Falcon gives the gate a brutal kick, howling with fury.
"You bastards!" he shrieks. "Open this bloody gate or I swear I'll break it down myself!"
There is no reply, but Falcon swears he can hear Shadow cackling very faintly in the depths of the castle. He snarls and slams his fist into the hard wood, but all that does is drive splinters into his knuckles. Then he hears someone retch and he turns to see his friends looking at him with a mixture of delight and concern. Despite his fury, Falcon feels a warm glow in his chest. However, this glow is soon dimmed when he sees the state they're in.
Blaze have obviously not been kind to the group, many of them are leaning on each other for support and others are clearly in some pain. Falcon suspects many of them have broken limbs and there is not one among them who is not at least slightly bloodied in some way. There are dark shadows under their eyes and all are painfully thin - the bones of their faces jutting out alarmingly. At least they're all alive, he thinks, relieved. No-one's missing as far as he can see. He strides over and begins looking everyone over in turn. The greetings are heartfelt, despite their dishevelled state none of them appear to have lost hope. Even little Mary, looking bruised and dirty, manages to give him a weak hug around the midriff:
"We knew you'd come back," she whispers. "We knew you would."
Falcon smiles and ruffles her hair. Someone snickers nearby and he looks around to find Dane watching him, one eye swollen shut, one hand clutching his ribs and the other looped around the shoulder of another soldier. From the way he's holding his leg, Falcon can only guess it's damaged.
"How you doing rascal?" he says, wincing at the bruises and small cuts covering his friend's face and neck. Dane smiles a twisted smile, revealing several broken teeth:
"Could be worse. I don't think the guards took much of a liking to me. Think it must have been the time we tipped the shit buckets over their heads."
"Either that or the hell we gave them when they dropped the food in on us." says the soldier. "We didn't give 'em an easy time Falcon, of that you can be sure. Your friend here was something of a menace - I think he was a bad influence on the rest of us."
Falcon laughs, but it's a pained laugh. Evidently his friends weren't the most compliant of prisoners. And many appear to have paid for it. None the less, their faith in him and their sheer determination not to give in makes him so proud of them it almost hurts. Now it's his turn to return the favour.
"Come on," he calls out. "We'll find a place to camp, then we'll see to the wounded as best we can. We can plot our next move from there."
The group no and, slowly, they begin to limp back into the cover of the nearby trees. They know where they're heading, they've hidden in this area before, it's practically an old haunt, but Falcon can't help but glance back over his shoulder at the castle. Hang in there Eternal, he thinks, as if she could hear him. We'll come back for you. I swear it.