A Narrow Escape by Dawn Fischer

A single man occupied a bamboo cage swinging from the mud hut’s roof by a thick rope.

“You’re in a bit of a predicament,” said a high-pitched voice from the shadows.

The man stopped pulling on the tightly tied bamboo cane bars of his prison cage so suddenly that it began to swing in a lopsided fashion. Startled, he froze for a moment, breathing heavily while sweat poured from his body in the heat of the hut. After a bit he gulped down a breath and whispered, “Wha…? Who is here?”

“You shouldn’t worry about me. Worry about yourself. You’re going to be eaten in a matter of moments.” A halfling male stepped from the shadows and crossed the bare earthen floor. Chants and drums pounded rhythmically sounded in the background.

“I…” the man gasped for air, then made another attempt at loosening a bar. “I am Reith of Andoran, and priest of Cayden Cailean. Can you help me get out of this cage?” He paused again, struggling to take another breath. “Why does it have to be so blasted hot in here?”

“Well, Reith of Andoran. It’s hot in here because you’re at the armpit of Golarion. You weren’t put in this hut because the locals care over much about your comfort but because they’re getting ready to eat you.”

“This is a form of pre-cooking then I presume?” Reith weakly gestured at mud walls.

“You might say that,” The halfling approached closer. His hands were clasped behind his back and still veiled by the shadows. “I think you are a stranger to these isles. In fact I know you are. You look like a Chelish merchant, ripe for the plucking. The natives here think fellows like you are tasty.”

“Well I am not tasty. Cayden Cailean makes certain of it. In fact if you could just to out there and tell the nice tribesmen that and ask them to let me out of here, I’d be much obliged.” Reith attempted a grin which became a grimace as he began to cough. Smoke infiltrated the hut from outside.

“Uh huh… Well, I’m going to have to refuse that request.” The halfling shook his head. “I have no interest in joining you as the main dish.” He sniffed the air. “Smell that? Those are the cook fires. They’ve started them up already. It won’t be long now.”

Reith glared with frustration painted on his reddening face. “I think you are enjoying this. Though I cannot figure out why that is. Did I do something to you to make you angry? I think I would remember if I had.”

The halfling snorted with disgust. “You haven’t done anything since getting caught trying to sneak about this village. You really should leave the sneaking to professionals. You’re not very good at it. Why’re you here anyway? There’s no real good reason for an honest merchant to be here, nothing worth trading, except slaves.” He looked the ragged man over with suspicion.

“I am on the trail of a group of halflings sold as slaves by a trader out of Cassomir, if you must know. Perhaps you were one of them or can tell me about them.” Reith pulled at the bars of his cage and collapsed backwards in a fit of coughing as more smoke drifted in from outside. He wheezed, “If you would be so kind, get this door open for me so I can set about my job in freeing them from this armpit, as you call it.” Closing his eyes briefly as he became dizzy with exertion, the man struggled to sit up. He looked at the halfling with desperation on his face.

“Ah well,” the hafling replied sourly, “I can relieve your anxiety a little bit then. You’re too late for them. They weren’t useful, so they became appetizers before the main course. You.” The halfling was no longer smiling. “Now, I must be going. If they catch me in here my fate will be the same as those you have been trailing after.” He turned to leave.

Reith’s mouth gaped open like a fish as the halfling spoke. “No!” he gasped out as the halfling began to leave. “Please, can’t you pick this lock?” He looked at the door. “At least give me a chance to save myself.”

“Pick locks! Do you think all halflings are capable of that particular skill, Chel?” The voice sounded from the shadowed portion of the hut. “That is the same as assuming that all Chels are devil worshipping, whip-wielding bastards. Is that true of you?”

“No…. Sorry.” Reith shook his head. “Though you would be closer if you had said that all priests of Cayden Cailean were drunkards, not completely, but close.” He smiled sardonically. “Can’t you do anything to help? I don’t want to face my god before my work is complete,” he pleaded.

“What work?” The halfling demanded in a flat voice.

“Well, freeing any slaves who remain here, for starters.”

“I am the only one left alive, because I am good at hunting and gathering food the natives are too big or lazy to catch. As long as I provide food that tastes better than I do, they keep me alive.”

“And what happens when you can no longer provide?”

“Then I get eaten…“The halfling paused. “Just what are you hinting? Are you suggesting I can leave here with my skin intact along with you?”

“Yes, that is exactly what I intend to do. In fact I know I can get us both out of here, if I can get out of this cage and find my gear that was taken from me when I was captured.”

“You mean this?” The halfling lifted up a rucksack from behind his back. “Is there something in here that you can use to escape? I wonder what it is.” The halfling put his hand inside the untied and opened flap and then glared at the man. “Not that I believe you anyway because I already know you’re a liar. Trying to get a halfling slave’s hopes up by claiming to be a priest of Cayden Cailean is the worst sort of meanness.”

“But I am not lying!”

“Explain this holy symbol of Asmodeus.” The halfling held up a circular symbol inset with a five-pointed star by its leather thong. “I may be a dumb slave, but even I know this isn’t the symbol of Cayden Cailean.”

“Please, give that to me!”

“Oh no, you’re not going to fool me into handing you your holy symbol, priest of Asmodeus.”

“That is just an illusion. Please believe me. I need it for working within Cheliax.” Reith sounded truly desperate now. “Please, I’ll show you the real symbol.”

The halfling hesitated, holding the symbol in front of his face. He studied it and then the red-faced, no longer sweating man. Clearly the priest was in a bad way from dehydration. The cannibals hadn’t given him any water before putting him in the hot box. In a few minutes Reith would pass out and no longer be of use to anyone.

Sighing, the halfling stepped forward towards Reith, holding the holy symbol out in front of him. “No funny business now. Show me what you mean or I’m going to run out of here screaming to the hungry villagers outside that you’re becoming a demon. No holy symbol can protect you from what comes next if I do that.”

Reith looked up from his dejected position and slowly reached out between the narrow bamboo bars to take the symbol. He looked down at it in the palms of his cupped hands and whispered a word incomprehensible to the halfling. A beer stein appeared in the center of the symbol and the star faded. Smiling gratefully at the halfling, the priest whispered a prayer. He breathed a sigh of relief as his fatigue faded. “Thank you! I owe you my life.”

Standing near the cage, the halfling held the man’s gear bag in his other hand away from the cage. The halfling tensed and looked about to bolt for the door as the drums and chanting sounded suddenly louder and closer.

“Time to go!” Reith shouted to be heard over the drums.

“But… You’re still in a cage and I can’t get you out!” The halfling shouted back. The drums stopped as his last high-pitched word shrilly echoed in the confines of the hut.

“Grab my hand!” Reith stuck his arm out as far as he could reach between the narrow bamboo bars and opened his empty hand towards the halfling, while he muttered a prayer.

The halfling bounded forward and grasped Reith’s hand, just as the door to the mud hut was thrown open. Man and halfling vanished before the startled eyes of the cannibals, leaving behind only the empty bamboo cage swinging from its rope.