Baird sank to his knees, still clutching the bars, and hit his head against them. The pain took its time in subsiding. Baird breathed through it, letting his mind clear, and when it passed he got to work. First he tried to examine the lock only to find it absent. Nothing physical held the cage closed. Next he examined his belt. Most of his provisions were still intact. He had two different corrosives and tried them both. Neither effected the bars, dripping away as harmlessly as water. The second did a number on the stone floor, sizzling with activity, but he had nowhere near enough to burn a gap he’d fit through. He was well and truly trapped, now in a cell with at least quarter of the floor covered in flesh eating potions.
Baird slumped against the back of the cage with a despondent sigh as he looked to the skull of his cellmate.
“Am I arrogant?” he asked it.
The skull did not respond. For now, he was taking that as a good thing.
Baird rested his head against the bars. His list of ideas had been reduced to sitting there waiting to starve to death. This genius could yet be thwarted by being tortured to death. He’d have to wait and see. He had planned for many eventualities but being taken alive hadn’t even occurred to him. The great Baird of Glen Feen would never get captured, his own words from a few years ago rang in his head. He cringed and despair saw his weakness and pounced.
It hit him like a horse at full gallop, a cold hollowness in his gut where hope and pride once lived. It was all he could do not to cry out. He wouldn’t debase himself in front of that sadist or his son. He was more than that. He was-
Baird bolted upright. His son! His son who, with hindsight, seemed a far cry from his father. His son who, against direct orders, spared Baird’s life.
“Tamin?” he called as softly as he could. The last thing he wanted was the elder to hear. “Tamin, can you hear me?”
There was a shuffle from across the room and he felt a faint spark of hope. He glanced at the stairs and risked another whisper, eliciting another shuffle.
“I’m not supposed to talk to you,” came back Tamin’s small voice.
“You were supposed to kill me though,” Baird replied. “It would appear you have an issue with authority. I can relate to that.”
“Please,” Tamin said desperately. “He’ll punish me.”
“He’s going to kill me.”
There was silence for a moment before the young sorcerer’s face appeared from between two rows of cages.
“If you’re so afraid of him then why not kill me?” Baird asked.
Tamin rested his back against a cage and drew his knees up to his chest. “Sometimes they leave.”
“I’m not the first you’ve let go?”
He shook his head. Things began to make sense. Only in recent years had deflated wannabe heroes returned. Before that, nothing. By the gods.
“You’re not like him,” Baird ventured.
“I just…” Tamin trailed off, staring at the ground. “I don’t know why we have to kill. I don’t know why we need the storms.”
A thrill went through Baird. “The woman on the lower level… Your mother?”
Tamin nodded. “She wanted to stop the storms.” He wiped a tear away with one of the long sleeves of his cloak.
“He killed her?”
“He’ll kill me too if I help you.” The young man’s eyes met Baird’s. They were stormy grey. Tormented.
“I’ll kill him first,” he replied, pulling himself to his feet. “I have to. Do you have any idea what these storms have done to us?”
Tamin’s jaw trembled as he shook his head.
“Let me go,” Baird said. “Help me and I’ll show you what we’ve had to endure. Take you to the Glen and show you what we’ve lived like.”
Tamin’s head lifted, eyes wide. “You’d free me?”
Baird blinked, speechless. Then internally cursed himself. It hadn’t even occurred to him that the young man was a prisoner. Parents don’t need bars to hold their children captive. Tamin was one of the people he was trying to protect. He pulled one of his gauntlets off and pressed himself against the bars, threading his arm through and holding his hand out to Tamin.
“Come to me.”
He looked startled a moment but slowly rose to his feet. He approached Baird’s cage with caution and took an age to raise his hand, quivering like a leaf. Finally their fingers met and Baird stared into his eyes again. There was something there, inexplicable yet powerful. He felt for this man. Something made Baird desperate to protect him. His resolve hardened.
“I swear to you, Tamin, get me out of here and I will stop these storms. We will both leave here together as free men. I swear by the ancestors of the Glen, I will make this true.”
Tamin trembled, water welling in his eyes. Baird took his hand, smooth and warm, and pulled him close, eliciting a gasp. Baird threaded his fingers through Tamin’s and reached his other arm through the bars and around his back, holding Tamin against the cage, against himself. Baird towered over him. He could see the small man’s face clearly, slim, and sharp.
“I swear to you,” Baird whispered, drawing his face closer to Tamin’s. “Help me, and I will see you free or die trying.”
Tamin’s voice caught so he simply nodded. Baird’s hope ignited to a flame. Pulled by Baird’s grip, the small man suddenly jerked closer, pressed fully against him, one hand resting against Baird’s breastplate. The bars along that side of the cage were gone. Vanished, as though they never were. He turned his face back to the young sorcerer. He’d done that without lifting a finger or uttering a word. Baird was free. He squeezed the sorcerer’s hand before letting go and gently cupping the side of Tamin’s face.
“Thank you,” he said. Tamin winced and Baird lifted the stray lock of sable hair away from his cheek. It had been concealing a deep purple bruise, peppered with cuts. It wasn’t fresh. “I’m going to kill him and then you’re coming with me.”
Tamin nodded and said nothing. Baird forced himself to let go of the man and retrieve his sword from the cell floor. He was free again and it felt good. He did however have more pressing matters to attend than hugs, such as killing the sorcerer that hundreds of adventurers before him had fallen to. Great. No problem. He stepped out of the cage and Tamin backed away, still skittish. He did a quick check over his arsenal as he thought up a plan.
“I need him thinking nothing is wrong,” Baird said as he worked his hand back into his gauntlet. “I need you to go down there just as you normally would.”
“I’ve never been up here before,” Tamin said, wringing his fingers together.
“Never?” Baird asked, lifting his head to peer at him. Tamin nodded. “What made you come up today?”
“You.” Baird’s eyebrows rose and Tamin’s mouth flapped open and closed. “I- I mean, you’re different. You’re special.”
The adventurer straightened, smirking. “Am I now?”
“I mean… You can do it.”
This gave him pause. “What do you mean?”
Tamin pointed to one of the sigils on Baird’s chest. “Oblear the Devourer.”
“Yes,” Baird said, picking it up. It was the solid silver stick figure with a shield over the chest. “She led the ancient crusades against the Mages of the West.”
Tamin took another step back and put a hand to his heart, where the sigil had pressed against him. “I could feel it. Burning. If it touches his flesh, he’ll die.”
Baird’s heart fluttered. I knew I could do this.
“He won’t let you get close,” Tamin said rapidly.
“Not without a little misdirection,” Baird said, letting the pendant fall back to his breastplate with a clink.
“I… I thought I just had to let you out. You want me to help kill my own father?” Tamin asked.
“Yes,” Baird replied, blunt and absolute. “He hurts you, keeps you prisoner. He killed your mother.” He held Tamin’s eyes. “And my father.”
“Please Tamin,” Baird said. He hesitated. The next words were difficult. Agonising, even. “I need you.”
Wordless, Tamin nodded.