chain a weak yank, causing the
head to fall off the neck and roll to the side. Frath might have
thrown up, but he had seen worse and didn’t think his ribs would
appreciate the reaction.
    The shadows changed their focus and gestured
for him to go to an iron door on the opposite side of the room.
Frath grunted again. “I’m not going to crawl all the way over
there.” Gathering deep reserves of strength, he forced himself to
his feet, only to sway as dizziness swam through his head. The
ever-helpful shadows steadied him until he was able to trudge over
to the door.
    Runes were inscribed into the metal. The
shadows did something to it, causing the runes to flash and
disappear one at a time. One of the shadows screamed silently and
turned into powdery dust. It shocked Frath more than anything else
that had happened so far. Whatever was behind it must be of
incredible importance to Distra for her to sacrifice one of her
    The door opened and Frath peeked inside.
“Ungh. More stairs. I hurt too much,” he whined. The shadows showed
no sympathy, motioning vigorously. Frath limped down the stairs,
groaning with each step. The pain became everything in his universe
until he reached a room at the bottom.
    Frath gradually became aware of his
surroundings. The tools of suffering displayed on the walls and
tables were crueler than any he had seen. The shadows pointed to a
tortured man curled up in a cage. Lacerations covered his body, and
bones protruded at odd angles underneath his skin. The poor
victim’s chest rose and fell in haggard breaths.
    Frath dragged himself over to the cage,
which sprung open as he approached. He was beginning to wonder what
the key’s use was. When he saw the bright silver shackles on the
wrists and ankles, he understood. Kneeling down gingerly at the
door to the cage, he tapped the man’s leg. “Hey . . . hey. Can you
hear me? Are you alive?” There was no response.
    On the outside of the man’s left thigh from
hip to knee was a tattoo of a slightly curved sword. It was the
most intricate, detailed tattoo Frath had ever seen, almost as if
it was real. No cuts from the torture marred the ink. One of the
shadows caressed it lovingly, causing the man to whimper.
    The key was still in Frath’s hand with the
chain hanging down from it. He used it to unlock the shackles,
pulling them away and tossing them in the corner of the cage. The
man opened his eyes halfway and moaned.
    “I’m rescuing you,” Frath told him. “I don’t
have a clue why I’m rescuing you, but that’s what I’m
doing.” He didn’t know whether the man understood him because the
eyes closed again. “Great. I can see I’m going to have to do
everything myself.” He stood up and looked around the room. Sound
was beginning to come back, but it was an unpleasant buzzing in his
    The shadows gathered around a backpack
underneath a table in a corner. They wanted Frath to get it.
“Really? I’m not doing enough here? Whatever,” he growled. He
dragged the pack out by the strap and settled it so that it didn’t
put pressure on his broken arm.
    It didn’t look like the man would be able to
walk or even move. Frath couldn’t see a way to pick him up without
hurting the tortured body. The shadows didn’t have any helpful
advice either. Frath carefully wrapped his good arm around the
man’s waist and then struggled to pull him up onto his shoulder.
The man opened his eyes and screamed a primal sound of torment that
chilled Frath’s blood.
    Once settled on Frath’s shoulder, the man
lost consciousness again. Frath had to take a moment to channel
enough strength to his legs in order to handle the burden. The
shadows gathered in the far corner of the room where bricks began
moving, revealing a secret passage. He went towards it, taking one
of the magical torches set into the wall. His good arm was going to
give out before long with how much it had to compensate for the
rest of his body. The searing pain that

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