Nyx and Livia stood in their cell eyeing the cloaked figure with suspicion. In spite of their extensive differences, they could both agree, mysterious strangers offering assistance in the face of dire circumstances where not to be trusted.
“Who are you, and how do you stand to benefit from our escape?” Livia scrutinised the stranger. She had enough experience to know people rarely pursued actions which failed to further their interests in one way or another. She highly doubted this woman was an exception to the rule.
“You may call me Izzy.” The figure replied “I’m … a friend of Nyx’s sister.”
“Cassandra never mentioned any friends.” Nyx regarded Izzy with apprehension. “How did you meet?”
“Do you truly believe Cassandra escaped the royal dungeon without any assistance from friends?” Izzy sighed “I don’t have time to answer questions, we need to leave now!”
“Fine, but only because I lack better options right at present. Don’t think this means I trust you or anything.” Nyx frowned
“I can work with that” Izzy turned her gaze on Livia expectantly.
“I shall also accompany you.” Livia scowled “However, I warn you now if so much as breath in a way that makes me uncomfortable I’ll kill you.”
“I’d like to see you try.” Izzy chuckled. “Time to leave.” She unlocked the cell door with a click and started down the corridor, striding deeper into the dungeon without bothering to check whether the others were following. Livia matched Izzy’s pace with ease, however, Nyx had to jog to keep up. As they walked, the hallway became increasingly darker. Apparently, wall torches had been deemed unnecessary this deep into the dungeon. The torch in Izzy’s hand flickered casting their shadows onto the walls.
“I thought we were supposed to be leaving the dungeon” Nyx quipped.
‘We are” Izzy replied, “There’s an escape tunnel down here.”
“In the dungeon?” Livia queried “That doesn’t sound very… secure.”
“It was built before this section of the palace was converted into a dungeon.” Izzy explained. “I don’t think the queen herself is aware of its existence.”
“How do you know it’s here then?” Nyx was becoming more suspicious by the second.
“I guess you could say I like to read.” Izzy replied.
“Read?” Livia’s tone was incredulous “You expect us to believe you learnt of secret tunnels in the palace, of which the queen herself is unaware, from a book?”
“It is of little consequence to me what you choose to believe, so long as you follow my instructions.” Izzy snapped “For the present, our interests are aligned. No more questions!”
Izzy brought them to a stop at the end of the hallway. A stone wall stood before them. Izzy ran her fingertips gently across the stone. Nyx fidgeted while Livia paced, muttering under her breath. Finally, Izzy paused pressing her palm against the wall. The stone sunk into the wall with a scraping noise and a previously obscured door groaned open, revealing a narrow passage. Izzy stepped through the door, paused until the others followed, then pushed on the wall again. The door creaked shut behind them. They continued down the passage in silence. The minutes stretched out as they hurried through the shadows and as the time drew on their anxiety grew. If they were caught in such an enclosed space it wouldn’t end well for them.
At last the passage ended, opening into a small cave behind a waterfall. Izzy stepped through the sheet of water, her disappearance followed by a loud splash. Nyx followed, Livia not far behind. They swam across the pool at the bottom emerging one by one onto the bank. Izzy bent down, reaching under a nearby bush and pulled out a sack.
“Your weapons” she announced, emptying its contents onto the forest floor with a flourish. Livia glowered upon seeing her beloved weapons treated with such disrespect. She and Nyx rearmed themselves with hast.
“Thanks for the rescue. I’ll be on my way now.” Livia turned to leave but her retreat was brought to a halt by Izzy’s voice.
“Your expertise could be of use. Accompany us until we reach Cassandra and you will be amply rewarded.” Izzy waited expectantly for Livia’s response.
“Rewarded how?” Livia slowly turned to face Izzy. Izzy pulled a coin purse from her pocket and tossed it to her. Livia caught it, weighed it in her hand, and then peaked inside. Her eyes widened and a grin spread across her face as she saw it was filled with gold pieces.
“If we reach Cassandra’s location alive I’ll triple that.” Izzy promised.
“You have a deal” Livia’s eyes gleamed.
“Wait, us?” Nyx interjected, “What makes you think I would be willing to lead a stranger to Cassandra.”
“Firstly” Izzy replied with impatience “I already know where Cassandra is. We are travelling to the same destination, it would be safer to stay together. Secondly, if I were a spy I would find a way to follow you regardless of whether I had your permission. If you fear my intentions would you not rather know where I am.”
“Very well, you may travel with me…” Izzy had a point Nyx conceded and it would be easier to lose her later if she wasn’t expecting it. “…but I refuse to travel with her.” She gestured to Livia.
“Livia will be coming with us.” Izzy was adamant. “We may need her combat skills should the guards catch up with us. From the way she’s been looking at you, I suspect she’s itching for a chance to tie you up again. While I would prefer not to I will instruct her to do so if I have to.”
“Fine!” Nyx snapped. She would cooperate for now. Perhaps, this travelling arrangement might even have benefits. Being left untied greatly increased her chances of slitting Livia’s throat while she slept. Yes, for now, Nyx would be conciliatory. When the opportunity presented itself, she would kill Livia, ditch Izzy, and go find her sister.