Rori: Ignorance Was Bliss
It took a few days before the pain stopped and the shaking was mostly gone. She only knew the time by the meals they received, if ‘meal’ was even the proper word for it. There was nothing to do to pass the time except for talking with Emmet and daydreaming. There were others in the dungeons but they never spoke to her and they were further away from her cell. She never even got a glimpse of them.
One day, after eating their food and she was strong enough, Rori managed to get to her feet and shuffled about the small cell. It was the first time she wasn’t in pain, like someone had reached inside of her and pulled out of muscles. She stepped to the cell bars and looked across the hall where Emmet sat. She remembered him from their youth. He had been a clown in those days, not the bitter jokester he was now.
He looked over at her with dark bags under his eyes. “Finally moving around, I see.”
“Can’t wallow around forever.” Rori rolled her eyes shut and pain sparked behind them. “Gotta get used to being a criminal I guess.”
“What did you do exactly?” He grinned cheekily. “Drink your tea too loud? Tear a page in a book?”
Her laugh was breathy and her mouth felt dry. “I helped Keir escape.”
“Ah, Keir. I haven’t thought of him in ages.” He smiled then and looked past her like he was searching his mind’s eye for a specific memory. “He was my first love, that one.”
“You were close?”
“No.” Emmet chuckled. “Keir and I never actually talked. But he could recite poems with such fiery passion. Actually, maybe he was my second love. Sylvia might have been the first.”
“Sylvia Ma’riel.” The humor began to drain away and a seriousness replaced it. “They murdered her and... I happened to have been there. I’ve no evidence, of course. Only my own eyes. But that... that was the final line for me.”
“You saw? They told us she died during her trial.”
“Ah, yes.” His lips thinned and curled wickedly. “You mean the fake trial.”
“Fake,” Rori snapped back.
He jeered all too happily, “The first and the second.”
“I worked hard preparing for that trial.”
“Yes, and let me guess, the Paladins let you pass?” He chortled when she nodded meekly. “Of course they sent sweet, little Rori on her way. You’ve been the chancellor’s choice for a long time.”
“Keir said something similar.”
“It’s not often the Mage Federation can shape someone from birth.” He was silent for a long while and Rori didn’t have much else to say on the matter. “Why didn’t you leave with Keir?”
She held out her hands and watched a wave of trembles go through them. “I think I was scared. And apparently naive.”
“You decided to stay and get arrested.” He sneered, laughing bitterly. “You won’t be much use to the chancellor now with that besmirched record of yours.”
“Are they going to kill me?” She spoke so softly she wasn’t even sure if Emmet heard her.
His eyes crinkled as he smiled. He threw a hand onto his chest in a dramatic display, “They haven’t killed me and I’ve broken a lot of rules.”
“But they do kill people, don’t they?”
“Of course. They can’t ignore all the troublemakers.”
“So how is it that you are still alive?”
“Oh sweet, little Rori... don’t ask me that.” He was smiling but there was a darkness in his eyes, a hollowness to them. “Try to keep that innocent brain of yours a little longer.”
She felt her lips quiver in a grimace. She didn’t want to know what he meant by that but she was tired of being in the dark. How many Mages were carried off into the night and killed by the Paladins? How many hours of her life did she waste preparing for a trial that didn’t exist?
Her daydreams were always about life outside the tower. Merrick was alive and he took her to study in other countries. Sometimes she imagined Ser Ruslan, his nervous smile and gentle tone. He would make a great traveling partner, she thought. And on a few occasions she imagined she had left the spire with Keir and Alex, escaping far enough away that the Paladins gave up. But no matter how much she dreamed of another life, she always returned to her cell’s musky scent, the slimy stone, and Emmet’s humming.
She lost track of time and when Commander Zadkiel stepped before her cell she was baffled. At first she assumed the darkness had her mistaken but then, as he spoke, she understood, “Rori Serana, you are aware of your crimes.”
“Slightly,” she retorted. Then with a smirk she added, “I was born a criminal and I’ll likely die as one.”
He grumbled and tossed a stern glance at Emmet in warning. He turned his heated fury back to Rori and said rather irritably, “The Chancellor has petitioned and justified your release.I can assure you, without a doubt, that this won’t work a second time. Do not find yourself in any similar position.”
Rori sweetened her voice as she asked, “Or you’ll kill me?”
He flicked his fingers and a Paladin swiftly stepped forward to unlock the door. “Take her to her quarters and ensure she is given a proper meal.”
Rori used the wall for support as she got to her feet. Her legs wobbled beneath her weight, pain trickling across her skin from sitting for too long. She staggered out of the cell, past the looming commander. The Paladin, unsurprisingly, offered her no assistance.
“To think,” he added sharply, “you’re becoming the exact sort of renegade that killed Ser Merrick.” Commander Zadkiel leaned towards her, his voice hot against her ear. “He would be mortified to see you this way.”
She glowered as he pulled away and strode down the walkway towards the stairs. She didn’t allow herself to think about his words or what Merrick would have thought. She didn’t have the capacity for it, not in that moment.
The Paladin nudged her slightly and she shuffled forward, a final glance to Emmet before she left. As she reached the stairs and began her ascent, a heavy weight slammed down on top of her, shoving her into the stone steps. She thought for a second the Paladin had done it but as soon as her skin vibrated with the blooms of energy she knew otherwise. Her mouth flew open but her lungs were in shock. Electricity crawled up her spine and down her limbs then crackled down into her bones.
The Paladin grabbed her arm and hoisted her back up onto her feet. “You’re fine,” he stated and dragged her up the steps whether she could move or not.
She gasped short, shallow breaths as they climbed the stairs. The magic weighed heavily against her but despite how uncomfortable it was, she was relieved to have the life force and energy once again.
Out of the basement and on the first floor, Rori could see the sliver of sunlight through the first floor’s thin windows. It was the first time she’d seen the sun in weeks, felt a hint of warmth to her skin. The air wasn’t humid or moldy either. It was clean and crisp and she felt entirely refreshed.
Then her attention settled on the chancellor who had been waiting for her. She forgot how thin and old he was, like a sickly skeleton. He hadn’t always been that way, she considered. At what point did the old man change for the worse?
“Ms. Serana.” He stood beside another Paladin and a few more were off to the side as if they were a precaution. “You’ve been released, however, you are to remain under guard for the time being. Ser Mylen will return you to your room.” He gave a firm nod to the Paladin beside him.
Ser Mylen strode forward and grabbed her by the arm just as the prison guard had done. She was being exchanged and a bitter smile pressed thinly on her lips. No amount of sunlight or fresh air would wash away the disgusting truth. She was a prisoner and would remain one until death.
As they moved to the upper floor where her quarters were, the other Mages walked by with glares or nervous downcast eyes. Everyone gave her a wide girth except for the Paladins, of course. They seemed to loom closer as if to intimidate her. They looked rather sour at seeing her set free. Her childhood home was revealing itself to her as it truly was; a prison camp.
She stepped into her room, one she never had a chance to spend the night in. Winifred’s staff still leaned against the wall beside the bed. All of her things were untouched and the harsh reality sunk in that everyone she had been close to was gone. Keir, Winifred, Merrick... The only person she had left was Cyrus, if he would even talk to her anymore.
Ser Mylen remained in the doorway even as her meal was brought to her desk. She took one look at it then hobbled over towards her bathtub. Someone had filled the bathtub and heated it for her. She couldn’t even guess as to who. But she didn’t care as she tossed aside her soiled garments and began to lather her skin with soap. She scrubbed furiously at the dirt and grim from the dungeon. She washed her skin at least three or four times before finally getting in the tub and sinking beneath the warm water.
Before, she might have cried about everything that happened. She almost felt the urge to cry because it seemed like the natural thing to do after being imprisoned. But there was nothing. There was only silence, a placid darkness that perched itself inside of her chest as sunk lower into the heat of her bath.