Escape, part one

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The light blinded him at first when he entered. For a few dizzying moments Harbend was only aware of the sudden pain before his eyes got used to the change. After that he was able to discern differences and saw several sources of light. Great lamps hung from the ceiling and a multitude of smaller ones cast their flickering lights from the walls they were fastened to.

They were in a large hall with a shining floor made from polished marble, and that stony mirror reflected and magnified glittering candles and the steady, yellow, light from bulbs of glass or crystal.

Magecrafters had been at work here. That much was certain. Skilled ones at that. Translucent statues slowly moved in eternal dance, almost lifelike. The beauty stunned him, and the ever-present trader in him struggled to value what he saw. He knew he really shouldn't translate art into gold when he could simply enjoy it, but he'd spent too many years trading to avoid it.

Harbend briefly wondered if he was so far gone he would eventually try to set a fixed price to Nakora and the repulsion following the thought was greater than his fear of being here. He gave her a guilty look and was grateful she couldn't read his mind.

Startled Harbend looked at Neritan, but she only gave him a strangely amused stare and shook her head.

I won't tell. I'm not that cruel. The words were inside his head, and he knew she'd spoken silently to him. He sighed. The Mindwalker showed some integrity at least.

With a feeling of unease Harbend crossed the hall. He fought the urge to draw his weapon. Better to appear as inconspicuous as possible if they should meet anyone.

Movements at the far end of the hall caught his attention. At first he thought he saw more of the beautiful statues, but then he realized they were men in white robes.

Are we to fight our way in here? Harbend thought in dismay.

He hoped not. He tried walking through the hall as if he had every right to be there with the others trailing him. It was of course not to be. He never knew what gave them away, but one of the robed men cried out in alarm and pointed at them.

Nakora broke stride behind Harbend and ran for the closest exit while Neritan used her powers, and the men facing them started walking aimlessly around the hall, sometimes bumping into each other.

Harbend caught up with Nakora and he heard Trai or Escha breathing hard behind him. This time, it seemed, they would stay together.

They came out in another hall, a smaller one this time, but no matter how much Harbend had hoped for it to be empty he was soon disappointed. They sprinted across the floor. Bad, very bad. The castle was too well guarded. They could as well have sprung a trap around themselves, even though somewhere in his mind knowledge lingered telling him that their presence hadn't been known to those living here beforehand.

Nakora, help me!

She was the expert in matters like these, but she seemed to be following him into the madness rather than taking the lead, and he had no idea of what he was getting them into. He chose a corridor at random.

Then a sound surprised him. Singing in the distance. Well, why not? Whoever lived here apparently appreciated art. It didn't matter much to him though. They didn't have time to admire whatever beauty was to be found here any longer.

"Nakora, where to?"

"To the singing," Neritan answered instead. "That's a ritual beginning, and I think it involves those we search for."

Harbend looked for confirmation in Nakora, and when she nodded he took to his feet again. There were no grand halls here, not even small rooms to pass through, only endless corridors with doors lining their sides, all of which had no other exit apart from their windows. Harbend had tried a few of them just to be certain.

They continued running. Rounding a corner Harbend skidded into an armored man. They both fell to the ground. Before Harbend had time to realize what had happened Nakora ran the soldier through with her sword. After that there was only chaos.

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