Jackrabbit

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic

Chapter 18 (v.1) - Chapter 18

Submitted: January 25, 2018

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Comments: 1

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Submitted: January 25, 2018

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 I looked down, ankles stinging from the raw patches of bloody skin dotting them. In my own boredom, I had scratched away the flesh until it bled. There was no sound, no anything, in the dungeons. Just guards and their stoney silence to pass the time.

 

My hair had grown long since my arrival. It wasn’t as long as before; that would take years. It reached down past my shoulders, looking very feminine. The exact length that was too short for long hair, and too long for short hair. The guards often snickered at me, mocking my appearance. “Who’s the pretty girl in the cell?” they crowed. “You might as well slap a dress on him and call him a lady!”

 

The squeak of the bars moving interrupted me from my thoughts, jolting me back to the present. Verna stepped inside, food in her hands. “I asked the cook to sneak me some scraps,” she said with a slight smile. “I hope it’s to your liking.”

 

Not waiting for her to finish, I snatched the food from her and wolfed it down. The hunger drowned out everything, even my pride. The sausage tasted delicious, the meat savory and greasy on my tongue. Verna looked at me, no judgment in her gaze. When I was finished, she merely took the plate.

 

“Wait.”

 

She stopped, not looking back at me. “Yes?” Her tone was guarded, tense.

 

My voice was hoarse, unused to speaking. If I spent enough time in here, would I forget how to speak someday? The thought of hobbling around, unable to convey my thoughts into words amused me rather than worried me. Even thoughts of death were simple entertainment. I had retreated somewhere far back into the corner of my mind, removing myself from where I was.

 

“Why don’t you leave?” I asked at last. “If you keep saying how much you want to do something, why don’t you go?”

 

“I cannot do that to my liege,” she replied simply, her voice tight. “I have watched Prince Henry, guided him since he was young. To leave now when he needs me most would be akin to treason.”

 

“So you’ll murder an innocent girl just because you were too afraid to stand up to a 16-year-old boy?” Bitterness clogged my chest, making it difficult to breathe. “Rachel is blameless in all this. Surely there’s a way to help her, rather than kill her.”

 

The bars stretched out of shape again, allowing her through. “That’s not my place to think about,” she said at last from the other side of the cell.

 

I could only grit my teeth as she walked away. In her place, Luther appeared, his eyes as lime-green as usual. His eyebrows quirked upon seeing me, lips twisting into a wistful smile. I wanted nothing more than to knock that grin right off his face.

 

“If you want, I could get Elizabeth to trim your hair,” he offered.

 

“She’s not your pet!” I shot back before wincing at the crack in my voice.

 

He merely sighed, his hands intertwined and the sleeves of his black robes hanging low. “I know that, Leonard. But I’m the only one who carries any title in this castle, so I’m the only one who can persuade others. I’m sure Elizabeth would be delighted to see you. She’s been rather downcast since your last meeting three months prior.”

 

Three months. Three months? Just after three months, my legs felt weak and my voice was rusty from neglect. What if years go by? What then? Will I just waste away and become little more than a vegetable?

 

“I…I guess.” As much as I loathed the scholar, I loved Elizabeth more. If she truly wanted to see me, I had no right to deny her that.

 

Bending the bars with unseen magic, he stepped inside the cell and hooked his arm around mine. “There’s no way I’m letting her come down here and see you like this,” he grunted, obviously straining against the burden of my weight. I had become considerably lighter since coming to the castle, but Luther was never the strongest man. His talents were in magic and studying, nothing more.

 

Slowly, we made our way up the stairs. The guards saluted when they saw Luther, but gave me no reaction. From their false ignorance, I could deduce that Henry did not know of this meeting. The upper floors were a stark contrast to the dungeons, with marble floors and pristine hallways. Maids bustled to and fro, balancing trays in their small yet calloused hands. They had clearly seen work in their lives.

 

Exhaustion dragged at my bones, even though most of my weight was supported against Luther. My legs trembled, threatening to give out and send me to the floor like a dead weight. “Where’s princey?” I chuckled, though my breath rasped in my chest from the effort.

 

“He’ll be with his tutor for the next hour or so,” the summoner grunted. It seemed strange to think that a boy who controlled a kingdom still needed adults to teach him things. Henry was seemingly perfect, and confident as well. He didn’t just act self-assured, he knew it with every fiber of his being.

 

At the very end of one of the back hallways, there was a small door. Inside, a grand room stretched out, larger than any bedroom I’d seen besides Rachel’s. On the bed, a small figure sat. My breath caught in my throat. Elizabeth.

 

“Leonard!” She came dashing over, almost falling over her own feet in her haste. It was rather unlike her; Elizabeth was an elegant woman -- a lady in every right. You could see it in each subtle movement, every dainty laugh. But Elizabeth was my sister before she was any lady. “I’m so glad,” she said, throwing her arms around me and squeezing.

 

No words left my mouth as I returned the embrace. New strength filled my legs, making it easier for me to stand. After several moments, she backed away and looked me over. I did my best to offer her a sheepish smile, painfully aware of how disgusting I looked.

 

“I can’t stand for this,” she huffed, looking over to Luther. “He needs a bath. Fetch the maids.” While the black-haired mage left, she looked at me, her skin waxy in the light of the room. “I’ve been so worried for you, Leonard. Are you okay?”

 

“Obviously not,” I replied, trying to joke a little. But she could see the pain behind my words, lurking in the muddy depths of my eyes. That time had been hell. The worst part of all was having to deal with my own mind, and the horrible images it conjured.

 

A single tear trickled down her cheek. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry for everything.”

 

I looked at her. Not in that way where you just glance over someone; I looked at her. In Elizabeth, there was a little bit of Karen. A little bit of me. A little bit of our father. A little bit of Mother. A little bit of Daisy. A little bit of Alana. A little bit of David. And a little bit of Alexander -- all our siblings she had cared for and looked after growing up. I wondered how they were doing at home. David wasn’t even old enough to go to school yet.

 

Or was he? I knew he was approaching that age. Time had passed quickly; I couldn’t even remember how long ago I had left home. How old was he again? With a pang, I realized I could not even remember my brother’s age. I’ve forgotten everything. And that was the last straw. Tears filled my eyes, spilling past my cheeks even though I wanted them to stop. I’d probably cried more times in this damn castle than I had my whole life.

 

Elizabeth brought me close, resting my head against her shoulder. She smelled of gingerbread and soap. “Please don’t cry. You’ve been so brave.”

 

No, I haven’t. I’m a coward. A pathetic fool who’s forgotten his own brother’s age and birthday. But I didn’t verbalize that aloud. I merely continued to cry silent tears, wishing that things had been different. Wishing that Elizabeth had been happy, and that Karen hadn’t died. Wishing that Rachel had just been a normal girl. The one thing I couldn’t bring myself to wish was that we had never met. It started all of this, but even then, I didn’t want it to vanish. Not for everything I had.

 

I blinked at the sudden contact of her finger against my cheek. She wiped away the tears, smiling warmly. “You’re safe now, Leonard. I’ll make sure of it.” If Rachel was the sun, Elizabeth was the moon -- constantly shining on me with its gentle rays, guiding me towards the right path. She suddenly frowned, pulling a comb from the vanity. “Look at this mess; I’ll get you cleaned up.”

 

I smiled slightly as she pulled the comb through the tangles. After a minute or two, a few maids opened the door and bowed. “We have come for Sir Leon.”

 

Sir Leon? Most likely, it was just an alias Elizabeth gave me, so the maids didn’t see anything wrong. Nodding my head, I followed after them. We turned at the end of the hallway into a small room with a giant, wooden bucket. It was filled to the brim with soapy water. With a blush, I paused, unwilling to get undressed before the maids. Before anyone could react, Luther stepped through the door.

 

“Oh? Sir Luther? May I help you?” one of the maids asked. Her hair was in a brown bun, with two bangs framing her face. She was rather cute, if you asked me.

 

Luther didn’t reply, instead looking at the floor sadly. Something about his demeanor seemed off. Ominous, even. The maids could sense it too, for they began to get flustered. “Sir Luther? Is everything all right?” the maid repeated again, nervous sweat beginning to pour down her face.

 

He sighed, a pained expression traveling across his face. “I’m sorry.”

 

And then he lit them on fire. At first, she merely looked shocked, her face frozen in a faint confusion. But as the flames quickly engulfed her entire body, she screamed, her voice echoing against the walls as she begged for mercy from the pain. The maid dropped to the floor, trying desperately to extinguish the flames, but she was too late; the fire licked hungrily across her skin, turning it a dark red. The cloth of her outfit first blackened, then burnt away entirely, revealing her mahogany skin to the world. It was wrinkled and warped, completely wrong. The other two maids quickly followed her, twisting and writhing on the ground as they screamed bloody murder.

 

Luther grabbed me, shoving me past. “What the hell?” I shouted, completely shocked that he had done such a thing.

 

The mage looked at me, his eyes wild. He only said one word to me: run, before whipping around and arcing another blast of fire towards the mirror. The sudden increase in temperature proved too much for the glass, and it shattered. My heart in my throat, I ran down the hallway. Luther followed, his robes trailing out behind him.

 

Several guards appeared, lances raised. “Freeze!” they shouted. The guards erupted into screaming as a fireball flew past, engulfing them in an inferno.

 

“Run, Leonard!” Luther shouted, sweat pouring down his brow. Elizabeth appeared around the corner, running as quickly as she could.

 

“Take this,” she panted, handing me a hefty sword. It would slow me down a little, but it would be worthwhile.

 

As more guards appeared around the corner, Elizabeth whipped around, pointing at them. Luther retaliated in return, sending more flames over to the newcomers. We traveled rapidly down the halls, dealing with any encounters quickly and efficiently. It was near the great hall that a whole swath of soldiers appeared, weapons raised. Luther cleared a small path, careful not to drop his guard. “Go, Leonard!” he called.

 

Elizabeth shouted in pain as a guard gripped her hair and yanked. I turned and ran, aware of how the floor burned my feet. The callouses helped protect myself, but they would still be riddled with burns later.

 

I only turned my head when I heard a grunt of pain and Elizabeth screaming. Luther hit the ground, almost falling in slow motion. He took the blow meant for her, sacrificing his life in the process. I did not see the weapon, or the action as it happened. I only saw the consequence, and felt a sick churning in my stomach. Even as they grabbed Elizabeth’s wrists, she twisted away from them, looking at me with tears in her eyes. “Run!” she screamed.

 

Biting my lip so hard it bled, I made a mad dash down the hallways. Thank you for your sacrifice, I thought, my throat too closed to speak. But the words sounded fake. Like the letters my neighbors would get from the king when their children died serving in the war. “Our condolences. Thank you for your sacrifice. It is appreciated.” All that bullshit. What I really wanted to do was go back and fight all those soldiers and free them. But I couldn’t. I probably couldn’t even kill one. All I can do is run….

 

In the midst of my thoughts, I didn’t see the figure in my way. “Oof!” The breath was knocked out of me as I fell on the floor, sword clutched in my hand. Aiz looked down at me, not even winded from the collision.

 

“Hello there.” Her voice was smooth, even friendly. Something about it sounded scarier than a threat. She smiled down at me with her mismatched eyes, black and white fringe adorning her face.

 

Getting to my feet, I pointed the sword at her. “Move. I need to get out of here.” My voice just stopped from quavering to my relief.

 

She merely tasked, shaking her head. “I’m afraid I can’t do that. Henry would be mad at me, you see.”

 

“T-Then I’m afraid I’ll have to cut you down where you stand.” Not waiting for her to reply, I charged forward, clumsily angling the tip of the blade towards her. The sword met its mark, digging deep into her flesh, right where her heart was. Hot blood trickled down my hands, making me want to gag. But she was dead on the spot, so there was nothing to worry about.

 

Or at least, I thought that. Aiz smiled before pulling the sword out and studying the blade with a look akin to disinterest. Scarlet stained the steel, but her own blood failed to disturb her. She offered the sword back to me, an innocent grin spreading her lips. “Do you want this back?” I looked at the hole in her chest where her heart was. I looked at the blood gushing out and trickling down her body.

 

And I screamed. I kept screaming, for I had witnessed a monster standing right in front of me. 


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