Lily dashed through the castle, sweeping every floor with her Probe, clearing each level of any traces of life. The first, the second, the third. Each floor systematically became quiet as it was voided of human presence.
Lily went back to the first floor, punching through the large boulder that she had used to block the stairwell to the basement. Immediately she was met by the sight of a number of people gathered behind it, cuddling, fearful. Faster than the eye could see, she crushed the skulls of everyone around her and continued her advance, scanning, searching, eliminating.
Finally, she arrived at a large set of locked wooden doors in the upper basement level. Using her Probe, Lily discerned that it opened into a large room that ran the length of the corridor, and said room contained a large number of living beings. Behind them, sobbing and screaming could be heard as people inside pounded on it. Two fresh male corpses stood sentry over the door, one on each side. Across the hallway, approaching her at an even pace, was Iris, dragging along an unconscious blue-haired man by his collar. Iris’ youthfully happy, contented face at seeing Lily contrasted greatly with her once-white summer dress, which had been splattered crimson.
“Lily~ I got him~”
To emphasise her point, Iris lifted up the unconscious man’s face to show Lily the cleft lip and the diagonal scar that ran across his face. Serena’s only exception to the “leave no witnesses” rule. She had given explicit instructions to capture him alive, if possible. Lily nodded her approval.
“Mm. Good job.”
Lily stepped up to the wooden doors and sent her magical tendrils into the lock, examining it, feeling it out, and ultimately unlocking it. However, she held the door shut tight, addressing the people within.
“I assume you’re the slaves. Well, congratulations. As of this moment, you’re free. However, I can’t allow you to see my face. So even though this door is unlocked, don’t open it right away. Wait thirty minutes before opening it. This is the only warning I’ll give you.”
With that, she turned away and gestured to Iris to follow her into the entrance to the lower basement from which Iris had emerged. As the two girls and the dragged captive were about to reach the stairwell, Lily’s probes picked up the doors opening. She heard footsteps, a single pair, patter out of the room. Instantly, without warning, one of Iris’ magical projectile weapons was in her hand, aimed backwards, and fired. Lily heard the crumpling of the body to the floor and felt the extinguishing of a life. The screams from within the room faded quickly, leaving a fear-tinged silence. Lily paused without turning back, making sure with her Probe that nobody else had left or was leaving the room.
Satisfied, she continued walking down the stairs, the petite Iris trailing behind, dragging the unconscious blue-haired man.
Exiting the eerily silent fortress and creating some distance from it, Lily pulled out the professionally drawn map of the area that Serena had given them, examining it. Around the city of Oparil were a number of dense forests and winding roads, indicating its position and importance as a centre of trade. The city had five gates, each opening to a road which led to some other city. The fortress they were in was situated in the midst of one of the forests, about twelve hours by carriage from the Northeast gate. Within the same forest on the map there was a circled spot far away from the fortress, indicating the place where Serena was to meet them.
Iris hefted the unconscious man over her shoulder, then followed Lily through the forest, leaving the bloodstained castle behind them.
After several hours of movement, accompanied by the need to knock out their prisoner several times along the way, with the Sun beginning to sink below the horizon, they arrived at the marked location, coming upon a quiet wooden cottage. The vines which crept across it and the faded colour of its log walls suggested age and abandonment, but close scrutiny revealed that there were no holes in the building, and while the logs looked aged, they showed no sign of rot or collapse under the vines. The small stone well situated next to it had vines creeping all along its side, but its rope was unfrayed and oiled. It was evident that there was some effort put into maintaining the building.
Lily sent her Probe around herself and into the house. Nobody. It seemed they were early. Cautious, she reached into her small backslung satchel and retrieved the key Serena had given them, opening the door and perking inside.
She stepped into the cottage, a humble place with just a single room. In the corner was a wooden bed, next to a small dresser and mirror. On its right, directly across from them, was a kitchen carved out of logs, facing the set of four chairs and a table in the centre of the room.
Serena was running late. Or perhaps they were early. Lily clicked her tongue in annoyance, then handily picked up their prisoner off Iris’ tiny shoulder and tossed him down in a chair. She looked around the hut, spotting a thick rope similar to the one used in the well, then bound the man’s hands and legs tightly to the chair. She picked up a bucket from the kitchen area and tossed it over to Iris, who caught it with a questioning look.
“Iris, could you be a dear and go fill that with water please?”
Iris nodded happily and ran out the door with the bucket. Lily smiled a little. The girl was always happy whenever Lily gave her something to do. Not as happy as when Lily pet her head or held her hand, but happy nonetheless. In fact, her entire life seemed to revolve around Lily, which given the circumstances of their meeting was entirely understandable. It made Lily slightly uncomfortable to think about the likelihood that Iris’ devotion was a result of some kind of inbuilt obligation, but the girl seemed genuinely happy, and that, to Lily, was what mattered.
Iris walked back in with the bucket of water, placing it next to the bound prisoner. Lily drew herself a chair on the other side of the table, pulling out another and patting its seat. Iris quickly took her seat next to Lily. Lily reached out and held Iris’ hand, causing the girl to blush a deep crimson. Suppressing a giggle, Lily leaned back, relaxed, and waited for Serena to arrive.