Equilibrium

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24: Mouse in the Trap

Larke, 1182

I came to with the worst headache I’ve had in years. What happened? I pulled myself up to sitting, clenching my eyes shut in a vain attempt to ease the pain in my temples. After a few moments, I felt brave enough to open my eyes. I opened my mouth, rubbing my jaw.

Stone walls surrounded me; a steel bench secured into the bricks sat at my eye level.

I was… in the isolation cell.

It all came back to me, how I went to find Liss… and he wasn’t there. I had no idea how much time had passed. It could’ve been minutes, hours… days? I felt something wet around my right eye and wiped it away. When I brought my hand back, it was vivid scarlet with my blood. I must’ve cut myself when I fell. Gingerly, I felt around my forehead and temple until I did indeed find a massive knot, the source of my bleeding.

Fantastic. I was wearing a loose tunic with cloth leggings, which were now quite filthy from the floor of the cell. I tore off a stripe from the bottom of my tunic, and carefully tied the makeshift bandage around my temple, looping it behind my ear and securing it. That would have to do for now.

I had to get out of here. Unsteady, I swayed, even though I was only sitting down. Undoubtedly, I was locked in here. Slowly, oh goddess, so slowly, I pushed myself into a kneeling position, then to my hands and knees. Breathing heavily, I waited for the dizziness to clear, blinking to clear the black fade at the edges of my vision. Gathering my strength and my balance, I stood, holding my arms out to my side to steady myself, clutching at the steel bench as I rose.

Blinking, my blood rushing, dizziness threatening to overtake my consciousness, I stumbled forward. My hands pressed against the door, balancing me… and as I expected, it didn’t open. It would take all the energy I had to pick my lock, a task that had been so easy when I’d crept in. I took a deep breath, sent a quick prayer to Tarah, and tried to focus my magic.

It was the most difficult magic I’d ever done. I’d done magic while weakened before, and it was always a bad idea. Those times had always been external physical injuries, not my head. A push, a mental silent scream, and finally, I felt the weak tendrils release from my fingers and curiously enter the minuscule opening of the lock.

After what felt like hours of struggling, but what was actually mere seconds, I heard the click. Though the door was unlocked, I had to lean against the wall to steel myself, preparing for my next action. The magical exhaustion came over me with the force of a tidal wave, matched only by my fierce determination to stay awake. I took a deep breath, and another. Each inhalation of air reminded my brain to be alert, each time fighting back against the consequences of my actions.

I wasn’t sure how long I stood there. Time was not on my side, and I had no sense of it. I was so out of it, I wondered how I’d be able to fight off the guards. I certainly couldn’t use my magic, and my head injury threw off not only my balance but prohibited quick movement. I would just have to do my best, and hopefully, wait to vomit until the end. I could already feel the nausea welling up in my stomach. I had to get out of this place.

I would have to fight and hope for the best. Were there still only be two guards? Though very incapacitated, I still felt confident that I could easily handle two; I’d literally been trained for moments like these since I was ten years old.

If I could convince them to open the door… that would bring them to me. They’d expect me to be dangerous; it would take more than a simple ‘please’ for them to comply. The smell of blood probably reeked out to the hallway. I was soaked in it. Could they sense it from where they were posted?

I stood next to the door, ready, and called out a weak, “Hello?”

Boots scuffed against the stone floor, rattling of keys, and a few whispers. They were probably speaking to each other, figuring out what to do.

“I’m… really hurt… could you send for a medic?” I asked quietly, my voice wavering.

Murmurs beyond the door teased me, more whispers and shuffling.

“You don’t need a medic. You’ll be fine, traitor.” The muted words were clear enough through the thick door.

“I’m bleeding badly,” I said, which was the absolute truth. “I need a bandage, or I’m going to bleed out before you can even punish me, or whatever The Raven has in mind.”

I leaned against the wall next to the door, gritting my teeth against the pain throbbing in my temples.

I heard them murmur again, and to my surprise, I heard that set of keys jingle in the lock. I straightened up, took on an offensive stance, and prepared to grab the nearest sword. The door swung open slowly, and I saw my opening! I saw nothing else but the shiny metal, glinting from the guard’s belt – so I grabbed the hilt, pulled it out of the sheath, and performed a perfect stop thrust, directly into the guard’s throat. The nausea had taken a back seat to my instincts, the adrenaline of action not daring to let it thwart me.

I looked into his eyes as the sharp steel pierced his tender skin, and recognition lit in my eyes… it was Jon. The Naga who had helped us bring the money on loan from the Bank of Kinia back to the Naga compound. I remembered how the woman who had prompted us to stop for rest spoke to him, laughing at my exhaustion. I remembered how he had helped us when we needed to rest, for my sake. He had a young daughter, I barely recalled. He had joked and compared me to her. That’s where I knew him from, why he looked familiar to me before. My internal organs all tried to flip themselves inside out, and I choked on my own breath. But still, I held the blade steady.

My shock wore off immediately as I heard a guttural scream emit from the other guard’s mouth. Despite the caution in opening the door, I had taken them by surprise, too. He lunged at me, tackling me to the ground! We fell, my back hitting the dirty, stone floor first, followed by the back of my head bouncing off the hard stone with a crack.

The sword, now stuck in Jon’s throat, was no longer in my grasp. The other guard, who thankfully, I didn’t recognize, tightened his thick fingers around my throat. He was heavy, by Goddess, and even without him restricting my air flow at my neck I would’ve had trouble breathing just from his weight on my chest.

I wheezed for air, frantic. All I could see were his eyes, angry and dark, spittle leaking from his furious lips as he strangled me. Little black dots appeared at the edge of my vision, flashing and moving as the pounding in my head throbbed.

Was this how it ended for me? Strangled by a single man? Defeated by a criminal?

I closed my eyes, unable to bear the thought that this ugly face would be the last thing I’d see. The air burned in my lungs, aching to escape, desperately trying to allow me to inhale.

Abruptly, the weight was lifted. With a rattling deep breath, I instinctively turned over, coughing, wheezing, choking on the air I could intake. On my hands and knees, I fought the urge to pass out, each breath I shakily inhaled, my vision slowly returning.

Out of the haze, I heard Dean’s voice.

He must have repeated what he was saying several times, his tone both urgent and concerned. I couldn’t look at him, I was too busy coughing and trying to recover. Exhausted, in even more pain, I resisted his attempts to help me stand. I simply couldn’t.

He swept me into his arms, like I was a small child, and looked into my now blood-shot eyes.

“I’m taking you to The Raven,” he said, his voice hard and cold, like shards of ice.

My time here was over, I would surely be dead after this. I buried my bloody head into Dean’s chest, unable to face him. He carried me away, and I refused to succumb to the peace of unconsciousness. I didn’t deserve it.

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