He looked behind him: spindles polluting the river, bodies stacked high above rooftops, a foul stench in the morning air. I must be the only survivor, he thought. He had never left the little coastal village before, but he knew now that there was no other option.

He was a standard shackle keyed padlock, and part of the local militia. Calling him a solider, however, would be a generous complement, as the only threats that entered the town were shortages of food; well, there was also the problem of his training. See, our lock had always wished he had been born to a merchant family, longing for their ability to travel from town to town free and untethered. Even though he didn’t fancy the open waters, he figured that if he were a merchant, he wouldn’t have to stray too far from the coastline anyway.

Those shortages have increased as of late, an issue our humble lock was not ignorant of. I wonder if our King is aware of these rampant barbarians. With them on the loose, and the terrible food rations, our young lock was feeling more and more like he wanted a fair word with the King. There had been many  merchant tales in recent months about the dangerous savages, but hardly anyone took them without a laugh. Hardly anyone, save for our little lock. And now he had his proof.

Though the barbarians were locks as well, they possessed a terrifying wickedness. Lock combat often involves two soldiers each wielding a bayonet, fighting until one cuts open the other’s shackle. Although many in this rogue band of locks fought traditionally, another class of soldiers employed a far worse tactic: evading blows, they would rush an enemy, shackle open, and once they where within range, they would lock themselves to their opponent – sacrificing themselves in the process.

Not knowing where to go, he set out northward for the King’s castle. Maybe he would have a word with him after all.

***

A few hours later, our lock noticed some smoke in the distance; there appeared to be an encampment some ways away. Finally, some refuge at last, he thought. Maybe he could find someone willing to share some food. He had no rations with him, and if he didn’t eat soon, he might not live.

A bit of a march later, when he reached the edge the settlement, fear overtook him. He saw this village’s fate was even worse than his own. The smoke billowing into the air that was thought to be a campfire by our lock was in fact the remains of a fire set to the town. There were no buildings or people left. Not even bodies. Grudgingly, he made his way across the ashes, trying to suppress the idea that he was probably stepping over townspeople remains.

After he walked to the end of the plateau that the village rested on, a frightening thought struck our lock: Dark is settling down for the night. I must seek shelter nearby. Scanning the terrain, his eyes settled on a valley surrounded by two large mountains a bit northwest of him. Perhaps I could find a cave entrance along one of those crags. It was unfortunate that the lock never had the aspiration to train as a solider, considering he often demonstrated the necessary wits and survival skills.

He paused for a moment before continuing: Focus, I must focus. Muting his distractions, channeling his energy, he concentrated on speed and vigilance, sprinting down the hill at a considerable speed. Dodging holes in the ground, hurdling over large rocks, he was having an extraordinary amount of fun for someone in such a grave situation. He came upon the mountains in no time at all, and quickly begun looking over the cliff faces for a cave entrance.

Am I going to have to sleep without food tonight? He searched and searched, but all he found was uncompromising stone. The lock grew weary under the mountains’ looming presence, feeling as though they were closing in with an inexorable flank. Suddenly panicked, both body and mind were showing signs of taxation. Perhaps his jaunt down the hill while being nearly starved was not the brightest of ideas after all; he was settling into a monotonous delirium. Shelter, shelter. Have to. Shelter.

Just as he all but faded, a hand reached out and grabbed his own, pulling him away into the night.

***

To be continued…

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