Elyna folded her arms over her chest, one hand wrapped tight around a bag strap “You’ve searched my bag, I’ve paid my coin; let me in,” dressed in a shirt and breaches she hadn’t worn her wings, or anything that would mark her as nobility. So the man looked her over again, the authoritative tone at odds to the diminutive figure before him. His dark eyes lingered until she met his stare, impatient. She had waited long enough, and if this meat-head didn’t let her in soon, she wasn’t going to be responsible for her actions. Her heart was a constant flutter in her chest, throbbing in uneven beats.
“He hasn’t wanted to see anyone,” the guard shrugged and turned to unlock the heavy wooden door that would lead down to the arena cells. He led the way into the putrid corridor, “so I’m just curious…” he glanced at her, “’cos maybe he’s got some arrangement with the brothel? All the pretty women coming to see him,” he grinned, “or maybe the bastard was luckier in another life.”
They left behind the warm glow of a red and golden sunset, the stars starting to shine in a wave of midnight blue that edged across the sky. It was going to be another warm night with wisps of cloud that drifted over head. The twilight birds sang from the branches and at the edge of the city, bats would be circling back and forth between the treeline and the walls, foraging for bugs. The air was fresh and sweet.
“I don’t care if he doesn’t want to see me,” the words were a growl and she tightened her fists, “I’ve paid the coin. I will see him,” she tried to remind herself that it was a good thing that Malcolm had people who would want to visit him, “what?” she demanded as the hulk looked back at her.
He shrugged, pausing to unfasten the next door, “you just don’t seem his type. The others were all the blonde, blue-eyed wispy type,”
Her fingers tightened on the bag and her gaze narrowed to a scowl, “well he didn’t want to see them,” she retorted, but she stumbled on her next step. Just like Vanessa, younger versions of his wife? It was then that the smell of the place hit her, the outside world a distant memory. Urine, faeces, blood, death and despair. There was a grisly handprint, blood faded to brown, swiped across the wall at the door and trails of the same washed over the hard cold stones. The smell smacked her across the face and she choked on it, bent double as she coughed, one hand pressed over her nose and mouth, her free hand landing blind on the dried but bloody print. She struggled not to see her lunch again.
She had been desperate to see Malcolm, but after Ben had dragged her out of the Arena she’d blacked out. So here she was, as quickly as she could come, and still perhaps too late. The guard, Daven seemed happy enough to wait for her to catch her breath again. His face was gleeful at her discomfort and he nodded to the second guard stationed at the door. She wondered if his own sense of smell had been burnt away, so he was used to the overwhelming odour of decay.
How could Mal be in a place like this? It still didn’t make any sense, and the only way she was going to get answers was to by seeing him. Was he still alive? She stumbled again, balancing her fingertips on the wall. She could do this. She’d seen him dragged off the sands, blood pouring from his side. He had to be alive…the Skyrider would have sworn she knew two things for certain. Malcolm was alive, and someone really wanted him dead. Poison, and then the arena? They were determined, but why?
Following at Daven’s heels as he greeted other curious guards Elyna kept her head down. Daven delighted in playing the host, in pointing out all the disturbing details on the walls they passed, showing off.
“One guy dragged his nails all the way down the corridor,” he chuckled, “look, you can see where the paint came off…it was really funny. He couldn't do it when we chopped his fingers off,” he grinned and looked at her for encouragement. Finding only a blank expression he pointed out a large pool of dried blood in an empty cell, “she didn’t make it to the arena, nor did her bastard.”
Elyna flinched, “can we just get on?” she struggled to keep her tone level. She hated this place, always had, and always would. She hated Daven and everything he stood for; but she needed his co-operation or he could just take her money and usher her back out into the sunlight that was fading to dusk.
They reached a final door that was dutifully unlocked and opened for her. She wondered if she’d ever get the smell of the previous corridor out of her mind, or the coating of fluid off of her boots. Thankfully, in the final room she caught a breath of fresh air, and wondered if there was a vent? How could anyone heal in a place like this? Daven offered her a candle which she accepted with shaking fingers.
“End cell,” he gestured and Ely nodded, “half a break,” he warned and she nodded again, mute.
He closed the door behind her and she edged forward, as though suddenly afraid of the dark. The cells she passed were empty, everyone else had died in the arena and the cages had been stripped and water thrown over the walls. No one wanted the next batch of fighters to die on infection before they made it out to the sand in Saun. After all, they now had the rest of this season to re-fill the cells.
The candle gripped tight, with wax sliding down and coating her fingers. Stinging as it did. A fresh bandage was wrapped around her left hand, to cover the marks the golden chain had scored across the back of her fingers and palm. Reluctant steps took her to the final cell as directed. She had no way of knowing if Mal would want to see her, or what she would do if he sent her away. The candlelight held back the worst of the shadows, casting an orange glow, flickering and dancing on the walls. Why hadn’t Marcus told her? Why wasn’t he hear to see his Father? She knew the Sailor only briefly, but it still seemed out of character.
She reached the final set of bars, her heart beat and footsteps dragging, the candle shook in her grip and so she knelt to set it on the floor. Still gripping the bag with her right hand, she pressed the left to the necklace that didn’t belong to her. Although she’d tried to clean the medallion, flecks of her blood and tears were still caught in the metallic grooves. But the touch of cool metal strengthened her resolve and she moved forward, planting her feet squarely too look in the cell, balanced, as though about to fight.
How did she know Malcolm? He had saved her life. Rebuilt her and then left her broken again.
What if he sent her away? He’d ended their affair so easily and left her standing alone on the docks. Pain trapped her voice in her throat. He’d promised she would never have to feel this way again, but she was drowning. She watched him from the familiar distance from herself. She could help him though, the Immortal had said she could help him; and that was all that mattered.