The boredom was the worst part. Well, that and the hunger. And the uncertainty of our situation. And the possible imminent death. It was a shitty situation overall, really. But the boredom was droning, like a pillow pressing harder and harder on your face until you have to breathe, but find you can’t. Every day bled into the next. The hunger I got used to after a while, although I did feel lethargic and weak. After our meager meal of what I assumed was the same stew and bread every day, I did feel a little better, with a little more energy. But there was nothing to do with the newfound energy I got from the food. We got fed at dusk, judging by the light from the one window, and by the time we had all eaten, it was dark. I tried to do jumping jacks or some exercise to stave off boredom, but the extra movement made me feel sick so soon after eating. Mostly we all just bedded down after ‘dinner’ on our straw mats.
There were six of us now. I wondered if de man, who still remained unnamed, wanted to fill up the entire room, but days became weeks and he did not return. I tried to talk to the kids in the other cells. I asked their names first since I hadn’t yet for some reason. The little boy that was the latest to arrive was called Sylvester, and he was 10 years old. That was about all I could get out of him. He looked utterly spooked on a good day, absolutely traumatized on the worse ones. Not that the rest was doing any better. The girl across from me was called Sabrina, aged 14, and she was just as tight-lipped as Sylvester. The boy on my other side was called Rick, who was 15, and he and I talked the most. He seemed to feel the boredom more as well. More than the terror of our predicament in any case. And the hunger. The older boy and the newest girl were called Lester, 18, and Sophie, 13, respectively, and they had days that they talked too, but it would differ from moment to moment. The thing that brought us our food didn’t speak since it had no mouth. I had spotted one time it brought us our food and it had a smudge at its temple. So, I dubbed it Smudge. It didn’t seem to care or mind. I tried to talk to it too. It always seemed to listen but it never responded. Either way, the one time a day we had some distraction was when we would get our food, and it was over very fast, as Smudge would come in, give us food and leave, giving me just enough time to say a short greeting and a thank you and it was gone again. The fact that we got the same stew every day didn’t agree with my metabolism. Or maybe my metabolism didn’t agree with the stew. One way or another, I had a problem. We had chamber pots, in one corner of our cells, but there was no way to get some privacy or to mask any smells coming from there. I learned, and don’t ask me how, that the chamber pots were bottomless. Somehow, perhaps magically, they looked empty almost all the time, except right after we answered ‘nature’s call’ so to speak. That got rid of the visage of excrement, but the smell, the smell lingered. For a LONG time. After a while, I was sure that anyone coming into this room would barf at the smell that we, out of necessity, had grown accustomed to. All in all, our predicament looked dour.
Three and a half weeks after Sylvester arrived the man returned. He looked haggard and worn and tired, but determined. He stood in front of one of the empty cells and started to speak the same weird language again. After his hand-waving another person appeared, a girl this time. The man, however, did not leave immediately after he conjured her up. He went to the next empty cell and redid his spell, conjuring another. And then twice more, to fill up the other empty cells. When he was done, he looked pleased, if more tired than when he arrived, and he was about to leave when I spoke up again. I had felt trepidation after last time, but my curiosity and feeling of powerlessness won out over my need for self-preservation.
“What do you want with us!” I yelled. I startled myself with the volume of my own voice and was about to apologize when I thought better of it. This man imprisoned us. He deserves to be yelled at. At least! So, I just looked at him, frowning. To my surprise, instead of the same sneering look and choking, the man looked at me with a sort of calculation. Then he spoke, in a voice of old parchment and dust.
“I think a demonstration could be in order.” As he spoke, he waved his hand in a pattern and the bars in front of me slid aside, allowing me to walk out of the cell. Which I did, slowly and calmly, though I felt everything but calm. I wanted to run. To scream and hit this man. But all I could do, all I did, was walk towards him calmly and stand in front of him. I couldn’t move, nor speak. I looked at him and he held his hand out towards me, his fingers curled in slightly as if he was holding a large, invisible object. He squeezed, and my breath left my body against my will. I was in his grasp.
“Pay close attention.” The man, the wizard, apparently, told the room. He lifted his other hand and pointed his index and middle finger at my forehead. I felt a low buzz in my brain, directly where he was pointing, as if there was a dentists’ drill drilling into my skull. Then the pain exploded in the worst migraine I ever felt. I wanted to fall to my knees, to grab my head, to scream, but I couldn’t. I just stood there, looking into the wizard’s grey-blue eyes. I must have jerked a little because I heard Sophie call out:” Stop! You’re hurting her!”
The wizard did not stop though, not immediately. He kept on pointing at my head and doing whatever he was doing for what felt like hours. My vision was swimming in and out of focus. It felt as if the man was gouging out my frontal lobe. When he was finally done, he lowered his hand and I walked back to my cell, still in tremendous pain. I tried to run again but to no avail. My legs did not listen. I turned and stood still as the bars slipped back into place. That’s when I felt his grasp leave and my own power take over again. My legs held me up for all of two seconds before giving out. I fell on the floor, clutching at my head, which felt like it was being cleaved in half with an axe. I tried to glare at the man, but lifting my head felt like climbing a mountain. So, I sat there, crumpled into a heap, breathing hard and clutching at my head, as the man started talking again. His voice had changed. It no longer sounded like an old library. Now he sounded more melodic, almost pleasant.
“You all I have gathered from all over the many universes to function as my source of power. As you can see, the power taken from this loud one,” He sounded contemptuous,” has restored some of my youth to me. It has also ensured you all a good, long rest, as she had quite some power to give, it seems.” He fell quiet for a bit, and when he spoke again he sounded closer, right outside my cell.
“The process of taking your powers as my own does not need to hurt. She was just,” He fell silent again, seeming to contemplate, “uncooperative.” I felt him walk away again and I tried to raise my head but found that that only made me feel more pain.
“If you all cooperate, no one needs to get hurt.” With that he seemed pleased with his explanation, as he said nothing more and I heard the door close shortly after.
The wizard was true to his word, we did have a long respite before he visited again. Almost another month. In the time he left us alone only three things really happened. One, I learned the names and ages of the new arrivals, two girls named Videl, 17, and Fiona, 16, and two boys named Dennis, 14, and Jason, 12.
Two, my stomach, and those of the others, acclimated to the stew, making our visits to the chamber pots infrequent, and the smell less of a problem.
And three, we found out the wizard’s name.
One evening, as we were waiting for our food, we heard a noise from the window. It sounded like a low howl, like a wolf. Soon after we heard a man calling out. ”Amonar! Amonar! Amonar!” It sounded like a name, but it might have been a foreign language. We found it was the wizard’s name when the man called out again. “Lord Amonar, see us in, in the name of the High Ruler of the Northern wastes!” We heard someone calling out something else, with less volume, and the man’s voice responding even softer still. Then silence again. After we got our food and were bedding down, we heard the voices outside again, though we could not make out what they were saying. I looked up at the window. This might be our only chance to get help. I stood up, moved to the bars, and yelled, as loud as I could up to the window. “HELP! PLEASE! HELP US!” I fell silent to listen for a response, but I only heard the voices move farther away. I tried again, and again. But after a little while, the sound had faded and it was apparent that whoever had been down there had not heard me. I sank down to the floor, suddenly exhausted. I couldn’t see the others as the sun was well and set now, but I felt their stares. I curled up on my mat and tried not to cry. I did not succeed.
A day later the wizard started to drain us. Once a week he would come in, look around and choose one of our number. He would open their cell by making the same hand movement he’d used at my cell the first time. Then he held out his hand as if grasping them and we would watch as the person chosen would stand up and walk with him out the door. He’d return with them looking terrible and drained, but himself looking younger and more energized. The chosen person for that day would walk into their cell, the bars would slide back into place and the kid would collapse, sometimes out cold, sometimes panting. Then the wizard would leave. Once he started this ritual the atmosphere in our cell-lined room grew even grimmer. Every time someone came back, we would softly ask what had happened. The answer was always silence. As if the remembering of the ordeal was physically hurting them.
I was the last on the roster, apparently. Everyone else had been picked out once already except for me. We all knew it was my turn that week and the apprehension was almost unbearable. I was tense and jumped at the slightest noise. I still kept track of the days, if only to have something to occupy my mind for a minute. When the door opened at dusk I almost scrambled back. The pain in my head from the first time he drained me, still fresh in my memory. Yet it was only Smudge who entered with our dinners. The wizard Amonar didn’t really have a certain time or day that he would pick one of us. That was part of the apprehension. We didn’t know if he would come before or after dinner, when we woke up or when we bedded down, or even in the middle of the night or midday. We all lived in a permanent state of stress and fear. As I ate I let my guard down a fraction, My brain diverting all my attention to my one meal. As I looked up, however, I looked into the face of the wizard and I choked on the last of my food. He still looked cruel, if leagues younger than when I arrived. He looked down on me with a look of curious disdain. While I coughed I backed further into my cell, which made his lip curl in that cruel smile again. He made the same arcane movements with his hands and the bars of my cell opened up. It might have been the shock, the proximity, or the lack of air due to me choking on my food, but for a brief moment, I felt a force shift the bars as I saw them move. It was as if they were organic, almost alive, instead of cold, hard iron. Then all thought left my head except fear, as I felt Amonar take control of my body. The others looked on with pity, fear, and, understandably, relief that they were spared another week as he made me follow him out the cell and through the heavy door. As I followed behind, my mind screaming at me to run but my body not obeying, my eyes darted from wall to floor to ceiling and back. We started up a staircase that spiraled upwards. The wizard walked in front of me, but even if he had not I didn’t think I would have been able to see much more than the stairs. Occasionally we passed a door on the left side but the wizard pressed on, and I followed. The windows we passed were bigger than the one in the cell room, but not by much. Enough though that I could see outside. One of the windows looked out over a vast forest. Another had a view of what looked like a dirt path flanked by trees. That was all I could make out as we kept moving. I couldn’t move my head enough to get a better look, but my eyes drank in everything they could. Moving them restlessly, I would have bumped into Amonar if he had not had control over my body. He had come to a stop at the very top of the stairs, facing another heavy door. My heart was beating in my throat and I was breathing hard, though I couldn’t tell if it was the fear or the exertion after walking up all those stairs. The wizard opened the door with another set of movements I could not completely see. The door swung inward and he entered, making me follow him. When we were inside the door closed of its own volition. I walked to the center of the room and stood there, not facing the wizard.
“Turn around,” He commanded, exasperated, ”It’s no use fighting me, you can’t win.”
I turned, but slowly. I didn’t want to turn and face him. I wanted to run. Somehow, maybe, impossibly, my want to defy him was making it harder for him to control me? I clung to that scrap of hope. It didn’t last long. A searing pain shot up my spine and my lungs felt like they were filled with water. Amonar looked at me, half exasperated and half-amused.
“Though it is commendable, you fighting me tooth and nail, it will only hurt you more in the long run.” He said as the pain grew even worse. I gasped for breath and tried to look defiant, but the effect was largely nullified by the tears that had begun to fall unbidden. Amonar tsked and shook his head, a parody of a loving father berating his child for drawing on the walls. “This will not do at all.” He sighed and made another gesture. I blacked out instantly.
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