Appendix A: Chapter 9

[Editor's note: Chapter 9 of my 2008 NaNoWriMo entry.]

“Hi,” a familiar voice said.

Roland lifted his armor’s visor and saw Anna standing in front of his rented booth.

“Greetings,” he replied.

“Having any luck?” she asked.

“Not as such, no.” Roland’s predictions had largely come to pass. While several people had approached his makeshift recruiting stand over the past couple days, they had done so mostly out of curiosity, rather than any genuine interest in joining the Order. And while it was nice to actually have a personal tale of heroism to relate instead of relying on the old stories of great deeds in days long past, the opportunity to receive severe burns didn’t have quite the marketing effect Roland would have liked.

In fact, ordinarily he would have cut his losses and be on route to the next town by now. However, he couldn’t quite bring himself to leave without having some closure on the Anna issue.

“That’s too bad,” Anna said. I wish there was something I could do to help.”

Roland shook his head, though the gesture was largely hidden by his helmet. “That’s not necessary. Besides, you have your own things to worry about. Speaking of which, are you still thinking of going to Castle Helioth?”

“I’m past the ‘thinking’ stage. I plan to head out first thing in the morning, after I stock up on a few things first.”

“Are you sure?”

Anna looked to either side, then leaned in slightly towards Roland. “Actually,” she said in hushed tones, “I’ve learned for a fact that someone’s out there right now.”

“How?”

“People talk; you just have to know how to find the right kind of people. Anyway, there’s apparently a wagon that heads out in that direction at night about once a week. I’d wager it’s supplies going to whoever’s there. The most recent one was last night, and I did a little exploring and saw it for myself as it left town. So yes, I’m sure.”

“And your brother?”

Anna frowned. “That part I can’t be entirely sure about. Like I said, I’m only guessing it’s supplies. For all I know it could be full of other kids being shipped over for who knows what. The people I talked to didn’t know, or wouldn’t talk about, what the wagons are for. But its possible that’s how they got him there, whoever ‘they’ are.”

Roland felt a pit in his stomach as he realized how this conversation was inevitably going to end. “If you’re right, and your brother is being held captive there, how can you be sure you won’t be captured too? Or that you’ll be able to escape even if you do find him?”

“I’ll figure it out,” Anna shrugged, “once I see what I’m up against.”

“But–”

“And I know what you’re going to say; I can see it in your eyes. You’re not going to talk me out of this.”

“And I can’t in good conscience let you go off and get yourself kidnapped, or worse.”

“So then we’re at an impasse. But you couldn’t stop me if you tried. If nothing else, I could outrun you. Especially if you’re wearing all of that.”

“I’m coming with you.”

“But–”

This time it was Roland’s turn. “I know, I know, you don’t know how you’d ever repay me. That doesn’t matter. If I expected to be repaid, I’d become a mercenary.”

They stared at each other across the booth’s table. Finally, Anna said, “I’ll be in the village square at daybreak tomorrow. Don’t be late, or I might just leave without you.”

—-

Anna and Roland spent the next day an half trekking through the rolling hills that separated Derinham from the castle. There was no road to follow, or if there was, it was well-hidden. Uneasily, Roland thought about how these lands were among the first through which the Demon King’s armies had swept decades ago. Even though that threat had long since passed, Roland’s imagination refused to stop.

At nightfall they had set up a makeshift camp. Against Anna’s protest, Roland refused to set up any kind of fire, for fear of drawing attention to their position from anyone else who might be nearby. He had also insisted that they sleep in shifts to keep watch. Roland had taken the first watch, and left a groggy Anna to stand guard while he slept. Sure enough, he had awoken in the morning to find her asleep not too far away.

As they clearly had not been attacked, and in the darkness they should have been all but invisible to anyone nearby anyway, Roland tried to shake the feeling that we was being needlessly paranoid. But if the rumors Anna had heard were true, he wasn’t willing to risk it.

Around midday of the second day, they finally came upon what was left of Castle Helioth. Roland had always pictured it has having been almost completely levelled at the end of the war, and was surprised to see that although much of the castle had indeed collapsed, a few areas around the perimeter were still standing. The entire site was surrounded by the remnants of a moat, and the sections that hadn’t caved in or erosed over the years held a trickle of foul brown liquid that Roland hesitated to call “water.”

Roland didn’t see anyone standing guard, but with all the rubble and ruins strewn throughout the area, there were more than enough places for someone to hide. Roland and Anna followed the former moat around until they reached a relatively level section. Pairs of shallow wheel ruts in the mud suggested that Anna’s information had been correct; at the very least, someone had been here recently.

The two of them crossed the ditch a little further down in a rockier section to avoid leaving footprints. With Roland leading with Anna close behind, they crept from one piece of cover to the next, slowly advancing to one of the still-standing stone structures. They came upon a doorway in one of the walls. Roland motioned for Anna to stop, and slowly peered through it, seeing only darkness.

Roland turned to Anna. “Should we go in?” she asked.

Roland nodded. “It’s as good a place to start as any. It’s dark, so we’ll need to light the torches.” He paused. “Now, I know what your answer is going to be, but I have to say this anyway. Things could get very dangerous once we go inside. If you want to wait out here while I go on ahead–”

“Not a chance,” she replied. “We’re going to find Derek, and I’m going to be there when it happens. No matter what.”

Roland nodded. “The torches are going to draw attention to us, so if there’s anybody there, it’s essential that we notice them before they notice us. Keep your eyes and ears open for anything, no matter how insignificant. And keep quiet. The louder we are, the less we’ll hear. And most of all, stay by me. Don’t go anywhere unless you know for a fact that I’m with you.”

“Got it.”

Roland pulled two torches out of his back, and took out a couple pieces of flint from a pouch on his belt. He lit the torches and handed one to Anna. Even though he could still feel its weight on him, he patted the cloak covering the light chain mail under it, which he had borrowed from the armory.

Roland motioned for Anna to follow him, and stepped through the opening.

—-

Roland and Anna wandered through a pitch-black maze of passageways. Roland imagined that at some point these halls had been much more passable, but collapsed rock blocked off many of the available paths, forcing them to frequently retrace their steps. Roland divided his attention among remembering the passages they had already explored, keeping watch for signs of anything, and making sure Anna was always never farther than arm’s length from him.

The passage they were in suddenly widened, and Roland held up his fist. Anna stopped behind him, having learned after bumping into Roland a few times what that signal meant.

“What is it?” she whispered.

“I’m not sure,” he replied, “but something doesn’t feel right about it.”

“Nothing feels right about anything here,” she complained.

Roland held his torch forward to get a better look of the chamber. Nothing seemed remarkable about the walls, but the stones on the floor of the chamber were different. They were of uniform size and laid out in a regular pattern, unlike the floors of the passages they had spent the last half hour navigating, which had apparently been put together using whatever would fit. Roland lowered the torch towards the floor, and saw that the mortar around some stones appeared to be missing.

“It’s a trap,” Roland whispered.

“Seriously?” Anna replied.

“Looks that way. See these stones here? They look like some kind of switch. Step on one, and you activate the mechanism.”

“Which is?”

“I don’t know, but I’d rather not find out the hard way.”

“Would it even work after all this time?”

“I don’t know, but if someone else is here, they might have been keeping it maintained.”

“So we go back.”

Roland shook his head. “If it is a trap, it’s obviously there to keep us from going through here, which means that’s probably where we want to go.”

“Lovely,” Anna sighed. “So we go forward.”

Roland shook his head again. “I’ll go forward and see if I can find a way through, or some way to shut it off. There has to be some way past it, or else it would stop the people who put it here from getting through too.”

“But you said I should stay by you, no matter what.”

“Too dangerous. You might set it off accidentally.”

“So might you.”

“So watch me carefully, and if something happens, well…”

“Well what?”

“Don’t do whatever I did to set it off.”

Roland crept forward, only occasionally glancing up from the floor. He didn’t see any immediately obvious pattern to which stones looked like triggers and which ones were cemented into place. There might be a path through, but it almost certainly wasn’t going to be a straight line. Roland advanced one step at a time, testing each next stone gingerly before putting his weight on it. He stayed ready to leap back if anything happened. Roland worried that leaping back might land him on another trigger, but on the other hand, whatever the trap was, it probably wasn’t targeted with enough precision to miss him by virtue of being only a foot away from the trigger. Leaping back might be the less likely way to get killed.

Anna screamed, then went silent.

Roland spun around, but the light from his torch didn’t reach far enough to get a clear view of the passageway behind him. All he could see for sure was Anna’s torch rolling slowly along the floor. Roland heard heavy footsteps racing away from him down the passageway. Someone carrying Anna? Roland cursed himself for leaving her behind, but at the time it had seemed like the less risky option.

Roland’s thoughts were suddenly interrupted by a booming voice behind him, echoing in the chamber.

“It’s about time they sent someone!”

Chapter word count: 1,881 (according to wc)
Total word count: 16,707 / 50,000 (33.414% complete)

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