CHAPTER FOUR: Nightshade (part 3)

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Clara was hungry and her throat was parched

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Clara was hungry and her throat was parched. She had thought about asking for some food and water, but she doubted she could keep it in her stomach even if the guards obliged her. Still in handcuffs, she sat in a cell upon a thin mattress on a bunk. Her clothes were drying, but they smelt rank and musty.

The only light in the cell was the dull red glow of the moon coming through a small barred window, high on the wall. It looked as though the sky was clearing.

On the opposite wall was a second bunk. A large figure lay beneath the covers, difficult to make out in the cell's gloom and shadows. The reek of stale alcohol was strong. Clara didn't know if this person was a man or a woman, but whoever it was, they were good at snoring – and farting – in their sleep.

Clara wanted to wrap her arms around her body, but the cuffs prevented it. Anxiety clawed at her. Her palms were clammy. She would need to take her medicine again soon, but Captain Jeter had kept it with him. She cursed Fat Jacob; she cursed Charlie Hemlock; but most of all Clara cursed Marney for saving her life only to then leave her high and dry. Where was the empath now? What had she done to Clara?

At least she knew why Jeter had taken such an interest in her, though this knowledge brought no comfort. The Resident is watching you ... Clara's hunger churned her stomach, and she fought the urge to gag. The promise of being taken to the Nightshade loomed over her like the threat of the Retrospective itself.

At that moment, her cellmate moaned, rolled over and noisily vomited onto the floor. Clara groaned and lay down on the bunk, clutching her knees to her chest, as her cellmate rolled over again with a creaking of springs, and the sound of snoring once more filled the air.

From somewhere outside, another inmate in another cell shouted some abuse at a guard, and was told to shut up. The argument grew louder and more intense. Clara covered her ears and squeezed her eyes shut, too exhausted to sob, too anxious to sleep.

The Nightshade was the home of the most powerful man in Labrys Town: the Resident. And the Resident was the law. He controlled every district, ruled over every denizen. His name was Van Bam, but few had ever seen him. It was said Van Bam's eyes were always watchful. Did he know she was a changeling? Did he, too, think she was in league with the wild demons of the Retrospective?

If Jeter's threat of sending Clara to the Resident was genuine, she would probably never see the sun again. Just as they did in the deep maze of the Great Labyrinth, people disappeared in the Nightshade.

The hunger, the humidity, the smell of vomit and stale alcohol, the pointless shouting raging outside – the entire situation swirled and slashed at Clara's senses and finally took its toll on her. Hurriedly, she moved to the edge of the bunk and gagged and retched, bringing up nothing more than bile. When she was done, she wiped it from her chin with the back of a shaking hand, and took several steadying breaths.

She stared at the thick chain that connected the metal cuffs around her wrists, wondering how strong it was.

If the effects of her medicine wore off and the metamorphosis occurred, here and now in this cell, if the magic in her veins activated and changed her into the wolf, could she escape? Could she break down the cell door and fight her way through unknown numbers of armed police? Did it matter? Clara blacked out when the wolf came. She never had any clear memory of being the monster – just flashes of images and sensations. She had no control over it. Chances were, if she changed, she would fight and slaughter until someone shot her dead. Clara almost welcomed the idea, wished it to happen: a clean end over a miserable alternative.

Was that what Marney wanted?

It was then she realised that the shouting between the inmate and the guard outside had stopped. And it wasn't due to a natural conclusion to an argument. It seemed to Clara as though something had interrupted, brought their exchanges to an abrupt halt. It was like a vague ringing had been left in the air, and the change in atmosphere was palpable to Clara's heightened senses.

Voices came from beyond the cell, muffled, whispered. The peep hole in the door slid open and then slid shut. The clunk of a key turning in the lock followed, and the door opened, spilling bright light into the cell.

Blinking, Clara moved further onto the bunk until her back was pressed up against the wall. A young police guard led a small, elderly man into the cell. The latter then waved the former away. As the guard left, the elderly man looked in disgust at Clara's cellmate and the puddle of vomit on the floor.

Clara had never seen him before. He was dressed in a smart three-piece suit and tie. Grey, shoulder-length hair was swept back from his face, and a tuft of beard sprouted from the point of his chin. He smelled slightly of flowers. With a welcoming air, he offered Clara a sympathetic smile. He moved towards her with a small key in his hand, which he pointed at the cuffs about her wrists.

'Let's get you out of those,' he said kindly, 'and away from this disgusting cell, shall we?'

Clara hesitated, but she sensed nothing to fear about this man. He did not force the issue, did not demand anything of her, and waited patiently with the little key. Clara raised her hands to him. He unlocked the cuffs and threw them and the key onto the bunk.

'Thank you,' Clara mumbled, rubbing her wrists.

'You're most welcome,' said the man. 'Now, your chariot awaits, yes?'

Clara frowned up at him, and he smiled at her again with the kindest smile she had ever seen.

'The Nightshade is expecting you, Clara.'

She desperately wanted to object; she wanted to scream and claw and fight her way out of the building. But all she could manage was a quick choking sound before the elderly man placed a hand on her head and she immediately began slipping towards unconsciousness. From a distance, she heard him say 'Sleep,' and then there was nothing.

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