This episode is number 24 in my ongoing web serial, updated weekly as a part of #fridayflash. If you are new to The UCF Stories, you can read from the beginning here.
Swazzle felt as though he'd been sitting on the damp flagstone floor in total darkness for hours. Rushalka huddled next to him, wrapped in a threadbare blanket. Elsewhere in the chamber, other prisoners sat or lay, the only sign of their presence the occasional cough or groan.
When the door had been slammed shut and the grille obscured, Swazzle had attempted to pace out the dimensions of his prison, for no other reason than to keep himself occupied. Based on his estimate, the chamber probably held around twenty prisoners, though who or what they were, and why the fairies had not returned them to the camps, were questions to which Swazzle did not yet have answers. Presuming the rest of the prisoners were in the same physical state as Rushalka however, Swazzle was sure there could be no assistance for an escape attempt from that quarter. It looked like he was on his own.
Swazzle must have been dozing because he felt a moment of confusion when a bellowing roar echoed along the corridor outside and jolted him awake. There was movement among the prisoners as they shuffled further away from the door as the roar sounded again, and some of them screamed or whimpered as a tremendous bang shook the walls of their chamber. A second thump blew a cloud of what Swazzle presumed was stone dust over him as the wall around the door shifted slightly. The chamber door twisted a couple of inches in its frame, a thin shaft of light illuminating scything across the chamber floor.
The prisoners retreated from the light into the shadows while Swazzle pressed his eye to the gap and squinted into the gaoler's chamber. Torches still burned in the wall brackets, but of the gaoler Stinkweed, there was no sign. Swazzle put his shoulder against the door and heaved. He heaved, pulled, kicked and battered at the door but it would not budge. He had just collapsed, exhausted, to the floor again when there came a commotion among some of the prisoners, who retreated to reveal a small drain in the middle of the floor from which came a faint flickering light.
'Captain Swazzle?' hissed a voice from the drain, 'Are you in there, sir?'
Swazzle dashed over to the drain. 'Yes, I'm here...'
'It's him,' said the voice, speaking rapidly to someone else in the drain passage. 'Start digging.'
The ringing of metal on stone echoed from within the drain.
Swazzle addressed the prisoners. 'It looks like someone's come to get us out. As soon as they break through, you need to be ready to move. I know some of you are very weak, but either we all go together, or...'
A general muttering, which Swazzle took as agreement, came from the assembly as once again a great thumping came from outside the chamber, this time dislodging a stone from the roof that missed Swazzle by inches as it crashed to the floor, stone chips and dust blossoming outwards from where it fell. A few seconds later, the stonework around the drain collapsed in on itself and a pointy hat appeared in the resulting hole.
'Cap'n Swazzle, sir?' asked Salkeld as he stuck his head up into the chamber, lighting his way with a firefly lantern.
'Here,' called Swazzle. 'By the gods, am I glad to see you.'
'We'd better be quick, sir. It seems the fairies was keeping a number of Wyrms captive and somehow they got out. They're raising merry hell and I wouldn't be surprised in the whole castle's about to collapse.'
Swazzle grabbed Rushalka by the shoulders and began steering her in the direction of the hole. A couple of goblins clambered out of the hole, and between the three of them, the prisoners were soon passed down to waiting hands in the drain passage. Swazzle was passing the last of the prisoners through the hole when there came a huge bang as the prison chamber door was hit by something powerful and collapsed inwards. Swazzle swung round in an instant, anticipating combat, but there, silhouetted in the doorway, was something the size of a very stocky rabbit, growling and swishing a scaly tail back and forth.
For a split second, Swazzle simply stared, then the beast let out a series of sharp barks and, claws scrabbling for purchase against the stones, hurled itself forward. Swazzle threw himself desperately into the drain hole, and had only just scrambled to his feet before the creature tumbled in after him, landing in a heap of claws, wings and tail at his feet. Righting itself, the creature sat at Swazzle's feet, thumping its tail on the floor. By the light of Salkeld's lantern the creature appeared to be a very small wyrm, russet coloured and sporting a full compliment of clawed feet as well as a pair of leathery wings. Lowering its head, the Wyrm dropped something cylindrical and wooden at Swazzle's feet. As Swazzle bent to retrieve the object, he was sure the beast was panting, then it flicked out a long serpentine tongue and licked him right on the end of his nose.
'It is!' Swazzle held his wand up to Salkeld's lantern. 'It's my wand! Well done, lad,' Swazzle ruffled the beast's ears and it gazed adoringly at him.
Salkeld coughed softly.
'Yes, you're quite right,' replied Swazzle, 'Let's get out of here.'
Preceded by the goblins, Swazzle, Salkeld and the prisoners made their way along the newly dug tunnel, some of the prisoners walking unaided, others supporting eachother and the weakest carried in makeshift blanket stretchers. Above them the fairy fortress rocked and crumbled as the Wyrms vented the fury of their incarceration upon their gaolers. At one point Swazzle was sure they were done for as the tunnel shook violently before a Wyrm tunnelled straight through it and vanished out the other side. The goblins diverted into the Wyrm's tunnel and they were soon at the mouth of the tunnel, cool night air rushing over them as they crouched, looking out at the scene of devastation surrounding the fairy fortress. Much of the surrounding area was burning as flying Wyrms wheeled this way and that, blasting anything that moved.
Swazzle turned to Salkeld and his Goblins, 'And how are we going to get past that lot?'
This week also marks the release of the seventh episode in The Great Chocolate Conspiracy multi-part story. You can find episode 7 over at Anne Tyler Lord's Don't Fence Me In. Don't forget to follow the #GtChocCo hashtag on Twitter for more updates on this project. For more information, and to read from the beginning, please go here.