145 ~ Jester

0130 hours

“What’s going on?” The question was directed to her new cell neighbour, Lt. James of the First Regiment, who’d been deprived of his prison guard status and thrown into Molly’s old cell when his comrades had mutinied.

He shrugged, equally in the dark. She stood up and leaned against the door of her cell, looking down the long, empty hallway to the door that stood open at the top of the stairs leading out of the dungeon. Freedom. So close. “Well, where in Tyvian did our guards head off to?”

She was thinking out loud more than expecting an answer, but James stood and joined her by the door of his own cell, head cocked to listen. “D’you hear that? Sounds like fighting.”

She listened herself for a moment and did, indeed, hear the sounds of battle. “We’re under attack,” she said, far more happily than those words would normally be uttered.

“Probably,” James murmured, not catching her meaning.

“James,” she said, wanting to shake him for being so stupid right now, “this is our chance!”

“To escape?” His eyes widened.

“No. To sit here and do nothing, as usual.”

He glared at her. “Sarcasm unappreciated. How’re we going to swing it, Jes? Guard’s got the keys.”

She smiled at him, glad she finally had a chance to use the lightning gun she’d smuggled into the dungeon with her. “Leave it to me. And stand back,” she said as an afterthought, retrieving the gun from its hiding place.

James had been at her demonstration of the weapon’s power in Aeril. He didn’t need to be told twice.

She took a few steps back herself and aimed the nose of the weapon at the place where their cell doors met and pulled the trigger. Blue fire shot forth and cut through the bars as if they were clotted cream and melted a hole in them, a high-pitched whine coming from the gun. She moved it around, making the hole larger, but soon the fire came out jerkily before fizzling and stopping altogether. Then there was a pop!

She hit the gun against her hand a few times and tried to fire it again, but all that arose from it was a sizzling sound.

Disgusted, she flung it into the corner of her cell. “Damn Second Age craftswomanship,” she muttered angrily.

James stood in his cell about a foot from the hole made by the gun, looking not quite ready to go through. The hole was just barely big enough for them to go through one at a time, and the melted edges of the bars were still white-hot and glowing.

“Maybe we should wait for those to cool,” he said, looking nervously at the molten metal.

“And let them lock us up in a new cell in the meantime ā€“ for good this time?” He had no answer for her. “Come on,” she added, looking at the metal herself. “You first.”

He snickered a bit at that. “Pollo,” he said, before moving to step through the hole.

She started to reply with “No, intelligente,” but found herself holding her breath while he maneuvered himself carefully past the bars, coming within inches of the molten edges. She let her breath out when he was safe on the other side, having made it through with no incident.

Steeling her own nerve, she stepped forward and slowly worked her right arm and leg through at the same time, bending over to fit through as she straddled the bottom of the hole. Keeping her body angled so she didn’t touch the bars in the middle, she had one side all the way through and her left half-way through when she lost her balance and fell, her left arm brushing against one of the bars.

Blinding white agony rent her and she was sure she screamed, but she couldn’t hear it. All went black ā€“ for only a second, it seemed, but when she opened her eyes she’d been moved to the ground, James kneeling beside her and wrapping her arm with strips that had been his shirt. She must have fainted, she thought idly. Then the pain returned and chased any idle thoughts away.

Fire screamed down her arm, deep in the marrow, and her nerves twitched and jumped. She was sure she’d never use the arm again.

“Jester, can you get up?” James’ voice seemed to come from far away. “We need to go.” She nodded dimly, and he helped her rise, near picking her up and setting her down on her feet himself. They made their way out of the dungeon and the haze she felt faded with every step, returning some degree of clarity.

Her arm hung limply at her side, but she did not need to use it. Their flight was easy, for the forces of the castle were fully engaged in repelling the invaders. Whoever they were, Jester did not care. She wanted only to get free of this wretched place.

By some miracle they made it to the stables and immediately had to duck into an empty stall and hide behind hay. Fighting raged through the gigantic structure as invaders tried to free horses and regiments fought them back.

For a long time they lay there, she and James, his arms supporting her gently, avoiding touching her injury. Eventually the sounds of fighting died down but, not knowing what had occurred, they waited longer, until no one had passed their stall for a long time. Finally Jester crawled forward, though James tried to keep her back, and looked out into the building.

She’d seen no more than a swathe of dead Atherian soldiers when something hard and heavy hit her from behind and she fell forward, her face pitching into dirt and hay.


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