The small brown mouse scampered up to the cell door, a single silver key clamped tightly between its teeth. Heather bent down and took the key from the rodent. The mouse darted up Heather’s arm and into the nymph’s hair. She stood, slid the key into the door, and, with a click, the door opened. Hiss was almost done removing the enchanted manacles on the other prisoners.
“Heather, bring those two in here,” Engle said, gesturing toward the two immobilized guards. She nodded and waved at the men; the large roots that they were ensnared by began to writhe and crawl into the cell with alarming speed. Engle snatched one of the guards from the ground by the collar and threw the man into the wall where he had previously been slouched. The man slammed into the wall with a pained grunt and slid to the ground, his eyes watering. The guard’s partner was deposited by Heather’s roots at the first guard’s feet.
“Put the chains on them,” Engle told the elf. Thalaen jumped silently to work.
Engle stepped in front of the captured guards as well. They were breathing heavily and staring about the cell in disbelief as their chains were being placed. “I want you both to listen to me and listen well,” Engle said quietly as he knelt. He placed a long finger underneath the first guard’s chin and tilted the man’s face up. “You will not make a noise, not a single peep. Do you understand me? If not, I can make myself clearer.”
The guards shook their heads fervently and made no noises.
“Good. Now that we’re on the same terms, I want you to know what will happen if I find out that you, in any way, impeded our escape and caused our recapture. I promise you this: I will stop at nothing to hunt you two down and kill you both—personally, slowly, and with no pity in my cold heart.” He paused and looked between the two. “I’ve killed no less than ten of you already, so two more of you? I won’t even bat an eye.
“I also want to make it perfectly clear that I’m sparing you, which is not something I do lightly, I can assure you. So if you squander this one rare moment that I’m offering you freely, I will make it so that you will have to beg me to let you pass. Sure, I may find some scarce source of pity for one of you, but the other will not be so lucky. I’ll make that unlucky one of you watch as I let the life drain from the other’s face. It will be a lot like what your sadistic boss did to those two over there,” he nodded toward the thief and the crow, “but I won’t be so kind when I get to you both.” He stood then, feeling a little better, and turned to Heather. “Do you know the way out?”
The nymph looked shaken, as if she had been the one that Engle had threatened. She swallowed and said, “Mouse knows the way.” Hearing his name, Mouse poked his tiny pink nose through the curtain of Heather’s hair.
“Then you and Mouse will be our guides. Thalaen,” he turned to the elf, “I need you to help Okohke and Salleem.”
The crow man stood and leaned heavily against the cell wall, his right eye severely swollen shut. “I am able to walk. I will help Salleem as well.” He and Thalaen stooped to pick the thief from the ground. Salleem gritted his teeth as he was dragged up from the stone floor.
“Fine.” Engle paused and crooked up an eyebrow. “Where is Hiss?” He searched the floor of the cell, but he did not see the small blue and grey snake anywhere.
“I’m here,” a small voice whispered. Engle nearly jumped. He glanced down at the base of his neck; the small snake was curled against his collar bone where she snugly fit against his body-suit beneath a small gap in his armor. The fairy flicked her tongue at him, and he shook his head a little disbelievingly.
“Alright, let’s move.” They filed out of the cell into a dimly-lit hallway. Heather locked the door behind them, and then she and Mouse began to walk swiftly down the corridor. Engle fell into step at Heather’s side, the others treading close at her heels.
“Where are we?” Engle asked in a whisper.
“We’re just outside of the prison’s courtyard. Mouse says that all of the cells are kept down here, and they all have a barred window that opens into the courtyard.”
“Is there a reason why all the windows open into the courtyard only?”
“Apparently, Natla likes it when the prisoners are able to hear the executions that occur in the courtyard,” she replied, making a disgusted sound. “She had the windows built facing the inner square specifically for that reason.”
“She’s the captain of Balinsteil’s patrol force.”
“Is she the scarred woman with the silver hair?”
“We’ve met,” Engle said dryly.
Heather kept quiet as they walked. Then she whispered, “Are you really going to kill those two men that we left in the cell?”
Engle thought for a moment before shrugging. “If they keep silent, then no, but I keep my promises. For their sakes though, they better stay quiet.”
The seven of them came to a stairwell at the end of the corridor. The stone steps spiraled upward and out of sight. They ascended the steps and came to an entryway that opened to the courtyard. The air was chilled, and Engle was able to glimpse the clouds of his breath on the air. Small flickering torches were fixed to the walls at regular intervals, faintly illuminating rows of pillories and a tall, gaunt gallows at the center of the yard. Engle was glad to have the cover of darkness to aid their escape. They kept close to the shadows as Heather lead them along the outside edge of the square. The nymph turned down another narrow hallway that opened to their right. Many passageways were built into the walls of the corridor, and there were very few torches to light the path.
They were perhaps fifteen steps into the corridor when two guards marched from one of the adjoining passageways, dragging a prisoner between them. Heather reacted quickest, pushing Engle to the side and into the darkness of another hallway. Thalaen, Salleem, and Okohke darted into an opening opposite from Heather and Engle. Engle pressed himself flat against the wall and held his breath. He pulled Heather closer, farther away from the light. He could feel her tremble as the guards neared and finally passed.
They waited until the soldiers’ retreating footsteps could no longer be heard. Heather emerged from the darkness first, turning her head both left and right to check the corridor before fully stepping from the safety of the dim hallway.
She set off once more down the passage, quicker this time, motioning for them all to follow. “This way,” she whispered. “The guards confiscated your stuff and are keeping it all down here.”