Coldheart and Iron: Part 16

READ FROM THE BEGINNING


I woke up in a dark room. I had a few confused moments of wondering who had let the lamps burn out before the throbbing of my head started up. As the steady beat of pain pounded against my temple, everything came back. I fought down a surge of panic and settled for quickly standing up. In my haste, I didn’t realize that my hands were still tied behind my back so I pitched forward onto my face.

I lay there for a few minutes, doing my best to let my pain fade a bit while I ignored the bubbling sound my nose made. I didn’t think it was broken, but the sharp pain of landing on it had cleared my head. After the pain of my nose and head faded enough to ignore, I took stock of my surroundings. The room was completely dark, but not entirely soundproof. Every so often, I could hear the shuffle of feet passing by two of the walls. The fact that I could hear it and the rough, cool feeling of stone against my knees told me they’d taken my watch and my insulated gear.

My feet were free, so I rolled onto my back, tucked my legs to my chest, and slipped my hands around to my front. The zipties had been replaced by nylon rope, but it was tied too tight for me to shift my hands at all, so it was still awkward to push myself to my feet. I cautiously stood all the way up and, after encountering no ceiling, I lifted my hands above my head. I couldn’t reach whatever ceiling there was, even standing on my toes, so I shifted my attention to the walls. Careful shuffling footsteps brought me to the wall. I put my hands on the wall and used my feet to measure my room.

I was in a rather large room, some twenty by thirty feet, but there didn’t seem to be anything else in here with me. At least nothing against the walls. As I made my way back to the corner, I stopped every few steps to listen for the shuffling sounds from earlier. Once I’d located them, I stood in the corner and listened to them walk around me. After a few hundred heartbeats, I sat down. There was no way out. I couldn’t see any glimmers of light and I hadn’t felt any seems in the wall as I went, so I was either in a pit or they’d somehow managed to conceal the door from me.

“Hello?” my voice croaked into the empty room, but nothing happened. No one answered and the steps outside didn’t change.

Just as I was settling down to try to sleep off the throbbing pain that covered my head, I heard a few rapid, light steps beside the wall. A moment later, part of the wall near me silently swung open. I was behind the door, so I was saved the worst of it, but I still couldn’t see anything for a few seconds. Just as my eyes started to adjust, the door started to close.

“Hey!” I started coughing as my voice caught. I needed a drink badly, but my attempt had attracted the attention of whoever had opened the door. A tall figure stepped into the room, pulled out a battery lantern, turned it on, and shut the door. I blinked in the harsh fluorescent light, trying to see who it was.

“Here.” I recognized Camille’s voice as the figure held out a water bottle. I took it gratefully, but couldn’t get it open with my hands tied like they were. Camille twisted the cap off, and I downed the water quickly.

“You’re the best.” I dropped the flimsy plastic bottle and leaned back. “Anything you can do about these?” I held up my hands.

“Sure.” Camille reached into her pocket and pulled out a switchblade. “I’m surprised you weren’t able to conceal anything when they stripped you. This is the shoddiest operation I’ve ever seen.” Camille popped the blade out and started cutting through the nylon strands, careful not to hurt my hands. “They didn’t even strip us naked. Half the bandits seemed like they were afraid to touch a woman, so I was able to hide all of my knives easily.”

“Excuse me for my failures.” I watched as Camille slipped the knife between my wrists and cut the last strands without so much as marking me. “I fell unconscious before we were unloaded and I just woke up about half an hour ago.”

“Shit, Marshal, you’re going soft.” She smiled as she pulled me to my feet. “And that mouth on you! No wonder they punched you in the head.”

I shot her a smile that became a grimace when it cause a flare of pain. “Tell me they didn’t ruin my good looks, at least.”

Camille made a show of looking me over in the lantern light before shaking her head. “Nope. Can’t ruin what you didn’t have.” She winked and resisted the urge to smile again.

“Anyway, Mar. You’ve been out for about six hours, then, since that’s how long we’ve been here.” She held up a hand. “I can answer any questions you’ve got, but not right now. Trevor will be here in a couple of minutes and he’s our ticket out of here.”

“Trevor?” I stood to the side as Camille switched places with me.

“Yeah. He’s the leader of the little squad the bandits made from the laborers, so he’s got a few keys, including the one to this room. I heard he was planning to stop by after dinner, so I stole a key and made my way over here as fast as I could.” Camille grabbed a few of the longer strands of nylon and started arranging them on my newly freed wrists.

“Then I’m going to pretend I’m still tied up so he can come inside to beat on me, at which point you’ll jump him and take his keys?”

“More or less.”

“Neat.”

Camille rolled her eyes and picked up the lantern. “Just do what I tell you and we’ll all get out of here alive.”

“Always.” I took a deep breath and went back to my spot on the floor. The entire room was just as empty as I thought and the only signs of the door was that it was a slightly different color. There was no handle, no visible hinges, not even the tiniest gap. Whoever had made the door had been a master. After another moment’s thought, I turned to Camille. “There’s no way to open this door from the inside.”

“Yeah. All the cells or storage rooms are like that.” Camille hunkered down and switched off the lamp.

“What do we do if he doesn’t show up?”

“Wait for someone else to. I should have a few hours before they notice I’m missing.”

I was silent for a few moments, listening for the sounds of people walking around the room. “Thanks, Camille.”

“You’re welcome, Mar.”

I closed my eyes, trying to focus on listening. I lost track of my heartbeats, but eventually a louder set of footsteps appeared and stopped near where the door should be. A moment later, the door opened and I was almost blinded through my eyelids. I opened my eyes the tiniest amount, trying to catch a glimpse of what was going on.

“Hello, Captain Marshall.” Trevor’s voice made it all too easier to see the sneer on his face. “I guess we get to have our time together today, after all.”

I blinked a bit, trying to pretend I couldn’t see. “Fuck off, asshole.” I took a look out the door and saw two more laborers standing just outside, watching Trevor as he stood a few feet away from me. I glanced over at Camille and cleared my throat twice before turning my attention back to Trevor. “I’m not into guys so either beat me up or leave me alone. Whatever you do, just cut it out with this obnoxious flirting.”

When Trevor growled and stepped forward, Camille silently rose to her feet and pointed from me to Trevor. “I got it.” Camille nodded. “You’re intimidating. Just do whatever you came here to do and get out. I’ve got better things to do that talk to you.”

“Like think about your girlfriend?” I stopped shuffling around and looked him in the eye. He smiled like he’d just won the lottery. “Don’t you worry about her, Captain Shithead. I’ll make sure she sees what horrible shape you’re in after I’m-”

I leapt to my feet from my position on the floor, closed the gap with Trevor, and punched him in the stomach with everything I had. As he doubled over and I grabbed the back of his head to bash his face into my knee, I saw Camille slip around the door. I heard a satisfying krack as I broke his nose and he fell bonelessly to the floor. Trevor groaned and squirmed, trying to clutch his face without actually touching it. I watched him for a moment before kicking him in the nuts for good measure.

By the time I turned my attention back to Camille and the two laborers outside, Camille was already wiping her knives on their jackets. “Grab that one.” She pointed to the one a couple of steps outside the door and then hauled the other dead laborer inside. I leaned out the door and admired the concrete structure around us for a moment before grabbing the other laborer and dragging him inside. Thankfully, neither had bled much, so the floor were still mostly clean. I grabbed the shirt off my laborer and wiped up the floor as best as I could, and then ducked back inside the room.

“Now what?” I dumped my dead laborer next to the other one.

“I take his keys, stab him in the kidney, and we leave.” I watched as Camille did just that and then grabbed the lantern from where she left it. Trevor twitched a little bit, but he’d stopped by the time Camille closed the door behind us. I absently touched my nose, checking to see if it was broken, as I followed Camille down the hallway.

Camille was in her element. She moved almost silently and took out four bandits as we walked down the hallways, killing them so quickly they didn’t have time to do more than register our presence before they died. I did my best to keep up with her between scuffles and stayed out of her way during them. My head was still pounding and I thought longingly about ibuprofen. There had been some in the medical supplies we’d recovered before the blizzard settled in, but Camille and I had higher priorities.

I followed her back to where her cell had been located, and she started going from door to door, checking for more Wayfinders. All of the rooms right around hers were empty, but one at the end of the hall contained Lucas. The bruise on his face had grown darker, but he seemed in better shape than I was. His zip-ties had been replaced with a set of loose manacles on his wrists and ankles. Enough to discourage him from attempting an escape, but not so much that it would restrict him from working.

He grinned up at us as Camille tested keys on his manacles. “You’re a sight for sore eyes. Except you, Marsh. From the sight of you, it looks like you’ve got sore eyes.” He chuckled as Camille found the right key and yanked him to his feet.

I rolled my eyes at Lucas as he started rubbing his wrists. “You’re one to talk. Your face is worse than anything I’ve gotten today, and you’re stuck with it constantly.” I smirked, careful not to move the side of my face that was still throbbing. I glanced around Lucas’ cell while Camille loosely wrapped the manacles around her left arm. It was a small room, about ten feet long and six feet wide with a small pallet that Lucas had been sitting on, a bucket, and a couple rings bolted to the concrete walls.

“How’d you get out, Camille?” Lucas stretched and started cracking his knuckles. “I didn’t manage to conceal anything on me and the bastards didn’t come close enough for me to take them out.”

“I stole my guard’s keys while he was busy watching me strip to be searched.” Camille shrugged. “I just wrapped the keys and my knives in my shirt, stood around in my underwear for a couple of minutes, and got dressed again. Like I told Mar, these young guys seem pretty timid when it comes to anything but pointing guns at people.”

“At least we have that going for us.” I shook my head slowly. “We need to cover more ground. Can we afford to split up?”

“Negative, Captain.” Lucas shook his head. “They have us spread out. We’re going to need to check every door and, if we start killing people now, we’re going to get found out before we’re ready. Better to stick together, hide, and find everyone first.”

I sighed and Camille chuckled. “It’s a bit too late for that, Lukey-boy.” Camille poked Lucas in the ribs and cracked her knuckles. “So far I’ve killed seven people today and four of them are just sitting in hallways.”

“Alright. Speed and murder it is.” Lucas held out a hand. “Give me half the keys and I’ll go check the eastern wing. You guys can handle the western one.”

“Just how big is this place?” I looked from Lucas to Camille. “Did someone give you guys a map? How do you know it so well?”

“Millie struck gold during processing. She asked to see plans for the base, to offer some advice on fortifying it.” Lucas wrapped the keys Camille gave him in the blanket from his pallet and tucked them into his pants. “As a result, we’re going to have to face some meaty checkpoints, but we all got a good look at the blueprints of what this place is supposed to be. It’ll put some of our fortified depots to shame if there’s enough of them alive to finish it when we’re done here. See you guys at the main entrance in thirty.”

Lucas started down the hallway, soundlessly making his way down the hallway. I watched him go for a moment before turning my attention back to Camille who was trying to get the manacles to sit comfortably on her arm. “Did you happen to know where they stuck our things?” She shook her head. “How about where to get some guns?”

Finally satisfied, she started down the hallway after Lucas. “Come on, Mar. Who do you take me for? Of course I know where the guns are!”

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