– Prologue –
He set to work in the flickering light of an oil lamp. Building a tunnel was treacherous work, each night filled with hours of gruelling labour. The air was thick with an invisible dust and ever encroaching darkness.
The task had seemed easy enough at first. The interior curtain fell away effortlessly as he chipped dutifully at the mortar to loosen the head-sized bricks, and hefted them away one by one. It had been heavy lifting, but woefully simple—and at least he’d had clean air to breathe.
Once he got past the interior curtain and into the fill, his work became more delicate. The rocks were numerous, jagged, and terrifyingly loose. Pieces fell away without warning, filling in the progress he’d made. Fortification became a necessity. The supports were stable, but did little to ease his terror. It wouldn’t take much for his burrow to collapse around him. Sometimes he wondered if he wasn’t digging himself a grave.
When his chisel scraped up against the face of familiar brick, he coughed violently, sensing liberation. It was so close. On the other side of those bricks lay freedom. A mere foot and a half of limestone stood between the dank and chalky air of his tunnel and the open sky above a small, unremarkable hut built against the outer wall.
That hut was one of many surrounding Fletchery’s impoverished southern side. There, it was invisible, just as he wanted. If the escape was going to be successful, a lot of things needed to go right, and the element of surprise was one of those things.
The escape, however, was not intended for him.
Darius emerged from the tunnel back into the stable where he’d started his journey. He walked by the horses and scowled as one whickered away from him. She seemed to know he had been up to something illicit. He ignored her and slipped through the front doors into the morning’s grey light.
Shivering, he fell into rank with a group of labourers heading out of Fletchery and left the town without a sideways glance from the town’s guards. Darius held his arms against his body in an attempt to quell their trembling.
Inside the small, unremarkable hut, he reclined on an equally unremarkable and incredibly uncomfortable cot. Darius shifted on the lumpy straw mattress, trying to find a suitable position. He needed rest; the stable master would expect him back in a few hours time.
Sleep, however, was not coming easily. His lungs felt heavy with dust, but Darius accepted the congestion in his chest willingly. It was a small price to pay to free Cicero Nagel from prison.
Many prices had, and would be paid to free that man from prison. He was an important man; to Darius, and to others. Cicero had influenced Darius in ways both overt and covert. He had made life possible for Darius, and given him a purpose he would have never even thought possible. With Cicero gone, that purpose reduced itself to nought. They needed Cicero; without him, they had no direction.
Soon, the machine would be set into motion. They just needed the right candidate: young, and preferably desperate. That wouldn’t be too difficult in Saosin Hallows’s Numyria; times were tough. Darius recognized that things probably wouldn’t end favourably for their unwitting pawn. After all, prices big and small would have to be paid. Darius was prepared to do anything.
Cicero Nagel would be free.