The guards were not fast enough to stop me. By the time the officers burst in we met them with blades that flashed bloodred in the lamplight. They fell, one struck by Azzad and the other by Ayglos, crumpling in a heap at our feet.
We waited for a long moment. There was nothing but the labored breathing of the wounded. Ayglos bent and rifled through the pockets of the officers. I stood over them, listening hard and trying to reach out with my senses for others in the building. I couldn’t sense anything. It was disconcerting. There should be something—even if people were sleeping. I glanced at the bodies in the room. At least three of them were dead, but not everyone. Not yet, anyway. I didn’t let myself consider them. Any of them would kill me and Ayglos given the chance, and all of them had been a part of the extermination of the nymphs of Daiesen.
Ayglos straightened and lifted a handful of keys. “Let’s go.”
We lit a handheld lamp, closed the door to the guard room, and headed deeper into the prison. The first rooms were closets and bare little spaces with tables and chairs. Further down the hallway we came to an open door. A glance inside showed a cell with four very sparse looking cots some and buckets. The smell was rank. The next door was open, too, and the room was the same. Cots, buckets. Nothing else. It was cold in this part of the building, with no fires to beat back the deepening autumn. We moved quickly. Entirely because searching took very little effort: Every single door on this level was open and every single room was empty.
My heart started to race, and I paused, closing my eyes and trying to focus. I breathed deeply, ignoring the stench, and looking for souls. I could usually feel people—faint swirls of emotion like currents in a river. But there was nothing. Ayglos reached the end of the hallway and turned back to me. “There’s another level.”
I followed him through the door at the end of the hallway and down a set of stairs into a dank cellar. I walked straight down the aisle in growing panic. When I reached the end I turned back to my brother, my eyes wide.
It was empty.
The whole prison was empty.
I went to the cemetery today outside Falletta. Not just for fun, you understand. Habero’s wife died, and the whole Guild was going so I had to. I haven’t been outside the city in months. I saw a flash of wings on that picnic last month and couldn’t bring myself to risk green spaces again. They seem to make the madness worse. There was nothing there. No ghosts, no tiny people with wings. It was gloriously quiet. Perhaps everything is alright now.
We went back up the stairs and out to the guardrooms. This time we entered the officer’s room and started going through the papers on the desk. Clearly, there had been prisoners here. We hadn’t found big pools of blood or stains on the floor or cots. They’d simply been moved already. There were probably orders documenting where. There had to be. Because Quill should’ve been here. I pulled off the helmet and set it on the desk before sitting down to sift through the papers on the desk.
Ayglos paced around the room. There were no curtains to cover the window, so he turned down the lamps and moved to stand by the door, listening.
I sorted through the papers, supply lists, names, something that appeared to be a roster for the guards. In an envelope, I found what appeared to be a report summarizing the day’s activity from the border crossing. “Here it is—” I shot to my feet, “They shipped all their prisoners to La Carvahal.”
“La Carvahal,” repeated Ayglos. “I assume it’s a bigger prison.”
“I do, too. But where?” I dropped the report and started searching the office for maps. There was a small collection rolled neatly and placed in a stand. I pulled out the bundle and made to drop them on the desk but Ayglos put out a hand.
“Take them with us. I don’t want to stay here any longer than necessary.”
He was right. We weren’t supposed to have to keep looking after tonight. I agreed, “We’ve left a wide trail.”
“Better make it wider, then,” replied Ayglos. “Take as much as you can, then we’ll set the rest on fire.”
I hesitated, then nodded. I grabbed log books off the desk and stuffed them and the maps into saddlebags I found hanging on a hook.
Ayglos started hunting down lamps and spreading their oil around the room.
When I stepped into the hall my eyes snagged on the soldiers in the guard room. I cursed. “Don’t set fire yet.” I walked in and checked the men. Four of them were still breathing. What was it about defenseless people—regardless of whose side they were on when they were standing? I stooped and with effort picked up the smallest of them, slinging him halfway over my shoulders with a groan. He gasped in pain. I half dragged half carried him out of the building and a little ways into the dark before laying him down and checking to make sure his wound didn’t start bleeding again. Ayglos was silhouetted in the doorway when I returned.
“You’re saving them?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” I snapped, storming into the guardroom and struggling to pick up another. “It doesn’t feel right to leave them in a fire. Damn he’s heavy.”
Ayglos slipped in and got under the man’s other arm. “This is probably a terrible idea.”
With his help, we got the other two out, and I took a moment to pack their wounds while Ayglos went back into the prison to light the office on fire.
One of the men’s eyes flickered open and he moaned.
“Shhh,” I soothed. “People will be along soon to help.” I heard a crackle and whoosh, then Ayglos darted down the steps. I bent close to the man’s ear and whispered, “You should know that tonight a nymph showed you mercy and saved your life.” Then I got up and ran.