Tac was lost. And angry.
It had been good at first. He had reached the ruins as the first rays of dawn broke through the trees. He had found the stairs leading downwards and instinctively knew that was where he had to go. The heavy wooden door blocking the entrance was no match for his strength and had given way easily, the ancient lock shattering under his blows. Howling in victory, Tac entered the passageway beyond.
He hadn’t moved forward more than a few steps when a screeching chittering mass hurled itself at him from the darkness. Tac batted it aside without much effort, dimly seeing that it was a large rat. It crashed into the wall across from him and collapsed to the floor in a heap. More screeches followed and Tac drew his greatsword, grinning in anticipation. His feet crunched on bones that littered the floor but he paid no heed.
The next few minutes were a red-tinged blur as rat after rat came at him. Tac swung his sword in sweeping blows, catching two or three of the creatures in a single swing. One leaped up at his head and he thrust out his blade, neatly skewering the rat through its head. Its blood sprayed across Tac’s snout. His tongue flicked out and he grunted in disgust. It tasted foul.
Eventually, the furry tide subsided and Tac soon found himself the only living thing in the chamber. He looked around him and nodded in satisfaction. It had been a good fight. Hopefully, there was better ahead. He turned his head in each direction and narrowed his eyes. As a Wild One, he had some ability to see in the darkness, and his vision informed him that there were two passageways going out of the chamber he was in. After a few moments Tac shrugged his shoulders and, holding his sword before him, he went down one of them.
The next few hours were spent killing more rats and striding down more passages. Tac was dimly aware that he had no idea where was actually going as he turned first left and then right, his sword moving almost continuously, its dark metal blade turning bright red as more and more rat blood soaked it. His sight allowed him to see a few feet in front of him but not much more than that. Tac was starting to get angry.
Tac eventually emerged into a large chamber, his eyes straining to see the far walls. He was not being attacked here – there were no rats leaping at him out of the darkness – and he lowered his sword. He looked down at the ground and saw why no rats were attacking him. They were lying on the floor, dismembered, disemboweled and very, very dead. Their blood was running in between the stones that made up the floor. A thought made its way into his mind.
He had already been here.
He was going around in circles.
Tac roared in anger and started to beat his fists against the nearest wall. The stone wall proved itself to be much more solid than the wooden door and all he managed to accomplish was to bruise his hands. He stopped as he heard a new sound – footsteps, lighter and softer than his. From one of the other passages, he saw a faint glow. It grew brighter and he realised whoever it was, was getting closer. Tac looked around and found a small nook he could squeeze into. He wasn’t hiding, he told himself, he was only looking to see what would happen. If the newcomer turned out to be a threat he would kill them and take their torch.
After a few minutes, they entered the chamber. Tac’s lips curled as he recognised the girl from the previous night – the one who had knocked his drink over him. He was about to leave his spot and confront her when he saw something else – two rats had appeared from some hole and were rushing towards her. She span her staff around and pointed it at them. Fire spewed from the tip and incinerated the rats. Tac was impressed. He moved out and started to creep up behind her. He stepped on a skull, the crack deafeningly loud in the quiet chamber. The girl instantly turned around and her eyes went wide. Before she could react he had grabbed her, lifting her up by her throat and slamming her into the wall. He leaned in close, enjoying the fear in her eyes.
“You owe me drink,” he sneered, then let her go.
He didn’t bother to turn back as he stomped away through another passageway. He did, however, stop after a few feet and pressed himself up against the wall, watching the chamber he had just left. The girl picked herself up, somewhat unnerved, and retrieved her staff. She set off down a different passage.
Tac followed her, keeping a reasonable distance behind.
They walked on for what seemed like days, turning left and right at random intervals. On more than one occasion Tac had to quickly duck back as he saw that the girl had gone down a dead end. She muttered to herself the whole way but Tac, even with his hearing, couldn’t make out what she was saying.
The deeper they went, the fewer rats they encountered. The odd one or two that did happen across them were either roasted by the girl’s staff or quietly run through with Tac’s sword. Tac was very careful not to give any sound or hint that he was following her, and the girl never turned around to see if there was anything or anyone behind her. Silly child, thought Tac. She wouldn’t last a day in the wilderness. Nevertheless, he continued to follow her, the light from her staff showing him more than his own eyes could.
Eventually, they entered a large chamber, one that Tac had definitely not seen before. Its most notable feature was a huge iron door, and just by looking at it Tac could tell that he wouldn’t be able to beat it down like he had the other door. The girl stopped and fumbled in her cloak, producing a bronze key.
Tac’s eyes widened as he took out his own key. He looked at it, then at the girl’s key. They were identical. Deciding that the time for secrecy was over, he strode forward. As expected, the girl’s eyes widened yet again and she backed away a few steps. Tac made no move towards her, instead, he indicated the key in his hand.
“You have key too?” he asked.
The girl nodded, surprise on her face. “I guess we’re both here for the same thing then?” she asked.
Tac didn’t answer her, instead turning his attention towards the door. In the middle of the door were locks, and he had no doubt that both his key and the girl’s key would fit perfectly. Except for one thing.
There were three locks.
“Well,” said a new voice from behind them, “Isn’t this an interesting development?”