The Tale of a Mage (part 7)

Nyx and Livia stood in their cell eyeing the cloaked figure with suspicion. In spite of their extensive differences, they could both agree, mysterious strangers offering assistance in the face of dire circumstances where not to be trusted.

“Who are you, and how do you stand to benefit from our escape?” Livia scrutinised the stranger. She had enough experience to know people rarely pursued actions which failed to further their interests in one way or another. She highly doubted this woman was an exception to the rule.

“You may call me Izzy.” The figure replied “I’m … a friend of Nyx’s sister.”

“Cassandra never mentioned any friends.” Nyx regarded Izzy with apprehension. “How did you meet?”

“Do you truly believe Cassandra escaped the royal dungeon without any assistance from friends?” Izzy sighed “I don’t have time to answer questions, we need to leave now!”

“Fine, but only because I lack better options right at present. Don’t think this means I trust you or anything.” Nyx frowned

“I can work with that” Izzy turned her gaze on Livia expectantly.

“I shall also accompany you.” Livia scowled “However, I warn you now if so much as breath in a way that makes me uncomfortable I’ll kill you.”

“I’d like to see you try.” Izzy chuckled. “Time to leave.” She unlocked the cell door with a click and started down the corridor, striding deeper into the dungeon without bothering to check whether the others were following. Livia matched Izzy’s pace with ease, however, Nyx had to jog to keep up. As they walked, the hallway became increasingly darker. Apparently, wall torches had been deemed unnecessary this deep into the dungeon. The torch in Izzy’s hand flickered casting their shadows onto the walls.

“I thought we were supposed to be leaving the dungeon” Nyx quipped.

‘We are” Izzy replied, “There’s an escape tunnel down here.”

“In the dungeon?” Livia queried “That doesn’t sound very… secure.”

“It was built before this section of the palace was converted into a dungeon.” Izzy explained. “I don’t think the queen herself is aware of its existence.”

“How do you know it’s here then?” Nyx was becoming more suspicious by the second.

“I guess you could say I like to read.” Izzy replied.

“Read?” Livia’s tone was incredulous “You expect us to believe you learnt of secret tunnels in the palace, of which the queen herself is unaware, from a book?”

“It is of little consequence to me what you choose to believe, so long as you follow my instructions.” Izzy snapped “For the present, our interests are aligned. No more questions!”

Izzy brought them to a stop at the end of the hallway. A stone wall stood before them. Izzy ran her fingertips gently across the stone. Nyx fidgeted while Livia paced, muttering under her breath. Finally, Izzy paused pressing her palm against the wall. The stone sunk into the wall with a scraping noise and a previously obscured door groaned open, revealing a narrow passage.  Izzy stepped through the door, paused until the others followed, then pushed on the wall again. The door creaked shut behind them. They continued down the passage in silence. The minutes stretched out as they hurried through the shadows and as the time drew on their anxiety grew. If they were caught in such an enclosed space it wouldn’t end well for them.

At last the passage ended, opening into a small cave behind a waterfall. Izzy stepped through the sheet of water, her disappearance followed by a loud splash. Nyx followed, Livia not far behind. They swam across the pool at the bottom emerging one by one onto the bank. Izzy bent down, reaching under a nearby bush and pulled out a sack.

“Your weapons” she announced, emptying its contents onto the forest floor with a flourish. Livia glowered upon seeing her beloved weapons treated with such disrespect. She and Nyx rearmed themselves with hast.

“Thanks for the rescue. I’ll be on my way now.” Livia turned to leave but her retreat was brought to a halt by Izzy’s voice.

“Your expertise could be of use. Accompany us until we reach Cassandra and you will be amply rewarded.” Izzy waited expectantly for Livia’s response.

“Rewarded how?” Livia slowly turned to face Izzy. Izzy pulled a coin purse from her pocket and tossed it to her. Livia caught it, weighed it in her hand, and then peaked inside. Her eyes widened and a grin spread across her face as she saw it was filled with gold pieces.

“If we reach Cassandra’s location alive I’ll triple that.” Izzy promised.

“You have a deal” Livia’s eyes gleamed.

“Wait, us?” Nyx interjected, “What makes you think I would be willing to lead a stranger to Cassandra.”

“Firstly” Izzy replied with impatience “I already know where Cassandra is. We are travelling to the same destination, it would be safer to stay together. Secondly, if I were a spy I would find a way to follow you regardless of whether I had your permission. If you fear my intentions would you not rather know where I am.”

“Very well, you may travel with me…” Izzy had a point Nyx conceded and it would be easier to lose her later if she wasn’t expecting it. “…but I refuse to travel with her.” She gestured to Livia.

“Livia will be coming with us.” Izzy was adamant. “We may need her combat skills should the guards catch up with us. From the way she’s been looking at you, I suspect she’s itching for a chance to tie you up again. While I would prefer not to I will instruct her to do so if I have to.”

“Fine!” Nyx snapped. She would cooperate for now. Perhaps, this travelling arrangement might even have benefits. Being left untied greatly increased her chances of slitting Livia’s throat while she slept. Yes, for now, Nyx would be conciliatory. When the opportunity presented itself, she would kill Livia, ditch Izzy, and go find her sister.

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The Tale of a Mage (part 6)

Livia’s mouth hung open as she stood motionless, her heart hammering in her chest. Guards rushed into position around them. By the time her shock had diminished sufficiently that she thought to draw her sword it was too late. Her eyes flickered from the blade in her hand to the contingent of guards surrounding them. Her sword clattered to the ground. She did not wish to die today. The guards approached, tentative eyes fixed on her, prepared to fight at the first provocation. Her sword was kicked away as two guards seized her. Another patted her down, relieving her of her remaining weapons. She felt a temporary surge of pride at terror in his eyes, no doubt sparked by her fearsome reputation, before remembering her predicament. Once the guards were convinced Livia no longer posed a threat to them Nyx was hauled to a standing position and the decent to the dungeon began.

After being dragged from the throne room and through a labyrinth of hallways, Livia and Nyx were escorted down a seemingly endless flight of stairs. Torches dotted the walls at regular intervals illuminating dull grey stone. Damp stale air assaulted their lungs. The stairs finally opened into a hallway lined, with dingy barred cells. The guards paused at the closest cell opening the door and shoving Livia inside. With a second shove, Nyx tumbled in behind her. The door slammed shut with a thunderous clang. The click of a key in lock signified the finality of their imprisonment. The two stood, listening to the retreating footsteps of the guards until they were standing in silence. The silence did not last long.

“What did she mean non-royal mage?” Livia paced back and forth her agitation written on her face. “How can that be possible? Magical ability is hereditary and the queen’s ancestors executed all mages of non-royal blood centuries ago. The last non-royal mage died four-hundred years ago.”

“Either magical ability is less hereditary than the queen would like us to believe, or they didn’t manage to kill all of them.” Nyx frowned. “I guess it’s also possible my family is of royal lineage. The queen herself does not know. That’s why she has yet to kill Cassandra. She wants to study her, find out how it happened.”

“I’m going to assume it’s one of the first two options.” Livia snorted in derision.

“I could be royal!” Nyx protested.

“You appear to be a full-blooded elf and I noticed the queen has a distinct lack of pointy ears.” Livia chuckled.

“You don’t know that!” Nyx bristled. “If it had happened generations ago…”

“The royal family like to keep their bloodline… pure…” Livia smirked.

“Are you implying there’s something wrong with elf blood?” Nyx bared her teeth advancing on Livia with a growl.

“I am implying members of the royal family only lie with each other.” Livia shoved Nyx backwards with ease. “Not that you could do much in the form of retribution if I was insulting your bloodline. It is not wise to threaten me little elf.” Nyx scowled as her back met the cold stone wall. Livia recommenced her pacing. It was only a moment before Livia broke the tense silence.

“How are you planning to get us out of here?” She glanced at Nyx

“Why would you think I possess the ability to escape the royal dungeon?” Nyx huffed in response.

“You helped your sister escape.” Livia explained in a patronising tone.

“Actually, I didn’t!” Nyx glared at Livia “I have no idea how she escaped. She never specified the details, just sent me a message telling me where to meet her. That was where I was going before you abducted me. On which topic, it’s pretty presumptuous of you to think I would take you with me if I did have a means of escape.”

“Are you saying you would leave me here?” Livia growled.

“I don’t see why not. This whole situation is your fault after all.” Nyx explained.

“You also bear some responsibility.” Livia retorted.

“How so? I warned you that taking me to the queen was a bad idea!” Nyx surveyed Livia displeasure etched on her countenance.

“If you had told me the truth…” Livia began.

“You would not have believed me.” Nyx interrupted. Livia had no response for that, it was true. They settled back into an uneasy quiet.

Nyx sat down in the corner whimpering as her bottom met the hard stone. She repositioned herself lying on her stomach. The heavy sound of boots meeting floor notified her of Livia’s continued pacing. Propping herself up on her elbows she fixed her eyes on the wall and resigned herself to studying the cracks.

“Still hurts I see?” Nyx could hear the grin in Livia’s voice. “I do hope you choose to provoke me some more. I’m starting to get bored.”

“I look forward to your execution.” Nyx hissed “I was hoping to kill you myself but I’m willing to settle for second best. I shall ask the queen to let me watch. Not only will it be thoroughly satisfying it might even provide an opportunity for escape. For me of course. Not for you because you will be dead.”

Livia was across the room in an instant. She snarled as her fingers snaked through Nyx’s hair taking a firm hold before yanking her upwards. Nyx yelped, leaping to a standing position in an attempt to relieve the strain on her hair. Livia kept hold of Nyx her eyes brimming with rage.

“I could kill you right now, little elf.” Her voice was ominously low. “Now I am no longer getting paid, and you have made it clear you cannot help me escape, I have no use for you. I may not have a weapon but I could snap your neck, or choke you. Perhaps I could smack your face against the wall, over and over until…” Livia’s threats were cut off by the sound of someone clearing their throat. Livia spun around letting go of her hold on Nyx. A cloaked figure stood on the other side of the bars. She held a torch in one hand and a key in the other.

“You can kill each other later if you really want to…” she surveyed them impatiently “…but we don’t have time for that right now.”

The Tale of a Mage (part 5)

Nyx awoke just before dawn, sore and shivering. Her body was covered in a sheen of dew which had soaked through her clothing. On the bright side the cold had numbed her bottom slightly, slightly being the operative word, she still felt like she had been thrown into a fire butt first. Any attempt to shift positions hurt terribly, not that she could do much moving, still tied up with rope. She craned her neck to glare at Livia over her shoulder. Livia to her deep irritation was sleeping soundly, wrapped in a pile of furs, do doubt warm and comfortable.

Nyx lay seething as the sun began its slow ascent emerging from below the horizon. Far too soon Livia was awake. Nyx feigned sleep but this course of action was swiftly met with a jab from Livia’s boot.

“Wake up little elf, it’s time to get moving.” Livia sounded almost cheerful. Nyx grunted in displeasure. “Will you try to run if I untie you? I do not recommend it. If you choose to do so I’ll have to hurt you.”

“I won’t run.” Nyx sighed. She was in too much pain to run. For the moment, she would have to settle for her vivid imagination, in which she was currently flaying Livia alive. Livia bent down untying Nyx before hauling her into a standing position. Nyx yelped as the pain in her bottom intensified in response to the rapid change in position.

“Eat!” Livia thrust a chunk of bread in Nyx’s direction. Nyx stood munching on the bread as Livia started on her own breakfast. Once they had both finished eating Livia grabbed Nyx by the forearm and dragged her along as she began the trek back to the clearing where Livia had left her horse. Upon reaching her destination Livia sighed in relief to note Aristides was still there and unharmed. She set to grooming and feeding the horse while Nyx stood sullenly plotting revenge. Finally, from Livia’s perspective, but far too soon for Nyx’s preferences, they were ready to leave.

“Seeing as you are being so cooperative this morning I shall permit you to sit on the horse rather lie bound across its back.” Livia smirked leaping onto her horse and pulling Nyx up to sit in front of her. Nyx wailed as her bottom made contact with the horse’s back.

The morning was spent in relative silence with the exception of an occasional yelp from Nyx. To Nyx, the ride felt never ending. Livia, however, was enjoying the day tremendously. Her captive was being cooperative and if they made good time they were set to reach the palace by tomorrow afternoon. They made a brief stop at midday to have lunch and water the horse. Before continuing on their way.

At dusk when Livia deemed it time to make camp Nyx was on the verge of tears. She had thought she was in pain this morning, however, spending the day sitting on a horse had made things exponentially worse. Livia offered her a sparse meal of dried meat and bread and the two ate in silence. Livia, not wanting to take any chances, bound Nyx again before tending to Aristides. Once she was satisfied her horse had received adequate care Livia sharpened her sword and settled in for the night, draping one of her furs over a sulking Nyx before lying down to sleep herself.

When morning arrived, Livia allowed Nyx to remain sleeping as she prepared for departure wishing to minimise her captive’s opportunity to cause trouble. Nyx awoke with a jolt and a feeling of rising panic just as Livia finished feeding the horse. While she felt slightly better than she had yesterday she was still far too sore to stage a successful escape attempt and they were close to reaching the palace. Apparently, Livia was having similar thoughts as she chose that moment to turn and beam at her. After a quick breakfast, Livia adjusted Nyx’s bonds to facilitate her placement on the horse. She was not going to risk escorting her prisoner unbound when she was so close to collecting her reward. Once she was satisfied her captive had no chance of escape she mounted her horse, pulling Nyx into the saddle, and set off across the forest at record speed.

The ride passed far too quickly for Nyx’s liking, in spite of her sore bottom. By noon the palace gates were in sight. When they reached the gates, they were met by armed guards. Livia leapt from her horse and pulled Nyx’s down to stand beside her.

“I have captured the thief the Queen seeks.” Livia announced.

“This is excellent news!” The senior guard extended a smile which didn’t quite reach his eyes. “I shall take you to the Queen, your horse will be taken to the stables.” Livia nodded in agreement and began to follow him up the path towards the palace, dragging Nyx along with her. They were escorted up the path and through the courtyard. They paused at the palace doors as the guard instructed the doorman to open them, and then made their way up a broad corridor into the throne room. Upon reaching the throne room Livia strode forward at a brisk pace pushing Nyx to her knees at the Queen’s feet.

“I have retrieved the thief and the property she stole from you.” Livia held out the necklace. The queen gave her a look of derision. Standing, she slapped the jewellery from Livia’s hand.

“I care not for trinkets.” She snarled turning her attention to Nyx. “Where is the mage?”

“I believe she is standing in front of me.” Nyx retorted. “Unless you are referring to one of your children, but I fail to see how I could know their exact whereabouts. Everyone knows only members of the royal family are born mages.” The Queen gave Nyx a menacing glare.

“You and I both know that is not true.” Her voice was dangerously low. “I know you helped her escape. You are her sister. Nobody else would be stupid enough to cross me!”

“You must have me confused with someone else, I have no sister.” Nyx lied. Queen Cerise clenched her hands into fists, took a deep breath, and then slowly relaxed them.

“I will have your cooperation eventually.” Her face broke into a predatory grin. “Guards, take them to the dungeon!”

“Wait! What! You can’t possibly mean…” Livia began.

“I cannot have a thug running around my kingdom telling anyone who cares to listen that there’s a non-royal mage on the loose.” The Queen explained in a placating tone.

Livia spluttered in indignation as guards seized her. Despite the severity of her situation, Nyx couldn’t quite suppress a giggle.

“I told you it was in your interest to let me go.” She smirked.

The Tale of a Mage (part 4)

Nyx shivered slightly as she sat in the tree staring up at the moon. The sun had set at least an hour ago and it was now rather cold. Nyx’s hand throbbed where she had cut herself and her stomach was starting to growl. She now regretted refusing Livia’s offer of food. She peered down through the leaves. She could just make out Livia’s form in the dark, still sitting at the base of the tree in roughly the same position she had been when she initially sat down. Could she be asleep? Nyx wondered. She had stopped muttering profanity under her breath about half an hour ago that was a good sign. Nyx’s stomach grumbled again, she stared intently down at Livia’s silhouette, she knew that Livia’s pack must be nearby. Perhaps if she was careful she could slip down the tree, steal some of Livia’s food and other supplies and sneak away into the darkness without being detected. It would be taking a huge risk though. While Nyx would never tell the queen what she wanted to know she knew she would find a way to use her to achieve her ultimate goal. The prospect of terrifying. Nyx could not allow that to happen.

Nyx remained in the tree for another ten to fifteen minutes staring longingly at Livia’s pack before her hunger and anxiety over being cornered won out. Nyx took a deep breath and slowly began to descend from the tree. She reached the ground and glanced at the still sleeping Livia with a sense of pride. Few people could climb down a tree in virtual silence but stealth was one of Nyx’s strengths.

Keeping her eyes on Livia she slowly reached for the pack. Livia still appeared to be sleeping peacefully, oblivious to Nyx’s attempt at theft. She turned her attention to the pack determined to find what she needed as quickly as possible. As an elf, her ability to see in the dark was superior to that of the average human however it was largely experience which led Nyx to locate the lump of bread and knife for which she was searching. Feeling pleased she made to slip the knife between her breasts. However, her actions were cut short as a hand closed around her wrist. Nyx let out a high pitched squeal.

“And just what does the little elf think she’s doing?” Livia’s other hand reached for Nyx. Before she could fully register what was happening Nyx had been flipped onto her stomach, both her wrists pinned by Livia’s right hand and a knee in the middle of her back.  The knife was removed from her hand and tossed to the side. Nyx squirmed and kicked her feet but her efforts were futile. Livia grabbed a fist full of Nyx’s hair with her free hand and roughly yanked her head backwards. Leaning forward she positioned her mouth next to Nyx’s ear and chuckled. “I do hope the little elf wasn’t attempting to steal from me”

“I don’t believe it possible for me to steal my own knife” Nyx spat.

“Perhaps” Livia growled, “however my bread certainly does not belong to you.”

“You did offer it to me earlier” Nyx pointed out “so technically I had your permission to take it.”

Livia remained silent abruptly letting go of Nyx’s hair. She reached into her pack and pulled out her rope. Not expecting the sudden lack of tension on her hair Nyx’s face slammed into the ground a sizable amount of dirt making its way into her mouth. She spluttered attempting to spit out as much as possible.

“It seems I underestimated you” Livia began wrapping the rope around Nyx’s wrists “I will not do that again”.

When she finished tying Nyx’s wrists Livia began weaving the rope over her arms in and out until they were thoroughly immobilised. She then focused her efforts on her ankles progressively working her way up her calves finishing off just above her knees. Satisfied that Nyx would not be escaping Livia lifted her, placing her face down over a nearby rock. Before Nyx had fully registered her new position, Livia pushed up her skirt and pulled down her undergarments. Livia drew her sword flourishing it in front of Nyx’s face.

“I hope the escape attempt was worth it, little elf.” Livia smirked. Nyx growled at her. Livia raised her sword and brought the flat side down hard on Nyx’s bottom. Nyx screamed. She knew this was going to hurt but she had not expected it to hurt quite that much. Livia brought the sword down again. Nyx let out another squeal and tried to roll out of the way. Livia thwarted her attempt at escape grabbing a fist full of her hair and dragging her back into position.  Livia placed a hand in the middle of Nyx’s back to hold her in place her sword finding its mark three times in quick succession.  Nyx burst into tears. It felt like she was being branded, repeatedly. Well, maybe. Nyx had never been branded before so she was not entirely qualified to make the comparison. This is how she imagined it would feel to be branded though.

“Please… I’ll cooperate!” Nyx howled. Nyx had no intention of cooperating however it was worth a try. Livia was not moved.

“It appears the little elf is regretting her decision” Livia chuckled with malice in her voice. She continued to deliver the lesson with increased tempo. Nyx struggled, screaming with each searing stroke. The sword fell again and again. Nyx quickly lost count of how many strokes she had received. She had never experienced pain like this before. She revised her previous thought. This was worse than being branded… probably.  Nyx was starting to doubt Livia would ever stop when she finally returned her sword to its sheath.

Livia surveyed her work with satisfaction. Nyx’s bottom had surpassed a uniform shade of red, now embellished with patches of dark purple. Nyx remained over the rock sobbing brokenly. Livia sighed impatiently, propelling Nyx off the through the application of her boot. Nyx screamed again as her bottom met the forest floor.

“Get some rest.” Livia growled, “We leave at first light.”

Nyx rolled onto her stomach and lay fuming in silence. The bounty hunter would pay dearly for this. Not right now. Everything hurt too much right now. When her bottom healed, however, Livia was going to die.”