The grand story of our escape from one of the most secluded, dangerous and inescapable prisons in the world began the day that I punched Llyr Sharpedge in the face.
Now, let me make things perfectly clear right off the bat. I did not punch Llyr Sharpedge because he had a stupid name. He did have a stupid name, that much was certainly true, but that wasn’t the main reason I did it. Or the secondary reason. Or tertiary even. Whatever grudge Mr & Mrs Sharpedge had against vowels played no part in my decision to deck their son across the face. None at all
In actual fact, I punched Llyr Sharpedge, not because of his stupid name, but because he tried to stab me in the gut. And he tried to stab me in the gut because I accidentally snuck up on him. And I accidentally snuck up on him because I didn’t know anyone else was in the prison kitchen at the time. Which was fair because nobody else should’ve been in the prison kitchen at the time, because there was a sign on the door of said kitchen stating no-one else could enter on pain of death. And that was not an idle threat, trust me.
But maybe I should rewind a little.
My name is Mavis Farrow and I’m currently in prison for a crime that I proooobably didn’t commit.
While our grand story might’ve begun that night in the kitchen, my own personal story began 16 years ago when I was born kicking and screaming to a pair of young parents in the back of a cattle stall. From what I heard from stories after the fact, the two were runaways, deeply in love but unable to marry, who had eloped together rather than face the disapproval that the woman’s out-of-wedlock pregnancy would bring from their families.
Sounds romantic, huh? Well, what was somewhat less romantic was my mother dying about 10 minutes after my birth due to various medical complications. And my father promptly abandoning me on the steps of a church, rather than attempt to raise the ‘thing that had murdered his love’.
Because, y’know, it’s good to start things off on a happy note.
As a result I ended up spending the first 13 or so years of my life being raised along numerous other orphans, abandonees and general outcasts in a tiny village deep within the heart of Dawnshire. It was a quiet life in a lot of ways, with little in the way of expectations or personal trials. Pleasant, calm, uneventful and boring as fuck.
Seriously, you hear people venerating the peaceful country life all the time, but I’ve lived it and trust me when I say I don’t see what all the fuss is about. There’s a lot of peace and quiet, yeah, but that’s usually because literally nothing interesting is happening. And on the few days that something does happen, it’s usually a massive disaster that you have to work overtime for to make sure your entire village doesn’t starve/flood/get eaten by giant bears.
The point is, when I was very young I quickly realised that that sort of life really wasn’t for me. So, when I was 14, I hitched a ride with a bard friend of one of the older kids at the orphanage and, after about a year on the road, travelled across the seas to Merestolis, the City of Towers.
Now, Merestolis, there’s a fun place. Not only was it one of the largest cities I’d ever seen, but it more than lived up to the stories whispered about it. Hundreds of enormous coloured towers reached into the sky like great grasping fingers, the streets below bustling with people like a surging river. I saw more different people in a single day there than I had total in all my 13 years of living in the orphanage. The entire City was alive with activity, every minute of the day and hour of the night. It was amazing.
There were parties, festivals, drinking, markets, mock duels in the streets, more drinking, real duels in the streets, bards warbling their newest melodies from the windows, said bards being chased out of town by their various ‘critics’, even more drinking, weird architecture, friendly faces, somehow even more drinking, hey why is the floor spinning, I think I’m going to throw up, look out for that- splat.
Long story short, I spent about two weeks in Merestolis before waking up one morning in chains (and with a tremendous hangover) on an skyship on the way to Red Scorpion Prison, having been arrested and sentenced for ‘disturbing the peace’. (What bloody peace?!)
Of course not long after arriving, I learnt that Red Scorpion Prison was not exactly a normal prison, nor were the people who ran it members of ‘normal law enforcement’, but I can save that particular explanation until later.
After all, I did basically just explain my entire life story to tell you how I got here.
Now, to explain how I actually got into the prison kitchen, that’s a much simpler story. One that started about an hour before the fateful punch, when, for whatever reason, I just could not get to sleep.
“You know,” I said with a sigh. “For whatever reason, I just cannot get to sleep right now.”
My words, muttered as they were, still echoed clearly through the cramped prison cell that had been my ‘home’ for the last 8 months. Moments later came the sound of rustling blankets and a bleary-looking mop of blonde hair poked out from underneath.
“And what?” Danika Moran, one of my three cellmates and technically my best friend at this hellhole prison, grumbled. “You decided to reinvent insomnia as a group activity? Some of us have work tomorrow.”
I gave Danika a side-eye look. “We live in a slave labour camp disguised as a prison. We’ve all got work tomorrow.”
“An excellent point.” Danika agreed, slumping back down. “So let us go back to sleep.”
“Knock it off, you two.” Zilpha said in a low voice. “I’m not above gagging you both if I have to.”
Zilpha was the only fully grown adult in our four-(wo)man cell and, by extension, the mature voice of reason. She’d been the one to fish me out when I first arrived at the prison, all full of baby-bird awkwardness and general blind terror, and took me under her wing, steering me away from the various darker criminal factions and giving me a place to call my own
She was also the defacto leader of our little cell and the one who kept us safe from other prison factions moving in on us, by virtue of a ‘relationship’ she had with one of the head guards, Maestro. Nobody ever knew the exact nature of this ‘relationship’, since Zilpha remained constantly tight-lipped about it and we certainly weren’t going to ask Maestro, but considering it involved them disappearing off alone for long periods of time into various soundproofed rooms, it didn’t exactly require much guesswork.
Me and Danika both grumbled our reluctant assent at Zilpha’s scolding and curled up back into our thin itchy blankets. The resulted silence lasted for about five minutes before I broke it again.
“Seriously, is nobody else having trouble sleeping tonight?”
Danika let out a wordless growl of rage and rolled over in what was presumably an attempt to smother me with her pillow. However Zilpha held out a hand to stop her.
“What is it, Mavis?” She asked patiently, propping herself up onto her elbow and looking me in the eyes. “What’s bothering you?”
“I don’t know, I just can’t seem to get to sleep for some reason.” I said, rubbing the side of my head. “It’s really weird, but I keep thinking I hear this low gurgling sound every time I try to nod off.”
“Maybe it’s your tiny brain?” Danika suggested. “Attempting to drip out of your ears.”
I snorted. “Don’t be ridiculous, Danika. That can’t happen.” I paused. “Can it?”
I should note at this point that I am not well versed in biology. I was raised in an underfunded orphanage with a dozen other screaming kids in the middle of bumfuck-nowhere. Quite frankly, the only reason I can even read is because the priest who raised me had the patience of a goddamn saint.
“It can’t.” Zilpha reassured me. She frowned and placed a hand to my forehead. “You’re not feverish. Are you feeling sick at all? The last thing we need right now is to give Doctor Wreke a reason to look at you.”
Goosebumps ran down my back at the thought of having to go to the prison infirmary. Wreke, the prison’s ‘doctor’ of dubious origins, was more likely to try and dissect me than help me. And that was assuming he was sober enough to try it. There was a reason that most medical treatment among inmates here was done through the handful of prisoners with actual medical training, even if it was just a little.
“I’m not feeling ill or anything,” I said, pushing her hand away. “I just keep hearing this strange rumbling sound, like-“
The cringeworthy sound echoed through the cell, seemingly timed perfectly within my silence, and causing all three of us to turn our heads towards the source. Specifically, the fourth bed in our cell.
“…Yeah. Like that.”
Zilpha’s hand ran down her face. “Tansy.”
I heard a squeak from the fourth person in our cell. Beneath her blankets, I could hear a quiet voice stutter. “I’m sorry. I’ll try and keep quiet.”
Tansy was the youngest in our group both in terms of age (being several years younger than me) and experience, having only arrived at the prison a couple of months ago. Zilpha, ever the mother hen, had once again shown her natural urge to nurture small and terrified things and had promptly adopted her into our group, replacing Suy, who had died a few months previous in somewhat suspicious circumstances.
Tansy was a sweet kid, quiet and helpful and never complaining, no matter what the workload. I had no idea what she’d done to end up here, but I suspect she didn’t deserve it. She almost reminded me of one of my less annoying younger siblings, back at the shelter. Still, I had no idea why she’d be responsible for all that noise, unless-
Another gurgle ripped through the air and it all became clear.
“Ohhh.” I said, putting two and two together. “Your group missed the work quota again, didn’t it Tansy?”
“I’m sorry!” Tansy squeaked, curling up tighter in a ball in an attempt to muffle the sound of her stomach gurgling.
See, one of the many many rules of Red Scorpion Prison was that those who did not work, did not eat. Or, to be more precise, those who did not work enough, did not get to eat whatever meagre rations the guards felt like sparing that day. Tansy’s group clearly hadn’t met their quota for the day, thus they went without food.
Which, y’know, didn’t really make much sense. After all, if a group is struggling to deliver something on time, then starving them to make them weak isn’t exactly going to help them work faster. But hey, I guess that’s why I don’t get to run a sadistic death prison.
“Seriously, Tans?” Danika sighed. “Why didn’t you tell us? We’d have saved some of our dinner for you.”
“I-I didn’t want to be a bother.” Tansy said. “Everyone already gets way too little and I didn’t want to…” She trailed off and bowed her head.
While Danika and Zilpha moved to comfort the young girl, I rolled over and back to sleep, completely unmoved.
The facts were, I wasn’t a bleeding heart like Zilpha or my goody-two-shoes older brother back at the orphanage. This was a tough world and there was only room to look out for number one. I wasn’t going to stick my neck out to help someone else and end up on the chopping board with them. The people who did that didn’t tend to last long. Red Scorpion Prison was just that kind of place.
Nope, I was going to do nothing but lie back, go to sleep and prepare my body for another hard day’s work. Tansy could go hang for all I cared, no matter how much her silent crying tugged at my heartstrings- Which, er, it didn’t! Because my heartstrings were super tough and untuggable, like iron gristle or something. Nope, no sir, not heart-tugging here.
No. Absolutely not. I was not going out there and risking my life for the sake of some little kid who reminded me of my siblings. I was not that kind of girl. My will was like iron, my heart cold as ice, my soul like a tough piece of steel that pushes people away before they get too close and-
Oh god fucking damn it.
“You know what?” I said, suddenly sitting up on my mattress. “I’m feeling hungry. I’m going to go down to the kitchens for a late night snack.”
Danika raised her eyebrow at me. “Seriously?”
“Yeah, I don’t know what it is.” I said, scrambling to my feet and reaching under my mattress. “But all of a sudden, I just feel really hungry and have a burning need to steal something. For my own personal gain, of course.”
“Of course.” Zilpha said, visibly amused. “What a fortuitous coincidence.”
“Yup, that’s me.” I agreed, searching around beneath the mattress with a slight frown. “Completely spontaneous and selfish and doing things entirely according to my own personal wants and needs. Now where the hell is my mask?”
“Here.” Zilpha said, tossing something white at me. “One of the guards came close to finding it during inspection.”
“Neat.” I caught the crumpled fabric and tied my messy black hair into a ponytail, before pulling my mask over it.
My mask wasn’t something exactly amazingly complicated. Or even an actual mask at all. In fact, it was made from an old pillowcase that I’d managed to sneak out of the laundry on night. The pillowcase in question was worn and torn, but it didn’t take much to strategically cut it into a bandana-like shape that would cover most of the top half of my head and hair and leave me at the very least ‘difficult’ to recognise.
It wasn’t exactly the most foolproof of disguises, but it would disguise me enough that there wouldn’t be guards storming the cell if I was spotted. I didn’t think they’d ever actually catch me if I didn’t want them to, but I also didn’t want anything to come back to my cellmates if things went wrong.
“Y-You don’t have to go out there for me, Mavis.” Tansy’s quiet voice interrupted me as I was attempting to properly line-up the poorly cut eyeholes with my actual eyes. “I’m fine. Trust me, I’ll manage.”
Ugh. God damn that girl. Every word she spoke felt like it was tailor-made by some unforgiving deity to specifically punch through my tough gritty demeanour and play my conscience like a fiddle.
“Don’t worry about it, Tansy.” I lied. “I’m feeling hungry myself. We could all use a little extra grub, I reckon.”
Tansy looked up at my eyes which, in all seriousness, should not be allowed to get that large and watery. “But what if you get caught?”
“Hah!” I let out a bark of laughter. “I’d like to see them try.” I stepped back and posed dramatically. “As if they could ever catch the spectacular Ghost of Red Scorpion Prison!”
A pillow bounced off my head.
“Just go already, ya showboater, and let us sleep in peace!”
Right. Just for that, I was going to fish Danika’s portion out of the garbage can.
Once I was satisfied that my mask was on properly, I grabbed the small satchel bag that Zilpha had thrown me, checked to make sure it was empty, fastened it around my shoulders and, with a jaunty wave, stepped through the door.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. Why would the guards of Red Scorpion Prison leave the cell door open? Isn’t that rather dangerous? Well, the simple answer is that they didn’t. The door was shut and bolted and several inches of thick, strong wood and metal.
But that wasn’t going to stop me. Because when I say I went through the door, I meant I went through the door.
See, I have a somewhat special talent. A Gift, if you will- with a capital G for emphasis. It’s a very rare thing, one in a million, but people in this world are sometimes born with spectacular powers that reach beyond normal comprehension. These Gifts come in many different shapes and sizes, powerful or weak, useful or useless, helpful or just plain dangerous, but they’re almost always something to watch out for.
Take my Gift, for example. Where normal people have to use door handles and actual exits like schmucks, I can avoid all that and walk straight through people and objects like they aren’t even there. I can walk through walls, sink into the ground, shrug off sword blows like they aren’t even hitting me (since they usually aren’t) and generally do a lot of cool stuff with it. According to a really drunk scholar I met during my time in Merestolis, the technical scientific term for it is ‘phasing’, which was way better than my chosen terminology of ‘going through stuff.’
Of course, it wasn’t all upsides, but I thought it was pretty damn cool.
Anyway, after phasing my head through the door to make sure there were no guards around- (I was pretty sure I would be safe. They only tended to send a patrol every two hours or so)- I crept quietly out into the corridor outside our cell and into the wall opposite.
I generally liked travelling through this wall whenever I had to sneak about at night. Not only did I know exactly where it went, saving me from potentially getting lost crawling around inside the prison, but it had a small air gap running directly through the centre, in which I had stored a thin candle, along with some flint to light it.
I picked up the candle, lit the wick and began to travel through the narrow gap in the wall, keeping my body constantly half-phased to avoid getting crushed. The wall was thick enough that any passing guards should be unable to see me or the glow of the candle flame, but I made sure to be careful nonetheless. There were a few holes here and there that could tip people off and, considering rumours were already spreading about mysterious lights and noises coming from inside the prison walls, I’d clearly been spotted at least once or twice.
I travelled carefully through the wall for what must’ve been a good 10-15 minutes, only stopping once to let two loudly chatting guards pass by. Before long, however, I reached the notch on the inside of the wall that I had drawn to indicate that the kitchen was nearby.
Extinguishing the candle and placing it gently on the ground, I phased my head slowly outside the wall to see if there were any guards nearby. There was the low gleam of a lantern hanging on a nearby wall but, as I craned my head left and right, I couldn’t see nor hear any peep of a guard making their way down the kitchen corridor.
Unfortunately, the same couldn’t be said for inside the kitchen. I winced as I saw the kitchen door hanging slightly ajar, a thin beam of flicking light shining through the gap and indicating that someone was there. As I listened carefully, I could even hear the sound of clunking crockery and quiet footsteps as someone was clearly at work inside.
Biting my lip, I withdrew back inside the wall thinking over my options. Obviously if someone was already inside I couldn’t just walk in and steal stuff. If one of the prison staff got assaulted, there’d be a full on manhunt in the prison for the culprit, one with whips and chains and torture. And, as much as I thought my cellmates would keep quiet, I couldn’t guarantee that the guards wouldn’t find something pointing to my involvement. And either way, I wouldn’t be able to go out again without half the prison actively searching for me.
However, I also didn’t want to go home empty-handed. Frankly, even at full rations it didn’t feel like we got enough to eat and I knew our cell block had a long day of Ashrock mining tomorrow.
So this left me with limited options. I could wait and see if whoever was currently inside the kitchen would eventually leave and then sneak in, but there was no guarantee they actually would leave. Some of these cooks worked pretty late into the night preparing food for the Warden and the guards- and sometimes for us prisoners, if we were lucky.
My second option was to sneak inside and hope that whoever was working had their back to the door long enough for me to grab some food and get out without being caught. I quickly discarded that idea though. Far too risky.
My final option was arguably the best. By picking my spot carefully, I could skip the kitchen entirely and phase directly into the store cupboard, where the prison’s monthly supplies of food were stored. It would mean that our late night snack would be cold, but it was the only option that would get us something while also minimising the risk of being caught.
Sighing, I picked the candle back up and moved slightly further down the corridor to where I recalled the store cupboard was positioned. I took a moment to stretch my arms and limber up. There was a reason I didn’t normally skip straight to the store cupboard and that reason was because reaching it would be problematic at best.
See my phasing, as awesome as it was, wasn’t perfect. It had one fairly noticeable flaw. Specifically that I couldn’t 100% turn all of my body intangible when I was using. I had no idea why, but one section of my body- usually about the size of my big toe- had to remain solid and tangible at all times while I was using my Gift.
Fortunately, it didn’t matter which part of my body was kept tangible, so normally this wasn’t a problem. After all, most walls are thin enough that I could easily reach one end before running out of room at the other. However if I was attempting to phase through, say, a boulder larger than a house, chances are that I would end up being completely stuck before I could even reach halfway.
The point was, the kitchen store room wasn’t exactly unreachable from where I was standing, but it was going to require a bit of a stretch.
I took one last look down the corridor in search of any guards, before walking smoothly and quickly into the wall opposite. Naturally, I had only made it a foot or two into the wall, before I felt the telltale sign of my toe getting snagged on the outside of the wall I had just phased into and refusing to budge no matter what. I knew from experience that I could pull as hard as I wanted on that toe and all it would cause was a lot of pain and tears.
(Seriously, if you think a stubbed toe is bad, you should feel the pain of running straight into a brick wall, all centred directly on one toe. Take it from someone who’s tried it. It is not pleasant.)
Once I felt that I’d reached my limit, I began to lower my body, stretching my back leg out as far as it would go, while simultaneously stretching forward my hand. It was difficult balancing carefully on one leg, while stretching two parts of your body away from each other as far as they would go, but I’d had plenty of practise. God only knew what it would look like to any guards passing by- a single toe sticking out of a stone wall- but I was perfectly at balance here, even if the candle in my hand was currently positioned a little too close to my chest for comfort
After a few seconds of blind flailing in the dark, my fingers finally found purchase on the other side of the wall and I was able to pull myself forward once more. Not for the first time, I thanked the Gods that I was tall for my age, even if I was also a bit on the gangly side.
The kitchen storeroom was thankfully completely empty, much like I had suspected. Through the dim light of the candle, I could see see boxes and boxes of foodstuff, with great cuts of meat dangling from hooks in the ceiling. Spices and dried foods were stacked neatly on the meagre shelves and I felt my mouth start to salivate in response.
But I knew better than to start snacking now. I had to get this food back to my cell first before I could chow down. And that meant being clever with what I stole.
I began rifling through the boxes in search of something to steal, phasing my hand inside and pulling out the contents to inspect them. I couldn’t take anything that needed cooking, obviously, and anything especially rare would be noticed if it went missing. Ideally what I needed was something filling, but common enough that no-one would notice if a bit of it went missing.
Fortunately, after a few minutes, I struck the jackpot with a half-opened crate full of dried crackers. Grinning, I reached inside and stuffed handfuls of them inside my satchel, relishing in the quiet crunch they made in my fists.
That was when I heard a loud clatter from outside.
I froze. In all the excitement, I had almost completely forgotten about the mystery visitor in the kitchen. If they came in here and saw me now…
Fortunately, it seemed my fears were unwarranted. Whoever was outside clearly didn’t seem to have any interest in approaching the store cupboard and instead continued on with whatever they had been doing previously.
Still, my curiosity had been raised now. What were they doing in the kitchen anyway? I couldn’t smell any food cooking, nor feel the heat that would usually accompany the ovens being switched on. Neither could I hear the sound of vegetables being chopped or any other indications of someone preparing food. Had a guard had the same idea as me and snuck in to steal some food? I would’ve thought they’d have known better, after the Vice Warden threw the last kitchen thief to the Beast.
Either way, a small peek outside the door wouldn’t hurt anyone, right?
Slowly, I opened the storeroom door a tiny crack, not enough to alert anyone to my presence, but just enough that I could peer outside into the kitchen. There were several shelves filled with stacked pots and pans between me and the mysterious intruder but, after a moment of adjustment, I managed to just about make out a shape near the other end of the room.
It wasn’t a guard. Or a prison cook. Not unless their uniform had changed to include a full breastplate and an ill-fitting helmet, all over prisoners garb.
Fortunately, the intruder currently had his back to me, as he rifled through dozens of papers in his hands. Nearby, several drawers and chests lay open, ransacked in the stranger’s search for something.
“No, not here,” I heard him mutter to himself, as he set aside another pile of notes. “Not here either. It has to be somewhere…”
It was at this point that I made rather a stupid error.
See, a sensible person might’ve thought that the best course of action at this point would be for me to simply avoid the strange intruder, finish grabbing the supplies I needed and then leave the way I came without the man being any wiser. It was the safe and sensible option.
However, while people have used many words to describe me, ‘sensible’ has never really been one of them. Neither has ‘is known for good impulse control’. And I was reaaaally curious to see what this guy was looking for.
So it was that I quietly crept out of my hiding place, phasing through the door as I went, and silently tiptoed towards the mystery man. It may have been somewhat cocky of me, but I was confident enough in my stealth skills that I figured I’d be able to make it without being heard. I had spent enough time avoiding the guards after all and being able to phase through any obstacle in my path certainly helped.
Besides, it wasn’t like I was planning anything too nefarious. I just wanted to get close enough to see what was on those papers this guy was so frantically rifling through. Then I’d sneak back to the store room, grab the food and head back to my cell with no-one being the wiser that I was even there.
And at first it even seemed to be working. I slipped past shelves and stacks of pots and pans like they weren’t even there. The soft tread of my shoes were so quiet that even a mouse would struggle to hear them. There was no way this man would hear my approach unless he had some kind of super listening ability.
Unfortunately, he didn’t need a super listening ability to sense my approach. All he needed was basic common sense and a poorly placed- or incredibly well placed depending on your point of view- metal cooking pot, the surface of which was shiny enough to give him an excellent view of the dirty-white-clad teen attempting to sneak up on him.
Knowing what I later came to know about Llyr Sharpedge, I suspect his initial reaction to my presence was more one of instinct and genuine shock than anything premeditated. I’m pretty sure he hadn’t been paying proper attention to the mirror surface until I was practically on top of him. And suddenly turning to see a ghostly masked figure literally right behind you might be enough to cause anyone to do something drastic in response.
Of course, that was no comfort to me at the time, when the mystery man I had been sneaking towards suddenly turned on a dime, pulled a full-sized sword out of literally nowhere and ran me through with it like a skewer.
I stumbled back in shock, feeling the ice-cold metal pierce my stomach. My surprised gasp caught in my throat as I stared down at the weapon now buried deep inside my gut. Across from me, I could see the man’s eyes- blue as the clear sky- widen in shock and horror as he realised his error, but this was little comfort to me now. I felt my hands tremble and my mouth dry up as I raised a shaking arm up to the sword that had run me through and-
What’s that? You don’t buy for a second that I was actually stabbed? You think I just phased through the blade completely unharmed?
Geez, I bet you’re a lot of fun at parties.
But yes, in this case you’d be right. I had instinctually phased through the blade as it spun towards me. Didn’t mean it wasn’t still kind of a shock to be suddenly run through by a complete stranger. It was very mentally traumatising, enough to really leave an impact on my psyche and- You’re not buying this for a second, are you?
Alright, fine, I was perfectly okay. And I could tell that my mystery assailant was beginning to realise that too, when the shock and horror in his eyes slowly turned to puzzlement as he found absolutely no resistance while moving his sword ‘through’ my body.
However, I was not willing to let an assault like that go unchallenged, especially while I still had the element of surprise. So I balled up my fist, braced my legs and swung forward in a textbook right hook towards the man’s face. The man seemed to see the blow coming but, naive as he was, assumed that his helmet would dampen the impact.
So I imagine he was fairly surprised when my fist travelled straight through the helmet and smacked him firmly across the jaw.
And that was how I ended up punching Llyr Sharpedge in the face, in the kitchen, right after he had tried to stab me in the gut.
Oh. Right. You probably want to know the rest of the story now.