The next three days were the worst days of Hana’s life. As a soldier, she had certainly stared death in the face before, but never like this. Always before she’d had a gun in her hand, ready to defy her fate with every fiber of her being. But sitting and waiting for the end to come like this was nothing that Hana had ever experienced before. And it was terrible.
For the first day, Hana was determined to preserve her strength so that she could take advantage as soon as an opportunity to escape presented itself. She sat quietly and meditated, using a trick that Arcten had taught her to focus her thoughts and control her passion. She had often used it before missions, and she had found it to be extremely helpful. In fact, she had done it before every mission after she’d learned it, except for the fateful mission to Trisitania when Arcten had been killed.
That thought flitted across Hana’s mind as she meditated, and she flicked it away angrily. She needed to have her mind calm and empty, if she was going to harness all of her energy and passion and direct it towards escaping.
But by the morning of the second day, she began to wonder if an opportunity to escape was even going to present itself. She had assumed that the guards would feed her, but she had not seen or heard a soul since she’d been tossed back into her cell after her interview with Ven Ron. It was beginning to look as if Ron didn’t have any interest in feeding someone who was going to be executed in a few days anyway.
By the end of the second day, Hana began to worry. Even though she was using her meditation trick to preserve her energy and focus her strength, if she didn’t get any food or water, she wouldn’t have any strength left to focus. But she had even more to worry about than lack of nourishment. She had suspected, when she initially came to in her cell, that she’d been drugged. Originally she’d imagined that whatever food or water she was given would be laced with the same drug, which would have been a complication, but one she was prepared to deal with. But then she began to suspect that they weren’t going to feed her, which was also a complication, but at least the effects of the drug they’d given her would wear off. But after two days, she felt even more groggy and disoriented than she had at first, leading her to suspect that they were putting the drug in the air she was breathing.
So, on the day of her execution, she was starving, dehydrated, and intoxicated. Hana was not a person to give up easily, but her situation was looking grimmer than she could have imagined at first. She really had been confident that she would be able to break out of the Great Hall before her scheduled execution drew near, but Ron had seemingly thought of everything. By the time the guards came to take her to her execution, she would be so weak that there would be no way she’d be able to fight her way out, even if her hands and feet were free.
Lack of food and water, not to mention being drugged, can do funny things to a person’s mind, so it was no surprise that when Hana’s cell door opened around noon on the third day and Xeliana Merane walked in the door, her first thought was that she was hallucinating. Her second thought was that Xeliana had betrayed her and was working for Ven Ron. Which was why she greeted Xeliana by screaming incoherently and thrashing around like a madwoman in an attempt to free herself from her chains.
“Wow!” Xeliana exclaimed, taken aback. “That’s a…disturbing way to greet someone. Have they broken you already?”
“I’ll break you!” Hana snarled. “How dare you turn against me like this? I thought you were my friend!”
“Turn against you?’ Xeliana said, her eyes widening in surprise. “What are you talking about? I’m here to rescue you!”
“Oh!” Hana exclaimed, calming down instantly. “Well, in that case, what are you waiting for?”
“For you to stop acting like a crazy person,” Xeliana replied, raising an eyebrow.
“Look, the last couple of days haven’t exactly been conducive to my sanity,” Hana said, half exasperated and half embarrassed. “Now, do you have the key for these chains, or not?” In response, Xeliana grinned and pulled a heavy metal key out of her pocket, which she used to unlock the shackles on Hana’s wrists and ankles.
“Thanks,” Hana said, rubbing her wrists. She tried to stand up, but immediately wobbled and fell back down onto the ground. Before she hit, Xeliana was by her side, helping her back up.
“They’ve been pumping diloxitin into the air in this cell since before you were put in here,” Xeliana said.
“I wondered if it was something like that,” Hana said with a frown, leaning on her friend.
“We shut it down a few minutes ago, but it’ll take a little while for the drug to get out of your system,” Xeliana said, helping Hana through the door. Outside, in the hall, were Vedregela, Velencias, and Shalaminas. At the sight of the four of them, despite how awful she felt, a broad grin spread across her face.
“You guys,” she said, her voice cracking with emotion. “What would I do without you?”
“Well, by my estimate,” Velencias said, glancing at his watch, “without us you’d be dead in three hours.”
“Then I’m glad you’re here,” Hana said, her smile getting even bigger. Velencias grinned back at her, and then, somewhat surprisingly for him, his face went red and he dropped his eyes. Hana raised an eyebrow at this, but before she could say anything, Xeliana spoke.
“Okay, as touching a reunion as this is, we’re all outlaws now, and we’re still in the dungeon of the Great Hall,” she said. “So how about we get out of here first, and catch up later?” There was a hearty round of agreement at this, and they set off to complete their escape.
To be continued…