Chapter twenty nine


Jenya lifted her hands over her head and stretched her arms out.

“Good morning,” Allios said politely.

“Morning,” she said, seeing them sitting nearby, as if they had been sitting there all night long. She gave them a look. “Have you two gotten any sleep at all?”

“Some,” Ktan replied though she wasn’t sure she believed him.

They roused Saramis, and after having a quick bite to eat, were once more on their way. Jenya, now that they were back in familiar territory to her, took the lead. She led them over toward where the waterfall once stood, and at first this puzzled Saramis for no tunnels opened up in the wall nearby and he could see no way to continue. They reached the wall and Jenya stopped, staring upwards. Saramis did so was well and with a sinking feeling realized her intent. A moment later his suspicion was confirmed as she placed her hands on the rocks and began to climb nimbly upward.

Saramis followed just as nimbly though much more reluctantly, last in line once again. He had had more than enough of his share of climbing and crawling and walking and fighting in the last couple of days. Though he was awake now he still felt tired, and believed their sleep periods to be entirely inadequate. He looked up above them but could see little in the gloom and could not tell how far they might have to climb. He hoped it wouldn’t be very far. He was beginning to welcome the idea of finally reaching the Pit, no matter what horrors it might hold, if he could just have level ground beneath his feet!

“I never knew this was here,” he heard D’annalye say, a hint of excitement in her voice. Not for the first time he wondered how long she had wandered down here, trying vainly to find a way out, and what would happen to her if she ever succeeded.

The climb was difficult. The rocks were smooth here, as if worn down by water, which, if there had indeed been a waterfall here in the past, could very well be true. In any case, it was difficult to find a grip. They were climbing straight up and after but a short time Saramis could no longer see the ground below them, just the faint outline of the pool of water which grew dimmer as they ascended. After a while it became hard to see, for they were too far away from the pool now for its light to be of any use, and the only other illumination was the water that dripped down the rocks from above. There was little enough of that to make it very dark, though not pitch black, and they moved ahead more now by feel than sight.

The good news was that they didn’t have to climb very far when another tunnel opened up in the wall in front of them. The bad news was that the tunnel was tiny, and they could only get in by crawling on hands and knees. Saramis felt relief when they entered the tunnel, happy to be off the wall with its almost certainly fatal plunge if one slipped and physical toll it took to climb, and had hoped that they would have to crawl but a short distance before the tunnel opened up and allowed them to walk once more. This, however, did not happen. The tunnel remained constricted as they continued and worst still became black as night. There was no water in here to cast any light. Very soon they found themselves crawling forward in the darkness in a tunnel barely large enough for them to fit through. Saramis found this very disconcerting.

Apparently he wasn’t the only one who felt that way.

“How about some light?” he heard Allios say in front of him.

“We don’t have to go much farther,” he heard Jenya say, more faintly from the front. “We are almost to the Pit. Trying to hold a torch while crawling on hands and knees would be difficult. The tunnel has no turn offs. Just keep going a little farther and we will be okay.”

In spite of Jenya’s words it seemed a long time they went on. Eventually, however, a faint light grew around them, as if the way ahead was illuminated, this time not by the green glow of water they had passed but more like normal light, the kind that would be given off by a torch, or a fire. Peering forward, Saramis could see no sign of the source, however. At the same time an acrid scent began to waft through the air around them, as if something were burning.

“What’s that smell?” he questioned.

Jenya didn’t answer right away. Instead she stopped and turned toward them, sitting down with the ceiling just above her head.

“We are almost there,” she said softly. “From here on I suggest you keep your voices down, and only talk when absolutely necessary. The tunnel leads into a natural chimney above a furnace. That’s how I got out.”

“A furnace,” Saramis repeated.


“Isn’t that going to be a little hot?”

“It isn’t lit all that often,” she replied.

“What’s it used for?” Allios questioned.

“To dispose of dead people,” Jenya replied. She paused for a moment, giving Allios a long look. “And sometimes, not so dead people.”

No one really had any reply to that, but Saramis could see Allios pale slightly.

“This isn’t going to be a picnic,” Jenya went on seriously. “You haven’t been there, you have no idea what lies ahead. Varamin doesn’t kill people. That would be much too easy on them. Once he had no more use for someone, once he has tortured all the information he can out of them, he has his men perform experiments on them. For those people there really is no escape, for what he had done to them…”

Her voice faded. Saramis could see the pain clouding her face just thinking about it.

“For those people there will never be an escape, save by death. They are so deformed by what he has done to them they could never function in society again. Those people are all kept in an area not far from here, an area we will have to pass through to get to the other prisoners. I suggest you don’t look in any of the cells unless you have a very strong stomach.”

No one said anything to this. They had all heard a lot of stories about the Pit, and none of them had been pleasant. Even so they had been just stories, and there was the feeling that they might have been blown out of proportion, that things couldn’t really be as bad as they had sounded. But sitting here now listening to Jenya have her say, it was beginning to sink in to them all just what kind of place they were about to enter, and that maybe the stories were not only true, but actually understated what happened here.

“Everyone eventually ends up there, unless they are fortunate enough to die first,” Jenya continued. “I would have gone there too one day, I suppose, but I think Variman still had some use for me, I think he wanted to make me an ally, draw me over to his side, and I managed to escaped before he realized that would never happen.”

She looked down at the ground for a moment. The proximity to the Pit and her account were obviously bringing back unpleasant memories, just as she had feared they would. Still, when she lifted her head again her eyes were filled with resolve.

“Variman doesn’t kill people, but they do die. Sometimes they take their torture a little too far. People starve to death, or die of exhaustion or disease. They burn the bodies here. A narrow crevice in the chimney leads into these caverns. That’s how I escaped the last time. It would be almost impossible to find unless one climbed up the chimney, and I don’t think too many people are anxious to try such a thing, or even believe it can be done, for the chimney is quite narrow, and ever narrower farther up. At first I tried to climb right to the top but it soon became too small to pass through. Coming back down I happened upon a narrow crack that led into here. I was afraid they may have found it and blocked it up after I escaped but apparently they never did. If it were blocked, we wouldn’t have any light, which must be filtering up from the furnace room below. I believe we can safely gain entrance.”

With that she turned and led them forward again. Saramis thought he should take some comfort from the fact that the way was unblocked, that their trip through the caves, no matter how many days it had taken, had not been in vain. Knowing, however, what they were about to face, for some reason he didn’t feel comforted at all.

They had only traveled a short distance when he heard D’annalye speak.

I’m scared.

“Is there a danger ahead, D’annalye?” he questioned, saying her name so the others would know whom he was speaking to.

I… I’m not sure,” she replied after a moment.

“So what are you afraid of?” he asked patiently. The other stopped. He saw Jenya looking at him curiously.

I don’t know,” D’annalye replied, and he could plainly hear the fear in her voice. “There’s some kind of… light ahead. It scares me. It scares me a lot.

Saramis stared ahead of them. The light was still dim, and yet after all this time in the darkness of the caves he could see quite clearly. There was nothing ahead that he could see that indicated any danger was nearby.

I don’t want to go this way,” D’annalye said, her voice sounding close to hysterical, just as bad as it had been when they had confronted Ugluk down in the dark.

Saramis did not reply for a moment, deep in thought. He had a suspicion that the danger she was talking about now was a danger D’annalye alone faced.

“Its ok,” he said quickly. “You can stay here. You don’t have to come with us.”

I don’t want to be left alone again!” she exclaimed, sounding almost as scared of that as whatever lay ahead.

“Its all right, we will come back for you,” he said calmly and firmly.

There was silence for a moment.

You promise?

Her voice sounded very far away and very alone. Saramis knew the task in front of them was daunting and there was a distinct possibility they wouldn’t be coming back.

Nevertheless there was only one answer he could give her.

“Of course.”

Silence once again fell upon them.

All right,” D’annalye said finally. “But hurry back please.

“We will,” Saramis assured her.

He nodded for the others to proceed. Again Jenya gave him a curious look, but he returned her gaze with a look that he hoped made it clear he didn’t want to discuss this in front of D’annalye.

Perhaps Jenya got the idea, perhaps not, but in any case she started forward again. They went on for a short distance. By now Saramis could make out the tunnel quite clearly around them, and he could see they were reaching the end of it. Or the end of the horizontal section anyway. A jagged crevice led out in front of them into a narrow space leading both down and up. This was undoubtedly the natural chimney that Jenya had been talking about.

Jenya reached the edge of it and peered down, then turned toward the others.

“What was that all about?” she questioned.

Saramis glanced back behind them. He could, of course, see no sign of D’annalye but he supposed they were far enough ahead now to be out of earshot.

“She was scared,” he told them. “Something ahead was frightening her.”

“Could she have sensed the guards in the Pit?” Ktan questioned.

Saramis pondered this for a moment.

“Perhaps, but I think it might have been something else.”

The all looked at him.

“Well, would you care to enlighten us?” Jenya questioned when he didn’t continue soon enough for her.

“She doesn’t know she’s dead, does she?” Allios questioned softly.

“No she does not,” Saramis replied sadly. “I think she was killed by Ugluk a long time ago, but for some reason her consciousness remains here. I think it has something to do with these caverns down here, some kind of mystical aura perhaps.”

“So what does that mean?” Allios questioned.

“As we neared the Pit she became frightened,” Saramis said. “Many times I have heard of spirits being bound to one place, a place they are unable to depart from, at least, not without help. It could be that her spirit is bound here in these caves and she may not be able to go beyond that boundary without great strength of will. And if she does…”

“She’ll die?” Allios questioned.

“She’s already dead,” Ktan pointed out.

“You know what I mean,” Allios replied. “She’ll go… wherever spirits go when they normally die.”

“There is no way for me to tell,” Saramis replied. “Perhaps if she passes the boundary her spirit will indeed be set free, but whether free from just the caves or free from this earth I cannot say. It seems, however, that she cannot pass beyond that boundary easily.”

“So she’s trapped in these caves… forever?” Jenya questioned.

“I don’t know that for certain,” Saramis replied, “but I believe she has the ability to leave the confines of these caves if she chooses to do so. She is afraid, however, afraid of what might happen. She may not know she is dead, but deep inside, I think she suspects it. Leaving the caves may force her to confront that, and I do not know what the consequences of that will be.”

“So what can we do for her?” Allios questioned.

Saramis looked troubled.

“I’m not certain we can do anything for her,” he said at last. “I think I can talk her into leaving, but now was not the time. When we come back, when we leave here for real, that would be the best time to confront this, not now. But…”

“But?” Jenya repeated after Saramis sat there for some seconds without continuing.

“But I don’t know if forcing her to confront this is the best thing for her,” he said. “If she leaves the caves her spirit may pass on to whatever beyond is out there that we normally pass on to. She will be gone, completely dead, and who knows what end that leads to? At least now she still has some form of existence.”

“So you’re saying she’s better off here?” Allios questioned.

“I don’t know,” Saramis replied, sounding rather hopeless about it. “That’s the problem, I just don’t know.”

Jenya looked at the magician sympathetically. She thought she understood what Saramis was going through now. It was obvious he really cared for this child, in spite of the fact that they had just met her. He wanted to free her from what held her here, but wasn’t sure that was the best thing for her. Jenya herself thought that the girl should be released to whatever fate awaited her outside the caves. Regardless of whether it meant her spirit passed on or not, even if it meant her end, wasn’t that better than wandering around alone in these caves for all eternity? Saramis was obviously struggling with this however, was worried that taking her out of here would make her vanish from this world, would ‘kill’ her once and for all. She could tell he didn’t want to be responsible for that.

“She doesn’t belong here Saramis,” she said gently. “It’s not natural for her to be here. What kind of life is this, wandering around in these caves, in the dark?”

She said these words to comfort him, but his face remained expressionless.

“Perhaps,” was all he said.

“In any case, you have postponed the question until we come back at least,” Ktan spoke up. “Which was the right thing to do, I would say. For now, however, I suggest we concentrate on the task ahead of us. Jenya, do you know where Allios’ brother will be kept?”

Jenya paused for a moment to consider this sudden change in topic.

“Yes,” she replied, “if they keep the prisoners in the same place they used to. The new prisoners were housed on the second level about the furnace.”

“How long would you say it will take us to get there?” Ktan questioned.

“If we ran straight there a very short time indeed,” she replied. “But I don’t think we will be able to move around quite so easily without being spotted. It could take us quite a while to get there.”

Ktan nodded. He looked at all of them in turn, but his gaze lingered on Allios the longest.

“What is it?” Saramis spoke up.

“We can’t win through by force,” Ktan said slowly. “The four of us alone cannot fight all of Variman’s men here in the Pit. I think you all know that. If we get spotted, if they sound the alarm, we will have to get out of there as quickly as possible. If I say we go, then we have to go, no questions asked.”

He held Allios in his gaze.

“Whether we have your brother with us or not,” he finished.

Allios made no response to this, but Jenya could tell by the look on his face he didn’t like that idea at all. She could hardly blame him. If it were Ktan or one of her friends who was a prisoner here, she certainly wouldn’t want to leave without him. She also knew, however, better than any of them, what would happen to them if they were found. Being killed would be the least of their worries.

“Do you understand?” Ktan pressed.

Still Allios did not reply. Ktan needed to hear it though. He needed to know that Allios would not be a loose cannon, that he would do what he was told, that he would follow Ktan’s leadership. Ktan had no doubt about the others. If he said they should flee, he knew both Jenya and Saramis would follow him without hesitation. He needed some assurance that Allios would do the same. More than anything they needed to remain rational about this and about their chances of success. If Allios decided to do something stupid for the sake of his brother, it could jeopardize the entire mission. Ktan had agreed to do this and would do everything he reasonably could to secure the release of Allios brother, but he would not sacrifice his own friends to save Allios or his brother if the man did something foolish.

Finally Allios gave a curt nod of his head. He understood what Ktan was trying to do, and it made sense, yet he still couldn’t help but feel a bit put off by Ktan’s manner. He wasn’t a fool; he knew the risks they were taking as well as the rest of them. He would go along with what Ktan told him. He had already seen the man was competent in that regard and it was obvious the others trusted him with their lives, but he had no intention of leaving this place without his brother.

Ktan gave Jenya a look that told her he was done with his little speech. She looked down. The furnace was obviously not in use or there would be a lot more smoke and light. As she had hoped the way was clear. Still she did not move, but instead looked at the others once more.

“Before we go in, there’s something I want you to promise me,” she said.

They all just looked at her, and none of them could fail to note the serious expression on her face.

Her sword was sheathed at her side. In her boot she had her dagger. She had made sure she brought it, made sure it was with her but not so much to use on the enemy but on herself. She had been in here before, she knew firsthand what would happen to her if she were captured alive, and she was determined for that never to happen again. Even so, the last time she had been captured proved that she could not always depend on her own hand to take her life.

“I want you to promise me that, no matter what you have to do, you won’t let me be captured,” she finished.

All of them, of course, realized exactly what she was asking. Allios’ distaste for the idea showed plainly on his face. If it came down to it, he didn’t think he could do such a thing. He didn’t want to see any of his newfound friends hurt, least of all Jenya, who, out of all of them, seemed to have accepted him most readily. Looking at her now he made another silent vow to himself. Not only would he save his brother, but he would do all in his power to make sure Jenya at least survived, no matter what the cost to himself.

Saramis as well did not seem all that thrilled with what she now proposed.

Only Ktan did not hesitate.

“You have my word,” he told her.

Allios couldn’t help but give Ktan an angry glance. From what he understood Ktan and Jenya had known one another for years. How could he agree to throw her life away so easily?

Whether Ktan saw his look or not, the man made no response to it.

Jenya seemed satisfied with this, and instead of waiting for the others to reply started to climb down the chimney to the ground below. The descent was not very far and easy to achieve, for the rough surface of the chimney provided abundant handholds. The walls were covered with soot and soon their hands and quite a bit of their clothing were black.

They reached the bottom and found themselves in a wide chamber that made up the floor of the furnace. It was quite large enough to hold them all comfortably. A thick layer of ashes covered the floor, and there was an acrid unpleasant odor in the air. Saramis had to cover up his nose to stifle a sneeze. There was a grating in the thick brick wall to their left, the only way of egress. They could see part of the chamber beyond through it. Gray rock walls in flickering torchlight, but little else.

Allios tried to brush some of the dirt off his cloths, but the air was so full of soot it didn’t seem to do much good. He glanced down and saw something protruding from the ashes near his feet. It looked like the charred remains of a ribcage. He turned his head away.

Jenya had her sword drawn now, though Allios did not recall seeing her withdraw it from its sheath. She stood for a moment, immobile, obviously listening. Finally, satisfied that the sound of their descent had not given them away, she made her way over to the grate. She peered out, then slipped her hand through, lifting the latch outside and pushing the grate open.

They found themselves in a large U shaped chamber surrounding the furnace. Three stone tables stood in the center of the room, directly in front of the furnace. All three of them were covered with dark rust colored stains. A coal bin stood on their left, three quarters full. Opposite the grate in the furnace stood a closed door. Beside that was a shelf filled with items used to stoke the fires in the furnace.

Jenya walked over to the door and opened it a crack, peering out. Seeing it was safe she led them out. They found themselves in a long corridor leading off left and right. Torches alternated with closed doors on either side of them. Some of the doors had small barred openings in them, some were solid. Jenya led them slowly off, her sword poised in front of her, hoping she didn’t look as nervous as she felt. As soon as they had dropped down into the furnace old memories began to surface, memories she had tried for years to forget. Just a couple of levels above them now was the cell she had spent so much time in, the cell where Variman…

She gritted her teeth. She wasn’t going to think of that now. She couldn’t. They had a job to do and she was going to do it, and she would be damned if she let any personal demons get in the way. In spite of that she was scared, more scared than she had been in a long long time.

Emptying her mind of all thoughts as best she could, she walked on.

At first the corridor around them was silent. Soon though, they began to hear sounds. The stirring of movement from beyond some of the doors they passed. A low moaning sound came from somewhere off in the distance ahead of them. As they reached the first intersection in the corridor they heard a shriek. They couldn’t tell for sure exactly where it was coming from, but it sounded very close. The sound of it curdled their blood, for though they could tell it came from a human it was not a sound they had ever heard issue from a human throat before.

Some of the doors had small barred windows, and Allios, mindful of Jenya’s warning, had not stopped to look inside any of them. As they passed one now, however, he heard a low moan issue from inside. It sounded like a woman.

Unable to contain his curiosity he stepped over to the door and peered inside.

The cell was small, no more than ten paces by ten. The light inside was dim, for only the illumination for the torches in the hallway lit it. The room contained no furniture and at first Allios saw nothing but matted hay scattered on the floor. But then he saw something move in one dark corner.

He stood there, transfixed in place, staring at the thing before him that, in spite of what it now looked like, must once have been human. Cracked lips moved on the broken remains of what might have once been a face.

“Water,” came a ghostly voice.

Allios turned away, falling against the wall, gagging, and then he was on his hands and knees, heaving what little he had eaten onto the ground in front of him.

The others turned at the sound. Jenya rushed over to him, laying a hand on his back in comfort, until he was finished, it being obvious to her what must have taken place.

When Allios was done he remained still, panting slowly to get his breath back.

“How could they do that?” he finally gasped. “How could they do that to another human being?”

No one had any answer to that. The others just stood by him silently. Jenya shook her head as she helped him regain his feet. After a moment they started forward again. As they walked away from the door Allios felt not only horror but pity as well, and disgust at himself for his reaction. No matter what she might look like now, the person in that cell was a human being. She had asked him for water yet he knew he could not comply with her request, could not return to that cell, no matter how wrong that might be.

“Are they all like that?” Allios managed to say finally.

Jenya glanced back at him for a moment, then turned her head away again.

“Or worse,” she said grimly. “Don’t worry. Variman only does that to people he has no more use for, after they have been here a long time and he has rung every shred of useful information out of them. It’s been less than a week; he or his torturers will still be questioning anyone he captured from Norvell Wood. Your brother won’t be down here… yet.”

She meant this as reassurance obviously but that wasn’t what he had been concerned about. He looked at the doors as they passed them. There were so many cells down here. Did each one of them contain the remains of a broken human being? Just what kind of a hellhole had they wandered into?

As they continued Allios made sure to give each door they passed a wide berth. He understood now what Jenya had meant when she said these people were beyond help, could never return to society, except perhaps as invalids or objects of horror or scorn. It still made him sick to his stomach just thinking about what he had seen, and at the same time more determined than ever to get his brother out of here.

As they neared another intersection Jenya stopped, turning toward then she put a finger in front of her lips for silence. As they made their way forward again Allios realized why. Ahead of them he could hear voices talking.

She inched ahead until she could peer around the corner, then quickly came back to them.

“There are three of them,” she whispered. “There is no way to go around. We will have to get rid of them. We can’t let any escape.”

The others nodded, well aware of what needed to be done. Ktan and Jenya already had their swords out, now Alllios slid his long knife out of its sheath. His bow would not do in such close quarters.

Beside him Saramis reached into his bag and pulled out his dagger. It was not really meant as his primary weapon, but just as Allios bow would be ill suited for this fight, so Saramis’ explosive devices would be of little use, for the noise from them would surely give them away.

Jenya gave them once last glance to make sure they were all ready, then charged around the corner.

There was an alcove here. It appeared to be some sort of guard station. There was a table and chairs, and a cabinet behind with shelves for the guards to put their equipment. Two men stood in the alcove, with a third sitting in a chair beside the shelves. They turned, startled, to face the newcomers as they came around the corner.

Turned, and didn’t have much time for anything else. The two standing had time only to reach for the swords at their sides when they were cut down by Jenya and Ktan. The third man, the man who had been in the chair, leaped to his feet about to give a yell, but stopped when he suddenly found Saramis’ dagger impaled in his throat. He stood there for a moment, a look of surprise on his face, before falling backwards, making only a choking gagging sound before he died.

Ktan took a few steps farther down the hallway, seeking any more enemies they might not have seen at first, but saw no one. The others looked around quickly. There was a doorway at the back of the alcove that led into another room that they hadn’t seen from the corner that Allios now stood directly in front of. He turned his head as he heard a muttered exclamation and saw a man step out of the room, looking around in surprise, looking at Allios, who stood right before him. He held no weapon, but he was a large man, much larger than Allios. For a moment the two of them just stared at one another.

The man, getting over his surprise at seeing the intruders and obviously recognizing them for what they were, and seeing that he had little chance of fighting them, suddenly held his arms up in front of him.

“Mercy!” he pleaded.

Allios had his knife in his hand. He stood right in front of the man. It would be a simple matter to drive the weapon forward.

At the sound of the man’s voice the others turned to look and saw him there. Allios heard Ktan mutter a curse.

They were deep in enemy territory. They couldn’t afford to leave anyone alive behind them, anyone who could sound the alarm. Allios knew he should kill the man. What other choice did he have? Yet even so, he couldn’t seem to bring himself to do it. He glanced back at the others, looking to them for guidance.

Jenya was glaring at the man, a strange look smoldering in her eyes.

Suddenly she stepped forward.

“Mercy?” she snarled. “I’ll give you more mercy than you gave me, Dunner!”

The man’s mouth fell open, and Allios saw the startled look of recognition in his eyes a moment before Jenya drove her sword into his chest.

“Uhhh,” the man wheezed and staggered backwards, the movement pulling him off Jenya’s sword. His back slammed into the shelf behind him, knocking most of what was on it to the floor. He opened his mouth, as if to speak again, but no words came out. Slowly he slid to the ground. He did not move again.

Allios just stood there, staring at Jenya in shock. He had never seen that look on her face before, had never imagined she could be so… ruthless. This was a side of Jenya he had never seen before; a side he had never known existed. Even now she stood there staring at the man on the floor with a furious look on her face, her hand clenching her sword so tightly that it shook. It was obvious she had known the man, she had called him by name after all, and he hadn’t failed to see the look of recognition in the man’s face before Jenya’s sword had run him through. He couldn’t help but wonder what the man had done to her to bring out such a response.

“Jenya,” he said softly.

She turned and glared at him and for a moment he thought she was going to snap at him, but then the anger in her eyes faded. She turned away from him.

“No one here deserves mercy,” she said, softly but firmly. “Except the mercy of death.”

Allios had no reply to that. What she had done had been so unlike the Jenya he thought he knew that he wouldn’t have believed it if he hadn’t seen it with his own eyes. To strike down a man in cold blood, he hadn’t thought her capable of such a thing, hadn’t thought any of them capable of such a thing, except perhaps Ktan. He had known how painful this would be for her, he had seen the look on her face when she realized she would be returning to the Pit, he knew what they had done to her must have been horrible, yet even so, seeing her now he realized that in spite of all that he had underestimated just what coming here would do to her. He had to admit he was curious as to why she had acted that way, was curious as to what the man had done. Even though he wanted to ask he said nothing. He didn’t know if she would tell him, didn’t know if she would tell anyone. In any case now was certainly not the time to discuss such things. He felt a sudden pang of regret. He liked Jenya, he liked her a lot, and he didn’t want to see her get hurt. It was his fault she was here. Now, seeing her like this, he almost wished she had listened to Ktan’s suggestion and gone to look for Willbrand and Merigan.

“Let’s get going.”

It was Ktan who spoke. Allios looked at Saramis, who was standing nearby, looking at Jenya was well and the bowman could see that the magician had been surprised by Jenya’s actions as well. Ktan was the only one who seemed unfazed by what had just happened. This did not surprise Allios at all.

“Wait,” Allios said. “Shouldn’t we hide the bodies? If someone comes by, they will know right away that we have been here.”

Ktan glanced at the men on the floor, then shook his head

“We can hide the bodies but what do we do about the blood? That will give away our handiwork as well as the bodies. We don’t have the equipment to clean that up, and even if we did, we don’t have the time.”

Allios looked down at the bodies again and nodded. Ever widening pools of red surrounded them all. Ktan was right. He hadn’t thought about that.

“All right, lets go then,” Allios conceded.

“Hold on a minute.”

This time it was Saramis who spoke. He had walked forward, and now stood in the doorway the man Jenya had called Dunner had emerged from.

“It looks like this is some kind of storage room,” Saramis continued. “There are a lot of supplies in here, including clothing. Perhaps we can use that to disguise ourselves?”

The dead guards wore simple leather jerkin and breeches. It didn’t look all that much different to Allios from what they were wearing now, except that the cut was a bit unlike anything he had seen before, and all the men wore black except for the man who had been sitting down, who had been wearing brown.

Jenya stepped into the room and looked over the clothing on the shelves there.

“That’s probably a good idea,” she agreed. “The guards wear black, the ‘interrogators’, Variman’s name for his torturers, wear brown. If we put on the black clothing we should be able to go just about anywhere down here with no questions asked. There are guards everywhere.”

Ktan pondered this for a moment then gave a curt nod of his head. Quickly they changed. As they did so Allios couldn’t help but find his eyes turning toward Jenya. She had not worn her armor, knowing that this would be a mission of stealth and speed. She was clothed in the same simple traveling garments as the rest of them. She quickly stripped down to her undergarments along with the others, looking not in the least perturbed by it. Allios quickly turned away, feeling embarrassed for looking at her.

Moments later they emerged from the storeroom dressed in their newfound gear. It was ill fitting, especially on Jenya for there had been nothing available to fit a person of her small stature. It would not pass close inspection but hopefully it wouldn’t have to. Hopefully all they would need it to do was allow them to pass by at a distance without suspicion, or get close enough to use their weapons.

Once done Jenya quickly led them away, for they had already lingered here too long. A short way down the corridor Jenya turned left and let them up a narrow flight of stairs. It wasn’t long after this their new clothing got its first test. As they made their way down the corridor a door opened in front of them. Before they could turn back or duck into one of the nearby doorways two men walked out the door and into the hall a short distance in front of them. The men glanced in their direction, then turned and walked off the other way.

“So far so good,” Saramis breathed.

“Yeah,” Ktan replied, though it was obvious he was not pleased with their being spotted at all.

Still, Allios supposed that couldn’t be helped. The place was probably crawling with guards. They could hardly expect to make it through here without being seen at all. The men had given no indication they had harbored any suspicions.

After that Jenya led them through a maze of corridors. Allios tried to keep track of their direction, and how to get back, but it soon became difficult. She kept turning in unexpected directions and doubling back the way they had come. Sometimes, in fact, it seemed as if she had little idea where they were going, which of course, was not comforting at all. They didn’t have time to linger here. The sooner they got through the better and he had expected her to lead them in as straight a line as possible to their goal but it was soon obvious she was not doing that.

That assumption was correct. Jenya was just as aware of how pressed for time they were as Allios but there were other things to consider. She was trying to get them to their destination while avoiding the most heavily traveled areas of the place. She didn’t think their disguise would hold up under close scrutiny. The fewer people they met along the way, the better.

One other reason she had for the roundabout route. Allios’ suspicion that she wasn’t quite sure of the way was on the mark as well. When she had been here before she had gotten to know the place quite well, but that had been ten years ago. The place seemed to have changed little in that time but there were changes, and even when there were not it was hard to remember the proper way to go after all this time. A few times she doubled back because she realized they were headed in the wrong direction. She just hoped she didn’t get them lost.

They ascended a second flight of stairs, this one longer than the first and emerged to find corridors leading off in three directions. She turned down the left one. They were on the level where the new prisoners used to be kept, and if her reckoning was right, not far from where the cells were. It wouldn’t be long now.

As they neared the end of yet another corridor Allios heard voices ahead of them. Jenya turned to those behind her and pressed her finger to her lips for silence once again. She reached the intersection and glanced around the corner, then turned back toward her companions.

“We’ve reached the cell block where they keep the new prisoners,” she whispered. “There is a large room around this corner with a lot of cells in it. There is a doorway at the opposite end of the room and one on the left. The one at the opposite end of the room is a dead end; it leads to other cells and storage rooms and what not but doesn’t connect to the rest of the Pit except through here. We don’t have to worry about anyone escaping that way. The door on the left and the door we will be entering through are the only ways out. We must make sure no one gets out either of those doorways. There are usually quite a few guards in this area. It’s not going to be easy to kill them all and make sure none escape to sound the alarm.”

She looked at them then, making sure they all understood what needed to be done. The looks on their faces said they were ready.

“Don’t strike until I do, unless forced to,” Ktan spoke up. “Jenya you come with me. Allios, you cover the left hand exit, Saramis you make sure no one leaves this way.”

The others nodded, then turned once more to Jenya. Seeing they were ready she led them around the corner.

Ktan glanced around the room as he entered. It was indeed large, much larger than any room they had passed through so far. A fire burned brightly in a central pit in the middle of the room. Around this tables and chairs for the guards to use were scattered randomly. The ceiling was low above their heads, so low that Saramis could reach up and touch it if he wished. The timbers making up the ceiling were blackened above the fire pit. More importantly, Ktan counted eleven guards in the room. Two stood right in front of them now, right by the door, looking at them curiously. Five more stood or sat by tables and chairs in front of the fire, talking idly. Three more stood by the door leading out of the room on their left that Jenya had told them about. One more was walking toward the door in the back. He passed through it and disappeared from view even as they strode forward. Ktan gave him no more thought.

The three by the other door, they would be the most roublesome, Ktan quickly determined. They were close to the door, and could flee very swiftly through it if trouble began. He started to walk toward them.

The two men standing by the doorway continued to look at them as Ktan walked past them, frowns forming on their faces. It seemed they had been expecting some type of greeting from the newcomers.

“Who the hell are you?” one of them finally blurted out.

Jenya saw one of them reaching for the long dagger hanging from his belt. She had not forgotten Ktan’s order to not strike until he did. Even so, she wasn’t about to let the man draw his weapon.

“We’ve come from over on the east side,” she snapped. “We’ve been sent here to take one of the prisoners over there for interrogation.”

She kept her eyes focused on the face of the man who had asked the question, but she could see the other man’s hand hovering over his weapon with her peripheral vision, and it was this she was actually paying attention to. Her words made the man hesitate, at least momentarily.

“I haven’t heard anything about that,” the first man said, staring darkly at her “Why wasn’t I informed? And why would they take one of the prisoners over to the east side when he can be interrogated right here?”

Jenya risked a quick glance over at Ktan, but he was not looking at her. He had almost reached the three who stood by the left hand entrance. She wished he would hurry up. She had not planned to be interrogated by the guards, had not thought of a convenient story to tell them. She was not good at such things. Saramis was better but he knew nothing of the workings of the place. Their clothes, her clothes especially, were ill fitting and obviously not made for them. A fact that she was distressingly aware of under the keen glance of the guard who now stood before her. They were outnumbered more than two to one; their only advantage was surprise. If they lost that the odds would turn perilously against them. She realized she was going to have to strike soon whether Ktan was ready or not.

“All I know is the orders came suddenly from up top,” Jenya replied, trying to sound casual about it. “As to why they want him there, how would I know? I’m just a guard, the higher ups don’t tell me their reasons for doing things. I just do what I’m told.”

It was a plausible response at least, she knew, and perhaps it would have worked, but she was right next to the man now and he was still staring at her, almost certainly at her clothes she suspected, and at the others, and in spite of her words his face became more suspicious than ever.

“I’ve never seen you around here before,” he said slowly, and she noticed his hand as well dropping toward the weapon at his side.

“There’s good reason for that…” she began.

She couldn’t wait any longer. It was obvious the man in front of her wasn’t going to believe her tale, whatever she told him. It was also obvious he was about to draw his weapon, or sound the alarm, or both. She had never been very good at subterfuge. A straight fight was much more to her liking, Their surprise was lost, in any case.

Even as she spoke the man went to reach for his weapon but she was faster. She pulled her sword and slashed across his neck in one swift motion. Blood flew through the air. The man staggered back, a look of surprise in his eyes, before he fell to the ground in a heap.

“Ktan!” Jenya yelled at the same time as she struck, as a warning that the battle had commenced

He hardly needed it, hearing the swish of metal as her sword was withdrawn from its sheath and the sounds of battle afterward. Instantly his own sword was out and he ran the last few paces that separated him from the men in front of him. The first one was impaled before he could react. The second man had been watching the newcomers and their conversation with the guards at the door with growing suspicion. Given that he was not surprised when Ktan drew his sword and had his own out just as quickly. He managed to parry Ktan’s backhanded swing at him, the clang of their swords as they struck one another echoing through the room. The man was as fast as Ktan but not as skilled. He parried three more of Ktan’s blows, but the forth one got by his guard and drove into his chest.

The third man’s reactions were almost as quick, but instead of drawing his weapon when the battle began, he turned and immediately bolted for the doorway. Ktan had seen him run, but there wasn’t much he could do about it while engaged with the others. Though it only took him seconds to kill the two men in front of him that had given the third man more than enough time to gain enough distance to be out of Ktan’s reach when he was done. Ktan would either have to attempt to chase him down, leaving at least six or seven men for the other three to battle or…

“Allios!” he shouted.

The bowman was already running toward him, having remembered Ktan’s words and seeing the man flee. A moment later he stood in front of the doorway. Looking down it he saw the man almost at the end. He nocked an arrow to his bow and fired in one swift motion. The arrow struck the man in the back and he stumbled, but did not go down. He lunged forward, and before Allios could fire a second arrow, had disappeared around a turn in the corridor.

Ktan had already turned away, for the five men who stood in the center of the room were now charging towards them. Allios glanced back and saw that Jenya and Saramis had dispatched the men by the entrance and were now rushing to Ktan’s aid. Allios hesitated a moment, torn between helping his outnumbered friends and chasing the one escapee. A moment later he was running down the corridor after the man. His job was to make sure no one escaped this way, and he was confident his friends could handle those that remained without him.

Allios raced down the hall. He reached the end and turned the corner, bow ready.

The corridor ran on in this direction for quite some distance. He could see another intersection just a short way ahead. In addition to that there were a number of doors on either side of the hallway.

There was no sign of his adversary.

He glared down the corridor, searching for some sign as to where the man had gone. There was a smear of blood on the wall just around the turn. He looked at the ground but saw no telltale blood there. He looked up again. There was no way for him to tell where the man had gone.

With a curse he turned and ran back the way he had come. When he reached the room with the prisoners the guards were dead and his friends were gathered near the doorway.

“I wounded him but he got away,” he admitted.

Ktan looked grave.

“We don’t have much time. Come, let’s get your brother and get out of here.”

There were six cells in the room, all with stout wooden doors with barred windows. Allios could see people peering out the windows hopefully at them.

“Arlen!” he called out.

He stood there for a moment, waiting for a reply.

‘”Allios!” a voice suddenly called out from one of the cells. He turned to see an older man looking at him through the bars of one of the doors. He recognized the man, Nicolan, a tailor from Norvell Wood. The man turned his head. “It’s Allios!” he announced excitedly.

Immediately there was a commotion and suddenly it seemed as if every prisoner in the place was talking at once, crying out in surprise or calling out his name. Faces crowded into the small windows in the doors, everyone trying to see at once, all of their faces suddenly lit up with hope.

“Arlen, where are you?” Allios shouted, trying to be heard above the din coming from the cells. They were all talking at once, all begging to be let out.

“Allios, by God, how did you come here?” Almost lost in the din Allios caught the sound of his brother’s voice. And then he saw him, off to the left in the cell closest to the back.

The bowman immediately ran over to the cell, overcome with joy. He looked at his brother, though he could not see much through the little window in the cell door. His brother’s face was scratched and bruised, but other than that, he seemed unhurt, and in spite of the condition he was in, he was grinning broadly.

“I can’t believe you are here,” he exclaimed.

“Just hold on, we’ll have you out in a minute,” Allios replied, unable to suppress a grin himself.

He looked down at the door. It was solid wood with stout iron bracing. It didn’t look like something that could be knocked down easily.

“Do we have a key?” he questioned.

“Over here,” Jenya called out. She still stood near the door where they came in. Now she lifted a large ring full of keys off a hook on the wall.

Ktan stood off to the side, silently accessing the situation. He was right by the door Allios had chased the man through, and looking down it he could see no one approaching, but the fact that the man had gotten away was obviously on his mind, and he suspected it wouldn’t be long before more guards came. They didn’t have much time. The cells here were more like holding pens, large with five or six people in each one. There were six cells. He looked over at the keys Jenya was holding up and realized they wouldn’t help all that much. There were too many of them and they had no idea, of course, which key went to which cell. It would take time to try them all in each cell door, much too much time. With five or six people in each cell there were somewhere between thirty and forty of them altogether, and he suspected that most of them were from Norvell Wood and friends of Allios, people he would be reluctant to leave behind. He was almost certain they didn’t have time to open every single cell.

“Jenya, try the keys in that cell there that you are closest to,” he commanded. “Saramis,” he nodded toward the door of the cell that held Allios’ brother. Understanding immediately Saramis walked over to the door, opening his bag to search for his lock picking equipment.

Allios frowned but Ktan suspected Saramis would have the door open faster using his own methods than they would trying to use all those keys. Also, they could work faster if two people were trying to open cell doors than one.

Even if they did get them all out, it would be difficult to move that many people swiftly. Ktan had to admit he hadn’t thought about that. He was here to rescue Arlen and had thought at most there might be one or two others, certainly not thirty, some of them women, and some of the elderly or perhaps wounded. It would be difficult to Shepard that many swiftly through the tunnels they had passed through to get here, especially if there was any kind of pursuit. Which made it even more imperative that they get out of here as fast as possible, before any kind of organized pursuit could be started. The feeling was rapidly growing on him that perhaps they had bitten off more than they could chew.

Still, he could hardly turn back now, even if he wanted to, which he didn’t, of course. They had come for Allios’ brother and he had every intention of seeing that they succeeded in getting Arlen to safety. Looking at all the other people here, the fact that one of the guards had gotten away and how long it would take to get the doors open, however, he just couldn’t help but have a very bad feeling about things.

Ktan looked out the doorway again. The way was still clear. He looked at the dark wooden door beside him. It was made of the same wood the cells doors were made of. Already he was planning ahead. If worst came to worst, if the guards came from this direction, it would be simple matter to close and bar the door. It would take them some time to break through it.

He glanced at the other door, the one they entered. It was clear as well and could be closed also but they couldn’t get themselves trapped here. They had to have a way out. There was too many of the enemy to fight. If they got pinned down in one position they were dead. If guards came from that direction they would have abandon the mission and hope to fight their way through.

His eyes fell on the final door, the one at the back of the room, the one that stood in front of the hallway they had seen one of the guards disappear down when they had entered. He had not reemerged. Jenya had told them that way was a dead end, to not worry about it, but still, who knew how many guards might be down there? Were they hiding, or just waiting for the right moment to reemerge?

And what of his own little group? Saramis and Jenya were busy with the doors. No one else seemed to be on watch except for himself. Allios was standing behind Saramis in front of the cell that held his brother, shifting uneasily from foot to foot, obviously nervous, anxious, no doubt, for the door to be open. He could understand Allios’ anxiousness to have his brother free but just standing there wasn’t helping them very much.

Saramis suddenly stood up and pulled the door open in front of him. Allios’ brother emerged along with four others. Allios stepped toward him and they embraced.

“Against all hope you have come here,” Arlen said gratefully. “Your arrival is truly a miracle. How did you get in?”

“That tale can wait,” Allios replied. “For now let us see what we can do to free the others.”

To this Arlen readily agreed, but Saramis was already at work on the next door, and none of the others had the magician’s lock picking abilities. They soon realized there wasn’t much they could do about freeing the others that wasn’t already being done.

Nevertheless Ktan had some suggestions and was not shy about airing them.

“Allios take the keys from Jenya and try the doors. It will be better if she guards the other entrance. The rest of you, find what weapons you can. When the guards come I suspect we will need everyone who can fight to do so. And someone guard the door at the back of the room. I know there is at least one man down there.”

The others, seeing the wisdom of this, moved to obey. Jenya showed Allios where she was on the key ring then relinquished it to him, walking over to the door they had come in by after a moments glance at Ktan. The warrior made no acknowledgment that he saw her look, but he perceived its meaning well enough. She had been already using the keys and Allios could guard the door as well as she. It was obvious to her Ktan had picked her to do this chore because he trusted her more.

Of course, this was true. From what he had seen Allios was a brave man who would fight as well as any of them when the time came. Nevertheless he was still a newcomer to the group and Ktan, as they all knew, was slow to trust anyone he hadn’t known for a very long time. He had nothing against the bowman but he trusted Jenya’s assessment of the situation more than Allios’ if the enemy came.

The second door opened, Allios having found the right key. Another six prisoners emerged from the cells. Allios ran over to the next door.

The shouts of men and the sound of feet thumping on the cold stone of the floor alerted Ktan to the fact that the enemy had arrived.

He turned and looked down the corridor to see men rushing down it, a lot of men. One of them stopped suddenly and lifted a crossbow.

Ktan slammed the door shut, a heavy thud a moment later telling him the crossbow bolt had found the door. He quickly barred it.

“They’re coming!” he shouted.

Something thudded against the door again, more than once. The men outside were putting their shoulder to it. Fortunately the door was stoutly built, as seemed all the doors here. He hoped it would be some time before they broke through.

Even so, they had been discovered. Their time was running short.

He glanced over at the other door, catching Jenya’s eye. She shook her head. The enemy had not come that way. Yet.

“How quickly can they get from here to that door?” he questioned.

Jenya thought about this for a moment.

“There is no quick way except through here,” she replied. “It will take them some time.”

That was good at least, though he could have no idea, of course, how much time some time exactly meant. He would have to use his own judgment and unfortunately his own judgment was telling him to leave now.

Ktan looked over at Jenya, or rather where Jenya had been just a short time ago. She was no longer there. He frowned but then realized she knew her way around the place. She had probably gone down the hall so as to spot any guards that came that way that much sooner. Smart girl.

A few of the men they had released had picked up weapons and looked ready to fight. The others milled about, or stood in front of the doors by Arlen and Saramis, urging them on. There were three women in the group, and two of the men they had released were old and unlikely to be very helpful in a fight. Even with the released prisoners their fighting force was thin. Ktan found himself wishing that Merigan and Willbrand were here. They at least he knew he could depend on. Willbrand might not be a seasoned warrior but Ktan had to admit he knew his way around a sword and Merigan’s contribution to a battle, with her unique talents, was incalculable. She could turn the tide of a fight all by herself.

Unfortunately they were not here. Even with them, they could not stand against the enemy if the full might of their forces were brought to bear. No, they could not win a pitched battle, which made it all the more imperative that they not get caught, that they flee before the enemy had a chance to gather their forces.

The third cell door swung open. At the same time Jenya reappeared, running into the room.

“They’re coming!” she called.

Behind him Ktan heard another thud on the door, and the sound of splintering wood. Ktan glanced behind him. The door still held, but the sound had made it clear to him that would not hold true much longer.

That was enough for him.

He stepped over to the cell Allios was in front of.

“We have to go,” he announced.

Saramis stood up immediately, looking toward the entranceway by Jenya. This instantly brought cries of dismay from those inside the cells, and some of those who had already been released as well. Allios continued thrusting keys into the door in front of him, trying feverishly to get it open.

Arlen turned toward Ktan.

“We can’t just leave them here!” he exclaimed.

“We don’t have any choice,” Ktan snapped. “We can’t fight everyone here. We don’t have enough men to do that.”

“So we just abandon them?” Arlen said. “It won’t take long to open the rest of the cells!”

Ktan took a step toward him.

“If we are trapped here then none of us will escape.”

Allios hadn’t stopped. He was still desperately trying the keys.

“Just a little longer,” he muttered.

Ktan put a hand on his shoulder.

“We have to go. Now!

“We can’t just leave them!” one man exclaimed.

A chorus of voices rose up in agreement with the man’s sentiment. Those inside the cells were begging. Ktan could hear a woman crying.

He had had a feeling right from the very start that it would come to this, though he had been hoping it wouldn’t. Ktan didn’t want to abandon these people anymore than the others did but what choice did they have? He was convinced they had to leave now in order to have any chance to escape at all. It might already be too late.

“Ktan,” he heard Jenya shout. He turned to see her staring at him, her shout obviously a warning that the enemy was almost upon them. He heard another thud on the door behind him. A long crack appeared in it near the handle.

His lifted his hand from Allios’ shoulder.

“We are leaving,” he said.

Ktan realized he was losing control of the situation and he didn’t like that one bit. These people did not know him. There was no real reason to think they would listen to him. He was depending on Allios to get them to follow, but what could he do if even Allios refused to leave? He could not force them to go. He was loath to leave all of them behind, even Allios, but that was exactly what he intended to do if the man would not listen to him. He could hear feet now thumping down the hallway by the door where Jenya stood. They were already cut off. If they couldn’t force their way through those who approached then they were already doomed.

Allios was still jamming keys into the door. Sweat beaded on his brow.

“Allios!” Ktan snapped.

He heard Jenya shout again followed almost immediately by the clash of steel. He lifted is head and saw half a dozen men running into the room.

With a shout he charged at them. His sword slashed through the air, and such was the fury of his and Jenya’s assault that in moments four men were slain and the other two had fallen back the way they had come, shouting for help. Ktan knew, however, that this was just a momentary respite.

Jenya and Saramis stood beside him. He turned to take one last look at Allios and the others.

“Come on!” he shouted.

It was too late now. He couldn’t force Allios to come with him. He was loath to do it, but he would abandon Allios if the man didn’t follow.

Allios turned to look at the entranceway. Ktan turned and disappeared into the hallway, followed almost immediately by Saramis. Jenya stood there for a moment, looking imploringly at the bowman. and then, she too was gone.

Allios hadn’t forgotten his promise to Ktan. Yet there were still people trapped in the cells. People he knew, people who were his friends. He could hear their cries now, could hear their pleas to be released. Some of these people he had known for years. How could he just abandon them?

Ktan was leaving without him. He couldn’t blame the man. They had accomplished everything they told him they would do. They had helped him free his brother. He could not ask more of them.

He didn’t want to leave anyone behind. He couldn’t abandon them. It would be an act of cowardice.

And yet, he couldn’t help but think he had a responsibility to those he had already released as well, a responsibility to see that at least some of them escaped. If he waited too long, if they were all captured again, then everything he had done would be in vain.

Ktan, Jenya and Saramis were gone. Their most experienced fighters had left. What chance would they have without them?

He was trying to go so fast his hands were shaking. He felt his stomach churning. He didn’t want to leave anyone behind, but he had to save some of them at least. If only there were some way to tell how much time they had left. If only he could know.

But he couldn’t. Ktan had obviously thought they had no more time. He had been fighting this fight a lot longer than Allios, and the bowman respected Ktan’s judgment, even if he didn’t always agree with the man’s actions. If Ktan’s instincts told him it was time to leave, who was he to argue?

The key fit in. Allios felt a rush of triumph. The cell door swung open. He stood up, turning toward the two cells that were left, that were still locked. At almost the same time he heard a crack. His head jerked toward the barred door, to see that the wood had splintered and the crack in the frame had enlarged. He could see men on the other side through it.

A crossbow bolt came flying through the opening, just barely missing him, embedding itself with a thud in the open door beside him.

“We have to go!” he shouted.

He looked at the others around him for just a moment. Some of their faces registered shock, others reluctant acceptance. It was obvious the door would fall in seconds. They had no more time.

He dropped the keys, then turned and started for the far door, the one Ktan and the others had already departed through. He had only taken a few steps; however, when the anguished cries of those still locked in the two remaining cells came to him. The sounds tore at his heart and he hesitated, almost turning back. But then he took a breath and steeled himself. Trying not to listen to the cries he ran on.

It was the hardest thing he had ever had to do in his life.

It seemed like ages since Ktan had left, but in fact had only been a few seconds. When he reached the doorway he looked down the hall to see Jenya standing at the far intersection, looking back.

Allios halted at the entranced and turned.

“Everyone out!” he cried. “Go down the hall. Follow Jenya!”

Most of the others had followed him, and now ran obediently down the hall. A few, however, still stood in the room, obviously reluctant to leave their comrades behind. One man had even picked up the keys Allios had dropped and was now trying to get one of the cell doors open.

Another dark bolt came shooting through the opening in the door. It struck the man directly in the back. With a cry he slumped to the ground.

Allios heard a woman scream, though whether it was someone in the cells or outside he couldn’t tell.

“Geron!” he heard Arlen cry out.

His brother took a step toward the man, then stopped. The attack had galvanized the last of them into moving. The remaining few who had been reluctant to leave were now running for the door. Allios pulled back his bow and fired, the arrow streaking through the crack in the door and hitting the crossbowman outside even as he was drawing another bolt.

When Allios lowered his bow all the others had left the room save for his brother. They stood there for a moment looking at one another, and back at those left in the cells, still crying to be released, and Geron’s body on the floor.

Arlen placed a hand on Allios shoulder, but he found no words to say. They looked grimly at one another for a moment, then he too ran out of the room.

Allios, trying to shut out the cries of those they had left behind, turned to follow.