A dark solemn sky frowned over Terrinore Isle. Rain fell in thick, gusting sheets upon the volcanic prison island. It splattered atop the massive stone tower-building and ran in rivers down carved troughs, overflowing wherever sharp angles occurred. It lashed walls thick enough to withstand canon fire and pooled around the prison’s perimeter where the ground formed shallow ditches. It threatened to flood the basements where off-duty guards played at cards and dice, hunched around pot-bellied iron stoves and wrapped in old woolen cloaks to combat the chill.
Terrinore Isle; where criminals went when they needed to disappear forever.
Near the top of the tower, more than one thousand feet above the gnashing sea, Roderick Rok sat in his cell. Two years had passed since the Baron whose life Roderick nearly stole had him sent to the Lornian prison, two long harrowing years of abuse and deprivation, existing in a cell that smelled of shit and stale sweat. Roderick could scarcely remember the feeling of the sun on his face, or the temptation of a good woman, or the taste of a proper hot meal. And yet as he listened to the stoic silence of the thick-walled stone building, he found occasion to smile. His lips split and yellowed teeth displayed in the dingy darkness. The voice inside his head had spoken.
The guard arrives shortly.
Most men would have thought themselves mad, hearing a voice with their mind instead of their ears while locked behind dehlar crossbars. Most men were not powerful telepaths like Roderick Rok. He had been the voice inside many a false madman’s mind, had planted memories and opinions inside the heads of the rich and wealthy, had carried on entire conversations without moving his tongue. He knew the difference between a mental message and the onset of madness. At least, he hoped he did.
Be ready. The deep, booming voice said.
A door at the end of the corridor creaked open and then closed. Keys jangled in the lock and the guard’s footsteps echoed down the hall.
Roderick prepared a single, potent thought as he leaned on the crossbars of his cell, arms hanging loosely through the grate. When he’d first arrived in the cell his arms had been too thickly muscled to fit through the spaces between the bars. Two years of near-starvation had left him a sickly shadow of his former self. But he would have his freedom. The guard came into sight, eyeing Roderick as he did each prisoner along the line, checking for signs of escape. Roderick closed his eyes and concentrated and pushed the thought he had prepared into the guard’s mind.
Come here, he commanded. The prison had wards in place to prevent prisoners using such magic, but two years was a long enough time to find a sliver of weakness in any shield. Roderick could feel the wards dragging at his ability but he powered onward.
The guard hesitated, but his hesitation made room in his mind for more thoughts to push in.
Unlock this cell, Roderick commanded, quickly, before it is too late! Unlock this cell and stand at attention. With a distant look of worry in his eyes, the guard complied.
Unlacing his arms from the crossbars, Roderick stepped out into the hall. He took the keys from the guard’s hand, and the knife from his broad belt, and cut the man’s throat in cold blood. While the guard wheezed on the floor in a growing pool of blood the other prisoners in cells along the corridor roared for freedom. Roderick ignored them all, hurrying to the thick dehlar-bound door the guard had entered through and sorting through the heavy ring until he found the key that fit the lock.
He swept down a torch lit spiraling staircase, his bare feet slapping on each cold granite step, his coarse linen clothing whispering with each movement. His men would be at a lower level than him, but which level, and which corridor on which level, was a mystery. Adrenaline lent wings to his feet and he flew down hallway after hallway, pausing only to peer into the deep shadows of certain cells and when he needed to find a key. Some prisoners wailed at him to let them go, while others – those who were truly broken – screamed for the guards. None would hear them; the next patrol was not due for nearly an hour.
Eventually Roderick found them all. Greyson Fawcett, the boy-faced murderer who had learned the art of telepathy from Rok himself. Winchell Hackney, the grizzled puppet master who could step inside a mark’s body and take control of their every movement. Smarteye Sam, a former thief who knew more of precious gems than any jeweler in Corone. Darrin Hornsby, the scarred enforcer who could strike fear in the hearts of veteran soldiers as if they were children. And lastly, found laughing in his cell as if he’d anticipated the rescue, the Lunatic of Serenti, Olin Rutland.
Find an external wall, boomed the voice in Roderick’s head. He spoke a few words and his men fell into step behind him. Like a centipede in six parts they trotted through the halls of Terrinore Isle. The difficult part had arrived, the part Roderick could not figure out. None of the keys he had taken from the guard would allow him to exit the prison, or even come close to it. How would getting to an external wall help them? Even with tools – of which they had none – it would take months if not years to burrow through the thick stone, and they had little more than fifteen minutes remaining before the next patrol would find them. And yet, he had trusted the voice thus far, and thus far it had not led him astray. Roderick and his men wound through the prison, keeping as straight a line as the criss-crossing corridors allowed, until at last he heard the rain.
It was only a faint fluttering, but through the thick external walls he could make out the sound of water lashing the building’s side, like a warden with a whip laying into a prisoner.
Stand back! The voice roared.
“Back!” Roderick ordered, flattening himself against the interior wall of the hallway, “brace yourselves here.” His men obeyed without question.
Although the storm raged fiercely, with strident winds lashing the rain about, there had been no thunder and no lightning. Suddenly a cloud swelled and a single thick, forked bolt plummeted from the heavens. It lanced downward, golden electric, and struck the prison’s wall with the accuracy of an arrow launched from a Ranger’s bow. Thunder rolled in response to the lightning, but it could not match the riotous sound of rending stone.
Roderick covered his ears and closed his eyes, barely daring to believe what he had just seen. A wall that could withstand cannon fire, laid to waste like a layer of dry kindling. Slowly Roderick opened his eyes and approached the breach. It was taller than a man and twice as wide, large enough for his men to pass through one at a time. Was there a portal waiting for them outside, he wondered, or one of those Alerian airships? Surely the winds would not allow it to hover so close…
Rain buffeted Roderick’s face as he looked out and down through the hole. The sight made him dizzy and sick all at once. There was no portal shimmering in the air, nor any manner of zeppelin waiting to whisk them away. There was nothing but a terrifying drop, more than a thousand feet straight down to the frothy, rock-studded salt water below.
Jump. The voice said.
“Are you mad?” Roderick roared into the storm. His men exchanged uneasy glances. They could not hear the voice; they knew not whom he was speaking to, nor what he planned to do.
You must all jump. The next guard approaches. The voice thundered.
Roderick grimaced and braced his arms on the rough stonework either side of the breach. He looked back at his men. Before today, he would have sworn they trusted him with their lives. But did they truly? Unless the voice could pluck him out of the air, he would not live long enough to tell.
The door at the end of the hall opened, and a guard carrying a lantern stepped halfway through before noticing the six prisoners and the gaping hole in the wall. The lantern hit the stone floor as the guard turned and fled to raise the alarm. Olin cackled and made as if to give chase, but Hackney’s firm hand on his shoulder stayed the Lunatic.
To Haide with all of this, and with me as well! Roderick thought. For once he had to give up control.
“Follow me to freedom!” He shouted with a confidence he did not feel. And then he tucked his elbows and leaped into the storm.
Olin followed first with the fearlessness of insanity. Sam went next, his round face contorted in terror. Hackney and Hornsby nearly got stuck in the opening trying to jump third. Fawcett brought up the rear, always the most prudent of the group.
Far below rain churned the surface of the sea, but no bodies struck the water nor the rocks protruding like teeth. The ocean would go hungry that day; the six criminals had vanished as soon as they cleared the walls of Terrinore Isle.