Firestorm: Descent

Chapter Twenty-four: Second Prison Break

David became aware of sensation in his body once more, a gradual creeping wakefulness extending through his limbs. Toby lay in the corner snoring. He could feel Sarah near him, the gentle sobbing David had been dimly aware of earlier now stilled. All was quiet in their prison cell.

In the corner of his eye he caught the faintest glimmer of light. When he looked directly at it, it was gone, like trying to look at a distant star. He propped himself up painfully on his elbows and tried to catch the light in his peripheral vision.

Slowly, seemingly one delicate photon at a time, the light grew brighter. A form emerged from the gentle glow, the vague shape of a human being.

David watched, more puzzled than frightened, as the woman gradually crystallised in the darkness. She was tall, with long braided hair, and pure white robes tied with a golden rope. The rest of their cell remained in total darkness and there was no shadow on either the woman’s robes or her face.

She was not reflecting light from some unseen source; she was emitting it.

Stranger still, despite being as bright as if she were standing beneath the summer sun, she cast no light. The cell was still pitch black and David could not see his hand in front of his face any more than he could see Exdis beyond the metal wall of their prison.

The apparition looked down at him and her features softened into a fragile smile.

‘Eutrycia?’ David said, tears stinging the corners of his eyes.

He must be dreaming. That the figure had appeared at all was indication enough, but that he had given her a name, a word he had never heard in his life, let alone spoken, proved it. Maybe he really was losing his mind. Sarah had told him he had spoken to Arinata at the graveside but that she had not been able to tell what he had said. Now this. A ghost in their prison cell. A ghost with a name he had given her.

The figure nodded. She crouched beside him and her halo of light extended, bathing him in a shimmering white glow.

‘Wake Sarah,’ she said, so softly the words were more of an impression of sound than sound itself.

David felt across the cell floor and touched Sarah’s shoulder. She groaned then stirred from sleep.

‘Sarah, wake up.’

‘What?’ He heard her sit up.

‘I am Eutrycia,’ the apparition said. ‘You called for me, from deep in your future. Tonight you will leave this place, but your way will be fraught with danger. Your garments and your shoes are become old from your long journey, yet you are not safe yet. Only by your trust in yourselves and each other can you leave this world.’

‘How are we going to get out of the prison?’ Sarah asked. ‘Those… things are coming back for us in the morning.’

Eutrycia stood, her pure white robes billowing in the still air. Without a word, she produced a little rod, no more than a straight twig of laurel. She touched the wall, and the cell door clicked open, letting in a little of the faint light outside.

‘Wake your friend,’ she told them. David noticed she was slightly hunch-backed. It was this – the very imperfection of the woman – more than the opening of their cell door that convinced him Eutrycia was, somehow, real. His mind would not have built in deformity to his fantasies.

‘Wait,’ David said. ‘Can you get these manacles off us?’

‘They are not attached, David. You are not trapped.’

David looked down at the thick iron band around his wrist. He felt it, and as soon as his hand touched the cold metal, it fell open; there was no click of a lock; the manacle simply fell away. He looked at Sarah and watched in amazement as she did the same. Was this Eutrycia’s doing… or had they never really been shackled at all?

‘Wake your friend,’ Eutrycia repeated.

Sarah shook Toby awake.

‘David,’ Eutrycia said. ‘You must find your way back through tunnel into the mountains, but when you reach the centre, do not be in too much of a hurry to pass back into the palace of Minos. Someone waits for you in the heart of the labyrinth. You will know when you arrive what is to be done, but do not turn away in fear. It is most important for you and for all of us that you are strong in the face of temptation.’

Eutrycia began to fade as delicately as she had appeared. It was as if she were made of light, not matter, and that light was now spinning off into darkness like motes of dust dispersing on a breeze.

‘Wait,’ David said. ‘Wait. Are we going home? Can we ever go back?’

‘Follow your soul’s guide. Trust in him and he will set you free.’

The voice appeared to turn and twist in the still air long after the light of the apparition had disappeared.

Toby finally stirred, groggy and bad-tempered. He either did not see the last of the light disperse or he chose to ignore it.

‘What?’ he said.

‘We’re getting out of here,’ Sarah whispered.

‘What? How?’

‘Never mind. You should trust David; he got me this far and I think he’s really going to be able to get us out.’

It was Toby who dared to look out of their prison first. He peered around the edge of the door. It was still very dark, but dawn was not far away. He cautiously stepped out and, checking that the wide walkway to the cliff edge was clear, waved the others forward.

They quickly covered the distance to the edge and began to search for the path down to the beach. David turned to see the metal door slide closed behind them.

A shrill cry echoed along the deserted cliffs from one of the bird-creatures. It sounded close, and there was little chance of them being able to avoid it if they could not find the path. David was sure they had gone too far along the edge when Sarah called back that Toby had found it.

With the black silhouette of one of the Erinnys (David fancied it was Magaera from the plumes of hair that trailed in her wake) whirling and tumbling around the tower, the three fugitives slipped silently over the edge of the cliff and onto the path.

The faintest rays of light were just creeping over the mountains as they neared the foot of the zigzag steps. David had kept his gaze fixed on Sarah’s back all the way down, finding his footings more by rhythm and faith than by looking. The journey was not as bad as he had expected, but he was still trembling with relief when they finally crunched down into the black sand of the riverbank.

They heard Limivo approaching before they saw him.

‘Am I glad to see you!’ he said.

‘Not half as glad as we are to see you!’ Sarah replied.

‘Who are you?’ Toby said, positioning himself between Sarah and Limivo.

‘So you’re Toby then, are you?’ Limivo said with a barely concealed smirk. ‘You’re the cause of all this.’

‘No way. He’s the cause of all this.’

Limivo looked at David and shook his head.

‘We should take the boat back,’ Limivo said. ‘We can’t risk the stepping stones again in the dark. The boatman can sort it out with Torvos when he gets here.’

Toby insisted on rowing, though he made painfully slow progress across the steady current. Now and then, solid objects in the water slapped against the hull of the tiny boat, but the submerged figures were used to it passing over head and made no attempt to clamber aboard. David wondered what the boatman could possibly do to stop them, when they were already dead. Was there a threat that worked with someone who had already lost everything?

On the Exdis bank, Torvos still sat on his servant Mulligrub. It did not look as if either had moved sine the previous night. Limivo stuck Torvos’ stick in the ground beside him as the man watched the four travellers with dead, uninterested eyes.

‘We’ll have to take the direct route back to the mountains,’ Limivo said. ‘I don’t think we should hang around. Breaking a prisoner out of Dis was not one of your best decisions.’ Limivo looked more worried than David cared to know.

They squelched back through the marshes, hindered only occasionally by the submerged hands that lay hidden in the mud. Hanging back a little from Toby and Sarah, Limivo caught David’s arm.

‘I got this,’ he said, pulling a severed hand from his pocket. ‘Last night, I lured one of the River Souls out of the water, and managed to cut his hand off.’ David looked at Limivo in astonishment. ‘Yes, it was messy. A blunt stick’s not ideal.’

‘What’s it for?’

‘I stole a candle from Pelf while you and Sarah went to Malverso. We can use it in the mountain to see where we’re going.’

‘And if it’s stuck in a dead man’s hand, no one else’ll be able to see the light…?’

‘You’re learning,’ Limivo said and put the grey hand back in his pocket.

It was fully light by the time they reached the outskirts of the villages. The same intent but purposeless activity they had seen when they emerged from the mountain filled the streets. David had no idea where they were (it was not Malverso’s district, and it was too busy to be Pelf’s), but the mountains were directly ahead, so he just kept walking. He fixed his gaze on the back of Limivo’s head and allowed himself to be led through the crowds, almost too exhausted now to care where they were going.

‘Hey,’ Toby said from behind him. ‘Shouldn’t we go round? Someone’s bound to see us.’

‘That’s the point,’ David said. ‘We can make good progress like this, but once the streets clear, we’ll stand out. Either way we might be spotted, but for now at least we don’t look suspicious.’

They walked on for another half hour in silence. Satyris’s tower was far to the right and the mountains grew clearer and more imposing with every passing minute. The crowds were thinning now and Limivo kept them close to buildings, constantly on the lookout for bolt-holes in case of trouble. So far, there had been no sign of the Cerberites but with the streets beginning to clear, it was only a matter of time before the machines arrived to dispose of stragglers.

Limivo led them along a narrow alley. They turned a corner and were confronted by a collapsed building. They were about to turn around and retrace their route when there were voices behind them.

‘These are the ones,’ a man said.

David turned and moved instinctively towards Sarah. A few yards back along the alley were two men; too ragged and small to be Barons, but too muscular and filled with a sense of their own importance to be ordinary servants.

‘We’re which ones?’ David said.

‘Guy came through here early this morning looking for a party, three, maybe four strong. Said some would not look like ordinary Outlanders. Guess you lot fit the bill.’

‘Who was he?’ David said.

‘Don’t matter much. He sure was keen to find you though.’ The man behind the speaker pulled a long metal pipe from the belt of his tunic and began swinging it by his side. Over his shoulder was a brace of dead dogs, tied tail-to-tail with thick string.

‘Osman,’ the first man said, ‘go tell Heran we’ve got them.’

Osman stopped swinging his pipe and nodded. He took a few steps back along the alley, then, without taking his eyes of the group, slipped into a building.

‘So what are you going to do with us?’ David said.

‘Get the best price we can.’

‘Then can you at least tell us who you are going to sell us to?’

‘Anyone we want. If there’s one bounty hunter after you, there’ll be others.’

Limivo strode over tho their captor.

‘These people are nothing to do with your world. We’re just passing through. You let us move on.’

The man stared at Limivo for a moment then laughed. ‘Just let you go? Now why would I want to do that?’

‘Because you’re making a whole lot of trouble for yourself if you don’t.’

Limivo turned his back on the man and walked calmly back towards the fallen building that was blocking their route out of the alley.

‘We’re leaving,’ he said. He began to scramble up the loose debris, kicking out rocks and tangles of rusted iron.

The man quickly caught up with Limivo, who had made barely ten feet of progress up the scree. For a moment David considered making a run for it along the now-unguarded alley, on the assumption that this had been Limivo’s intention. Their unlikely servant ally, however, quickly made his real plan clear.

He turned and reached down. Before his pursuer could even look up, Limivo had his neck in a strangling arm-lock and was leaning most of his weight into the hold. The man, who had not been carrying any weapon and was relying only on threats and luck to keep his prisoners under control, was completely taken by surprise. He hit out at Limivo with useless, flailing punches, but the boy just leaned down harder.

‘Who was looking for us?’ he hissed.

‘I don’t know! An Outland hunter! Let me go!’

‘Was it Fulgar?’


‘Big guy, torn face. Dressed like a bear,’ David said. By now he was standing just beyond the man’s kicking range.

‘No! Stop it; you’re strangling me!’

‘Then who?’ David said.

‘Skinny man. Name began with an N, but I didn’t catch it. It was the boss who spoke to him.’

‘Namir,’ Sarah and David said in unison.

‘I’m going to let you go,’ Limivo said ‘and we’re going to climb out of here. Alone. OK?’ He had his mouth pressed against the man’s ear, his arm locked hard around his neck.

‘OK, OK. Just let me go!’

‘You got it.’

Limivo made a sudden upward movement and there was a tearing, snapping sound as the man’s neck broke. Limivo let him go and he slumped onto the scree slope before sliding then rolling to the ground.

‘You said you’d let him go!’ David said.

‘I did.’ Limivo replied. ‘We’ve got bigger problems than him now. Look.’ He pointed back down the alley. David scrambled up next to him and through a gap between the buildings further back in the district he saw the unmistakable figure of Fulgar limping directly towards them.

‘We’ve got to get out of here,’ David said. ‘He’s seen us.’

In an awkward series of relays the four fugitives helped each other up the pile of rubble. On the other side was a gentle slope that led to a patch of no-man’s-land between this and the next district.

Without waiting to see if Fulgar was able to scale the barrier on his own, they descended and began to run through the now-empty streets in the direction of the mountains.

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