Chapter Four, Part Two

96 9 4
                                    

Chapter Four, Part Two

It’s eerily quiet. I hold my breath, trying to detect any sound. But there’s only the sound of my heavy breathing and Hirard clearing his throat. He gestures down the main hallway we’ve reached, each side lined with cells. They’re all empty.

“Well, have at it,” he says.

I shake my head. “These cells are empty.”

“This is the section for demonic creatures, Princess. And we don’t get many of those ‘round here.” He scrunches his face and gives me a curious look. “Don’t ya know that? I mean, if ya’re here for—”

“Of course I know,” I snap. I scramble to find a reasonable explanation, and then give Hirard an appraising look. “You’ve just passed the first of eleven tests, Hirard. Each is specifically designed to ensure the quality of this prison. But don’t let me catch you lacking knowledge about anything else. Understood?”

He does that bobbing-nodding thing again. “ Of course, Princess. Of course.”

I give a tight smile. “I’ll examine the cell alone, Hirard. You may stay here.”

I don’t wait for a reply, and take a shaking breath to steady myself. Then I step forward,  counting the cells as I walk down the hallway. One, two, three, four, fiveMy chest grows tight. He’s not here, I know it. He can’t be. It’s impossible. Besides, these cells are all empty, and—

“Are you looking for someone?”

It’s his voice. Ashe’s killer. Right behind me, and then right in front of me as I whirl around. He sounds amused.

I face a dark cell, one far from any window and trapped in shadows. I take a step toward it, and then back, unable to see anyone in the darkness.

Then a figure appears from the shadows. He steps forward into a faint patch of light, and I let out a choked sound.

It’s him.

Young, about my own age. Tanned skin. Muscular and well-built, but taller than any Irradorian. Sharp facial features, strong jaw, and that scar that runs from his right eyebrow down to his bottom lip…

The scar. It’s not there. I frantically scan the man’s face another time, but the scar is still missing.

The man in front of me raises an eyebrow and leans against the bars of his cell. “You like something you see?”

“No,” I blurt out. No, I don’t like this. I hate this. This man looks exactly like Ashe’s killer, but… he’s not. He can’t be. As I look over him a second time, I notice a few more subtle differences; this man is a little taller than Ashe’s killer, a little younger, and he has a tattoo on his collarbone. I can only see a portion of the black ink, but it’s enough to prove this man isn’t who I’m looking for. I clearly remember Ashe’s killer having no tattoos.

The man in the cell hisses in a breath, and I suddenly remember that I said something offensive. “Ouch.” The way he speaks reminds me of Farren’s sarcastic drawl, only this man’s is much more practiced. He has a slight accent that somehow manages to make his husky voice sound elegant. “That hurts, sweetheart. Like an arrow through the heart. Words can kill, you know.”

I glare at him. “What’s your name?”

He bows deeply, the motion somehow even more sarcastic than his words. “My name is Lor. At your service, sweetheart.” He looks up and winks. “Any service.”

“I’m not here to play games with you,” I growl.

“Too bad.”

“I want to know right now. What part are you playing in this? How do you know my Guardian’s killer? What did you have to gain from Ashe’s death?”  I gasp in air, suddenly out of breath, and wait for answers. Lor tilts his head and stares at me for a long moment. Then he gives me a look I’m all-too familiar with: He thinks I’m crazy.

“You know,” Lor says, his voice softening to a tone that’s patronizing and sarcastic at the same time. “Where I come from, it’s considered rather rude to come barging into someone’s prison cell and accuse them of murder. That’s usually done before the whole incarceration thing.”

“Stop messing with me!” I snarl. “You know my Guardian’s murderer!”

He shakes his head. “I don’t know who you’re talking about.”

“You look exactly like him. How could you not know who he is?”

Lor’s face darkens, but he quickly replaces it with that bored expression. “You say he looks exactly like me?”

“Yes.”

Lor lets out a long sigh and nods curtly. “Well. Then that settles it.”

My stomach does a leap. “What? What does it settle?”

“You’re definitely looking for one of half-a-million people. Congratulations. Let me know when you find him.”

“What?” I press a hand to my forehead and close my eyes for a moment. “What do you mean? I know exactly what he looks like. He looks like…” I wave a hand at Lor. “How can half-a-million people look the same?”

Lor shrugs, a smirk working it’s way onto his lips. “We’re Angels. We all look the same.”

I shake my head. “That’s not true! I knew an Angel, and he looked nothing like you.”

That dark expression flashes on his face, but this time I barely see it before Lor replaces it. Then he laughs. “Sweetheart, I’m the only Angel on this continent, and I’m about to be put to death. Whoever you knew wasn’t an Angel. Maybe some type of demon. But not an Angel.”

“He had wings. Just like yo—” I trail off as I squint into the darkness. “You don’t have wings?”

“I used to. But that’s another story.” He grins a crooked smile, like this is somehow funny. “And there’s plenty of other types of demons with wings. If he was an Angel, he’d have looked just like me.”

I bite my lip and glare at him. It’s childish, but somehow it’s not right for Lor to be telling me this. He’s destroying my perfect, familiar image of Ashe.

Lor tilts his head to the other side and stares at me. “So,” he says. “Are you going to get me out of this hell-hole? Or are you going to leave?”

“I’ll leave when I want.”

He scoffs. “Then I’ll assume you’re not here to rescue me.”

For one bewildering second, I have an urge to free him. But then I shake my head. “No.”

He’s made it clear that he knows nothing; Lor would be worthless to me. He’d just be a look-alike reminder of Ashe’s killer.

And I already live with enough painful reminders.

Neither of us say anything for a long moment, until I let out a sigh. “I’ll be leaving now.”

Lor smirks, the expression dark and angry. “Good luck finding your one-in-a-million man.”

“I’ll find him,” I snap. I don’t know why I feel the need to tell Lor this—someone who’s worthless, someone who’s about to die—but it feels necessary. “I will. And soon.”

Lor chuckles and shakes his head. In a low voice I can barely hear, he says, “Then I look forward to your funeral. Soon.”

Counting ShadowsWhere stories live. Discover now