Leon walked all the way back to the fork in the tunnel. His route forward was blocked and going all the way back wasn’t an option. The only way was to continue further down into the mountains, towards this ‘Prison’.
He hesitated for a moment, thinking that maybe going through Clear Ice Fortress wasn’t that bad of an idea after all. But, he stomped down those thoughts. Clear Ice is the only way through the Frozen Mountains that is commonly known, and those men who killed his father would’ve had to come through it. They might have friends waiting for them to return, perhaps even the paladin Roland.
Leon wasn’t going to take the risk of going south by the common path. Yes, going the road less traveled was far safer. Or at least, that’s what he kept telling himself as he took a step down this tunnel, going deeper into the mountain range.
The entrance to these tunnels was very narrow, just big enough for Leon to enter without squeezing, but it grew larger as it descended. The collapsed passageway, however, hadn’t followed this trend. It was of uniform size for several dozen miles, all the way to where it joined the exit tunnel. But Leon noticed that this passage he was now walking down did continue getting larger.
His limited ability to see put him on edge. The edges of the tunnel faded out into the gloom, and he had long since lost sight of the ceiling.
Living in the Forest of Black and White had given Leon some backbone; he didn’t run away easily when anxious. But this tunnel was certainly making it difficult to stick to that record, as its oppressive silence and lack of light were getting to him. His eyes darted around, his heart beat like crazy, and the only thing he could hear was the blood rushing through his head and his footsteps echoing in the immense hall.
Eventually, it grew so dark that Leon began walking alongside one of the walls, so he wouldn’t get lost in this gargantuan passage. He could barely make out what was on the map, but the map only followed this tunnel for several miles before ending with the Prison rune anyways. After about an hour of careful walking, Leon had gone past the last point marked on the map, but the tunnel continued going deeper and deeper into the earth.
He did eventually start to calm down, but as his heart rate slowed, he stumbled. He couldn’t even see the floor in front of him, even with mana constantly supplying his eyes with magic power, and the floor had suddenly evened out. He had expected the gentle ramp to continue, but when his feet hit flat ground sooner than expected, he almost lost his balance.
With the more even tunnel floor, Leon’s anxiety deepened. He figured he was probably close to whatever this ‘Prison’ was.
The temperature grew warmer as he kept moving. As a third-tier mage, he went largely unaffected by more extreme temperatures, but after another half mile or so, he had to stop and take off his coat.
A few minutes after getting going again, Leon noticed his surroundings getting a little brighter. A very dim light was being emitted from what looked to be a wall a few hundred feet onwards.
He could just barely see that embedded in this wall was a narrow trapezoidal plate about twice as tall as he was. Set in the middle of this plate was the source of the dim light, a softly glowing red runic circle.
Leon closely examined the runic circle and quickly determined that it was meant to open something. Judging by its placement, Leon figured the metal plate was a door and would be opened by the runic circle. There was nothing else around that he could see, just the same smooth stone of the tunnel.
Seeing nothing else he could do other than turn around and leave, Leon hesitantly placed his hand against the runic circle.
There was a bright flash that left Leon blinded for a moment. He quickly jumped backward, straining with his ears to hear anything, but there was nothing to be heard. The tunnel was still as silent as ever, and when his eyes recovered, he noticed that the plate had disappeared. In its place was another tunnel, this one more obviously artificial as it was made entirely of the same shiny grey metal as the plate.
This passageway had the same trapezoid shape as the plate, with the ceiling and floor being parallel, but the floor was slightly wider than the ceiling. Leon could sense an incredible amount of magic power flowing through the walls. This Prison clearly had a great many enchantments worked into its foundations.
It was a little brighter in the passageway, but not so much that Leon lowered his guard. He was comforted by being able to see the walls again, though.
He took a deep breath and stepped through the open door. He regretted it immediately, as he looked back after a few steps and found that the door had silently reappeared behind him.
Leon’s heart sank, and he began searching the door for some way to open it from the inside. Not finding anything, he took to trying to force the door open, but to no avail. His measly third-tier strength didn’t even make a dent in the metal plate, not even when he drew his family’s longsword and took a few swings in desperation. Fortunately, the sword was completely unblemished, but so too was the door.
Leon sighed and sat down by the door. He needed a moment to collect himself, not to mention he was very hungry and tired.
He had a quick meal while watching the door. There were no runic circles on the inside, and none appeared while he was waiting, which only made Leon start to panic.
He forced himself to calm down, slowing his breathing and closing his eyes. He crossed his legs and began to meditate. For the first time, Leon stopped concentrating on the door and focused on the magic in this place. He was startled, there was an enormous amount of magic flowing through the walls of this passageway, far more than he had initially sensed when the door had opened.
He meditated for a few more minutes to finish bringing his heart rate back down, then stood up. The magic he sensed was flowing like a river deeper into this prison. The door wasn’t going to budge, and if there was going to be any way out, he would only find it by going further in.
Leon was far more on edge here than he was in the cave tunnel. This passageway was brighter, and he could see much farther, but he was also trapped in here.
He suspected there was some kind of sound dampening enchantment in the walls because, despite the smoothness of the walls and floor, his footsteps didn’t echo. The passageway was dead silent, and this silence weighed down on him, pushing him further into paranoia.
This passageway wasn’t nearly as long as the cave tunnels, ending in another door after only a quarter of a mile. Unlike the door at the entrance, this one was clearly not in any working order. There was no runic circle to open it, but the right half had been ripped and torn outwards like some imprisoned beast had forced its way to freedom.
Leon hopped through this twisted hole and found himself in an empty atrium of sorts, that led into two more long passageways on his left and right. The halls still retained their trapezoidal shape but also had numerous other doors on the sides.
There was little indication of where he should go from here, but the magic he sensed was flowing to the right, so that’s the way Leon went. Along the way, he poked his head into a few of these other doors, as fortunately they still had functioning runic circles. A few were locked, but those he could enter were largely empty. There were one or two that had grey metal boxes strewn haphazardly around, but they held nothing within. Most of these rooms had a bathroom as well, and Leon found the water enchantments in the toilets and baths still functional after a little experimentation.
Leon frowned. This ‘prison’ didn’t seem particularly prisonlike, with homelike amenities that still worked.
‘Why is this place so abandoned? Could it have to do with the giant hole in that door? If this was a prison, did whatever the builders were guarding escape?’
But speculation wasn’t going to get him very far. There weren’t any books or other writings that could give a clue, so he simply pressed on.
After about five hundred feet, the passageway forked again, this time giving him three options to choose from. Again, Leon calmed himself and felt the way the magic in the place was flowing. It was going down the left passage, so that was the way he went.
This hallway ended in another door, this one locked up tight. There was a runic circle to open it, but it didn’t respond to Leon’s attempts to activate it. He spent another half an hour there, trying to open the door. All the magic he could sense was being funneled through it, so he knew that there was something important behind the door.
He sighed. He was very tired now. It was probably around midnight, but being so far underground, he could only guess at the time.
Leon turned around and walked away from the door. He needed rest, and he began searching through the multitude of other halls and doors, looking for someplace decent to catch a few hours of sleep.
He quickly found that this place wasn’t laid out in any way that made sense. The halls and rooms kept looping back into one another, creating a maze that he very quickly got lost in. There were even a few times where he intended to walk in a circle, taking five rights or lefts, and finding himself far away from where he intended. Needless to say, he quickly became lost. The only thing he could sense that anchored himself was the flow of magic, constantly surging through the walls and back towards that locked door.
Finally, after perhaps an hour or so of wandering through the empty halls, Leon found a large ornate door, covered in a golden mural with a golden bird set in the very middle. The runic circle to open the door was placed directly below the bird as if clutched in its talons as it spread its wings to take flight.
Leon opened this door and found a vastly different hallway. Where he had previously only found empty and unadorned rooms, likely living quarters, meeting rooms, and lounges before they were cleared out, he now found someplace that wasn’t empty. A purple carpet covered the floor, so thick Leon almost bounced off. The bottom corners of the hallway burned with a bright white flame, illuminating the entire place, and nearly blinding Leon until he hurriedly stopped channeling magic into his eyes. This white light from the flame hit the enchanted angled walls in such a way as to form pictures of light, hovering just off the walls. These pictures depicted valiant warriors, triumphant kings, great cities, and radiant gods, all so real Leon almost thought they weren’t just enchanted projections.
Leon took a minute to marvel at the scene before him, but eventually, he noticed the only other door in the hall, down at the other end. He quickly came over and opened it, revealing a splendidly decorated room, with the same light decorations as the hall, and with the furniture still present. Immaculate couches, chairs, tables, a desk, several display cases, and in the very center of the room, a luxurious bed that Leon wanted nothing more than to collapse into.
The only thing that stopped him from doing so was the chair directly behind the desk over in the corner of the room, and the skeleton that still sat on it. The skeleton was slumped down far enough that Leon didn’t notice it at first, but once he did, he froze for a second, then walked over to it.
Given the state of the room, Leon guessed that this was the skeleton of the person in charge of this ‘prison’. He had to admit, though, that he was starting to doubt his translation of the rune, as he hadn’t found anything that resembled prison cells, so far.
He gently moved the chair, inspecting the skeleton and desk for any clues as to what happened here. And find something he did, in the form of a small rolled-up scroll in the bony hand of the skeleton. After carefully extracting it, Leon unfurled the scroll.
The Kingdom has suffered a great catastrophe. The exalted Storm King has fallen, or so the reports indicate, and so all the warriors we brought with us to this plane have been recalled by the Princes, to seek vengeance. We have also been specifically ordered to end the experiment, but our guests cannot be released and expected to accept a simple apology. My warriors will go to our Princes, but I will stay, to maintain the wards. We can ill afford to add to our list of enemies in this moment of crisis.
There was nothing more. Leon frowned, most of what was written he didn’t understand, but he knew that he guessed right, and this person was the one in charge. The rest he would mull over in the morning after he had gotten some sleep and searched the rest of the room.
But, he had no idea that something was stirring, in the deepest levels of this place.
[Someone… has found this place…] it said.
So next week, I'll be launching my Patreon. This is the breakdown of the current individual perks you'll get access to if you decide to donate:
- 1st tier ($1 per month): 1 advance chapter
- 2nd tier ($3 per month): 1 advance chapter, plus access to Behind the Scenes posts I'll make every other month or so. Every tier above this one will include this perk as well.
- 3rd tier ($5 per month): 2 advance chapters, plus BTS
- 4th tier ($10 per month): 3 advance chapters, plus BTS
- 5th tier ($15 per month): 5 advance chapters, plus BTS
- 6th tier ($20 per month): 5 advance chapters, plus BTS and your name listed in the credits of subsequent chapters.
Note that perks don't stack.
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