23: The Errors of Hubris
Despite the comfort of my bed, the exhaustion I felt, and the desire to sleep, I was restless. Dawn hadn’t broken yet, and I still lay there wide awake. My time undercover is drawing to a close, yet I still had so many questions left to answer. I felt uneasy at the thought of leaving here. Regardless, I knew had to. The perfect opportunity to escape cleanly was approaching; I wasn’t sure what would become of me if I stayed.
I’d been living here for several months now, but I really hadn’t gotten many opportunities to snoop around. I’d become complacent, comfortable, and hadn’t explored very much. I convinced myself that risk was unnecessary, to engage in suspicious behavior too dangerous. I’d been lying to myself, I realized, out of fear. I’d been lacking as a spy, become too familiar. But there was another fact that I couldn’t deny; this place had felt more like home than any of the time I’d ever spent in the palace.
I flipped over onto my side, staring at the blank wall opposing my bed. I didn’t have enough time to just wait for Dean to reveal information to me. My feeble attempts at seduction had earned me a comfortable friendship with him, though. But that advantage was double edged. I knew that he was becoming important to me. Dean had become somebody I could rely on, somebody I enjoyed being around, and somebody who leveled me out. That was rare in a friend, and dangerous in an enemy.
I should be able to forget about him. What about my oldest friend? The Naga had captured one of the few people I genuinely cared about, and he was suffering in a cell, right this very second.
Suddenly, I couldn’t take it anymore. I had to see him, talk to him, plan for our escape, together. Acting on impulse, I sat up in my bed, brushing my unruly hair out of my face, smoothing it behind my ears.
I had to see him, right now. I’m tired of playing it safe, tired of waiting for information to fall into my lap. I’m a woman of action, and I’d been sedentary too long. It was still dawn – I could easily unlock my door, as I had before, go down to the dungeons, and speak with Liss. Easy for someone like me, I should be able to do this in my sleep.
I stood, ready for action. Hurriedly, I got dressed, and focused my magic to unlock my door.
I’d done this lock once before, and I was even quicker this time. I pressed my ear against the door, listening to the hallway for anyone who might be proactive enough to be awake at this hour. The cold wood was silent, hopefully indicating that there was nobody out there right this second. Quietly, I pushed the door with my palms, leaving just enough room for me to slide out, and stepped into the hall. I held the door as it shut, not allowing it to make a single sound.
Fortunately, this time I knew the manor well enough to get to the dungeons by myself. There would be no rushed hiding, bumbling around and stumbling into strangers. If anyone came across me and questioned me, I decided I would say I had an urgent message for Dean. If they doubted me then, I would just physically subdue them.
Confidently, I walked down the hallway with purpose, making my way towards the dungeons. Several turns and staircases later, I was nearing the cells. It would be guarded; what could I say to get past them? I didn’t want to fight if I didn’t have to. But I had to do something, I was no longer sitting idly by. I paused, still in the darkness around the corner before the guards would see me and tried to think of something.
Shaking my head, I hoped it would work. Bolstering my confidence, I straightened my posture and turned the corner to directly address the men standing at the door.
“I’m on urgent business on behalf of Dean Red.” I said, using an official sounding voice, yet also a bored tone.
I waited, as the guards stared at me warily. There were two of them, each armed with longswords. If they attacked me, I’d have to be quick, remove their swords from their sheaths… I examined my nails, waiting for their answer, trying to look casual. I’d never been very good at that. One of them looked vaguely familiar, but I couldn’t place where I knew him. I’d seen lots of faces around; he must’ve been somebody I’d met briefly before.
They exchanged a look, then turned back to me.
“Okay, just be quick.” He said, twisting to unlock the door.
I nodded at the other guard, who still watched me with suspicion. Fortunately, they didn’t question my presence any further. The door now unlocked and opened, the man stepped back and allowed me to enter.
I walked into the empty dungeon, scanning the room quickly. It was empty. The inner cells, one of which Liss should be in, were silent. From my previous visit, I remembered which one he was in, and called my magic to the forefront of my mind, just as I had to pick the lock of my own door. I had to act quickly to not arise suspicion from the guards.
Reaching out with tendrils of energy, I inserted small picks of magic into the door’s lock, gently pushing on the internal workings of the lock until they finally slid out of the way. I held the lock in this unlocked fashion, mentally, and used the stout metal handle to open the door. The magic use, although slight, caused me to blink my eyes in drowsiness. I shook it off, I had no time for that today.
The door creaked open, and I expected to see Liss sitting on the floor, as he had been last time.
The floor was bare, the walls clean, the bench empty.
I looked around in confusion, but I was sure this was the cell that Liss was in. There were only two… I backed up, confused and ran backwards into a solid wall of muscle.
He shoved me, and taken by surprise, I fell forward, knocking my head on the metal seat across from me.
Everything went black.