With a trembling hand, Cecily scratches the rock across the ground. She counts quickly. The three hundredth and sixty-second stroke. The rock falls from her hand, bouncing across the smooth stone floor. The sound bounces between the marble columns, making it echo throughout the mostly empty cavern. Cecily stares down at the faint scratches before her. Almost a full year has passed since they had taken her. Reciting and remembering the numbers of the days as they passed was the only thing keeping her sane as she'd been taken from place to place.
The wall behind her was cold and damp as she leans her head back against it, closing her eyes. Only a dull ache remained in the arm chained above her. The pain had faded away over the last day, and whether that was a good thing or not, she hadn't decided.
A whimper whispers down the walls. Cecily turns her head, and just barely in the dim light, she can see a small quivering figure. The child. They had brought her in just a day after arriving in this place. A slight thing, knobbly knees and jutting elbows, the girl looked as if she hadn't a decent meal in her life. It seemed they were eager to start work quickly this time. Cecily looks away from the little body. Poor thing wouldn't last her first fight in the arena. Although, maybe, it would be a small mercy for the child.
She buries the revulsion, the sadness, the utter despair and hopelessness that threaten to crush her. Pushes the feelings far down, until, like the memories of her home, the open skies and her friends, they were no more than a flicker of flame held within her heart. Exhaling slowly, Cecily studies the room around her, not for the first time. There was only one exit, lit with a single orb of light hovering above its archway. Through that, a labyrinth of hallways waited, and at the end of those hallways... she wasn't sure she wanted to know. Those who were taken from this room never came back, and their screams were a sound she'd never forget.
Cecily traces her fingers across the most recent tally on the floor. Two strokes. Two strokes meaning two more days before they'd come for her. Two more days before she would have to again face off against one of the other captives in battle. What the purpose behind all of this was, she was yet to figure out. Besides guards and the prisoners, Cecily saw no other person. The guards never spoke to them either, their job simply to bring an occasional meal and escort them from the rooms they were held in. Since coming to this new place, some of them had even started wearing these horrible gas masks. Why; Cecily had no idea.
Approaching footsteps have her heart pounding. Straining to listen, she waits, breath held, hoping that whoever approached turns and doesn't enter her room. She has no such luck, as two guards appear. Awash in the golden light from the archway, they survey the captives. Scrambling, Cecily presses her back against the wall, willing herself to disappear into the shadow her little corner of the room held. Each footstep that echoes in the room causes her heart to beat faster. She tries to calm her breathing, as it comes only in short bursts as the guards close in on her and then pass her. It takes all of Cecily's self-control to not collapse to the floor. Closing her eyes, she sends a quick thanks to whoever is listening that she did not have to go to the arena today.
The screams pierce the air, shattering the silence of the cavern. Cecily's stomach drops. Not the child. Her body shaking with something that had nothing to do with the cold, she watches as the guards undo the child's shackle, cuffing her arms together, and wishes there was something she could do, something she could say that would help. Instead, heat rushing to her face, she drops her head and says nothing as the guards and child approach. They stop in front of her.
Cecily's head snaps up. No. One of the guards steps forward, the keys to her shackle jingling in his hand. Shaking her head, she moves to the side as far from the guard as she can.
"No, it's not my time. I-I have two more days until the next fight."
Her limbs feel like stone, far too heavy to possibly move. Her chest constricts as she's to get in a breath as she watches the man in front of her release her arm. Run. The thought is fleeting, just like the momentary hope she feels as her arm drops down at her side. Just as quickly as those thoughts come, so did the cuffs linking her arms together, and as she feels the snap of the metal around her wrists it's like a key breaking open the lock she kept around her heart. She feels everything. A strangled sob tears itself from Cecily's throat. The despair was overwhelming. She can picture the inky hands choking her, squeezing her throat as she struggles to breathe. When she doesn't move, the guard pushes her and she falls to her knees.
Raising her head, she meets the tear-stained cheeks of the child, who looks back at her with eyes widened with fear. Fear that Cecily knows reflect in her own. Run. The thought was there again, though this time not for herself but for the girl. But, as her gaze drifts down from the child's face and to the hands that clasp her shoulders, the words die in her throat. The guard's hands are nothing more than fleshy stumps where his palms should be, and his fingers- gods above- his fingers are non-existent, long, sharp pieces of metal in their place.
The guard who had unshackled her grabs her under the arms, and she feels the needle-sharp prick of metal pierce her skin, forcing her to her feet. A jab to the back and Cecily starts walking. They did not stop again for another captive. Her head pounds, and she can hear the blood rushing in her ears as her heart threatens to break through her chest. Beside her, the girl openly weeps. Cecily just hopes the poor thing doesn't realise the extent of what awaits them once they reach their destination. The burden of knowing what was going to be expected of her weighs heavy on Cecily's soul. She steals another quick glance downward at the girl. Remnants of a braided style can be seen in her hair, and her clothes have neat stitches patching them together. Someone loves this child. Cecily doubted she was some orphan, with no home and family, unlike herself. It made the thought of killing her so much harder to swallow.
Steeling her heart, and shutting all of her feelings down, locking them behind a series of doors until she felt nothing, she knew what she had to do. The only thing she could do. A quick death would be her gift to the girl. She just hopes that whatever gods there may be, forgave her.
YOU ARE READING
Beasts of Steel and Bone *WATTYS WINNER*Science Fiction
When skin and bone are stolen, darkness uses wings of flesh and lead. ******** Beneath the vibrant city of Mallinasport, awash in the pollution is Imus, a commu...