4: Thunder - The Cry

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Rick didn't move. He wasn't sure what to do. Something had clearly frightened the guards to dispatch them in such haste and he was torn between finding out what that something was and making his escape. He slowly moved to the edge of the bed and stood, creeping to the door. The food strewn across the floor conspired to be crushed beneath his feet and he had to be careful to avoid its suicide attempts. At the door he held his breath before looking out.

A corridor led from the doorway a short distance. At the end was a junction that led left and right. The walls of the corridor were perfectly smooth rock, lit at regular distances by flaming torches. There were no windows or other doors. He had only one way to go.

As he entered the hallway, he ran his hand along the wall, marvelling at the complete absence of any blemish, pit or ripple in the surface. Whoever had built this structure was a master of the art. There were no seams to show the butt between blocks of stone and he couldn't see the join of the walls to the ceiling and floor. It appeared to be carved from one massive piece.

And it was warm to the touch. Not cold and not even simply ambient. It was warm as if a fire smouldered beneath its surface, having died down from delivering a blistering heat and now waiting out its time until it could prevent the transformation to ash no longer. It still managed to warm rather than boil and was content with that in its twilight.

Rick took a torch from the wall. There was enough light, but he didn't want to find himself either in a place buried in darkness or in need of a weapon. The flames would serve equally well in both cases.

At the end of the hall, he waited. It had been so long since he had been taken, there was no need for haste. The obvious fear in the actions of his guards could have put wings on his feet and sped him along, but he resisted the urge. He needed caution to be his guide. Slowly, he looked both ways. He could hear the sounds of running feet and another noise he was unfamiliar with - a screech that seemed to be high pitched but felt as if it were a low rumble. It assaulted his ears and bones at the same time. It was hard to distinguish which way the sounds were coming from so he had no choice but to simply pick a direction.

The left turn matched the right in that it curved away in a bend sharp enough to prevent him from seeing too far ahead. The prince hunkered down to present the smallest target possible while still allowing him freedom of movement. He wanted to be able to roll or dodge any unexpected attack. It occurred to him that the flickering flames would alert anyone he might come across to his presence, even if they couldn't immediately see him. He thought about leaving the torch behind, especially as the walls were lined with them so he wouldn't be left in the dark, but he decided against it.

Fire was a weapon. It was a light in the darkness. He would keep it at hand, just to be sure.

"Help me."

Rick froze. His breath stalled in his lungs. His fist clenched and his muscles locked in place.

"Help me."

It was little more than a whisper. Despair hung heavy in the words, dragging his own heart down with them. Was it another captive, like himself? He was torn between helping the speaker and finding a way out. Perhaps he could do both? Discover the escape route and then come back? No. Whoever was calling out had heard him, no matter the stealth he was laying beneath his footfalls to silence them. He had to stay. To do what he could.

Then they could escape together.

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