The Devil's Gift

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XXXV

We quickly proceeded down the flight of stairs, the two guards instantly rushing to follow her, and back in to the throne room.

‘No time, I’ll be back in a second.’ I said rapidly to Oceana as she stood to ask questions. She immediately sat back down on the wooden bench near a group of guards, scowling unhappily. Her eyes barely moved as the guards clambered to follow the Empress who was now leading us down a flight of stone steps. The blazing torches fixed along the stone walls flickered heavily as we skimmed past them; the Empress had taken a very sharp increase in the speed of which she descended into the lower basement of the palace. She whisked past one of the torches whipping it straight out of the sconce all in one movement. Soon, the torches became scarce and only that of the one now clutched tightly in the Empress’ hand gave light to the narrow passage that we now moved, slightly slower, down.

‘It’s not far.’ She whispered, almost as if she was not wanting to be overheard. I nodded quickly but I wasn’t sure she’d seen. I quickly turned to Sophia who just mouthed the words,

‘I’m fine.’ With her hand cradling her large stomach. We took a right turn and was now standing in the middle of a large room. There was no furniture nor any decorations on the stone walls. The Empress walked briskly over to a large pedestal full of oil and touched the torch to it. It instantly sprang into life and lit up the room. Through the flickering firelight, I saw cobwebs hanging down in front of what appeared to be a door. The door had many circular rings and was embossed with gold symbols, none of which I understood. The Empress’ chest was heaving slightly and her breaths were long and loud; they echoed in the empty room. We walked slowly over to the large door that took up most of the wall space. The door was a dark grey and stood out against the cream of the stone walls around it. I ran my fingers over the door, it was rough. I traced my fingers over the symbols until they fell upon a small keyhole. I looked to the Empress who merely nodded slowly and handed me back the key. The moment had come, I was now about to finally have the weapon, the one that could deal so much damage for my kind. All of it lay behind the door, concealed in stone for hundreds of years, awaiting the day I’d arrive, and lay claim to it. The tension was palpable. I slowly inserted the key into the lock, it fit perfectly. I twisted it carefully to the right, hearing the ancient mechanisms inside click as they finally opened after so many years. As soon as the door had unlocked I withdrew the key and pocketed it silently.

A dusty hand sprung out, inches away from the keyhole. I looked to Sophia.

‘It’s time we end this.’ She said quietly, the Empress nodded in agreement.

‘You are the one that has been chosen, fulfil the prophecy, Roconn.’ She said equally as quiet.

I gently grabbed the handle and began to open the door, dust and cobwebs falling to the floor as I did so. The Empress handed me the torch and I strode into the darkness, guided by the flickering flame. Sophia and the Empress waited for me outside. The room inside was equally as dusty, hidden from the world for centuries. My eyes fell upon empty bookcases and old pedestals that lay in crumbled heaps on the ground. There, centred in the middle of the room, atop the only remaining stone pedestal, was an old, wooden box. I edged closer, my eyes flitting round the room as if expecting something to jump out at me. When I reached the box I saw it had old and faded golden hinges, a thick metal clasp and intricate engravings. It had four feet made of the same intricate engraved gold. It seemed odd, something that could destroy all the evil that walked the earth, contained in such a small box.

I puzzled over it, wondering if I dared to open the lid. I placed a hand tentatively on the top. I tried to open it, but found it was sealed, somehow, even with all my strength, it failed to open and satisfy my curiosity. I slowly picked up the box, it somehow had a weight to it, though I could understand why. It was not like a physical weight, rather, one that seemed to nudge me, telling me to return to Lucia with haste. I left the ancient chamber, the weapon that we’d sought, in my possession.

Sophia and the Empress waited eagerly outside, their faces lit up when I emerged with the box.

‘What is it?’ Asked Sophia curiously.

‘I don’t know,’ I admitted honestly, ‘it will not open to my touch.’ The Empress’s expression slipped. Evidently, she was not expecting an outcome where I failed to see the weapon. ‘There is nothing more I can do,’ I added, ‘we must leave immediately.’ Sophia nodded slowly in agreement.

‘Very well.’ Replied the Empress, she looked saddened, but nevertheless turned on her heel and swept from the room, motioning us to follow. She clutched the torch firmly in her hand as Sophia and I followed her back through the twisted and turning passages. We appeared once more in the Throne Room, Armaita and Oceana looking bored; they were eager to be off. They heard our approach and their heads turned towards us instantly, Oceana’s eyes dropped to the wooden box I clutched so carefully in my hands.

‘What did you find?’ She asked quickly. I shook my head and responded to Oceana,

‘Nothing, I cannot open it.’ I informed her. Both Oceana and Armaita looked taken aback. ‘We must go.’ I added when it became obvious they were not going to reply.

‘I greatly appreciate your aid, I wish you well.’ I spoke to the Empress. She gave a little smile, still disappointed.

‘I hope your return is safe.’ She replied. I nodded and we turned away from each other. As the Empress sidled back to her throne once more, Oceana, Armaita, a heavily pregnant Sophia and I headed for the exit, all eyes of the room upon us, watching us with distrust and curiosity.

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