Hooves stomped cautiously, almost too quietly, against the rocky path. The sky had become black all too quickly and felt as though an evil shadow had been caste all throughout the forest. The journey had been quick at first but upon entering the forest itself the horse's movement became all too slow. He may not have been the smartest of horses but even Jimmie could sense danger. It seemed as though it was the only vibe he received from the darkened area. And while he didn't know the exact direction in which Troy had gone, the scent of the boy was still somewhat fresh. Faint flurries covered the ground after the rain had finally stopped. Even the smell of the wolves was still fresh, though it was clear they ran around so much more than Troy had. Just remembering their hisses and growls nearly made Jimmie jump. But with Taylor in control he wouldn't have a chance to do so. Her grip was tight on his reigns, refusing to let go at any cost. As far as she saw it, the Shetland was the only key to finding Troy and she wasn't going to lose the chance. Her grip began to loosen as Jimmie halted in front of a large iron gate. Taylor's eyes drifted away from the road and through the bars, slowly scaling up the castle feet behind it. Lightning struck behind it, which must have meant any storm from before stopped not too long ago.
She slowly lifted down the hood of the jacket she threw on before leaving the farm earlier and took another glance around as she removed herself from the saddle. "What is this place?"
Jimmie's only response was blowing a portion of his mane out of his face. He turned his head to see Taylor moving over to the gate. She felt the bars carefully before finding the hook and opening it. She took a single step in before taking Jimmie's reigns again and letting him follow her in. Jimmie took a few steps forwards towards the bleak castle. The sudden sound of Taylor closing the gate with a squeak made him jump and neigh with surprise.
"Jimmie, it's ok," Taylor said quickly, trying to calm him down. "It's alright."
The horse slowly got back down to all four's and the neighs were silenced. He stayed where he was as he watched Taylor approach the castle. Her goal was clear, that much was known. But wasn't known to her was what was waiting on the other side of the doors.
Jason had his hands behind his back as he paced back and forth on a large coffee table. It was barely even a day ago that Troy was locked in the dungeon and it had finally quieted down. However no one in the castle dared to talk to the master. There was no chance of him allowing Troy to leave. Zeke appeared to feel quite guilty over it, as he kept rubbing his head with one of his candle arms. And evidently, Jason was not letting his comrade hear the end of it.
"How could you do that? What were you thinking?" Jason groaned. "You had to let him stay in here. You had to take him over to the fire place. You had to let him sit in that chair!"
"I was trying to be hospitable," Zeke shrugged his shoulders.
"You invited him to stay the night!" Jason gasped. He then began to mock Zeke, "Sit in the master's chair. Sip some tea. Pet the pooch."
Zeke was about to insist he did not talk like that when he and Jason turned their heads. A faint squeak was heard and they realized that it was the sound of the front door opening. A slight breeze blew in and light coming from outside reflected off the hard floor through the hallway. He and Jason jumped down from the coffee table and made their way over to the doorway where they could get a good view of the entrance. Who on earth could that be?
"Hello? Is anyone here?" a woman's voice called. "Hello?" She gently closed the door behind her and made her way to the nearest steps. "Troy? Troy?" Coming to the top of the steps Taylor looked in both directions before continuing her way around the castle. The place nearly seemed deserted, as no one was around or answering. "Is anyone there?"
A wide grin came across Donny's face as he watched from the doorway Taylor just walked by. He jumped up and down and ran excitedly over to his sister - or in his case, hopped.
"Gabby, Gabby!" he exclaimed as he saw her cleaning the other teacups in a large boiling pot. "There's a girl in the castle!"
"Donny, not again," Gabriella sighed as she hopped down from the stool she used to watch over the teacups. "We can't have you making up all of these wild stories. Every time you think you see a girl it just turns out to be something ordinary. Like a radio. Or one of your friends doing impressions of girls."
"But I'm not lying Gabby, I really saw one," Donny replied.
"Donny that's enough. The sooner you get in the tub the sooner you'll be cleaned and can go to bed," Gabriella replied. She helped her brother into the pot and he tumbled in with a tiny splash underneath the bubbles.
The teapot turned her head to see a feather duster enter from behind one of the cupboards. The feathers on her lower body looked like an indian red shade and the remainder of her body was nothing but a thin khaki stick, aside from the eyes and mouth that rested towards the top. Unlike the faint French accent that Zeke often spoke in, her voice was much more of a deep British one.
"Tiara what is it?" Gabriella inquired.
"I saw a girl in the castle," she replied with a smile before scooting off to tell anyone else that didn't know. After all, it was such big gossip around the castle for a human, especially a girl, to waltz in.
"See?" Donny asked with a smile as he floated to the surface of the pot. "I told you."
As Taylor continued her way through the castle, Zeke and Jason were trying their best to keep up with her, attempting not to give it away that she was being followed. Zeke could have sworn that it was indeed a girl that they were going after but being the down to Earth candelabra that he was, he wanted to be sure it wasn't a wild goose chase. Jason, on the other hand, had already assumed that he was going crazy. He had been told that so many times he was almost positive that it was true. He continued following Zeke, only to keep yapping about Troy being locked in the dungeon. How Taylor didn't even notice either of them following or hear them was a mystery.
"It was irresponsible, Zeke. It's my job to be the irresponsible one!" he continued. "I don't even know how you can live with yourself sometimes. You're a waxy haired, skinny golden holder thing, paler than you've ever been-"
Zeke just rolled his eyes and continued trailing the girl, though he couldn't resist moving one of his candle hands as Zeke spoke. It was like his own mouth talking and mocking everything that Jason was saying without even speaking. But he couldn't take it anymore. He had to get Jason to get the message.
"Are you not hearing what is in front of you?" he asked.
"The last time you asked me that, you lied about the panda bear," Jason complained.
"Troy?" Taylor called again.
Jason's jaw dropped and he nearly froze in his place. It took him a few minutes to speed up and catch up to Zeke, who now wasn't too far from Taylor. The two ducked behind one of the statues against the wall and watched Taylor continue down the corridor.
"Now do you believe me?" Zeke asked. "It's a girl!"
"I know it's a girl. I'm not that stupid." Jason rolled his eyes.
"Don't you see Jason?" Zeke asked eagerly with a smile. "She's the one! The girl we've been waiting for! She's come to break the spell." He happily spun Jason around and then continued following Taylor.
"Wait a minute..." Jason started as he kept spinning even after Zeke was done with him. "Were these walls always orange?" Yup, the dizziness got to him. Moments later he shook his head once more and attempted to catch up with Zeke. "Wait for me!"
But Zeke didn't slow down. He knew that they were approaching the dungeon. And if it was Troy the girl was looking for, it was Troy she was going to find. Zeke had to get her to go into the dungeon or his name was Monsieur Baylor...which it technically wasn't because hardly anyone even called him that. He stopped at the door, watching Taylor move on down the hall. He rubbed his chin for a moment, pondering how to get her to follow him. That's when he got the idea. There may have been a long staircase behind that door up to the dungeon, but he worked well under pressure. He'd get through there first and then perch himself on the thin windowsill towards the top, she would call for help, Troy would hear her, and they'd be reunited. It was genius.
Zeke moved in with his plan. He moved the door opened just a crack so he could get through. It must have been loud enough for Taylor to hear, because she turned around and pushed the door opened a little more. "Hello?" she asked, cautiously stepping through. She was not about to get caught off guard in unfamiliar territory. Squinting, she could have sworn she saw a faint light towards the end of the stairs as they curved. "Hello?" she asked again, then began following the dim light that was Zeke. "Wait. I'm looking for my brother!"
As she headed up the stairs, Jason poked his head through the doorway. His face just fell as he watched, knowing there wasn't anything he could do at the moment.
Taylor moved her hand against the cold brick wall as she walked up the staircase. She quirked an eyebrow. This was too odd; she knew she saw something, there was no way it could have been her imagination. Maybe it could have been her mind playing tricks on her due to being outside for so long in the chilly weather, or because her nerves were getting the better of her, but Taylor was not one to hallucinate easily.
"That's odd...I was sure I saw someone," she said to herself. She walked past where Zeke was on the little windowsill, unaware that it was he she had saw. Taylor looked around the staircase and the dusty area as it came to an end. Maybe it wouldn't hurt to double check. "Is anyone here?"
Zeke's face lit up. Troy had to have heard that. He felt all warm inside knowing he did such a good thing. And it wasn't just his bright candles that made him feel so content.
"Tay?" Troy called hoarsely.
Taylor's eyes widened. "Troy!" she gasped, running over to him. She saw his hand stick out at the bottom of an iron door through, wouldn't you know it, another set of iron bars. She knelt down to his level and saw him laying on the ground looking up at her. She sighed with relief as soon as she grasped his freezing hand in hers.
"How...how did you find me?" Troy stammered before covering his mouth to cough.
"Troy, you're so cold. What happened?" Taylor asked, ignoring his question. Besides, she assumed it would be obvious she had Jimmie's help to get there.
Troy just shook his head. He had been cold from being outside before, but the dungeon felt even colder. No warmth came from the brick walls and any windows that happened to be up there were wide open. It was clear that he was no longer worried about himself. Had he wanted to get out of there? More than anything. But did he want his sister to get in trouble for being here or go through what he did? Most certainly not. He had to convince her to get out of there while there was still time.
"Listen Tay, you have to forget about me. Just get out of here. Leave while you can," he urged.
"Who did this to you?" Taylor questioned. Whoever was putting Troy in so much peril was surely going to pay.
"That doesn't matter. There's no time, Taylor. You have to leave. Now!" Troy demanded.
"I'm not going to leave you," she insisted.
But there wasn't any chance for either of them to get another word in. A large, furry hand grasped Taylor's shoulder and spun her around to him. She gasped and jumped back on surprise contact. But because of the darkness it was impossible to see who was there. Barely even a shadow was visible. The only light coming into the dungeon was the open windows and Zeke's candles from the stairwell. The aura in the room had suddenly gone from cold and worried to frightful and bleak. Taylor put her hand on her chest as an involuntary reaction and tried following the deep, harsh voice that circled the room.
"What are you doing here?"
"Who's there?" was Taylor's reply as she tried to keep up, now leaning against the wall. "Who are you?"
She looked up and, with the light from one of the windows shining almost right in front of her, she could see the shadow of the roaring voice. She couldn't make out too much of it aside from what appeared to be a large body and...were those horns on his head?
"I'm the master of this castle," he hissed as he crept through the shadows, making it harder for Taylor to keep up with him.
"I came for my brother," Taylor got right to the point. Though she was now sitting on the floor she refused to show any fear. A hint of it was evident in her voice, but it was awfully hard to trust someone hidden in the darkness. If she could see who she was talking to it'd make it so much easier to stand up to him and get Troy out. "I have to get him out of here. I think he's ill."
"If he was so sick he shouldn't have trespassed here!" he demanded, glaring at her right through chocolate brown eyes, the only part of his body that was visible.
"If I don't get him out of here and if he doesn't see a doctor the chances are slim that he'll live," Taylor replied. "Listen to me, I'll do anything." she blurt out, her voice becoming desperate. Just the thought of losing Troy was enough to frighten her. They were the only family each other had left; it was impossible to even think about living without the other.
The shadow looked away, his brown eyes released from Taylor's as he growled to himself. "There's nothing you could do," he said in a low voice, the iciness remaining in it. He moved on all four's through the shadows again and Taylor continued to follow his movements. "He's my prisoner now."
"But there has to be something..." Taylor started. Then she cut herself off. Yes, there did have to be something. There's no way anyone could continue through with something without making a trade of some sort. People did it all the time. Maybe there was a way to get Troy out of there and give this master something in return. For all Taylor knew he could be amendable to a compromise. All she had to do was make just the right pitch and convince him to go through with it. "Wait!"
He spun right back to her in one fluid motion, the cape on his back floating on the air with the breeze coming from outside. One again his brown eyes were right on her, almost as though they were staring into her very being. He held his ground firmly, almost like there was no way he was going to move. This almost completely caught Taylor off guard. He certainly wasn't holding back any hatred he had nor was he afraid to reflect it on others. She hesitated for a minute, almost contemplating in her mind whether it was the right thing to do or not. She glanced down at Troy through the bars, then slowly turned her head back to this master. Taylor tried her best to ignore the lump in her throat, not allowing herself to show any emotions at all about the current situation. She made sure they were completely held back before she spoke again.
"You can take me instead."
The sound of it almost seemed to disgust him. He turned his head and gritted his teeth. He almost gave off the impression that there was no way he'd agree to it, that there was no way he'd be willing to make an exchange.
"You," he muttered, at first despising the idea. His back was facing them and it was impossible to see his facial expression. But in the dark his eyes could still be seen. At first they were filled with hate and anger, as though he wanted nothing at all to do with this girl. A moment passed and he appeared to take it into consideration. He raised an eyebrow at first, then both his eyebrows. His frown became less toothy and his ears twitched a little. He let it all sink in. This girl was willing to let herself be locked up by him just to let that boy go? Was she even the slightest bit aware of what she was getting herself into? Did she even care? "You would...take his place?" he finally asked, almost in a quieter and softer tone as he turned his head back to them slightly.
Troy gasped. There was no way he was letting his sister go through with this. "Tay, don't! You don't know what you're doing!" he urged.
Taylor was silent for a moment. Maybe she didn't know what she was doing, and maybe she was getting herself into something she wanted to stray far away from. But it had to have been better than letting Troy rot in this place when he had his whole life still ahead of him. Still, she wanted to make sure they had a deal. If she was going to stay there then there was no way Troy was seeing the same fate.
"If I did, would you let him go?" she asked with as straight a face as possible.
The shadow merely nodded. "Yes. But you have to promise to stay here forever."
She fell silent again. Taylor wanted to know what she was getting herself into. She knew one way or another she was going to go through with this; but if she did, who's prisoner would she really be? Taylor was not going to rush into something without thinking everything through unless it was an act on impulse situation. This was surely not one of them. Taylor picked up her eyes to look at the shadow and squinted. Still she couldn't see much of him. If he was the master of the castle, would that make him her master as well? What else did she know about this guy aside from his anger, hatred, deep voice, and monstrous-like shadow?
"Come into the light," she finally decided, wanting to get a good look at him.
But Taylor didn't know what she was thinking when she asked that. There was no way she could have prepared herself for what she was about to see. The shadow slowly stepped into the light in front of her. First it was just one of his hind legs. It was so hairy and skinny. And the claws on them were so sharp. Perhaps there was a logical explanation for it; he couldn't really have been a monster. But then her eyes widened as the rest of him slowly made it into the light. His body became more bulk, faintly muscular. Nothing but those tight curls covered his body and ripped pants clutched from his waist almost to his ankles. The arms were bulk and powerful, the claws just as sharp as the ones on the feet. Taylor didn't think anything about him could get much scarier. Her first impression was simply nothing more than monstrous. Almost beastly. And even when she saw his face in that littlest of light it was worse than she could ever imagined. The hairy face...the horns on the head...those tiny disproportionate ears...numerous locks of hair threatening to cover those chocolate eyes...the hideous snout with the seemingly cold, wet nose...sharp yellow fangs...the posture with his body standing tall and his legs spread out...the tail coming from behind and resting on the floor like a dangerous weapon ready to be used at any given moment...and just the way he glared right at her. Everything about him was so hard to believe. But yet he was right there in front of her. That was who...or what...she'd be agreeing to live with forever. Horrified, Taylor sealed her eyes shut and looked away. She grabbed the iron bars tightly, trying to refrain herself from showing anymore fear.
"Taylor please," Troy's voice snapped her out of her thoughts, "I'm not gonna let you do this."
Taylor looked at him, then slowly turned her head towards the Beast. Surely her being prisoner there was much better than Troy. She didn't care what her brother said; she knew what she had to do. Rising to her feet, Taylor took a few steps into the light. She didn't dare look up at him, not even in the eyes.
"Ok. I promise to stay forever." Her voice was quiet and hesitant. Neither made a single other action until Taylor could get her voice to sound more sure. She took a deep breath, still refusing to pick her head up. "You have my word," she finally said as surely and calmly as she could.
"Then done," the Beast said. He stomped over towards the door and pulled it open, practically pulling the lock off, and threw Troy out of the prison. The boy didn't waste any time before going over to Taylor. He struggled to stand in front of her and try to look her in the eyes with his hands on her shoulders. She had her mouth covered and her eyes remained shut. Even now she couldn't bare to look at her brother despite the fact it was most likely she would never see him again.
"Taylor, listen to me. You've got more life ahead of you than I do. Don't do this to yourself..." he began. But before another word could escape him, he was dragged by the back of his shirt collar. No, he couldn't leave now. Troy wasn't ready to go. "No...no, wait!"
The scene was too horrible to even think about. The whole situation was on the verge of freaking Taylor out. Just knowing that Troy was being dragged away and hearing his voice grow fainter and fainter was hard enough.
As the Beast dragged Troy down and out the front doors, Troy tried his best to get loose, even the slightest bit. "Come on...come on please. Please let me go. Let me stay here. Don't take it out on my sister..."
"You don't have to worry about her anymore. She's my problem now," the Beast hissed as he dragged him over to a coach.
"But...don't do anything to her...please don't hurt my sister," Troy tried again. "I swear, if you do one thing to hurt her..."
"I said she's not your concern anymore!" he roared, throwing Troy into the coach and slamming the door. "Drop him at the village. Get him out of my sight."
Troy's voice was now barely audible as he was locked in the coach. It began spreading legs from the ground as though they were roots. Walking on all six legs, the coach carried Troy over to the gates. It passed by Jimmie, which made the poor horse even more scared than he had been for the past two days. But even Jimmie couldn't follow Troy now. The poor, sick boy was being taken back to the village where he'd be on his own.
And all Taylor could do was watch as her only brother was carried off into the night. From the one dungeon window in her new home. Forever.