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Storming the Keep
The trees surrounding the keep thrashed back and forth in the vicious wind. They rushed and roared, obscuring all noise within a mile’s radius. Clouds sprinted overhead, competing against the moonlight to see which would cover the sky
Below, the Keep rose out of the ground, a jagged, half-fortress that seemed to be made out of solid and uncarved rock. A perfectly manicured lawn extended around the Keep for about thirty feet in every direction, and then all was swallowed by the unruly, treacherous forest.
Three figures emerged from the trees. They were all dressed in dark colors that blended with the shadows. The first was a small, skinny boy with a dark cap pulled down low over his head. Blonde hair peeked out around his ears, and his eyes were a wide, clear blue. He crouched on the fringes of the treeline, his toes centimeters away from the seemingly innocent grass. He studied the lawn in front of him for a long moment, then let out a soft but precise military whistle.
The others slunk forward to flank the boy on either side. One was another boy, much taller and more built than the first, with red hair and brown eyes. He had the grace of an athlete, coupled with the constant twitching of someone who excels at noticing details. The other was a girl with long black hair and azure, almost purple eyes. Her hair was braided tightly down her back. She carried a dark drawstring backpack over one shoulder, but when the boy with the blue eyes held out a hand wordlessly, she unslung her pack dutifully and handed it to him.
The boy with the blue eyes rummaged through the bag, and passed the girl a small plastic container with a removable lid.
“The whole yard,” he instructed. The girl with the black hair nodded, and popped off the lid.
The container was filled with a soft purple, gritty dust. With a critical eye, the girl scooped out a small handful between her fingers, letting the excess drain back into the container. She passed it back to the boy with the blue eyes.
Whispering words in a sing-song cant, the girl with the black hair stood and tossed the dust high into the wind. It was soon lost in the night, but within moments its effects took place. As the dust sank, a lattice frame of red laser lines sparkled into view.
“Security,” the boy with the blue eyes said. There was a slight smile on his lips, like he was enjoying the challenge immensely, but was trying to conceal the fact. “You two ready?”
“As we’ll ever be,” the tall boy said. He motioned to the girl with the dark hair, and she climbed up onto his back so that he was carrying her. The boy with the blue eyes handed her the drawstring bag, and she cradled it to her chest protectively.
The boy with the blue eyes rose to his feet, and crossed his arms speculatively. “You’ll be able to get through?”
The tall boy grinned, and hoisted the girl a little higher on his back. “Just remember, this was your plan.” With that, he stepped into the maze of lasers.
The two carefully made their way through the field. The wind nearly forced the tall boy to his knees, and the girl clung to him with surprising strength.
“Less strangling, please,” the tall boy grunted.
“Sorry,” the girl with the dark hair hissed apologetically. She tried to hold still as the tall boy inched his way to the edge of the keep.
Finally, twenty minutes later, he slumped against the wall of the keep, breathing hard. The girl slid off, staying as far away from the security field as she could. She waved to the boy with the blue eyes, and he pointed to a spot farther along the keep’s wall. The girl saluted, and placed a hand on the tall boy’s shoulder.
“Yeah… yeah, I’m fine. Sorry I almost dropped you.”
“It’s all good. Sorry I almost choked you to death.”
“It’s all good,” he echoed with the barest hint of a smirk. “Ready to go?” he asked, shoving himself to his feet.
She smiled. “Always.” Together, they slid over the wall, the girl leading the way this time. She ran her hands over the rough-hewn rock in front of her, searching for something patiently. Just as they were about to pass out of the blue-eyed boy’s view, she stopped.
Her fingers hovered over a small crack, no wider than a blade of grass. She turned, and waved again.
“Got it,” she mouthed to the boy with the blue eyes. He signaled an affirmative, and shrank back into the trees, moving steadily around the lasers so that he was in line with them across the security field.
The girl opened her bag again, and pulled out a small, cube-shaped computer. She smacked it to the wall just in front of the hairline crack, and typed in a series of commands, mumbling strings of incoherent words and numbers under her breath as memory called them to mind.
“Check it,” she instructed the tall boy, carefully switching places with him. She pressed herself close to the wall, avoiding the red beams near her ankles.
The tall boy squinted at the device, then changed a few symbols that definitely weren’t in any modern alphabet. “I think it’s ready.”
He pressed the final command into the device, and just beyond the crack in the wall, a section of rock slid back and sideways, revealing a perfectly semicircle door about seven feet high. The tall boy grimaced, glanced back at the girl, then over to the boy with the blue eyes, and slipped into the dark.
The girl followed, and the door closed behind them.
There was already another person in the room—strike that. Anther being in the room. The tall boy lit a flashlight, and the girl swore.
“D*mn. I hate chimeras. Gimme the flute.”
He handed her a stone flute, clenching the flashlight between his teeth.
The beast in front of them was snoring, but beginning to stir. It was enormous, the size of a small elephant. It had the body of a starved lion, and its tail was the front end of a snake. The creature had two heads, one a goat’s, and the other a lion’s. Both necks were fitted with electric collars that beeped softly in time with a flashing light on each device.
“Go,” the girl hissed, and the tall boy began to tiptoe around the chimera, raising his flashlight to the far hallway across the room.
“Nice place,” the tall boy mumbled to himself. “Love the tapestries. But security sucks.”
He shouldn’t have said anything. The goat’s eyes flickered open, and the lion head snapped up. The predator eyes focused instantly on the tall boy across the room.
The girl with the dark hair licked her lips nervously, then began playing. A soft series of notes swelled in volume, filling the room until the echoes formed a single chord. She struggled to keep her own eyes from closing, luring the monster into unconsciousness. The tall boy grinned shakily, and snuck down into the hall.
He didn’t return for another hour, and the girl with the black hair was swaying unsteadily on her feet.
“I’m sorry,” he hissed in her ear. “I got lost, but we’re really close. Let’s just kill the thing, and after that we bust security. I found out where he’s keeping our weapons.”
All the girl with the black hair could do was nod. With a hint of regret in her eyes, she stopped playing. As the chimera rose, the tall boy clapped his hands over his ears, and the girl let out a piercing shriek on the flute. She held it for a few seconds, and the chimera slumped back to the floor, unmoving.
“Ready?” the girl said after a long moment of silence. Both of them stared at the beast, then moved to their positions. The girl with the black hair moved to the door, slapping her hacking computer to the wall. The tall boy ran back to the hallway.
“Count to fifty, then open the door,” he instructed. The girl nodded breathlessly, then closed her eyes and began counting under her breath. The tall boy disappeared again down the hall.
“Fifty.” The girl with the black hair jabbed at the last button, and the door slid open. She waved frantically at the boy with the blue eyes across the clearing. He jumped up from the stump where he’d been sitting. An instant later, the lasers flickered out. In the same moment, an alarm screamed out over the noise of the wind.
The boy with the blue eyes sprinted into the doorway, and the girl ripped the hacking device off the wall. “This way!”
She led the boy with the blue eyes down the first hall. They ignored the body of the chimera, as though they saw things like that every day. The tall boy was waiting by a sparking plug box.
“What did you do to it?” the boy with the blue eyes laughed. The tall boy rolled his eyes.
“Relax. It was either that or blow up the door. And that’s not an option. It’s a puzzle lock, like you said.”
“I loves me them puzzle locks.”
The tall boy took the lead as they raced through the inner bowels of the Keep. The farther they traveled, the more they sensed pursuit catching up to them.
They reached a nondescript-looking door at the end of a service corridor.
“You sure this is it?” the girl with the black hair huffed. In reply, the tall boy pointed at the enormous mechanism just above the metal handle. The puzzle lock.
It was about two feet square, protruding four or five centimeters out from the flat surface of the door itself. The puzzle lock consisted of twenty-four sliding tiles, with one empty space in the top right corner. But the worst part was that each tile had a constantly shifting design, flickering bits of images that made the eye ache to look at.
The boy with the blue eyes cracked his knuckles.
“It’s magic,” the girl with the black hair said grimly. “Tech mixed with magic. You’ve got three minutes, tops.” With that, she and the tall boy turned to face back down the empty hallway, and the sounds of an angry castle beginning to wake up.
The boy with the blue eyes studied the tiles for a full two minutes. He was silent, but his eyes were a blur, tracking out plans and patterns of what the final combination could finally be.
The tall boy urged, “Hurry up!” as the boy with the blue eyes started sliding the puzzle pieces into their proper place—or what he hoped was their proper place.
“They’re almost here!” the girl with the black hair said anxiously. She drummed the magic flute against her palm, listening to the footfalls steamrolling closer and closer to their hiding place.
“They’re at the end of the hall!” snapped the tall boy, shoving the girl behind him. He placed himself between the other two, and the eight security personnel bearing down the corridor towards them.
The boy with the blue eyes turned the handle and jammed his shoulder into the door. It swung open, and the three of them dove inside, the tall boy slamming the door shut behind them just as the wall-shuddering thuds began.
The room was filled with display cases framed in steel—probably enchanted—and paned with glass. There was only one way to describe what was inside them. Artifacts. Tens of hundreds of artifacts, in a great, gaping, cavernous room. The boy with the blue eyes and the girl with the dark hair split up immediately, searching the cases frantically as the tall boy grunted in pain, digging his heels into the floor to keep the door shut.
The girl let out a squeal of delight as she arrived in front of a large, flat display case. “They’re here!” She shrugged off her backpack, and pulled out nothing more than an old bath towel. She wrapped it around her right fist several times, and crooned some spell under her breath. The girl with the dark hair drew back, and struck the case once, throwing her entire body into the blow. The glass splintered, but didn’t break, and the girl with the dark hair repeated her incantation, louder and with more force. This time, when she struck the glass, it shattered, and the girl tossed away the towel with reckless abandon, digging among the shards for what she was searching for.
She tossed an ivory bow and a quiver full of silver arrows to the boy with the blue eyes. With the ease of movement practiced a thousand times, he slipped the quiver across his back, and strung the bow in seconds. He nocked an arrow on the bowstring, carefully avoiding the moonstone-tipped point of the arrowhead.
The girl withdrew a hammer and a sword. The hammer was nearly as long as she was tall. Etched runes spiraled down the heavy wooden shaft, which was topped with an enormous gray block of icy metal, twice the size of the girl’s head. Strips of leather decorated with painted and carved beads were tied around the shaft.
The sword, in the girl’s other hand, was just under a meter in length, about a foot of which was the hilt and crossguard. Those were both gold, but the blade was of shining, blue-toned steel. Just past the crossguard, extending vertically down the blade, was a name.
“Caliburn,” the girl said triumphantly. “Am I glad to have you back!”
“Less talking, more doing, please,” the tall boy snapped. The girl ran over, and shoved the hammer into his hands. She took Caliburn in a double-handed grip, and took a turn guarding the now-deceptively-silent door. The tall boy stepped back, relieved, and swung the hammer a few times in the open space.
“You’re right,” he said after a minute. He smiled. “It’s been too long.”
The boy with the blue eyes took his place directly across from the door. He took his stance and drew back the bowstring, aiming his arrow for where the first of the guards would enter the room.
“I notice your plan didn’t include the escape,” the girl said wryly. She braced her elbow awkwardly on the door handle.
“Just open the door on three,” the boy with the blue eyes said, half-smiling. The tall boy stood with his back against the wall just next to the door, hammer prepared to strike. He took a deep breath, held it for a moment, then let it out. He nodded at the boy with the blue eyes, and the girl began to count.
“One… Two… Three!”