The torturer set down his toolkit on the floor. It opened like a tackle box to reveal an array of polished scalpels, pliers, and serrated tools organized with care. Theodore’s heart raced at the sight of the implements. They needed to get out of here, but the nymph guard had kicked away Oboe’s mantle before he had a chance to get ahold of it.
“This really is quite peculiar,” the torturer said. He was a tiny gray gnome dressed in a black cloak. “Our Lady usually prefers to do her own interrogation work. The situation must be very serious indeed! I don’t envy the guard responsible for this screw up. I’ll be seeing them later, if you get what I’m saying!”
He paused, as if expecting a laugh. When none came, he sighed and set up a ladder in front of Oboe. She was quiet, her face was angry but resolute. The gnome sparked a magic fire in his palm and used it to heat a knife. Oboe tensed, but did not show any fear.
Theodore wracked his brains for another way to escape but could not think of anything. Maybe the panic was getting to him, or maybe there wasn’t a way out. He wanted to think Oboe had a secret plan she hadn’t told him about, but he was certain she was telling the truth. She didn’t know and neither did he. Had one of the knights escaped? He hadn’t told them anything about the sword. What was going on?
“Welp, no time like the present!” The gnome scaled the ladder and pointed the knife at Oboe. “Would you say that you are attached to your belly button? I find most of my clients miss it a lot more than they expect!”
“Stop!” Theodore said. “I’ll tell you whatever you want! Just leave her alone!”
“Let’s not rush this,” the torturer said. “No one will believe the intel if you’re not maimed at least a little.”
Oboe glared but said nothing. Theodore watched, helpless, as the gnome leaned in with his knife. A scream.
The guard at the door fell forward. Her body petrified before crumbling to ash. A faun stepped through the door, dragging a sword after him.
“Fife!?” Oboe said, her eyes lighting up.
“What the?!” The gnome reared around to see what happened. Oboe took the opportunity to kick the ladder out from under him. It clattered to the floor and sent him rolling. The faun, Fife, swung the sword again at the torturer but his strike was so weak and sluggish that the gnome managed to dart between his legs and out the door.
“Dammit,” Fife said. He limped closer, looking exhausted. “Now we’re got even less time.” He chopped at Oboe’s chains. The glow running through them faded and in one breath Oboe looked revitalized. She tore off her bindings while Fife freed Theodore.
“What are you doing here??” Oboe said.
“There will be more spriggan coming,” Fife said. “Save the talking for later.”
“You’re… Oboe’s brother.” Theo said.
Fife thrust the sword into Theodore’s hands. “Take this. Destroy it. The Fair Lady is afflicted with the vorpal magic from this blade. She has stalled its affect by sealing the spell inside others, but if you melt the sword down the spell will be freed and she will die.”
“How did you get this?!” Theodore said.
“You two managed to provide an excellent distraction.”
“This was stuck inside a leshy,” Oboe said. “Does that mean…”
There was a flicker in Fife’s eye. He looked away. “What’s important is you take this and get away now.”
“Why are you helping us?” Oboe asked.
His shoulders sagged. “I don’t want to make the same mistake twice. I don’t want to abandon you. You’re right about Bassoon. She should not be in power. I’m going to take my girls and flee the Circle. I’m counting on you two to stop her.”
Oboe pulled her brother into a hug. “Fife…”
“We’re wasting time!” He pushed her away. “Get out of here before they come back! You have to escape!”
“Oh, it’s too late for that.”
The doors swung shut. The sky outside the balcony grew black as a cloud of ravens swarmed into the room. Oboe, Theodore and Fife flailed in the storm of pecking, scratching birds as Bassoon stepped back into the room from the balcony.
“I’ve already found you.”