Colvan was alert as the sun rose higher but as they were waiting on a delivery, they could not leave town till it arrived. It arrived later than expected and Colvan had just been about to send Milna and Tiga on ahead, for he knew that neither of them wished to spend another night in town. Colvan believed that some kind of magic had been involved in putting Tiga into a nightmarish trance. As they were leaving the tavern, the sun was already setting on the rolling horizon. Colvan had their wagon loaded and horses prepared as soon as the delivery had arrived. The tavern owner warned them that it wasn’t safe travelling the plains at night, but compared to the threat of a possible magical attack, the group were willing to take the risk. The buildings flung dark shadows across the street and the air had already taken on a chilly turn for the night.
“Excuse me, Miss Athanar,” called a female voice.
Tiga turned to see a young woman striding towards the wagon, a lantern swinging on its chain. The woman was dressed in a simple gown and a piece of cloth tied her blonde hair away from her face. She curtsied as she arrived in front of Tiga and then lifted the lantern to shed light on her own face. Tiga found that the woman had light blue eyes and a soft face. The woman didn’t smile nor did she look angry or too serious.
“Who are you?” Tiga asked bluntly.
“My name isn’t important,” the woman replied. “However it is important for you to follow me.”
“I’m sorry, I’m leaving now, as we are needed somewhere by tomorrow evening,” Tiga lied.
“You know that you won’t be able to leave if you try to now,” the young woman whispered.
“Is it you? Are you the one that keeps stopping me from leaving?” Tiga demanded, stepping forward.
Colvan stepped forward as well and stood by Tiga, his arms crossed seriously. The woman took a step back and held up her hands in a show of peace.
“Believe me, I am supportive of you going elsewhere. However, there is something that you must see before you try to leave,” the woman spoke carefully.
“You are being especially cryptic,” Colvan spoke.
“I’m sorry, but this is important.”
“So you said before… Can I at least accompany her?”
The woman shrugged and she waved a hand in impatience.
“I wasn’t told you couldn’t so sure, just hurry up,” the woman said, her initial attempt of civility slowly fading. “I can’t go home till I fetch you.”
“Milna, stay with the wagon,” Colvan called to his wife. “We’ll be back shortly.”
Milna nodded cautiously and the woman turned down the street. Tiga and Colvan followed reluctantly after sharing a confused look. The snow glowed orange in the light of the lantern, the group’s shadows splaying long behind them. The woman used long strides but Tiga and Colvan easily kept up. It took a few minutes to cross town and Tiga was surprised to find herself standing at the front of the prison complex.
“Don’t worry, you’re not the one who’s captured, I’m not locking you up,” the woman spoke, almost as if she read Tiga’s mind.
The woman opened the wooden door and held it open for the other two to enter. The prison was hardly bustling and the town only had a handful of soldiers to keep guard. The guard on duty was snoring in a chair, his feet propped up on the desk. His hand was twitching, much like that of a dog dreaming of chasing rabbits. Colvan approached the chair, ready to kick him off balance, thus hopefully waking him. The woman however stopped him, frowning fiercely, and then waved them to the back of the room. A drunk was sleeping off the effects of alcohol in one of the two cells, but the woman paid no attention to him. The woman went to a trapdoor in the floor at the back of the room, hidden in the dusty shadows.
“What exactly are we doing?” Tiga whispered, raising an eyebrow.
“Shhh,” the woman hushed, pressing one finger to her lips.
Tiga shrugged and was immediately motioned to climb down a ladder that ran down from the trapdoor. Not wishing to delay the process any more, Tiga quickly descended into a world of pitch black. It was cold in the basement, freezing in fact, and Tiga felt goose bumps form over her body. The fact that the darkness reminded her of the nightmare, didn’t help with making her feel comfortable. Tiga heard someone else climb down the ladder and bump into her lightly.
“Blimey, I hope that woman doesn’t close the trap door on us,” Colvan spoke beside her.
“A bit late to think about that, could have thought that before climbing down,” Tiga whispered.
“No need to be so suspicious of me,” the woman’s voice spoke on the other side of her. “But you two would be the easiest people to be doublecrossed I swear.”
“Why didn’t you bring down the lantern?” Tiga said, shivering. “I have good night vision but this is…”
“I don’t have three hands. You try carrying a lantern when you are climbing down a ladder,” the woman replied. “Don’t fuss, I’ve got us covered.”
There was a spark and slow fizzle, a torch soon lit up the area. The relief of being able to see, even a little, was soon dashed however.
“Did you bring her?” a whisper of a voice spoke from the darkness.
Tiga froze, a tingle running up her spine and across her scalp, her hair standing on end. The whisper brought everything from the previous night back; the Cheshire cat grins, the horror and the hurt.
“I did, sir. May I leave now?” the woman spoke.
“Yes, you are dismissed,” the whisper said.
“Thank you,” the woman said, bowing towards the side of the room.
The woman left, leaving Tiga and Colvan alone with the voice. The room suddenly lit up with a purple glow, revealing a large cage in the back of the basement. Inside the cage was still pitch black however and a shuffling sound could be heard inside.
“Come closer, my girl,” the whisper said, seeming to bounce around the room.
Tiga moved forward, stiffly, her joints jerking with each step. Colvan frowned, noticing her clenching her jaw and tried to move, only to find that his body didn’t respond. He tried to speak but no words were created and instead only a breath of air escaped past his lips.
“That’s the way,” the whisper spoke again.
Tiga mind was now over the shock realisation and, despite the crippling fear, started to look for a way of escape. Her body however moved on its own accord and all she could do was stare at the bars of the cage.
“I’m glad you came to see me,” the voice whispered. “I’m feeling so awfully lonely.”
“I hardly had a choice,” Tiga seethed through gritted teeth.
“But that woman didn’t drag you here at sword point, so I see that as you coming willingly.”
“Had I know it was you, whatever you are, I wouldn’t have.”
“I would have sent someone else, if she had failed. You see I have many friends.”
“Yes, well you’re imprisoned, it’s not like you-” Tiga spoke, pausing.
Every word Tiga spoke, felt like a milestone, the energy spent was making her exhausted. Her breathing was rough and her jaw jammed shut.
“-can come after me yourself,” Tiga finished, her chest heaving.
A quiet laugh was heard from inside the cage and a pale, boney hand grabbed onto one of the bars. The fingernails were long and chipped, the skin was almost flaky looking.
“I stay here for my own safety,” the voice whispered. “There are things in the world, I dare not speak of. Those terrors will come for me…I dare not exit this room.”
Tiga was too exhausted to say anymore, but her mind was working overtime, trying to figure out what he was saying.
“Don’t worry, I’ll protect you. Just stay here…my girl, you needn’t leave. It’s too dangerous out there, there’s plenty of room here.”
Tiga took a moment to look the cage over. The bars where close together and, despite the voice saying it needed to remain safe, only one latch held the gate shut on the cage. As she looked it over, the hand disappear back into the darkness. It returned moments later however, and clasped a bone handled dagger. The dagger was pushed through the bars and then offered to Tiga, the dagger resting on its palm.
“We mustn’t have anyone know where we are however,” the voice hissed. “No one can know.”
Tiga realised in a moment, what the voice was suggesting. She turned her head to look at Colvan who remained at the bottom of the ladder.
“He can’t survive. What if he told other’s where I am?” the voice worried.
Tiga felt her hand reach out and grab the dagger, the pale hand retreating as soon as she did so.
“Don’t worry,” the voice whispered. “He won’t feel a thing. We need to make sacrifices in order to attain our own safety. It’s just a part of the cycle of life, death always comes eventually.”
Tiga took two jarred steps towards Colvan, the dagger raised up beside her ear. Like a puppet on strings, Tiga was unable to stop her body.
“Blood will flow,” the voice laughed manically. “We can live together and be safe… my girl.”
Horror filled Tiga’s eyes and she wasn’t surprised to find the same look reflected in Colvan’s eyes. Tiga took another step forward…