YA Fantasy: QUEEN OF THE FIRE ROSES Jan 30, 2017 18:24:07 GMT -5
Post by jenlaird on Jan 30, 2017 18:24:07 GMT -5
I missed my prison cell.
My heart thudded louder than a bone drum as the guard led me through the dungeon chambers. Led me away from the safe, familiar gloom of my little cell. Something awaited me in the darkness.
I was not yet ready to meet it.
I was not yet ready to meet it.
Shivering, I kept my chin up and focused on the loose chips of rock nipping my toes. Savoured the bitter draft slicing through my bones. Good – pain was good. Pain meant something lived inside me besides blind fear.
I grazed my fingers along the rough-hewn wall as we prowled deeper and deeper into the belly of this place, and prayed to whichever gods listened to broken things like me. I didn’t pray for mercy, or for any other such pointless things. Instead I prayed the stories about witches told around campfires weren’t true. I didn’t fancy roasting on a spit or burning on an enchanted pyre.
I prayed for a quick end – quicker than the one I’d meet if my old master, Cesario, King of Assassins, ever found me again. The phantom memory of Cesario’s blade against my skin gave me chills as if someone passed over my grave.
We stalked through the warren, cobwebs glistening in the thick torchlight like golden lace. Rogue embers leapt towards me, as if the flames themselves conspired to end me. Magic bled from every inch of this place. And magic wasn’t the unwelcome guest here.
Clearing my throat, I ventured a glance at my guard. Tall, large enough to cast a shadow over me. His obsidian hood slipped back enough to reveal elegant features and a few chestnut waves curling around his face. I looked away. A witch who led me to some unknown misery, his pretty cheekbones were not all that important.
He strolled beside me with his hands in his cloak pockets – leisurely, casual steps, his booted feet echoing against the ground like anvils. As if we had all the time in the world. My skin turned gooseflesh under what remained of my once-cream dress. Dust and soot made my face itch. The stink of damp and rot hung in the air – death’s calling card. I knew the stench all too well. Hated every breath of it.
But it was the silence I hated most of all. The nothingness.
I licked my dry lips and said to the guard, “What happened to the others?”
The scratching of nails against the stone, spilled blood, stains I didn’t care to identify…the passages themselves told the story of those broken by this place and its wicked keepers. Even with empty cells and lifeless halls, the shearing of iron against stone when gates opened and shut stayed with me.
“Others?” the guard replied, his voice loud in the quiet. Smooth, like silk.
“The other prisoners.” I rubbed my nose. “Where did they go?”
“Wherever they deserved to go for the crimes they committed.” He glanced at me sidelong, his eyes blue-green like canal water on a pretty day. “What does it matter?”
“Did any of them go where I’m going?”
His lips twitched into a half-smile, highlighting an angry scar at the crease of his mouth. “If I said no, how would that make you feel?”
I didn’t reply, and tucked my matted hair behind my ears as we stomped down an inky black stairwell. “Best keep that cut clean," I whispered. "Salt works wonders.”
He brushes the graze with his gloved fingers. “What do you care of such things?”
“An old habit.” I picked my nails. “It used to be my job to care.” Poisons, all manner of foul brews…Cesario employed me to make them all. But it was my healing hands he valued. My skills with bandages and infected wounds. Assassins’ healer.
Even trained murderers needed patching up every now and then.
“It’s a scratch, nothing more.” The guard snorted. “Although, I suppose your concern is rather touching.” He looked me over – slowly, deliberately. A hunter admiring his prize. “Can’t say I expected it.”
I hesitated before saying, “What crime am I supposedly guilty of?” I was no stranger to dungeons and the shadowy places of the world. Cesario and the Guild sometimes kept their victims locked away until they felt like ending them. But I did not imagine ever being on the other side of those bars.
“We’re going to discuss it.”
Discuss it…as if this guard and I had nothing more than an afternoon chat. Fool – I was an utter fool for ever venturing into these lands. For letting Cesario’s temper push me this far from home. “How long have I been down here?” Hours-days-weeks…only the reek of my fraying dress and dirt under my nails hinted at how long I’d festered in a cell.
“Long enough.” He sniffed and winced. “Someone was supposed to clean you up first.”
He took his time studying the length of me – once, twice. “You’ve been down here a while, but he’ll still know.”
The guard flung open a wooden door with nothing more than a wave of his hand – dismissively, as if such sorcery was nothing to him. I blinked a few times so the world stopped spinning. Breathed in, out. A room of glass greeted me – no, not glass…
Ice and threads of wicked, dancing fire. Roaring cauldrons burned like stars between the frosted pillars holding up the stone ceiling, and cobalt and burgundy candles darted through the shadows like fireflies – reminders this was no ordinary dungeon, for all the bare walls.
“She’s the only one left,” the guard said, ushering me inside. “Take a good look.”
A man at the other side of the room stood with his back to us. Broad shoulders, arrogant stance, as if he already owned the place…I bit my tongue so as not to scream. It couldn’t be.
The man turned around and smiled – a familiar, serpentine grin. “Hello, sweetheart.”
Someone indeed awaited me in the darkness.
Someone I did not expect.