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With one eye on the window next to me, I prepare. My left boot won't slide on no matter how hard I tug, so I fold it in half. When I try to tuck it in my satchel, the caltrops I collected spill out. Nine muddy, crude chunks of iron.
Small weapons, but weapons.
I tear a sleeve off my shirt and tie a knot at one end. Drop the caltrops in the sleeve, tie a knot beneath them, then a third knot at the sleeve cuff. Carefully push the wet wool around the ball of caltrops until the barbs poke through. Now I have a mace of sorts.
Sling my shield over my arms to protect my chest, then pin what's left of my cloak over it. As long as I keep my enemies in front of me, I'll be fine.
When the rain relents to a drizzle, I limp down from my tower. Turn and check the steps above to make certain I'm not leaving bloody tracks behind.
The cold, wet ground stuns my bare foot and I hiss. But if I keep to the stones, they won't find my trail. I circle through the scramble of broken stone walls and pillars and steps until the wind blows into my face.
Settle for a moment and check my foot. Mud clots the wound, stanching the flow of blood.
A wind gust brings a scent. At last in this dead world, something with a smell. The hint of wood smoke. There is nothing here to burn. But there were fireplaces and torches back in the castle, where the yellow mantles ambushed me. They brought the scent with them.
I smile. Slip forward.
Follow the smell to a ramp.
Another ramp that descends into the dark soil. Perhaps even the same I escaped from before. At the bottom of the slope, one yellow mantle stands guard, crossbow ready. Across the circular pool, the second man uses a thick piece of chalk to mark the rear wall.
As I watch, he draws an arch--a door. Then he places something small next to the wall and kneels. I see his hands move, but I can't hear him speaking.
He is opening a door.
I'd planned to charge them berserker style. Risk a crossbow bolt in exchange for close combat with my makeshift mace. But now that plan must change.
I search the ground for small stones. Pick through several until I find one that is perfect. Smooth and heavy.
Move to flank them. Circle around the ramp and its roof, limping fast.
He may complete the spell any moment. They will step through the door and when it closes behind them I will be trapped on this dead world until I starve or cut my own throat.
Down on my hands and knees, and crawl like a serpent through the mud. I slither across the roof above the ramp and peek over the edge. The crossbowmen stands several yards up the ramp with his back to me. I can't see the spellcaster, but a blue glow seeps past the roof edge beneath me.
I lean out and toss the stone into the pond.
Flinch back out of sight.
I hear the guard's boots rub the ramp as he spins. Don't these acolytes ever speak?
I don't breath. Try to melt into the mud on the roof.
The blue glow strengthens, lighting the ramp beneath me. I hear water flowing. One of the men laughs, but it turns into a scream. Huge tentacles, thick as a pig, snake out from the pool and grab the crossbowmen. One tentacle slams him into the wall.
Brains spray across the wet stones.
I roll off the roof and drop into the ramp.
Fall to one knee when I land, but spring up.
The second acolyte turns.
He has a glowing blue stone in his hand. Behind him, there is a gap in the wall. And through the gap a forest, a living forest beneath a bright sun.
I swing the mace. The spikes tear his face open. He falls. A tentacle whips past my shoulder. Duck. Smash the fallen acolyte again. Pry the blue stone from his fingers and dash toward the wall.
A moment of bewilderment. Darkness. Stomach in my mouth. Then I roll over on my back. See a warm sun in the sky above me.
Something touches my leg and I flinch. A yard of green tentacle, severed neatly by the closing door. It writhes, brainless but half alive. I kick it aside with my bare foot and rise.
(Thanks for reading. I hope you enjoyed this story.)