Chapter Four: It Lurks Within

When my captor left, my first instinct was to try the door. It was a futile gesture, but my mind was racing far too fast for rational thought. For the barest second, I hoped that the lock had given, or that it had not fully latched. And then I feared that he would hear my attempts at the handle and come back. If he did, what would he do? Berate me? Beat me? Chain me to the wall?

Sinking to the floor, I stared at my hands and felt the first wave of real panic wash over me. I could not stop shaking. Over and over, I told myself that this was just a nightmare. I had had such vivid dreams before; I would wake up in a few minutes and be safe in my bed, waking up to the morning that I would be wed to Garrett. I would tell my mother about it, and she would give me a hug before reassuring me that something like this could never happen in real life.

But there were splinters under my fingernails from the windowsill; there was quickly-crusting blood on my wedding dress; there was an aching bruise on my cheek from the man's volatile temper. As much as I wanted to wish them away as from the dream world, the reality of these things could not be ignored. My fingertips stung. The blood soaking through my dress chafed against my skin. My cheek throbbed.

My only consolation was that I could be almost certain he would not kill me when he came back. If that had been his purpose, he could have ended me a few minutes ago with the blade at my neck. That thought reassured me very little; there were many things he could do to me that would be worse than death.

What did he want with me?

He thought that somehow I was a cure. That there might be something in my blood that would heal him from an ailment, that there was something I had that could give him freedom. But what? I went over his appearance in my mind, recalling every part of him that I could, and I could remember nothing about him that suggested weakness. Strength radiated merely from the memory of him; terrifying strength, fueled by a rage far beyond anything I had ever seen before.

I thought of my mother, of my fiancé. Would they be searching for me now? Could they even find me? Would I ever see them again? I ached to feel the comfort of my mother's caress and the strength of Garrett's embraces; here in this cold, unfeeling room, there was nothing I wished for more. Escape back to the solace of my quiet life.

Slowly, I rose and went to the window to calculate my chances of somehow climbing out and down to safety. The wall was not a sheer drop, but neither was it something I could easily scale. There were very few crevices and cracks that would lend themselves to my escape. Briefly, I considered tearing down the curtains and utilizing the bedding to make myself a rope out, but it would not have been long enough.

I stood at the window staring down at the rocks and the water, wavering between marvel of the sea and fear of the man who kept me here. Had I not been trapped here against my will, it would have been a beautiful view. The clouds were beginning to glow with the sun's descent, and the sea churned with pinks and oranges. Somehow, though, the sun's dying light did not reach the castle.

Somewhere between the horizon and the cliffs, the world died into an abysmal gray. Everything grew harsh; even the clouds roiled with anger. Trees lifted their bony arms to the dismal sky as if begging for mercy, and the water crashed against the impenetrable stone wall with an untamable rage. Its color deepened to black when the sun disappeared into another world.

A shiver ran up my spine as the sun descended into the sea. I felt as though I were being watched; as if the gargoyles that clung to the corners of the tower secretly spied on me with their dark, malicious eyes. I could almost feel that something was creeping towards me from the face of the cliffs, and as the darkness loomed, the feeling intensified.

Suddenly, as the night invaded my room, a deeper black slid past my window and a slap of air hit my face. I heard the slice of wings pushing through the dark air. Something landed below. Its claws scraped up the tower slowly, deliberately. And it snarled.

I jerked away from the opening, heart pounding and fear surging, grasping for the shutters that resisted my attempts to close them, fumbling blindly in the shadows. There was no hiding in this room. No running from the beast that lurked around the window and snuffed the air for my scent. I was completely exposed, utterly helpless against it.

I heard it growl nervously when something howled far away in the night; something bigger, deeper, clearly to be feared more than the creature that clung to my windowsill. It hesitated outside, and I edged towards the mirror, hoping to hide myself behind it or to somehow summon my captor from within its reflective glass. It heard me move; I could just barely see its eyes reflect the dull, clouded moonlight when its head peered around the wall and its gaze caught me retreating.

With a possessive snap, it rushed into the room and I ran for the mirror. I was too terrified to yell, too panicked to think; I hurled myself at the corner, whirled toward the beast in my room, and shoved the mirror at its quickly approaching body. A yelp burst from it as the glass broke on its back, but it did not desist in its attack. Instead, the pain seemed to incite its wrath and it lunged at me with reckless rage.

As its claws curled around my arms and its evil grin bared at my face, I knew that I was facing my death. I would die this night, right here in the cold, impassive tower. I would be torn to pieces by a feral beast that shoved me into the hard floor and grazed my cheek with its talons as I struggled for life. And in the moment before it sunk its teeth into my shoulder, I finally found the breath to scream.

xxx

Her cry reached Varin deep in the belly of the castle as he pored over pages of lore and searched for the cure.

Without hesitation, he dropped the book he held and tore through the halls. He already knew what was happening. She had been stupid enough to leave the shutters open past sunset, when the gargoyles came to life and prowled the grounds for food. They were bloodthirsty creatures, set upon the castle by those who had cursed him, and the night woke them from their stony sleep.

The gargoyles were not the only creatures drawn to the castle grounds; Nightwatchers lurked in the shadows, peering through his windows and growling at him. They knew who he was, what he was. They knew his curse, could smell the rage within him that struggled to overtake and destroy whatever he touched. The massive, black-scaled beasts forever hid in the shadows, waiting for the day when he was weak and unable to defeat them.

He should have kept a mirror in the lower rooms; a mirror would transport him anywhere he desired so long as it remained within the boundaries set by those who had banished him to this place. But mirrors held things he did not wish to see; secrets that whispered and roiled, feeding on his strength and sucking him dry. He only used mirror-travel when there was no time to spare.

The halls echoed with another scream, this one feral and grotesque; he knew that if he did not get to her room in time, she would die and his chances of finding the cure would be forever lost. He had to find the closest mirror and use it, though he was not yet recovered from his last transportation. The strength of his curse had been too far intensified from it; she had not been within the boundaries, and it had taken all of his might to break through the magic holding him within the castle grounds.

Reaching the top of the stairs, he burst into the first room and tore the cloth from the mirror on the wall. There was no time to prepare himself for travel; he had to do it now. It could weaken him too much to fight the gargoyle, but if he waited any longer he would lose the key. Closing his eyes, he stretched out his hand, touched the mirror, and let it absorb him into itself.

Pain wrenched through his body, flaming in his veins and throbbing in his head. Before him, a white light flashed and flickered, and memories swirled around him, tugging at his arms, trying to steal him for themselves and trap him in their world. For the barest second, he could feel the foreign sensation of his being separating piece by piece. Not an iota of his body was connected.

And then he was there, in the blackness of her room, smelling blood and hearing the last efforts of a dying gargoyle as it fell to the floor. With its last breath, it retreated to its stone origins and crumbled to pieces. The beast within him welled at the scent of death, but he shoved it down and searched the room with his senses. Where was she?

As his eyes adjusted to the darkness, he saw her standing on the other side of the gargoyle. Her gown was torn and ragged, her shoulder drenched in caliginous liquid, her breathing shallow and erratic. She had broken the mirror, and a long piece of it was still clenched in her hand. How such a slight creature had forced a piece of fragile glass through the nearly impenetrable skin of the gargoyle, he did not know. But she wavered in her stance, and he knew that she needed tending to, or she would die.

He caught her just as her legs gave out. Too much contact with him while she was so weak would undoubtedly be her demise. Though no part of her was touching his skin, she would still be affected by his curse. The mirror could not be used for travel; aside from its broken state, through which he could only travel outward, the girl was much too weak to survive the trip. Already, she was becoming a dead weight in his arms.

He was at the door before he realized that it was locked. From the outside.

With a frustrated growl, he put the girl on the bed. She would have to survive a few seconds longer, and hopefully he would not kill her himself. Before returning to the door, he removed his shirt and ripped a few long strips from the bottom to staunch her wounds. He could not see any evidence that she was healing; though he had not yet changed, his vision was sharper and his senses picked up nothing other than the rusty scent of her blood.

Turning away from her body, he gritted his teeth and smiled. He could feel the friction running through his veins, the heat of change warming his skin and caressing his mind. It had been far too long. Already, he could not remember why he had suppressed himself, kept himself in a nearly constant state of emotionless boredom. It was good to feel. Good to burn.

Tilting back his head, he let out a long, surrendering sigh. And without a second thought, he set the rage free.

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Just a question: Is it weird to have her in first person and him in third?

Also, a couple of character pictures are up on my blog. (Under "stories/character picture links")