First and Final
Sam didn’t want to open his eyes. In fact, he didn’t want to move. In that moment, Sam wanted to die from the excoriating pain that enveloped his whole body. His only comfort was the cool stone floor that his cheek was pressed against. Despite that, it was hard and made his body ache even more than he’d have liked. Letting out a wheeze, the brunette rolled onto his back and coughed before trying to push himself into a sitting position despite the protest of his muscles. Eyes fluttering open, he finally managed to look around as he tenderly touched his nose with a wince, remembering the punch he’d received before: it was defiantly broken.
Squinting painfully through the gloom, sickening dread finally settled into his stomach as Sam looked around. He was in a jail cell; that was the simplest way of putting it. The tiny cell had stone on all sides other than the metal gate that concealed the entrance. As much as he wanted to, Sam didn’t dare approach them in fear they’d be laced with electricity or worse. In the corner, a makeshift bed has been made for him; or perhaps just tossed there by whatever keeper that was watching over him. Sam peered at it carefully and then released a gag when he saw black ooze dripping from the mattress that smelled of defecation and something rotten. He would just have to take the floor.
“I really am under arrest. ..I’m going to die.” Sam whispered aloud, listening to his words bounce around him in an echo until the sound trickled away, leaving him alone. Rubbing the unbruised side of his face with his hand, the brunette inspected the lacerations on his wrist and massaged them tenderly while trying to make sense of his thoughts.
He was in jail. Apparently, he had murdered his father. For what reason – that was still a mystery to him. He remembered something about smuggling but couldn’t remember the details. Drugs? No. That wasn’t it at all. Had they even told him his crimes? And who were ‘they’ anyway? Sam rubbed his temples in frustration, “Why is this happening to me…?”
“Because it is meant to be.”
Sam let out a yell, falling backwards in shock as his green gaze whipped toward the door. He hadn’t expected anyone to be listening let alone an answer to his question. Wetting his lips, he pushed himself upright and crawled to the door, glancing at the crack between the floor to see the hints of a shadow being cast into the gloomy cell.
“I’m…meant to be in a jail cell with a broken nose?” He asked again, creeping closer to the door.
“Yes. It is Our will.” A second voice answered on top of the first; distinctly female and seemingly speaking on top of the first voice, yet their tones blended together as one solid sound.
“Yes. You have a great destiny ahead of you, Samuel Marshall Cadman the Second.” A third voice joined the previous two, this one slightly higher pitched than the others. Perhaps it was the buzz in his ear from when he’d been hit, but Sam could have sworn that whoever was outside was speaking right beside him.
“I don’t want a ‘great destiny’! I wanna be out of here! I want to go home! I wanna see Gina and I want…want my dad to be alive still…” Sam’s words dropped like stones as he spoke and he slumped against the wall tiredly, eyes closed as he fought back the urge to cry.
“You born with a great burden on your shoulders, Samuel Marshall Cadman the Second. In time, you will see the future before you as the correct path. If you wish to live, you will accept this word as law.” The voices blended together and Sam opened his eyes in a flash, turning toward the door with a hiss of pain escaping his lips.
“What did you say?”
“We said, if you accept your destiny and the future We have set before you, you will live.” The voices repeated calmly.
Sam swallowed, hard, as thoughts began circling his mind. Was he losing his mind? Were the voices on the other side of the door some sort of hallucination? Or was there someone out there willing to save him? Each moment that passed with Sam holding his breath was another wasted second. He heard a scoff from the other side of the door and tapped his nose where his glasses should have been and was met with the reminder that his nose was still broken. He could live. No…he had to live! He had to find the person responsible for this.
“Do you have your answer?”
“I,” Sam began with a deep breath, “I want to live! Whatever destiny there is ahead of me, I don’t care. I want to live!!”
Sam expected a rush of wind or something to shine around him or something, well, magical to happen. He was greeted with nothing; just silence and the stench of mold. He knocked on the door, calling out into the hall but no one spoke back to him. A dream? A hallucination? Sam sighed and slumped against the wall, closing his eyes as exhaustion overcame him once more. Just what in the world is happening…? Suddenly the sound of something jingling reached his ears as the door opened with a squeal that caused Sam to stiffen with fear as a shadow larger than him was cast across the floor.
The figure that lumbered through the doorway as so big it had to walk sideways through the frame while hunched over and when Sam looked up, he had to crane his neck painfully back to even see its face. It looked like a body builder, whatever it was; muscles rippled under leathery skin that looked too tight for the bulk it carried underneath and Sam gagged at the scent of rotting meat that fanned off of it in waves. Its hands, twice the size of Sam’s head, reached down and plucked him off the floor before setting him upright and pointing at the door with a singular grunt. Sam swallowed nervously and peeked out the door before looking up at the large, burly creature and pointed at himself.
“Y-you’re letting me go?”
The creature shook its tiny head and lumbered out the door in the same manner it entered, grunting another sound which Sam took as an order to follow. Hesitantly, he stepped outside, squinting in the light of the hall, putting a hand on the opposite wall to keep himself upright. There was another grunt from the creature and Sam shook his head, trying to rid himself of the remaining fuzziness in his mind.
“I’m okay,” He groaned, squeezing the bridge of his nose before a slap on his shoulder pushed him forward, “O-okay, okay. I’m going.” Sam stammered, rubbing the spot before walking forward through squinted lids.
The hallway looked just like Sam had imagined: sloping stone ceilings with smooth pillars holding it up and stone floors that made his footsteps echo uncomfortably. The only thing Sam could think as he walked, listening to his footsteps get drowned out by the thud of the monster behind him, was he was heading to his death. That’s what he had been told before he’d been knocked out: he would die. So was there any way his hallucinations promise would come true? Making his way slowly down the hall with his captor hulking behind him gracelessly, the stone halls lighting began to brighten considerably, the color of the walls shifting from muted grey to shimmering gold as the floor changed to crimson plush carpeting compared to the sturdy rock surface of the dungeon. Even without his glasses, Sam could make out the ornate structures around him, fingers trailing over the smooth walls in awe.
Every so often, Sam and his captor would pass by doors where he could hear murmurings from within. Some sounds were in English, others in languages Sam couldn’t even distinguish. Other rooms were filled with sounds of music and they even passed a door half-ajar where Sam could see two people clashing with swords. Swallowing nervously, he continued forward, only being led onward by the shadow of his guard until finally they were standing in front of the most ornate entrance of them all.
The door towered over the guiding, leathery creature by at least a head and was draped in gold and silver. Sam reached out to touch the handle, feeling the smoothness against his palm and wondered for a moment if he was touching a curtain of silk, rather than a door. Behind him, the giant jailor moved forward and knocked against the entranceway with three echoing bangs. Sam felt his stomach drop as nervous tension overtook him. His fate, whatever it was, lay behind the door in front of him and every fiber of his being told him he wasn’t going to like what was on the other side.
The word seemed to echo around him rather than from come from inside the room in front him, but with a nod from his guard, Sam twisted the doorknob with a strained breath before stepping inside. The room inside was bright enough to make Sam wince, covering his eyes with the back of his hand until his eyes adjusted to the brightness. The room looked like a theatre with Sam being the one on center stage. The stage was set for him with a single table with three chairs facing a rounded wall covered in nothing by viewing boxes. Sam’s eyes widened at his audience and swallowed as he stepped carefully forward, feeling eyes watching his every move.
“State your name.” a male called down as Sam took a seat, rubbing at his raw wrists anxiously.
“Uhm…S-Sam,” he started, clearing throat to swallow his shyness, “Samuel Marshall Cadman, the Second. ..sir..”
“Samuel. Do you know why you are here?” the same voice asked and cautiously the brunette looked up to where the sound was coming from to see a bearded man gazing down at him with twinkling golden eyes nearly obscured by a mop of tangled black hair.
“N-not really, sir. I apparently did something…really bad. Right?”
Someone scoffed and shadowed figures that Sam couldn’t see shifted in their viewing balconies, whispering to one another. The ruffled looking man who had spoken first raised a hand to silence the rest of the crowd, waiting until their whispers turned to silence, “Yes, Samuel. You have been found guilty of smuggling weapons and magic from our world into your own. Do you understand that?”
No. Sam thought bitterly, biting his tongue as he cast his green gaze downward over his balled fists, “I understand that I’m being accused of something I have no idea about. Something I would never do, even if I had any idea what you were talking about.”
“You will do well to answer the questions without sarcasm, Samuel. It will make things much easier for you.” A female voice, cracked with age, scolded from far on his left and Sam glanced in the direction but couldn’t pinpoint which shadow it had come from.
“Calm yourself Lady Henton. He is scared. Samuel, do you understand? Please answer, without any further commentary.” The first requested kindly and Sam felt his stomach twist with unease. Despite the kindness that filled the male’s words, he couldn’t help but feel suspicious. Perhaps it partly had to do with everyone’s eyes watching him with animosity to match his doubt.
“I understand.” He responded quietly, biting back any more mocking remarks.
“Good. Can you tell us, in detail, when you began to partake in these illegal activities and why?” the male asked gently and Sam squirmed in his seat.
There were some quiet scoffs at Sam’s reply that were quieted by the wave of the bearded man’s hand. Sam swallowed, hard, his green gaze darting back and forth across the faceless shadows with scorn. It didn’t matter what he said. They already thought he was guilty. Even if he gave them the innermost details of his activities they would still think he had been involved in whatever crime ring they assumed he knew. It’s a one sided trial. I’m going to lose no matter what. If that’s the case then I need to make a stand right now, right? Is that would you would do dad?
“I don’t mean to change the subject, but I know what you guys are doing.” Sam began, anger shaking his voice, “You already see me as a criminal. I don’t even have a lawyer. Whatever you think I did is wrong. My dad and I were good people – normal people! Whatever illegal … stuff you think we were doing, it’s obviously wrong! We were set up! I don’t know how, or why or by who but someone was obviously pulling the strings,” he continued, hearing people begin to mutter, some raising their voices in protest, “I don’t care if you don’t believe me, but if these are gonna be my last words then I might as well make a stand for myself. This is my belief. And it’s the truth!”
Same finally finished speaking and before he knew it, he realized he’d stood up. His shoulders shook with fury as he looked up at the bearded man whose golden gaze had hardened at his speech. The whole room was silent and the brunette held his breath, waiting for something to happen. Nothing did though. The voices he had drowned out had disappeared in the sea of hidden faces and for a moment he thought that his words had won over the crowd. Then the single scrape of a chair echoed through the silence like a signal for everyone to speak at once.
“Execute him? Kill him right here on the spot!”
“He’s obviously lying!”
“Send him to work in the mines until he drops dead!”
“Send him to die in the forests!”
“Feed him to the Leshies!”
The roar of terrifying, deadly endings came in waves and never stopped. Sam was overwhelmed, not only by the endless sea of voices but by the brutality of some of their suggestions. A number of people wanted his head removed and others suggested taking him apart, piece by piece. Same heard a great number of monster names, all of which he was unfamiliar with, for him to be fed to and among the din of opinions he thought he overheard someone mention a dragon. The bearded gentleman had originally attempted to calm the crowd, but had given up partway through and was sitting with his head in his hand. Sam couldn’t help but chuckle quietly as he sat down waiting for whatever death the crowd agreed upon. He hadn’t expected a sharp whistle from behind to silence the entire room though.
Turning in his seat, his skin began to crawl as a familiar head of silver hair stood in the doorway looking cross as she marched into the room. Her steps clicked on the floor as if sending waves of silence throughout the chamber and Sam held his breathe along with what seemed like everyone else in the court. Cyarocya swept past Sam without even a side glance and stood before the crowd with a bow that made everyone sit silently before she crossed her arms with a short chuckle.
“Lady Cyarocya. You never attend court without good reason – despite your status as a Board judge.” Henton called crossly from her side of the room. Sam blinked and cast a sweeping gaze across the viewing boxes again and noticed that there was, indeed, one that was empty.
“Huh? What was that old broad? I couldn’t hear you?” Cyarocya snapped back, pushing her hair behind her ear gracefully.
Sam could have sworn he heard the elderly sounding woman deflating and choked back a laugh as a second elderly man, this one with a neatly shaven white moustache and sharp blue eyes, stood from his seat and glared down at the woman, “This is no time for jokes, Lady Cyarocya. State your business, or leave!”
Cyarocya’s emerald gaze glanced toward the male before reaching in the pocket of her coat, pulling out a roll of parchment then unfurling it before the crowd, “I only interfere in the matters of the Board when I am called upon Them to bring judgment. That has not changed, as I come bringing news of Samuel Marshall Cadman the Second’s fate,” The silence in the room turned palpable and Sam glanced at Cyarocya as she continued.
“Samuel Marshall Cadman the Second has been placed under the protection of the Fates. He is to be placed into protective custody by the Underground and its governing body, the Board. Furthermore, his contact with the Upperground has been severed and he will remain in this world. Samuel Marshall Cadman the Second no longer exists in the Upperground. He is, hereby, a citizen of the Underground.”
The silence lasted all but a moment before the roar of voices became so loud Sam had to cover his ears to hear anything. Whatever Cyarocya had said obviously had been something no one agreed with, which only made Sam more concerned. He didn’t think that the woman would come to save him, but with the varying reactions from the crowd and a fleeting glance toward Cyaorcya told him all he needed to know. Cyarocya had dropped the parchment on the table and was smirking with her arms crossed listening to the angry voices. A grizzled old man, amongst all the angry hand waving and yelled curses, silently stood and banged his hands on the banister of his viewing balcony which silenced the crowd in an instant causing them all to watch him in strained silence before the elderly man cleared his throat.
His face wrinkled in thought as he peered down at Cyarocya and Sam, his long, thin fingers smoothing the wrinkles in his dark blue robe. He said nothing for a moment; merely looked down and assessed the situation in silent contemplation before finally he opened his mouth to speak, “Cyarocya, it is a pleasure to see you once again. Though under these circumstances, I do not know how much joy there is…”
“Almastris. I understand your reservations at my presence, but please make a point. Lilli is waiting with the car and I told her I wouldn’t be long.” Cyarocya drawled, inspecting her nails with little interest.
The elderly man let out a scratchy chuckle before clearing his throat, “I think I can speak for the entire Board when I say that none of us are willing to care for the boy. In fact, I believe his life would be in more danger if he were to be taken to any of our homes,” there was a murmur of agreement from the crowd with many of the figures nodding in agreement, “Therefore, I propose that as the messenger of Them that you, Cyarocya, care for him and teach him the ways of this world.”
Cyarocya stumbled where she stood looking up, stunned, before anger flashed across her features, “I’m sorry Almastris, but say that again for me? I couldn’t quite hear you while you were croaking.”
The old man’s bright blue eyes lit up, creasing under a mop of thick silver hair as he looked down at Cyarocya, “I think you should clean your ears out, Cyarocya. I said, the boy shall be under your care. You will teach him the ways of our world and so that he does not get himself into trouble. You need another assistant as well, correct? Why not one that is under Their protection? Do we have an agreement?” The crowd murmured their replies with nodded heads and quiet agreements. Cyarocya looked back and forth as the mumbles became louder and she shook her head in opposition.
“No. No, no, no; don’t try and drop this kid onto me! I don’t care if he is Death himself, I am not taking care of this snotty ass human!” Cyarocya growled, but her words were either ignored or drowned out as the old man who had spoken before nodded, his beard curling up in what appeared to be a smile.
“As you can see, the Board is in agreement. Samuel will be under your care Cyarocya. I do hope he will survive longer than the last few.” The old man finished with a nod as somewhere a gavel banged and the lights dimmed to darkness leaving Sam stunned and Cyarocya fuming silently.
He had no idea what anyone meant before. Cyarocya’s assistant? Upperground? Underground? ..Board? It didn’t even make much sense to Sam – and yet he could understand Cyarocya’s anger pretty clearly. She didn’t want to spend time with him as much as he didn’t want to spend time with her. She was the one who got him into trouble in the first place and yet she had just saved his life. Hesitantly pushing his chair back, Sam stood and glanced at the woman in front of him. Her shoulders were rigid with anger and she stood stock still like a statue. Sam didn’t dare touch her for fear that she would either kill him, or she would shatter to pieces. Whatever she was thinking, he could sympathize with. He didn’t want to be there either.
“…Cyarocya?” Sam asked hesitantly, his words echoing around the now empty courtroom. His words were greeted with silence as the woman didn’t move. In fact, there was no sign at all that she even was listening to him – let alone heard him, “Cyarocya?” Sam pressed again, his words more demanding as he glared at the other. Still, she said nothing.
“Damn it, say something!” he snapped, reaching out to place a hand on the womans shoulder before the ground slipped out from under him and Sam suddenly found himself on his back with a sickening crack as his head throbbed. Again. Squinting upward, Cyarocya stood over him, murderous intent glittering in the depths of her aquamarine eyes as she stared down at him.
“You don’t touch me. Understand?” She hissed between pursed lips, jaw becoming rigid as she looked down at him in disgust.
“I don’t know what your problem is but I’m not happy about whatever the hell just happened either. Just lemme talk for a second!” Sam groaned, sitting up in attempt to catch his breath. His body was going through hell and he needed a break.
“No. You listen to me. There are rules of his world you have no idea about – rules which both saved and doomed your sorry ass. Your life is in my hands now. Can you comprehend that much?” Cyarocya explained venomously, Sam nodding numbly at her words as she turned on her heel, “Good. Now if are stuck together indefinitely then you better learn your place quickly. Come.”
Sam sighed heavily and pushed himself to his feet and followed Cyarocya as she made her way out of the room. Running his fingers through his hair, he could feel the welt where his head had smacked against the floor. Cyarocya didn’t look like much, but she could really hit hard. Whatever other surprises she was hiding, Sam would have to remind himself to tread lightly. Keeping Cyarocya within his sight, Sam made his way through the winding halls which seemed even more foreboding than before as this time there were people milling around.
It seemed like news travelled fast too as when people caught sight of Sam they turned to whomever was next to them and started whispering in urgent tones in languages Sam could barely understand. Each voice became nothing more than a buzz in his mind and the overwhelming feeling of wanting to curl up and disappear nearly halted Sam in his tracks when Cyarocya’s clear voice broke through the white noise, “Lilli. We’re finished. Bring the car around, would you?”
Sam glanced up, spying a blond head of hair round a corner as he made his way to Cyarocya’s side, “Who was that?”
Cyarocya glanced over at him with a scoff, “My assistant – my real assistant, mind you.”
Sam crossed his arms, looking annoyed, “I just wanted to know her name.”
There was a moment of silence before she spoke again, “Lillisandra Almastris. I call her Lilli though.
“Almastris,” Sam mused to himself for a moment before furrowing his brow, “Isn’t that the name of one of the guys back there…?”
Cyarocya nodded, tapping her eye patch, “The Board – that’s what they are called and Lilli’s family have been judges on it for hundreds of years. They are, in fact, the most powerful magical family in the Underground.” She explained, pushing her way through the crowd.
Sam snuck by behind her, musing to himself. He really didn’t know what he had expected when Cyarocya spoke. The entire concept of a magical world didn’t seem so farfetched now, but it still was boggling. They were just so organized with their courtrooms and judges, even if their rulings were biased. Somehow Sam had imagined someplace like this as something else entirely… Chaos. Perhaps he had been reading too many books where the only rulings were brutal killings and the heroes had to become fugitives in order to survive. Then again, Sam didn’t really look like the hero type – in fact, he was the sacrificial lamb; the character no one really cared about if he died. Glancing up as he continued to follow Cyarocya, he couldn’t help but wonder to himself if that was where his life was heading.
Suddenly a set of double doors opened in front of him and he and Cyarocya stepped outside. As much as his surprise was by how beautiful the interior of the building was, the exterior was even more gorgeous. The building stretched out on either side, almost encasing itself in a circle. Hundreds of winding streets and steps and paths led in, out and around the marble pillars with people rushing through them like ants. More burly, leathery guardians stood at attention, grunting and pointing when bustling pedestrians stopped and asked them a question. Sam turned, looking up as he caught a glimpse of stone guardians perched atop spiraling pillars on the roof and gasped when one of them turned its head to watch him silently. Quickly, he turned away and stumbled halfway down the stairs where Cyarocya was already making a beeline toward a sleek black car parked in a roundabout.
“I hope everything went well.” A thick English accent greeted as a head of blond hair bowed when they approached.
The young woman stood by the vehicle and looked no older than Sam and with her straight back and thin shoulders she barely reached his collar bone with her full height. Garbed from head to toe in white, she was the stark contrast to the black-suited Cyarocya especially with a smile that reached her unclouded blue eyes. Sam looked down at his tattered t-shirt and stained denim pants and beside the clean cut Lilli, he felt like a slob. She brushed her long blond hair over one shoulder and blinked at Sam with confusion before casting a glance to the demon with a subtle head tilt. Cyarocya shook her head in return and opened the car door, climbing inside.
“I wasn’t aware Cy would be bringing anyone back with her.”
Sam cleared his throat, taken aback by the girls thick accent and rubbed his bruised wrists nervously, “I’m no one special. You can probably just ignore me.”
“Well that’s no way of introducing yourself,” Lilli said with a scoff, “If Cyarocya has brought you back from a meeting with the Board, you’ve got to have something special about you.”
“Not really,” Sam said quickly, touching his swollen nose tenderly, “I’m normal, even by human standards.” He didn’t know what to expect as the others reply, but it certainly wasn’t a laugh.
“Human standards have no application here. You’re in the Underground now. If you’re here; alive, for that matter, you’ve got something special about you,” Lilli chuckled, closing her eyes as she smiled at Sam, holding out a hand, “Lillisandra Alamastris. Just call me Lilli though. And you are?”
Sam blinked at her and reached out, bumping her hand clumsily through the haze of his vision before taking her hand and shaking it, “Samuel Marshall Cadman II. Just call me Sam though.”
Lilli laughed again and opened the door to the car, stepping aside to make room for him, “We’ve all got nicknames now. This will be so much fun having another partner in the house!” she chimed happily as Sam sat himself in the car, realizing that once he sat on the soft leather surface that it was just what his aching muscles needed. Sighing, he leaned his head back against the rest before Lilli got into the driver’s seat.
“Let me guess, you’re probably exhausted and just want to go home Cy?” Lilli asked when she started the car, oulling away from the curb.
“You know how hard this job is Lilli.” Cyarocya said with a wave of her hand which was on replied with a roll of Lilli’s eyes, “I just despise dealing with those pious pigs…”
“Now, now. One of those pigs is my grandfather.”
“He sends his love, by the way. And disappointment at your career choice.”
Lilli laughed, “Of course he does.”
It’s no different here than it is at home…Sam though, listening to the two women chat in the front seat, closing his eyes. If he hadn’t been aware that he was in a different world, he wouldn’t have known the difference. People still hated their jobs and family still hated their choices and people still made mistakes. So why is it that people like me are put to death instantly? Sam wondered as the quiet purr of the car and the dull ache of his muscles lulled him to sleep.