Aydin's body was slick with the sheen of sweat that coated him. He paused, plastering his back against the stone wall of the corridor he was following as he heard the scrape of a boot on the floor. The stone felt like ice against his damp skin, and he struggled to repress a shudder, testing his grip on the handgrip of his sword while he waited to see if the hoonan would pass him or turn off.
He released the breath he'd held slowly when he heard the footsteps fading. Not that he would've minded slitting the bastard's throat--he hated the hoonan's universally--but the objective wasn't to see how many he could kill before he reached the dungeons where he knew his brother was being held. It was to get the young fool out of the mess he'd gotten himself in to, and he'd already left three bodies in his wake. If they began to pile up, the hoonans were bound to realize they had an enemy among them.
He pushed the thoughts to the back of his mind as he spied the steep, narrow stairs he'd been searching for--the stairs leading down to the dungeon. Casting a sweeping look around the corridor, he moved quickly toward the opening, scanned the spiraling steps as far as he could see and slipped through the opening. He'd descended nearly a dozen when he heard a scrape below him and realized someone was coming up. He froze, glanced back up the stairs and considered whether to dash back up or not. He dismissed it as it sank into him that it wasn't likely he could reach the alcove where he'd hidden before.
There was no hope for it. Moving away from the wall, lowering his sword to his side where it would be less noticeable, he continued his descent. The man he met stared at him blankly, his gaze flickering over Aydin's face and upper torso as he jogged his mind to identify him. Aydin stepped up to him with a smile on his face, clapped him on the shoulder, and drove his sword into his belly just as he saw it flicker in the man's eyes that he wasn't looking at a hoonan.
The gods damned hair was good for something, Aydin thought in disgust as he whirled behind the man, clamped a hand over his mouth, and finished him by slitting his throat. He looked around the stairs as the man slumped heavily against him but, of course, there was no place to put the fucking body!
Allowing the body to sag toward the stairs, he rolled it toward the inner wall. He was about to continue his descent when an idea struck him. On impulse, he dragged the man's tunic off and shrugged into it. There was a wide bloodstain on the front, but he might be able to use that, too.
With his sword arm down by one side to conceal his weapon as much as possible, his other hand over the sword slice in the tunic, he moved down the remainder of the stairs as quietly as possible and took a quick look around. There was a solitary guard--now. Clearly, he'd already dispatched the man's partner.
Seated in a chair tipped back against the wall, the guard glanced at him, obviously expecting it to be the man who'd just left, did a double-take, and sat forward immediately. Aydin had reached the man by the time the front legs of the chair hit the stone floor.
Aydin leapt at the man and sliced his sword across his throat before he could say more. The man slapped a hand to his throat, his eyes widened with horror as he felt his blood pumping through his fingers. He wavered a moment and sat down heavily in the chair he'd just vacated.
Aydin slipped his sword into the waist of his loincloth and headed down the corridor behind the man at a brisk trot, glancing in at the occupants of each cell as he passed. Hoonans by the look of them--and the smell!
Frustration and uneasiness was beginning to coil the tension in his gut tighter and tighter but at last he came upon a larger cell. The centaurs packed inside shifted uneasily when they spied him. Unfortunately, the darkness of the dungeon and the number of people inside made it impossible to determine if his brother was among them. "Colwin?" he called in a low voice.
To his relief, there was a stir among them and Colwin shouldered his way through to the front. He stared at Aydin with shocked disbelief for several moments before surging toward the bars that separated them.
"Aydin! You madman!" he exclaimed with a shaky laugh and then turned to look at the others. "It's my big brother!"
"Keep it down!" Aydin admonished him, pulling his sword and beginning to work at the lock with the tip. "Are there any others down here?"
"Just us--as far as we know," Colwin said, anger tingeing his voice now. "I'm pretty certain they took the others to work the mines."
Aydin flicked a look at him, noting the healing lash marks and felt his gut tighten both with fury and remembered pain. "Still working on breaking you, huh?"
Colwin's face twisted. He didn't want to admit it, especially not to Aydin, but they were damned close to doing just that. He'd begun to think he couldn't endure another lashing without shaming himself and his tribe.
It infuriated him. It didn't matter that they hadn't broken him down and no one knew how close he'd been to yielding. It was enough that he knew. It was enough that they'd made him begin to doubt himself as a warrior.
As Aydin finally broke the lock and opened the door, those thoughts made a random memory surface, the determination to have his revenge on their bastard of a king if he ever did manage to escape. It had been little more than an 'if only' at the time, something he'd mulled over lovingly while he'd lay trying to block his mind from the pain, but it occurred to him that he couldn't have thought of a better way of avenging himself on the bastard.
It also occurred to him that he knew exactly where to find her. The guards couldn't get their minds off of her more than five minutes at the time--and they had nothing to do standing guard but to talk.