The sound of footsteps splashing in water was hard to distinguish, but Oren heard them. He waited at the door, gathering clues in the way he’d been taught since a child. One man, he surmised, and young. No drag of robes. Had they sent a page to free him or was the intruder merely lost?
The footsteps stopped, and Oren felt his heart stop as well. Come this way, he willed, Turn, turn. The silence continued and Oren cursed himself. The Shautu had tried to instruct him in thought skyll many times, but he’d always found a way to elude instruction. How can my thoughts live in another? he’d countered, And would their thoughts live in me? It had seemed a ridiculous theory and he’d fled from it. Now, with his voice nothing more than a raspy wheeze, he wanted nothing more.
The steps began to splash again. They were coming his way!
It was a boy, running fast, head down, and clad in the gray tunic and pants worn by all the acolytes. His head and clothes were soaked. Other parts of the castle must be leaking as well. Oren looked above him and wondered if the ceiling would collapse. He spied no cracks, but still. . . .
The boy was closer. He was scared, running as though his life depended on it. Would he even hear him if he called?
“Stop, boy, stop!” Oren voice rasped through the grill. The boy continued, head down.
The Hunter gathered up his last breath, ignoring the pain in his side. “Help me!”
The boy stopped. Oren could tell by the hunch of his shoulders he was frightened, yet he turned at the sound of his voice.
At the sight of Oren, his eyes grew round.
Oren knew he was a sorry sight, blood smeared, his eye swollen shut with hands clutched uselessly before him. He was panting now; short breaths that reduced the the pain radiating from his side. They’d broken at least two ribs. He’d bandaged enough of his comrades to know that one was dangerously near his lung.
“Oren Whitehair?” the boy asked, “The Hunter?”
The lad’s voice was so incredulous that, had he been able, Oren would have laughed. He must look worse than he thought. “”What happened?”
“Sacred Servants,” He rasped again. Someone must have choked him after he was unconscious. He’d deal with them another time. Right now he wanted to get away. “The key.”
He pointed at the key hanging on the opposite wall. The boy was nearly standing beneath it. He was quick. Two sloshes to the right and the key was in his hand. Two sloshes to the left and the key was in the lock. It turned slowly, screeching in protest.
“What is your name, lad?”
Oren stumbled into the hall. The water was above his ankles now. Even in the depths of the castle, he could hear the rain pour. When the time came, if the time came for vengeance, he’d not forget that they’d left him in the dungeon to drown. His anger must have shown on his face because the boy stammered, “Don’t worry, Hunter, there’s still time to escape.”
“Escape?” Oren looked at the hallway of water from which the boy had come. He looked the other way and saw waters as well. “How?”
“We’re leaving Castle Ursaulis through the sewer. Come, lean against my shoulder.”
“Wait,” A wonderful thought had occurred to the Hunter, so wonderful that he thought perhaps the Shautu had used mind skyll on him without his being aware. “Lock the cell door, and return the key to the nail.”
The boy looked puzzled but did as Oren bade him. Then, as best they could, the two began their trek down a darkened hall.