Passion in the Depths
Beneath the castle, cowering in the only room they were allowed to sleep in, twelve slaves huddled around a small lantern which, though dim, was their only source of light. Located so far below the surface of their home, prison, and shelter, even the lifeless moat held a type of superiority over them.
From above, leaking in through the ceiling, each drop of thick moat-water splattered against the cobble floor, forming venomous puddles that dampened their spirits and chilled their feet. The stench of mold grew so thick that the air was clouded and got caught in the throats of those trying to breathe.
Even their only source of light seemed to wish harm upon their heads. Its beams allowed their eyes to see the Shadows of Death among themselves, provided enough clarity to see the familiar cowering and terrified forms, but not enough light to beat back the darkness in the corners of their miserable prison. The air seemed to form into lost souls as it passed by the candle, making it flicker and dim as the servants waited for morning – a time that seemed never to come.
A frosty mist escaped each of their mouths as they exhaled all of their warmth out into the musty room. The surrounding moat created a crisp nip in the air, and the night decreased the temperature to an almost unbearable low. Without enough fat on their bones to keep heat in, and without shoes or thick cloaks, the slaves were bait for approaching diseases.
The eldest of all the slaves sat upon a small stool, the only one of them not huddled on the ground. Her shoulders were hunched beneath the thin shawl she wore as she rocked slightly and stared into the miniature flame before her. Wrinkles of the past pressed into her once-fine cheeks and caressed her no-longer soft skin. Gray streaks of age found their way into her hair, dimming the brunette color to a dull hue.
Beneath her thin lashes, the dark eyes of the woman glimmered with fear. Her voice was low and raspy, almost too thin to hear amongst the chattering teeth. "It will happen tonight." She looked up at the slaves, who now turned their attention toward her. "Danger is coming tonight."
A middle-aged woman frowned. "Hush, Nana. You will frighten the children."
"They have a right to fear! It will happen tonight." A coughing fit overtook the grandmother and she was wracked for a moment with shudders, before she was able to clear the phlegm from her throat and speak again. "Tonight."
A girl, no more than eighteen, considered the elder's words for a moment. She, as the others, was thin and malnourished, but made up for her weak appearance by a strange spark deep within her simple brown eyes.
Hesitating for only a moment, she said, "…What will happen tonight, Nana?"
"The Curse, child. The Curse."
A whisper rippled through the slaves, breaking like a wave on the shore. A few children whimpered and tried to scoot closer to the adults, while grown men shivered at her words. Very few knew what exactly she meant by her warning, but they were all aware of the dark connotations. Curses meant sorcery, and sorcery meant evil, and evil was something they were all familiar with
Still curious, the girl shifted closer to the grandmother. "What curse?"
"Hush," a woman hissed angrily.
The dark-marble eyes of Nana turned and focused on the scrawny child in front of her. Curiosity was a trait slaves were not meant to posses, yet still the old woman indulged the child's verbal wonderings. "This castle was made with blood and has been sustained with death. Evil like that must be avenged."
A man in the corner of the room, half hidden by shadows, scoffed. "Don't talk of such nonsense! All you'll succeed in doing is scaring the young ones so none of us get any sleep."
A rise of agreement formed from those around, though secretly they all wondered if the old grandmother had some truth in her words. None of them were beyond believing in curses.
"Be still. You know not of what you speak of, child. My old bones can feel it. The Tiger's Eye…that blood, Tiger's Eye!"
"Nana," the curious girl said, "the Tiger's Eye is just a gem. Nothing to be afraid of."
"Foolish girl! What can you know-?"
A loud crack from above the cellar doors echoed to where they all sat, silencing everyone as they looked upward. In the distance, the clatter of plates sounded amongst the scamper of busy feet.
"The king's supper must have been cold," a man hesitantly said. "He gets so upset when it is."
More crashing was heard.
"Should someone check it out?"
There was a hesitant pause.
Slowly, the girl in the corner glanced at those who surrounded her. When it became obvious that no one planned to move and volunteer themselves to the task, a growing curiosity rose up in her chest and she got to her feet, creeping up toward the stone steps that lead from the cellar up to the main part of the castle. Unsure of what possessed her to be so brave, she looked back at the cowering slaves, then back at the near wooden doors.
She slowly reached up and unhinged them.
"No, Sadie! Stay down here where it's safe…please," a child said, looking up at her with pleading eyes.
Ignoring him, the girl climbed up the rest of the way out of the cellar and stepped from the slaves' quarters. Her feet were immediately warmed by the above stones. As she closed the wooden doors behind her, Nana's voice howled up another warning of the danger.
Once alone outside of the cellar Sadie paused, unsure of which direction to head. If she was caught outside of her room, she would be punished – yet the undying sense of curiosity heightened and she soon found herself walking down the hallway toward the dining room.
As she walked through the tapestry draped hall, she slowly became aware of other sounds besides just falling plates. They formed in the air, at first quietly, then growing louder as she arrived at the grand doorway entrance.
Unable to stop herself, the young slave wrapped her fingers around the doors which guarded the entrance to the dining hall, and tugged slightly, then peeked through the small crack she had formed. Her eyes grew wide and her mouth dropped open, a scream caught in her throat, as she watched the merciless slaughter taking place beyond the doors.
At first she was unable to see who was murdering the royal family, whose knives, swords, and arrows pierced through the armor of the guards. From where she stood, it almost seemed as if their wounds were being caused by no one, that they were dying of illness instead of injuries. It wasn't until she saw the young prince crumble to his knees, clutching his chest that she spotted one of the perpetrators.
A man dressed entirely in black slid amongst the sword and clatter, his own weapon drawn from its sheath. He moved with such a dangerous grace that Sadie found herself gazing at him in awe instead of fear. His sword slid through another man's chest with the ease of water sliding out of a goblet's opening. Like a ghost, he moved unscathed between two nights.
"Hello, darling," said a soft voice behind her.
Sadie screamed and spun around, finding herself faced with another man in black. She pressed her hands against the base of her throat as she took a panicked step backward into the door. Terrified tears began to well in her eyes as she imagined her death mirroring those who perished in the room behind her.
The man watched emotionless, his hand resting on his sword's hilt. Gray eyes, almond in shape, pierced into her body as he took a step forward. There was something about him, something she couldn't place that made her quiver.
The door behind her was suddenly tossed open, slamming Sadie into the cold brick wall. She grunted as the air was knocked from her chest and she slid to her knees. A guard, who had been trying to escape the pointless slaughter, found himself facing the gray-eyed man.
They were soon engaged in battle. Motionless, Sadie watched.
Sweat beaded quickly on the knight's face, then dripped down toward his neck. His muscles were tense and quivering as their swords clanged together with a loud friction. Sadie could see the guard's throat working to swallow as his teeth grinded together with the effort and stress of the fight.
The stranger, however, moved with the same fluid effortlessness that the first had. He slipped easily away from the knight's sword, countered his move, then blocked the next. He looked entirely tranquil as he fought, almost relaxed and at ease.
Realization of what was happening dawned on Sadie: the man was playing with the guard.
Once she had regained her breath, the young slave blindly crawled away from where the two men fought and into the room of chaos. Screams of servants echoed across the chamber as they ran for cover. Sadie scrambled away from a fallen guard who had an arrow pierced through his heart, and under a table.
Tears that had earlier wanted to fall now stung her cheeks as she watched the horrific scene. Peeking out at the fight from beneath the tablecloth, her mind willed her muscles to run; however, she found herself unable. Whether it was from fear or from something much stronger, she didn't know; she was aware, however, that leaving the dining hall was not an option.
Abruptly, from above, a hand shot and grasped the top of her arm, dragging her from beneath the table and out into the open. Sadie opened her mouth to scream, but her throat tightened and not a sound escaped passed her lips.
It was the first man she had seen in the fight. His eyes were a dark green and the color shot through the slave girl, making her body freeze. Sadie anticipated seeing all of the evil and iniquity of the world in that green, expected to find greed, and the guilt of innocent deaths; but, instead found a strange passion hidden within the depths. Their eyes locked and remained that way as both of them froze.
Their gaze was suddenly broken and the man collapsed to the ground, making her gasp. Standing above him was a knight, who raised his sword then quickly brought it slamming down. Just before the metal came into contact with his skull, the man in black rolled under the table to escape the sharp point of death. The knight's wild eyes met Sadie's, and she shivered.
Angrily, the guard pushed her away, then shoved the table aside. Sadie stumbled backward, her eyes still wide. It was then she spotted it: the Tiger's Eye.
It was a small orb located across the room from where she stood, no larger than the marbles she once played with as a child. It hovered above a stone pedestal, glowing a mysterious orange. Located within the small globe was a replica of a tiger's eye.
Sadie then thought she knew what the old woman in the cellar had spoken of. The strangers wanted to steal the eye.
A sudden burst of courage, very foreign to the little slave, filled her chest. She didn't comprehend why the strength came, and was not aware of the stronger forces working their magic on her, but she did know that she had to get the orb. No matter what, she needed that eye.
Before she could think about it and change her mind, she darted across the room toward the pedestal it sat upon. Twice she slipped in the thick blood of men split onto the ground; once, she fell and landed beside the open eyes of a dead solider. Her face touched the blood of his body, which seeped out from his new wound, and she cried out. All of the air seemed to be choked from her chest, but the adrenaline in her body made her get up again, made her keep going to the stone.
Sadie ran up the marble steps and toward the orb just as another did. Both reached forward and grasped their prize. Their hands touched and the two looked toward each other, startled.
The slave's mouth dropped ajar and cold prickles danced up her arms. In front of her was another stranger in black, but this one, unlike the first two, was a female. A long, twisted braid fell bellow her waist and lay beside the quiver of arrows on her back.
"You're…a girl." Never before had Sadie seen a woman with weapons.
The female grunted. "Glad you noticed." She tried to get a better grip on the stone and yank it away, but Sadie moved swiftly and braced herself against the pull. Recoiling suddenly, the woman gasped as if she was burned and relinquished the eye to Sadie, as the slave fell backward onto the steps, surprised by the lack of a fight the woman put up.
Looking as startled as Sadie, the woman started walking forward with her sword drawn, but was intercepted by a guard. The slave girl was only able to watch for a moment as the woman fought easily, before she struggled to her feet and began to run once again. She was unaware of the direction she headed, unaware of what to do with the stone that pressed dangerously into her palm.
Vaguely, through the fog of confusion and clangs of swords, she heard the woman in black call to someone. A third man Sadie had yet to see cut her off from the exit she had been aiming for and she was forced to stop. His eyes were a light forest green, softer than the eyes of his friend.
Slowly, almost so not to scare her away, he reached his hand forward. "Give me the stone. It's-"
Not giving him time to finish his sentence or pull his sword out, Sadie spun and scampered through a nearby narrow stairwell, that led to nowhere but the top of the castle. In her panic, she had forgotten that the trail to safety was really just another trail to death. She was pursued by the man.
Sadie quickly darted up the steps that, in the past, had been used by soldiers going to defend their castle. As she ran, the cotton hem of her dress strangled her feet and prevented her from moving faster. The steady movement upward slowly began to make her calves ache and her breath come short – yet her arrival at the top came all too soon; too soon was she stuck without an exit.
Seeing no other choice, the slave girl ran to the edge of the castle, looking down at the calm moat below. How deep is that water? She glanced over her shoulder, where the third man had just appeared at the top of the staircase and her stomach churned. Slowly, she looked back down at the water, then crawled onto the edge of the wall.
AN: Hey, guys, thanks for reading (and hopefully reviewing)! We can use all of the help you're willing to offer, so please don't hold back. (Though it is nice to hear what we're doing right amongst the many things we have to work on.) This prologue - as well as many of the other chapters - are going under construction. We're taking the suggestions offered and trying to fix things up so they make a better read. Hopefully you enjoyed this prologue and are willing to keep reading...I know it's long but if you have time to keep going, we would appreciate it SO much. Thanks again!