Sorry this has taken so long, but I’ve had so many other things to take care of regarding this venue, including approvals, VSSes, regional histories, etc.

Suffice it to say, here is the last part of this little bit of story. More stories will come soon, but this snippet ends with this one. I’d love comments.

The passageway was cold. Cold and dark. Cold, dark, and filled with tiny, biting bugs that continued to bite me all over. And they bit. Hard.

Anyway, itching like crazy and wishing I knew the details of Contracts dealing with insects, I sat and waited. I didn’t expect that he would attempt an escape this near to his last one, nor did I have any clue how he managed to pull free of the St. Peter’s Cross, but when the commotion started and word of Gaius Arctorus’s escape spread through the villa, I realized he would need a little more help.

“Pet,” Lady Violet said, rousing me from my a pleasant dream I was having on the small animal bed she always made me sleep on at the foot of her own. I groggily looked up into those deep, purple eyes, and for a minute I thought I was back in the hospital, given a second chance by some quirk of time and fate to resist this time, to fight back and not let her take me. And again, before I realized where I was, I chose to go with her.

The click of the chain being attached to my collar and the sharp tug dragged me out of my revere and back to reality. We were in Marcus Julius Draconis’s villa, the torture session hadn’t gone very well, and both Lady Violet and I were in a certain amount of danger from the show I put on that afternoon. And something else was going on.

“Pet, I need you to stay here where it’s safe.” Though I’d learned when she was actually worried, she never betrayed any emotion. I don’t think she had any, just that lilting, nonchalant voice of hers that seemed to make light of everything, especially the most serious events. “I’m going to find Marcus and make sure that he properly guards our rooms. That military-minded fool will probably try to set all of his guards to chasing down these escaped slaves and take no precautions to prevent his guests and their property from coming to harm.”

With that, she attached the golden chain on my neck to her bedside and gracefully exited the room, locking the door behind her. I listened to the bell around my neck as its tiny clapper settled to a standstill and I realized this meant there were none of the Gentry nearby. I gazed at the fireplace and began to walk toward it when I once again felt a sharp tug at my neck and remembered that I was chained in place. And if what I thought was happening was happening, I would need to be waiting.

“Chain, I’d like you to release immediately.” I said it aloud, trying to avoid any negative or contradictory thoughts. For this to work, the chain would have to believe in me.

“I’m sorry,” it said, clearly not and in that haughty way that gold tended to have, “but I’m afraid you have no authority to command release. Only my owner can do that.”

“So, it’s a part of your Contract to hold.” I had seen lawyers on TV pull word games like this. I only hoped I could do the same.

“Yes, and also to shine and enhance the appearance of other items that I am brought in proximity to.”

“Are you’re supposed to release, or just consistently hold?”

“I can be attached by any hand, but my Contract stipulates that I can only be released by my owner.”

“Then we’re agreed. You can release me now.” I smiled to myself, knowing that I had won on a technicality.

“Why do you believe that?”
“Because, you’ve heard Lady Violet refer to you many times as ‘your chain,’ ‘your’ being ‘my’ in this case. So, if you’re my chain, then that makes me your owner. You can continue to release for Lady Violet since she owns me and you by extension, but that doesn’t change the fact that I am your owner. Now release me immediately.”

“Very well.” The chain had no compunctions or regrets about following the clauses of its Contract. It simply wanted to keep to them so as not to bring down the wrath of the Gentry for breaching it. That’s one thing I always liked about gold: it’s malleable.

I smiled as the chain clicked open and I went to open the secret passageway in the fireplace. I had discovered it a while ago when Lady Violet had first brought me to see the gladiators in action. The sport was bloody, but the benefits of coming were now showing themselves finally.

So I waited near the entrance that I knew the crystal coin would instinctively lead Gaius Arctorus to. I wished, as I swatted another bug, that Lady Violet would let me sleep in something other than my collar, but I suppose it’s a worthy price to pay for the freedoms I manage to enjoy in my slavery.

Just as I was about to turn back, knowing that Lady Violet would return any minute, I saw the keyhole appear. On the other side, Gaius must have taken the coin from inside the wound where I’d slipped it and held it to the light. I was worried that he wouldn’t be able to figure that one out, but I saw the beam of light turn the lock and the doorway slowly slide over.

On the other side were three figures: Gaius, the St. Peter’s Cross, and a Darkling that I recognized vaguely, but couldn’t quite place. Gaius was all business and slipped into the passageway followed by the other two, totally ignoring my current state of dress or even unexpected presence. The coin glittered in the dark, keeping a faint light as I closed the door and turned back to the trio of escapees.

“Listen closely since I don’t have much time. The exit that will lead you to the Hedge is the third corridor on the right. Follow that straight out, then while Marcus is short-handed on guards, wait for the gate sentry to walk off to the right and you’ll be able to sneak right into the Thorns about a hundred feet from the wall. Keep low and stay to the shadows.” I started to walk off, feeling like I’d forgotten something and still trying to place that Darkling when Gaius caught my arm.

“How do I get to the gladiator pens?”

I stared for a moment. This had to be a joke. “Practice.” Again, I turned to leave and again he caught my arm, the look in his eye very serious. “Look, the best way to get back to the gladiator pens is to turn around, find the nearest guard, and hope Marcus doesn’t kill you. You don’t want to go back there.”
“There are others I need to get out. They were part of the plan originally.” I was dumbfounded. How much arrogance did this guy think he could get away with in Arcadia?

“Fine, if it’ll keep the guard occupied a little longer. Fourth left corridor, second right, then the right fork. You can’t miss it.” As I once again turned to walk away, I remembered what was so important. This time I caught Gaius’s arm. “Also, I need you to remember this. Time is strange here. If you get back before 2004, don’t try to find me. Don’t try to contact me or prevent my kidnapping. If you do, I won’t be here to help you.”

I could see that this hurt Gaius. I’d seen that look a thousand times before. At least, I think it was that many. It nearly broke me every time to have to say it, but I didn’t invent temporal mechanics. I had, however, seen it on Star Trek, and didn’t want to take the risk. He held out the coin for me to take, but I shook my head and pushed it back.

“But you might be able to use this to help somebody else escape.”

“No, this passageway is through. I’m not sure when you were taken, but in my time there’s a saying: ‘Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.’ Well,I’m here to tell you that the true meaning of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting it to work every time. You’ll need the light. Now go.” I paused for a moment, as an image from a dream floated up to the forefront of my brain, and this time I caught the Darkling’s arm, “Oh, and if you go to Za’ha’dum, you will die. Second pillar on the left, you’ll see it on your way out.”

“What the fuck is that supposed to mean? Is there something waiting there.” She was clearly annoyed. I remember being annoyed too, especially when I realized what had happened. I suppose turnabout is a bitch. Or something like that.

“Not anymore, but there was. Just trust me and remember. Remember it, it’s very important. Now get out of here, you guys have a stop to make.” I disappeared into a side corridor and started to make my way back to the room.

My heart was beating so loud that I almost couldn’t hear the bell ringing like crazy around my neck. I began to pray, not to anything in particular, but for many, many things. I prayed that Marcus was right and only I could hear the bell. I prayed that the ringing represented Gentry guards in the outer corridors and maybe even outside the room. I prayed that it wasn’t Lady Violet, returned early to find her precious pet missing.

I tried to listen at the secret door, but the damn bell wouldn’t stop long enough for me to know what was going on. I took a deep breath and pushed open the door.

The room was well-lit and, outside of my bell, very quiet. Not yet out of the woods, I slid the door back into place and threw some logs onto the embers in the center of the fireplace. My chain would have been able to reach it. I coaxed the embers into a fire and excited them as best I could to eat through the logs quicker and make it look like they’d been burning longer. I then went over and re-attached my chain, quietly curling up on my bed and pretending to be asleep.

Lady Violet returned a few minutes later, and though it didn’t show on her features, I could tell when she woke me to remove my chain how pleased she was to come back and find me curled up adorably in bed. I took a certain pride in her approval, which is good because she can always tell when somebody isn’t being genuine. After assuring me that we had an appropriate guard on our door, she allowed me to curl up once again and sleep the rest of the night. As I drifted off, I listened to the sounds of battle and confusion and hoped that when I woke the next morning that Marcus would be in a sour mood, having just lost several of his favorite slaves the night before.