Chapter 17.4


I snapped the heavy manacles over Elmiryn’s wrists and ankles, my brow wrinkled at the idea of having my friends under such bondage.  I was worried about the warrior’s arm, but she made no fuss about it, just turned her arm enough so that her hands were in front of her center.  I held the chain that trailed from the links between their hands, holding it like a leash so that I could appear as though I were leading them along.  Elmiryn regarded the new prop with a thoughtful expression, as though she were considering how she could use it for her own purposes.  Farrel updated Lethia on our plans as he fitted her similarly.  The girl listened and nodded, but her body trembled badly.  I wondered how much of it was due to blood loss, and how much of it was her mental condition reacting to the stress?  Despite my fears I felt a sense of awe and respect begin to emerge at the girl’s inner strength, something I had only ever felt towards Elmiryn, and once long ago, towards my oldest brother Thaddeus.

Farrel pulled out the slip of paper he had tucked inside his belt.  “I’ve got the writ here.  It lacks the watermark, but no one ever checks that, as far as I’ve seen.  It’s just our luck that the seal from Belcliff’s offices are easy to carve out of wax with a blade.”  He held it out for us to see.  I leaned forward and squinted my eyes at it.  I was holding Lethia by the shoulders and the girl leaned against me with a sleepy look on her face, but she looked too.  Over the fold of the paper, keeping it closed, was a seal of red wax.  On it, I saw what seemed to be a large government building, with a flock of birds over it.  The amount of detail Farrel put into the red wax was impressive and I let out a fascinated sigh.

“No one will tell the difference?” Elmiryn asked turning her head as though it were something abstract.

The halfling shook his head.  “The guards here are simple folk.  As far as I know, none are sharp enough to pick up on a detail like that.  I managed to smooth out the blade strokes with a dying flame.”

“Wait!” I said, looking between Farrel and Lethia.  “You both sound different.  Farrel, your companions might notice if you don’t sound like your usual self.”

The man tugged at his ear.  “Öctér!  You’re right!”  He looked at Lethia.  “Well…I suppose I’ll just…have to fake my own accent?”  He scrunched his nose.  “How odd!”

Elmiryn straightened and jerked her head down the hall.  “We need to get moving.”

I frowned at Farrel as yet another thought occurred to me.  “And what explanation do you have for your missing guards? Won’t the others be suspicious if they don’t see the men that they’re supposed to trade shifts with?”

Farrel shook his head, but his face tightened. “Don’t worry about that.  I have an excuse lined up that they won’t much look into.” He beckoned us to follow him. “C’mon, we’ve been taking too long!”

I shared a glance with Elmiryn.  Then I turned to look at Lethia.  “Do you want me to carry you?”

The girl turned and smiled at me.  “You won’t seem so tough carrying a thing like me, now won’t you?”  Her voice still had the northwestern accent, and it was like a wrinkle my mind kept tripping over.  Lethia pulled away from me.  “I’ll be fine.”

I picked up Elmiryn’s sword, which we had to remove from her or else she wasn’t very convincing as a prisoner.  I handed it to Farrel, who tied the strap across his chest.  Together we walked back down the hall to the first door on the left.  Farrel gestured for us to take a step back.  He looked at me, his expression tight with anxiety.

“Are you ready?” He asked me.  “These two don’t need to do much besides keep quiet.  But you’ll really have to sell this to the guards…can you do that?”

“Just…open the door,” I said, my expression equally tense.  All of this stalling was driving me insane.  I wanted to be brave, like Lethia and Elmiryn were brave, but I couldn’t do that if things continued to be dragged out.  I had to jump into things.  I had to turn my brain off–for once.

Farrel said nothing.  Just pursed his lips tightly and turned.  With a deep breath through his nose, the man opened the door.  He stepped through and knocked on the wall.  Inside the room it was dark, but I could make out atleast two bunk beds from where I stood.

“Hey, I need atleast two of you to come with me.  We’ve got an escort.” The halfling tried to sound like his old self, but it didn’t quite match his northwestern accent.  When nothing happened, he stepped further into the room and shook two men awake.  “Oi!  Walt!  Tyson!  Get up!  I said we have an escort!”

The men stirred awake, grumbling.  One sat up, and I could see a crop of messy black hair.  “Eh? Why don’ the others take care o’ it?”

“Several Daesce managed ta’ slip ‘neath th’gate ‘fore it closed after our new prisoners came in.  They’re takin’ care of it now.  I had ta’ close the gate and the door so tha’ they wouldn’ get into the tower.”

The guards cursed but they rose and started putting on their gear. Within ten minutes their white pajamas were lost beneath leather armor.  They emerged from the sleeping quarters quietly, eyes squinting in the torchlight.  The two men, Walt and Tyson, were of average height.  One had overgrown black hair that fell into his gray eyes, the other had closely cut brown hair and a small dimpled chin and brown eyes.  They were only equipped with six-inch knives, sheathed on their belts, and I recalled what I had overhead outside the gate.  I was glad to see this was true.  I was certain Elmiryn saw this too.  If we had to, we could overwhelm these men.

I drew myself up as they stared me and my companions up and down.  I even mirrored the action, my lip curling in feigned disgust.  It concealed the grimace which battled to take over my features.  I tried to think of all the strong and overbearing people I knew in my life–how they had behaved, how they moved, how they spoke.

Fortunately Farrel did most of the talking for me.

“This bounty hunter just came in with these two prisoners.  I asked ‘er about it, but she says she hadn’t heard about the trouble in Belcliff.  It was too recent ah’guess.  The marshal couldn’ spare any militia men for the escort, so she was by herself,” Farrel explained to them as he handed over his forged documents.

The two guards squinted at the wax seal, then looked up within the second.  I felt my heart lift, and Farrel’s face eased a bit.  The men had no idea the seal was fake.  None of the guards would open the letter, either, until we reached the warden.  I wondered if Farrel bothered with faking a letter at all.

“So who’re you?” The black-haired guard asked.  I still didn’t who was Tyson and who was Walt.

I pulled the first name I could think of.  “My name is Quincy.”

“You’re Quincy, the bounty hunter?”  they sounded skeptical.

I blinked and looked at Farrel.  His eyes stared back at me wide, and I realized if I looked at him too long the guards would know I was looking to him for a cue.  I snapped my eyes back to the men, my heart pounding in my chest.  Through some miracle, I took my fear and used it to twist my features into one of annoyance.  “I didn’t come here to meet your expectations.  I came here to give my report to the warden and nothing else.”  I looked at Farrel again, but this time I bared my teeth.  “Tell your men to quit wasting my time!”

The guards exchanged looks, then held up their hands.  “Our apologies, ma’am,” the brown-haired guard said.   “We were just confused that’s all.  You look different than what we would’a expected.”

Farrel rolled his eyes.  “That learns ya both.  Rumors ain’ to be takin’ serious.”  He still sounded off to me, but his friends didn’t seem to think it out of place.

They came forward, one hand on their weapons, the other held out.

“We’ll take your prisoners from here, miss,” the dark-haired man said.

I handed him Elmiryn’s chain, my jaw muscles clenching.  Then I gave Lethia’s chain to the brown-haired guard.

Farrel started walking down the hall and together we followed him.  The guards trailed behind me, and every now and again I heard the men jerk the chain hard.  I resisted the urge to look over my shoulder and tell them to stop.  If I showed too much compassion, they would become suspicious.  But each time I heard one jerk the chain, I could practically hear Elmiryn wincing in pain from her injured arm, or Lethia falling to her knees.  My eyes burned with the desire to cry, but I bit the inside of my cheek and kept moving.  Farrel didn’t look back either.

We made it to the end of the hallway.  At the door to the staircase, Farrel took out a key from his pocket and turned it in the keyhole.  There was a satisfying click as the door unlocked.  He opened the door and proceeded up the staircase.  The staircase was narrow and dark.  The steps seemed high, even to me, and my thighs burned as I worked to climb higher.  I didn’t realize how much heavier I was now that I was dressed in full armor.  The guards fell behind us with Lethia and Elmiryn.

When the sound of their climbing grew distant, I turned and called down the staircase.  “For the girl, you’ll have to pick her up.  She’s injured and weak and can’t be pushed too hard.”

Farrel hissed at me from ahead, and I turned to look at him.  His expression was angry and incredulous. “What’re you doing?  You sound too much like you care about them!” He mouthed.

I winced and turned my head as I called down the staircase again.  “And just to be clear, if anything happens to either of those women, you’ll answer to my blade!  I don’t get paid if they die before their execution date!”  I tried to sound as cold and menacing as possible.  My voice trembled a little toward the end of my remark, and I couldn’t see the guards expression as they hadn’t caught up yet.  I prayed to Aelurus they didn’t suspect anything.

“Don’t touch me!” I heard Lethia snap.

I heard a scuffle, and the girl cried out.

I bared my teeth and shouted, “Did you hear me–!?”

Within the next moment they appeared, Elmiryn grinning behind her guard, who looked annoyed, and Lethia hanging over the shoulder of the brown-haired guard, her butt to me.  She was wriggling, her face screwed up in outrage.

“Let me go!”  She half-shouted.

The guard holding her looked at me, not appearing in the least bit strained.  “We heard you, ma’am.  Don’t worry.”  But there was a chilly indifference in his voice that made me anxious.

I turned my face away before this emotion could betray me and followed Farrel further up the stairs.  It seemed we just needed one more go around up the steps before we reached the entrance to the second floor.  We had climbed a total of forty steps to get there.  The ache in my legs confirmed this.

Adjacent to the door, there was a metal box set into the wall at the right.  Farrel opened this to reveal a grid of nine large buttons, each with a geometric shape.  He pushed these in an order I couldn’t follow, then closed the box.  Next he turned to the door and rapped on it three times softly before pausing and pounding on it hard, once.

“Name?” a voice said through the wood.

“Farrel, here.”

There was a click and the door opened.  A guard stared at him through the doorway.  “I didn’t think you had second floor duty this week.”

The halfling stepped aside, and the guard turned his eyes on me and the others behind me.  His eyebrows went high.  Farrel held up the forged writ.  “I’m takin’em up.  Walt and Tyson are just helpin’ out.  They aren’t on duty yet.  Regulations says an on-duty guard gotta go with, but the others are busy handling a Daesce break in.”

The guard cursed as he looked at the writ closely.  “Damn…again?”  He sighed and stepped back.  “Alright, then.  On you go.”

Not many questions asked.  Was this the famous Holzoff’s Tower?  The men here looked so tired and scared and jaded.  But as Farrel put it, most were forced into working here.  The only way I could justify the prison’s fame was for its isolation out in the harsh cold mountains, and for its unwelcome plague of vicious monsters.  I glanced at Farrel as we crossed the walkway, slim and narrow, with my line of sight jarred by the passing bars and the stark faces that stared through them.  Farrel was doing a good job of pretending not to know me–and in a sense this wasn’t entirely a lie.  He didn’t know me.  We had known each other for barely an hour and a half.  I could understand his fears–regarding me.

Unbidden, my mind returned to the days not all that long ago when I hardly knew Elmiryn.  I hadn’t known where the woman came from, what she was truly working toward, what she was possibly running from.  I feared she was a criminal, a cut throat, a lunatic.  The really odd thing was, atleast two of those assessments were true–but not like I thought.  The warrior was wanted by her kingdom for black magic, yet she was innocent of it.  And while she sometimes behaved like a lunatic, I knew there was a bizarre sanity in how she tried to cope with her curse…even if I could feel the stableness in her corroding away.  But Elmiryn was not a cut throat.  She was ruthless sometimes, perhaps, but she was honorable, in her own unique way.

…Would Farrel have these revelations about me?  If he even hung around that long?

Crossing the second floor was like drifting through a tier in hell.  The air was fetid and hot for the cramped bodies and lack of good air circulation.  There were huddles of prisoners, all men from what I saw, draped in dirty blankets and trying to get comfortable on patches of hay.  The room was mostly quiet, save for some coughing.  I noted how some of the prisoners were sporting bruises and cuts.  One was relieving himself in a corner, where I saw a drain.  The lack of privacy repulsed me.  Judging from the prisoners who were injured or battered in some way, I surmised that the guards beat whoever made too much of a fuss.  Thankfully, the sight was gone from us within the minute.  Again we took to the stairs.  Another forty steps.  Then again we came to another metal box, where Farrel punched in the code needed before someone spoke through the door.  Identities were verified.  We were granted passage and made our way quietly.  The third floor was just as the one before it.  Along the way my face grew numb and cold.  This was all so surreal in how routine it was beginning to appear…and it made things all the more terrible for me.

But at the fourth floor, we came to our first break in the pattern.  We had crossed the room as usual.  The guards there sized us up but otherwise didn’t move from their places, and the prisoners were, as before, quiet.

Farrel held up his note for the guard who blocked our way to the staircase leading up to the fifth floor.  “One of you will have to help us go up,” he said.  “I was the guard to receive Miss Quincy so I have to proceed.”

“You don’t have the authority to go up,” said the man.  He wore a helmet, and I found that I didn’t care enough anymore to get the details of his face.  The men here were beginning to blend together for me.  “Why didn’t Jowan or Freck come up?  They’ve got clearance.”

“There was a daesce break-in downstairs.  It couldn’t be helped.”

“I don’t recall the warden telling us we were to be expecting new prisoners.  Wouldn’t the marshal have told him so in the letter we got today?”

Farrel scowled at him, but I could see him start to sweat.  “Damn it, you want us to go all the way back!?”

“Yeh.”  The man said, squaring his shoulders and stepping closer so that he got in the halfling’s face.  “I do.”

“Get out of the way,” I spat, putting some beastliness into my words.

But the guard didn’t seem impressed.  He looked my way.  “All do respect, Miss, but the prison runs under strict protocol.  Farrel here doesn’t have the authority, and quite frankly neither do y–”

I took a step forward, one hand clenched, the other flashing up to grab at the hilt of the sword that pressed at my back.  I heard a clatter as the other men in the room reacted.  I bared my teeth.  Inside me, She reared her head, eyes peering intently through mine.  She was putting lightning and fury into my voice.  I didn’t deny her.  I welcomed whatever boost in ferocity she could spare.  There was only one way to go–up, forward, onward–and to turn back meant failure.  But more than that, danger.  The men downstairs had likely risen, maybe they were even coming after us, impeded only by Holzoff’s own procedures?  This understanding, meted out in words and measured assumptions, riled something unseen and beyond definition.  It came from nowhere, but was a presence that took little time in commanding my actions.

Could I call it…fear?

I wanted to run, but I knew I couldn’t–not in the moral sense either.  This wasn’t about letting down my friends.  What bothered me was that I didn’t have the literal option to run.  The door behind us leading to the third floor had been locked, and we were in a limited space filled with enemies and strangers.  It was a fear–I suppose I can call it this–that called beyond logic and morality.  I was starting to hurt again.  I felt my rib cage expand, felt my teeth ache, felt my joints burn.  My instincts flared, nettled by the circumstances.

I felt like a cornered animal.

Yes.  A form of fear.  Better known as a need to survive.

Fool,” I spat, sounding very much like a cat.  “You will move out of the way, or I’ll cut you where you stand!  The marshal personally charged me with getting these prisoners to the warden as soon as possible–not even the slightest bit of delay.  They were charged with destroying a quarter of the city of Belcliff using their black magic, and so they can’t be doddled about just because you haven’t the right asshat to salute you.”  Then, in a stroke of madness, I snarled.  “Look at the letter if you need the proof.  Look at what the marshal wrote for the warden, then explain to the warden why YOU impeded the top priority of the man who’s paying you all your pathetic stipend!”

Farrel stared at me with wild eyes.

I looked back at him, my eyes sharp, my breath short.  His expression said it all.  The halfling hadn’t faked a proper looking letter.  Or maybe he hadn’t written anything to back up my claim.  I was gambling our whole plan.  Had I lost my mind?

The guard blinked at me, clearly taken aback.  He stepped away from Farrel, then bowed his head.  “…Ma’am…to break the seal and open the letter prior to the warden’s review would be–”

“Against protocol,” I snapped.  I took my hand off my hilt and took another step forward, backing the man into the door.  Either it was because of my threat or something in my demeanor, but I was scaring the man.  …And deep down, I felt a sense of pleasure. “So?” I pressed.

The guard looked between us, stricken.  Then he turned around and opened the door.  “…I’ll see you up myself.  My name’s Redford, ma’am.  I apologize again.”

Before we went through the door, Farrel waited for me to come up to his side, and that’s when he hissed from the side of his mouth.  “Your eyes.”

I didn’t need much more than that to understand his meaning.  My eyes must’ve gone cat again.  I raised my hand to my face and saw that, while they hadn’t sprouted fur, my nails had still turned to claws.  The brazen fire in me was gone, replaced with panic.  We entered the staircase, away from the audience in the room.  There I squeezed my eyes shut and willed everything back to their rightful places.  Pain shot through my head as I felt my eyes return to their sapien origin.  My hands too.  The change was fast, but I felt it this time.  I felt it because I made it happen.  And what of the times when I hadn’t felt the change?  The curse of my Mark was to bring pain to any slight shift from my sapien to bestial forms.  It didn’t matter the extent of the transformation.

I thought to raise the issue in my mind with my Twin, but she bristled just at the suggestion.  I sensed in her a confusion to match mine, and a resentment that I would be so quick to blame her.  I hadn’t written her off as innocent yet–such animalistic outbursts were in her domain after all–but not long ago it had been brought to my attention that things were perhaps not so simple as “My Fault–Her Fault”.

But that wasn’t the time to think of it.

I glanced over my shoulder at Elmiryn.  The woman smiled openly at me behind her guard, but by then we had entered the staircase and neither Walt nor Tyson saw her face.  I looked forward again so that they wouldn’t notice.  I didn’t like the look on Elmiryn’s face.  Like she were in some way impressed.  I just felt like a bully, strong-arming these men to get my way.  It wasn’t in my nature, this attitude, this bristling charade.  If it weren’t for my experience dealing with such people, I wouldn’t have the slightest idea how to behave.  If it weren’t for my Twin, I wouldn’t have the fierceness or bravado needed to make my act convincing.


Being of such a hardy-make, it was easier for me to recover from arduous climbs like the flights of stairs we had passed.  Just the few minutes spent bickering with Redford the guard was enough for the burn in my thighs and calfs to stop.  Farrel seemed to be doing as well as I was, though that was hardly a surprise–for a paper merchant, he seemed incredibly in shape.  But the others?

Behind me, I could hear the guard carrying Lethia panting behind Elmiryn.  Elmiryn herself seemed a bit winded, and the guard holding her chains was beginning to get impatient.

“C’mon you!” he snapped, when the woman started to lag again.

I glanced over my shoulder, a flicker of concern crossing my face.  I couldn’t help it.  The woman was injured, and I knew for a fact that she hadn’t slept for more than a day.  She seemed to only make it this far because of her sudden spikes of energy, but as I saw outside of the tower, she was crashing harder now.  When would her body collapse?

Elmiryn tried to pick up her pace by skipping a step, but her leg was weak as it gave out under her, and she fell.  She managed to turn her body just enough that she fell on her good arm, but the injured arm still pulled in a way that her impromptu brace did not spare her the pain.  She rolled over to her side, growling with a bunched expression, eyes closed and her cheeks turning a deep red.  I turned fully, my mask falling, and I was about to call her name when–

The guard kicked her.  He pulled his foot back and kicked her broken arm.

Elmiryn let out a strangled scream, her body curling like an animal whose exposed nerves had been poked with a hot stick.

I grabbed the man from behind, hardly thinking.  I hooked my right arm around the front of his neck from the left side, then grabbed his left wrist with my free hand, forcing him into a backward bend.  I was…beside myself with anger.  My first instinct had been to stop the man, to restrain him as Elmiryn had shown me in the days passed.

“Bastard.  Didn’t I warn you…!?” I hissed.

I heard Redford say something behind me, saw the guard carrying Lethia bend his knees and shift the girl in his arms as though he meant to get involved somehow.  The girl in question was trying to twist her body around to get a look at what was happening.  Her expression was twisted in perplexity and she seemed to forget her compromised position for a moment.  Elmiryn’s eyes peered up at me like white sickles, and her breath had turned harsh.  She still cradled her left arm.  Her lips moved gently, and I realized she was trying to tell me something.

Then Farrel’s hand came down on my shoulder like a gavel.  “Quincy!

The word was loaded with so many things.  Surprise, appeal for peace, a furious warning.  I released the man and stood, my head bowed.  Locks of my hair clung to my face, where hot tears had fallen.  I tried to cover this by rubbing my hand over my face as though in frustration…it wasn’t that hard to fake.

Farrel passed me on the stairs.  I raised my eyes to look and saw that he helped Elmiryn to her feet.  He pulled the chains from the guard’s hands and gestured behind him.  “Go on, Tyson.  You should’ve known better.”

The guard at my feet stared up at Farrel.  “You’re siding with her?

“He isn’t the only one,” Redford snapped from behind me.  I looked at the man to see him sneering at Tyson.  “You’re a real fool.  The warden’ll be hearing about you.  Now get back to your post before you slow us down even more!”

Tyson looked as though he wanted to punch him.  But he turned and went back down the stairs, out of sight.

“He won’t cause any trouble.  Unlike him, I’m a real guard.  I’ve worked here for years.  The wardnen’ll listen to what I have to say.”  Redford turned without glancing back again.  “That’s done.  Just a bit more, now.”

Our pace slowed as Elmiryn, for all her toughness, seemed to reach her limit.  She looked ill, and she held her broken forearm close to her hunched body.

We reached the fifth floor.  This floor was different from the others as it had more floor space.  That was because the cells were set against the circular walls.  They were like metal closets, less than four feet wide.  This allowed eight prisoners on the floor.  These were the high profile prisoners, Farrel had mentioned.  I couldn’t see any of them, because the little windows set into the cell doors were closed.  I would’ve thought them empty if I hadn’t heard a man howling in one of them.  The sixth floor was the same, only with a small difference.

Redford took out a key and unlocked the door leading to the final staircase.

Or it seemed he was  opening it to the final staircase.

Before us was a giant stone slab with a confusing array of carved lines.  They reminded me of the puzzles I used to solve as a child, where the solver was to figure out what lines connected to what symbols.  This was, of course, much grander, and I was surprised to see it.  So far, Holzoff’s Tower had used more mundane manners of security–this was more reminiscent of the arcane.

Sure enough, Redford traced his fingers along the lines in a fast and confusing order.  To me, there wasn’t any thought to it.  But the way the man started at a certain point, then traced out some unnameable shape suggested otherwise.  And where his finger passed, the stone glowed white, until a complete and closed shape shined at our marveling faces.  There was a groan, and the stone slid to the side, into some partition that seemed unlikely to me–but this was magic.  Perhaps part of the spell, made the stone collapse into small spaces?

It didn’t matter.  We were past it.  We were heading to the final floor.  But I wasn’t quite at ease yet.  There was still Walt and Redford to deal with.  And how was security on this floor?  How many guards would we have to fight through, and how in the nine hells would we get out of the tower once Syria was safely in our custody?

We came to the door leading to the seventh floor.  There was no box here–no great and magical stone barrier.  Just a door, and Redford had the key to unlock it.  He did so, no sense of anxiety spurring him onward.  I tensed, waiting for some cue, waiting for some sign that would tell me what it was I needed to do and when.  Were we going to attack?  Or were we going to fake this through to the end?

But we stepped through the doorway, into a wide hall.  At the end of the hall was a large heavy door that was likely the way into the Warden’s office.  But halfway down the hall, to the right, was a menacing looking entrance, that reminded me of the cells down below.  The difference here was in the four locks at the edge of the door, and the large wooden bar that suggested the door open outward.

I turned to look at Farrel, who raised his eyebrows at me.  Elmiryn’s face looked blank, but her eyes were bright, as though the sight of our goal was enough to rejuvenate her.  I clenched my fists and turned to look at Redford.  I moved forward, intending to knock him out from behind when–

“Thank you, Walt.  You can set me down now.”

I froze.  I looked over my shoulder with a slow incredulity, and saw Walt the guard set Lethia down without a fuss.  His expression was blank.  The girl patted his shoulder.  Next she looked in my direction, but her green eyes were on the floor.  “Redford.  Please get the keys from the warden’s room.  Knock the man out, if you need to, but don’t kill him.”

Redford said nothing.  Didn’t even turn his head.  Just continued walking down the hall to the warden’s room as if nothing had happened.  When he went through the door, we heard a brief inquiry from someone we couldn’t see, before the door shut and all sounds were cut off.  Whatever happened next, we heard nothing.

I stared, open mouthed.  “Lethia, are you–?”

“Not now. Concentrating,” Lethia muttered.

Farrel looked at her, then at me.  He seemed equally surprised.

Elmiryn bumped him hard with her shoulder.  “Hey, damn it.  Am I supposed to keep wearing these or what?”

The halfling fumbled for the keys to the chains and mumbled an apology.  The woman looked at me and winked.  “See?  The kid pulled through for us.  I didn’t want to say anything, but she’s been in control ever since Walt tried to pick her up.”

“How did you know?” Farrel asked her, frowning.

Elmiryn shrugged her uninjured shoulder.  “She stopped fighting him.  That, and Redford gave things up too easily.  I dunno how she got Redford to yield, but she must’ve made eye contact with Walt when he tried to throw her over his shoulder.”

“So my act was–?”

“Still necessary.  Lethia just helped.” Elmiryn affirmed, now free of her bonds.  Farrel returned her weapon to her, and went to free Lethia next.  The warrior came to my side and brushed back my hair.  “You did great, Nyx.”

The door opened again and Redford emerged a key ring jangling four keys at his side.  When I looked around him, I saw a leg sprawled out on the floor.  The warden, hopefully just knocked out as Lethia had instructed.  The ensorcelled guard ignored the rest of us, brushing past to stop before Lethia, who received him warmly.  It was a bit ridiculous, but even when dealing with a man she was mind-controlling the girl treated him kind.

“Thank you, Redford!”  She said as she took the keys from him.

Farrel finished removing the chains from her ankles.  “What’re you going to do with them?” he asked.

Lethia didn’t look at the halfling.  Just pointed behind her.  “Walt.  Redford.  Please watch the door.  I think your friends may be coming soon, and I’d prefer it if we weren’t interrupted.”

Without a word, both men went to do as they were told.  Elmiryn shook her head, a grin on her face.  “Enchantment!  It’s THE way to deal with pesky men!”

Despite myself I grinned.

Lethia held up the keys.  “One for each of us.  We need to turn the keys at the same time.”

She came closer and unhooked the keys from the hoop.  The one she handed to me was small and a warm honey colored metal.  “That one goes into the last hole.  Turn it to the right.”

I frowned at her.  “The right?  But it’s a key.  Doesn’t it turn to the left?”

Lethia didn’t answer me.  At first I was annoyed, but then it occurred to me that mind-controlling two men at the same time was likely very taxing on her, and she could spare little time to talk.  She handed keys to Elmiryn and Farrel.  Both were differently shaped then mine.

“Yours is the first.  Turn to the left,” she said to Elmiryn.  And to Farrel, “Yours is the second.  Turn to the right.”

She held up her own key.  “I’m the third keyhole, and I turn to the left.  We’ll turn on three.”

Lethia didn’t wait for us.  She went to the heavy door and placed her key into the third keyhole.  The three of us exchanged looks.  Then Elmiryn followed suit, using her good arm to reach for the first keyhole.  Farrel went next, placing his key into the appropriate place.  I was last.

My eyes were on Lethia, who seemed different somehow.  It didn’t help that she still had the odd accent she had stolen from Farrel, but something of her was subdued.  Likely because she was using her power to keep Walt and Redford under control, but there was something else.  The girl’s face was blank and pale, save for the scratches and light bruises she had received in the day, both from Belcliff’s jail and our dangerous trek through daesce territory.  Her green eyes were like glass, but tears collected at the corners, and I saw her lips were set into a tight line.

She was going to see her mistress again.

Did this fact afford her with the sudden spiritual strength needed to overcome her fatigue and injuries?

I moved forward and placed my key into the final keyhole.

Lethia began counting.


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