Chapter 15

Salabast clearly knew how to build a mountaintop palace. It had an efficient, spring-fed water delivery system that not only brought in enough fresh water for drinking and washing, but also filled natural pools that were used for swimming and fishing. As the water flowed out of the palace proper, it joined with other natural streams that flowed down a plumbed recovery system and formed a waterfall at the base of the cliff. The waterfall dumped hundreds of gallons of water down a thirty-five meter drop to a stream below.

Salabast and his men exited the transport vehicle at the base of the cliff, where one of his men then drove it away, to be returned to wherever he had “commandeered” it.

One of his captains was named Stark. He was dressed all in black, and he moved stealthily forward and disabled a remote motion sensor.

Taking ascension gear from one of the crates, another of his men fired a gas-propelled grappling hook up through the waterfall and into the grate that the water spewed from. Salabast motioned his team forward, and they quickly darted under the waterfall. Michael followed them, getting a good soaking from the waterfall as he ducked under it. With Salabast looking on, Stark secured the rope and attached a climbing harness.

“Captain Harjay will ascend first and secure the rigging,” Salabast explained. “From there, he should be able to remove the grate. There’s an alarm we have to bypass, but if we move quickly, we should be able to all slip inside and replace the grate once we’re at the top.”

He glanced at the worn chrono clipped to his belt. “Hurry. The patrols will make their sweep in ten minutes, and I don’t want to risk them spotting us.”

Salabast was clearly enjoying the idea of breaking into his own palace, where he already knew the layout. The fact that he had an underground bunker suggested a certain level of paranoia that Michael was beginning to be wary of, but he had to admit that it was good planning. He just wondered how many of the secret passages in the palace were on any of its actual design drawings.

When it was his turn to ascend the rope, Michael quickly pulled himself up and accepted the help of Captain Harjay as the water spewing out of the vent threatened to drop him back into the stream below. Stark ascended next, followed by Salabast. But the general was a rather large man by comparison, and it took all three of them to pull him into the vent. Stark quickly pulled in the rope and coiled it in a corner while Harjay pushed the grate back into place.

They slogged through the rushing water that flowed past their shins and came to a turn in the vent. Stark lowered himself into the flow of water and worked his way forward on his belly, holding his breath. Once he was past the video surveillance, he placed a sliver of polished metal on a clip and fastened it in front of the video device. It was unlikely that anyone was monitoring the feed at precisely that moment, but if they were, they would see up the vent instead of down, which meant that unless they were very attentive, they might fail to notice that they could still see rushing water but they could no longer see the service hatch.

Salabast pushed forward and keyed in the code for the hatch, and then gave a hearty laugh when it clicked and the hatch opened.

“It seems that Lord Geron hasn’t seen the need to upgrade my security,” he said. “Come on.”

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