They turned, running down the stone corridor. Lyahn was trying in vain to remember how to get around the place.
“Now, if we were just at cell block C2, we need to turn right here,” she muttered, turning sharply, feeling the tight grip of her sister against one hand as she trailed about two steps behind.
“And if we weren’t at C2,” panted Ana, “what then?”
“Then we look for a landmark in this maze of twisty little passages, all alike,” said Lyahn, looking worried by that thought as she glanced back over her shoulder to see her sister, looking flushed and red, her hair plastered by sweat to her face. “Oh, come on, you’re not that out of shape, sis.”
“Unlike you,” puffed Ana, propping herself up by putting her hands against her knees, bending forward to ease the tightness in her chest, “I don’t spend my days running around, getting captured and fighting my way out. Also, my corset is slightly too loose.”
Lyahn winced, then grabbed her hand, pulling her along at the same, exacting, demanding pace, squinting at the fine set of scratches in the wall at the intersection.
Ana looked up and down the corridor, trying to slow her breathing, the frantic pace providing a momentary respite. But the dull thudding in her ears wasn’t receding, and she squinted down the corridor.
“Lyahn, we have something behind us,” said Ana urgently, her voice remaining remarkably calm and collected for the momentary shock.
The older woman jumped, looking back down the corridor that her sister pointed, then turned the corner, pulling Ana behind her.
Behind them, the dull, repetitive thudding sharpened into a line of heavy boots, thudding against the floor, and a group of guards thundered past. Barely out of sight down one of the side corridors, Ana stifled a squeak as they sent groups down all three branches, but they turned back after only a few steps, calling back to say they had not seen anything.
They thundered back out of sight again, and this time, Lyahn knew exactly what to do, waiting for the group to have moved on further, before slipping out of the semi-darkness of the unlit passage.
“What are you doing?” Ana hissed.
“They follow radial patterns, working from the middle to the edges, in emergency sweeps. They’re going to the edge, and doubtless, they’ll lead us straight to an exit,” replied Lyahn quietly, speaking quickly and succinctly.
“And how do we get out?”
“That’s the easy bit,” smiled Lyahn grimly.
They slowly worked their way out, hearing the clamour of emergency bells behind them. Twice, they had to slide into side corridors or secret sections of walling to avoid another group of guards marching past.
At no visible sign to Ana, they stopped, Lyahn kneeling and pressing her hands flat to the stone floor.
“We’re between two groups, and I think they’re both heading in our direction,” she whispered, staring into middle distance, feeling the dull thudding tingling against her hands.
“How is that possible?”
“I don’t know,” muttered Lyahn, on her feet now, looking up and down the corridor anxiously. “I just don’t know.”
“The Grand Master said that what you knew was wrong, now.”
“And yet I’ve seen nothing that suggests it. All the guards are following exactly the same paths they do normally.”
“Or they were,” Ana mumbled. “Look, Lyahn, you need to get us out of here. What are our chances of fighting out way out?”
“I don’t think I could subdue an entire guardsquad myself. I could probably manage half?”
“And we have four times that number headed straight towards us. What other direction can we go?”
“The walls won’t move fast enough. The nearest intersection is still ahead of us, but if the guards are there already, then we’re really in trouble. There’s only one way out of this.”
Lyahn hung like a peculiar chandelier from the ceiling, eagle-spread between light-fittings. Ana lay atop her, holding tightly to her sister’s lanky frame like some sort of queer parasite. Together, they were calm and quiet, even despite the finagling they had experienced trying to get to their current position.
Below them, at last, the pair of guardsquads had come into view, and Lyahn took a sharp breath, seeing the two large squads of thirty guards – when last she knew, a guardsquad was only a dozen guards at most, and here, five times that number were gathered in two groups.
“We saw nothing. The Child of Harmony is gone,” announced the Fore of one group to the other.
“We have seen nothing either. We have heard footsteps and faint voices, but nothing else.”
“I still feel that going in spirals is a bad idea,” muttered one of the guards, and behind Lyahn, Ana stiffened.
“I agree, Fourth Lance, that spirals is an unusual idea, but a bad one? No. The Grand Master has decreed it so.”
Lyahn almost spat then. The Grand Master has decreed it so. It filled her with a sense of revulsion from the fanatical cult that he had built around him. Religion had been a matter of contention over thousands of years, and despite the changing nature of the religions they had held in Kihedra, they had broadly held the same values and morals. And invariably, they were never cults. Never, ever did they preach to the masses, trying to convert people, fighting for the minds of the masses. Lyahn herself was a member of the Order of Fire, but rarely, if ever, went to any of the prayer meetings, or anything else religious, for that matter. She wanted a god to believe in, though, and anything, really, would do.