When they heard the bell ringing, Wynefrede stopped rubbing her chain between two rocks on the floor and stared at Benedicta and Margarett, shackled next to her in the back corner of a small, stone room with a gate taking up most of one wall. “What now?”
“Maybe they’re starting some weird cult ceremony and are about to sacrifice us,” said Benedicta.
“I hope they’re not planning to throw us in the volcano,” said Margarett. In the bluish light cast by the gate, she looked ghostly pale.
“Maybe they’re just calling people to lunch,” said Wynefrede, but resumed rubbing her chain. One of the links looked weaker than the other. If she had enough time, she could wear it down.
The bell was silent for a few minutes, then began ringing again. This time, they could hear faint voices from the other side of the gate.
“Are they chanting something?” Wynefrede whispered.
They sat in silence, staring at the gate, as the singing got louder.
“Sound doesn’t carry through a gate, does it?” Margarett finally whispered.
“No,” said Benedicta. “I think the singing is coming from the next room. I bet that’s a two-sided gate. The commercial gate is like that. Ships went in from one side, and wagons from the other.”
Then the singing stop and they heard a loud male voice, but Wynefrede couldn’t quite make out what he was saying. She looked at Margarett and Benedicta and the two women shook their heads.
Then suddenly the gate flared and the two armed men who’d brought them up the mountain stepped through holding the woman who’d tried to escape to the pirate ship. Wynefrede briefly glimpsed a world of flames through the gate behind them.
“Tie her up with the others,” said one of the guards.
“Do we have an extra chain?” asked the other.
The woman jerked out of their hold and threw herself back through the gate.
The guards swore and chased after her.
“Torralei!” Benedicta called out, but the woman was gone.
“What was that?” asked Margarett. “What just happened?”
“I don’t know,” said Wynefrede. “But I don’t like it.”
“Did you see the flames through there?” asked Margarett. “Was that the volcano? Does the gate lead into the volcano?”
“I hope not,” said Wynefrede.
A few minutes later, the bell clanged again. With the third peal, Wynefrede heard a snap from the door they’d been brought in through. She dropped the chain she’d been working on and stared at the door. Next to her, Benedicta and Margarett tensed up.
When the door eased open and a familiar face peered through, they all let out a sign of relief.
“George!” Margarett pulled at her chains. “We’re here!”
“Shh!” George held a finger to his lips then slipped through the door, easing it almost all the way closed behind him. When he turned to face them, Wynefrede could see that he was holding a crowbar.
“They’ve all gathered out front for some kind of ritual,” George whispered. “I don’t know how long it’s going to take, so we have to hurry.”
“They’re on the other side of the gate,” said Wynefrede, nodding at the softly glowing portal.
“Damn it,” said George. “When I saw it, I thought we might all be able to escape that way.”
“I think it might lead to the volcano,” said Margarett.
“Maybe its programmable,” said George. “Did anyone see how it’s controlled?”
The three women all shook their heads.
“Okay, let’s get you guys out of here,” he said. “If we can’t go out through the gate, we’ll just have to find some other way out.”
He slapped the crowbar against his hand and looked at them thoughtfully.
“Are you going to brain us with that?” said Benedicta.
“What?” He looked down at the metal bar in his hands. “No. I’m just trying to figure out how to pry you out.” He stepped closer to where the chain was locked to a heavy bolt set into the stone wall and try to pry it loose. When it wouldn’t budge, Benedicta reached up and added her weight and the two of them were able to snap the chain loose. The three women got to their feet. They were still chained together, but at least they could move.
“We’ll do the rest of the chain later,” said George, and glanced back at the portal. “Any of you want to risk going through the gate?”
“No,” said Margarett. “I don’t.”
“Me, neither,” said Benedicta.
Wynefrede looked at the gate. It was tempting. The guards had come through, so the flames on the other side weren’t immediately deadly. Maybe there was a chance to get out that way.
“Let’s go then,” said George. “We have to hurry.”
Benedicta and Margarett turned to follow him out the door and Wynefrede reluctantly trailed after them. The chain around her ankles connecting her to the other women didn’t give her a choice.
And even if they were caught, she still had a get-out-of-jail-free card. The court date was coming up. She’d be free soon, no matter what happened to her.
The door led them to a narrow, dark hallway, and then outside, where a path back the way they’d come in.
But George led them off the path into the jungle.
“I found a trail,” he whispered to them as he held branches out of the way for them to pass. “It’s a little bit further on. Maybe an animal trail. It leads to a small stream. We can get some water, and follow it down off the mountain.”
It had been awkward to walk along the road with the chains. In the jungle, movement was even slower. They frequently had to stop to help each other over logs. But eventually they were far enough away that George thought it was safe to stop.
They found a sheltered area, surrounded by heavy shrubbery, and crouched down. George had collected a couple of stones along the way and now he placed the stones on the ground under a link of the chain connecting Benedicta and Margarett. Then he took off his shirt and placed the fabric over the chain.
Wynefrede caught Margarett starting at George’s chest.
“I don’t want to make noise,” he whispered. “In case they’re already looking for us.” Then, as the women held the chain in place, he pried the link apart with the crowbar.
He then separated Margarett and Wynefrede. The shackles themselves proved harder. The locks were sturdier, and he couldn’t get the right leverage without hurting the women.
“I don’t think I can get the shackles themselves off,” he said. Instead, he started working on the individual links of the chains connecting the shackles on their ankles and soon all three women could move freely again, albeit with heavy metal cuffs around their ankles. George put his shirt back on, even though it now had several rips in it.
“So where to next?” asked Benedicta. “Do we go down to the ocean, wait for another ship?”
“Or walk into the sea and drown?” added Wynefrede.
“I don’t care, as long as we’re moving away from the volcano,” said Margarett.
“Does anyone want me to bash their heads in?” George asked. “It will only hurt for a little bit, and you’ll be free.”
“Have you ever killed anyone that way before?” asked Margarett.
“I think I’ll take my chances with the jungle,” said Benedicta.
“How much longer do you have?” Margarett asked Wynefrede.
“I’m not sure,” she said. “I kind of lost track of time a little bit. Maybe tomorrow, or the next day. Unless I die before that, of course.”
They started walking again, following George down the mountain.
“Try to avoid hitting anything,” George told them when one of the shackles around Margarett’s ankle clinked against a stone. “They might be following us.”
The three women tried to step more carefully, walking single file behind one another, for about half an hour.
Then Margarett trailed behind a little bit, to walk next to Wynefrede.
“George looks a lot better with his shirt off than I thought he would,” she whispered. “Not that it matters, of course.”
“I know how you feel,” said Wynefrede. “There’s something about being on Krim that makes stuff like that feel more real.”
“Maybe it’s because you can’t just change your body whenever you want,” said Margarett. “You’re stuck with your avatar until you leave the world and get a different one.”
“That, and you can’t just turn your hormones off,” said Wynefrede.
They walked without speaking for a few more minutes and then they got to the stream that George told them about.
“It’s a little further than I remembered,” he confessed. “Maybe we came down a different way.” He knelt down to drink.
“What if there’s something in the water and we get sick?” Margarett said.
“Then we’ll die,” said Benedicta, kneeling down next to him. “Hopefully, it will be quick.”
“Or slow enough that you’ll be rescued long before,” added Wynefrede.