I hate the dark. I used to never be afraid of it. Not that I am afraid of it, but the nothingness of it is just too much for me. When I was seven, I had this awful nightmare. I don’t even remember what it was about, just that I gasped awake in my dark bedroom at the castle. It was pitch black, making my tiny frame tremble in terror. At the time, I was training on a regular basis, whenever I wasn’t in my lessons with Silva. But I was still a kid who had normal nightmares, normal fears of things like monsters in the closet.
Thinking back, I should have just gone to one of my sisters. Kay, she probably would’ve comforted me, or maybe even Bryn, since we were still pretty close before the actual killing started. But I didn’t want them to think or know how weak I was, even then. I was stupid to think I would receive any sympathy from my adopted parents. From what I now know, I may have gotten a different reaction if it were only Cadmar, but that speaks true for everything in my life. If Scarlet hadn’t been around, everything would be different.
Letting fear rule me, I crept from my room, sneaking through the dark hallways and up the stairs to their room. I had no clue what time it was, but I didn’t care when I tapped on their door. It was Cadmar who answered, looking bleary-eyed but slightly frantic, but Scarlet was quick to follow. When I told them why I was there, she gave Cadmar a quick kiss, telling him she would handle it. For the briefest moment, I thought she was going to be that caring mother I so longed for. I should have known that, even then, there wasn’t a single motherly bone within her.
Once Cadmar went back to their bed, she closed their door and then turned an ice-cold sneer on me. Without a word, she grabbed my arm, her fingers digging in to the point that I had to bite back a yelp; she surely would have backhanded me had I shown any amount of pain. She remained silent, walking me down the stairs, through the hall, and even farther into the basement. By that point, I was so terrified I was certain she could feel the tremors racking through me, which made me even more scared.
Once to the holding room, she let my arm go, the blood rushing back to my hand, needles pricking at it. She didn’t say anything when she opened the door to the pitch-black room. She crossed her arms, giving me an expectant look. I didn’t want to go in; I would have done anything to stay on that side of the threshold, and I’m sure she knew it.
With pursed lips, she bent so her gaze was level with mine. “If you ever come complaining about nightmares again, you will be locked in there for an entire week. Do I make myself clear?”
I nodded, trying like hell to keep my lip from quivering.
I learned two things that night: there are things far more horrifying than the dark, and I would never experience the love of a mother.
Now the darkness isn’t so much scary as it is all-consuming. I’m being crushed by it and there’s no escape. It’s to the point where I don’t know whether I’m dreaming or awake. I woke to the darkness; at least I think I woke up. Maybe I’m still sleeping. I’m not sure. It’s so dark I haven’t been able to convince myself to move. I might be back in my room or they may have put me somewhere else when they knocked me out. It could be hours, days, weeks, since they put me in here. I’ll never know.
Even if I had the courage to move, I’m not so sure I could. My body is weighed down, my limbs heavy, as if they’re filled with sand. What’s the heaviest is the fear of the unknown. I don’t want to be afraid, but the unknown is overwhelming. Obviously, this is my punishment for not complying. They may keep me in here until I starve to death, or they may torture me with either physical or mental coercion. I don’t know.
I’m lying on my back on a flat surface. It isn’t a mattress or pad of any sort. I’m pretty sure it’s a slab of stone, especially from how unbelievably uncomfortable and cold my body is. I roll my head back and forth, stretching my stiff neck before wiggling my fingers and toes. With how stiff I am, it has to have at least been a day or two since they put me in here; my stomach devouring itself confirms this.
I drive myself crazy with thoughts of the unknown, with thoughts of what Conner and my family may be doing, for God knows how long before I finally find the courage to move. Stretching my arm out, I find the edge of whatever I’m lying on, running my hand along the smooth corner. After some shifting, I have my legs slung over the edge, my feet touching the ground. The urge to get up and explore isn’t enough for me to actually do so. They must be watching me with a night vision camera or something. I’m probably amusing them, yet again. I don’t care about how dumb I look. I scoot back, finding myself against a wall, and curl into a ball.
Darkness and silence bring insanity. I can’t think, yet can’t stop thinking. Whatever they decide to do with me, I won’t do what they want. Nothing they do can make me comply. I slip in and out of a fitful sleep, not really wanting to sleep but also not having a choice in such a dark place. Counting the minutes is useless; the only measure of time I have is how hungry I get. Weird though, I don’t seem to be getting thirsty.
Did they do something to keep me hydrated? Are they really torturing me with hunger?
The bright lights turn on so suddenly my eyes scream in agony and I clench them shut against the offense. Colorful spots pop up behind my eyelids before I brave opening them again. When I do, they adjust at a snail’s pace to the enormous white room. It’s only my slab of a bed, then a square room with a door on the opposite end of it. The agent with the fat lip, caused by moi, guards the door with his hands clasped in front of him.
His expression remains blank while we have a stare-down. I’m not so talented with the emotionless thing, hence my bared teeth, my fists clenching. If he’s here to release me, I’m not so sure I want to go, even if my stomach would hate me for refusing.
“Payton,” Helquest’s all too familiar voice booms through the room, as if over an intercom. I jerk my head around looking for a speaker of some sort, but come up short. “To earn your freedom, kill him,” he demands, making my heart stop.
Did I hear him right? Am I dreaming? Is this a freaking nightmare? I’ve had thousands of them here; this has to be another.
Agent Sharp stands there, fingers curling into fists at his sides, making my heart rocket back into action. This can’t be real. Has to be a nightmare. No way in hell I’m going to kill this guy, not even in a dream. So he beat me up a little, and I may hate him, but that doesn’t mean he deserves to die. The steps he takes in my direction have me shoving myself farther against my wall, trying to blend into the plaster or something while using my slab of a bed as a barrier. He can easily get to me, even while I’m on it, but I can’t help hoping I’ll wake up before that happens.
But I don’t, and he doesn’t stop. I glance around the ceiling again, waiting for Helquest to say something else or tell Sharp to stop, but nothing happens and he’s almost to me. He practically moseys across the long expanse of white floor, but with his long legs, it doesn’t take much time. My hands sweat a gross amount, but they clench into fists as if they have a mind of their own, like they won’t let me give up. My survival skills wake up; I don’t want to fight, don’t want to kill him, but I can’t go without a fight.
Heart pounding, mind reeling. This is real. This is happening. They can’t actually want me to kill him, could they? Is this my punishment or his? I guess based on who comes out alive, we’ll see. But that’s not true. If I win, it will be punishment for me, because I have to live with it.
Right in front of me, a snarl rips from his throat when he lunges forward, arms held wide as if he’s going to grab me. Like hell I’m going to let him. I’m up high enough that his arms would wrap around my legs, so when I leap toward him and he staggers forward, I’m able to use his back as a springboard, bounding over him. It would have looked totally awesome, like some Matrix move, if my legs didn’t give out when I land behind him, making me crumble to the floor. I barely catch myself with weak arms before my face meets the pearly white tiles. I’m never going to win this while running on empty. I would love to say I jump up and attack him, but I can’t. My body just won’t work right.
My hair is used to yank me up and backward at the same time, pain shooting down my spine. The memory of when Cadmar found me with Conner in Chile floods my mind, causing more pain than my hair being ripped from my scalp. I swear if I get out of this, I’m cutting it off.
Legs kicking out in front of me, I’m pulled back against his rock-solid chest, but I dig my overgrown nails into the hand holding my hair, piercing the skin. A growl rumbles against my back, his grip loosening enough for me to spin away, only a few strands of hair tugging free. Pausing for a second, he studies the blood dripping from his hand before sneering at me. I should have taken the pause to attack him, but my mind isn’t working right.
I have no arsenal, no edge to help me survive, only my sheer will to live, which isn’t at its highest point right now. If they want me to kill him, he’s probably going to kill me if I don’t succeed. Maybe just letting him kill me is the best way out. I wouldn’t have to train anyone, wouldn’t have to withstand physical torture or the mental torture of always worrying about Conner and my family.
But that’s the coward’s way out. I’m no coward, so I let my instincts take over because I have nothing else.
After a long time of grappling, I’m bloodied pretty good, bruised all over, barely able to move, and out of steam. The damage I’ve done to him is miniscule compared to what he’s done to me. If this is a test, I’m failing miserably and I’m about to lose my life.
His bloody hand, which wraps around most of my throat, grips tighter, stopping all airflow to my brain. Gargling, clawing at his hand while kicking my legs, I struggle with everything I have left, but it isn’t enough. This man’s snarling face is going to be the last thing I ever see. How depressing.
“Sharp!” Helquest’s voice rumbles through the room again, causing Sharp’s grip to loosen.
I drag in painful breaths, unable to move an inch even when he stands slowly, starting for the door. I get myself into a sitting position, chest heaving while I watch him walk away all smug-like. I hate him, but I hate myself even more for being so weak. I should be able to take him. If only I had some strength left.
“I told you all,” Sharp yells, staring up at what I’m guessing is a camera, standing in front of the door. “This girl is not what you think she is. She has no skill, and now no will to live. If you don’t want me to kill her, open the fucking door.”
It doesn’t open.
They want him to kill me.
But somehow, his words give me that last rush I needed. I surge to my feet and dash toward his back. Before he realizes what’s happened, I’ve already climbed up him and wrapped my arms around his throat. Maybe it’s my signature move. Who gives a damn—it’s effective. I cling harder when he spins around and grabs at my arms with thick, bloodied fingers. I don’t crush his trachea, or snap his neck while he slams me around. I only stop the blood flow to his brain, long enough to make him slow down before finally falling backward on top of me when he passes out. This gross gurgling noise escapes his throat when I let go.
I struggle, inch by aching inch, out from under him with the fear that he’ll wake helping me along. He continues breathing; I didn’t do what they wanted. I stand. Gazing up where I guess the camera is, I draw in a deep breath.
“I won’t kill him,” I try yelling, but it’s a pathetic croak.
Hopefully they heard me. Hopefully they get the message.
They can’t control me.
My heart thuds. The door remains closed. Sharp will wake any second and I have no strength left. My arms and legs must be filled with sand. I could probably close my eyes and fall asleep while standing. The lack of carbs and protein is so prominent.
They aren’t going to release me.
Will they leave me in here with him until one of us kills the other?
If they don’t release me in the next few seconds, he’ll get up and finish the job, probably a lot slower and more painfully than he originally planned.
My knees buckle, slamming to the ground. Pain vibrates through my legs.
An odd humming sound fills the room before a fog begins crawling across the floor. Frozen in terror, I have nowhere to go, no escape from the fog. It fills my nostrils within seconds, but it has no scent. A sweetness coats my tongue.
The room goes black.