Axel’s head was positively pounding. He could hear, just about feel his pulse in his ears. He also felt…heavy, achy. As if moving would be too much of an effort. But he also wanted to move because whatever the hell he was lying on was not remotely comfortable.
What happened? Did he fall asleep somewhere? No, that didn’t sound right.
Uttering a groan, Axel tried to lift his arm to run a hand down his face in an attempt to wake himself up further when he realised that he couldn’t move his arm. Something tight was around his wrist. Both of his wrists. And pulled above his head.
His arms were being restrained?
His eyes snapping open, Axel tilted his head back to look up at his hands and realised swiftly that he had metal shackles around both wrists, heavy duty chains anchoring them somewhere, out of his sight.
Axel tugged at his restraints as he hastily turned his attention to his surroundings.
He was…lying on a stone altar of some kind, restrained there with chains. There was another altar situated a few feet away from him, one that held a strange suit of armour. The both of them in the centre of a spacious indoor area. It was so dark, only a few candles scattered about the area offered any illumination. But what he could see, he didn’t like. At all.
Chains lined the wall. Chalk etchings covered the stone floor. Black wax candles upon every nook and cranny.
What the fuck?! What the hell happened?
The last thing he remembered was being at the inn. In the tea room. Lynus, Jhon, Tobyn, Macerio, and Magnus were there with him. They were sitting around the fire place talking about…something. What was it? Something about a strange theft.
Armour. Right. A suit of armour had been stolen from the Duke’s estate. Along with a gemstone of some kind. A quartz? Lynus was telling them what the stone meant when there was a sound. The sound of…glass breaking?
Yeah. Something came in through the window. He remembered Lynus yelling something. Something about…sleeping gas.
“Ah, our guest is finally awake.”
Axel snapped his head to the side in time to watch as a man, probably in his late forties and dressed in long, grey robes, stroll all too casually over to him. His hair was also dull grey and slicked back, his skin ungodly pale, and his eyes were both piercing but somehow hollow.
But what caught Axel’s attention the most was the grin on his lips; smug, predatory…damn near evil.
“Who the hell are you?” Axel asked tersely as he tugged fruitlessly at his restraints.
“Lord Ronaldo, master of Darkshire Manor” the man introduced himself with a mocking bow before he straightened and folded his arms behind his back. “And you’re Axel from the Guardian Guild. I’m such a big fan.”
Axel snorted to hide his apprehension. “Yeah, I can feel the love alright.”
The man, Ronaldo, grinned at him. “Oh, you will.”
Axel…didn’t like that hint of perverted glee in the asshole’s voice. “What the hell are you doing?”
“Like it?” Ronaldo unexpectedly asked him as he took a step back and motioned to the large chamber around him, his arms out from his sides as he all but twirled around the area obnoxiously. “It took me quite a few years to craft this room to my liking. The perfect place to practice my craft, don’t you think?”
“Craft?” Axel questioned as a feeling of unease appeared in the pit of his stomach. “As in black magic?”
Ronaldo looked simultaneously pleased and annoyed by Axel’s assumption. “Exactly,” he said instead.
“…Why am I here?” Axel found himself asking.
The grin Ronaldo’s lips grew more…sinister. “Oh, I’m pretty sure you’ve figured it out already.”
Yeah, well, it wasn’t exactly hard for him not to jump to conclusions. The altar, the chalk etchings, the candles; it certainly wasn’t a fucking surprise birthday party.
“A ritual, huh?” Axel muttered as he glanced around the chamber, masking his fear with irritation. “And I’m the sacrifice?”
“Yes, to the first question,” Ronaldo said as he all but skipped merrily over to the second altar, the one that held that large suit of armour, to which he abruptly leaned against with his elbow. “And not exactly to the second. You’re more akin to a...vessel, I suppose.”
Ronaldo continued to give him that sinister grin as he tapped his fingers upon the armour. “Thing is, I kinda need your full cooperation and submission.”
“I’ll save you the hassle by telling you you’re not going to get either,” Axel snarled as he pulled at the chains on his wrists.
“Oh, I know,” Ronaldo unexpectedly replied as he pushed away from the armour and made his way toward Axel. He then abruptly slammed his hand against the altar next to Axel’s head, causing him to unwillingly wince and roll his head away to the side.
“I plan on it,” Ronaldo sneered with a wicked grin, causing Axel’s stomach to tense from the apprehension and disgust as he leaned his face closer to his. “I think this is going to be...fun. Birds can’t fly without wings. And landsknechts can’t fight without their strength.”
Despite the knot of fear in his chest, Axel glared defiantly up at him. “Where are the others?” he demanded. “I know they’re here.”
“Right you are,” Ronaldo unexpectedly answered. “They are here. Separated and confined to their own little prisons, but here nonetheless.”
A bubble of protective anger abruptly replaced the knot of dread in Axel’s chest and he pulled harder at his restraints. “If you’ve hurt any of them-”
Ronaldo silenced him by suddenly placing a hand over his mouth, the cold, clammy skin causing Axel to physically grimace. “Oh, I haven’t touched them,” he said before his grin grew more menacing, if that was at all possible. “Not yet.”
Axel abruptly rolled his head to the side in an attempt to dislodge Ronaldo’s hand from his mouth. “Don’t you fucking dare!” he spat at him the second he was able to.
Ronaldo, however, did not look even remotely perturbed. “Speaking of which,” he said as he pulled back. “I’m just going to pop out and visit the rest of my guests.”
“What are you going to do with them?” Axel demanded as he man turned to walk away, his arms folded behind his back.
“Nothing at the moment,” Ronaldo answered as he waved a dismissive hand over his shoulder. “I’m just going to make sure that they are rightly terrified of me. That’s all.”
As the man disappeared into the inky blackness of the shadows, Axel immediately began to pull at his restraints, yet he couldn’t get free. Something was preventing him from using his strength. The way he was restrained, on his back upon an altar? Were the chains themselves cursed to prevent him from breaking them? Or were the chalk drawings on the ground somehow to blame?
Shit. Lynus…he was a captive again? No, he couldn’t let that happen! He had to get to him. And the others.
… … … … …
Lynus felt nauseously dizzy when he opened his eyes. He blinked up at the ceiling as he touched his head with his hand. It took him a moment or two to realise that the roof above his head was not familiar. He wasn’t in his room. He wasn’t…anywhere he recognised.
Despite the way the blood pumped loudly in his ears, Lynus sat up abruptly and skittishly looked around. He was in a room, again one he most certainly did not recognise. A single bed, a dresser, a chair…and not much else. But the windows were…
Covered in steel bars…
Oh god, no…
Trying desperately not to panic and allow for old memories to resurface, Lynus scrambled from the bed and hastily looked around him once more. Was he alone? What happened? How did he get here?
His last memory was at the inn. He was in the tea room with others, with Axel. They were talking about something. He was telling them something about a crystal. A red quartz? He…it was him, Axel, Magnus, Macerio, Jhon, and Tobyn. Just them. Hamza was at the Grand Duchy. Shen at the weapon shop and Chi-hung was prowling at the inn because…something was stolen. Lirit was speaking with Cedric and Rahas was with…guild Cosmos?
He…couldn’t remember anything else. It was too fuzzy.
Reassured that there was literally no one else in the room, he turned his attention to the door. Slowly, he approached it. He was hesitant to let anyone know that he was awake, but he also wanted some idea to what was going on. And who could be behind it all.
And, more importantly, why? Surely, it was just…a misunderstanding?
Though…Lynus wasn’t naïve enough to believe that.
“I-is there anyone out there?” he stuttered fearfully.
At first, there was no response. But then the sound of a lock being disengaged caused Lynus to take a couple of steps backwards, resisting the urge to literally scurry away when the door abruptly opened.
However, he found himself hastily stumbling back when a man with grey hair and dressed in grey robes abruptly entered the room. The man’s appearance was not familiar in any way, shape or form, but his aura…his presence…
That man shouldn’t be alive…? W-was he a hexer?
“I must admit, I’m surprised,” the man said as he fearlessly, and rather arrogantly, walked deeper into the room. “You’re one of the first to awaken.”
Lynus kept backing away until the back of his knees hit the side of the bed and he fell back onto it. “W-who are you?”
The man granted him an ominous grin. “I am known as Lord Ronaldo.”
“Where are the others?” Lynus asked as he pushed himself across the bed, his back hitting the wall next to it. “Why are we here?”
“Medics,” the man suddenly sighed in a purely mocking way. “Always full of questions, aren’t you? Have you been sleeping well? Have you been taking care of your diet? Have you indigested anything poisonous lately? I really should have you gagged.”
Lynus winced and pushed himself back further against the wall behind him, opting to stay silent for the moment.
“But where’s the fun in that?” Ronaldo asked in a rather cheerful but still sinister manner before he lifted his leg and planted his foot harshly onto the mattress of the bed and leaned against his knee. “It’s not like you’re a threat to me. To anyone for that matter. Those scrawny little arms. Those large violet eyes. You don’t have what it takes to kill a man.”
Lynus winced again as he peered up at the man. “Don’t be so sure…”
“Oh?” Ronaldo murmured as he leaned forward, a mockingly interested expression on his face. “Really now?”
Lynus didn’t reply. He just…looked at him.
Ronaldo suddenly clicked his tongue in annoyance as he straightened himself up and pushed away from the bed. “Ah, but I guess I’ll just have to wait and see, yes?” he said as he turned around abruptly and headed for the door. “Should make things interesting. Do make yourself comfortable. You won’t be leaving this room for a while. Maybe never.”
At the sound of the door slamming shut and a lock sliding into place, Lynus wrapped his arms around himself and doubled forward, his breathing becoming erratic. He stared at the floor in front of him with unblinking eyes as his body trembled from memories he wished he could supress.
Again. He was being held hostage by a deranged lord again. He couldn’t…he couldn’t go through that again. No…
A tingling sensation running up his spine pulled Lynus out of his fear induced thoughts and he snapped his head up, his eyes wide as he stared forward. That feeling. He could…sense the others. He could feel their fear. They were trapped, too. He wasn’t alone.
Axel. Magnus. Tobyn. Macerio. Jhon. They were all…there with him. He could feel them all.
…What was he doing? He didn’t have the time to sit and wallow in fear and self-pity. He had the others to look after. He needed to get out and find them. They didn’t know how to handle being held captive like he did. And…he wasn’t going to be the passive captive this time, either. He wasn’t going to let anyone go through what he had to experience.
Lynus began to pace the room, pushing aside his fear and instead concentrating on what he knew and what he could eventually do.
He hazards a guess that the others were being held in rooms of their own. Restrained, no doubt. Those they deem as the greatest threat would be experiencing the most suffering. And since he was a medic - a simple, skinny medic - they saw his threat level as low. So…that probably meant that they won’t be checking up on him very often.
They always underestimated the medic. And that was fine. Lynus had learnt a thing or two during his freedom. For example, the architecture of his surroundings divulged to him that he was in a large building. A manor house. And he knew from past experiences that manor houses such as this had secret nooks and crannies. Maybe even a servants’ passageway
Ok, good. That was a start.
Come hell or high water, he was getting out. And he was going to take everyone with him.
He immediately began to inspect the walls of his prison with his eyes. The sight of a large oil-based painting of a gypsy caravan caught his attention. Mostly because it was off centre, leaning to one side.
Slowly, he approached the painting and deftly brushed his fingertips across the wooden frame. He quickly jumped back, though, when something suddenly fell out from behind the painting, landing on the floor with a soft thud.
Lynus immediately looked down at the object and felt his brow furrow with confusion. A book? Why was it hidden behind the painting?
Despite the severity of his situation, Lynus found himself dropping to his knees and gathering the book into his hands. He then flipped it book open cautiously. He soon realised that the book was actually a journal and the date at the top of the page marked it as…over a hundred years ago? But it was also been torn in several places, pages ripped out in a hurry for whatever reason.
He found himself reading the words on the very first page of the book.
What good is a landsknecht without his strength? A mysterious illness has claimed my strength and abilities. I am worthless as an explorer. I am so grateful to Lord Ronaldo for allowing me to seek refuge at his mansion. He also promised to find out the cause to my sudden ailing health. There is no one in this town for me to turn to. No one has the time of day for a landsknecht without physical strength. Lord Ronaldo is truly kind.
Lord Ronaldo? Was the author of this book speaking of the same man that Lynus had just unwillingly met? No, it had to be the man’s son or grandson.
Lynus glanced down at the signature at the bottom of the page and made out the name Lionel before he turned to the next page. But he realised that there was meant to be several pages before it. And the date at the top of the new page told him that a month had passed since the first journal entry.
I’m not sure what is happening to me. It takes so much energy to sit and write in my journal. But I must write this down, for whoever should find it; I hope you are of kind heart. Behind the dresser in the far corner. Look there for freedom.
Lynus immediately turned to look, his gaze immediately falling on the only other piece of furniture in the room. The dresser the journal must mean was the one in the far corner of the room, near the window. It was only half the size of a usual dresser, but it appeared old, as if it hadn’t been touched in years.
Hopefully the journal was right. And hopefully Lynus would be able to push it aside for him to make his escape.
But…why? What prompted this man to search for a way out? What happened during that month of missing journal entries?
Turning his attention back to the torn journal in his hands, he noticed that there was one page left. The words written there were shaky; falling from the lines, as if the hand that was writing it was so tired. Or frightened. Lynus almost didn’t want to read what was written, but he…just had to.
I wish I had never learnt of the truth. It is too late for me. I can only hope that Ronaldo does not choose another victim in my place. If you are reading this and you are kind, please…stop him. Do what I could not do.
Slowly, Lynus closed the book. He allowed the words to mull around in his head for a moment. He could feel the man’s pain and fear through the words.
His scrawl…was similar to the one that Lynus had developed himself when he was under the captive demand of Taksony. Short, terse, shaky. Written with a trembling hand, eyes skittishly darting around to his surroundings, hoping and praying that no one was there to read what they had just wrote…
But…he escaped. This man, this Lionel, did not. Could not.
Lynus shook his head to turn his focus back to the task at hand. He placed the small book within his coat, more out of habit than anything. Also, if nothing else, he could use it to smack someone over the head with it. A weapon was a weapon, right?
As he stood up, he looked around the room with a more critical, cautionary gaze. He quietly made his way over to the dresser and placed his hands atop it, testing it for a moment. It didn’t feel all that heavy and with the quick opening of the top draw, he was relieved to find it empty. Saved for a few mothballs, that was.
Now, the trick was pushing it aside without making a sound. He would have to do it slowly.
Lynus positioned himself to the side of the dresser and placed his hands against it. Slowly, he pushed against it with what strength he had. And slowly, inch at a time, the dresser moved. And when it moved enough, he saw that it had indeed been hiding something. A small, half door in the wall. That…must be an entrance from the servant’s quarters! The journal was right. A little bit more and he should be able to squeeze his way through.
Hopefully it wasn’t locked on the other side.
After he managed to wrangle the dresser aside enough for him, Lynus crouched down in front of the door and unconsciously held his breath as he placed his hand against the wooden panel and pushed.
Releasing a soft, shaky breath of relief, Lynus stood up and found his gaze skittishly inspecting his surroundings once more. Hopefully he hadn’t made too much noise.
Noticing a wooden chair, Lynus grabbed it and propped it up against the door. It was locked from the outside, sure, but the chair should give them a bit of trouble if and when they try to re-enter the room.
He then turned to open the window, trying to do it as quietly as possible. They thought of him as ‘scrawny’, so hopefully they would assume that he was scrawny enough to slip through the bars (never mind the fact that be probably could).
With their attention outside, that should give him time to navigate the servants’ passageways.
Pushing the door open fully, Lynus stepped through and closed the door behind him. He had to take a minute or so to allow his eyes to adjust to the dark. The narrow passageway smelt dusty and there appeared to be old spider webs on the walls and ceiling. Obviously, they hadn’t been used in years.
It was lucky that he wasn’t terrified of small, enclosed spaces. The walls weren’t exactly thin, but they weren’t stone thick either. He had to make double sure to be as quiet as possible. Who knows what they would do to him if they caught him in this tight crawlspace. Getting recaptured would do no one any good. He couldn’t afford to be careless.
Running his hand along the small door he just stepped through, Lynus jumped slightly when he fingers brushed over something metal and cold. Despite the way his heartrate increased, he carefully inspected the unusual item and felt a slight sense of relief upon realising that it was actually a lock.
Good. He’d lock it, too. If they manage to realise that he had escaped through the servant’s quarters, maybe the lock would be a minor hindrance to them. Even a second of distraction was better than none.
With a hand on each wall, Lynus carefully navigated the passageway, taking each step slowly. He ignored the spider webs the best he could and looked for tell-tale signs of light. Pinpricks of light that will indicate another opening. He was certain that these passageways led to more than one room. Hopefully, one of the others was being contained in one of those rooms. In fact…he could sense someone close by.
He needed to get to them as quickly as possible.
For their sake as well as his own.