A Little Knowledge is a Dangerous Thing: Part Six
"You know, the longer we stay here, the more I doubt that they're going to come get us." Damien slowly sat up and slung his legs around the side of the cot and rubbed his head.
"Same here. Do you know what time it is?"
He carefully stood up and looked out the window. "Well, the sun's just set but it's not dark yet so I'd say around eight to eight-thirty. They won't get us if they haven't come yet."
"How do you know?"
"Since when have you had hunches?"
"What kind of a question is that?"
"Never mind." She shook her head. "Have you been on missions before?"
He lowered his voice. "I've been on a few, but I've never been on one that failed. I asked my old partner about what happens a long time ago and he just said that one doesn't fail a mission in-" he stumbled. "Yeah. It just doesn't happen," he glanced out the door.
"What happened to your old partner?"
"Got promoted. They moved him from coding to internal intel."
"Oh. Does that happen a lot?"
"Yeah, actually. People get promoted, demoted, or they don't come back and the hierarchy changes slightly."
Some of the guards got up and began murmuring among themselves. Sierra walked up to the door to listen, then returned to Damien. "The guards are going to change soon for the night shift. We need to figure out how on Neopia we're going to get out of here before the day shift arrives," she whispered.
"Yeah. Let's see if there are any hidden panels or something. There's a reason Hanso gets out so easily." They each took a wall and felt each stone for a hidden button or door, or just a loose few stones they could squeeze through. After searching the walls and the floors, with no luck, they both sat down on the cot. Sierra stood up and looked out the window, the fading orange-red light barely illuminating the street above them. She wrapped her paws around the cold metal bars. One of the bars creaked a little, making her jump. She smiled as an idea came to her. She sat down again.
"What is it?" Damien asked.
"I have a plan," she whispered it into his ear and he smirked with her. He nodded and stood up, taking his ice pack with him. He pressed it along the ends of the metal rods and slowly unscrewed them, the ice helping the metal to contract a little.
Sierra loudly paced along the door, her footsteps covering up the creaking bars. She signalled for him to step down, then called out, "'Scuse me, guard, sir?"
One of them walked up to the door. "Whaddya want?"
She motioned to Damien who was clutching his head dramatically. "Can you get him another ice pack? He's still having problems with his head injury."
"Why should I? The otha guards gave 'im another one a coupla hours ago!"
"Well since we're here, and he's still injured, he's technically a liability until he's better. Besides, that one's melted."
"Wha'?" One of the other guards waved him over and murmured an explanation.
"Fine." He walked out of sight.
"Not the sharpest tack in the drawer," she said to Damien.
"Could be why he's on night shift," he offered. He went back to unscrewing the bars, more quickly this time. She motioned to him again as she spotted the guard returning with the other ice pack.
"Here." He gave her the ice pack.
"Thanks." She took it and returned the melted one, then placed it on Damien's head. When the guard walked away they immediately sprang up and placed the new ice pack on the bars. They turned them a little more, then they popped out of their sockets. They set them back in carefully so they wouldn't fall out. They wiped the condensation off onto their pants as they walked up the door, then watched as all the guards except one left their dungeon area. Damien reached into a hidden pocket in the inside of his coat.
He nodded in response.
"Hey!" she yelled.
"Whaddaya want now?" the guard asked irritably.
Damien pulled out a golden amulet and flicked it open. The guard stared at it, mesmerized. "We were never here, nor will you see or hear anything in the next ten minutes. Do not allow your colleagues enter this area during that time either. Do you understand?"
The guard nodded slowly, his expression blank, then turned and walked to the doorway.
"Go go go!" Sierra barked. Damien stuffed the amulet in his pocket. Sierra tore out the metal bars, letting them clink loudly on the floor. She jumped up, using the framework of the cot to help, and squeezed through the window. He did the same and she pulled him out. They sprinted away from dungeons.
"Which way... do we.. need... to go?" she panted.
Damien looked at the fading sunset ahead of them. "Neovia's south-west of the castle, so I'd say that way," he pointed to the far edge of the sunset to their left.
"Do we have... any money... for a rickshaw?"
"No, we'll have to... get there on foot."
"Let's go! It won't... be long until... they see we're gone."
After night fell and they couldn't navigate safely, they stopped in the woods. Petpets skittered in the trees, the rustling leaves breaking the silence as the rest of the world slept around them.
"I'll take the first watch," Damien announced.
"You need to get some sleep. You still have that head injury."
"I was able to sleep a little in the dungeons. You didn't sleep at all."
"Good point," she said, defeated. He sat against a tree while Sierra sat in the dried leaves. "Your paws are shaking."
He looked down at his trembling paws. "Yeah... The whole thing's catching up with me. The getting a head injury, breaking out of jail and using the amulet twice in one day, I mean."
"Better to have them shaking now than when you were using it."
"Good point." He paused. "You need to have the leaves over and around you like a blanket. Helps keep you warm."
Sierra followed his instructions, burying herself in the leaves. "How do you know all this? Solar time-telling and navigation, outdoor survival - I don't get the impression Sway members usually need to know that kind of stuff."
Damien shook his head. "No, usually we don't," he hesitated. "Once there was a time where I had to know that kind of stuff."
"Like you were part of a camping club or something?"
"Ha, I wish," he replied dryly. "It's... Something that I've been trying so hard to forget. But running from the dungeons reminded me of that, those few years that I hate to think about," he stared off into the distance.
"Years? What happened? Maybe talking to someone about it will make you feel better."
He gave her an unconvinced look.
"Well, talking to me about your sister made you feel better, right?"
He sighed. "Fine, but only if you tell me something."
"I'll tell you in the morning. By the way, I have your sister's files on Martha's desk; I got them from the vaults on Sunday night. I found a list of addresses in there."
"Thank you so much!" She thought she saw him flash a smile in the darkness.
"So, what happened?"
His smile faded. "For a while, after I was separated from her, I went through a series of owners that... I didn't stay with any of them for long. They would keep me for a few months, then they'd leave me at the pound, or they'd disappear and people would come and take me to the pound along with my other family members. Once... When I was thirteen, my owner left us and didn't come back for several months. We ran out of food after the first month, and the money tree as well as the soup kitchen were too far away. We were living between Meridell and Brightvale then. I spent a lot of time outside over the years, especially then. I had to..." He cringed at the memories. "I had to get food by... Not the most legal means to get by. I'm not proud of what I did, but it was either that or starve. The area I lived in was really poor and it wasn't uncommon."
"...You were a thief?!" She looked at him with wide, incredulous eyes.
"Some people did worse in that town. Luckily it didn't amount to that for me, we got picked up by authorities and taken to the pound since our owner wasn't coming back. Still..." He shook his head.
"I can't believe... I don't want to believe..."
"What, you think I'm a criminal? Is that it, since you have such a grudge against the Thieves Guild for breaking into your home?" he shot back. "Not all people steal just because they can and they can't be bothered to make money legally. Yeah, there are people out there like that, and I don't like those people either, but I'm not one of them. I regret what I did, surely that's enough for you!" He wrapped his arms around his knees and stared at his shoes.
"Oh, dear Fyora," Sierra whispered, trying to take in all that he said. She shook her head. "I was completely wrong... I'm so sorry. I really am."
"It wasn't always that bad. I've had some really nice owners. But just hopping from owner to owner several times a year, lab rat one day, comfortable the next. It's just a endless cycle and I can't tell who's actually going to be nice to me or who's just another one of them who's going to pick on me."
He wouldn't look at her. She got up, sat next to him and gave a hug. He looked at her for a second, surprised, then hugged her back. He quickly wiped an escaped tear from his face. She looked at him.
"Just a piece of grit," he replied.
"I really am sorry."
He nodded. "I am, too."
Sierra woke leaning against a tree to the sound of the birds singing in the trees as dawn peeked over the horizon. She sat up to find Damien already up and walking towards her with an apple and some blueberries in his paws.
"I found breakfast. There's a stream a little ways ahead of us, too."
"Thanks." She took the apple from him. She stood up and stretched. She watched the light dance around them as they streamed through the leaves of the trees towering above them as they walked to the murmuring brook. She splashed some cool water on her face, dried it with her sleeve and bit into her apple. "How long do you think it will take us to get back?"
"I don't know. We'll probably get back sometime today, though."
"Sounds good. Shall we get going?"
"Sure." They got up and began walking through the forest until they came along a wide, dirt road in the plains. Long grass grew around it and a few rickshaws carrying goods and other 'pets rolled noisily along it. Sierra tossed her apple core next to the rotten piece of fence next to them.
"This is the main route to the Haunted Woods, I think." He looked at the sun. "We need to go this way." He pointed, and they began their journey back to Neovia.
"We're almost there," Damien commented. They could barely see the dark, twisted branches of the Haunted Woods peeking over the horizon. They sat on a fallen log lying on the edge of forest line, the trees creating spotted patterns of light and shadows on their clothes and on the ground by their feet.
"You said you were going to tell me what you were going to say today in return for me telling you something," he said.
Sierra sighed nervously. "The thing is, my secrets have tended to be pretty dangerous recently. I don't mean to sound condescending at all, it's just the truth."
"What do you mean?"
"Like there's a possibility that I won't return home if they catch me in the mansion. I know they won't welcome us with open arms for failing, but they won't let me back at all."
I have no choice but to tell him now... She took a deep breath."Well, I guess I'd better cut to the chase. So you know how there are reports of a spy in the mansion?"
There's no going back now. "...The spy.... It's... It's me." She tensed, preparing to jump up and run yet hoping she wouldn't have to.
He only looked at her, his expression changing from shock and disbelief to anger. He narrowed his eyes at her. "You. I should have known! We failed the mission for a reason then, didn't we? I knew something was wrong the moment we set foot in those vaults."
"Yes, I set off the alarm. That's why they didn't handcuff us. The mission was a test of my loyalty. Why else would they send me somewhere I had spent over a year prior? They wanted to know, so I told them. I'm telling you now. It was all me. I was the one who attacked the agent and got her arrested, my injury was from being shot by her, not from a training accident." Her voice began shaking. "I was with the Seekers all day Monday, trying to find out what you, she, really stand for, that question I asked you that day on the battleground. I don't want to be part of her chess game, nor do I ever intend to." She paused. "There. I've told you everything there is to know."
"You traitor! Just when I thought I could trust you, you betray me, you betray the society-" he stood up, his paws balled into fists in anger. Sierra sprang up, her arms slightly raised impulsively.
"What did I ever do to you?" Her voice cracked unexpectedly. "I gave you genuine consolation and sympathy, help for finding your sister, and I took care of you when the boxes fell and injured you. I told you exactly what you wanted to know. Partners stand up for each other, and never let each other down. You know that, you've had one before. I understand that you may not want to help me. But..." She trailed off, and took a few steps back.
"Why should I trust you now?" he snapped.
"Because I've never done anything to make you not trust me!"
"But you did! You have been all along and I never knew! You've been feeding me, all of us, lies and half-truths to keep us in the dark so you carry out your sinister plan-"
"My sinister plan? Excuse me, finding out the truth about anything is in no way sinister whatsoever! You should look who's talking as the supporter of something far more sinister than either of us could ever imagine! By joining the Sway you've been voluntarily keeping yourself in the dark about the ultimate plan and the ulterior motives behind every seemingly harmless or effectless mission. She's altering history to make sure the outcome is favorable to her! You're caught up in being blind to what I've been doing, but you have no regard for how blind you been to what she's doing? I am doing you and the world a favor by shedding light on this!"
"You are betraying me by betraying the society! It's been the only certain thing I had in uncertain times, and you want to tear it apart?"
"Not everything is about you!"
"Look who's talking!" Fiery anger flashed in his icy eyes.
Sierra gaped at him, his response catching her by surprise. She stepped back, her heart racing, then turned around and bolted. Damien sprinted after her down the road.
To be continued...