Breakout

Author: Nathan Heard

Content Advisory: Violence, mild language

We got it. The High Lord’s crown rests in my hands. It’s a little heavier than I expected. Even though I knew it was solid gold with rubies encrusted in it, I still expected it to rest a little lighter. I bring it up and tip it on my head at a cocky, slanted angle.

“What do you think?” I ask, turning to Letha and Skyler and display the crown.

Skyler rolls his eyes, something between amused and annoyed. “We’ll play with it once we’re out of here, Sid. Let’s—”

“Stop, thief!” A bright light flashes on us. Three more lights catch us in a crossfire. From the shape of the light, I know they’re lanterns shuttered to focus the beam. I’m blinded in the sudden illumination.

“Go!” I hear Letha shout. She smashes a smoke bomb on the floor, cloaking us long enough to dart into the darkness. I still can’t see anything for the light reflecting in the smoke, but I feel Letha grab my hand and pull me out of the middle of the room. My heart flutters, and I’m not sure whether it’s adrenaline from her holding my hand or hearing crossbow bolts whiz over my head.

I blink hard, and I can see again. The three beams are scanning the room, the lights filtering through the smoke: though masterfully decorated, it’s not a big room; just some bookshelves, a wardrobe, and the small round table we’re hiding behind, all of which are gilded in gold leaf.

“Here!” Letha hisses, holding out the open satchel. I drop the crown in her satchel and she slaps it closed.

The spotlights settle on us.

“Quick!” Skyler and I grab the table, grunting against its weight as we throw it on its side. Just in time, too; it provides us with cover against the volley of crossbow bolts that embed themselves in the table with crunching thunks. Skyler cocks and loads his own heavy-duty crossbow.

“Closest door,” he says.

“Got it.” I grab one of the table legs and start rolling us toward the door a dozen paces away from us. It’s a difficult feat jumping over and ducking under the table legs as I spin the makeshift shield toward the doorway, but we manage. You don’t become a high-profile thief without light feet.

Skyler pops up, lets off a shot, and I hear a body slump to the ground. The light in front of the closest doorway drops with a clang, dislocating the shutters and illuminating the whole room. Skyler and Letha shoot off some cover fire and we bolt for the door. I hear shouting “get them!” and “stop thief!” as we dart down the hall.

I grab my bag of ball bearings, slowing my stride just enough to let Skyler and Letha move in front of me, and I spill the bag behind me as we round a tight turn in the hall. The balcony we came in through is just a couple dozen paces away. I hear guards shouting in surprise as they slip on the ball bearings and fall over each other.

“Come on!” Skyler shouts, and I redouble my speed to catch up with them. Our three ropes dangle ahead of us. We came in from several floors up, lowering ourselves down on these knotted ropes, and now the plan is to drop down even farther to our getaway boat.

I leap off the balcony, grabbing the rope as I swing out into open space. As I fly back toward the building, I drop down the rope, grabbing lower and lower knots until I’m at the right height to hurl myself onto the bridge. Skyler lands next to me, and we vault over the bridge onto the boat below.

“Took you long enough!” the boatman says. “What were you doing up there, anyway?”

“No questions, just get us out of here,” Skyler says.

“Wait!” I turn around. “Letha?”

She’s nowhere to be seen. As we look back up to where we jumped from, I see the three thick, knotted ropes freefalling through the misty air. I hear faint sounds of a struggle, and I can recognize Letha’s voice crying in pain.

“Letha!” Skyler shouts, frantic. He starts clawing at the boat’s rigging in a frenzied attempt to climb back up to the bridge. I grab him and pull him down. He turns and grabs my shoulders, slamming me against the mast. I grab his arms and struggle to push back.

“I have to go after her!” He yells. “Let me go! I have to go! She’s my girl! Let me go!”

I don’t let go, pushing him hard enough to knock him down. “I know, Skyler! She’s my friend too! But we can’t save her by rushing back and getting caught.”

“So what?” Skyler jumps up. “We just do nothing?”

“I didn’t say that.”

Skyler looks back to the bridge. It’s far too high to reach from the boat now. I frown. It wasn’t that high a moment ago.

“I ain’t hanging around for some fool’s errand,” the boatman says from the wheel. “Buckle up, boys. The sky’s rough tonight.”

“No!” Skyler shouts, but as he starts toward the boatman I grab his arm and sling him around, gently but firmly pinning him against the mast.

“Listen to yourself, Skyler. You know you’re being irrational.” He doesn’t stop struggling, so I raise my voice. “Listen to me. Listen to me! We will get Letha back.”

His struggling stops for a moment, and a calmer light comes back to his eyes. He looks more like he normally does. Cool, calculating, and determined. A deadly combination.

“We were trying to steal from the Selannen House,” he whispers. “You know what that means.”

“She’ll be put in the highest security prison…”

“…And executed before a week has passed,” Skyler says, not attempting to mask the fear in his voice.

“Well then, we’ll just have to break her out.”

“Obsidian, now you’re the crazy one,” Skyler says, lowering his head. “No one’s ever managed a prison break from Stormbanks. Not even close.”

“Well, then, it’s time we make history.”

He looks up, the determined light back in his eyes. “We get back to Ropolz, we go to the tavern, we round up a crew. Tonight.”

“Pretty much everyone’s already asleep, it’s past midnight.”

“We’ll see if anyone’s still there.”

“Alright,” I say. “We’ll try to find people tonight, we break her out tomorrow night.”

“Deal.”

Skyler and I strap each other into harnesses attached to the boat. Riding a flying boat through open air is always an exciting experience, even after living here for years. Somehow, the fact that we live on a mountain floating in the air loses its excitement after a while, but the adrenaline rush of plummeting through the air on a small flying boat never loses its thrill.

When I close my eyes, I can see Letha’s face: midnight-black hair, flawless chalky grey skin and delicate cheekbones, warm yellow eyes, gently pointed ears. I’d never been attracted to elves before, let alone night elves, but Letha sure as hell changed that. And I force myself to remember, yet again, that she and Skyler are together.

As we fly back to Mount Ropolz, the mist-shrouded city lights glowing in the distance, neither of us mention that Letha also had the High Lord’s crown. We failed to steal it. We don’t care. All we want is our friend back.

 

*   *   *

 

I take comfort in the familiar, grimy atmosphere of the Lion’s Maw Tavern. The beaten, rusty weapons on the soot-stained walls, the raucous laughter and raunchy jokes, the barely-clothed barmaids, and of course, the hard liquor you can always depend on…this place is home. How much more it would be if Letha were with us.

My stomach churns. She is Skyler’s girl. I can’t forget that.

“Just a bunch of commoners. Most of ‘em are smashed,” Skyler says. “Thoughts?”

“We need someone to get us in and out, someone to pick locks, someone to fight.”

Skyler cocks an eyebrow. “You don’t think we can hold our own?”

“I didn’t say that.” I scratch the stubble under my chin. “But a third fighter watching your back never hurts.”

“Okay. So what, three new people?” Skyler runs a hand through his shaggy brown hair.

“No more than four,” I say. “Crowd of six—seven once we get Letha—will draw attention.”

“Alright. I’ll take the right room, you take the left, meet back in here. Don’t talk to anyone yet, just size ‘em up.”

“Right.”

Skyler moves off to check the commons room on the right. I scan the central area one more time before moving to the left. Skyler’s right: most of them are smashed. We need someone who’s at least a little alert, so we know what they’re capable of. I slip through the doorway between the central commons room and the smaller left wing.

It’s even dingier in here than in the main room. The walls are nearly black with soot. The room is mostly empty, with only a few tables still occupied. One table in particular catches my eye. There are three human men playing a game of dice. One is noticeably larger than the others, with wider shoulders and rock-solid muscles. He’s wearing an assortment of hides and studded leather; it looks like he put his armor together from scratch. Long, dark hair and five o’clock shadow give his face a menacing edge. A thick scar covers his right eye and pulls the corner of his mouth down in a permanent scowl. I know I told Skyler I’d wait and we’d talk about it, but I can’t pass up this opportunity. Every crook in Astine knows this guy. Brock Torrent, legendary mercenary and bounty hunter. If we want extra muscle, he’s our man.

I pull a chair up to the table. He takes me in with a quick sideways glance that clearly assesses me, locates my weapons, and dismisses me as unthreatening. I know I couldn’t take him in a fight. But I also know that confidence is half the battle.

“Brock Torrent. We need to talk.”

He takes his time responding, shaking his dice cup, slamming it down, and checking his roll before acknowledging me. He takes me in again, more slowly this time, and it’s hard not to shrink under his stony gaze.

“I don’t think we do, kid,” he grates, turning back to his dice. I reach out and grab his wrist. His forearm is so muscled that my fingers can’t wrap all the way around.

“Excuse me.” He turns away from the other two men, who watch with some amusement at what they’re sure is about to come. “You don’t wanna do this, kid. I had one too many drinks and I might not be able to stop myself.” He forms a meaty fist. He has leather gloves, sawed off at the fingers, with sharp bits of metal at the knuckles. I barely manage to keep from flinching. This has to end before it starts, or else I’m dead.

“Do you know who I am?” I ask, trying to put all the authority I can into the question.

He chuckles. “Should I care?”

I arch an eyebrow, awaiting a response.

“Yes, I know who you are, Obsidian Rex,” he says. “You’re worth five thousand gold. So if you don’t want me to bash your skull in and drop you in Stormbanks, get lost.”

This is getting nowhere. I need to change tactics. What would get under his skin? Brock Torrent, unrivalled at his job…I’ll bait him.

I let go of his arm and stand up. “You’re right.” I turn my back to him. “You couldn’t handle this job anyway. Never been done before.”

I hear a rustle of movement and feel a heavy hand on my shoulder that spins me around without any room for question. Torrent’s face is all business now.

“Take your winnings and go,” he says to the two men, who comply without question. He nods to the now-empty table. “Sit down, Rex.” He pushes me into a chair and sits down across from me. He takes a gulp of his liquor, setting his mug down with a heavy thud.

“Now tell me.” He leans across the table.

“My friend was captured,” I say. “Skyler and I are gonna bust her out. From Stormbanks.”

Torrent leans back and laughs. Heartily. I see tears forming in the corners of his eyes. “Rex, you have guts. I admire that. But that’d be suicide.”

“So you can’t do it?”

His eyes narrow. “What the hell’re you playin’ at?”

“Oh, nothing,” I shrug. “Only, it’d be a real shame if word got out that Stormbanks had a breakout. Led by the dastardly Obsidian Rex and Skyler Ragan. God forbid, it might even make us more famous than you.”

His eyes narrow to slits. Torrent may be one of the deadliest mercs in all Ethra, but he’s easy to read. And now that I’ve found the chink in his armor, he won’t be able to pass this up.

“How much you payin’?”

“Enough,” I say. “And your reputation is worth its weight in gold, wouldn’t you say?”

He scowls. “Twenty thousand gold.”

“The glory isn’t enough?”

“That’s business, Rex. You know that. Twenty thousand or no deal.”

“Five thousand.” My voice offers no room for negotiation, but it’s all part of the ritual.

“Twelve.”

“Eight.”

“Ten thousand, final offer.”

“Deal.” I reach out my hand and grip his much stronger one. Of course, I don’t tell him that I don’t even have five thousand gold, let alone ten. I’ll figure that out when the time comes; he has no way of knowing that I don’t have the money. I’m a thief; it’s expected of me. But unlike some thieves that try to build up a monetary nest, I go for collectables more than raw gold coins. Expensive paintings, fine jewelry, ornate swords, that kind of thing. Not what Torrent is interested in.

“Meet me here tomorrow evening, seven o’clock,” I say.

“I’ll be here.”

I start to stand, and he catches my arm.

“Rex.”

“Yeah?”

“Any funny business…” he doesn’t need to finish. We both know how quickly he could kill me.

“There won’t be,” I say, keeping my voice even.

I leave him to get the last few gulps of liquor from the bottom of his mug. Walking back into the main room, where the carousing is a lot louder, I find Skyler alone at the bar with two empty mugs of mead. As much as I’m worried about Letha, this must be devastating him.

“What took you so long?” he asks.

“Ran into someone. I have the muscle for the group.”

“Oh?”

“Brock Torrent.”

Skyler’s eyes widen. He almost yells in surprise, but contains himself, whispering instead. “Torrent? The Brock Torrent?”

“One and the same. You find anyone?”

“I had a hit guy. But guess we don’t need ‘im now,” Skyler says. “And there’s a couple girls that might be able to get us in.”

“Alright, let’s go talk to ‘em,” I say.

Skyler leads me into the right wing, where a few men are gathered around a long rectangular table, arm-wrestling each other. A few women and some of the barmaids have gathered to watch, egging the competitors on.

Skyler approaches two women standing a little distance from everyone else, watching with poorly concealed disinterest.

“Sierra Glen, Alana Zephyr. A word?” Skyler asks, gesturing to an empty table. They comply, sitting across from us. The one he addressed as Alana is an air elemental: bluish white skin and darker, deep blue lips, with indigo hair that she has pulled back in a single braid. Sierra is a human with dirty blonde hair and firm features. Her eyes are unusually yellow.

“You decided?” Alana asks. She has a bit of a husky accent.

“We would love your help,” Skyler says, his smooth negotiation voice coming out. “You’ll be duly compensated. And if you can get ahold of your locksmith friend, then all the better.”

“How much are we talkin’ here?” Sierra asks, blowing a puff of smoke as she toys with her cigarette.

“Plenty,” Skyler says. “Say, seven thousand apiece?”

Sierra whistles. “What’s the job?”

Skyler leans back, exuding confidence. “We’re gonna break into Stormbanks.”

 

*   *   *

 

“Perfect, this is everyone,” Skyler says as Torrent sits down at our table. Sierra and Alana brought a friend of theirs who by his subtly pointy ears I’m guessing is a half-elf. He introduces himself as Lyle Lockwood.

“I still can’t believe you talked me into this,” Lyle says, draping an arm around each of his colleagues. “So what’s our plan?”

Skyler leans forward. “Sierra, you told me you can control animals?”

“Sorta,” Sierra says. “Enough for what you need.”

“Good.” Skyler looks around at our group. “We’re gonna take some griffons. Slip into Stormbanks, find Letha, and make it out.”

Torrent sets his massive hands on the table. “What’s to stop them from blowing us out of the sky once we get out?”

Skyler leans back. “The plan is to get in and out without them knowing we’re there.”

Torrent shakes his head. “Not enough.” He lowers his gravelly voice. “We need insurance.”

“What do you have in mind?” Skyler asks.

“We hold the warden hostage. We kidnap Costol Ivannu.”

Skyler glances at me. I shrug. There is no foolproof plan, so insurance might be nice.

“Alright, here’s what we do,” I say. Skyler nods and sits back. “We get in quietly. I’ll take Lyle, Alana, and Sierra and we’ll find Letha. Skyler and Torrent, you find the warden and meet up with us.”

“Where are we meeting?” Torrent grates.

I take four mugs and set them near each other, forming four corners of a square. “This is how Stormbanks is set up, right? Four towers connected by bridges on the sides and through the middle—”

“You don’t have a good escape plan,” Torrent cuts in. “You get us in. We split up as you said. You four—” Torrent gestures to everyone except Skyler “—once you get…Letha, was it?…then you go to the bridge closest Ropolz. I’ll handle it from there.”

“What do you mean?” Skyler presses.

“Trust. Me.” Torrent doesn’t offer further explanation. Skyler glances at me. I nod. We may be in over our heads, but if we play it off then Torrent will work with us.

“Alright,” Skyler says, standing. “Let’s go.” He leads the party out the tavern’s front door. As I stand, I move closer to Torrent. My head barely reaches his shoulder, but I don’t balk.

“You’d better prove trustworthy,” I say to him.

He barks a short laugh. “Funny coming from you, Rex. Bounty hunters have a code. Do what you’re paid to do. Nothing more, nothing less. We get the job done.” He steps closer to me, forcing me to look up to meet his steely gaze. “Can you say the same?”

He doesn’t wait for me to answer, turning to catch up with the rest of the group. I take a deep breath and follow him.

 

*   *   *

 

The wind rushing through my hair is exhilarating. It’s difficult not to let out elated whoops as the griffon Lyle and I are riding soars through the misty air toward Stormbanks in the distance. The shroud of thick mist around the complex is glowing with bright spotlights from armed patrol boats that slowly sail both above and below the prison.

Ahead of us, Sierra and Alana bank down and to the right on their griffon. A quick falconine shriek escapes the lead griffon, and the other two griffons follow.

“Dang, she’s getting good at that,” Lyle says, loud enough to be heard over the wind.

I blink. “That was Sierra?”

“Yep!”

“Wow.” I look back up to the prison. We’re significantly lower than Stormbanks ahead, lower than the lowest patrol ships. The plan is to come up directly under the complex and let the griffons go. We stole them from a stable; maybe they’ll just find their way back to their owner, and no alarm will be raised. Either way, an angry griffon owner is the least of our worries right now.

“Steady, steady…” I hear Lyle muttering under his breath. Sierra lets out another griffon screech, and all three immediately respond to her command. Mine flaps its powerful wings, sending us racing up toward the underside of one of the patrol ships. I grab Lyle to keep from lurching as the griffon shudders in turbulent air.

Sierra and Alana are directly in front of us, gliding to match the pace of the boat. I could reach up and touch the bottom of the boat if I wanted to; my head is almost brushing the wooden hull. I glance back and see Skyler and Torrent on their own griffon just a couple paces behind ours.

Sierra raises her right hand, clenched in a fist, then points to the right, toward Stormbanks. Her griffon banks to the right, gliding under the boat’s glowing wing. Very carefully, it moves along the length of the wing. My griffon and the one behind me follow. There’s no way we can stay under this wing and not get spotted. I reach up and touch my face to be sure my mask is secure.

Sierra glances back at us. I can’t see her expression due to her mask, but her countenance clearly sends the message: ready?

With a sharp shriek, she kicks her griffon forward. The three beasts burst out from under the wing and up to the bridge. We leap off onto the bridge and dart toward the nearest of the four bastions.

Sierra growls and clucks at the griffons, and they fly away.

“Intruders!” I hear a gruff voice shouting from somewhere above us. Bells start ringing.

Two guards run out of the bastion in front of us, lowering pikes to gore us. Alana leaps into the air, somersaulting over the pikes and landing between the guards. Thrusting her hands out at each of them, Alana knocks them off the bridge with gusts of wind.

There’s no way they’ll survive. We just killed two government guards. No backing down now.

We run into the bastion. The hall is dark, lit with sconces placed infrequently through the passageway. A door immediately on our left has more lighting. Torrent takes the lead, kicking the door open and unloading a crossbow bolt into a guard’s head. There are two other guards, both of which are quickly disposed of. This is some sort of office. Maybe there’ll be records of the prisoners.

“Skyler, take a tunic,” Torrent says. He bends over and pulls a tunic off of one of the guards. In the brighter lighting, I can see the intricate designs on the white tunics. Red and gold patterns play over each other, forming a shield with a fist over it.

Skyler and Torrent quickly don the tunics and take the guards’ helmets and pikes. The suit fits Skyler easily, but the tunic looks comically stretched over Torrent’s wide frame. It won’t pass for much of a disguise on him. As they’re suiting up, I rummage through the drawers at the main desk until I find some parchment that looks like records. Luck is with me: she’s the second-last name on the “Recently Registered” list.

“She’s in the north bastion!” I say. “Third floor.”

“We’ll draw them away,” Torrent says. “Find Letha and get back to the west bridge. Upper bridge if you can swing it.”

A slab of stone inlaid in the desk shows a map of the prison. The four bastions are connected by three layers of bridges running along the perimeter. The top layer is identical to the bottom layer, while the middle layer is an offset X-shaped bridge connecting the bastions diagonally across from each other. That allows for a lot of mobility, very quickly.

“Five minutes,” Skyler says.

“We’ll be there,” I nod.

Torrent walks out of the room at a stiff military march, which Skyler quickly imitates.

“Alright, let’s go,” I say. I turn around and run into another guard. I recoil, preparing to draw my short sword—

“Whoa, whoa! It’s me!” the guard jerks his helmet back. It’s Lyle. “I’m taking you prisoner, it’ll get us to wherever they keep the recent arrivals.”

“Good thinking.”

“Lemme see your hands.” He produces handcuffs.

“Don’t do it all the way,” I say, putting my hands behind my back and offering them to him. I’m fully aware that he could just turn me in right now, but I’m willing to gamble that he won’t. Wouldn’t do him any good, since we need the whole team if we’re gonna get out.

“We’ll be close by,” Alana says. She puts her hand on Sierra and they both vanish.

“Wait, what?” I start. I didn’t realize Alana could do that.

“Still here,” a disembodied voice says to reassure us.

“Great, let’s go.”

Lyle pushes me out the door and to the left down the passageway. Four guards are jogging down the hall toward us, bearing short swords and shields instead of unwieldy pikes.

“I got one of ‘em!” Lyle shouts gruffly. “Other two ran toward the south bastion!”

“On it!” The guards rush past us.

“Move.” Lyle pushes me to a jog. I fake-struggle a little, but not enough to slow us down at all. We rush into the bastion and turn to the right, running up the stone spiral staircase. I hear footsteps echoing behind us, and I know Sierra and Alana are keeping up.

We rush into the third-floor hall, moving down the passage until we come to the crossroads with the prison cells down either direction.

“Who’s this?” a guard barks at Lyle.

“Time,” he hisses, slipping the cuff off my right hand.

The guard moves forward. Several more guards are behind him. “And why the hell is he still armed?”

I step forward, clutching the cuff around my left hand so it forms metal knuckles as I punch the guard in the teeth. I turn, pushing him against a jail cell as I draw my sword and parry an attack from another guard.

Sierra and Alana suddenly appear, knives and swords flashing as they join the fight. There are half a dozen guards, and they aren’t going down easy. Lyle finishes off the lead guard quickly, but the other five expertly move to protect each other, and they’re pushing us back. The hall echoes with that clashing of steel as the four of us take on the five of them. Not every cell is occupied, but prisoners up and down the hall start shouting. I want to scream for them to shut up. We won’t have long before the noise alerts other guards.

Alana leaps over the guards, attacking them from behind. The unexpected move surprises them enough for us to get an edge, and in a flurry of steel we take down two more of them. The other three push past Alana, regrouping where they don’t have to protect two fronts. They back up slowly as we press forward, and with a well-placed stab I bring another one crumpling to the floor as I leap to the front of my group.

I raise my arm—and my body freezes in place. Another guard, wearing much lighter armor under his tunic, walks forward, hand outstretched. They have mages. I had no idea. I can see in my periphery that Lyle, Sierra, and Alana are also frozen in place. Footsteps behind us tell me that there are more guards covering us.

The two guards we haven’t disabled take places on either side of the mage, their weapons ready. The mage smiles.

“Were you really so arrogant that you thought you could break out of Stormbanks? There’s a reason it’s never been done before.”

I try to move, but it’s no use. I’m glued in place. The mage’s sneer broadens as he takes another step toward me. And another, until I can feel his breath on my face.

His eyes widen, and his smile fades a tiny bit. A small red triangle protrudes from his throat. Blood trickles down, then spurts as the knife is pulled out. My muscles unclench. I gasp for air as his body crumples to the floor.

I look to the hand holding the dagger. Chalky grey-white skin, almost ghostly in the shadows. Yellow eyes that hold a determined light. It’s Letha. She’s still locked in her cell, but a faint grin tugs at her lips.

“Kill them!” a guard behind us shouts.

Alana whirls around and sends a burst of wind down the hall, bowling over some dozen guards. They scramble up, but she intensifies the wind and they struggle against the gale force.

I leap forward with Sierra as we take on the final two guards before us.

“They don’t keep the keys on them!” Letha shouts.

“Not a problem!” Lyle shouts back, hunching over the lock as he fiddles with his tools.

I focus on the guards. Reinvigorated now that we’ve found Letha, I feel my blows striking with more strength, and the guard stumbles back before them. He gets a little too close to one of the prisoners in a cell, and the prisoner grabs his sword arm. I make quick work of the guard.

“You gotta let me out!” the prisoner shouts at me. “Let me out!”

I ignore him. Even if we wanted to, we don’t have time to spring every prisoner out.

With a loud click and rusty swing, Letha’s door opens up. She rushes out, clutching the dripping dagger. She’s wearing a ragged, sleeveless shirt and trousers that don’t reach her knees. She’s breathtaking.

“How’d you get that?” I ask, gesturing to the dagger.

“Picked it off the guard you killed.” She rips my mask off.

“Sid!” She grabs me in a hug.

For one split second, nothing matters. She’s free. We’re together. To hell with the rest of the world.

“I can’t hold them back!” Alana screams, bringing me back to my senses.

“Let’s go!” I start farther down the hall, pulling my mask back on. “There an exit this way?”

“Yeah we can loop around!” Letha shouts, falling in step beside me. “Sky here?”

“He’s getting our way off this rock.”

Lyle, Sierra, and Alana sprint to catch up with us. We rush around a corner, catching a couple guards by surprise and pushing past them. We take a couple more turns and come out on one of the bridges.

“This the right one?” Lyle asks.

I pause for a fraction of a second and study the four bastions. “No! We’re on the north side!”

Guards burst out of the bastion ahead of us. The first four hold pikes leveled at us, and the ones behind them have short swords and shields.

“Mudgh,” Lyle cusses. “Now what?”

“Jump!” Sierra leaps off the bridge, aiming for the cross-bridges some twenty feet below us. Lyle shrugs and follows her.

A thousand scenarios run through my head. One slight miscalculation, or an unexpected gust of wind, would mean plummeting two miles to our deaths. What the hell. I grab Letha’s hand and jump.

Alana jumps behind us, and I feel the wind wrapping around us, cushioning us and pushing us in the right direction. I’m glad Skyler recruited her.

We land on the bridge, rolling to absorb the impact. The bridge we need to get to is one floor down, or ideally one floor up. At this point, “ideal” is out of the question. We’re almost in the center of the complex, trapped dead between the four bastions.

“Come on!” Sierra shouts, rushing across the bridge toward the crossroads in the middle of the complex.

Guards burst out of all four bastions, running along the top bridges and along the bridges that we are on. We come to the intersection and look around. There isn’t an opening. Patrol boats flash their spotlights on us.

“Stand. Down. Now!” a guard shouts, his voice magically amplified.

“It’s over, Obsidian,” Alana says, dropping her weapons. Sierra and Lyle do the same. I look around, unwilling to drop my sword quite yet. Guards block all four of our exits. Guards on the bridges above us have crossbows trained on us. I can’t see the patrol boats clearly for the spotlights trained on us, but I can imagine they have ballistae pointed at us too. Alana’s right. I drop my sword.

Letha’s hand slips around my arm. “Thanks for trying,” she whispers.

“We steal together, we die together,” I whisper back, trying to make it sound light-hearted. She gently squeezes my arm. Chills run down my spine.

One of the lead guards on our level gestures. Several guards start forward, brandishing handcuffs.

“Stop!” A voice rings loud and clear through the complex. Everyone freezes, looking to the source of the voice. One of the patrol ships moves its spotlight up, revealing four men standing on the roof of the south bastion. Two of them wear masks over their faces, but one of them has massive shoulders that can only belong to Torrent.

“Skyler?” Letha whispers.

“Yeah,” I whisper back. “And Brock Torrent.” I don’t look directly at her, but I can tell she’s too stunned to respond. I can’t help but grin.

One of the other men is one of the mage guards. And the fourth man, marked by his long, drooping mustache and ornate gold-fiber robe, is Costol Ivannu, the Warden. Torrent holds a thick knife against Ivannu’s neck, and Skyler has a sword against the mage’s back.

The mage speaks, his voice booming across the open air. “Warden Ivannu commands one of the patrol ships to come down and escort these ex-prisoners to Ropolz.”

A murmur of shock and discontent ripples through the guards. None of the patrol ships move.

“You heard me!” the mage shouts, a painfully loud noise. “Do as Ivannu commands!”

Reluctantly, one of the patrol ships starts to descend. The guard captain in front of me steps to one side, gesturing for us to walk through them.

Pride surges in my chest as I lead my friends past the captain, who cusses us out under his breath as we march past. After a couple minutes we join Skyler, Torrent, Ivannu, and the mage on the top of the bastion. Wind ripples through my hair as we march onto the patrol ship.

Letha embraces Skyler in a long hug. I don’t watch closely, but I suspect one or more kisses are somewhere in there too. For once, I’m not jealous. I’m just glad that we have her back.

Torrent keeps his knife against Ivannu’s neck the entire way back, and every time we hit a bump of turbulence, Ivannu cringes. Finally, we reach the docks of Ropolz. The guards stand aside as we march off the boat and onto the docks. Torrent drags Ivannu down the dock with us.

“What are you doing?” the mage guard demands.

“Insurance,” Torrent says, grinning. “You don’t pursue us. If you do, you won’t see him again. If you don’t, then you’ll find him right over there at the Cliffside Tavern in five days.”

The mage guard clearly wants to argue, but he also realizes he’s not in a position to. All he can do is say, “This isn’t over.” The boat detaches from the dock and flies back toward Stormbanks, a small glowing speck in the distance.

“Alright, let’s go.” Torrent drags Ivannu toward an alley. Lyle, Alana, and Sierra follow.

Letha smiles up at us. “You really outdid yourselves, boys.” She turns and starts after the others.

I clasp Skyler on the shoulder. “Told you we’d get her back,” I say.

He shakes his head and grins. “You were right, Obsidian Rex. We did it. We broke out of Stormbanks.”

I linger for a moment and look back at the ship as it flies back toward the prison complex. Our problems are just beginning. Torrent will want his money, and so will the others. Money that we don’t have. And it won’t take long for the officials at Stormbanks to figure out who we are. Then they’ll come after us with a vengeance.

In the distance, I can see the misty lights of the patrol boats circling around the prison. I grin. Maybe our problems are just beginning. But even if something goes wrong, none can ever say we didn’t make history.

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