Callindra struggled to control her breathing and focus but the pain of her injuries was bleeding through her initial anger. This was one of the Taken. But it was talking.
“Allow me to extend the courtesy that I did to those two you just slaughtered.” It continued, giving the two corpses a cursory glance. “Lure in more of the living and you shall be spared. As you have deprived us of our current servants you must take their place.”
“You should have brought an army.” Callindra said, tightening her grip on Shadowsliver until she could feel her knuckles creaking. “I’ll never serve your kind.”
“A pity.” It said in that same emotionless voice and pointed a finger at her. Emerald flames shot from the finger and she only barely dodged to one side. The bolt turned the iron bars of the cage she’d been in into powder. She swung her chain at it but the Taken ducked her strike easily, moving with boneless grace.
Callindra used the moment it had taken to dodge to close with it, running forward and sliding under another blast of green fire that singed her skin with the heat of its passage. Shadowsliver bit deeply into its leg as her slide brought her to within striking distance but to her horror his blade stuck fast.
“One of the others will agree.” It said, “Your time is finished.” The green light began to glow from its finger again but a heavy chain with manacles attached smashed into the arm and the shot flew wide. A gangling man with a touch of grey in his dark hair picked up another set of chains and began to spin them in a whirling arc.
Ripping her blade free, Callindra swung with all her might and buried Shadowsliver’s forked tip into the thing’s skull. It leered at her and reached a hand that burned with flickering green flames toward her, but her unknown comrade flung his second chain. His throw wrapped around the Taken man’s arm and pulled it down with a snap of breaking bone.
With a burst of will, Callindra forced arcane power through her sword and a blast of air made the flames within rage uncontrollably. Its head exploded into a thousand fragments.
“Thanks for the assist.” She rasped, all the energy draining from her limbs. “I am Callindra Sol’Estin.”
“Holt.” The man said, giving her a professional nod. “You’re really something with that sword. Think you could cut these cuffs?”
Callindra took a deep breath before shaking her head. “No. I wouldn’t want to risk him when it’s not absolutely necessary. There’s a perfectly good anvil and tools here.”
Between the two of them, it was a matter of a few minutes to gather a hammer and chisel and break the manacles off his wrists. They then set about waking the other prisoners and repeating the process. Callindra searched the chained people for her brothers, nearly sobbing in relief when she found them safe and relatively unharmed.
“We need to find where they stashed our gear.” Cronos said, his voice tense. “Without my blades and armor I won’t be much use out there.”
“Nonsense.” Said Vilhylm, “You still have your magic. But I agree we should find our things and depart this place as swiftly as possible.”
They spread out along with the other prisoners and found to their relief that everyone’s possessions had been taken to a common storage room and tossed inside ostensibly for sorting after they had been given to the Taken. The dazed captives gathered their things and looked around blearily; many of them still fighting off the effects of the drugs.
Callindra explained about the Taken, how it had been talking and making deals with their former captors. Her brothers listened with serious expressions on their faces as they girded themselves with armor and weapons again.
“What do we do now?” One of the others asked giving Callindra a confused look.
“I’m not your mother.” She said tersely, “We will be getting the hells out of this cursed place as fast as possible. What you decide is your own business. There isn’t anything left here to provide evidence to a Magistrate even if there was such a thing around still.”
“This was the only place that still seemed to be untouched by the Wasting.” Holt said, pulling leather armor and a cloak of mottled browns and greens over his lanky frame. He picked up an exquisitely crafted bow and a pair of quivers along with a travel stained leather pack. “Now we can see why it was spared.”
“There are other places.” Cronos said, “Not many, but there are places where mortal kind still stands fast against the Abyss.”
“Are you going to one such place?” Holt asked, appearing to address Callindra instead of her brother. “If so, would you allow me to accompany you?”
“I owe you for distracting that Taken.” Callindra said with a toss of her head. Instead of getting her unevenly shorn hair out of her eyes, it instead fell further forward, obscuring half of her face and sticking out at awkward angles along the side of her head. “If you’re as good with that bow as you are with a thrown set of manacles then you’d be useful to have along.”
Cronos goggled at her and Vilhylm eyed Holt with mild suspicion clouding his dark eyes. Callindra didn’t seem to notice.
“Holt, these are my brothers Vilhylm and Cronos. He threw a chain at the Taken who was coming for us. If he hadn’t been there I doubt I would have been able to last more than another moment or two. He thinks quickly on his feet and made good use of his surroundings.” She extended a hand to Holt and he clasped her forearm with a warrior’s greeting.
“Thank you for your assistance Holt.” Vilhylm said with a considering look. Cronos grunted and adjusted the hilts of his weapons over his shoulders.
“We’re heading for Starvale.” Cronos said, “It’s a long and dangerous trip and we aren’t exactly the most pleasant or merry company.
“I would join you as well.” A strong baritone voice said. They turned to see a man with a shock of greenish hair cut in a mohawk. He had jutting tusks that suggested he had orcish blood in his heritage. “The Goddess spoke to me of travelers headed to the Vale of Stars. She told me their need would be dire. That they had lost their way when one of their number fell to the darkness.”
The three turned to look at him in unison, their eyes blazing.
“Which goddess?” Callindra asked, her voice all but breaking with hope.
“Who are you?” Cronos demanded, reaching for the hilts of his blades.
“Do not speak of Tryst.” Vilhylm said, his voice dark with rage they had rarely heard before. “Not even in metaphor. Not even indirectly. Not ever.”