Lorcan opened his eyes and pulled at the steel shackles holding him to the wall. He was in a dark dungeon, surrounded by stone walls. The cell was dimly lit, and he couldn’t see a door anywhere. The heat rising from the floor was unbearable. He was surprised he hadn’t turned into charcoal already. This must be the place they called the Heating Ducts.
“Human, how did you end up here?”
The ancient voice echoed through the room. Lorcan blinked. The voice sounded distant, but it hadn’t come from far away at all. An old man with striking purple eyes was shackled a few feet away.
“Why do you assume English is my human language? What if I spoke Cambodian?”
The man chuckled. “It’s good that you can have a sense of humor under these conditions. It’ll help you retain your sanity.”
Lorcan looked the man up and down. In the glowing light coming from a fire at the far end of the corridor, he could see the man’s formidable shape. He had long dark hair, broad shoulders, and a masculine face. There was something about him that held Lorcan’s attention. Maybe it was his aura and the authority in his voice.
He was sure the man wasn’t human, because a human wouldn’t have addressed him as “human” the way he had. But what exactly the man was, Lorcan couldn’t tell.
“How long have you been here? Where are we? What do they want from us?”
“I've lost track of time. But it hasn’t been long enough for me to forget why I'm here.”
“This is the Heating Ducts, isn't it?”
“You've got the name right, but you I don’t think you know what it’s really about.”
“Who is that?” said another voice. “Why are you talking to him, Father?”
Lorcan strained his eyes and saw a younger man tied to a wall behind the old man. He looked more frail, though, and didn’t share his father’s formidable features.
“Just rest, son. Save your strength.”
“I don’t think I can handle this, Father. I’m sorry I disappointed you.”
“I only expect you to survive. Can you do that? Or did your mother die in vain?”
The young man started to cry. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”
“Alexander, calm down. You’ll be fine.”
“No, Father, I’m weak. I can’t survive any more torture.”
“Yes, you can.”
“No…I can’t. I’m useless…”
“Stop it, Alexander. I order you—”
“No, please let me die.”
Lorcan saw a spark come from the old man’s eyes, and Alexander’s head flipped back then lolled toward the front. His body dangled heavily by the chains attached to the wall.
“You killed your son?” Lorcan exclaimed, but then he saw the pain in the man’s eyes.
“I merely put him to sleep. But whenever I do it, I draw energy out of him. He will be even weaker when he wakes.”
Lorcan jiggled the shackles on his hands, and they began to cut into his flesh. “You must know something very important for them to kill your wife and torture your son. I hope the secret you’re keeping from them is worth it.”
“I’m sure you’ve never had to take care of anything greater than yourself and those directly related to you.”
Lorcan chuckled, thinking about the family he had left a long time ago to pursue his dreams in the city, and his love for Orla, his childhood sweetheart.
“My family doesn’t need me to take care of them. The only person more important than my own life is my lover. And what I had been trying to do was to finish off a job, buy a ring, and propose to her. And see what that got me!” He yanked again at his shackles and said, “I can’t imagine how much more trouble I’d be in if I had to take care of something more important than that ordinary human affair.”
“I see you’re a sentimental kind of person.”
“Should I be embarrassed about that?”
“Most human males would be. But you don’t look at all embarrassed about showing affection toward your woman.”
“I don’t need to live up to anyone’s expectations. And I guess I’m selfish.” Lorcan took a closer look at the man. “You must be someone of high authority.”
The man shook his head. “They have my family in here for a piece of jewelry, which if I knew where it was, I would give to them.”
“Is that all?”
“Yes, that’s all.”
They heard a loud bang right in front of the door to their cell. Then the door swung open. A lanky man walked in, flanked by five creatures, all with small lizard-like heads and scaly green skin but human-like bodies. They were armed to the teeth, with a variety of weapons dangling from their vests.
The lanky man didn’t wear much armor. He walked straight up to the old man.
“The great Fabian?”
“Who are you?”
“My name is Pexami. Your daughter sends me.”
“I don’t have a daughter.”
“This is the only cell in which they keep the royals. Look, I don’t want to be disrespectful, but I’ve lost fifty pets, thirty soldiers, and seventeen inter-world mercenaries trying to get in here to see you. That’s much more than your daughter paid for. I don’t have time to waste.”
Before Fabian could say anything further, Pexami yanked Fabian’s shirt open. Seeing the tattoo of two crossed tridents, he turned and said to the lizard mercenaries, “He’s the right one. Take the son.”
One of the mercenaries moved to the wall to break the shackles. Pexami asked another two to break the lock on Fabian’s restraints. The old man said nothing, but Lorcan was sure there were millions of strategies running through the man’s head.
Lorcan figured Fabian was not only royal but was perhaps at the highest rank in his court or some equivalent governmental structure in this dimension. Perhaps he could hitch a ride out of here.
“It sounds like you endured a massive fight to get in here, but we didn’t hear any noise. If they let you get in too easily, it might be a trap,” Lorcan said.
“Who are you?” Pexami asked.
“No one important. But I worked my way in here via a tunnel, and no one saw me until a prisoner shouted. If you break my chains, I’ll take you out through that tunnel.”
Pexami nodded and signaled the remaining mercenary to free Lorcan. The left the cell through its already open door and stepped out into a hallway covered in the blood and gore of dead creatures, wardens, and guards.
Lorcan remembered the way and navigated precisely back to the tunnel. This was one of the important skill sets he had acquired after being a spy for so long.
Once they entered the tunnel, Lorcan knew it would lead them back to the cave, and then they would swim out to the sharks if they still lurked nearby.
He slowed down and whispered to Fabian, “There were sharks at the mouth of the cave. I don’t know if they’re still there.”
Pexami turned around. “There is no time for chatting.”
The lingering pain in Lorcan’s side intensified, and he rubbed at it absently. “You’re walking too fast,” he said. “I can’t keep up. The mouth of the cave is straight ahead. You can’t miss it. You don’t need me anymore.”
Lorcan sat down on a large rock.
Pexami shrugged and signaled the mercenaries to keep going. Then a mercenary Pexami had sent ahead to survey the grounds hurried back in, speaking in a stream of language Lorcan didn’t understand. But he could tell by the look on Pexami’s face that he was in trouble.