Her evil was like a tree, Davin had realized. Sterjia found that hatred, that thing which fueled her and rooted into it. Those roots had dug so deep they had spread for miles within the soil of her turmoil and hatred.
The thought disturbed him. To what end? How large would her tree grow? For the roots were already set so deep there was no retracting them or replanting her tree in something less evil. To save her would be to simply kill her.
Despair began to plague him as he wondered how long he’d be trapped. Then, a worse thought reached him: Kiaran might fall for her trap. Racked with fear, he held either side of his head in his hands, trembling. “Please,” he breathed, “Kiaran, just stay away,” he whispered as tears formed.
Sterjia’s words were weighing heavy, her offers and her thoughts. If he simply agreed...His brow began to tingle and itch. Rubbing it with his fingers, he frowned. What a stupid thought. He’d rather sit in that cell for decades.
Suddenly, the skin across his forehead and scalp nearly burned and his ears perked to the alarming, sudden silence. He no longer heard the carts outside his window or the guard clearing his throat more often than necessary. He heard absolute silence. Then, his ears popped, as if allowing an alien sound enter whereas he’d normally not hear it.
There was a shuffle of cloth and a sniff. Then her voice--uncertain and held back as she said, “Davin...I--”
His hair stood on ends as more tears formed. “Kiaran,” he breathed, though she did not answer him.
There was something of a hushed discussion between Kiaran and someone else. With a sigh, she continued, “Davin, I swear I will get you out. One way or another.” Her voice faltered, weakened as if tears formed in her own eyes. “I swear it, Davin.” Then, all sound shut off and his ears popped several times and the coughing of the guard just outside his door took the air again.
Up until that moment, he was unsure if Kiaran was aware of his situation. He assumed that maybe she thought he were simply dead. He let out a laugh as tears ran down his face. She knew--She knew he was imprisoned.
Suddenly, his blood ran cold and he realized...She knew. He cursed and he swore and he promised himself he’d never let Sterjia get Kiaran. He’d rather die. He’d rather sit in a hole for the rest of his miserable life. Sterjia would not reach Kiaran.
The burning of his skin subsided, but his gut made him feel ill. Doubling over, he placed his forehead to his knees. He cursed past his tears a bit more. “I need you to stay away,” he growled past the swelling of his throat.
Davin awoke to Farkhahn ripping his door open. Two guards clasped him in iron cuffs and pulled him into the poorly lit hallway. Farekhahn had the look of utter hatred as he silently walked the halls beside him.
No one said a word. No one made a sound.
They bypassed the stairs to Sterjia’s throne room and continued forward. Davin’s heart sank into his gut. Today was the day that he would be put to death. He could feel it deep within his bones.
His muscles flexed as his mind swarmed. What was he to do? Take it and die? His body wouldn’t allow that, no matter how easy it might be to submit to such a thing. To die would mean that he no longer had to deal with the whisperings of the night and he no longer had to fight Sterjia.
Then they came to mind. His brother, Kiaran, everyone in his life he held dear. His heart stopped and he knew he couldn’t die. Not yet. But how could he escape? He’d have to kill his two guards, kill or somehow miraculously evade Farekhahn, and dash out of the castle either unseen or he’d have to kill everyone in his path. Not to mention the fact that his wrists were bound and he had a crippled shoulder and his back still pained him. No. He couldn’t do any of that.
Farekhahn’s voice broke through his concentration as he said, “Through those doors, men.” He pointed ahead to a set of very large doors. They were hard wood, naturally as black as night. The doors’ corners were etched with delicate designs, swirling and stretching down the edges in gold paint.
Farekhahn stood directly behind Davin as the guards each took hold of a door and pulled it open. They slowly swung outward until they were spread like wings, the sunlight washing over them. Inside the room was a secondary throne, much taller and more menacing. It was made with onyx and decorated with sapphires and rubies.
Sitting upon the throne was the queen, her hair pinned out of her face and flowing down her back. Her stunning eyes hit Davin like hammers as they stepped into the room. Their footsteps echoed throughout, as if it were a cave.
The longer she watched Davin the more rage built in her. She stood and her black layers of dress flowed to the ground. Her hands were wrapped in black gloves, embroidered with gold. The paint along her lashes were dark, highlighting her very sharp eyes. It all gave her a much more terrifying demeanor.
Flexing her fingers angrily, she said, “I cannot believe I hadn’t found this earlier.” Davin lowered his brows and she snapped her fingers. A few robed people stood on either side of her. They were garbed in dark, flowing fabrics and hoods that hid most of their faces. One woman had silver hair that curled and bounded down her shoulders to her waist.
“A carefully placed spell was lain upon your brow, King Holloway,” Sterjia spoke with a superficial politeness. “You are void to any spells to do with the mind, and that will be no longer.” She strode toward him with a quick pace, her anger boiling in her blue eyes. “You are not a strong man. You were simply lucky enough to have a ward placed around your little, broken mind. But no more!”
She spun around on the balls of her feet, her cape and skirts twirling with her body. Walking away, she sat in her throne, watching the six mages step closer to him. “Close the doors.” Then, the guards obeyed, closing the doors behind them.
Farekhahn stepped away, leaving Davin to be surrounded. What was going to happen? His heart raced as he panicked. Suddenly, some invisible force seemed to stab at his thoughts, then a soft whisper said, ”Sir Davin, remember what I’ve told you." His eyes shot to the second woman and he locked eyes with her. It was Heni. ”I’ll do what I can, but..."
Her words were cut short as the other minds raced toward him like charging horses. He closed his eyes and held his breath--”Don’t hold your breath, Sir! Breathe!" He inhaled deeply and forced his terrorized thoughts to form memories. He first thought of Torin, his parents, his journeys across Rishana with Alana. But that was scratched and torn at as the men tried to get through his defenses.
He, then, began to think about Ryker. His odd scrutiny. The way he watched Davin’s every move. The glowing fingertips he used to heal. And those thoughts, too, were attacked and mauled.
Finally, his thoughts rounded to Kiaran. He thought of Avestitia, the scent of snow, and pine needles that often wafted through the air. Even outside of the country, he could smell it on her. He concentrated on her melodic laugh, her vivid eyes.
Those thoughts, as well, were not helping. It felt as if a tiny creature’s claws were scraping the insides of his skull. ”You must focus, Davin."
Focus? He thought he was focusing.
Details. He thought of details. He tried his best to remember the exact scars and tattoos on her. The two uninterrupted scars over her left eye, the third scar broken in the middle as if the dragon’s claw had let off for a short moment. He thought of the thin scar along her jawline, the scars across her knuckles that blended together. There was one scar along the back of her right hand, from her forefinger to the bone in her wrist. He could recall a deep scar along her rib cage and a few on one of her thighs just above her knee. There were several more--Where were they? He couldn’t recall.
There was a stab at his thoughts and his brow burned like fire. He dove deeper into his memories. He could recall a deep scar on Torin’s left forearm. What was that from again? Perhaps that time they were wrestling in the field as children. Davin had rolled him onto a sharp, broken part of the fence.
Suddenly, something breached his thoughts. It was cool, calming and only painful for a second. It felt as if cool water soothed over his mind. Then, Heni’s voice vibrated softly in his skull, echoing gently. ”I told you it’d work. Now I will help build barriers.”
The other mages tried harder to get into his mind. Their hands lifted, their palms facing him as their eyes narrowed on him. Heni clenched her fingers, her palm facing Davin. She subtly tried protecting him from their intrusion.
Then, suddenly, the mages were able to break through. In an instant, Davin roared in pain and Heni ripped her arms through the air and an explosion of thoughts erupted from her like a geyser. The other five stepped back, holding their faces as they roared and howled. Davin could feel a horrifying waterfall of imaginings and visions, though Heni blocked them from his sights.
He could feel what the others were seeing. And it was unimaginable horror.
Davin’s eyes ripped open to see Sterjia standing, rage surrounding her like a great fire. She glared at Heni who continued to overwhelm the other mages with her power. Sterjia roared an order, though her voice was lost to him. Farekhahn drew his weapon and headed toward the last standing mage. Davin shouted as he moved to stop the man, though his body hardly worked for him.
It proved too late by the time he grasped Farekhahn’s arm, thrusting him aside. Blood sprayed through the air and as Heni fell toward the ground her magic was released.
Davin’s whits had returned to him. The sound of the girl’s body hitting the floor and his voice roaring in rage broke through. Davin grew numb. Farekhahn lifted his sword as a reaction to Davin’s attempted interruption, but Sterjia shouted to stop. He continued to hold the silver blade in the air, glaring at Davin as blood ran down the sword and to his gloved hand.
“It seems...” Sterjia stepped over a couple of the dead mages to reach Davin, “that I will have to do this on my own accord.”
Without a second to react, she slammed the palm of her hand to Davin’s brow, her fingers digging into his scalp. She spoke in a foreign word and it felt as if fire was licking his skull, pealing at the invisible, cool band that wrapped his mind. His brow itched and tingled and grew so hot it felt cold. Then, it burst and his head was swarmed with a burning foam that overtook him. Even his body crumbled as he fell to his knees and doubled over, his forehead on the smooth floor before him.
"Hm. Bowing as he should," she snarked.
He remained positioned like that for a full minute as Heni’s blood ran across the black floor to him. It soaked in his hair and across his forehead, sticking like nasty, red syrup. Another minute passed as Sterjia’s footsteps echoed away toward her seat. The sounds of her feet paused as she stepped over a corpse, then proceeded until she reached the throne. “His blessing is now broken. I can’t believe I must do everything,” she hissed to herself. “Take him away.”
Sitting in his cell once again, Davin felt numb all over, pose for the burning sensation in his head. With each pulse of his heart, he could feel the pain of Heni’s death. It hurt him so, and he knew it would kill the other prisoners who relied on her visits. His shaking hands ran over his face as he inhaled deeply. He had to practice keeping his thoughts sharp so he could evade other attacks. Not to mention, if he didn’t think of something outside of these walls, he was going to go mad.
He had to capture every detail, every moment he could with any memory he had. The way the sun looked upon Kiaran’s slightly bronzed skin and white scars. It was more than just sight, he soon came to realize. He had to remember her scent, her sound, her touch...the way his heart swirled and throbbed when she smiled.
Make it as real as possible. That was his goal. As if she were standing directly in front of him. Then, it would be real enough to convince him that the attacks on his mind were not happening at all.
When he opened his eyes, his heart leapt into his throat and tears formed. “I can’t do this for much longer...” he choked. He couldn’t, and he knew it.
Heni’s death was a waste.