He followed the lieutenant along the catwalks, sweating profusely in the midday sun. He could see now why the commander wore only a brimmed cap, his bare torso showing years of muscle and discipline. Beneath them, the prisoners slunk between pockets of shadow, paling under the glare of the guards.
Antov watched as one guard used a cat o’ nine tails to separate a dispute between a small group. The leather drew blood and screams, but no defiance as the men quickly scarpered. The lieutenant had stopped and Antov nearly walked into the back of him.
“The bitch,” the commander said flatly, pointing a finger at a dark hole.
The chamber looked cool, well sheltered from the sun. Where men covered in rags fought for the smallest scrap of respite, none moved into the dark maw of the passage.
“My men will fetch,” the lieutenant said, barking out orders in the language of the desert people.
“No,” Antov said. “Some shade would be nice. Fetch a ladder, so I may go down.”
For a moment Antov wondered if it was the clipped accent of the high-borne that confused the lieutenant, but then he saw the burly mans eyes rove over the fine silk threads that he wore.
“My lord, Kantah no place for such… noblemen,” he said diplomatically.
“Please see we are not interrupted,” Antov said. Before the commander could reply he had vaulted from the walkways, dropping deftly to one knee. The nearest group of prisoners stirred, eyes coming alive with the fire that had brought them here.
The commander nearly threw two of his own men down, but Antov had already moved on, striding across the courtyard towards the chamber. Men, shadows of men, began circling him. One grew enough of a backbone to lunge at him, eyes wild as he charged. Before any of the lieutenant’s men could even react Antov had brought forth his sword and relieved the man of his mortal worries.
Antov arrived at the entrance to the chamber without further challenge. The lieutenants men had begun forming a human barricade, beating back the men into the smaller passageways. But none of that mattered to Antov. He had found the first piece of the puzzle.
“An Islander can weep an ocean of tears,” he said into the darkness, his eyes fighting to adjust.
“But the Mountainfolk will stand above the tides.” The voice was husky, unused for far too long. Something stirred deep within. “What man disturbs my slumber?”
Antov had trained as a leget, served as a praetorian to the king and the king’s father, and had never felt fear like this. He stepped closer, boot crossing the threshold of the shadow. The darkness moved and before his hand had touched the pommel of his sword he found himself pinned to the wall, surrounded by blackness.
“Whom do you serve?” the voice asked.
“I have no master. I am without honour,” he choked out. “I knew your father,” he said in desperation.
The hand vanished and Antov fell to the sand. He knelt on one knee, brushing sand from his cloak. The figure moved to stand between him and the exit, only her profile visible.
“What do you want, knight of no moon?”
It was an old insult, something only a member of the leget would have known, or the daughter of a member. Antov stood, shakily, and drew his sword. The figure lowered her shoulders, tensing, ready for a fight.
He flipped the blade and held it by the tang, offering it out. The shadow took it.
“My fathers,” she said quietly. “What do you want?”
“Your father died defending the throne. But now a new evil has overcome the land. Before he passed, your father gave you something. Something very important.”
The blade hissed and Antov felt the bite of steel press against his throat. The shadow was right before him now, his eyes making out the drawn face of his old friends daughter. The eyes he remembered as so playful were dead, lifeless. This place had taken that from her.
“My father left me nothing,” she said. “Only a name that brought a bounty.”
“He left you more than you knew,” Antov said. “Read it.”
He felt the blade scrape against the stubble of his throat as she twisted the hilt, letting the light play off of the metal.
“The crown of the mountain,” she said, flipping the blade to read the other side, “shall give rise to the seas.” She laughed, with nothing approaching humour in her voice. “An old tale my father used to tell. It is just that old man, a tale.”
“It is true. The Islanders have returned, and only your fathers blade can lead us, you, to where he hid the crown of the mountainfolk.”
She let the tip of blade fall to the sand, dragging a gouge as she stepped back, almost into the light.
“Why should I go?” she asked.
“Why would you stay?” he said.
Prompt originally posted by Unknown on reddit and received 3 upvotes.