Half an hour later, I stood outside the warehouse gates.
It was an old, crumbling structure, long abandoned by its original owners, and a large signboard at the door told me that it was slated for reconstruction. The walls were made of brick, which, from the moss growing on it, had evidently seen many years of neglect and disuse. A roof of crude metal sheeting capped the building, and it had rusted through in many areas. From its dilapidated appearance, it was clear that the warehouse would not have remained standing for much longer.
I strode over to the front door, and was about to kick it in when I thought better of it. Surely the Lord of Darkness would be expecting me to take the most direct route in, given my concern for Dylan and apparent youth. My instincts also told me that he had probably already prepared some nasty surprises, and was simply waiting for me to hand myself over on a silver platter. Looking about carefully, I spotted a small ventilation shaft at the side of the warehouse, just over a meter in height. Feeling like a mouse entering a roomful of cats, I opened the hatch and pulled myself up, wriggling vigorously as I squeezed my body into the narrow space.
The shaft was long and narrow, and I tried my utmost not to make a din in the cramped passage, lest I reveal my presence. Barely a minute later, the shaft sloped sharply downwards and opened into a wide, dimly-lit room. Peering out through the metal grille, I realized that I was in the generator room. It was empty, save for the power generator itself and a couple of consoles that flashed with blinking lights. I crept over to the sole entrance to the room and eased it open cautiously.
The warehouse interior looked much bigger than it had from the outside. It was dimly lit, sunlight streaming in through gaping holes in the roof. Empty crates lined the walls, and a metal catwalk ran overhead, ending in a ladder near the warehouse entrance. Wooden beams spanned the roof, clearly intended to support the metal sheeting, but I could see that many of them had already rotted through with time and repeated exposure to the elements. And there, in the far corner of the room, stood a gigantic cage of gleaming steel. I immediately recognized Dylan’s potbellied figure peering out from between the bars. Contrary to what I had expected, though, he wasn’t alone.
The cage was filled with prisoners, men and women both. Most of them looked malnourished, and had unkempt hair that had been left to grow unchecked, giving them a wild appearance. Even from where I was standing, about thirty feet away, I could smell the putrid stench of urine and human waste. Clearly, the Lord of Darkness thought nothing of treating his prisoners like animals.
I crept closer to the cage, keeping my body pressed closely against the wall. “Dylan,” I hissed, my voice sounding unnaturally loud in the still silence of the warehouse. He looked up sharply, and started in surprise when he recognized me. Abruptly, he made a shooing gesture, eyes wide with panic, as though trying to warn me of something.
It was too late. Right on cue, searchlights sprang to life all around the warehouse, throwing out powerful beams of pure, white light from where they perched on the catwalk and rafters. In the darkness of the warehouse, the sudden brightness was absolutely blinding. I shielded my eyes with one forearm as a searchlight oriented on me, illuminating my figure completely. I realized, with a sinking feeling, that I had been discovered.
“Mr. Davidson!” boomed a deep, resounding voice, “So good of you to join us! I see that you’ve found our nice little collection of slaves. I knew that you would come for the old man, being the naïve fool that you are.”
A tall figure, broad and muscular, stepped out onto the middle of the catwalk above the main entrance. I could barely make out a mane of jet-black hair, but the rest of his features were almost impossible to discern in the blinding light.
He grinned, flashing white teeth that sparkled. “I believe that you have something that belongs to us,” he stated, crossing his arms confidently. “Now, if you would be so kind as to turn yourself in quietly.”
Damn. So much for the element of surprise.
I finally understood how it felt for a mouse to be caught out in the open.