Originally written January 21, 2013.
She focused on the knife and listened.
Its blade kept close as the sounds of the festival faded altogether behind them, separated from her flesh only by a layer of thin cotton. The knife, something perhaps inconsequential in her earlier days of armor, hammer, and shield, kept her still by using only a silent, unspoken threat of descending.
Only her feet moved, forced forward at her captor’s direction. But despite the obedience of her feet, she listened. She spoke only once. As she spoke, the knife twitched and threatened to descend by her second uttered word. Its intent was immediately understood and she did not aggravate it further.
She felt his hand move over her once, searching her cloak and robes till it located its prize: a guildstone etched with a cross. He fumbled with it a moment, then let it clatter to the ground. The sound echoed briefly off the jade pillars and golden walls, then all returned to silence save the rushed pace of their feet.
The lady knight did not recognize the pathways they took or the halls her captor led her through. He took to extending an arm around her shoulders in the manner of an embrace, but his hand held her shoulder in a vice grip. He was also mindful enough to keep the flash of his dagger away from torchlight or curious eyes. One Pandaren even looked at them and smiled, then her smile faded as she first looked to Arialynn’s middle, then her expression.
“Dear lady, are you ill?” she asked in concern.
“She is,” the captor was swift to reply. “Too much for one morning, we are going to tuck her somewhere to rest.”
“Oh!” the Pandaren woman brightened, nodding in understanding, then added with a bow: “I wish you health.”
Arialynn said nothing in reply. Hidden within the folds of her cloak, she felt the tense knife ready to plunge. Outwardly, her captor maintained a smile beneath his hood, whereas Arialynn kept her expression still and made no nod.
She heard the final waning sounds of the festival: a distant pop of a firework, then the cheerful celebration seemed to end midway through a bout of laughter as the lady knight and her captor turned the final corner and passed through a sunlit arch. The mid-morning sun was blinding, but she did not chance to move and lift a hand to shield her eyes. Her captor, however, did.
Her response was immediate. As his arm loosened from her shoulders, she felt the hovering blade shift in the tiniest increment. As his elbow bent and hand adjusted the angle of his hood, she seized his forearm. He cried out in pain as a shock surged into his arm and Light lashed over the flesh. As her captor reeled, Arialynn felt his knife hand slip further, and her eyes glanced toward the archway in the first step of escape.
A sharp blow struck her cheek. She felt the skin of her cheekbone split open and blood flow freely. When she opened her eyes again, she realized that the blow was performed with the hilt of the knife, and the force of the blow took her to her knees.
“Just a warning,” her captor said to her as he wrenched her from the ground and tugged the hood of her cloak over her head. “You only need to look convincing. Try that again, and you will bleed somewhere far more important.”
For emphasis, the blade returned to her stomach once more. Arialynn remained silent, her eyes instead on her captor, searching his face for signs of pain or weakness. She noted that his injured arm remained at his side.
As the descended the stairs away from the Shrine, a company of travelers greeted them. The lady knight first looked to them as means of escape, then quickly realized they were in league with her captor. The band waited among wagons laden with goods. Within the loaded caravan, Arialynn spotted what she assumed to be a grummle or two. However, they seemed oddly perched and unmoving atop each wagon pile, like frozen puppets in the driver’s seat.
“Caught the insurance, boss,” one said, jerking a thumb over his shoulder at the largest wagon in the caravan. He was dressed oddly, wearing the correct clothing but arranged in mis-matched ways. An attempt, Arialynn surmised, to attempt to go unnoticed.
“No need for it. She came with her own,” her captor replied, gesturing with his knife to her belly. The smile in his voice was apparent.
“Should we dump the second one, then?”
“No, keep it. Three is better than two.”
With that, Arialynn was shoved roughly from behind till all that surrounded her were four wooden walls. There was little to see within her enclosure; the darkness blurred the shapes of her surroundings. It took time to realize that her cage was little more than a carved-out space, asymmetrical in shape, and she was the second occupant, not the first.
Her companion did not stir for some time. The lady knight found it difficult to maneuver in the small space and her physical condition was no aid. But when she finally closed the distance between her and her fellow captive, she recognized her companion immediately.
Koryander was bloodied and bruised, with pieces of plate absent and her hands bound. Arialynn could only guess at the reason of her injuries, but the nature was clear: blunt instruments, meant to disable but not kill. With what uncomfortable maneuvering she could manage, she shifted till her hands lay atop a few of Koryander’s wounds and began to heal.
The red-haired woman stirred.
“Grrrah. Hmm… what?”
“Kory,” Arialynn replied quietly. “What do you remember?”
Koryander grunted, her face grimacing in pain. “What?” she repeated, her tone groggy.
“You and I are being taken somewhere. What do you remember?”
“Stupid freaking ambush. Jumped me when I was… I was in the air,” Koryander paused midway through her sentence, her expression one of confusion. “Something about… about. Ugh. Wh… where are we?”
“Leaving the Shrine now. Kory, I think you have a concussion,” Arialynn gently touched a hand to her friend’s head.
“But I just left the Shrine.”
“Aye, you have a concussion,” Arialynn quietly confirmed.
“Where the hell are we going?”
“I do not know,” Arialynn replied truthfully, eying the outline of the door.
Koryander went silent again. Her expression shifted from confusion, to anger, to concentration, to another bout of confusion. “Whoever hit my head with a Light-damned Elek, I’m going to hit them back. A lot,” she managed, with thoughtful pauses between words.
“Kory, I need you to do something.”
“That door. I do not know how it is locked, but I need you to kick it as hard as you can,” as Arialynn spoke, her hands blindly worked over the bonds of the ropes around her companion’s hands.
“Some kind of… of escape plan?”
The lady knight was silent a moment. “Maybe, once we know what we are dealing with,” she said quietly, then her gaze shifted back to Koryander. “I will do what I can to heal your wounds, but we cannot waste too much time. We need to act soon.”
“Okay… all right. Just say when. Don’t wait up for me.”
With a cry that was a mixture of pain and anger, Koryander pulled her legs together and slammed her heels against the door. The reaction was immediate.
The door lock snapped and the door swung open.
The bright sun washed in, nearly blinding.
Their enemies cried out and silhouettes filled the doorway.
“Lay still,” Arialynn told Koryander. The warrior spared only a quick glance, then lay limp and unmoving on the deck.
Their enemies collectively stood silent for a brief moment, then the silence was punctured by the familiar voice of her captor:
“Bind her hands and feet.”
The hands that grabbed her paid no mind to the fragile life within her belly. Arialynn was dragged from the hold of the wagon and her hands bound; the ropes were tight and bite at her wrists. She was then hoisted for her feet to be bound, then shoved into the makeshift prison once more. The ropes around her ankles were no less forgiving.
One enemy took time to glance at Koryander and her own bindings, then seemed to dismiss her. The door slammed shut behind them both and the caravan resumed. Both let the rhythmic movement of the caravan sound between them for some time before daring again to speak.
“How many?” Koryander stirred, testing her loosened bonds.
“I counted five, but I heard others. I cannot be sure.”
“There’s got to be a better way to do recon than being stuck in a box.”
“You okay? Are both of you okay?” Koryander asked with emphasis.
“Good, because I’m going to kill you. That was stupid. If you’re going to be stupid, make me do the stupid stuff. That’s what I’m for. Got it?” Koryander snapped.
Arialynn nodded, inclining her head. “Yes, that was utterly stupid. But you will have your opportunity, we are going to do that again.”
“Good. Escape this time?”
Arialynn was silent. “No. There are too many, and this seems too planned to outwit at the last moment.”
Koryander swore a string of words beneath her breath. “I saw some of them, they were goblins, elves. What the hell does that mean?”
“I do not know,” Arialynn shook her head, a hand laying atop her stomach.
“Let us focus on the present. I need you to hit the door again.”
“For what?” Koryander grunted.
“To leave a trail,” Arialynn said simply.
There was a pause when Koryander considered, then understood. “Well, you keep your promises. We’re about to be very stupid.”
“Very stupid,” Arialynn agreed. “Or very fortunate.”
A small war of attrition began. With another cry and kick of the door, Koryander let loose the wrath of their enemies again. Again they descended upon the door, this time not fooled by Koryander’s feigned unconsciousness. The beating that came to her was quick and savage, and a knife again pressed against Arialynn’s abdomen in dark reminder of the hostage she carried. Then both women were left to themselves, more tightly bound than before, but alive.
Arialynn found it far more difficult to maneuver herself to Koryander’s aid with her hands and feet bound. But she finally drew close enough to heal once more, and slowly, her companion withdrew from unconsciousness.
“I do not know. We need to do it again. They will not kill us,” Arialynn frowned, then shook her head. “Our only advantage.”
“Fffff…” Koryander began to speak, but trailed off in pain and confusion. She grit her teeth and concentrated till her mind refocused and her expression hardened to her usual resolve. “Ready.”
Twice more, they made themselves nuisances to their attackers. Each time, retribution was swift upon Koryander and threats descended upon Arialynn. When the knife finally cut a shallow line across the lady knight’s belly, their disobedience abruptly ended and they returned to their small prison without another word.
“Light, is everything okay?”
Arialynn could not deny the moment of panic that seized her at the sensation of the knife, but her rational mind managed to take hold long enough to quell the heartbeat that briefly overtook her. “I am fine,” she began slowly, then affirmed: “We are both fine. It was a shallow cut. But the bleeding will need to be stopped.”
“Can you heal it?”
“Not like this,” as she spoke, Arialynn struggled to lift her legs, to curl herself in some manner to press her own flesh against the wound, but her protruding stomach proved too great to allow her the flexibility.
Nearby, Koryander painfully stirred with a slow roll towards her. “Lean against me,” she said.
After another moment of struggling to move by them both, the bleeding was stemmed by the pressure between them. As they leaned without words against each other, the sounds of the caravan grew more pronounced, as was the faint sound of dripping blood.
“Think we did enough?” Koryander asked, her tone muted in the dark.
“We did what we could,” Arialynn replied.
As her words finished, the caravan stopped.