Noboro hung from the wall—his arms and legs chained tightly and splayed out. Lash marks scarred his body along with ample bruises. He was filthy, ragged, and naked. But he was alive, and with a resolute spark in his eyes.
Turesobei hugged him by the waist. “Father!”
A strained, distant voice responded: “Sobei, you're alive. My prayers are answered.”
“This is Onudaka, Father. He saved my life. He's a medic. He's going to help get you out of here.”
“My best … to you, sir.” Noboro coughed. “My limbs are weak. I'm afraid … someone must carry me.”
Turesobei drew a healing strip from his pouch. “I can fix some of your weakness and injury. Enough that we can get you to safety.”
“What's going on out there? It's sounds … like you summoned a horde of demons.”
“It's a long story, my lord,” Onudaka said. “But a horde of demons isn't far from the mark. Your son has earned us sengi as allies.”
“The Bogamaru Sengi?”
“Aye. You should be quite proud of him.”
Noboro smiled. “I am.” His eyes then focused on Turesobei. “There's much … I must tell you, but we’ve … got to get out of here first.”
“The sengi should have this wrapped up soon,” said Onudaka. “The cultists don’t seem to have any weapons that can hurt them.”
“Sotenda and the sorcerer … they’re not here?”
“No,” Turesobei replied.
His father's face took on a frantic expression. “Then you’re too late. They've gone on with the key. We have little time left.”
“Try to relax, Father.” Turesobei activated the healing strip. A warm glow of yellow earth energies filled the little hut, sealing Noboro's scrapes and revitalizing his haggard body.
Onudaka gave the chains one hard tug and then cursed with frustration. “I can't break them loose.”
“They're secured … to iron posts inside the timbers,” Noboro said.
Without another moment wasted, Turesobei summoned a dark-fire globe and settled it onto the links holding Noboro's arms. His father cringed from the heat but said nothing in complaint. That he trusted his son made Turesobei feel proud. After the metal links softened a bit, Onudaka yanked again and broke the chain. They repeated the process on the chains binding his other three limbs.
Freed, Noboro stood and walked a few shaky steps. Then he took Turesobei up into a giant hug. Tears rolled from his father's eyes.
“They bound and tortured me,” Noboro said. “Got everything out of me. Used magic … along with pain. I couldn't resist.”
“Do you know who this sorcerer is?” Turesobei asked.
“He sounded familiar. His accent was that of a Batsan baojendari, and he's young. But that's all I could tell. He wore a mask when he interrogated me. I never heard his name.”
“Can you walk?” Onudaka asked.
Noboro bobbed his head. “I can make it. Come, we must head out immediately.”
“Father, you should rest first.”
“We have no time. Sotenda is already on his way to the vault. He has the Storm Key and I told him how to use it. We must hurry.”
Turesobei looked to Onudaka for help, but the old man merely shrugged. Both of them knew Noboro couldn't be convinced otherwise, and they both knew that he may be right, that if they didn't move quickly a powerful artifact would fall into the wrong hands.
They met no resistance outside as they moved through the citadel grounds. Fighting continued in pockets here and there, but most of it seemed over already. Noboro leaned on Onudaka for support while Turesobei led the way with his sword drawn. He saw no sign of Iniru and was deeply worried about her.
They rounded up four frightened denekon from a stable and coaxed them outside, but just barely. They walked them out through the gate and halfway down the hill. They thought they were safe.
Four cultists emerged from the trees at a run, spotted them, and drew to a halt. Turesobei assumed it was a scouting party out on patrol that must have rushed back as soon as they heard fighting.
Three of the scouts drew swords and charged uphill. The fourth—with an arrow nocked to his bowstring already—drew, aimed, and released.
Somehow unable to move, Turesobei watched in disbelief as the arrow sped toward him. Then suddenly, Noboro lunged forward and knocked him aside.