There were no bars to the prison cell, but no prisoners dared set foot near the openings to their holding cells. The air was rich with magic, the stone floor worn to an unsettling smoothness where the spellweaving touched. There was no need for a guard because of this, but there were several on rotation at all times.
The Guild didn’t want its prisoners getting any clever ideas, as it had a reputation to uphold. No one ever escaped their dungeons.
Aranza sat in the corner, her back against the walls. Her arms were folded across her chest, her eyes fixed on a point in the distance as she considered what The Broker had said to her. She and Monty were alone in their cell, the guards particularly attentive to them.
“You’re quieter than usual,” Monty said. He did not break stride, continuing to pace the width of their small space as he did when he was deep in thought.
Aranza shrugged. “Not the first time I’ve been arrested,” she said. “Nothing special about this time either.”
Monty stopped, turning to face Aranza. He waited until she made eye contact. “Nothing special about this time? Nothing at all?”
“Nothing at all,” Aranza said flatly.
Footfalls echoed along the walls of the dungeon. Aranza perked up. The spellweaving silenced all sounds so the prisoners didn’t try to talk with one another. Two guards shoved someone through the spellweaving. He staggered, nearly fell, and straightened up to face the guards.
“Don’t need to be so rough, you know,” the man grumbled. He was tall and lanky, dressed in tattered, ancient purple robes. A long, scraggly beard framed his gaunt features. He offered a sheepish grin to Aranza and Monty.
“No respect for their elders,” he said. “I’m a respectable Sage, and this is what I get?”
Monty shook his head. “This is a Guild dungeon,” he replied. “You did something to end up here.”
The old man clicked his tongue a few times before turning his attention to Aranza. “He’s a ray of sunshine.”
“Grows on you with time,” Aranza said. “What’s your story, Sage?”
The old man smiled, scurrying to Aranza. He plopped down, legs crossed beneath him.
“You are in the company of none other than Alistair Starspeaker, Sage extraordinaire!” the Sage, Alistair, declared. “And who might you two be?”
“Aranza. My traveling pal over there is Monty,” Aranza said. “What landed you in here?”
Alistair leaned back, his face a mask of exaggerated shock. “I was simply minding my own business, passing through Valarmount. I stopped to sell some of my wealth-enriching potions.”
“Wealth-enriching potions?” Monty asked.
Alistair chuckled. “Perhaps their effectiveness varies from person to person,” he admitted. “Hardly a reason to throw an old man in a dungeon, wouldn’t you say? What’d you two do to end up here, anyway? Murder? Dabbling in the occult?”
“Hardly your concern,” Monty said.
Aranza shook her head and Monty quieted himself. “I’m sure you’ll have thoughts on it,” she said.
“I’ve been around,” Alistair said. “Heard quite a few things. You’re not about to surprise me.”
Aranza chuckled. “We tried to rob the Guild’s private vaults.”
“Did what now?” Alistair said, eyes wide. He broke into a roaring laughter that seemed to draw from deep within his very core. Fine lines of tears streamed down his cheeks.
“Needed that,” Alistair said. “But what did you really do?”
“Tried to rob the Guild’s private vaults,” Aranza replied.
Alistair blinked, then shook his head as if trying to banish a particularly troubling thought. “You weren’t joking, were you? Absolute lunatics, the both of you. Why’d you go and do a thing like that?”
Aranza shook her head. “We needed money,” she said. “That’s how it started.”
“Ended with you getting caught by the Guild’s elite guards, yeah? Hardly a story,” Alistair replied with a snort.
Aranza held up a finger. “Not that simple,” she said. “My life’s been strange. Found myself wondering what good I could be doing with it. These are dark times, after all.”
Alistair grinned. “Now that’s a line of thinking I can appreciate,” he said.
Two guards appeared suddenly, moving through the spellweaving as if it were nothing.
“On your feet, old man,” barked one of the guards.
Alistair shrugged. “Guess my number’s up,” he said with a wink. “Until we meet again, Aranza.” He leapt to his feet and brushed the dust off of his robes. As the guards walked him out of the cell, he nodded at Monty.
Silence settled back in and Monty resumed his pacing.
“Hopefully the Guild goes easy on that old fool,” Monty muttered. “Probably a fanatic of those strange herbs the magically-inclined enjoy so much.”
Aranza snorted. “Who knows,” she said. Her smile gave way to a stoic expression. “We should be worrying about ourselves, anyway.” She pointed to the spellweaving in the air.
A paladin stood at the edge of the cell, hands clasped behind her back. “On your feet, prisoners,” she snapped. “You are next to face the Council of Light’s judgement.”
Aranza got to her feet slowly, dusting herself off. “Come on, Mont,” she said. “Don’t want to keep them waiting.”
Monty huffed. “Fine, fine,” he snarled. “I don’t like this, though.”
The paladin clasped both Monty and Aranza’s hands behind their back with heavy manacles. She walked ahead of them, and something in their restraints urging them forward.
The dungeon corridor was carved out of the surrounding earth, thin veins of crystal visible along the stone walls. Persistent echoes from water dripping down echoed all around.
The paladin didn’t speak a word, walking several paces ahead.
“She seems pleasant,” Monty snarked.
“Very talkative,” Aranza replied.
The corridor ended abruptly. A circular platform was visible, standing slightly higher than the floor around it. The paladin stopped before stepping onto it, turned, and pointed for Monty and Aranza to step ahead of her. Tendrils of light poured forth from the manacles and pushed them forward onto the platform before settling into markings on the floor.
Monty and Aranza both tensed as a wave of pain hit them.
“You’ll find trying to speak or move will only cause you suffering, so it’s best to simply await your time before the Council,” the paladin said. It was a statement of fact, but there seemed to be a little more to her words. She stepped onto the platform without another word.
The platform shuddered, the stones groaning quietly as it began to move upwards. The stone ceiling above was dark obsidian, polished and sharp in places. Just as the platform raised its occupants to the point their heads nearly grazed the ceiling, it shifted and vanished, allowing them to pass through. The platform stopped, flush with the floor above.
The chamber was designed to draw focus to the towering thrones along its back, semi-circle wall. Each one was draped in banners declaring a name and class of training.
“Ever the punctual one,” rasped a voice from behind the trio.
“My lord, I have brought the prisoners the Council is to judge next as asked,” the paladin replied.
There were soft, calculated footfalls. Tattered purple robes briefly flashed into view before they shimmered and were made whole again.
“Told you I’d see you again soon,” Alistair said, smiling at Aranza. “I suppose I left out the details of why. Don’t worry. This next part will be a walk in the park compared to what your futures look like.”