Chapter 21 (Guards and traps)
Kkaj scrambled around the corner and crashed into a suit of armor.
Clatter! The sound of crashing metal echoed down the hallway in all directions. Roffor slid to a stop and spun to face him. Her eyes grew wide. Boots clacked against the hard floor.
Moonshine! Kkaj rushed to his feet and pointed forward. “Let’s go.”
Roffor glanced around him then nodded. “We have to hurry.”
Together, they sprinted down the hallway, turning left. Right. Right. Left. Roffor squealed as she ran right into a guard. The guard grunted.
“Crocobear shit.” Despite the throbbing headache, Kkaj shifted his weight forward onto his lead leg, transitioning into Plains form.
The guard met Kkaj’s eyes and started. “Master Kkaj? Aren’t you supposed to be in the hospital? The king told us —”
Roffor slipped from his grasp and fell to the floor. She scrambled to the side.
Kkaj lunged forward and elbowed the guard in the gut. Kkaj’s muscles tensed, and he switched to Mountain form, grabbing the guard by the back of the neck and kneeing him in the face.
Crunch. Blood sprayed from the guard’s broken nose as he lurched backwards and landed flat on his back.
“Sorry.” Kkaj stomped on the guard’s chest then delivered a swift kick to the side of his head.
The guard’s muscles slaked, and his body became limp.
Kkaj reached out and helped Roffor to her feet. “We have to hide him somewhere.”
More boots smacked against the hard floor.
Roffor shook her head. “No time.”
His heart pounded against his chest, and panic curled his toes. “But —” He bit into his lower-lip. “No. You’re right.”
Without saying a word, Roffor took Kkaj by the hand and interlaced her fingers with his. Her touch made his heart race faster, and she pulled him down the hallway. Four turns later, she pointed at a room down the hallway. “It’s most likely that room.”
“Are you sure?”
A low chuckle climbed from his mouth. “Fair enough.” He moved forward, still holding her hand. He took a deep breath. His free hand trembled as he reached out and touched the warm door handle. Was the room holding the map heated? He turned the handle.
It moved a fraction and clicked.
“It’s locked.” Kkaj rattled the door handle. “Moonshine.”
Roffor released his hand and popped him on the nose. “Language.” She moved him aside and pulled a keyring out of her pocket.
“Where did you get that?”
“When I bumped into him.”
“I figured we would talk him down, but you kind of just attacked him.”
Kkaj rubbed the back of his head and stared at his feet. “Sorry.”
Roffor spun on her heels and kissed him on the cheek.
Heat climbed up his neck. “Roffor … .”
“It was only a kiss to the cheek. That, probably, wouldn’t upset my sister.” She returned her attention to the door and began shoving keys into the lock. Eventually, the door clicked open, and she led him inside.
Like one of Father’s distilleries, several gears lined the walls, connected to hundreds of small panels and wires. Spikes hung from the ceiling with several massive bells in each of the four corners. Knowing the king, everything in the room had been coated in magic to make it resistant. In the center of the room, a large glass case sat with several liquor-lamps sitting around it. A brown sheet of paper lay across a pillow inside the glass case.
Kkaj licked his lips. “There it is.”
“But there are so many traps and alarms hooked up to it.” Roffor rested a hand on his shoulder. “Plus it is probably protected against magic.”
“Shouldn’t be a problem. When I was younger, I used to work in Father’s distilleries so I could learn how they operated.” That was a lie. He had actually fiddled with the distilleries to sneak off with liquor before his turning age. “Just keep an ear out for the guards.”
Kkaj moved over to the left wall and pulled one of the panels from the wall. I need to disable the bells first. He sat the panel to the floor and stared at the eight wires that vultersnaked along the wall.
Three wrapped around a small yellow gear while the rest were each attached to different gears of a variety of colors. The black gear would be the failsafe, shutting down the machine — well, in this case, setting off the alarm — if any of the other wires were damaged.
He reached into his pocket and pulled out his flask of rum. The sweet liquor should be enough to foul up device long enough to cut the red, blue, green and brown wires. He popped the top on the flask of rum and reached into his back pocket.
Where was his folding knife? He never left home without it. He — He was hungover. Of course, he forgot to check his pockets before heading to the library this morning. Moonshine. Once-distilled moonshine.
“What are you pursing your lips for?” Roffor crossed the room, stopping beside him. “Can’t remember which wires to cut?”
“No. I forgot my knife.”
“So —” She glanced at the open flask of rum. “— you’re trying to drink despite your hangover?”
“Not what the rum is for.”
“Which ones do you need to cut?” She reached into her Drunkzard vest and pulled out a flask of whiskey. After taking a swig, she returned the flask and crafted a small knife.
“Once I splash the panel with rum, cut the red, blue, green then brown wires. In that order.”
What about the black one?”
“Leave it be.”
“The yellow ones as well?”
Since I don’t know what they’re for … . “Yeah.”
“I’m ready.” She held her knife above the wire connected to the red gear.
Kkaj splashed the panel with rum then held his breath.
Roffor cut the four wires with speed and precision. She was a better Penta than he had given her credit for.
Several agonizing moments passed before he exhaled. “Only twenty-five more to go.”
They set to work, disabling each panel the same as the first. Though the yellow wires and the unnatural heat in the room itched at the back of his neck, he approached the glass case with Roffor in tow.
She tapped her foot. “And you’re sure that worked?”
“Yeah.” Nope. Kkaj reached out and poked the glass.
Nothing. A wonderful sigh.
“Seems good to me.” He unbuttoned one of the pistols at his side. The expensive gun Father had gotten him would make an excellent club.
Roffor’s crafted knife edged towards the glass.
Kkaj held up his left hand while drawing the pistol with his right. “With all the anti-magic crafted into this room, we should do this the out-of-fashion way.” He grinned as he flipped the pistol to grab it by the barrel.
She released her blade then took a step back, bowing. She gasped. “No, we —”
His arm shot down, the butt of the gun shattering the glass. The jarring noise chomped on his nerves, and he found himself grinding his teeth. As he reached for the map, he forced his jaw to relax. Just be calm. Unlike gunshots, glass doesn’t make —
A loud siren rang through the room followed by the four bells.
Kkaj’s vision blurred. He covered his ears to no end.
Roffor pointed to the floor beside the stand holding the map. “There’s another panel!”
Kkaj clenched his fists, trying to distract himself. “Moo—”
Crack. Something broke from above. The spikes on the ceiling fell towards them.
Kkaj flinched. He turned to dive out of the center of the room, and his foot caught on the map’s pedestal, sending him flying face first into the carpeted floor. He polled over.
Roffor pulled a pair of fat-barreled pistols from her coat and cocked them.
Kkaj’s heart leaped into his throat. His chest heaved. He couldn’t breath. He shook his head back and forth. “No. Please —”
Bang-bang! The gunshots rang off the walls as the massive bullets smashed the falling spikes.
A pit of blackness swallowed Kkaj, and he found himself in a younger body, striding out onto the arena floor of king’s private colosseum.
Next: Chapter 22