I woke to chanting right outside our bedroom window. I forced my exhausted eyes open and sat up, rubbing sleep from my eyes with little luck. Orchid was sitting wide awake, scrutinizing the window with fear etched across her face...Sage was cowering behind Orchid, who took no notice whatsoever...Astra was merely a small lump curled up beneath her bedclothes, shaking so that it appeared that the bed was attempting to rock her unconvincingly to sleep. It was then that my vision truly came into focus and I turned to the window.
The curtains at the window were white and lacy, so that one could usually examine what lay in the streets below without having to actually pull the fabric aside. Tonight however, it was illuminated by a glow of vivid scarlet, bronze and amber, dousing the room in a golden-tinted glow. But the light outside was moving-flickering, to be exact-which could only mean one thing...
"No!" I screamed, jumping out of bed and dashing to the window, yanking the curtain aside so hard that the material actually ripped. The sight below me was chaos.
Dozens-no, hundreds-of townspeople-men, women, soldiers, youth-crowded the streets below, all carrying torches which they were tossing with all their might at a building. Our building. Our orphanage. Was in flames.
I looked down at the crowd and suddenly one face illuminated by the flames that were licking up the side of our building made it all click together. It was the man; the man from that evening, whom Orchid had struck. This was his revenge...what had he said again? You'll pay for this...every single one of you. I screamed and recoiled from the window, bumping into an astonished Orchid, who raced to the door and unlocked it, only to see smoke already intruding the corridor outside.
"Astra, come on!" I turned and screamed at the small girl who still hadn't emerged from under her covers. Sage had already darted out the door and was sprinting down the stairwell with surprising speed for a girl so small.
"Go, Hazel!" Orchid screamed at me-I could only see her blurry outline because of the smoke. "Go...I'll take Astra...go!" I didn't need telling twice-trust me-I ran out into the maze of smoke and fought my way blindly down the stairs, my eyes burning like mad from the smoke...I couldn't breathe...ah! I'd cleverly tripped down the stairs and had landed on my hip at the bottom...at least I now knew the door wasn't that far away...
I took a great gulp of air that cleared my head a bit, but I still felt a dizzy. The crowd was laughing and pointing at me...jeering...taunting. I stumbled forward, but rough hands caught me and quickly tied my hands behind my back before I could fight back in any respect...not that I had the strength to! The person gripped my arm with numbing strength and dragged me over to a huge black mound which I later realized was a carriage. The trunk was opened and I was thrown in across the back seat, banging my head on the opposite door.
"What-" I started, but even then spots of light danced before my eyes and I felt myself slipping away from reality...but I couldn't...Orchid was still inside with Astra...and I didn't even know where Sage was...everything went black.
I woke just as my cheek thudded against the carriage floor...I could feel a bruise starting to form there already. I blinked twice, but found that my vision was still blurry. Closing my eyes for a good few moments, when I opened them everything was clearer than before.
I was still in the carriage, but judging by the pastel puce of the sky outside the window, it was early dawn. I'd been in here that long? I gave the ropes still presently binding my hands but with no luck; they held-if possible-even tighter than earlier on! Now that I had gathered some of my bearings, I seized the chance to take in some of my surroundings. I was-of course-still in the carriage, but while when I had been so rudely thrust in I had been alone; now there were three others strewn carelessly over the back seat of the carriage. One-I realized with a jolt-was Max...Orchid's twin, yet I didn't identify any of the other faces with hers. Max's eyes were open, and he met mine for a brief moment before pulling away and returning to gazing aimlessly-almost with a sort of regret-out the slightly yellowed window. The other two were also boys; one a good few years older than me with an upturned nose still had his eyes shut; the other barely eleven with slightly pointed ears-his eyes open but at the same time unseeing. I realized the younger one's name was Arrun...he was the newest edition to the orphanage.
I swallowed and stared back out the window...wondering where I was going and what was awaiting me there. Surely nothing good, judging my experiences in the past twenty four hours.
Just as this thought fluttered through and left my mind, the carriage jolted to a sharp stop, snapping my neck back painfully. Groaning in pain, I fell silent as I heard the front doors of the carriage open and heavy thumps signalling that the inhabitants had dismounted the carriage. I heard gruff voices talking sternly-the laughing menacingly. More heavy footfalls stomped away from the carriage..had they forgotten about us completely? Were we to waste away and wither in this old musty piece of metal? We lay there for several more long moments before I heard heavy footfalls echoing up to our prison. The door was pulled open and there stood four men...all over six feet tall and each wearing a grey and navy uniform with a knife thrust in their belt.
"Well just what do we have here?" The guard closest to us leered, giving us each the once-over. "I'll take this one," He seized Max by the collar of his shirt and pulled him painfully up into a standing position and out of the carriage. The rest of the men all did the same...the largest carrying the boy with the upturned nose as he was still out cold. I was the last to be hoisted out-my hands still bound behind my back. This gave me a chance to take in some of the world outside. The sky was now an icy blue, a few lone clouds twisting their way across the sky. There were no trees or greenery around us...simply a dusty dirt road on which we had come leading up to the place where I would be spending the next two hundred and four days of my life.
It was a tall tower, constructed entirely out of concrete with only one opening-a tiny door right at the base of the tower. I realized then that this was a prison...our prison...my prison. But why on earth was I being taken to prison, after all I had done nothing wrong! The stupid man from before, I thought furiously. My guard thrust me forward, not caring that my bare feet were getting all scratched up along the jagged rocks on the dusty ground or that I was still in my now soot-covered nightdress.
He forced me inside the door and then paused to speak to the only occupant I could see inside the tower-a stout man wearing the exact same outfit as the guards who had removed us so ungraciously from the carriage.
"Four more fer yah, Demetrius," The guard holding me said proudly, using one hand to gesture at myself, Max, Arrun and the other boy while the other kept a firm grip on my upper arm. "anyone else cum' in 'ere yet?"
"Yes, I believe three arrived earlier," The man said, his english crisp and precise in contrast to the men holding me. "anyway, I believe that cells seven, nine, thirteen and..." He glanced down to consult his clipboard. "er...twenty five are free. Down this hall, make a left turn, first door on your right is seven."
"Thanks, " The guard nodded and stuffed a few coins into the other's hand before doubling the strength of his grip on me and marching me away down the corridor. I noted that there were several rats scurrying around the floor and giving us suspicious looks, baring their little pointed teeth. Cobwebs hung everywhere and spiders as big as my fist lurked on them motionlessly. I swallowed and looked away, willing myself to ignore the chills rippling up and down my spine. As we passed the tall doors of solid stone, the one tiny window at the very top was covered by bars. As we passed number four, I stood on my toes and peeked in, only to recoil at the sight inside. Inside the cell was an elderly man with wispy, white hair and yellow-grey skin which clung to his bones as if he were a skeleton. His eyes were black and sunken and his cheeks caved in from lack of food. I squeezed my eyes closed and shook my head, trying to rid my mind of the picture, but it remained as if burnt into my memory. We took the first left and came to an abrupt stop right before a tall concrete door with the number seven etched into the stone with fading and chipped ebony paint.
"Please," I turned to the guard who had unlocked the door with a key from his thick leather belt and was making to push me inside. I had managed to hold back from pleading with the guard until this point, wishing to maintain my pride to some degree, but now I had no other option. "What did I do wrong? Please-"