Appendix A: Chapter 24

[Editor's note: Chapter 24 of my 2008 NaNoWriMo entry.]

Roland knelt down next to the hole and lowered the torch inside. The hole extended about eight feet down, with no apparent ladder or other footholds available. An underground passageway began at the hole, but from this angle Roland could see little more than the lack of a stone wall where it began.

Roland stood up from the hole. He picked up his pack and slung it down into the hole with enough forward momentum to ensure it landed in the passageway. He then turned to Anna, who was standing next to him.

“I’ll go first. Give me time to move out of the way, then follow. It’s a straight drop down, so be ready for that.”

Anna nodded hesitantly. Roland sat on the edge, paused briefly, and slid forward, dropping into the hole. He landed safely in a crouch. Now that he was inside, he saw that the ceiling of the passageway was about half a foot too short for him to stand comfortably in. He bent forward and took a few steps forward.

“Ready?” he called.

Roland heard some motion above, then saw Anna land at the bottom.

“Are you OK?” he asked.

“Yes,” she replied. “Now what?”

“There should be some kind of switch or lever or…” he trailed off has he held the torch in front of him and scanned the walls of the passageway. “Here,” he said, seeing a crank.

“What’s that do?”

“Step away from the hole,” he cautioned as he began turning the crank. The first few turns offered no resistance. The crank then stiffened suddenly as the mechanism somewhere inside the wall seemed to engage. Roland continued turning it, more slowly now, and heard the now-familiar sound of stone moving against stone. Suddenly he heard a resounding thump from above that echoed through the corridor and felt a brief gust of air push through, away from the hole.

“Check the hole,” Roland said to Anna.

Anna took a couple steps backward and held her torch upward. “It looks like it’s closed.”

“Good,” Roland said, relieved. “With any luck, the switches will have reset too. Let’s get moving.”

Roland led the way down the passageway, torch in one hand and map in the other. The air was stale but breathable. If Roland’s information was correct — and up until now it had been — air shouldn’t be a problem until they reached the exit.

He heard the footsteps of Anna behind him as she followed. “How did you know this was down here?” she asked.

“Like I said up there,” Roland replied, keeping his voice low to minimize any echos, “the town’s library has a lot of the designs from when the castle was originally built in its archives. I went there this morning to see if there was anything there to help me figure out a way to get you out, and found this.”

“Who puts an escape tunnel inside a cell, though?” Anna asked in disbelief. “It doesn’t make sense.”

“It does if you want the prisoner to escape,” Roland replied.

“That doesn’t really answer my question,” she protested.

“From what I gathered in the library, the king who originally created the castle was extremely paranoid. He was afraid the peasants might some day revolt against him, and had the bottom floor of the dungeon put in as a sort of backup plan. If there were a successful revolt, they’d put him in the deepest, darkest part of the dungeon and leave him there to rot, or at least until they killed him. So he made sure the cell looked impossibly secure, and connected it to a secret escape tunnel out of the castle.”

“That’s… huh…” Anna said.

“Everything that looked like it made the cell more secure doubles as a way to hide an escape. The heavy gate and winding passageway hide the cell from view and keep sound from reaching the entrance. The area around the cell is too small to station more than a couple people, and the passageway is too narrow to move people in and out easily. And you need to press two switches in the wall simultaneously, so it’s hard to find it by chance if you don’t know exactly what to look for.”

“So why did they put me in there in the first place, if I would be able to escape?”

“I assume they didn’t know about it. The cell was built to look incredibly secure, after all. I imagine the truth would have been a closely guarded secret of the royal family. It would’ve died out with them, too, if the documentation hadn’t survived. If we’re lucky, no one up there now will think to check them, if they even know they exist. The longer it takes them to figure out what happened, the more time we have to get away.”

They continued in silence. The passageway branched several times, and Roland relied on the map to tell him which route to take to the exit. He kept an ear out for any sounds that weren’t coming from the two of them, but didn’t notice anything, which suggested they weren’t being followed.

“Why did you do it?” Anna asked. “Rescue me, I mean.”

“There was nothing else I could do,” Roland replied.

“You could have left me there.”

“No, I couldn’t. You didn’t belong there. Oh! That reminds me.”

Roland stopped and set his pack on the floor. Setting the map aside, he reached into the pack and removed the folded letter from it.

“I was telling the truth when I said I had a message for you,” he said, holding it out to Anna. “I was hoping the guard would let me hand it to you directly, but he didn’t, so I had to resort to Plan B.”

“What was Plan A?” Anna asked, taking the letter.

“You’d use the physical contact from handing you the letter to read my mind, where I’d be telling you to fake an illness to get the guards to open the cell and distract them that way.”

Anna looked at Roland. “Good thing you had a Plan B, then; that never would have worked.”

“Why not?”

“First, it takes more than a second for me to see someone’s mind. The guards would’ve seen what was happening immediately, especially with how paranoid they were about anyone getting within arm’s reach of the cell. Second, they wouldn’t open the cell without first summoning additional guards. They know better than to fall for that hackneyed ruse.”

“How do you know?”

“Because,” Anna said, turning away, “the second day there I got sick to my stomach from whatever slop they were feeding me, and it took them two hours before they even did anything.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah. But anyway, this note,” she said, unfolding it. Her eyes widened as she read it. “Where did you get this?”

“You’re not the only one who can do a little digging, you know,” Roland replied with feigned nonchalance. Given how things had played out at Seb’s, he figured he was best off not going into too much detail about that night. “Come on, we need to keep moving.”

“So what happens now?” Anna asked as she followed behind Roland.

“Does the letter tell you anything about where Derek might be?”

“You didn’t read it?”

“Only enough to see what it was. I didn’t want to invade your privacy. It wouldn’t be right.”

“You’re willing to fight your own guards to break me out of there, but you draw the line at not reading other people’s letters?”

“What happened back there was necessary,” Roland said, his heart heavy. “But the alternatives were even worse. And I’ll pay the price for it soon, I’m certain of it.”

“I’m sorry,” Anna said softly. “I never should have gotten you involved in all this. And here after those things I said to you the other day–”

“Don’t worry about it. What about Derek?” he asked.

“Right,” Anna said, sounding a little relieved. After a pause, she continued, “It says he’s going to say ‘hi’ to Mom and Dad for me, so I guess that means he’s either headed to Doomhammer, or he thinks he’s going to, um…”

“Doomhammer,” Roland said. “Something’s going to happen there soon, I’m sure of it. That’s where we need to go.”

“What’s happening there?”

“I don’t know, but at least one of the nobles was trying to get passage there for something, even though we’re about to go to war with Lantaria over it. Doomhammer must be the key to whatever’s going on, somehow. And when we get there, I’ll need your help to figure out what.”

“OK,” Anna said after a pause. “I do owe you that much, at least, considering what you’ve done for me.”

“There’s something else I need to know.”

“What is it?”

“Do you know how Derek managed to escape?”

Anna fell silent.

“It could be important. And if he’s going to be a danger to himself or anyone around–”

“I do. At least, I’m pretty sure I do.”

“And?”

Anna sighed heavily. “It’s not that I don’t trust you, it’s just… this is something that’s hard to trust anyone with. I mean, I was afraid when I heard Derek had been taken away that someone found out about him.”

“I need to know.”

“OK,” Anna said. She stayed silent for a few moments, as though struggling with how to explain something. “He’s a summoner.”

“A summoner?”

“A pretty powerful one, too.”

“He seems awfully timid for someone like that.”

“He’s timid because of it. It’s difficult for him to control that power. He has to be careful constantly not to let it get away from him. It’s not fair for someone his age to have that kind of burden, but there’s nothing anyone can do about it. I was the lucky one; my powers are hardly much of anything, and I can’t hurt anyone with them.”

“But that’s what happened to the guards when Derek escaped?”

“No. The danger is to himself. From what I heard when I was being interrogated, it sounded like he must have summoned someone who was able to break him free. He must have been desperate to do that; I don’t think I’ve ever seen him summon anyone deliberately.”

“Who would he have summoned?”

“I don’t know. It would have to be someone he could convince to help him, and who would have the kinds of tools necessary to do the kind of damage that was done to the cell.”

“Someone he could trust?”

“Maybe, maybe not. But I don’t know who he would know that could’ve freed him.”

Roland thought about this. “Mattias’s men?” he guessed.

“It’s possible, I suppose.”

“Here we are,” Roland announced, as they reached the end of the passageway. A stone ladder built into the wall led up to a hatch in the ceiling. “According to the map I copied from the design plans, this should lead into the forest outside of Blackstone, a little past the castle wall. If we stick to the roads and travel as quickly as we can, we should be able to reach Doomhammer in about a week. We’ll need to keep a low profile to avoid getting noticed, and we have to assume news of our escape will get out soon, if it hasn’t already. Here, hold these,” he said, handing his torch and map to Anna.

Once his hands were free, he removed his cloak and reversed it, so that the seal of the Order was no longer visible on its back. He took back the torch and shoved the map into his pack.

“Let’s go.”

Chapter word count: 1,947 (according to wc)
Total word count: 44,107 / 50,000 (88.214% complete)

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