I watched, emotionless, as the blade carved through my stomach, releasing a waterfall of gore. There was no mirror in the room, but even without one I knew that my gaunt face showed no expression as the wet sounds of flesh hitting the ground filled the air. The pain was there, of course- Who wouldn’t feel pain at such an atrocious wound? I simply didn’t care anymore. What was one more burst of mortal agony, after the thousands I had already experienced? Besides, it wasn’t as though I were going to die.
Even as I thought that absurd thought, the wound seemed to melt shut, leaving behind smooth, seamless skin and a puddle of blood and offal. Just as it always did. I sighed, and slowly looked up at the man who had gutted me like a fish- Tall, bald, muscular, scarred, and looking faintly nauseous.
“Aren’t you bored of this yet?”
He refused to look me in the eye, instead preferring to stare at his own blood-stained hands and the jagged knife clutched within. I sighed again, and let a tired smile stretch across my face.
“Come on, surely you’re sick of this- You’ve been at it all night. Go have a rest, get a meal. I’m not going anywhere.”
I lightly tensed my arms against the chains that bound me to the wall, jangling them in a humorless tune. With my feet hanging off the ground, and my arms stretched wide over my head, there really wasn’t much I could do to effect an escape.
Not that I really needed to.
The man finally looked at me, taking in my dangling and naked emaciated form, the dirty brown hair that hung to my waist, my smile, and finally my eyes. I don’t know what he saw there, but whatever it was, it was enough to send him stumbling from the room with a face as pale as snow.
As the heavy wooden door slammed shut behind him, I sighed again and looked around the room that had been my home for… I can’t recall for how long now. Regardless, it was my only real source of entertainment, and so I examined it again, as I had countless times before. A high ceiling of wood, supported here and there by stone pillars. Tall stone walls, without any sign of weakness, or indeed windows. An impressively flat floor, pieced together from blocks of stone dug out of some forgotten quarry, covered here and there by patches of straw, and in one corner by a luxurious rug. Atop said rug sat an extravagant chair, beside which sat a low table with a platter of meats and cheeses- Refreshments for whenever a certain someone wanted to come visit me. I idly wondered at the similarities between my eviscerated bowels and the cold meats for a moment, then turned my attention to the door set into the wall directly across from me. As I noted before, it was made of heavy wood, alongside bands of iron, though the wood was dark with age and the iron was starting to rust. It was not the original door that I had been brought into the room through- I could no longer remember the appearance of that door.
My visual exploration done, my eyes dropped back to the bloodstained floor beneath my feet. I knew that sooner or later, after the torches in their brackets along the wall had burned low, someone would be along with a bucket and a pair of dogs- The bucket full of water to wash away the blood, the dogs to eat whatever couldn’t be washed.
I was fond of the dogs- They seemed to be fond of me as well.
I decided to sleep until the cleaner came, and let my head roll forward on a neck that could hardly hold it up anymore. Dreams were the only real entertainment I had anymore, and so I fell into them happily and willingly.
As always, the nightmares were delighted to welcome me.
The screams woke me up, like they usually did. What was uncommon was that they weren’t mine.
Blinking the sleep from my eyes, I looked up and around, searching for the source of the grating noise. I found it relatively quickly- A small individual with long, silver hair. A girl, and a young one at that. She was bound in ropes and sat kneeling in the center of the room, tears streaming down her small face as she continued to scream and wail. The apparent source of her distress lay beside her, in a growing pool of blood. A similar form, small with silver hair, but the hair was shorter, the form was slightly larger, and there was the shaft of an arrow sticking out from its side. Her brother, perhaps?
From beside me, a callow and arrogant voice spoke, interrupting my drowsy observation.
“Hello, Evren. Have a good nap?”
I sighed in consternation.
“Hello, Micheal. Yes, I did, thank you for asking. What’s all this about?”
The owner of the voice slowly moved into my sight, moving with all the prideful poise of a man who had never been challenged or beaten in his life. He gestured towards the two children.
“My men happened to come across these two orphans in the woods. As you can see, one was wounded in an unfortunate hunting accident and, well…”
He watched me carefully as his voice trailed off, a smirk dancing on the edges of his lips. His youthful face was alive with a barely contained malice, and his blue eyes glinted greedily.
I watched him, unamused.
“Bullshit. I’ve never seen children with hair like theirs before, and I’m betting neither have you. I’m guessing you wanted them for your ‘collection,’ but someone screwed up. Am I wrong?”
Micheal barked a laugh, a high-pitched screech of amusement.
“Ah, Evren. I knew there was a reason I liked you! Yes, yes, you are right- As you can obviously see, these two are of a rare breed. Never before have I seen such hair, such skin! And they are surprisingly powerful, despite their age- I lost three men to their castings. But eventually we brought them down, and now here they are. Unfortunately, one of my men got carried away during the hunt and loosed his arrow too soon. He has been… punished, but the damage was already done.”
That much I could already see- The youth was not long for this world, judging by the blood coating his body and the floor around him, if indeed he was still alive at all.
“So? Why bring them here? I’m sure you have plenty of healers and apothecaries at your beck and call- You are the Duke’s son, after all. Why waste time showing them off to me?”
He frowned at that, but his smirk quickly returned.
“Actually, Evren, I’m the Duke now. I have been for two years.”
I blinked as the memories floated through my head- Micheal as a child, sneaking down to my cell to speak with me for hours at a time. Micheal as a youth, accompanying his father while the old Duke used me as an example on how to gut an animal. Micheal as a young man, cutting me while we discussed times so far gone I could hardly remember them. Thinking back, I suppose it had been awhile since the old Duke had paid me a visit.
“So you are, so you are. My apologies, your Duke-ness. After a few centuries, the years start to blur together.”
He waved away my words.
“It is perfectly understandable. As for why they’re here, well…”
I watched silently as he slipped a hand into his luxurious robes, already fairly certain of what he was going to do. Sure enough, when his hand emerged it was clutching a small, leather-bound tome.
I would have shaken my head, but the muscles of my neck had long ago atrophied to the point where such violent movement was impossible.
“Oh, come now! Just one quick use! Just a little demonstration, that’s all I ask. Surely you don’t wish to see that child die?”
I sighed and ignored Micheal’s wheedling voice, instead staring morosely at the small, innocent looking book. Hardly larger than a man’s hand, though rather thick with parchment, it was wrapped in intricately tooled brown leather and covered in symbols and fantastical creatures. In the very center of its cover, front and back, was an eye set with an oily black gem, and the latch that held it closed gleamed golden.
“I said no. Why would I care whether or not that child lives or dies? Regardless of what I do, he will be dust long before me. As will his sister. As will you.”
Micheal grimaced and tightened his grip on the book.
“Evren, why do you deny it so? It is yours, and you are its. You told me that yourself, back when I was but a child. Just think of all you could do!”
I just closed my eyes.
“You are all but children, Micheal. And you always will be, in my eyes. As for what I can do…”
The only thing I wanted to use it for, I couldn’t, and so it was worthless to me. I opened my eyes again.
“I will not. Let him die, or save him- It will happen without me, regardless of what you choose. Quite frankly, he might prefer death over being part of your collection.”
I was expecting Micheal to hit me- He had always been a cruel lad, much like his father before him, and his grandfather before that. And indeed, a blow did strike me.
But not from where I expected.
My body jolted against the wall as an impact struck my legs, and after my head stopped lolling about I rolled my eyes down to take in a curious sight. Her face was flushed an angry red, her cheeks stained with tears, and her hair an unholy mess- It seemed as though the sister of the pair had found her legs.
She only said one word, but her eyes told the story- Red as blood, shot through with anger, pain, and most predominantly, fear.
Looking down into those eyes, there was only one answer I could give.
The entire exchange had drained what little energy remained within my withered shell, and so I drifted off into restful oblivion, accompanied by the screams of the girl, Micheal’s enraged shouting, and what I guessed to be the last few desperate gurgles of the boy.
Really, what an ordeal. Why couldn’t they just let me sleep?
When I next awoke, it was to find several new pools of blood beneath my body, and a conspicuous hunk of meat sitting in the middle of the floor. Oh, and a new cellmate.
I looked from what must have been the result of Micheal unleashing his fury on my unconscious body to what seemed to be the hounds’ newest chewtoy. Likely the dead boy, but considering how much flesh was missing at that point, it was impossible to tell. I didn’t see any traces of silver hair, so it could have been something else.
Or Micheal could have scalped the corpse before giving it to the hounds.
I considered asking my new neighbor for answers, but judging from the pure loathing in every glance she shot my way, I doubted I would receive much in the way of explanation. That said, I was rather pleased to finally have something new to examine in my little world, and so I freely indulged my eyes.
The girl had been stripped naked, and was now chained by the ankle to one of the supporting pillars near the center of the room. She wasn’t large, in any sense of the word, and so I put her age at no more than seven or eight, and that was assuming she had never had enough to eat. Her skin was as fair as fresh snow, leaving aside the flush in her cheeks and a few scrapes here and there. Most interestingly, not only was the hair on her scalp silver, so too were her eyebrows, beneath which sat a pair of lavender eyes- Another rarity. Around her sat a pile of straw, a single rough blanket, and a bucket.
I was surprised- Micheal was being unusually generous. He must really be taken with her.
I pitied her, I truly did- Naught but a child, and soon she was going to be subjected to treatment that would break most grown men. But what was one more death, really? Everyone dies in the end, so what was the harm in doing so a little early. Sure, the journey would be unpleasant, but at least there would be an end.
For her, anyway.
“What are you?”
I shook myself from my ruminations as a quiet voice intruded into my ears. It seemed as though she had worn her throat down with all the screaming- It was hardly more than a rasp.
“I am Evren, a guest of Micheal’s dubious hospitality for many years now. Who are you?”
I could see her debating whether or not to tell me, doubt warring with hate in her eyes.
“You don’t need to tell me. Frankly, it doesn’t really matter- You’ll be dead soon enough. I just figured you’d want someone to remember your name before you left this world.”
She glared at me, anger winning over doubt.
“My name is Eve. And I’m not gonna die.”
I had to laugh at that.
“Oh, you aren’t, are you? I wonder how you’ll pull that off- You’re alone, unarmed and undefended.”
She stood, unsteady but proud, and thrust out her chest.
“I’m not gonna! Jessa and the others are gonna come for me and…”
She trailed off suddenly as her eyes locked onto the hunk of meat that may have once been her brother, and I watched the pride drain out of her as her small shoulders slumped and tears once again began to pool in her eyes.
“Your friends are going to come for you? You’d best hope they come soon, then- Micheal isn’t exactly the most patient of men, and I doubt you’ll survive his interests for long. Most others don’t.”
She tore her eyes away from the corpse to glare at me defiantly.
“Oh yeah? Then why are you still alive, huh? No way a coward like you can survive and I can’t!”
I laughed again, my body heaving with the effort to propel the wind through my skeletal chest.
“Oh, a coward am I? Well, I suppose you’re correct, in a sense. But trust me, you don’t want to use me as a measure of what is survivable and what isn’t. You’ll find yourself unpleasantly surprised by the results.”
She didn’t have a response to that, instead lapsing into a sullen silence even as the occasional tear traced its way down her cheek. I welcomed the return to quiet, and let my head fall back to my chest as sleep returned to claim me.