But first he would have to get out of this cell.
It wasn’t much of a cell, made out of wood, and bamboo shoots, like everything else in the Dryad city. The real problem for escape would be the ring around his neck. It gave off a gentle glow, revealing the magic held deep within its substance. He had witnessed other prisoners, outside the cells, slaving away in the village. One had tried to raise his fist against one of the guards. He instantly crumbled to the ground, a shower of sparks flying from the ring encircling his neck. That would be the challenge laid in front of Messener.
He looked at the cages to either side of him. One housed a human archer, whom he recognized from the attack with the Morden. The other side was also a human, female. He didn’t remember seeing her, but her clothing clearly showed she was also a mercenary. He was glad to see Valdis hadn’t killed everyone he had betrayed, although he wondered if the dryads wouldn’t.
“You’re finally awake,” whispered the soft, dark tinted voice from the cell beside him. “I was wondering if you’d recover.”
Recover? Messener thought to himself…Whatever did she mean? Yes, he’d been unconscious for quite some time, but he felt in perfect health. “Yes,” he replied, “I’m feeling quite well now.” He decided to play along, try to gather information from her, rather than to contradict her and risk alienating her.
“Well,” she responded, “welcome to the machine…”
He thought this an odd comment, until he took a closer look at his surroundings. The village was set high up in the trees, this was the dryad way. He had heard of these cities, and even seen them from the ground, but never been up inside of one before. The vines that held the platforms and buildings together, and bound to the branches and trunks of the trees, were massive. Some were larger than his wrist. And between the platforms ran a system of trolleys. He had assumed they moved with use of magic, guiding the pulleys back and forth along the vine cables that suspended them. He now realized that it was purely a mechanical system. When one wanted a ride to a different platform, they would board the trolley, and pull a lever. The lever would not actually cause the cart to be operated, but instead sent a signal to a small platform, right below the boarding platform of the trolley. On that platform was a prisoner, who would receive a small shock from his neck ring, informing him to start moving the levers and gears that would send the trolley on its way. Messener assumed that if the prisoner failed to react quickly enough, his neck ring would increase its “power of suggestion.” This, however, was only a small part of what she was referring to as “The Machine.”
All around him there was buzzing and whirring as various devices made the whole city work. The whole place was abuzz with the sounds of mechanical magic. Prisoners, wearing slave rings around their necks, toiled hard to keep all the devices running. Messener had no idea what he was looking at, but he was in awe.
“Impressive, isn’t it?” asked the woman. “By the way, my name is…”
“HUMAN! ELF! What is it you find so interesting to talk about?” came a demanding shout from outside the cage. Messener brought his gaze down from the machines climbing high up the tree trunks, and came face-to-face with a dryad. From the look of her dress she seemed to be someone fairly important, though not too high up the food chain. He assessed her, correctly, as being the warden of the jail quarters. “Seems I’m to release you, but don’t get any ideas, you won’t be running free from here. You’re still a prisoner, and your slave ring will stay on! We have a task for you…”
After she had spoken this, she opened the door to his cell. Were these doors really necessary? he thought to himself. Surely the slave rings kept everyone in check. In fact, he wouldn’t be surprised if they prevented the wearer from even leaving the borders of the city.
“Here are some weapons for you, mercenary,” the warden snarled in contempt. She clearly did not want to be equipping him with tools similar to those that he used to cut down her sisters. Her orders must come from above. “They’re not of the same caliber as your previous implements, but we can’t exactly let you have such power, you are our prisoner. Besides, those weapons had to be destroyed, to allow the spirits of those you ruthlessly murdered to reach peace and return to the earth.”
Messener took the weapons without speaking. They were very low-quality. He had a feeling that if he tried to hit something with the dagger it would snap off at the hilt. He slipped into the leather rags, which the jailer considered to be armor, and slid the weapon into his belt. It wouldn’t matter much anyway, he was a spell caster. He had little use for physical weapons. The only reason he previously carried his staff was for the added magical strength that emanated from it. He knew he wouldn’t be given powerful spells, and as he opened the spell book laid out on the floor in front of him, he was not surprised to see a very simple lightning bolt spell, and a weak cure spell. Still, it would be enough for now. He knew how to protect himself. He knew his powers, knew his limitations, knew how to read his enemies’ skill levels, and knew when to run.
“Now,” she continued, “you – a hired mercenary – will go and destroy those that you aided. You will kill your friends, you will destroy their towers, and you will cause them to lose their hold in our country. And if not…well, you will die.”
She gave him this information with a smile on her face. He especially noticed the joy she got from telling him he would kill his friends. Friends, he laughed to himself. The Morden were not his friends. As for killing them, he could think of nothing he’d rather do…