3.10 A Worthy Warrior

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Alex sank his awareness into the rocky path, which was crumbling and treacherous, barely illuminated by the torches which Kessa and Jinishta carried ahead of him. Stalactites dripped in darkness on either side.

Alashani might feel at home in these claustrophobic caves, but Alex knew he never would. His heart wrenched with the knowledge that Thomas was alone down here. 

The top level of the prison—the entrance level—held plenty of petty criminals; thugs and brawlers who shouted insults at each other. Even the lower levels held silent, sullen people; child molesters and murderers who would never be set free. But this level—the secret, lowest level, known as the labyrinth—was supposed to be unused.

"We need to get Thomas out," Margo said in a low voice, in English, so Jinishta could not understand.

Alex hid his worries. Margo could read his face even in this gloomy cave, since she rested in his arms. She had refused to be carried, but when they'd entered the labyrinth, she had admitted that her ivory-carved leg was inadequate for walking on loose scree, along cliffs, in darkness. Jinishta kept giving her judgmental looks, implying that a disabled civilian did not belong down here.

"I know," Alex said. "But getting him out of here means a major fight."

A bloody, costly battle. Margo could not sense how large the labyrinth was, how well-guarded. Alex had stretched his awareness to encompass the whole layout. He had sensed deadly pits with sawtoothed spikes, and gears which controlled gigantic gates, and other booby traps. Strong life sparks indicated Yeresunsa warriors stationed at critical junctures. In comparison, Thomas's life spark was weak and hard to pinpoint. The boy would be difficult to locate in the overcomplicated, dizzying array of caves and tunnels.

But that wasn't the biggest problem. Protecting Thomas, long-term, was the challenge that Alex could not foresee a way to overcome.

One of the massive gates loomed ahead; five stories of cast iron, thick enough to stop an armored transport. Only Yeresunsa powers could rotate the huge gears which lifted and lowered the thing. The warriors had left it open for Jinishta and her guests, so they could escape and return to the rest of the city.

"You can do it," Margo said. "You can save him."

And go where? Alex wanted to ask. A reject planet? Not only would he need to destroy some friendly Alashani warriors; he would need to somehow fight his way through the dead city, and then through the Stratower, and steal another spaceship, against all odds. On the way, if even one Torth read his mind—only one—then the Alashani civilization was doomed.

He couldn't bring himself to add those worries to the burdens Margo carried in her mind. Instead, he pointed out, "You saw that mob outside the prison. Do you think I can protect Thomas from that?"

Protestors had swamped the streets, holding canvas signs with crude renditions of the rekveh. They gave Thomas demonic yellow eyes, and blood dripped from what was supposed to be his severed head. Margo had whispered translations of their shouts, and a few were more than enough.

"Its head belongs on a spike!"

"No rekveh is worth our lives!"

"A good Torth is a dead Torth!" That had come from a child.

Jinishta had plowed through the mob, somber in her black woolens and Yeresunsa mantle. The spears in her quiver did not look decorative. They were black and deadly, unlike the frilly golden spears usually carried by warriors. All the while, she'd assured Alex and his friends that Thomas was safe. Portcullis gates, nussians armed with halberds, Yeresunsa warriors, and the labyrinth itself, with its traps and barriers ... no one could break through, except for maybe Alex.

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