Penelope sat on the cot, waiting. In the empty cell there was nothing to do but wait. With each passing moment her anxiety grew. She took a deep breath and slowly exhaled, trying to calm her nerves, but it only helped for a moment. By now, Onyx must have checked the house and found nothing. She could even be on her way back at that very moment. When Onyx returned she would want answers and Penelope would need to provide them. She had to use this time to think.
When she finally heard the door open and footsteps approaching, her heart leapt and she braced herself. She expected to see the old woman, but instead saw just the young man alone.
When he stopped in front of her cell, their eyes met and she rose to her feet, but hung back, warily. Neither of them spoke as he fiddled with the keys and unlocked the door.
She was the one who broke the silence. "You didn't find it," she stated simply.
"No," he replied. "As you knew we wouldn't."
Penelope quickly tried to explain, hoping she could talk her way out of trouble. "I'll give the old woman whatever she wants, if I even have what she wants, but I can't say where I left my belongings. I give you my word I will go collect them and bring them here as long as I go alone and as long as I'm not followed."
"No," he said making Penelope frown. "Don't do that. Just get out of here. Go before Onyx comes looking for you herself."
Penelope was wary. "You're just letting me go? Why?"
Her mistrust was understandable, but misplaced. He didn't know how to explain to her why he wanted to keep her away from Onyx. The history was too long to go into now. He didn't know himself exactly what would happen if Onyx got what she was searching for, but he knew it couldn't be anything good. Nothing involving Onyx or the stones of Oryx ever brought anything good.
"Onyx is distracted by the battle going on in the village otherwise she would have come to question you about why you lied about the location of your belongings herself. I think it's best if she doesn't find what she's looking for and I'm sure it's best if she doesn't find you."
Penelope seemed to be thinking his words over and she seemed to be coming around, but she still seemed hesitant. Finally, she nodded and silently walked past Trevander and out of the cell. He started to follow, but was surprised when she turned away from the exit.
"The way out is this way," he motioned, but she did not respond. Instead she approached the next cell.
Rudicles sat up on his cot when he saw Penelope appear on the other side of the bars.
"Did you mean what you said about getting revenge on Villetes?" Penelope asked.
Rudicles walked towards her. "Did I mean what I said? I always mean what I say. Every word of it. Just like half of the men in this dungeon, I would wish for nothing more than to see him fall."
Penelope turned to Trevander, "Give me the keys." Once she unlocked and opened the door, she offered the keys to Rudicles. "If you know of any others that feel the same way, have them join you. The villagers will need all of the help they can get."
Penelope let Trevander lead the way out of the dungeon, up the narrow stairway, and down the stone hallways. The place seemed to be deserted, a sharp contrast to the chaos and busyness she had encountered when she was first brought to the fortress.
"The only guards I passed were outside as I was coming in," Trevander replied when Penelope remarked on the difference. "Villetes must have all of his men with him, fighting in the village."
"Is the fighting in the village very bad?" Penelope asked.
"It wasn't when I left, but it looked as if it was building up to be."
"What do you think will happen? Do you think the villagers can win?"
He seemed hesitant to answer. "I don't know."
Trevander had walked on a few steps before he realized Penelope had stopped following.
He turned back to her. "We should hurry. Just because I didn't see anyone on the way in doesn't mean some of Villetes' men aren't still about."
"I can't go," Penelope shook her head. "Not without the girls being held. They are still here, aren't they? Do you know where they're being kept?"
"I have an idea," he admitted hesitantly. "But if we find them, I don't know that we could get them out of here. I told the guards at the gate that Onyx sent me to fetch you. I doubt they would let me leave here with all of the girls that were brought in."
Penelope frowned and screwed up her mouth in thought. "I can't go back without them," she admitted. "My pack is with some of the villagers who left when the girls were being taken. They blame me for girls' capture, so I can't go back there without them. Besides, what will happen to them if the battle doesn't go in the villagers favor?" The thought made Penelope feel sick to her stomach. The girls had been brought here because Onyx was looking for her and the villagers, including her brother, were fighting now because the girls had been taken captive. She couldn't help feeling somehow responsible.
Trevander studied the changing expressions that played across her face. He sighed. It wouldn't be easy, maybe it wouldn't be possible, but she was right. They had to try. "This way," Trevander said, leading the way towards the throne room.
Penelope hung back as Trevander checked ahead, making sure the hallways were empty ahead of them and looking behind closed doors. At last they came to a large door that was barred shut. She helped him lift the heavy iron bar away and then stepped back as he opened the door.
He peeked inside and then turned back to her. "This is it."
When they entered the room they were met with the stares of many captive young women. The young women stood, sat, and kneeled in groups together. Some were comforting each other. Many seemed wary or frightened. A silence fell over the room as all eyes turned towards them, anxiously awaiting what would happen next.
Finally a girl with blonde hair stepped forward and spoke up. "What are they going to do with us?"
Once the first words were spoken a chorus of other voices chimed in. "Why are they keeping us here?" "What do they want?" "Please, let us go home."
"We're going to try to get you out of here," Trevander promised. "But there are guards at the gate and fighting in the village. It might not be safe for you to return home yet."
"What about our families?" another girl cried out.
"I know that some of them left the village and are hiding out in a safe place," Penelope admitted with hesitation. "I know where to go, but I don't know how to get there from here without going through the village."
"I can find it," the blonde girl spoke up. "I know all of the back trails and secret pathways around the village. If we can get out of here I can get us anywhere."
"We just have to find a way out of here without being stopped by the guards," Trevander said. He felt like he sounded more confident about that possibility than he felt.
Trevander led the way as before, checking that the hallways before them were clear before Penelope and other others followed. At the second intersection they reached, Trevander motioned them to stop. They held their breaths and waited as footsteps and voices receded into the distance. Once they were gone, the group continued on.
As they hurried towards the entrance, Trevander's mind was racing. They needed a definite plan to get past the guards. He considered their options. They could look for an alternate exit, but that could be a lot of time and energy wasted for nothing. The best thing to do would be to leave by the way they entered and find a way to deal with the guards, whether it be by diversion, deception, or force. He hoped he wouldn't have to resort to force as he was not the best fighter even when he was adequately armed.
When they arrived at the entryway, he was surprised to see the doors were left open. He hesitated a moment, motioning for the others to wait. The blonde girl picked up a decorative statue that was in the hallway, ready to use it as a weapon and stand her ground.
When he stepped outside Trevander found two guards slumped to the ground, either injured and unconscious or dead. He didn't take the time to determine which. He quickly turned back to where the girls were waiting and motioned for them to follow.
"Someone beat us here," he said to Penelope as they followed the others out of the fortress.
"I think I know who," Penelope remarked as she nodded towards a group of men in the distance, racing down the hill towards the village. At this distance it was difficult to make out the figures in any detail, but she thought one of them looked like he might be Rudicles.