Exhausted from her weeping, Valianna was beginning to drift to sleep as she curled up on the small cot when the door burst inwards. Jumping into a sitting position someone grabbed her arms and clamped a heavy iron shackle upon her wrists, before roughly pulling her to her feet and out the door.
The corridors of The King’s underground stronghold were dark, but the man pushing her along seemed to know where he was going. Valianna thought about turning on the man and kicking and punching her way to freedom. She knew it might be her only means of escape, but fear had a strong hold on her and all she could do was walk along as the man continued to shove her on quicker.
Around the next corridor they were met with bright hand held lanterns and Valianna was pushed into a group of three other girls.
“Ready to go Nez?” asked one of the lantern holders.
“Yeah that’s all of ‘em,” replied the man who had Valianna.
“Let’s move out Djon,” another of the group called to the front of the line.
“I hear ya Molenz,” someone shouted back.
“Move it wench,” the one called Nez shoved Valianna along.
“Easy Nez,” Molenz said, “These girls will get us some good coin.”
“Real shame,” the fourth of the thugs remarked with clear disappointment. “I say we have a bit ‘o diversion, if ya get my meanin’?”
“Leave it Tork,” Molenz said seriously, “The King said no rapin’.”
“I’m with you Tork,” Djon called from the front, “I reckon’ we could have some fun with that raven-haired one, she’s a sweet young thing, she is.”
“If yous want to disobey The King that’s your business,” Molenz remarked seriously and the others left the discussion there.
Valianna chewed on her lip as the group of four thugs guided her and the three other girls along dark hallways and through barred gates. It was hot and steamy in these tunnels and the light of the burning lanterns reflected off the white clouds of steam. Valianna looked down to her hands and to the iron shackles around her wrists. Cleverly etched runes across the metal flared with inner light as she tried to cast a simple spell that failed.
The despairing realisation that she was not getting out of this hung heavily in her mind and all she could think about was Vhindr showing up suddenly and saving her. But as the minutes continued to drift by the harsh truth that she was alone with no escape consumed her.
At the front Djon’s lantern reached out through the mist and darkness as they moved from the narrow hallways into the sewers of Issia. The stench of refuse filled the air, made worse by the warm moist atmosphere. The thugs each wrapped a rag across their faces, but Valianna and the other captives had to manage with only their hands.
“By the Gods, we’ll be eaten alive by drowners or other foul creatures,” one of the girls wailed.
“Shut it wench.” Nez snapped and backhanded the girl causing her to cry out.
“But these tunnels are clear, right Djon?” Tork asked the leader with a sense of unease in his voice.
“’Course,” the short man at the front replied.
Through the sewage filled tunnels they continued on at a brisk pace. Muck and other unpleasantness splattered on Valianna’s expensive boots with each step, staining the leather and fabric of her pants. In any other situation she would have cursed at the sight, but seeing it now she did not care.
Minutes turned into hours and finally they moved through a metal door and into narrow tunnels once again. The uneven walls flickered with moisture and the cut stairs leading upwards were slippery. One of the other girls slipped on a step causing Tork to angrily pull her up by her hair and shove her onward. The girl would have fallen again if it were not for one of the other captives stopping her from tumbling.
With her hands bound Valianna still managed the long climb without tripping and thankfully they were soon moving along fairly even ground.
It happened suddenly and the stone walls fell away before them. The night sky was clear above their heads and the Somerset Aurora glowed brightly through the stairs. The cave mouth opened in to large area where a trio of carriages waited and around which a dozen more thugs lingered.
“It’s The Apes,” called a man from the convoy, “Took yous long enough to bring the girls. Lock ‘em in the last cart an’ let’s go already.”
“Yeah yeah,” Djon replied irritably as he opened the door to the cage on the back of the wagon.
Roughly Valianna was shoved into the carriage along with the other three girls and slumped onto the hard bench.
“Move out,” someone at the front of the convoy shouted and with a whinny from a horse the wagon rattled off along the mountain pass. “I wanna hit Frorgnr by midnight.”
* * *
Vhindr knew where he was going and swiftly strode through the streets of the lower east side of Issia. The steam of the numerous bath houses hung low over his head, causing the street lanterns to glow mysteriously.
The night was late, near on midnight by his estimation, even the criminal underground was likely abed, but Vhindr did not care. With Rhalin close behind him he strode through a muddy park and to a lone shack where two large men guarded a door.
“Well, hey there handsome,” the large man on the right said effeminately. “Anything Marion can do to you, I mean, for you.”
“Step aside.” Vhindr demanded.
“You no pass go.” The even bigger man on the left said. “Richy man allowed not.”
“Move or die,” Vhindr replied angrily, his eyes burning with anger.
“Sure thing pilgrim,” the man called Marion laughed. “You kill me. That’ll be the day.”
Vhindr acted quickly and sent a spell into the face of the dull giant on the left, dropping him to his backside with a stunned expression on his face. At the same time his Fog sword appeared in his hands, its deadly tip inches away from the effeminate man’s throat.
“Easy there partner, let’s just talk about this,” Marion tried to back away, but the shack behind him stopped him from moving.
“Stay out of my way.” Vhindr replied coldly.
“The King ain’t home, you know,” Marion said before Vhindr moved for the door.
“Where is he?” Rhalin asked.
“Meetin’ with the other Bosses.”
“Why say this?” Vhindr demanded suspiciously.
“I’m just a sucker for a man in leather,” the large man smiled back, making Vhindr glance uncomfortably to his coat.
“Where are the Bosses meeting?” asked Rhalin.
“The Grandfather’s house in Hillside. It’s the one with the gold painted balcony off Marquis Corner.”
“Why tell me this?” Vhindr demanded, “You’re too calm. What are you planning?”
“Easy cowboy,” Marion crooned, “This ain’t first time I’ve had a man’s sword in my face. I value my life more than The Kings.”
Vhindr narrowed his eyes at the unsettling man, his sword hand unmoving.
“Vhindr let’s go,” Rhalin said and placed a hand on his shoulder. “He has no reason to lie to us.”
Vhindr let out a breath and stepped away, his sword vanishing from his hand.
“Come back any time handsome.” The doorman smiled at him.
“Junior head hurts.” The large man on the left groaned, “Richy man no nice.”
Vhindr turned from the two men and quickly left the area, Rhalin right behind him.
“Vhindr, slow down,” Rhalin said as they headed back through the city, “Take a breath you’re not thinking straight.”
“I will slow down once I have found my sister,” Vhindr snapped over his shoulder.
He heard Rhalin sigh heavily behind him, but Vhindr ignored it as he continued on as fast as he could walk.
Moving from the ghettos of the city and into the wealthier areas more guard patrols passed them by and more lanterns lined the streets. The muddy ground soon turned into cobblestone and then to pavement as Vhindr began the climb into the part of the city called Hillside.
Vhindr knew Issia well enough, having been here several times in the past, took the most direct route to Marquis Corner. Spotting the gold paint glowing in the lantern light Vhindr firmed his jaw as he marched for the entrance. There were two men guarding the door and they rose from their seats as he approached. In a flash they were on their back on the ground as Vhindr threw a spell at them.
Without bothering to knock Vhindr shoved open the door and headed into the house. A few more doormen greeted him, but they met the same fate as the last, and the three men sitting in front of the fire opposite the entrance all turned in his direction with stunned expressions.
“What is this?” the thin snow elf wearing fancy clothes of purple and green exclaimed as he jumped to his feet.
“Relax Jester,” the young man said as he rested back in the lounge seat, “Don’t get yourself all riled up.”
“Private business meeting, what a laugh,” The Jester flopped back down in his seat. “I thought you paid off the guards to not interfere King?”
“These two are not guards,” the oldest of the trio said calmly, “They are Vhindr Varrintine and Rhalin Ragnarr. And would they care to join us?”
“No.” Vhindr replied seriously, his eyes glaring at The King. “I would care to have my sister returned.”
“He is clearly talking to you King,” The Jester said with a bemused smile on his face that seemed as if it were a permanent feature.
“Well I think this fool rushed in without thinkin’,” said The King, “I don’t have a clue what he’s talkin’ about.”
“Do not take me for a fool,” Vhindr growled back as he moved towards the man. “I know you were looking for us after we burned down your Cane warehouse. Your thugs found her when Rhalin and I were out of the city and you have her still.”
“Grandfather, you going to interject here?” The King looked to The Grandfather.
“It seems that this is your problem King,” the older man shrugged in reply and sipped his wine.
“Now that ain’t nice,” The King said bitterly, “I thought we were a team.”
“Tell me of my sister, or I shall introduce you to such spells of pain,” Vhindr threatened, but was cut off by The Jester’s laughs.
“No magicks in this part of the room, friend,” chuckled The Jester and caused Vhindr to glance about the room to see large runes carved into the bricks near the ceiling.
“Think we need magicks.” Rhalin spoke up seriously as her sword hissed from its scabbard.
“Don’t be like that sweet-heart,” The King replied with a wink to Rhalin, and Vhindr almost lashed out in anger.
“Where is my sister?” Vhindr yelled viciously, his fists balled at his sides.
“I don’t have your sister man.” The King yelled back, but Vhindr knew he was lying for he could see The King’s heart beat more rapidly.
“You’re lying.” Vhindr growled, “Now where is she?”
“Dead in the gutter, I don’t know.” The King tried to laugh but Vhindr lunged at him.
His blood burning hot Vhindr grabbed the man by the collar and pulled him from his seat to an inch from his face. Vhindr’s eyes burned with anger and his balled fists felt hot.
Smoke suddenly started to wisps from The King’s collar before it caught alight along with Vhindr’s hand. The King yelped in surprise and tried to pull away. Vhindr released the man, letting him topple to the ground, and looked to his hands wreathed in flames in horror. He felt no pain from the fires, but warmth filled his whole body.
Vhindr glanced to the faces of the others in the room who each looked on with stunned expressions and open mouths.
Composing himself quickly Vhindr looked angrily back to The King who was patting out the flames on his coat. With smoke twisting through his horned crown The King looked back at Vhindr with wide eyes.
“Void magicks,” the man stammered as he shrunk back from Vhindr as flames danced around his outline.
“My sister.” Vhindr demanded, “Where is she?”
“Gone,” stammered The King, “Passed Frorgnr by now.”
“What? Why?” commanded Vhindr, “Speak.”
“Selling her to the islanders of Divarn,” said The King fearfully.
“I thought I told you to end that slave trade King,” The Grandfather said seriously, “It brings the wrong kind of attention.”
“Just trying to get a few extra coins on the side,” The King said in reply, “You and The Jester get twice as much profit as I do.”
“You sold Valianna as a slave,” Vhindr said slowly, the flames around him growing. “I will kill you.”
“Vhindr.” Rhalin called before he moved, “Killing him won’t solve anything. Let go of your anger and think clearly.”
Vhindr blinked a few times and relaxed his shoulders, heeding the wisdom in his companion’s words. As he began to breathe more easily the fires around him vanished and Vhindr’s anger slowly dissipated.
“Why sell her to slavers?” Rhalin demanded, “If you wanted coin you could have simply ransomed her.”
The King took a deep breath and stood up, straightening his clothes in the process.
“She had to disappear,” the man stated as he sat back down in his chair, “I told her where the assassination contract for Baron Ellengar came from.”
“What?” The Grandfather exclaimed in surprise and The Jester burst out laughing. “Why would you do that?”
“She asked.” The King shrugged, “You know I can’t say no to a pretty girl.”
“Who did the contract come from?” Rhalin was quick to ask.
“Ask that of the current Baron,” The King said offhandedly.
“Come Rhalin we will deal with that later,” Vhindr said seriously as he headed for the door. “We have to save Valianna now.”
“Do stop by again Master Varrintine, Lady Ragnarr,” The Grandfather called out, seemingly genuine.
Vhindr ignored the comment as he rushed from the house and back through the streets.
“Vhindr slow down,” Rhalin called as she ran after him. “What in the Abyss happened in there? Did you use your anther crystal ring to cause those flames?”
“No,” Vhindr replied seriously.
“So it was Void magicks then,” Rhalin exclaimed.
“I honestly do not know how I did it,” Vhindr said as he shot Rhalin a concerned look.
“Remember Meil’hiel said that Void magicks were essence of life, so maybe that’s what it was,” Rhalin mused thoughtfully, “That was the essence of your anger.”
“I don’t know, maybe,” Vhindr shook his head in bewilderment, “We will think about that later, now we need to retrieve my sister.”
“From what The King said they must have taken the mountain roads,” Rhalin said, “If they are going through Frorgnr then they will likely head onto the Northern Longroad between Iceguard and Cairn.”
“Where are they heading?” Vhindr wondered, “Damn I should have thought to ask The King.”
“Likely Chillbreeze,” Rhalin replied, “There are merchants who have begun trading with the Divarn Isles who operate out of Chillbreeze.”
“What is the Divarn Isle? I know little of them,” Vhindr asked seriously.
“They apparently only formed in the past decade,” Rhalin explain, “In the northern reach of the Divenarn Band sand and stones accumulated around those razor sharp rocks and are now home to hardy dark-skinned warriors. They pillage the coast of Nevārance in long ships and have now turned their sights to Essinendeür.”
“Who are fond of slave girls,” Vhindr spat angrily.
“Slow down Vhindr, stop,” Rhalin said in exasperation as they rushed through the streets. “Where are you going? Are you going to try ride a horse and over take them?”
“Have you any other ideas?” Vhindr snapped back without slowing down.
“Teleport?” Rhalin offered.
“Too unstable these days,” Vhindr replied seriously, “We could end up further away, or falling from hundreds of feet in the air above them.”
“Use your Void magicks,” Rhalin remarked, but Vhindr shook his head.
“I don’t know how,” Vhindr replied, “What happened at The Grandfather’s residence was a complete accident.”
“You did it once, you can do it again,” Rhalin said, causing Vhindr to glance curiously at her.
“Now is not the time to try,” Vhindr decided, “My sister’s life is in danger, I will not chance it. I know riding a horse will get me to my destination and I know I can replenish my mounts energy so it may ride tirelessly for hours. I will chase down these slave traders and free my sister.”
Rhalin did not reply and she increased her pace to almost a run to keep up with Vhindr’s long strides as they headed for the city gates.
* * *
Although it was passed midnight and Valianna was tired and exhausted she could not sleep. Her seat was hard, her shackles cold, each bump in the road jolted to her every bone and caused her to knock her head on the low bars of the cage.
Although Valianna was not sure, the convoy was rattling along the Northern Longroad having come down from the mountains a few hours ago.
Valianna had still had hope for escape when they had come upon a small township in the mountains where the village guards had met the convoy. But that hope was shattered when the guardsmen had looked along the convoy and accepted a bag of coins from the drivers.
She had no hope left now. They would reach Cairn at dawn and then be in Chillbreeze by the next night’s fall. Then she would be on a ship to the Divarn Isles where she would be sold to the highest bidder. A tear rolled down her cheek and dripped from her chin.
“Vhindr.” Whispered Valianna in lament.
All of a sudden she was thrown against the bars of the cage as the wagon stopped suddenly. A bright light lit up the night at the fore of the column and the sound of screams echoed towards her.
A spark of hope flickered to life inside Valianna as she thought it was her brother coming to save her. But as the clash of steel was heard and no more surges of magicks appeared she knew it could not be him.
“Bandits.” Wailed one of the other captives and fell to the boards of the cart. “We’ll be raped and killed for sure.”
Valianna’s shoulders slumped and she collapsed back to her seat in despair. Closing her eyes she prayed to Dhror and Melenduil that she would die quickly and as painlessly as possible.