Raulin napped briefly, then awoke when the skies from the barred window were beginning to darken. The mist that fell hadn’t let up and the ledge was wet with rain that had run over onto the barrels with an annoying plink every few seconds. The wizard and Anladet were speaking in low tones. Telbarisk was sitting in the corner, perhaps napping or thinking to himself.
His stomach rumbled. “Have they brought food yet?”
“No,” Anladet said, looking up from her discussion. “No one has been by. It’s very odd.”
“Perhaps they wanted us to fend for ourselves. They did leave us in a room with barrels and crates of food,” he said, gesturing to the window.
“We’re not taking anything from here,” the wizard said firmly. “That would be stealing. Besides, they didn’t set us up with anything else. No chamber pot, no blankets, no pallets. They’ll be here soon enough.”
“Hopefully,” Raulin responded. “The Noh Amair Accords dictate that any person arrested for any reason, whether political, criminal, martial, or other, must be given the basics of life daily. They are running very short on time.”
“Gheny never signed the Noh Amair Accords.”
“True, but Gheny is still considered a dominion of Arouk, which signed the pact.”
“Even so, they haven’t failed yet. They have until about ten o’clock this evening to provide everything.”
“In the meantime, we are cold and hungry. I don’t expect hospitality, but it speaks a lot of the situation when they can’t even bring us water.”
“Fine,” Al snarled and Raulin realized he may have complained too much. “Let’s put it to a vote then. All in favor of cracking open a barrel, of stealing food, raise your hand.”
Raulin, Anladet, and Telbarisk, still sitting with his eyes closed, raised their hands. “Al,” Anla said in a supplicating tone. “I think they’ll let us rot in here if they can. They are very angry at us, deserved or not, because we represent their failure.”
“And how do you know that?” he snapped.
She took a deep breath. “I’m guessing, more or less. Either way, it’s how I feel. I don’t think we’ll get food in the next eight hours. And I am hungry. And it is very damp in here.”
“Fine. That one,” he said pointing randomly.
She rolled it over and stood it in front of him. He eyed Raulin. “Turn around.”
“Just do it or you get nothing.”
He rolled his eyes, but turned to face the opposite corner, praying for something that wasn’t hard tack or fish in melon sauce. He heard a loud crack followed by the plopping sound of wet things on stone. When he turned around, the barrel was smashed and a number of fish had spilled onto the floor.
“Well, come on,” Al said, grabbing one and popping it whole into his mouth. “Eat up! You guys wanted this!” He gagged a little and popped another in his mouth.
The room reeked of vinegar and a pungent, briny smell that can only be described as “fishy”. Raulin smelled it even when breathing through his mouth. He considered tearing off a piece of his arong-miil to jam it up his nostrils, since he was already going to have to pay to have it tailored anyway.
The thought made him examine his wound again. It was tacky with blood and seemed to be closing up without any signs of infection, though it was hard to be precise without sufficient light. He checked his concussion by moving his head without any visual issues. He was without the throbbing pain he had felt earlier. It wasn’t top form, but he was fine with where he was.
Raulin took his mind off the sickening crunching noises the wizard was making by examining the cell. “What are you doing?” Al asked.
“Checking out our surroundings to see if there are any structural issues we can use to our advantage. This castle is new in construction, but the sea water might have rusted and eroded some of the materials used to make this cell.”
He turned and made eye contact with Anladet. She raised her eyebrows and nodded slightly. “I’d like to propose a truce,” he said. “The four of us help each other escape to safety and sufficient expunction of our trail. With our combined talents we should be able to slip out with minimal clamor and be able to shake whatever forces they send after us.”
This time the wizard didn’t protest immediately. “What are your terms in full?”
Raulin met Anladet’s eyes again and bowed slightly at his neck to thank her for her role in convincing Al. “We escape from this cell, then the castle, and keep moving until the guards that will surely follow us have given up. We move quickly and no one hamstrings anyone else. That means no double-crossing in hopes of receiving clemency. I will humbly submit myself as the position of lead based on my experience and expertise.”
“No killing,” the wizard said.
“Yes, I agree,” Anladet said. “If we come across anyone, we use non-lethal methods to deal with them.”
“Fair enough, so long as it doesn’t waylay us for too long.”
“No,” Al said. “Absolutely no killing. And no stealing.”
“May I remind you that I don’t kill and steal for pleasure. I do it as a necessity. And you may wish to take that back if things get very complicated.”
“No killing. I don’t care if I get caught again.”
“As you wish,” he said. “This is agreed upon?” Both Anladet and Tel nodded. “Then no killing. And no stealing.”
“We want to retrieve our possessions, too,” Al added. “They’re upstairs on the first floor.”
“And I need to get mine in an inn not too far from here.”
“You said ‘expunction of our trail’,” Al said. “Define that.”
Raulin moved past Al and looked out the window. They were facing the sea and about one hundred feet above it. He pulled on the bars, then felt them for rust. They seemed very solid. “When we escape, people will hunt after us. Likely many people. We stay together and watch each others backs until it appears we have given our chasers the slip.”
“Plus one week.”
“No,” he said, checking the wall around the window for cracks. “I cannot spare a week. I must be gone as soon as possible.”
“Onto your next killing, I suppose?” Alsaid.
“Likely. Why is it any of your business?”
“How do I know I, or someone I know, isn’t on your list?”
“Hmm, let me check,” Raulin said, pulling out his small notebook and flipping the pages. Annoyingly he left blood on the edges of the pages. “No, no, no. No, there are no wizards for me to be killing this year. Seems you are safe.”
“Then how do I know you won’t throw obstacles in our way once the trail is expunged?”
“Oh, hmm. That sounds rascally, Wizard. I don’t do rascally. I don’t have that assurance from any of you in my case, so how can you demand the same from me?”
“Well, we don’t have any pressing engagements. Why don’t we follow you to your first and we’ll part ways then?”
Raulin moved to the barred door. “That sounds terribly convenient for you and not at all for me. You will be able to alert the authorities that a trirec is operating in the area and they, in turn, can put people on high alert. Part of the ease of my job comes from the false sense of security people attain when nothing happens and no one is around to make it happen. No. We part ways once the search has been called off.”
“Fine. Telbarisk? Anla? Are you two satisfied?”
“I think you would have found any loopholes and corrected them,” she said.
“Don’t get me wrong; I don’t trust him at all. I could spend all day ironing out the little details and I bet he’ll still slip through them somehow.”
“You’re overestimating me and undervaluing my wish to leave this place. I’m using you as much as you’re using me.”
“Telbarisk? You’ve been quiet over there, not that that’s unusual. What are your thoughts?”
He opened his eyes and spoke in Grivfia. “Things are about to happen. Don’t fight it, Raulin. Embrace it. You might finally find the peace you’ve wanted.”
“What did he say?” Al asked.
“It’s basically a ‘yes’ from him. You two?”
“Yes,” said Anladet.
“Fine. But we can veto any decisions. And you can’t keep us in the dark on your plans.”
“I’ll do my best. I’d shake on it, but my hands are a mess and I believe the wizard’s are pickling right now.”
Raulin inspected the door and the rest of the room for structural issues they could use to their advantage. He thought, perhaps, if he could finagle the conversation in his favor, he could get the wizard to pull out any rusted or loose bars. He grasped that Al didn’t want him to know about his abilities, for whatever reason. If this was due to his distrust, maybe he could work on that.
Raulin sat down in the middle of the room. “Tell me a bit about yourself, Wizard. Did you enjoy school? Did you do well?”
“Why? Is this to your advantage somehow?”
“No, I’m just curious. We’re going to be here for a little while longer. May as well spend some time getting to know each other.”
“I graduated a Gray seven years ago when I turned twenty-two…”
“Twenty-two? That’s an awfully young age to finish! Six years?”
“Seven years, two months, and eleven days. I attended one year early. But, yes, last I knew I was the youngest and fastest wizard to graduate from Amandorlam.”
“Impressive! What illustrious profession did you wind up in after your departure?”
“Just Touch wizardry.”
“Hmm. Must be very fulfilling.”
“It is,” Al said with a wary tone. “It doesn’t make much, but I enjoy making people happy.”
“It’s a good profession. Do you do anything else?”
“No, just that.”
“What about your switching ability?”
“I…how do you know about that?”
“You asked me to turn away, but even a man like myself knows that a soft wizard cannot smash a casket with that magic. You need the hard side for physical strength.”
“That’s true,” Al said, with a non-committal tone.
“I just ask because I might need you to break us out of here. If you are a switcher, that would be very helpful to know when I plan our escape. Having a healer is great, but having someone who can heal and fight is phenomenal.”
“I’m not a switcher,” he said.
“All right. If you prefer to keep things under wraps I’m sure we can…”
“I’m a cross-switcher.”
Raulin paused for a few seconds. “Really? That’s…quite astounding, Wizard. I don’t think I’ve ever met a cross-switcher.”
“They are rare?” asked Anladet.
“Very much so. About a quarter of all humans have the ability to tap into magic. Of those, they tend to follow either a soft or hard path, working with arts and healing or with strength and speed. A switcher can tap into both. A cross-switcher can tap into both no matter what his mood.”
“I remember talking about this when we were running to catch up to the cultists. Why didn’t you mention how distinguished your ability is?”
“Anla, it’s not important! I’d really rather we not discuss it.”
He was probably the first wizard Raulin had ever met that showed even the slightest hint of humbleness. “We don’t need to talk about it. I’d just like to see if you could pull out any of the bars. Carefully. We don’t want to show our hand yet. Just see if anything is loose for you.”
While Al tested the bars, Raulin spoke to Anladet. “Other than bewitching people, what can you do?”
“I can make us silent if we need to be. I’m not sure if that’s helpful or not.”
Raulin paused for a few moments before laughing. “’Helpful or not’? And to think at one point I had thought about charging to lead you out of here. That pays for everything. Out of every magic power I’ve ever heard of, creating silence is the one I’d wish for the most often.”
“Well. It’s just silence,” she said, though the light touched her face and he saw a small smile on her face.
“You must be jesting with me. By the time we’re finished, you will see how incredible your magic is. I promise.”