Desmond hurried towards them, sword in hand. He had only drawn one, but even so he was suddenly a very imposing figure.
He stopped when he reached their circle, and tilted his head as if to listen.
‘Four of them. All armed.’
Greyden frowned. He could hear nothing, even straining his ears. The sudden look on Desmond’s face said that this was no trick. He was alert, and stared purposely at the cell door. His knuckles appeared white, indicating the tightness the grip upon his sword.
‘I hear nothing,’ Greyden said, also glancing towards the open doorway. He frowned, ‘how do you know?’
He heard a loud scoff beside him.
‘He’s making it up!’ Ymaine growled.
Desmond caught Greyden’s gaze and held it steadfast, his eyes burning with a dark intensity.
‘Trust me,’ he said.
And for some reason Greyden did.
He pulled his sword from its scabbard, following Desmond’s example and motioned for Ymaine to do the same.
‘Are we seriously believing-’
‘YES,’ Greyden stated, ‘now man the door lieutenant. Alert us if there’s any change.’
At his command Ymaine sprang to the door, untangling the shield from his back and sword from his scabbard.
‘Right,’ Greyden spun around, scanning the room.
They had been spectacularly backed into a corner, with high walls and no windows. The cell they were in offered no escape. The only route was out through the front door, right into their enemy’s path.
Thinking quickly, Greyden cleared his throat and addressed the room.
‘There’s only one way out. So we’re going to have to face them. It’s best to go out to meet them, seeing as we now have the element of surprise.’
Nobody objected. Desmond’s expression remained stoic, while Steven looked simply confused.
Greyden felt a light touch on his arm.
He craned his neck to view Arlyne properly. She was smiling up at him, a devious half smile.
‘There’s a tunnel in the next cell. It’s blocked up, but with some muscle it should be accessible.’
Her eyes glinted gleefully, displaying an out-of-place excitement at the prospect of the situation.
Greyden wasn’t sure if it was the prospect of a ‘secret tunnel’ or the advancing guards. Either way, he didn’t have time to question her. If she was correct about the tunnel that was their best bet. And if she wasn’t right… Well Greyden still felt confident they’d have a fair fighting chance if it came to that. Both Steven and Desmond remained silent at her proposal, and when Greyden looked up he saw that their eyes were both surveying him, waiting. Waiting for his word?
Greyden blinked momentarily.
‘Right,’ he said with a nod, and quickly motioned for the rest of the room to follow as he made for the exit. Ymaine sidestepped the doorway as they all moved through. He then slotted wordlessly into the rear position as they hurried for the next doorway.
‘We have to move quickly! And quietly! They’ll soon be upon us!’ Desmond hissed to Gredyen as they quickly snuck down the corridor.
‘We’re running away!?’ Ymaine roared in disbelief. His voice echoed loudly off the bluestone walls.
Greyden grimaced as he saw Desmond slapped a frustrated hand to his forehead.
The next cell was locked, but Arlyne wasted no time in snatching Steve’s lock picks and skilfully taking to the lock. Greyden could now see why they had harshly chained her. She took to the lock like it was nothing, and within mere seconds the door swung open, emitting a satisfied click. There was no time to be impressed though.
Greyden ushered them all in, before entering himself. He made an effort to close the barred door, which emitted a shrill screech. Wincing, Greyden examined the bars briefly. The bars were thick, sturdy and placed mere finger lengths apart. It was a comfort, but arrows and throwing knives would certainly get through. His brain ticking overtime Greyden quickly stopped Arlyne, who had made to approach the other side of the cell.
‘Can your hands reach through these bars?’ He grabbed her wrist to examine her, not waiting for a response.
They appeared small enough. Good.
‘Lock this door.’
A crafty smile flickered across her face, and her fingers reproduced the pick she had stolen from Steve.
‘Smart move,’ she said, before sliding her hands through the bars and getting to work.
He turned back to the remainder. Desmond had already begun pulling at an unfitting patch of rock upon the ground, using a hunting knife to properly dig at the surface. Unlike the surrounding walls this patch had been hastily put together, and looked poorly cemented. It looked as if Desmond was pulling the looser stones away with ease. Still there was a great deal of resistance with the larger clasts.
Ymaine and Steven were standing idly, awaiting Greyden instruction. He did not blame Steve for his lack of initiative, but Ymaine knew better. The expression on his face showed he was clearly irked, but that was hardly an excuse.
‘Ymaine!’ Greyden called, ‘dig!’
He pointed to the wall of uneven rock forcibly. The big man offered no resistance, and began heaving rocks away. He was a great deal stronger than Desmond, and so easily moved some of the larger stones that Desmond had struggled with.
Greyden himself began to move towards the wall, catching Steve as he passed.
‘Guard the gate,’ he told him, ‘watch Arlyne. If you see anything alert us, then immediately flatten to the wall. Got it?’
Steve nodded and then hurried towards Arlyne.
With the gate protected Greyden sheathed his sword and hastily joined Desmond and Ymaine as they heaved the rocks from the hidden passage. The small boulders were heavy, but still gave under the combined strength of the three men. Greyden grimaced as he continuously dug his hands into the stone.
Just as Greyden felt his hand pull through to the other side Steve’s voice rang out.
‘I spy them! Four! Just as your friend predicted!’
Damn! They weren’t yet through.
Greyden had no time to marvel at Desmond’s impeccable foresight, he instructed Ymaine and Desmond to continue as he rushed to the gate.
As instructed Steve had flattened to the wall beside the gate. It was the best position to avoid arrows, while also being at a suitable distance to stop them going for the lock. Arlyne had successfully relocked the gate and had flattened on the other side of the gate to Steve. Greyden prayed that they didn’t’ have a key; it would sure make their lives a lot easier.
Arlyne held out her hand expectantly when Greyden approached.
Greyden paused, momentarily unsure. Seeing his hesitation Arlyne smiled- a dazzling yet devious smile.
‘I’m not going to stick you with it.’
Still reluctant, Greyden pulled the dagger from its scabbard and passed it to the girl. He still had enormous doubts about her -having just met her- but it was probably better to have her armed. The entire situation went against everything Greyden felt comfortable with.
She took the dagger, still sporting a darkened grin, before spinning on the spot to peer out through the cell bars. Greyden’s eyes glazed over the deep purple welts sat in strangulation marks around her neck. The tearing of her attire revealed further bruising travelling down her back.
Greyden’s brow knotted together in concern, and he tapped her shoulder, motioning towards the wall. He moved to take her position at the gate, but was forced to stop. She had remained in place, her speckled eyes surveying him with mirth. Basically touching her Greyden hissed in her ear.
‘To the wall,’ he ordered.
Again she did not move. She was not one of his guardsmen; she did not take orders. And he was no longer a captain. Greyden felt a sudden slip of control on the situation, something he had never felt before. The feeling was unnerving, and unshakable.
There was no time for longer words. No time to convince her to move. The footsteps grew louder as their enemy hurried towards them. Cursing in frustration Greyden moved to her side, drawing his own blade. If she refused to move the best he could do was defend her. He tried not to think on whether her life was worth saving.
As Greyden moved Arlyne swung her arm back- holding her dagger in a throwing position. Greyden raised his eyebrows in alarm as the blade narrowly missed his face. Surely she wasn’t…
Her arms moving at a lightning speed, Arlyne flung the knife. It sailed past Greyden’s ear and through the bars with pinpoint accuracy.
The blade made its mark. Just as the first of the three men entered the view of the barred cell, he let out an agonizing shriek. The guard dropped to the ground his hands jumping to the dagger now protruding from his thigh. A slow trickle of blood ran from the wound, as the man looked up at Arlyne in shock.
Now unarmed, Arlyne retreated to the safety of the wall, as the three other men sprang into view. Greyden barely had time to collect himself, as two of the men lunged at him, though they were caught short by the locked gate.
‘Get it open!’
Greyden’s heart sank as the other guard began fumbling through his pockets. They probably had a key. It would make their escape increasingly difficult. The third man had bent down to help the injured one –at least keep his attention away from them. Not that it would keep him for long. They needed to hurry.
Both the guard and Ymaine called out simultaneously. Ymaine to indicate that the tunnel was cleared enough to fit through- and the guard had found his key. Gritting his teeth Greyden took a pace back from the gate, but raised his sword threateningly. He stared down the man with the key. He seemed fairly young and uncertain- clearly a new recruit.
‘Go,’ Greyden commanded to his company, he took another few paces, not turning from the gate. ‘Steve and Arlyne go first. Desmond, Ymaine- you will follow me through. I’ll need you both.’
At his words both Desmond and Ymaine appeared at either side- Ymaine with words of encouragement and Desmond with a disapproving growl. Whatever their reaction Greyden appreciated their speedy responses. Particularly Desmond, who had so far, followed Greyden’s commands surprisingly well.
‘Steven,’ Greyden called for the man’s attention as he ran past, and quickly, but awkwardly slipped off his pack. He returned his sword to its proper arm once he was done and threw Steve the pack.
The man caught it without breaking stride. He continued to hurry past Greyden’s line of vision.
‘We’re going to try re-collapsing the tunnel’, he said to Ymaine and Desmond, ‘it should slow them down a little.’
‘Okay,’ Ymaine responsed.
Desmond offered no reply, and Greyden was not about to wait for one.
It wouldn’t take them long to sort through the rubble and reopen the passage, but it was the only action Greyden could think of to slow them down. It should be an easy enough feat for one such as Ymaine, who had the superior strength and girth of the three, but Greyden was still concerned. If they didn’t close the tunnel quick enough they would simply just have to flee. If only to be caught at the other end of the tunnel by either guards or thieves- if there was still a difference between the two.
Still facing the gate, Greyden hurried backwards. In his peripheral Ymaine and Desmond moved with him. Ahead of him, the guard with the key had now moved to unlock the gate.
Greyden quickened his pace- nearly falling backwards through the hole. His boots met the crunch of dirt just as his ears met the sound of the gate swing open. It emitted a ringing noise as it crashed against the wall.
‘Ymaine!’ Greyden called, his tone brimming with urgency.
Understanding his cry, the large grizzled man ungraciously squeezed through the tight hole after Desmond and immediately turned. He raised a boot high and kicked out at the top soil. It came free, but slowly- too slowly. They were out of time.
Greyden glanced over his shoulder at their surroundings. Behind them was a short drop to lower ground, which appeared to open up into a slightly larger cavern. It was still tight, but enough that five men could easily swing a sword. Arlyne and Steve were nowhere to be seen, and Greyden wondered if they had done a runner. It was stupid of him to have let them through first, letting them leave his sight. At the time he had been thinking only of the survival of the squad. He was not used to working with those he couldn’t trust. Regardless, it was done now.
Greyden turned back as Desmond stalked past him, his single sword still drawn. He leapt from the edge of their platform, sailing through the air with a lithe grace, before catching he ground with his shoulder. He rolled gracefully to his feet.
Greyden felt hesitant to follow, knowing he would fall with considerably less poise. He turned back to Ymaine, who was still kicking at the top of the tunnel entrance.
‘We’re retreating further down the tunnel.’
Ymaine stopped his assault of the entrance to turn to Greyden. He looked past him and down the passageway. His eyes widened at the drop.
‘No,’ he growled, ‘no way.’
The big man shook his head stubbornly and begun launching his whole body at the top soil. The sound of approaching footsteps finalized as the faces of the two guards appeared in the hole. In that moment the flash of steal caught Greyden’s eye.
Armed with strength born of adrenaline Greyden grabbed Ymaine’s arm and jerked both of them backwards. The swinging sword missed them both by mere inches.
Ymaine stumbled and leant backwards onto Greyden, who struggled under the weight. His footing slipped and with a sickening swooping motion in his stomach, he was lurched backwards. The two men fell from the face of the plateau.
Greyden’s heart leapt to his throat as he felt himself freefalling. The momentum ripped his sword from his hand, and he clutched wildly at the air, hoping to grab something –anything. The moment was short lived, as his body collided with the face of the drop. Pain exploded in his arm and side of body, as his breath was knocked from his lungs. From there he continued to roll down the face, until the ground levelled out beneath him. Eventually he rolled to a stop, his body feeling battered.
He groaned and stiffly crawled into his hands and knees. A few lengths away Ymaine was doing the same, cursing wildly as Steve helped him to his feet.
Greyden breathed a sigh of relief. It looked like Ymaine was mostly uninjured. His heavy armour had protected him from most of the impact, and his shield had saved him from the pain of the final blow.
Greyden found himself regretting donning leathers. He himself was aching. His side which first hit the cliff face felt heavily bruised –burning even. Hopefully he hadn’t broken any ribs. Nevertheless, there was no time to check now.
With a clang Greyden’s sword fell to ground with a clang in front of him, disturbing the surrounding dust with the impact.
‘Are you injured?’
Desmond stood above him. There was no compassion or concern in his voice, only cold impatience. Had Greyden expected anything more? He supposed not. He almost sniffed in amusement, despite the situation.
Coughing, the former captain reached for his sword and rose to his feet.
‘Fine,’ he replied, with an ironic wince.
Now that he had his footing, his eyes better took in his surroundings. The cavern was a lot larger than he had first anticipated, with another tunnel that lead in the opposite direction. Arlyne’s had come through with her suggestion. Greyden reminded himself to thank her for it later… and then question her source.
Thinking of her, his eyes flicked to where she stood. He was grateful that she had stayed, honouring their agreement. Surely the thought of fleeing had crossed her mind… Yet here she was.
Feeling appreciative, Greyden limped over to Desmond.
‘Give her your dagger.’
He narrowed his eyes.
‘No. I’d like to keep by back blade free thank you.’
Arlyne’s soft laugh greeted their ears, and she flourished a dark handled curved dagger.
Desmond glanced from the empty sheathe strapped to his leg to the dagger in her hand.
A shout from the top of the ledge stifled Desmond’s profane slur.
Greyden turned to face them, his sword balanced in his grasp.
They seemed uncertain. The drop wasn’t overly long, but it was certainly daunting enough. With any luck they would back off. If they were smart they would back off. Realistically, after recovering from such a fall they still had three heavily armed men, a thief and a girl with a truly deadly aim to deal with. Even if they got their two other men they would be foolish to think they stood a chance. The best course of action for them now would be to send for reinforcements, then try and block off both exits. It was an action that could be potentially problematic for Greyden, but that was a bridge to be crossed later.
The two men eventually backed away from the edge, making to leave. They were muttering to one another, but the sound was inaudible to Greyden’s ears. When they had left his field of vision Greyden called for the group to follow as he sheathed his sword and headed for the next tunnel.
He stopped at the entrance, frowning into the darkness. They’d need a light.
Motioning to Steve to bring over the pack, he bit his lip in thought. He had bought limited amounts of flint, tinder and fire steel. Being the busy season, the stores understandably had only limited supplies of travelling equipment left. Greyden had vowed to use the kindle only went necessary. As it stood currently though, it would be impossible to navigate through the tunnels without any sort of light, and Greyden wasn’t a fan of stumbling around in the dark.
He dropped to one knee as he began grasping around his pack. Within moments he pulled out a fire-rod and cloth. Tying the cloth around the top of the rod, Greyden called out to Arlyne.
‘Where does this tunnel lead?’
‘Well, that depends-’ she slowly approached and crouched down to look him in the face ‘–where do you want to go?’
Greyden raised his eyebrows impatiently and motioned for her to elaborate.
‘There are three exits,’ she began, ‘two of them lead outside Janwall, and the other leads into a tavern cellar on the other side of town. Now I’m guessing you want to get out of the city. I suggest that we head along the tunnel that first branches off to the left-hand side. That’s the exit we’d be less likely to meet resistance- very few know about it.’
‘So how do you know about it?’
Desmond towered over her crouched form, his venomous tone full of accusations. His words simply made her smirk -an action that visibly infuriated the man. She seemed to enjoy his scrutiny.
‘I made it my business,’ she began, ‘always know your escape routes.’
Desmond gave a derisive grunt, but offered no further reply.
Greyden struck the fire steel against the flint, and watched the makeshift torch roar to life.
He held it up, waiting for somebody to grasp it. A hand took it from him, allowing him free hands to readjust his pack and fling it back over his shoulder.
He then stood.
It had been Ymaine who had taken the torch. The glow lit up the entranceway of the tunnel, though it didn’t reveal much. Desmond had already taken off part way down the tunnel, while the remainder waited, their eyes upon him expectantly. Though he should have been used to it, it suddenly occurred to him how quickly they had accepted his leadership. Even the abrasive Desmond, had grudgingly followed his instructions, albeit reluctantly. Arlyne had even joined, and had been more agreeable than he had imagined. She’d taken little convincing, and had even flouted the opportunity to flee.
Eventually he realised that he would have to confront her about her recent experiences- but for now- he was grateful. Plus there was no time.
He made towards the darkness of the tunnel, wondering bitterly if he truly deserved their trust. He had already let Cartiala down. How long would it be before he let others down too?