You attempt to yell over the increasingly louder and louder buzzing noise. “Harold, we need to split up!”
“No way, Vlad. You need me. You haven’t finished the book, and plus you don’t… LOOK OUT!” Harold leaps at you and slams his shoulder into your chest, propelling you backwards a few steps. A moment later, you see something dark and grey fly inches past your face and land on the roof directly in front of you — the spot in which, until Harold pushed you, you had been standing. Continuing its momentum, it skids across the roof, ripping jagged gashes in the ancient stonework. The object skidds for a few meters until it impacts a small stone outcropping near the edge and then comes to a rest, at which point you’re finally able to get a good look at it.
It would seem that someone, or something, ripped the fountain out of the plaza below and hurled it at you. The thought paralyzes you with fear.
You look at the gash in the roof with trepidation. Even if you wanted to go with Harold, at this point you couldn’t. Assuming you could make the jump across the hole, you’re not too confident in the structural integrity of the stonework on the other side. The enemy, as it seems, has solidified your choice.
Harold picks himself up from the ground on the other side of the gash. He appraises it and then nods once at you before running off to grab the wooden plank. He rests it on the gap between this building and the next and begins to cross. It takes a few minutes for the shock from your near brush with death to wear off. When it finally does, Harold is a small spot in the distance as he makes his way across rooftops towards the Yellow Hall.
With your heart rate back to normal and your wits gathered, you dash off towards the city wall. Climbing to the top is almost a negligible feat for you — like asking a concert pianist to play chopsticks. Once you get to the top, it’s almost less of a challenge for you to keep your balance across the crenelated surface. Before long, you’re leaping from one to the next almost absently, and without much effort you find yourself nearing the castle.
You take a moment to pause inside a gap between two stone blocks to get your bearings. You locate the ruined rooftop where you started without much effort. From there, you trace the path across the rooftops that Harold would have taken to get into the moat. Your hopes of seeing him are dashed — he is nowhere to be seen.
Pulling yourself up onto the wall once again, you manage to make it all the way to the rear of the castle, which almost directly adjoins the wall on which you’re standing. The moat snakes around the castle and flows directly between the city wall and the castle walls, so you can’t climb down and enter on ground level. On the other side of the wall you see only another lake shore, stretching away into foggy dimness. Apparently this city is an island in the middle of this vast lake — the knowledge of this sends a cold chill of isolation into your heart. You are alone — and now you don’t even have Harold to help you.
Pushing down panic, you scan the castle, find a window that looks reasonably close to the wall, and before you talk yourself out of it you fling yourself off the city wall towards the windowsill.
As it did when you were threatened by Benziah and later on the bridge, time seems to slow down once again and the world brings itself into sharp focus. The windowsill stands out for you in stark contrast to the rest of the wall. The lakewater in the moat ripples and bubbles, and you see a fleshy mass begin to emerge from the water, as it did when you were on the bridge. Forcing it out of your mind, you concentrate all your thoughts on reaching the windowsill. In your peripheral vision, you see the fleshy form get closer, watch its many mouths open and begin to scream — but none of this enters your mind. All that’s important to you now is the window. Your world narrows down to that three inches of stone that protrudes from the window’s edge.
After what seems like an eternity, your fingertips grasp the edge and you force them to stay put — to resist the pull of gravity. Using all your strength, you pull, muscles straining in your arms, legs struggling and failing to find purchase on the slippery stone castle wall. In an almost superhuman display of strength you let out a scream of desperation and pull yourself into the window using only your fingertips. As you drag yourself inside you see the teeth of one of the monster’s mouths miss your foot by scant inches.
And then you are safe. Scrambling to your feet, you slam the stone shutters closed — thanking whatever power rules here that they weren’t closed in the first place. If you’d tried to jump for any other window, you probably wouldn’t have made it.
That done, you turn and appraise your current situation. The window you climbed through stands at the dead end of a long hallway. The hallway extends ten or twenty feet into blackness and the only light entering the room is coming from a guttering torch in a sconce nearby. Quickly, you snatch it up and run down the hall into the blackness.
The castle interior is made of a similar architecture to the rest of the city, the net result of which is a complete inability on your part to keep your sense of direction. Given that every turn is equally questionable, you simply start to take them at random. You take countless turns, and you’ve been running for what seems like hours when you come to a balcony that overlooks a large hall. Strange and violent sounds rise up from the edge, but whatever is causing them is blocked from view.
You walk to the edge of the balcony, look down into the hall, and to your surprise see Harold and Benziah locked in battle. Both are wielding swords. Harold’s appears to be made of a shiny steel and Benziah’s seems to be made of pure hate. Crackles of dark energy run the length of the blade, which itself seems to have been forged from a metal that eats light and shits nothingness. To look at the blade is to look at true darkness.
Sweat and blood run in twin rivers over Harold’s upper body. Hundreds of small cuts blend their small streams together to give the impression that he’s terribly injured, although he has no obvious major wounds besides the one he sustained by the lake. Harold is fast and efficient, but his injuries are clearly taking their toll. His concentration is fixed on a point between Benziah’s shoulderblades and he launches attack after attack, which Benziah parries almost effortlessly.
Benziah shows no sign of injury and, from the sardonic smile on his face, almost seems to be enjoying himself.
The only way down from here, aside from attempting to find a path through the castle hallways, would be to climb down the smooth castle walls, perhaps using some of the yellow banners that hang at irregular intervals — a feat which will likely tax even your acrobatic abilities. If you did so, the chances of being noticed would be astronomical, and with no cover you would be vulnerable to attack. If you could find your way down through the castle hallways you might be able to sneak up on Benziah and get him with your shiv, using some of the pillars in the hall for cover… if you could find your way down, that is, before he finished Harold off.
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If you’re getting into this late, here’s an explanation of the concept behind Ward32.