Chapter Five, Part Three: SOW: Chapter Five, Part Three: Fleeing Freedom
The elevator room, which Sekhenna accurately called a barracks was musty and smelled, somehow, worse than the prison did. Emry and the tall, frightening woman made their way down one of the halls crouching beneath the dim light cast by a series of poorly lit sconces. Jundal mentioned a lab, if the halfway hidden, underground facility weren’t enough of a giveaway the smell of excrement and blood wafting through the hall in all directions was.
“Keep your head low, hand on your knife.” Sekhenna whispered.
The pair crept past a large mess hall, sparsely populated with some armored soldiers and some in evening suits. The hall itself was far larger than that of Icehold’s prisoner hall. The rows of tables had been cleaned regularly, polished and kept shining. Soldiers ate from wooden plates and bowls rather than with their hands, plucking food from a wooden tray. She’d not used the prisoner’s hall much during her stay, preferring the relative comfort of food in her cell.
“Be sure you roll your heel. It makes less noise.” Her companion guided her with small nudges while they made their way through the complex. Each time, correcting something Emry was doing, evidently, incorrectly.
“I am rolling my heel.” She thought, keeping her eyes on a pair of guards playing a game of cups at the end of the long hall.
She focused on obeying Sekhenna’s advice, planting the edge of her heel on the ground and “rolling” forward. She didn’t understand how it made a difference with wooden soles on, there was still a faint pop that echoed from her steps and down to the players, but it was quieter.
It was hard enough to control the motion of her ankle, let alone focus on anything her companion was saying. The stench of rotting blood soaked through everything in the lab. There wasn’t a room either of them went through that didn’t smell like death.
“Walk light. On your toes.” Sekhenna corrected her posture with a gentle, but armored, touch.
“How am I supposed to walk on my toes and roll my heel.” She fired back.
“We need to be quieter.”
The tan woman, who was still a mystery in many ways, pointed toward a large pair of double doors fifteen steps ahead. About head height on the door, for someone who was taller than Emry but not as tall as Sekhenna, there was an opening. Carved and filled with small metal bars. Not unalike the prison doors between the Rows. She stood on her toes and looked to the other side.
The wood lined walls of the facility melted away on the other side of the door. What appeared to be large sheets of metal had been nailed to the wall in place of the planks. The floor was covered in polished stone tiles and the sconces on the walls bore a much brighter flame than those in their side of the facility.
Through the door, multiple people navigated the halls, some with leather bags brimming with tools, others with large scrolls half rolled, half folded beneath their arms. Some of them carried nothing.
She dropped back to her feet.
“What’s going on?”
“It’s a laboratory, we know that much.” Sekhenna frowned. “Rheysan made it sound like they’re operating on dragons but, those tools are not designed for something of that size.”
“Do you think someone has a map of this place?”
Emry leaned against the wall, and Sekhenna laughed.
“We don’t need maps for places we go all the time.” She crouched, “If we walk in right now, I doubt we make it out of here alive. We have the think carefully about what happens next, Em.”
She’d never had her name shortened like that before, it was nice. Abrupt, but pleasant.
“What do we do?”
She whipped her head toward the hall’s cross section where a pair of guards lazily passed them by without a glance in their direction.
“It looks like, at least on this side, they aren’t afraid someone unwanted would be down here. Which is good for us. If they won’t be looking for us, then we won’t be here.”
She pushed on her knees and stood.
Emry cocked her head.
“What are you on about? I’m not going to leave.”
Sekhenna grinned. “No, child. Not leave, blend in.”
She gestured to the guards who passed by, and Emry was only more confused than before.
“Just follow me and stay quiet.”
Sekhenna crouched, moving quickly toward the two guards. She rounded the corner in pursuit and disappeared from sight. Emry followed, turning the corner herself to find Sekhenna lurch forward, catching one of the guards by the mouth while she swiped her second hand, lacerating the second guard’s neck. He gurgled a call for help, and collapsed, unable to speak.
The first drew his own knife and slammed it down onto Sekhenna’s hand, over the gauntlet.
A sharp snap of metal rang in the hall as the knife blade shattered, clattering to the ground in splinters.
“Good try.” Sekhenna whispered.
She pushed open a door to her side and motioned for Emry to follow, dragging the bodies into the room behind her.
Once inside, Emry locked the door and looked down, the long streak of the soldier’s blood rolled her stomach.
Sekhenna released the first guard and pointed her knife at him.
“What is this place?”
He immediately began shouting for help.
“Someone! Anyone!” He yelled, turning to face Emry, and the only door in or out.
“Keep quiet.” Sekhenna slammed her fist down onto the man’s shoulder. “Answer our questions and you get to go home and see your family. Make more noise, you wind up like him.
“What about his family?” The soldier spat.
“I guess they have arrangements to make.”
Sekhenna’s reply froze in the air. Emry’s skin prickled at the words, unforgiving entirely.
“What is this place?” Sekhenna repeated, the tip of her knife pointed at the soldier’s chin.
“I don’t have a reason to tell you anything. I can wait here, whether you kill me or not, you won’t make it out of here alive.”
Emry rounded the room, giving the dead soldier a wide berth. The scent of fresh blood intermingled with that of the rot and decay heaved her stomach on itself.
“I don’t imagine you graduated top of your class, did you?” She poked his jaw with the knife, drawing a drop of blood. “Take off your armor.”
The guard, to Emry’s surprise, obeyed.
“Sir, please.” She interrupted as he unbuckled his chest plate. “I am looking for a friend.”
He snickered. “If your friend is down here and isn’t one of us, they’re dead.”
She growled. “What do you do here?”
The guard didn’t reply, instead he continued to strip down to his underclothes.
“Put on whatever fits from the first guard.” Sekhenna directed her.
The first guard was smaller, but not nearly as small as she was. Draped in his armor she would look like an actual child hidden beneath her father’s military uniform.
“I can make you talk.” Skehenna returned her attention to the naked soldier.
“I doubt that. You don’t know what happens to us when we do talk about this place.”
“So it’s important, then.” She smirked. “No reason to keep such a well guarded secret unless there is something big hidden in these walls. What is it, perhaps, a dragon?”
The guard swallowed. A bead of sweat formed at his scalp.
“I won’t be telling you anything more.”
“I doubt that.”
Sekhenna aimed her gauntlet, her fingers extended outward. From her palm, a small stream of water shot from the center of her palm, splashing against the man’s face and neck. Then, it immediately froze.
The frost grew along his cheeks and neck rapidly, almost immediately, and splintered into shards of razor sharp ice.
“What is this facility?” She questioned once more as beads of blood formed along his face and neck.
He grunted, but didn’t answer.
Emry wound behind her toward the fallen soldier and did as she was told, unbuckling the armor. She struggled to pry it from his torso as another stream of water burst from the gauntlet and splashed against the man’s face, freezing on contact.
He grunted again as the ice shattered and sliced him over and over.
“This is a facility where they keep things, I want to know what kind of things they keep. Answer my questions and you will live.”
The soldier stammered. “I don’t have a reason to tell you anything.” His jawline was covered in tiny, trickling rivers of blood.
Emry heaved, sliding the armor from the dead guard’s chest. With the weight of her pull, she fell backward onto the cold tiled floor.
Sekhenna send another stream of water, this one steamed as it flew through the air. It splashed against the man’s face, and where it wasn’t red with blood it became immediately red with heat. He yelped and stepped back.
“I’m looking for someone.” She continued. “I believe her name is Balshenai, she came here in the spring. The night of King Harama’s welcoming party.”
The guard shook his head. “I don’t know anything.”
She fired another burst of boiling hot water, impacting the man’s chest and he stumbled, shouting this time.
At the sound of his cry, Sekhenna released a burst of water from, seemingly, within the gauntlet itself. The size of Emry’s head, it crashed into him and seared the skin on his face and neck almost instantly. The soldier crumbled to the ground.
“It only gets worse from here, my friend.” She knelt beside him as he rolled, clutching his face.
Emry swallowed hard and moved to the fallen guard’s leg plate. One buckle at a time she unclipped his greaves, then his waistcoat, and tried to keep her eyes off of the scene behind her.
“I only want my questions answered. You don’t mean anything to me. If I wanted you dead, you’d already be dead. The longer you take to tell me, the worse this is going to get.”
Another splash of water echoed into the room, followed by another short yelp in pain.
Emry piled the armor against the wall and knelt, looking it over. She’d seen plenty of suits of armor in Icehold, but never had the chance to look them over. Connected by leather belts on either side, she found a series of holes poked in them, which she assumed was to adjust for various sizes. The same was true of the legs and arms.
“Balshenai, where is she?” Sekhenna’s voice, collected and patient, washed over the room.
“I don’t know no Balshenai, you grey sands bitch.”
Another funnel of water.
“Just answer. It will serve you far better.”
Emry pulled the breast plate from the pile and looked it over. The blood of the dead guard splashed across the collar had begun to dry. She pulled it to the guard and used the tail of his shirt to dry it off.
“Sounds to me like you don’t know who you’re even looking for.”
Sekhenna didn’t reply, only released another torrent of water down on the man. The sizzle of his skin rattled her bones.
“A dragon. We are looking for a dragon, and we heard your lot doesn’t kill every one they find. Sometimes, you keep them alive.”
The man grumbled, and Emry kept her mind focused on the armor.
She’d killed before, when she had to. Not like this. The way Sekhenna so mercilessly slaughtered the first soldier crawled inside of her like a rat burrowing for an escape. The sound of his blood bubbling from his throat while she removed his armor echoed against the repeated sound of searing sin from the other side of the room.
She’d seen Sekhenna kill before, in droves at Icehold.
“What is bothering me so much, don’t they deserve this? For what they’ve done?”
She set the chest plate aside and turned back to face her companion.
Sekhenna stood over the other guard, who upon receiving repeated barrages of burning hot water, had backed into the corner of the room. His face and hands covered in blisters, pocked with small cuts from the shards of ice.
“She was my friend.” Emry spoke, interrupting.
“Dragons don’t make friends.” The soldier grunted.
Sekhenna raised her arm.
“Wait,” Emry stood, approaching them.
“Dragon or not, she isn’t here. Nobody makes it out alive.”
Emry knew that wasn’t true. She felt Balshenai. She couldn’t explain the feeling, but she knew the dragon was alive. As if there was a part of her that could reach out and feel her presence. She didn’t know how, or why, but she refused to accept the guard’s answer.
“Back home, we used to use every part of an animal.” She replied. “When I killed a stag we took its skin for clothes, it’s meat for food. It’s bones and horns for tools.” She crouched beside him, the knife in her hand. “Have you ever been hunting?” She asked, her fingers locked on the handle of her blade.
He didn’t move.
She leaned close to him, and placed the knife on his cheek.
“The first thing we’d take is the eyes. That way, it wouldn’t have to see what happened to the rest of it.” She pressed the knife into his cheek, just enough to draw blood.
The man grimaced, his own gaze bounced between her and Sekhenna, who remained behind her.
“So do it then.” The soldier replied. “I don’t have anything to say to either of you.”
She frowned. “You know you don’t mean that.” She pressed harder on his cheek, the tip of the knife just beneath his eye socket. “You’re brave. You are, but there is no reason to die today. No one is going to find use for you in your death, but you can be of use to us alive.”
The guard stammered. She slid the knife carefully, popping a blister beneath his eye.
“If you’re alive, you can tell us where she is. A golden dragon, larger than your house. Breates fire and has a terrible attitude. Tell us that, and I don’t have to do this.”
She pressed, upward this time, closer to his eye.
He remained as still as his shaking body allowed him to stay and stared at her.
“You ever eat something’s eyes?” She asked. “You’ve heard of me, haven’t you?”
The guard didn’t respond.
“The name Emry ring a bell? General Vandruss knows me.” She said his name, knowing she had no way of knowing if they did know one another. “What about Kaluven, your Dragon Hunter?”
The man swallowed hard.
“He couldn’t kill me, so what makes you think anyone here is going to?” She wiggled her grip, shaking the blade against his eyelid.
“I don’t make deals with witches.”
She sighed. “You aren’t making a deal with me, soldier. You are saving your own life. If I’m a witch, you know you’re already dead. If you tell us what we need to know, you get to keep your eyes. You’ll walk out of here with a few scars to remember us by. That’s all.”
“Fine, we are keeping a dragon here. Only one we ever have.” He glanced at the knife, still pressed against his eyelid. “She’s special, to someone.”
Sekhenna interrupted. “Where is she?”
“Containment halls on the other side of the facility.” He grunted the words, his nerves getting the better of him.
“How do we get there quickly?” Sekhenna interrupted.
The guard opened his mouth to answer, as a trickle of sweat fell into the corner of his eye. Reflexively, he closed it, barely a blink, and the knife sliced open his eyelid. Emry pulled it back as quickly as she could and he screamed in pain, clutching his face.
“You animals.” He growled, rolling onto his other side.
“We know enough.” Emry stood, turning back to the armor. “Leave him.”
“Leave him to what? Get up as soon as we walk out and go tell the rest of them?” Sekhenna remained facing the guard.
“I told him we would let him live. So let him live.”
Sekhenna shook her head. “You don’t know how this works, child. We can’t let him live.”
She donned the armor in silence while the soldier wiped blood from his cheek. It wasn’t worth the argument with Sekhenna. If she couldn’t save the guard’s life, then she couldn’t, but she wasn’t going to argue with the news that Balshenai really was there.
“If you are going to do it, then do it. I am going to find Balshenai.”
Sekhenna glanced at her, and turned back to face the guard.
“Take off your armor.” She commanded.
For the first time since they found him, he obeyed.
After he struggled to remove his plate, Sekhenna raised the gauntlet.
“Turn around.” She said to Emry.
Another splash of water, followed by a choking, pained gurgle, and the guard collapsed. She remained turned away until Sekhenna approached, clad in the man’s armor.
“I didn’t kill him.” She tightened the bracers as she stepped beside Emry. “He just won’t be able to talk for a few days. But he is alive.”
“If you doubt me, go check.”
She doubted, but there were more important things to attend to. She turned to the door and threw it open, marching back down the hall toward the double doors concealing the stone hall.
Sekhenna followed, adjusting the straps of her own armor as they returned to the doors, this time, striding through them as though they belonged. Soldiers pacing the halls glanced their way, but ultimately paid them no mind as they quietly made their way into what they quickly discovered to be a hospital, of sorts.
Lining the halls in each of the rooms were dozens of infirmary beds, some of which were filled with mortal patients, humans or Islefolk, covered in sheets and being attended to by uniformed soldiers. Their hands full with assorted herbs and tinctures, many of which Emry recognized, having made them herself out of the plants near the cabin.
Some of the beds were empty, and in each room, there was one bed of a unique size and shape, Emry noticed. None of them were filled, but the extra bed at the head of the room rested on a large square crate filled with hay. Passing through, each of the rooms appeared empty, but at the end of the hall they came across a room with no other patients, and only the extra bed filled.
Sitting atop a pile of straw and linen rested an egg. Larger than any Emry had ever seen, it was golden and spotted brown. All over the shell, small yellow crystals grew across like mold.
“What is this?” She gestured, speaking in whispers to Sekhenna while two uniformed men spoke beside the egg.
“There is no way.” Sekhenna replied. “They can’t be.”
Her companion pushed past the room down a long hall, at the far end, a sole guard stood watch. They approached him, and as he opened his mouth to speak Sekhenna placed her gauntlet against his mouth and sent a wave of water into his throat, knocking him back against the wall. He crumpled to the ground, unconscious as the pair pushed their way into the room behind him.
On the other side, they found themselves standing on a row of scaffolding, two houses above the torch lit floor. Armored soldiers patrolled the scaffolding, which wound around the massive room overburdened by shadow. Each of the guards accompanied another, unarmored figure. A dozen pairs at least walked the scaffolding, some wandered down on the ground below.
Emry leaned against the railing and found, to her combined disbelief and overwhelming joy, the still breathing body of a golden dragon. Her scales had been chipped away, her claws had been filed down and a massive chain muzzle had been draped around her face, but she was alive.
Balshenai was alive.
Emry fought the urge to call out, holding her tongue as Sekhenna put a hand to her shoulder. The room was incredible in size, fitting the dragon comfortably, but she gestured to the far walls and pointed out what Emry realized as well, there was no way out.
On the other side of the door, the sound of metal clanging against metal sounded, and through the opening at the top, a familiar, blonde face peered through.
“Welcome, lass. Surprised to see you down here, but, I suppose it’s good ’n well to die here with ‘yer whelp.”
The man who was at Klauven’s side the night he attacked them, and the day she was captured and questioned in the courtyard. Ginu, the man whose skin she’d melted.
Sekhenna raised her hand to the door, and Emry closed her eyes.
“Emry?” A familiar voice spoke into her mind. “Emry is that you?”
“I came to find you, Balshenai. I won’t let you die.”
The dragon growled in her mind.
“I’m disappointed you did not obey my instruction, but thank you for seeking me. We will all likely die here, today.”
Emry glanced to Sekhenna.
“No, I don’t think that we will.”
Next Entry: SOW: Chapter Five, Part Five: A Single Spark
Thanks for reading todays episode of Sisters of Westwinter!
Sisters of Westwinter is an episodic fantasy series taking place in a world torn apart by the greed of mortals. Dragons, which populate the world, are considered a pest to be exterminated and harvested for the valuable pearls within their bodies. These pearls power grand machines used by the Merchant Guilds to continue to build up their own empires.
When a young woman named Emry discovers her valley was protected by a great silver dragon, she promises him on his deathbed she will flee from the valley to elude those who wish to seek her harm. She does not know how, or why she matters to the dragon, but she obeys. On her escape with another of the dragons, she is shot down and imprisoned, branded a “witch” for her bond with Balshenai, a fearsome golden scaled dragon.
Locked in prison, she can only think of her family, killed by mysterious men in the night, and Balshenai’s final words to her.
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More from Me:
Breaking a Promise (My Favorite Flowers: 2)
In a garden somewhere, not quite here and not quite anywhere, there is a boy who has cried his eyes away.
Seeing Someone Learn (My Favorite Flowers: 1)
In a garden somewhere, not quite here and not quite anywhere, there’s a boy who is afraid of eyes.
SOW: Chapter Five, Part Five: A Single Spark
The Nail Ward, as they called it, was as miserable as it looked from the outside. The thousands of needles covering the floor and walls made it impossible to relax, and sleep was terribly out of the question. So Kerrick stood in the corner waiting, patiently, for the sunrise.
[…] Chapter Five, Part Four: [SOW] Chapter Five, Part Four: A Ward in the Dark […]