| There were two things I knew about my guards, and they were these: Firstly, that they were very mercurial creatures--the lot of them were shapeshifters, and they would be very hard to shake off. But the second thing I knew about them--and this was the most important--was that they were secure in the belief that they knew me. They knew I was a troublemaker and prone to escape attempts, and they knew I didn't cry easily and that people were hard-put to frighten me now, and they knew that I was all talk and no true fight. And they felt content to push me around because of it.
Those two facts were crucial.
I stood now with my hands behind my back, a stance I knew the guards had come to recognize in dealing with me. For all of six years I'd made sure to stand this way whenever they came in to haul me away--always consciously telling myself to keep my hands firmly behind my back, even when one of them raised a hand to strike me as they would invariably do. For six years, I would never bring my hands out until we reached the stairs.
So I waited. I stood face-to-face with the guard and waited. I was braced for the next blow, because despite his body's ability for change, his actions were like clockwork. Then he turned his head and called over his shoulder, in the surprisingly musical language I couldn't understand, to the others outside the cell.
I could have predicted the entrance of the reinforcements even if I'd gone blind and deaf in the night. There were two of them, marching stoically in and taking their places at my sides, hauling me forward with identical grips on my upper arms. I shuffled along, compliant, and held my hands resolutely behind my back.
The third guard locked the cell door behind him as he left--like maybe there was something in there someone might want to steal, which, I knew, there wasn't. Then we walked down the corridor together, and as we went, the guards loosened their grips on my arms. It was six years of carefully cultivated routine: I never, never tried escape attempts once I had been pulled out into the corridor. If I ever tried to run, I'd try it as soon as the door opened. They knew that.
I walked along in docile silence, up one corridor and down another, until finally we began to climb the steps. I swear I could almost smell the fresh air by that point, though I knew it was just my imagination--that the air indoors smelled no different from the air outdoors. We reached the top of the steps, and it was here--always here--that I would invariably drop my hands to my sides.
Except this time, they didn't stop at my sides. Together, they were raised to shoulder height, and I aimed and fired the lightning rod before either guard could hope to open his mouth and cry out. I had tucked it beneath my shirt and held it there all through the long walk, patient as only six years of carefully-followed routine can make a person.
The only drawback was that, as I shot the guards, they fell--and they screamed. They weren't dead, for lightning rods were nonlethal weapons (much to my chagrin, but it was all I could get my hands on), and they caused extreme pain. The three guards set up such a clamor as to wake the dead, and I was running.
I admit I hadn't counted on the noise. Foolish, but somehow I had invisioned the escape going off without a hitch--finally, after fourteen years, I'd be free.
But I could hear clattering feet and cries, and I knew I couldn't shoot all the converging guards. I had one chance. And if I didn't make it work for me, six years of manipulating and making sure people knew only what I wanted them to know would be gone. And they wouldn't trust me that much again.
So I ran, unkempt blond hair flying in my face, and hoped to high heaven I was faster than the shapeshifters.
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