the end of it all.
He tossed the shortened spear back to princess Cariolta and started to pack a bag. Tossed Cailo’s torn cloak and discarded mask into it. He retrieved the silver flask and rummaged around for some more valuables to trade.
“Why don’t you just wear the cloak?” asked the porcelain princess.
“That’s disgusting. Nobody should even touch the thing except for the dog.” he said flatly and left the building without further explanation, followed closely by the boy scampering at his heels.
Too engaged with their fallen companion to be distracted by Prag’s incoherent ramblings, the two women built a stretcher for the unconscious Kazé out of spears and blankets and met Prag in the deathly silent courtyard. He had loaded himself and the boy up with a backpack full of dried meats and wine-skins. He had also found himself a crossbow and was attempting to fill a quiver while avoiding the wandering spirits which now drifted about the grounds.
“Any idea where we’re going?” Prag asked.
Cariolta considered for a long moment as the ghost of a long dead monk drifted past. “South. If we can get across the border straight south of here, we should be in the Barony of Orl. I’m friends with the Baron. We should be safe there.”
The troupe left the accursed prison gates and started down the stairs. It was slow going, carrying all of their equipment and Kazé on a stretcher. The boy was moving even slower.
The boy was troubled. He had figured out how to climb stairs earlier and he was annoyed that the same method in the other direction seemed to cause him to fall and smash his face into the rocks on every alternate step. He eventually sorted out that he could make solid progress if he crawled backwards, but it was dreadfully slow and he only got to look at where he had already been.
Prag reached the bottom of the steps at dusk. There he found two unsuspecting guards which he dispatched so casually that those carrying
Kazé barely noted their presence.
After searching the small guard post he shouted up the steps at the others”Hey! We’re in luck! There’s a donkey and a cart here we can use.”