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~ Previous Chapter ~
Short update today.
IT HAPPENED IN the dark, one of the too short respites between Willym’s brutal games. Limp after the stressful prospect of being branded, the pain of the shallow burn on Mouse’s side was a constant, low beat. At the time it had been almost an anticlimax after the terror of his imagination while Willym played and teased and tormented. Now it joined with his other wounds to wear him down, not letting him sleep.
After Willym had gone, leaving the dying brazier behind as a spiteful reminder of what could have been, and what might yet occur, Mouse had sobbed without cease. Part relief, part despair. It could have been so much worse – and yet how much worse could it become. They were just toys to him, kept in the dark for his private amusement. He wanted to break them, to turn them into little more than animals, stealing away their honour. Why did he want to know about the others? He’d found them once, surely he could and would do so again. Why did they have to tell him anything?
Yet as the light of the coals slowly died, so too did Mouse’s panic. He was still alive. There were things to be thankful for. He’d kept his honour and, for once, Nehtl had not been touched.
Reminded of his companion, Mouse shifted against the wall to try and ease the ache in his arms from being left chained up. Damn Willym. Nehtl wasn’t well, he needed help. He needed care. All through Mouse’s crying the healer had been silent. That more than anything told him that something was seriously wrong.
So he settled his chains and listened. He’d grown good at listening, here in the darkness.
A ragged breath sounded from the other side of the cell. It caught at the height of the inhale and paused. For a long moment there was silence, then the rattle of Nehtl’s shaky exhale.
Mouse sighed with relief and started counting the ins and outs, willing his friend to stay alive.
One moment the cold cell was filled with laboured breathing, then Nehtl choked on a gargle. A scrape of chains, a strangled gasp. Then silence.
Mouse’s heart thumped heavily in his chest. “Healer Nehtl?” his voice sounded thin and tremulous. Reedy, weak, sorrowful. He pulled at his chains and cursed Willym for the thousandth time for leaving them chained apart.
“He won’t last much longer. Can’t have you doing something stupid. Just hang around over here, little Mouse. That should keep you out of trouble.”
“Healer Nehtl? Please, please don’t…”
No answer. An eager squeak was followed by scrabbling from the shadows, seeking, hungry. Always hungry.
“No,” Mouse snarled. “No! Get away. Leave him alone!” He thrashed and roared and rattled his chains, sending the creatures skittering back into the dark. It wouldn’t last. He knew they’d be back, but he’d be ready for them. Even if he never slept again, he’d be ready.
“No surrender,” he panted, hanging loose and exhausted and burning inside. “No surrender.”
Not to the rats, not to the pain, not even to the grief he could feel building within. It pressed against his pounding heart, making breathing difficult, but he forced it down, held it back. Grief was of no use here.
“Willym,” he growled, sending more rats fleeing for cover. His hands clenched.
“No surrender,” he vowed to the darkness. “No more mending.” It was time to start breaking things.
All alone in the depths of Aquila, Mouse breathed life into the spark burning inside. And the coals of his rage ignited into flame.
~ Next Chapter ~
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