Indie author Valerie Douglas
The truth was, the pain in her head was bad and Ailith was exhausted. She didn’t so much as fall asleep as it took her. Sleep. Rest. Oblivion claimed her.
For a time.
Darkness. Rough stone walls with mold that blotched them like a pox. Shadows slipped and swayed across the walls. Glimmers of light, like firelight dancing. Dark dripping walls. The sound of water. From out of it rose a voice. A so even, singsong voice.
No, Ailith thought. Denial. Shaking her head. No.
Firelight gleamed on dark and damp stone walls, walls that dripped, but it wasn’t water now. It was blood, as if the very walls themselves bled. There was even the coppery stench of it to breathe.
She caught her breath. No.
The iron door. No. The door. Light spilled out of it, flickering firelight. Please no. She fought it, but she was drawn to it inexorably. No. Clawing at the walls, she tried to keep herself out. Fear turned her legs to water. No. The door. A figure stood by the wall, sandy-haired, nondescript, average height. No, oh no.
He turned as she spun to flee, but the door slammed shut behind her.
Ailith turned back.
Tolan stood there, smiling at her. He had never smiled much and now she knew why. She also knew why his thin mouth always looked as if he were sucking lemons. Those teeth, pointing inward, were narrow and sharp.
No fear. She wouldn’t let him see her fear. Keeping her expression as impassive as an Elf’s, she watched him as he walked slowly closer.
“It’s wrong to spy, hasn’t anyone ever told you that,” Tolan chided, his voice mild. “Haven’t they? It’s wrong to spy.”
Ailith stayed silent, watching him warily, keeping her face still and unrevealing.
“You,” he said, finally, “are a thorn in my side. Yes, a thorn in my side. You pain me. You have caused me difficulties, yes you have. Yes you have. For that you must be punished. You will be. You will be, oh yes. The drows failed. Do you know what I asked? Do you know what I asked them? They were to make you watch. Tear your Elven friends and that wizard to bloody little pieces. You defeated the drows. You may wish you hadn’t. They would have had a much easier death. I’m getting very angry, very angry, Ailith. Angry with you, angry with your friends. Very, very, angry.”
His voice boomed off the walls, but he wasn’t shouting, his voice didn’t rise. It continued that so even singsong tone. That so reasonable voice. The sound of it resonated.
“Yes indeed. Very, very angry. The punishment must fit the crime. Oh yes, it must. Spying, disturbing all my carefully wrought plans, making me work harder than I should. You must be punished, you must. Shall I tell you what the punishment will be. Shall I? Oh yes. I shall. I will have you. I will have you. Yes. It’s only a matter of time. You must be punished.”
As she watched in a horror she wouldn’t let show on her face, she saw his face melt again. His eyes became hard and glittery, the pupils slitted like a snake’s. His head lowered so that he stared up at her from beneath his ridged brow. The resemblance to a lizard or snake grew more pronounced.
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