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A blast of cold water awakened her. Sybil tried to protect her face, only to find that her arms were restricted. Her vision was slowly returning to her but her body was unable to move. Everything below her waist was buried in stone, with bands of rock around her chest and her arms also buried.

The room she was in was carved out of solid stone using earth magic. They were underground. Chickadee said that much of the Gilded Region was a brown granite, where the Crimson Region was gray. Either they had gone north or south or were still close to Tilrey. Sybil’s mind was buzzing for clues.

A series of flame orbs were providing light, and there were four others in the room. Jack, John, Jill, and a boy with long, bluish-gray hair, with a small set of antlers. He was dressed in nicer clothes than the others, but they were dirty, as though he hadn’t changed in some time. Jill was wearing a robe so faded and worn that it was nearly rags. It might have been a uniform at one time or another, but it was too damaged for Sybil to tell.

John snapped his fingers in order to draw her attention to him. “I’m going to ask you some questions and you’re going to lose a finger for every answer I don’t like.” Sybil’s eyes widened with horror. “Where is your Braytons identification plaque?”

“It was in the-” Sybil sputtered and coughed. The powder had dried out her throat and her voice could only come out as a harsh whisper. “... In the pack on my horse.”

A series of harsh words were spoken under John’s breath before he spoke again. “What noble house are you from?”

“I’m not from any-” She screamed as the stone around her hand tightened enough to crush the bone. Jack lowered his hand and Jill lightened the pressure. She appeared to be the elementalist of the group.

John held up Erskine’s pendant. “You were wearing this. Favor from a lover at the barracks? Someone you got at home?” She shook her head. “Who’d it belong to?”

The pain in her hand was excruciating. It took every ounce of her strength to concentrate on what he was saying. “... A f-friend of my grandfather’s. It’s a family heirloom.” She tensed up, but that answer sat well with John.

He held out a hand and Jack tossed him her sword. This was thrust at Sybil so she would be forced to stare at the coin. “You had this and a glasstrotter.”

“Ain’t much of a fighter either,” quipped Jack.

“Aye. You are shit at that.” He lowered the sword. “You’re one them noble kids who got a free ride into Braytons so you can look good for a husband, eh? Same story for every bitch that goes through there. Don’t bother hiding it.

So I’m gonna ask you some questions and you’re gonna be a good girl to give me answers. You lie to me and you’ll never be able to hold a sword again. We get to that point and I’m gonna let Jack take over. We’ve been on the road a while, and he’s been itching to get paid... Gotta warn you though. His women never last long.”

A low chuckle was let out by Jack. As Sybil began to hyperventilate from fear, that smile grew all the bigger. John clenched her about the jaw and forced her to back look at him. His face was a stark contrast to the laughing man’s. Dark and deadly.

“You want me to protect you, then you gotta answer what I want to know. Got it?” Sybil nodded. “What noble house are you from?”

Who did she know at Braytons that was from Fogbloom? Tish and Gwyn had magic that she couldn’t cast, so she couldn’t prove she was from either household. Sybil also didn’t know much about either of their families. There was Ivy’s family, but she had heard they only pretended to be nobles. Not much help for her here.

“A-Aconite. My name is Sybil Twist, and my family works for Duchess Elbellziara. She’s the one that bought me the horse, and she helped me get into Braytons…” She tensed up as the stones began to creak. “I’m telling you the truth! You can confirm everything with her!”

“Do you have anything to prove that, Sybil?”

She didn’t. “You already have my sword.” Sybil winced as she felt the stones tighten about her entire right hand. “I don’t know what else to tell you!”

John frowned. “A mighty high claim that is. You want to be worth something more to me than Jack’s newest bitch, you’re gonna have to do better.”

Sybil didn’t know what else to say, but she knew she didn’t want to die. “My grandfather worked for the royal family. That pendant belongs to Erskine Fogbloom, and my grandfather received it as a favor from him before his death. After their death, he worked for the Aconite family, and my mother works directly under Duchess Elbellziara.”

John took a moment to attach the sword to his hip. “That so?”

“She’s lying,” replied Jill.

“Then crush two fingers this time,” he retorted.

“No wai-” Sybil attempted to cry out, but the bands of stone tightened about her throat and chest. She couldn’t breathe. All she could manage was to open and close her mouth as she desperately gasped for air.

Jill took that moment of silence to gather up her thoughts. “The identification pendant she had is legitimate and the body of Erskine Fogbloom was never accounted for.”

“And? Plenty of Erskines out there in the world,” quipped John. “Unless you’re suggesting that this lass is related to that family.” Jill nodded. “You got a way to prove that?”

“She wouldn’t. Fogbloom magic has been dead for generations,” replied Jill. “But the Violet court keeps a harpy on a leash. They would have verification of her blood through them.”

Jack spoke up from the back of the room. “Ain’t the Fogblooms in charge. Sounds like more trouble than it’s worth.”

“I’d think the Aconites wouldn’t want any wandering around,” muttered John. “Kingdom was better off without them, and the higher-ups were probably happy to pay off any lingering brats rather than risk them taking charge again. They’d probably rather have her dead than to pay off ransom.”

“She’s turning purple,” whispered the boy.

Jack roughly grabbed one of the boy’s antlers and gave it a firm tug. “Forgot already that I told you not to talk?!”

“Let her breathe,” muttered John with a wave of his hand. The stones loosened from Sybil’s neck and she began to gasp and wheeze for air. “I can still make money with her.”

Jack tossed the boy behind him, and he let out a faint whimper when he hit the wall. “Kill her and be done with it.”

John shook his head. “Jack, make an inquiry with the duchess. I’ll take her sword east and see if it’ll fetch a price. Seems like the type of weapon someone desperate to kill a monster would want. No one should ask questions about it.” He then pointed to Jill. “Join up with the others and tell them to prep another control ring.

Either we get our own toy on the Violet Court and be able to spread our business eastward or we sell her off. She’s still pretty enough to get a price from some Others, or we’ll barter her off for more supplies.”

“And the boy?” Jack gestured to the boy behind him. He hadn’t bothered to get back up, choosing to sit with his legs drawn up to his chest and back against the wall.

“To much heat comes from carrying around a kid that looks like that. Leave him locked up with her and we’ll get them when the control rings are ready.” John raised his hand up, and Jill flicked her hand towards the wall. It opened up and revealed the outside. The two men left first, followed by Jill.

“W-wait,” stammered out Sybil. Jill flicked her fingers towards the pillar, and it crumpled around Sybil. Without missing a beat, Sybil made a mad dash towards the opening, but it sealed up right as she reached it. “No, wait! Don’t leave me here!”

Sybil began to paw at the door as the walls shuddered around her. She was being buried. What was a control ring? How long did it take to make one? A trip to Fogbloom and back normally took a week, but who knows how long it would take in this weather. Was she supposed to wait here the whole time? Without food or water? Sybil fell to her knees and clasped her hands around her mouth to prevent herself from screaming.

The structure continued to sink until they hit an aquifer. Part of the floor opened up to reveal an open stream, and another opened up to a smaller room. None of this brought relief to Sybil. She tensed up and tried to put her thoughts together.

She looked down at her hand and then winced at the sight. Her finger was nothing more than a mesh of bleeding meat. Very hesitantly, she tapped at it and frowned as it flopped about. It hurt. It hurt so much, and she knew that the bones were destroyed beyond repair.

Think. Think and try to keep your mind straight, Sybil. Remember what Sir Oceans taught you. Fingers and toes aren’t all that important. If you need to move quickly, or if it isn’t repairable, cut it off. Don’t risk being slowed down or getting an infection. Down here, where it was wet and dirty, there would be a big risk of infection and you can’t let that happen. Do what you have to in order to live.

But she didn’t have her utility knife or dagger on her. Maybe she should bite it off? Right. Bite it off. She stared at her limp finger a moment longer, hesitant to even move. It would be easy. Like biting through a painful sausage.

She winced as the boy wrapped both his hands around her hand. Orbs of light appeared around him so he could see, and his hands began to glow as well. The pain within Sybil’s hand was slowly fading away as he cast his magic.

“At least there are holes for air.” One of the orbs floated near a vent in order to draw attention to it. “I also have a pack of food with me. I don’t think they were expecting to keep you down here too, but there should be enough if we’re careful.”

Sybil blinked at him a few times before responding. “I-I suppose.” She looked at her hand as he finished casting his spell. Her finger felt fine. Not even the slightest bit still wobbly like when Blu mended a broken bone. “... Thank you.”

He sat down on the floor and made himself comfortable. “I’m Felix Haddock.”

“Sybil Twist.” Sybil hung her head to the side. “... I’m sorry. If I was stronger, I would’ve been able to save both of us.” She could have shifted into mist and escaped the stone. Then she would’ve fought them all off and they wouldn’t be in this predicament now.

Felix shook his head. “There was a whole group of them waiting outside. We’d be in trouble either way.” His pointed ears twitched. “Water!” He stumbled towards the stream.

“Be careful! The currents move quickly, and you could end up getting carried away.” She scurried after him in an effort to grab the edge of his cloak.

“I only need a little bit. We’re going to need beds.” He cupped his hands and splashed water onto the stones. Reaching into his pocket he tossed a handful of seeds onto the puddle. They sprouted into a mat of grass, which he began to pat in order to test for softness.

Healing and plant magic. Humans weren’t supposed to be able to cast multiple forms of magic. Sybil studied his clothes. They seemed like a normal style from the Violet Region. Then again, she had heard that they were quite racist against Others and mutants within that region. Maybe he was half human and half something else?

“I’m human,” he muttered. It was probably easy to guess what Sybil was thinking about. “I was born in the Violet Region, but I was on my way to Carapace when I was kidnapped by those slavers.” Felix tensed up at the thought. “I think they meant it to be a simple supply robbery, but then they saw me, and uhm… This happened.”

Sybil drew her knees to her chest. “... I’m sorry.” She came to a realization and began to frantically pat herself down. Her letter may still work here. A groan escaped her lips as she realized that it didn’t fit into the pockets of her uniform. Everything useful was in Oyster’s pack.

Another ill thought. What if they succeeded in selling the sword? She needed it in order to track down her grandfather. Not to mention they had taken Erskine’s pendant. She had been wearing it as a reminder if her mission. Don’t forget what happened to the Fogbloom family. Her promise was to make sure everyone learned the truth.

One stupid mistake. She let her guard down and lost two irreplaceable items. What was she going to do now? What if Elbellziara didn’t want to buy her back and she ended up being sold off? What would happen to her then?

“It’s not your fault,” said Felix as he patted her shoulder.

“No, no, it’s not that.” Sybil had to be strong. She wasn’t the only one in trouble here. “I thought I had a way to contact someone on the outside, but I don’t… But I know people are going to be looking for me. Smart and resourceful people. They will get us out of this.”

Two weeks. Fogbloom and back in two weeks. Whatever a control device was, it wasn’t close enough for them to travel to. They possibly had a week or longer. She stood up and began to explore their surroundings. It looked like the smaller room was meant to be a bathroom. There was a hole in the ground and it was downstream of the main room.

Seven vents for air and five of them were blowing inward. Probably due to the way they were shaped. Hot air created by the occupants helped push air out, and fresh air was sucked in as a result. A common design in the Core.

The walls were solid, and their temperature was stable. They must be rather deep in the ground… And absolutely no one was going to find them here. In two weeks, she was going to find out if she’ll be set free or sold off. Her head thunked against the wall. Only a few minutes and it already felt like this place was closing in on her.

Felix frowned. “You’re fine with rationing food, right? I can grow much in the stone or running water, so we’ll have to stick with what I have. You’re not looking to eat me, right?”

“What? No, wait… What? Why?” Sybil took a step closer and Felix held his arms defensively.

“Because you’re, well… You’re…” Sybil’s face scrunched up at his hesitance. “You’re a meat eater! There’s dozens of stories where people just start eating each other during emergencies and I don’t want to fall prey to that.”

“... What we have is fine, Felix,” muttered Sybil. “We’ll make do.”

“Great! Good! Pickles it is!” He pointed to something glittering about her neck. “What’s that?”

Sybil felt about her chest and found the ring that Alton had given her. They didn’t take it from her. She slipped the cord from around her neck and stared at it. “A friend gave me this.” They must have thought it not important enough to steal.

It was just a simple steel ring with a quartz setting. At a glance, it wouldn’t be anything of value. She slipped it on her finger. No warmth, no pulse, but it did light up slightly when she concentrated on it.

… Why did she have to go and be such a bitch to Alton? A short break was all she needed. Not a lifetime away from him. Especially not when whatever remained of her lifetime was… She didn’t even want to think about it.

Tears were slipping down her cheeks before she had a chance to stop them. “Sorry, Felix... I’m alright, I am. I just need a few minutes.” She couldn’t do this. Somehow, even in someplace like this, she was going to make everything worse. That was the only thing she had been good at. Ruining everything for herself.

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About the author

Adelaide West

Bio: Author of the Grimstone Series and Duck and Wolf.

I have a Twitter. I check it often, so I guess tag me anytime you want. I just don't post very often. @AdelaideGWest

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