A tale from the world of the Cursed Eight
Accipiter G. Goshawk
In the depths of the Imperial dungeon of Ra’thelas, Tara stirred.
She shivered a bit in the air of the cool autumn morning, and immediately tried to curl up tighter in her straw bedding. She squeezed her eyes shut and tried to block out the moans from farther along the corridor.
She hoped that those terrible sounds weren’t coming from mother or father.
It had been a week now.
One week since soldiers had shown up to their estate and marched them here, to this horrid place. One week since she and Sora had been locked up, one week since she’d last seen her proud silver-scaled mother’s confident wink as she was escorted to go see the Emperor.
Since then, it had been only her, Sora and the rats.
On the other side of the cell, her sister stirred, jangling the chains that held her to the wall.
“What time is it?” she murmured sleepily, peering towards the barred window.
“I don’t know, but we can get up,” Tara answered softly, putting away her fear and adopting her well-practiced air of confidence. She couldn’t be weak, not in front of Sora.
She stood up, letting the weak sunlight play across her bronze scales. Her stomach growled, prompting her to think wistfully about breakfast back at the estate. Instead of complaining, she said nothing, and forced herself to walk over to Sora, as mother would have done.
Her sister’s unusual scale colour had dulled in the closed quarters of the prison, her usually vibrant violet muted by the sombre surroundings.
“Are you hungry?” she asked, as she helped her up and rubbed a speck of dirt from the side of her cheek.
“A little,” her smaller sister answered, as dreamily as always. Her eyes moved to the window again and she smiled.
Tara sighed quietly.
Her sister had always been different, ever since birth.
She remembered that day. They had ushered her into the Blue Room, where she had found father sitting by mother, who was lying on the bed, silver scales damp with sweat. Sora was resting on mother’s chest, small and peaceful.
She hadn’t cried, not then nor ever after.
Although her odd colour had drawn many stares, her smile had a way of turning suspicion into laughter. Soon, Sora had become a favourite with the estate staff, as well as Tara’s inseparable playmate.
The latch at the bottom of the cell door clanged open and a guard slid a platter of gruel and bread inside. Then the latch slid shut and the guard walked away, towards the sounds of moaning.
Thinking of her mother, Tara repressed her hunger. Instead of rushing towards the food platter, she placed the lonely wooden stool in the centre of the room and motioned her sister to sit. Then she carried the platter carefully over and called upon her magic to lift it to the level of her sister’s chest. Finally, she produced their only spoon – a wooden think she had patiently shaped from one of the stool’s broken rungs – and handed it to Sora, who gratefully began to eat.
She made it through half the platter and then stepped off the stool, leaving the spot free for Tara.
They had tacitly started this ritual shortly after their imprisonment. It was their way of being close to mother and father and for Tara it was a way of reminding the world –and herself- that they were members of one of the most important families in Ra’thelas, no matter where they were.
She finished and stood up. Before she could conjure the platter back to the door, Sora dreamily flicked her hand, and the metal disk warped and twisted until it resembled a small rabbit, which eagerly pranced around the cell.
Tara caught herself smiling, but then quickly shook her head, causing Sora to turn the platter back. It clanged –a little forcefully- against the latch.
“I’m really bored of this place, Tara,” the younger dragonborn pouted, as she kicked a small heap of straw. “Why is it that we can’t go away?”
“I’ve told you: if we do, mother and father could get into a lot of trouble. We need to stay here and be good. The Emperor is mother’s friend: he will fix this. It’s just a matter of time…we have to be patient.”
Sora nodded, but still managed to turn a part of her straw mattress into a convincing likeness of a flamingo.
Tara worried about her sister’s magic. It was nothing like her own and the difference scared her. She knew magic had rules and a source. It required concentration and knowledge. Mother had once told her that she was quite gifted and that one day, she would probably take her place on the Council.
Sora was different. Her magic was chaotic. It followed her mood and appeared to be boundless. On her second birthday, she had turned a portion of the topiary into an elephant, which her parents had finally ended up donating to the Imperial Menagerie.
Heavy footsteps sounded in the corridor, quickly causing her to hide the spoon in her bedding.
A key rattled in the lock and a few moments later, the door swung outwards with a mournful creak. A small half-elf entered flanked by two guards. Tara moved to stand next to Sora, who was staring at the half-elf, a frown creasing her small forehead.
“The children of Lady Nala and Balasar Zarg, I presume?” he asked softly, holding them in an unblinking gaze.
“Yes, we are they,” answered Tara, a little too loudly. She eyed Sora nervously.
“It is a privilege,” he said, bowing low. “You may call me Dodo. I am a friend of your mother’s. I have been working very hard to free both you and your father. Unfortunately, there seems to be a rather serious problem…”
“What problem?” Tara blurted out before she could stop herself.
“One I was hoping you could help me with. You see, your mother was working with me to convince the Emperor and his lords to set you all free. However, she has disappeared and if we cannot find her, things will be…very difficult. Now, I know how much you want to go home, so I’m sure you will help me. Do you have any idea where your mother could have gone?”
The scales on the back of Tara’s neck trembled and she shuddered under the unchanging gaze of the person that called himself Dodo.
“I…we don’t know anything about mother,” she answered as calmly as she could. Dodo’s face remained unchanged, but his eyes seemed to contract for a second.
“A pity. I really hoped that you could help me. Well, should you think of something, anything at all-”
“You are lying.”
Tara flinched as her sister’s words cut across the half-elf’s honeyed speech.
“I beg your pardon?” he hissed softly, his friendly smile fading into a dark scowl.
“Nothing you said was true. You hate mother and you don’t want to help us. She escaped and you want to catch her,” answered the four-year old nonchalantly, glaring back at Dodo triumphantly.
“Maybe I am, but you will find that it makes little difference here,” he answered, his tones now warping dangerously, as magic flared at the tips of his fingers. “You are lucky that you are more worth to me alive than dead, or your little bodies would have been feeding the carrion crows days ago.”
Tara stepped back in shock at the sudden change, but Sora held her ground.
“You are afraid of mother,” she said with a smile. “And you should be. She is the strongest there is.”
Dodo snickered and let his hands fall to his side.
“You are nothing but whiny brats after all, and I have no qualms in letting you rot in this cell. Let us see, little Lady, what a few days without food will do to that righteous temper.”
He strode out, leaving the guards to lock the door once more.
“He’s not a nice man,” said Sora thoughtfully after a while.
Then she turned towards her older sister.
“Did I do something wrong?” she asked, her usual joy replaced by doubt.
Tara immediately swept it away.
“You were wonderful,” she answered hugging her sister fiercely.
“What do we do now?” asked Sora. Tara thought for a moment.
Then, she stood up and looked at the window.
“Now, we go find mother.”-
The story continues in Part II…