Lage’s Game: Chapter Twelve, Part One

I caught Rebella by surprise. There was a smear of blood on the Grandmother’s lips, but it was tiny. Rebella spun with a yell, but I had the dagger.

I stabbed blindly – but she caught my arm.

And we were stuck. Me bearing down on her with all my strength, her sitting, half falling backwards, bracing up against me and the dagger. The dagger which was so, so, close to her eye that it was maddening.

Fury pumped through me. I willed this with all my might. To murder her.

“Guards!” Rebella yelled as her hands slipped ever so slightly. The tip of the dagger grazed her cheek, cutting a slim line.

It was not enough! I wanted her dead!

The door behind us burst open. Hands seized me and I was flung back, the dagger wrenched from my hand.

“What on earth are you doing?” yelled a voice. As my mind spun, I came to on the floor at the foot of a guard. Before me was the tall figure of the other princess, who was holding Rebella by a blood-spattered wrist. “What are you doing?” she screamed.

Rebella wrenched free. “What needs to be done!” and she turned to her grandmother.

The moment seemed to stand still. Rebella gasped. Her dagger clattered to the floor, splattering my blood across the planks.

“No!” gasped Rebella, shaking the elderly woman, who now bore a slight smile on her face. But the woman was limp. “No!” Rebella screamed, shaking her some more. Desperately, she smeared blood on the grandmother’s lips – only to be wrenched back by the sister.

“Don’t do that! You can’t!”

“I can and I will!” screamed Rebella, wrestling free from her sister. “I don’t care! She can’t die! We need her!”

“Stop being so selfish!” screamed the sister, grabbing at Rebella again. “It’s not about you! Let her rest!”

“No!” Rebella screamed, stamping a foot. “We need her! I don’t care if it curses us all! We need her!”

I staggered to my feet, determined to try again. The sister turned, our eyes meeting. Her eyes swept me up and down – and she nodded to herself. “Guards! Take this one to the healing ward! And this one-” she gestured to Rebella. “To her room! And keep her in there!”

“No!” Rebella yelled, but the sister yanked her forward and away from the Grandmother. A squabble began, but the guards quickly seized Rebella. With a slam Rebella bodily shoved one aside, punched the other in the visor, and stamped past me out of the room.

“See to it that she stays in her room!” called out the sister at the guards who rushed after Rebella.

I was left in the custody of one guard. They picked me up in their arms, limp and head spinning. The last thing I remembered was watching the ceiling twirl above me – and then nothing.

Time passed in lurches. I saw darkness, then I was beside Lage, watching him fish in the ice.

“You’re here?” he asked. “So soon?”

Then, the world lurched. Ekundayo was beside me, humming as he drummed happily with a stick on a rock. “Child, child,” he said, shaking his head with that strange grin.

Then, I spun downwards.

With a gasp, I sat up. My chest was seizing with pain. Two pairs of arms belonging to robed people were stretched above me. They were chanting incoherently. A sense of panic was crashing over me. I had to get out of here. They were going to pullt he card out of me!

I lurched to the side, falling clean off the bed and before a pair of feet. I grabbed onto a hand and helped myself up – and was faced with a sneering Rebella.

“Well,” she said.

Hatred swelled in me- but I was pushed backwards onto the bed.

“You should sit,” said Rebella nastily.

I breathed, heart hammering in my chest. Rebella. How I hated her. The monks, healers, whatever they were, lowered their arms. A sense of static electricity left the air, and my panic left me. Cool calm came over me. I focused on Rebella, wonderign how I could kill her.

But Rebella wasn’t herself. She was fidgeting, looking from me to the door beyond the curtains that framed the bed. “They won’t think of coming here,” she murmured. Then, to the healers, she snapped “Get out!”

The healers bowed, scraped their feet back, and shuffled away without another word. Rebella followed them. Once the door was shut, she latched it shut. Then she pressed her back to the door nad glared at me.

It dawned on me then that this wasn’t an infirmary. The room was small from what I could see, but – it was a personal room.

Rebella marched towards me. “Who are you? Why do they want you? Hmh?”

She was now at my side, drawing out a dagger from her belt with a hiss of metal. She held it between us, eyes flashing.

“They?” I asked. “They’re here?” Could there be more than one ‘they’?

“They want you,” said Rebella angrily. “They are saying they will kill the new Queen if we do not hand you over.”

Her hand was trembling. Her eyes flicked over me like a spider darting all over.

“Who are they?” I asked, feeling a sense of control. A sense I could finally get some answers.

“They?” she hissed. “You know them! They are the Associates. They rule your world, or so they say.”

I made a face. “They do not,” or so I hoped.

“Why do they want you?” she hissed, prodding the dagger at me. But I knew she wouldn’t hurt me this time. She was too uneasy. Or maybe that was the danger.

“Where am I?” I asked, drawing back the curtains from the other side of the bed. My fingers barely grazed the fabric before my shoulder was seized by Rebella. She shook me, making sharp daggers of pain burst in my chest.

“What do they want?” she hissed rabidly. “You- who are you?”

She had dropped the dagger in my lap. In a flash I knew I could take it and slash her throat- but somehow I chose not to. I grabbed her wrists and pried them off me.

“I am no one!” I answered coolly, shoving her back so I could stand. “I-”

“They wouldn’t threaten my sister for just anyone!” and the dagger was back between us. Then, with a flick, she slid it back into her belt. “Tell me – or I will bring you to them!”

That stilled my heart. That meant … “If I tell you?” I asked cautiously.

“I will keep you safe from them,” she said too swiftly. Nodding to herself,she held out her palm. “Word of honor.”

There was a catch. Obviously. But I didn’t want to be turned over to ‘them’, did I?

I looked around the room, hoping for some escape. I gripped at my robe, a strange flimsy white thing. I was barefoot, too. I wouldn’t get far.

“Five,” declared Rebella. “Four,”

I scowled at her. What a stinker she was.

“Three,” she said, challenging me.

“I ate Lage’s card,” I snapped.

Her jaw fell. A choking sound came out of her throat – then she turned to disbelief and started laughing. “You did what now?” But then she tipped her head back and laughed.

Humiliation burned over me, but she seemed relieved when she was done with her laughter.

“You idiot,” she said happily. Then she clapped a hand on my shoulder and squeezed. “You are stupid, you know that?”

I fueled all my anger at her through my eyes, choking up on words. How I wanted to tell her that I hated her right then. Maybe I should try and kill her again.

“Don’t worry,” she clapped my shoulder. “I will keep you safe. Now,” she pressed a finger to her lips and looked me up and down. A smirk drew itself on her lips. She looked smug. “We need to find you some clothes. Come.” She snapped her fingers at me and motioned me to follow her.

We drew to a large chest, from which she drew out some old clothes. They were worn through in their colors, but still solid looking. Several shirts were held up to me until she found one that she found suitable. From there she gave me a tunic to put over, a sort of bra to wear under, and pants. Boots – she gave me some soft slipper-like things in leather.

“They will have to do,” she muttered, cluckign her teeth. Then, she gave me a belt. It was set with a snake biting its tail worked into the metal ring. She set a dagger on it and set it about my waist. “Here,” she said. Then, stepping back, she looked me over. “Good,” she declared.

I had a sinking feeling that something was wrong. Something about the satisfied gleam in her eyes. I felt like a pig being dressed for slaughter.

She took a gray cloak trimmed in white fur from the chest. It was old as well, but fitted me a little largely. It occurred to me that I must look like a younger version of her – was I to be some decoy?

“Now,” she took a white globe from down her shirt, fishing it out with some difficulty. “Hide this in your shirt. Don’t eat it,” she added with a chuckle.

It was cold like ice, so much so that I almost dropped it. It was marble perhaps, smooth white with shoots of glimmering gray woven through it.

“When you are ready to escape, call out the name-”

“Escape?”

“Of course, I’m going to hand you over to them. Then you will escape.”

There it was. The betrayal. “But you had promised-”

She held up a finger between us. “I can’t hide you. If I do, they will sack the city. No, I will hand you over. You have my dagger, and my spirit-weapon.” she closed my fingers over the white ball. “Call their name when you are ready to kill them, and they will appear and fight with you.”

“Kill them?” I gawked. I’d never killed before!

“You must strike the killing blow,” she said softly, “and don’t leave it to the spirit to do.” Then, sensing my dismay, she added “You must kill them. If you don’t, they will follow you back to the city. Killing them will buy us time. Take it,” she pushed my hand to my chest. “Kill them. Then come back to me.”

On remote, I put the ball down my shirt. Then, numb, I felt myself turning to ice. This couldn’t be. It was too awful to be true.

But it was. Rebella whispered a name to me, then nodded. “Come back to me, and I will take care of you,” she announced.

Like hell I would.

Lage’s Game: Chapter Ten, Part One

The rush of prisoners before us scattered at the top of the stairs, parting left and right into corridors. The creature, whatever he was, led me to the right. There we rushed down a narrow corridor. The prisoners ahead of us tangled with guards in brawls they lost. We wove around the messes and he drew to a halt at a window. The glass pane opened outwards, and he climbed up, sidling sideways so his body could slip out.

A guard yelled at us. The creature held out a hand to me. I hesitated.

I was seized from behind by the shoulders. I burst, a wave of anger suddenly crowding my mind.

I screamed, I lashed out. I felt the surge of power and adrenaline taking over. I wrenched myself free, jabbing elbows against armor and thrashing with all my might. The world had dissolved in a haze of red. The guard grappled at me – but was slammed back by a kick from the creature who was half back in through the window. Again, the hand was thrust at me.

This time I took it. I was yanked up, onto the window’s ledge. My hands gripped the edges of the window, and a rush of cold air greeted me. A drop opened up beneath us, one large story down.

“Climb on my back,” the creature said, taking one of my hands and putting it on his shoulder. I climbed, swinging my legs around his waist and gingerly grappling at his neck beneath the hood.

Too soon, the creature, man, began to scale the wall. I yelped as we moved away from the window, tightening my grip on his neck and locking my legs around his waist. But we did not fall. Instead we scurried down, to the side, and climbed atop the wall that separated the castle from the rest of the city.

He didn’t stop to set me down. Guards rushed us, but they were too slow. He had already jumped off the wall, scurrying down like a spider to the ground below.

The guards shouted from atop the walls, but they could do nothing it seemed. He ran, darting through the crowds of people to slide in narrow alleyways between houses. After several dizzying turns, he slowed to a stop.

“You can get down now,” he said gently, bending over slightly. “We should be safe here. At least for a little while until the guards recover their senses.”

Trembling, I set myself on the ground. I gripped my hands into fists, trying to calm myself.

In these shadows, I could see the one who had set me free much better. He was certainly tall, but maybe he was still a human. Yet something about him forebade it.

“Show me your face,” I ordered. What was he? Some monster? He had already admitted to being an assassin. How much worse could it get?

He smiled, flashing those white teeth. “Bossy. That’s good. But here, just for you,” he bent over before me, lifting the beaded fringe from his eyes and with it, the hood up off his head.

His eyes were brilliant golden set with sparks in them that gleamed. They reminded me of cats’ eyes in their roundness and their tilt. He had a tall forehead, from which grew a myriad of thin silver dreadlocks. Beside those dreadlocks, pointed ears poked out.

An elf?

He ran a hand through his hair, flashing me a grin again as he stooped before me. “You see? Our hair is the same. I’m just much older than you.”

I was pretty sure I’d never have actually silver hair. Just gray, if I lived long enough to get old. He was trying to make me like him. I was determined not to, putting on my most sour expression.

His smile didn’t falter. He straightened, brushing his hood back up. “The sun hurts my eyes,” he explained as he set the fringe back into place. “And the fringe helps me hear the spirits. I’m a shaman, you know.”

I didn’t answer, looking around. We were in a tiny crackle of a space between four buildings. A crossroad of sorts. The snow was trampled into the mud, proving that this was a well-used path.

“We’ll need to find you clothes,” he hummed. “Something practical.”

I didn’t answer, but I knew he was right. My yellow and pink pajamas, now covered in filth, were sorely out of place even if I hugged the guards’ red cloak around myself. And something besides socks would be good. Now that I relaxed, my feet were frozen. They stung with cold.

The elf looked around. “Should I kill someone? It would have to be a young woman, or do you wear mens’ clothes?”

“Don’t kill anyone,” I griped, deciding that there had been enough death already. “We can just – steal.”

He laughed. “How ideal. How shall we do that?”

I looked around again. “We should get moving,” I muttered, not wanting to admit that, unlike in movies, there didn’t seem to be laundry hanging haphazardly around for easy plucking. Did people not do laundry in winter?

“This way then,” said the elf, nodding to the right with his head. His fringe’s beads caught the light and glimmered. “I know what we shall find for you.”

As we walked, he began to talk. “My name is Ekundayo. What about yours?”

I didn’t answer, glaring ahead.

“Very well,” he said cheerfully. “I will call you simply ‘apprentice’. How is that?”

I frowned at him. “I am not your apprentice,” I hissed between my teeth.

“Oh but you see, it shall be useful,” he said, lifting a finger at me. Then, he winked. I scowled.

We walked for several more minutes in silence until several people appeared beside the buildings. They stepped out of the alleyways and barred our path.

I hesitated, slowing. These people were all hues of dirt and scuffed even worse than the ones I’d seen when entering the city. They meant trouble.

But Ekundayo put a hand on my shoulder. “Don’t be afraid. They’ll smell it,” he murmured happily.

And so we walked on to greet these bandits.

They seemed baffled by this behavior, or more so by something about Ekundayo. They looked from him to me and back again, frowning. There were four of them, and they looked at each other with arms crossed and large knives at their belts.

Ekundayo inclined his head and said something in gibberish, starting with “Shee, shee.”

The bandits shuffled their feet. They looked at me. The woman that stepped forward with a lifted chin answered in that language to Ekundayo, nodding at me.

Ekundayo placed a hand on my shoulder, and he laughed softly before saying more gibberish.

After another curt exchange, the bandits stepped aside. Ekundayo patted my shoulder and we walked on past them.

“What was that?” I hissed after we were out of earshot. “What did you say?”

He chuckled, pulling the hood up onto my head. “You’re going to have to learn the language of the poor to live here, apprentice. Only the rich speak your language.”

I paused. It had never occurred to me before that English was not universal. But now… “Teach it to me,” I ordered. I’d need it, certainly.

More smiles. Another chuckle. “About what was said. I told them you were my daughter, spawned with a noblewoman, and that I’d finally rescued you from their clutches.”

I gaped. He winked again. “It explains you not speaking a word of the poor speech. And why you look so out of sorts.”

Anger rose within me, a steady burn in my chest. “I’m not your daughter, and I’m not your apprentice. Stop imagining things!”

He shook his head, tutting. The fringe on his hood rattled. “Children these days,” he scoffed before chuckling again. Then, he pointed to a shack that looked no different from the others. “There,” he said. “We will find our friends there, daughter.”

“I’m not your child!”

He laughed.

Escape! ~ Lage’s Game: Chapter Nine, Part Two

I stared at the nearly invisible creature. Of course I wanted to get out. This was a trap question. Of course I wanted out – but what would it cost me? I peered so hard at the creature, trying to think and guess at what it wanted – and then it laughed.

It was a clear, high laugh. Menacing? Cold? It sent chills down my spine.

“I said! Enough!” the guard marched over, banging a thick sword against the bars. “You there!” and he rounded on the last cell, the one with the monster in it.

“Are you talking to me?” the hoarse voice asked. The shape twisted upwards, stretching up, up, up until it was like a tall human, facing the guard. “Do you want to fight?” It was curious, questioning like a child. The hands wrapped around the bars before the guard. But the guard had brought a lamp with him, and I finally saw the creature as he held it aloft.

It was a humanoid shape, wreathed in a large purple cloak with silver-white embellishments shrouding the eyes in a fringe that hung down to the cheekbones. The skin was black like the darkest hue of nighttime, the lips were thin, the nose hooked, and there was a grace to its smile.

“Stand back!” barked the guard, banging at the bars where the creature’s hands had been.

“Oooh,” murmured the creature. “Frightening.”

The guard paled. “Enough!” But he had already lost this battle.

“Shut up,” hissed the creature, turning away from the guard to face me. Beneath the cloak I saw a fluttering of a grey robe, a sash from which hung dozens of braids, and boots. But then the cloak was drawn fast around the creature once more.

It is probably a human, I thought to myself, but I wasn’t sure. Was it?

It crouched again before the bars separating us, its dark hands coiling around the bars. “Who brought you in here, child? Far from your world, aren’t you?”

I didn’t answer, huddling on myself. The guard bellowed again. “Quiet!”

The creature turned to him, then back to me. It was a strangely silent movement. Their fabrics barely rustled. They sat down and crossed their legs before themselves. They must be human.

Breathing a sigh, the guard turned and walked away. With him went the light, and some semblance of safety.

Once the guard was back at the other end, the creature whispered. “I was brought in for murder. But you can trust me. I’m an assassin.”

I wanted to clap my hands over my ears and curl up into myself. I wanted to block out this entire strange world.

“I kill in cold blood. I don’t make them suffer. I’m not like them,” he whispered.

My senses prickled. Them? Did he know- he couldn’t, could he?

I found myself turning to look at the creature. His tilted eyes were glowing faintly, just enough to be discernible. He had a hand reached out for me, palm up.

“Come with me,” he whispered. “I can see who you are. I can tell-” and his voice dropped to barely a whisper. “What you’ve eaten.”

My breath caught. The creature chuckled. “Yes,” he murmured, coaxing me on. “Come with me, child. You won’t be safe here once they bring you to the priestesses. What they will do to you – even I wouldn’t.”

I shuddered. Now that I was looking, I couldn’t take my eyes away from theirs.

The hand drew back, and I felt that they were satisfied. “Tomorrow, no- tonight. Soon. Brace yourself, child. Rest. We will be free soon.”

I looked away then, feeling caught and guilty. Would I run with them? Was this some trap? It couldn’t be – I hadn’t given them anything! And I could still change my mind, couldn’t? Besides, how could they get me out of here?

I found myself curling up on myself, my head between my knees. As if following orders, I fell asleep fitfully.

I dreamed of Lage. I dreamed of Mother, of Father, of Kayla and her final bottle smash. It was terrible.

I woke screaming, to find the air silent and cold. There was a crispness to the air that smelt of the outside.

I looked around, wondering where I was. For a moment I was completely lost, baffled, and it wasn’t helped by what I saw.

To my right, where the creature’s cell was, a silver light was glowing. It expanded, radiating out with a breath of coolness and frost out into the cells. Then it swept back in, shrinking somewhat. It was someone’s breath, I realized. The creature’s breath, their form hidden as a shadow behind this glowing frost.

I slunk backwards, looking around for some sense of normalcy. No one was coming. No one seemed to even notice that something strange was happening.

For what felt like an eternity, I sat there with my arms around my knees. I reached out within myself, pleading with the world for help, for something.

With my head burrowed between my knees, I was jolted from my thoughts by the creature shouting. “Guard! Guard! Come quick! The girl is dead!”

I jolted up, lifting my head and looking around. The creature was standing by the bars, their glowing breath now gone. There was the sound of cursing and feet running. The guard rushed into view, lamp in hand and keys in the other.

I just sat there, frozen. Wondering what was happening, even as it unfolded before me.

It was a trap. The guard rushed up against the bars of my cell, and the creature reached out through his and yanked the guard close. In one yelp and a snap, the guard was over. The keys were now jangling in dark hands, the lamp smashing to the floor.

The silence that followed was punctuated only by the hammering of my heart in my ears. Then, the door grating open. The flames licked at the oil on the floor, lighting up the creature as he stepped out. He was a ghastly shape, tall and strange as he stepped over the fire to unlock my door.

“Come,” he said sweetly. Then he turned and walked away.

I had a choice. I could sit in this cell, or move. I moved. I didn’t know what the princesses had in store for me, but neither did I know what this creature wanted. At least with the creature, I could hopefully still run away. Find my way back to Lage, then go home. But what home was there to go back to?

I shoved that question aside as I stepped over the smoldering flames and beside the dead guard. I was going home. That was that.

As I made my way down the corridor, the creature was unlocking some doors, ignoring others. Then, as if to spite everyone, he tossed the keys into the far corner of an already locked cell that held only a skeleton.

Prisoners were rushing out, pouring and stumbling towards the stairs that led away and up. The creature turned to me. He flashed a smile of immaculate white teeth.

“Here,” he drew a cloak from the guards’ chair. “Put this on.”

Remembering the biting cold of outdoors, I did, wrapping it clumsily around my shoulders. He nodded, and we turned and ran after the vanishing prisoners.

Lage’s Game: Chapter Nine, Part One

Rebella nearly threw me at her grandmother, she shoved me at her so harshly. I stumbled forward, and the elderly Queen touched my face briefly. I straightened, scowling, and her touch was gone. But she was smiling now.

“An ancient,” she whispered. “Too bad I am leaving as she arrives.”

But she did not sound sorry at all. Rather, she sounded mischeivous. Playful, even. The eye looked at Rebella, then her sister. “You two have your work cut out for you,” she said gleefully.

The two sisters did not seem amused.

“Perhaps if we do a spell of reversal, her death will save your life,” said Rebella swiftly, the way you blurt something out so no one can interrupt you with a ‘no’.

The grandmother hummed as she looked me over once more.

“No,” she said finally.

I let out a breath I didn’t even know I was holding. Al-alright? I guessed I was safe then? Somehow I didn’t feel any safer. At least not with Rebella around.

“We must save you!” Rebella cried out, shoving me aside to step up to her grandmother. “Your life is worth more than hers!”

“Then it would not be a fair spell, would it?” chuckled the grandmother.

“Rebella,” warned the sister, stepping to my other side. I was trapped between them.

Rebella seized my shoulder. “It is her people who did this! She must pay-”

“Why?” I barked, glaring up at Rebella.

She seemed utterly shocked at that. At me speaking up? At me daring to question her? Either way, she was astonished. She almost let me go. I wrenched free with a twist, and almost punched her in the stomach. On a whim, I didn’t. I resisted that rage that was beginning to boil within me.

“’My people’, as you call us, could not have done this,” I snapped, gesturing to the elderly woman. “The gun you showed me couldn’t have done this-”

“It did!” barked Rebella, seizing me again to shake me. Now, I gave in to the anger.

I shrieked, kicking and clawing at her. I aimed for the eyes. With a yell she lunged back, shielding her face with her arms.

I didn’t chase her. Instead I stood my ground, seething and glaring at the astonished princess. “Brat,” she hissed between her teeth.

“It was them who must have done this,” I hissed back at her. “They have killed my parents! They attacked me! They murdered my aunt-,” and those words silenced me. Was Kayla truly gone? Had she – finished her fight? Was she happy?

“Well,” said the grandmother, but then she took a cough, and then another, and then a whole fit of them. She doubled over, the other princess and several attendants rushing to her side to pat her shoulders and fuss. Rebella stood where she was, looking guilty. Our eyes met. She looked away, then fiercely glared back at me as if she’d changed her mind. She would not look away now.

After a hacking spasm, the grandmother breathed again. Leanign back in her throne, she looked Rebella over. “Child,” she said softly. “Take care of this one,” and she nodded at me.

Rebella startled. “Of, course?” she said, pausing as if she was not entirely sure what had been said. Neither was I.

The Grandmother smiled, eyes closing. “Don’t let Lage get his claws into her.”

My stomach vanished. Was Lage somehow to blame for all this? After all, he had appeared with ‘them’.

But Rebella was quickly bowing and murmuring that yes, she would be sure to keep me away from Lage.

“That man is trouble,” sighed the Queen, eyes still closed. Then, she seemed to drift off into sleep, peace and relaxation coming over her good features.

The sister spun to Rebella, hissing under her breath. “Get her out of here! You’ve done enough!”

Rebella lifted her head angrily, but the sister gestured at her to leave. “Take her with you!” Then, shoving me towards Rebella, she added “How dare you bring her here! I will talk with you later!”

“No, you won’t!” snapped Rebella as she yanked me to her by the shoulder. Then, dragging me after her, she whirled and marched away.

We crossed the courtyard of greenery, then entered into the castle through another door than the one we entered into. Once that door was shut behind us, Rebella shoved me towards a guard. “Put her in the dungeon,” she said ruefully as she kept walking on, leaving me behind in the guards’ grasp.

I squirmed, wanting to throw myself after Rebella and give her a beating. But the guard held me fast. Muttering something under his breath to the other guard at the station, he began hauling me down the corridors.

We descended a meager flight of stairs, the walls growing darker and darker as there were fewer and fewer lamps to light the way. The air grew dank and humid and foul with the smell of decaying flesh. Then, at the end of these stairs, the dungeon appeared.

It was a small landing where a guard sat with his feet propped up on a desk. “Another one?” he asked, rising sloppily to his feet.

“This one’s special,” said the guard, shoving me forward. “She’s not from here, if ye ken what I mean.”

“Oh,” said the dungeon guard, sounding astonished behidn his helmet. I made a point of glaring at him.

“The princess brought them in,” said the first guard. “So put her alone, away from the others. The usual for their type of scoundrel.”

The dungeon guard nodded, taking me by the shoulder and hauling me off into the darkness beyond the light of the last lamp. There he seemed to know his way, walking straight on. As we walked my eyes grew adjusted tot he dark and I saw large cells on either side, full of ragged figures who clustered together. There were squeaks of what I supposed was rats.

We walked on and on, and I wondered why there were so many prisoners. There were dozens of them, of not a hundred in total.

Past those large cells were smaller ones. These seemed emtpy, put the darkness was growing so thick that it was difficult to tell.

I was shoved into one that was not the last, but before the last. “There!” the guard barked, locking the door behind me. “You stay there!”

I stumbled, caught myself, and turned around.

The cell was tiny, just long enough for an adult to lay down in either direction. There was spongey grime in one corner and scrapes of straw that were scattered across the rest. Tired and altogether frustrated and mad, I sat down in the corner against the stone wall and the bars to the other cell, as far away from the spongey stuff as possible. There, I wrapped my arms around my knees and hugged them to my chest.

Finally, I caught my breath. Finally, I had time to think. The world, having moved so fast, was now slamming to a stand-still. I let out a loud breath, just to hear myself.

The dungeon, for the amount of people it housed, was eerily silent. The footsteps of the guard faded away, and then there was utter silence.

My mind whirled. I was in some world. In a dungeon. I was being blamed for a Queen’s death- which was certainly not the result of a gunshot wound. These people were completely lost and out of their league against ‘them’, it would seem. They were –

I shrieked as something slipped through the bars and touched my shoulder. It was soft yet smooth and solid – rather like a hand.

I scrambled back, crawling backwards across the floor. Beyond, on the other side of the bars, I could just make out a set of tilted golden eyes that seemed to glow ever so slightly.

“Shee, sheee,” a voice whispered as the hand waved through the bars at me.

“Silence!” the guard roared, banging something against the bars far away. I knew it was a threat, and I’d better shut up.

I gulped down my fear, staring at the strange shape that was too close to me. I could only make out the eyes, and the ghastly shape of the hand.

“Shee, shee,” it shushed, or was that some word? It was a male voice, low and hoarse. It murmured some gibberish then, the hand reaching still for me.

A madman, I thought. Or a pedophile. Or – some creature?

“Little one,” the voice whispered.

I startled. A human then? Then again, could monsters speak english?

“Here, tsk tsk tsk,” the hand snapped its fingers.

“I said quiet!” bellowed the guard, banging again on the bars.

The hand grew limp and drew away through the bars. But the voice continued. “Little one, here, come.”

I crawled back some more, squishing my hands into the filth. The stench was terrible so I recoiled – but that drew me closer to the creature.

Huddling between the filth and the monster, I clutched my knees to my chest again.

Silence settled. I felt myself calm somewhat. The creature could not reach me –

“Little one,” it whispered. “Would you like to get out?”

Lage’s Game: Chapter Eight, Part Two

The walk felt endless. I wished more than once that I’d taken Lage up on his offer of his cloak. But regrets were pointless and I trudged on, refusing to be dragged by the guards. I would stand on my own two feet.

After what felt like an hour of walking, we emerged from the forest into a clearing. There, towering up out of seemingly nowhere, a gated city with a tall castle stood.

It was like something straight out of a fairytale. The walls were of white stone, two stories tall, with ramparts. There was a thick trench dug before them, filled with spears and what looked like a small frozen bed of water. There was the drawbridge that was lifted up. But before this drawbridge, on our side of the moat, was a solitary guard and several waiting horses.

“Take her on your horse,” Rebella ordered one of the guards before mounting her lovely dappled gray horse. I wanted to touch the horses, to take in all their colors – for I had never seen one up in real life before. But now was not the moment to be in awe. I was hoisted up to sit before a guard, and Rebella whirled her horse towards the drawbridge.

“Lower the drawbridge!” she called out. “The princess orders it!”

Clankings answered, and the drawbridge lowered swiftly. Rebella ordered her horse forward with a click of the tongue, and we followed her as a cluster of guards.

We passed beneath the thick of the wall, and we entered the city.

I was struck by the sight first. There was myriads of houses toppled together, stacked upon each other, and clustered in shapings that seemed to suit people of all sizes. There was some that bore tiny gnome-like doorways that were round. There were some that seemed just a little too tall, and lopsided at that too. There were others that seemed svelte and elven.

Yet the people before us couldn’t have looked more bland. They were dirty, browned with sun and exhaustion. They were monochrome in their blandness, their clothing all turned to the same shade of brown and dirt as they were. Their clothes were tattered and thin. They hastily rushed out of the way of the princess’s horse. It was that or be crushed, I guessed, for Rebella stared straight through them and seemed to pay no heed to anyone. Her horse marched on, and the people scattered like ants. The guards had their hands on the pommels of their swords, and glared angrily all around.

Whispers rose, fingers pointed, but they were far away. No one dared come near to point at me.

As we proceeded through the city, the stench let itself be known. The air was in turn crisp and cool of winter, then it was the moist warm stench of fecal remains. Then it was mold, then crisp again with another gust.

This place stinks, I realized grudgingly.

And yet, the castle that towered before us did not look like it ought to belong in a place of stink. It was tall and spired, it was magnificent. It had handfuls of turrets, towers, and pointy-topped roofs straight out of a novel. It was made of the same white stone as the walls were, and it looked surreal. I wondered if the stink would get better as we approached.

After a good hour of riding through the thick of filthy people, we were met with another wall, another gate which Rebella ordered opened – and which swung open inwards for her. Again, she rode onwards as if the world owed her something.

It was in here that the stink finally let up. Here there were snowy gardens, fluffy bushes that were topped with red winter berries. Fruit trees that were bare save for ice and snow. Here, the poor were obviously not welcome.

We rode onwards, our breath misting icily before our faces. Colorfully dressed people were seen walking about here and there. They curtsied as Rebella passed, and turned their faces away from the guards – and turned quickly back to gawk at me. They rode on horses as well, trimmed in fur cloaks and richly decorated clothes.

Finally, we had crossed the gardens. The castle stood before us like a multi layered cake, the immensity of it mind boggling. It was tall as a skyscraper, taller than I believed any medieval palace had ever been. Here, at its outer edges, it was already three flights high, and it only grew taller and more multilayered towards the middle.

Rebella dismounted, landing gracefully like a cat. People rushed forward from an open doorway, and they were not dressed in furs. They were simply clothed, and seemed to be servants. Rebella tossed her horses’ reins at them in disdain, and turned to face me.

“Bring the girl,” she ordered the guard behind me. “Hurry up!”

The guards clustered around this horse, several of them holding me while the guard behind me dismounted. Then, by several hands, I was passed down and placed on the ground like a very precious lump. Or a lump they believed might run away. But that was stupid. Where was I to run to?

With one scowl from Rebella, she turned and marched into a large doorway before us. The guards hastily followed, three of them clustering around me to hold my shoulders and half-carry me forward.

Inside, the corridor was dark, lit by the occasional lamp. The lamps were gorgeous! They had an oriental flair to them I supposed, looking all blown glass with leaves and elaborate people painted onto them and the wood pieces holding them carved as well with swirls and motifs.

Rebella paid this no heed. She marched straight on, her cloak billowing about her. I stared from one lapm to another until I saw spots. Then, as I was blinking spots out of my eyes, we reached a doorway.

Rebella shoved it open with a bang, and we were flooded with light.

We were let out into a courtyard, and I had to blink and blink to be sure it was real. Of course it couldn’t be – nothing int his world seemed to be – but it was.

It was green. There was grass, fruits trees, and so many bushes of fruits and vegetables in clusters here and there in spiralling pathways. It stretched on in all directions for a good hundreds of feet, like a small field. Up, above, a domed ceiling lined with metal spires held up twinkling glass that made this all possible.

Rebella was drawing off her cloak. She tossed it to a servant who rushed to her side to catch it before the white fur touched the ground. Turning, Rebella seized me by the shoulder and began to march forward, straight into the heart of the inner gardens.

There, a cluster of people were attending to a large chair. On this chair, lumped up in silks and fabrics, was a wizened elderly woman.

She bore some traits of resemblance with Rebella, but there was a softness to her that Rebella did not have. Also, she was half dead. Literally.

Decay clung to one side of the woman’s face, revealing bone and teeth beneath. The eye on that side was white and half lidded.

There was a strange, putrid, decaying scent as we marched through the garden towards her. SERvants stepped aside from the cluster, and Rebella thrust me forward to the elderly woman as we reached her.

“I’ve brought a card collector!” Rebella announced loudly, but not triumphantly. It was merely a fact.

A woman, middle aged and robed in vibrant red, stepped forward from the side of the throne. “Why would you disturb mother with that?” She had gold earrings, gold paint around her eyes, and hair that was intricately shaped in coils atop her head.

“Maybe she can tell us how to cure mother,” said Rebella coldly, not looking at her sister. Instead she was looking somewhere aroudn their grandmothers’ knees. I could not see what there was to look at there.

“You’re disturbing her,” snapped the sister, but she silenced as the Queen, I supposed she was Queen, lifted a hand. This hand was good, not rotten. It had long nails that were immaculately cared for, and several gold bangles around the wrist.

“Come here,” said the old woman, her one good eye trained one me.

Adelaide!

Be-fucking-hold! Queen Adelaide, Ladies and Gentlemen and folks in between!

adelaide victorious.jpeg

This, if you haven’t been reading along with the story, is massive spoilers, by the way. If you have, it’s probably still spoilers. This is Adelaide’s end form/final mutation from the story ‘Of Adelaide and Shadow’. So WHY oh fucking why am I sharing it?

To motivate myself, selfishly. I have been so focused upon Chaos’ story that I have totally left Farfadel in the dust. But you know, Farfadel is one of those stories that is close to my heart so… I must continue to share it!

So let me tell you a little bit about Adelaide, for those who are wondering ‘Is this a story I’d want to read?’.

Adelaide is a princess who grows into a Queen. She starts off insecure but devious, and ends up, well, bad-ass. She literally rules the world and shapes Farfadel into what it will be, and is constantly referenced in later Farfadel novels. So if you like humor, fairy tales centering around a woman who grows in strength and awesomeness -> this is the story for you!

Join me, one and all, in reading ‘Of Adelaide and Shadow’!