The year 364, the seventh month. (The year 1883 Barley by the Old
The breaking-cell corridor was chaos. Men dashed to and fro – not merely guards but also Seekers, who were famed among the world's prison workers for their calm under crisis. Some of the guards, especially quick-witted, were ushering Seekers into breaking cells. Other guards dashed in the direction of the gunfire that was continuing in the hallway that held the Seekers' cells. Barrett Boyd took a swift glance around the breaking-cell corridor, but no Seekers stood within reach . . . and in any case, it was far more important that he seek safety for the man running at his heels. Barrett jerked open the door of the closest breaking cell.
The cell was filled with blood.
Much of it lay in a pool near the door. It glistened under the electric lamp-light that had replaced the light from the old coal-furnace. Or so Barrett had been told; he had no memory of that transition, only an occasional, far-off image of flickering flames behind the glass blocks at the ends of the breaking cells. The light in this breaking cell seemed stark by comparison. It fell upon the blood, red and moist, and upon the prisoner who lay facedown upon it, the top of his head blown off.
There was more blood on the wall – too far away to come from the prisoner. Barrett wondered whether it belonged to a guard or to a Seeker.
"This way!" Clifford Crofford had made no attempt to follow Barrett into the breaking cell. He had already reached the crossroads of the inner dungeon, where the breaking-cell corridor met the narrow cross-passage leading to the outer dungeon . . . and before that, to the hallway where the Seekers' living cells continued to endure gunfire.
Barrett slammed the breaking-cell door shut and raced to join Clifford. The breaking-cell corridor was nearly empty now, efficiently cleared of its Seekers by the guards who were trained to protect the torturers who questioned prisoners in the Eternal Dungeon. Though not all of the Seekers were torturers now, Barrett reminded himself as he reached Clifford. He was feeling within himself the usual conflict of duties. Should he protect the Seekers, or should he join in killing the men who had stained their hands with prisoners' blood?
As he reached Clifford, Barrett took a quick look down the narrow cross-passage to the outer dungeon. All that he could see were the Codifier's four guards, armed with revolvers, clustered in front of the exit door. The Codifier's guards were evidently intent on keeping the dungeon's invaders from reaching the outer dungeon where both male and female laborers worked, and where a few children of senior-ranked guards lived. Barrett thought fleetingly of Mr. Sobel, married with four young children. Then he wondered what had happened to the Codifier. And then Barrett and Clifford were past the most dangerous point of their journey and had reached the shadowy portion of the breaking-cell corridor that led to the crematorium.
The crematorium was a death trap; Barrett knew that without having to think about it. It held three entrances, but two of those entrances were kept locked at this time of night. The third – the great doors that Clifford and Barrett were approaching, of ceremonial height – could not be locked. Anyone who entered the crematorium would be easy prey for the shooters.
Seemingly Clifford had reached the same conclusion, for he grabbed the handle of the nearest door in the corridor. It opened to his touch, although these rooms were supposed to be kept locked at all times, even – or rather, especially – when they were in use.
Barrett followed Clifford's hasty retreat into the room . . . and then his eyes were blinded.
He shielded his face at once with his arm, but the light had been too bright; his eyes could see nothing. His arm was bare; he had been in the guardroom when the crisis began, naked as a newborn babe, just emerged from the showers in the guards' washroom. All he had on now was a pair of his off-duty trousers, hastily pulled on; his chest and feet were bare.
A key scraped metal as Clifford locked the door – which was odd, since Clifford shouldn't have a key to this place. There was no bar to pull down, but the doors of these rooms were somewhat more secure than the doors of the breaking cells. The breaking-cell doors opened outwards, but the rack-room doors opened inwards, since it was assumed that the only men using the doors would be Seekers or guards or the occasional outer-dungeon laborer, come to clean up the room's sweat and urine and blood.
Barrett could smell the sweat now; by that alone, he would have known that this room was in use, even without the light. Beside him, Clifford was saying, "I think that will hold, at least for a while. The doors are iron, so— Sir, what's wrong?"
Clifford was evidently treating this as a work situation, which was reassuring. Forcing himself to breathe evenly, Barrett said, "Prisoner."
Clifford gasped. Cautiously, Barrett lowered his arm. The light was still there, but now that he knew of its presence, it was bearable.
From where he stood, next to the door, Barrett could barely see the prisoner. The great wheel of the rack, nearly as high as a man, obscured most of the prisoner's body. Through the spokes of the wheel could be seen a bit of straw-colored hair, while just on the edge of the wheel, bound in chains and leather, lay a hand, very pale.
All of the prisoner was bathed in light. Barrett glanced at Clifford, knowing that Clifford's view of the prisoner was very different.
Clifford, who had never before entered one of the rack rooms when it was in use, had turned very pale. He had worked in the Eternal Dungeon for many years and knew very well what took place in these rooms; indeed, he had guarded the doors while the Seekers did their work. But knowing that prisoners were racked was a very different thing from seeing one racked.
"Should we let him go?" asked Barrett aloud. He wondered, indeed, whether the prisoner was dead; the still figure on the rack had made no sound.
Clifford – used to having Barrett turn to him for questions like this – made no reply to Barrett's enquiry; his throat was throbbing. "Oh, sweet blood," he whispered after a moment.
This was odd. Clifford hated torture as vehemently as Barrett, but he was in no way squeamish. Squeamish guards never lasted out their training period in the Eternal Dungeon. Barrett stared at him, curious, faintly aware of shouts in the distance.
Clifford shook his head, as though awakening from a nightmare. "It's Rupert Raupp," he whispered.
The name meant nothing to Barrett. Names usually didn't. "You know him?"
Clifford nodded. He was hugging himself now, as though he were a small child rather than a much-decorated guard in the Eternal Dungeon. "I used to work with him," he whispered.
Which meant that the prisoner must have worked in the Eternal Dungeon at one time; Clifford had never held any job except here, Barrett knew. Yet more curious, Barrett asked, "Did I?"
"For two years." The voice, faint but firm, came from the rack; the accent was mid-class. "I was junior guard under you for part of the time you were senior day guard to Weldon Chapman."
Barrett stepped closer to look. Within the cocoon of light lay the prisoner, stretched upon the rack. His shirt and trousers were black with sweat, but there was no blood. There rarely was, Barrett had been told; the racks were designed to frighten rather than maim. Barrett had often wondered whether, if he delved far enough back, he would remember whether this was true.
He ran his hand lightly upon the iron bed of the rack. The touch brought back no memories. It was hard to believe there had been a time when he had stood at that wheel, turning it as prisoners screamed in agony. This particular prisoner appeared in no hurry to scream, though he was breathing rapidly, and his face was shining with sweat.
"Guard?" said Barrett. His language had shortened, as it invariably did when he was in the presence of other guards and Seekers. Only a handful of men working in the inner dungeon could be trusted.
"Till I was dismissed." The prisoner's voice was very level, despite his evident pain. "By the High Seeker, in the eighth month of the year 360."
Shortly before Barrett's own punishment, then. This must be one of the guards who had been swept up by Layle Smith's determined purge of rebellious dungeon-workers, back in the crisis of 360. Barrett wondered what Mr. Raupp had done to attract the High Seeker's wrath.
Whatever Mr. Raupp had done in 360, the High Seeker was evidently not through with him. Barrett took a more careful look at the prisoner, his eyes adjusting to the dim light. "Murder?" he asked politely. "Or rape?"
Mr. Raupp was not afforded the chance to describe the charges against him, for at that moment, Clifford called low, "Sir! The gunfire has stopped!"
He looked back at Clifford. The junior guard was swathed in his own light. Only recently had Barrett realized that the light was evidence of his love for Clifford. It was still a strange revelation to him. Until he met Clifford – or rather, until he took notice of the guard who had been desperately trying to attract his attention for three years – he had thought that nobody in this world mattered except the prisoners.
It had been a severely limited perspective on the world; he knew that now. That being the case, Barrett spared a thought for the Seekers. There was no knowing how many of them had been in their so-called living cells when the gunmen burst into the Eternal Dungeon. Some would still have been sleeping; Barrett had come on duty early. The remaining Seekers would have been scattered in various portions of the dungeon: in the breaking cells, in the rack rooms, in the entry hall . . . perhaps a handful in the common room or the crematorium or the healer's surgery. Some might even have been in the outer dungeon or in the judging rooms in the palace above; those Seekers were presumably safe from the gunmen.
Though there was no way to know what was going on in the palace, Barrett reminded himself as he returned to Clifford's side. This might be a general attack on all who worked for the Queen.
"How did they get in?" he asked Clifford.
The junior guard shook his head rapidly. He was dressed in his uniform; like Barrett, he had evidently intended to arrive for duty early, but he kept his uniform in the outer-dungeon apartment where he lived. "I don't know. I was just entering the inner dungeon when the Codifier's guards reached that entrance. They were about to thrust me back into the outer dungeon, but Mr. Sobel appeared and grabbed me. He had a gun in his hand. He asked me where you were. I told him I didn't know. He gave me his extra key to the rack rooms and ordered me to find you and to come here. He said he'd come for us."
To kill them? Barrett contemplated that possibility. In the midst of so much bloodshed, it would be easy enough for the High Seeker's senior-most guard to shoot Barrett and Clifford and any of the other guards and Seekers who had recently raised a rebellion against the use of torture in the Eternal Dungeon. The High Seeker had seemed mild-mannered when Barrett spoke with him privately two nights before, but Layle Smith frequently seemed mild-mannered. Killers often were.
"Gun?" He fastened on that image.
Clifford gulped air, the first sign he had shown that he was struggling for composure. "He has special permission to use a gun in the dungeon, if it's necessary in order to protect the High Seeker."
Whereas the remainder of the Seekers' guards, working in a cramped dungeon where it was too easy for bullets to ricochet, were bereft of all weaponry except daggers and whips. And neither Barrett nor Clifford were armed with even that, Barrett was acutely aware.
"There's only him and the Codifier's guards," said Clifford, misery permeating his voice. "They're the only ones with revolvers. The guards at the main gates have rifles, but if the gunmen killed them—"
Barrett held up his hand. A moment later, Clifford's face changed. He too had heard the approaching men.
There were voices and bangs on a nearby door, and then more gunfire, followed immediately by a scream. Barrett found himself wondering whether the gunmen had sighted one of the guards, or whether they had managed to shoot their way past the locks on the iron doors of the breaking cells. Without thinking further about it, he pointed silently. Clifford hesitated only a moment before obeying his order, sliding under the rack. The room was dark, and the shadows under the rack were darker still; Clifford could not be easily seen now, with the great wheel blocking view of him.
More gunshots. There were no accompanying screams, which was reassuring. Barrett stepped toward the prisoner. The man was showing admirable restraint; he had said not a word since introducing himself, though his tendons were taut from the stretching, and sweat poured from his forehead.
Barrett's instinct was to let the prisoner free. That was always his instinct. But he had learned, through hard experience, that this particular instinct was not to be trusted. He had helped a prisoner to escape from a Seeker once, believing the prisoner's story that the Seeker had raped him. Only afterwards had he realized that the prisoner was a dangerous criminal, skilled in deceit. This prisoner might be the same.
And right now, he might be contemplating ways to kill Barrett and Clifford. Barrett's hand moved to his trousers pocket.
The prisoner, Mr. Raupp, looked at what lay in Barrett's hand, and then said, in the same even voice as before, "May I have a drink of water first?"
Barrett shook his head. The Code of Seeking, which bound even ruthless torturers such as the High Seeker, required that racked prisoners be given water when they required it, but there was no time for that now. The gunmen were coming closer.
Barrett stuffed the handkerchief into Mr. Raupp's mouth.
The prisoner's eyes teared immediately from the thrust of cloth, but Mr. Raupp made no attempt to evade the gag. He simply looked up at Barrett, like a magistrate sitting in judgment upon a perpetrator.
Feeling sick, Barrett turned away. He reminded himself that he might be protecting Mr. Raupp as much as Clifford. The gunmen had killed the prisoner in the breaking cell. There was no way to predict how many men in this room the gunmen would kill, if they knew that the room was inhabited.
Barrett moved into the corner, behind the door. This too was instinct. Apparently he had done this before, at least once in his life. He wondered whether it was during his time as a guard, or whether instead he had been hunted during the army career he had not known he possessed till Clifford had happened to mention it, three nights before. It was mildly inconvenient, at times, having a memory that stretched no further back than four years.
But his instincts as a guard and a soldier stretched back further than that. He waited, heart pounding, as the men reached the door.
There were yet more shots; one of the shots caused their door to vibrate. Someone shouted, "Don't waste bullets, fool!"
"Aye, and how are we to get in, then, tell me that?" replied the gunman.
"Leader will have a plan. Leader always does, aye? Let's go check that guard's body. Maybe there's keys."
The gunmen moved off. Barrett felt his fists loosen. His mind was moving rapidly forth from what he had heard.
Commoners. He was not really surprised; if there were any men in the queendom who were likely to attack the Eternal Dungeon, it was commoners. Far too many commoners had screamed with agony in the breaking cells and rack rooms of this royal prison. Some were now ashes, buried in the communal pit in the crematorium, condemned to execution through judging-room testimony provided by the Seekers who had broken them. There must be hundreds of commoners alive, maybe thousands, whose kinsmen and kinswomen had suffered in this dungeon. Reason enough for a group of armed commoners to attack the Eternal Dungeon.
But were they just a random group of commoners, banded together? "Leader" suggested organization and planning. Which meant . . .
"The Commoners' Guild?" It was Clifford, whispering from under the rack.
Barrett shrugged. There was no way to know. It made a difference, though. If a hastily formed group of commoners had attacked the Eternal Dungeon, then sooner or later such amateurish attackers would be subdued, if not by the dungeon guards who were ill-prepared to fight invaders with guns, then by the Queen's guards in the palace above. The only wonder was that the Queen's guards hadn't already arrived, bearing their bayoneted rifles.
Unless . . . unless the Eternal Dungeon was not alone in being attacked. Unless the Commoners' Guild, with its thousands of members and years' worth of experience in fighting elite men and women, had made its canny plans for months on end before attacking the palace, intent on killing the Queen and all who worked for her.
Barrett felt indignation swell in him. Which was a surprise; he had not known that he possessed such loyalty to the Throne. His past was always surprising him.
"Sir," said Clifford breathlessly, "if it's the Commoners' Guild . . . We may be alone. We may have to fight the gunmen ourselves. And if we do—"
Barrett held up his hand in a sharp gesture. Clifford fell silent. A moment later the footsteps were clear. They were rapid. The door rattled. Barrett squeezed himself back into the corner.
Then came the sound of metal against metal. A key in the lock.
Barrett glanced quickly in the direction of the rack. Clifford remained silent, barely visible under the shadow of the rack. The prisoner was straining, clearly trying to attract attention, but his chains were too taut to rattle. Barrett pushed himself harder against the wall, and as he did so, something poked him in the back. He looked behind him in an automatic manner.
Never, in all his remembered life, had he been so grateful for the High Seeker's lustful desire to cause pain.
Barrett removed the instrument from the wall. It was one of a couple of dozen antique instruments of torture on display in the rack room, purportedly to elicit fear from the prisoners. In all likelihood, Barrett had often thought, the bloody instruments were there simply because the High Seeker enjoyed looking at them. No doubt Layle Smith regretted that the Code of Seeking forbade use of these older methods of creating agony.
Hidden within the shadow of the door, Barrett could not easily see the instrument he held, but from the shape under his hands, he suspected that it was an iron which had once been used to burn prisoners. He shifted his hands into proper position, raised the iron over his head, and waited.
The door opened quickly; the intruder was inside within a second, closing and locking the door behind him. Clifford cried, "No!" but there was no need. Barrett had already lowered the iron to his side.
Mr. Sobel's gaze flicked toward him. The High Seeker's senior-most guard was indeed carrying a revolver. Some long-ago portion of Barrett told him that Mr. Sobel knew how to use that revolver.
Mr. Sobel did not point his gun at Barrett, though. He simply said, in his usual quiet voice, "Mr. Boyd, why is the prisoner gagged?"
There were advantages to living in a dungeon with a code of ethics, Barrett reflected as he assisted Mr. Sobel in releasing the prisoner from his gag and bonds and offering him water from the nearby pitcher and cup. The prisoner could not hold the cup, nor even sit upright; on Mr. Sobel's order, Barrett and Clifford carried Mr. Raupp to the bench at the far end of the cell and propped him up between the corner and Clifford. Mr. Sobel waited until the prisoner had received his fill of the water; then he said, "Mr. Raupp, I must ask you to cooperate in this crisis."
Mr. Raupp nodded and opened his mouth.
Barrett hit his head with the iron.
Clifford stared aghast at Barrett as he caught hold of Mr. Raupp, preventing the prisoner from falling forward. Mr. Sobel, on the other hand, simply sighed and said, "Thank you, Mr. Boyd." He added to Clifford, "Mr. Raupp was about to shout for help from the gunmen."
Easing the prisoner down so that he lay on the bench, Clifford said, "Does he know the gunmen, then?"
A rare look of frustration appeared on Mr. Sobel's face. "I have no idea," he said. "I wish I knew."
The gunmen had gained entrance to the inner dungeon, not through the heavily guarded main gates to the underground royal prison, nor through the lightly guarded side entrance in the outer dungeon, which led to winding cave corridors that served as a maze to all but the most experienced dungeon-dwellers. Rather, the gunmen had entered in a manner that nobody, not even the High Seeker, could have anticipated: through the door in the Codifier's office.
It was a door that no one except the Codifier was supposed to step through. From the inside, it looked like the door to a bank vault; most visitors to the Codifier's office assumed that it led to a vault filled with the dungeon's valuables. In fact, the doorway was carved out of the hillside's limestone. The outside of the door, which faced the palace grounds, was so heavily screened with vines that the door could not be seen at all when it was closed. Only two times a day did the door swing open, under an automated locking mechanism similar to that of a bank vault. At both those times of the day, the Queen's guards were supposed to ensure that no strangers came close enough to that portion of the palace grounds to know of the Codifier's private entrance.
The secret entrance was designed to provide protection to the Codifier, the most valuable member of the Eternal Dungeon, for he had final say within the dungeon on how the Code of Seeking was interpreted. Even the High Seeker must bow to his will. In past decades, any man holding the title of Codifier would have endangered his life if he had walked through the portion of the dungeon controlled by the head torturer; hence the private entrance to his office, as well as the private guards whose role remained to protect the Codifier's life against anyone entering his office's antechamber from the entry hall. In recent years, as tensions between the Codifier and the High Seeker eased, the hillside entrance that led directly into the Codifier's office had become more symbolic than practical.
On this day, for reasons that Mr. Sobel did not yet know, something had gone wrong. The first sign of disaster came in the form of shouts from the Codifier's office. Not, needless to say, from the Codifier himself, a man of supreme calm. The Codifier's guards – the only men in the Eternal Dungeon who were normally permitted to bear firearms – immediately responded to the noise by pushing open the door to the Codifier's office.
They were overwhelmed by a mass of men, all wearing commoner clothes, and all carrying rifles and revolvers and pistols. The invaders made no attempt to shoot the Codifier's guards; nor did they harm the Codifier's secretary, who was quivering with fear in the antechamber. Instead, they surged past the Codifier's guards, too quickly for the guards to take action.
A moment later, a massacre began in the entry hall.
It was toward the end of the night shift. Night-shift Seekers who had already finished their work were beginning to drift into the entry hall, joining guards who had no duties that day except to pen documentwork. A few of the day-shift Seekers and guards had already arrived.
It was the Seekers who became targets for the invaders. Within seconds, there were bloody bodies everywhere.
A handful of the invaders found the door to the breaking-cell corridor. They forced their way past the guards there and opened the first door they saw. A Seeker was shot at once; so was his prisoner, who had tried to flee when the door opened. Two other Seekers who had been brought in to consult with the first Seeker were left unharmed, but the invaders took them prisoner, pushing them back into the entry hall. A senior guard who was present in the cell to witness all this managed to slip away.
After a brief visit to the healer's surgery, the senior guard raced to the outer dungeon and hammered at the door of Seward Sobel, who had already gone off duty. Leaving orders with his family to lock the apartment door and admit no one but himself, Mr. Sobel raced back to the inner dungeon.
Matters had not proceeded much further than when the senior guard left. The Codifier's guards, seeing themselves vastly outnumbered, had wisely retreated to the hallway where the Seekers' living cells were located. Mr. Sobel advised them to guard the door leading to the outer dungeon; in the confined space of that narrow cross-passage, they had a better chance of holding back the invaders. Mr. Sobel sent the senior guard to alert the off-duty Seekers as to what was happening; he paused long enough to send a junior guard, Mr. Crofford, in search of his senior partner; and then Mr. Sobel raced to the heart of the slaughter.
"Seekers are their target," Mr. Sobel said, leaning over to inspect the bump on Mr. Raupp's head from Barrett's light tap of the iron. Mr. Raupp continued to breathe evenly, looking as though he were taking a restful nap. "They've made no attempt to kill guards unless a guard attacks them. I spoke briefly to a civilian visitor who had just arrived at the entry hall when the attack began. He said that the guards in the entry hall realized at once that the Seekers were in danger and built a protective cordon around the Seekers with the guards' own bodies. Some of the guards managed to help Seekers escape to the breaking-cell corridor. All of the breaking cells are locked from the inside now, filled with the prisoners and their cell guards, as well as any other guards and Seekers who managed to reach safety. The Seekers who were asleep in their living cells have barred their inner-dungeon entrances and escaped to safety through their cells' outer-dungeon entrances. The guards who were on duty in the outer dungeon are protecting the Seekers and laborers there and have barred the outer-dungeon exit to the palace grounds, lest more gunmen try to attack through that door. Before they did so, the majordomo sent one of the laborers with a message to the Queen, telling her of the attack."
Barrett had a moment to reflect that the High Seeker had chosen as his senior-most guard a man quite as brilliant as Layle Smith. Barrett knew that he himself could not have done as much, nor acquired as much knowledge, as Mr. Sobel had managed to do in the brief time since the beginning of the attack.
Clifford had only one question: "Who is dead?"
Mr. Sobel shook his head. "It's too soon to say. There were many bodies in the entry hall, but most of them appeared to me to be wounded rather than dead. The civilian I spoke to said that the guards acted admirably quickly in forming a barrier around the Seekers who had not yet been shot, and that the gunmen have not yet attempted to shoot their way past the barrier. . . . The Seeker who was shot in the breaking cell was Mr. Chapman. Mr. Urman managed to carry Mr. Chapman's unconscious body to the healer's surgery while the gunmen were busy taking Mr. Taylor and Mistress Chapman hostage."
"Mr. Urman?" Clifford paled visibly. "I thought he left the dungeon yesterday evening. Mr. Taylor granted him leave to visit his family."
"Mr. Taylor asked him to take a later train; he wanted Mr. Urman's thoughts concerning Mr. Chapman's prisoner," Mr. Sobel murmured.
Clifford said nothing more, but his knuckles were white as he shoved his fist against his mouth. Belatedly, Barrett realized why.
"Friends," he explained to Mr. Sobel. "Mr. Urman?"
It was one of his typically incoherent speeches; he was still having difficulty communicating with other guards and Seekers, despite Clifford having finally impressed upon Barrett the reasons why he ought to make an effort to communicate as clearly with other dungeon dwellers as Barrett did with Clifford and the prisoners.
Until a few days ago, matters had been simple. The prisoners needed to be protected. So did Clifford, who, for some reason, glowed with the same sacred light as the prisoners. Everyone else, the dark figures, were enemies.
It was not that simple, Barrett now knew. The world had never been divided between light and dark in so easy a fashion. The punishment he had received four years ago from the High Seeker – the breaking of his body and mind – had caused him to regard the prisoners and Clifford with tender concern and even reverence. But the other men, whom Barrett had assumed were all his enemies, were also Shining Ones, their souls renewed through sacred rebirth to live out their lives as best they could. Barrett simply could not see them like that. Yet among these men, some might be his allies.
Not this one, though. Barrett eyed Mr. Sobel warily as the High Seeker's guard examined the prisoner's bruised head with care. One of Barrett's earliest memories was of Mr. Sobel coldly counting as Barrett was lashed nearly to death by the High Seeker. Mr. Sobel was ice to the High Seeker's fire, the two men closely allied together in an attempt to keep firm control over the dungeon.
Barrett had nearly died from that punishment. He had lost his memories of earlier days, and he now knew – from Clifford's gentle explanation and from a discussion with the dungeon's healer on the previous evening – that his mind had been damaged. Not badly enough to prevent him from continuing his work as a guard, but badly enough that he was leaning heavily now upon Clifford to help him to disentangle what was true danger and what was merely his mind playing tricks on him, persuading him to see danger where none existed.
Whatever else he might be, Mr. Sobel was evidently gifted at interpreting incoherency. He said in an absentminded manner, "D. Urman remains in the inner dungeon, guarding the civilian visitor. I can bring both of them here."
Barrett narrowed his eyes, wondering why the offer was made. Clifford simply let out a long breath. "Thank you. I'd feel better if I could see D. – Mr. Urman, I mean – and know that he's safe."
Mr. Sobel nodded, straightening up. "It may take me some time. Gunmen are still roaming the breaking-cell corridor, trying to figure out how to force their way into the breaking cells. Though all they'd need to do is search Mr. Taylor if they wanted a way in."
Barrett raised his eyebrows. Clifford said, "He has a master key to all the cells?"
"Mr. Taylor has had a master key since he was a Seeker-in-Training," Mr. Sobel said dryly. "An early gift from the High Seeker. I doubt that Mr. Taylor understood in those days that he was being granted special privileges. Now, of course, he is second-in-command of the dungeon. I hope that nobody lets the gunmen know that."
Which left a far more important question. Barrett was the one to voice it: "High Seeker?"
Mr. Sobel rubbed his hand over his face, his icy reserve chipping somewhat. "I don't know. He was still on duty in the dungeon when I left him, about two-thirds of an hour before this began. The civilian visitor didn't see him in the entry hall, and the visitor had his eye out for the High Seeker. Mr. Smith may have gone to the palace before this began, or he may be in the outer dungeon . . . or be in hiding somewhere, here in the inner dungeon."
"The gunmen will kill him if they see him," Clifford said slowly.
Mr. Sobel nodded. "I think it unlikely he'll be taken hostage. The only reason that Mr. Taylor was taken hostage was because Mistress Chapman clung to him – not for her own sake, I'm sure, but to protect Mr. Taylor. The gunmen were evidently reluctant to harm a female Seeker, so they took both Mistress Chapman and Mr. Taylor prisoner. But the High Seeker . . . If the gunmen want to kill Seekers, then they'll want to kill the High Seeker above all."
"But why?" cried Clifford. "Is this some sort of commoner protest? Like the strikes in the capital? Is this a plan by Yeslin Bainbridge to destroy the Eternal Dungeon?"
"I can only hope so. If that is the case, Mr. Taylor is unlikely to be killed." Satisfied with the health of the prisoner, Mr. Sobel backed away.
Barrett and Clifford exchanged looks. They had both been present on the day when Mr. Taylor announced, to a group of the revolutionist guards who wished to abolish torture in the dungeon, that his own adopted brother was Yeslin Bainbridge, leader of the Commoner Guild. In the wake of the events that followed – the struggle of the New School of revolutionists against the Old School of Seekers and guards who wished to retain the traditional methods of questioning prisoners – Mr. Taylor's announcement had dropped like a stone in a pond, forgotten in favor of more important matters.
But if Mr. Taylor was indeed brother to the man who had coordinated the attack on the Eternal Dungeon . . .
"I must go," said Mr. Sobel. He kept his voice to a murmur; he was glancing now at the door. "Stay here; keep watch over the prisoner. If the prisoner's health looks to be in danger, you may take him to the healer's surgery; Mr. Bergsen and his nurse are caring for a number of the wounded. I'll return as soon as I have new orders." He slipped out the door, closing it behind him.
Barrett immediately locked the door. He did not possess a master key to the cells, but three-and-a-half years ago he had pickpocketed from various Seekers the keys to the rack rooms, when he had been making plans to free all of the dungeon's prisoners.
That had been before he realized how dangerous most of the prisoners were. He glanced at the glow upon the bench. The prisoner was still breathing steadily.
Clifford shook his head. "I don't understand. Why, among all the concerns he has, is Mr. Sobel willing to reunite me with D.?"
Clifford's long-time friendship with D. Urman certainly did not seem reason enough for Mr. Sobel to risk his life to reunite the two guards. Nor to risk his life to visit Clifford and Barrett in their refuge. Nor to take the time to urge Clifford to rescue Barrett.
There were many mysteries here, but only one really mattered. Barrett raised his eyebrows again as he said, "If the High Seeker is nowhere to be found . . . and Mr. Taylor is taken hostage . . . and Mr. Chapman, the dungeon's day-shift supervisor, lies unconscious . . . Who is giving orders to Mr. Sobel?"