Chapter 169 – A Cloak of Shadows

Siobhan

Month 4, Day 9, Friday

Siobhan squinted against the light, ignoring the screams of the guard outside the room while she took stock of her situation as quickly as possible. She had no idea how much time had passed, but she wasn’t starving or severely dehydrated. She did badly need to urinate, so it must have been at least a few hours.

The faintest twinge of cold needles in her back seemed to be fighting against a divination attempt, but judging by how weak it was, either the room was warded against sympathetic divination, she was very far away, or there was some other barrier between them—like the thick stone walls.

Her captors had taken everything except her tightly laced corset and the things hidden inside and underneath it, including her warding medallion and the amulet tucked into her cleavage. Their decency—or laziness—could be their undoing. Her arm felt bare without the array of thin alarm bracelets she was used to wearing. She didn’t know if they had broken and triggered the bracelets, which would alert Oliver and Katerin to her plight.

She turned toward the sensory deprivation spell array on the ground, but her gaze was drawn to the bright copper hair of another boy, the one she had sensed while still inside the array; it was Theo, Katerin’s nephew, his gangly limbs sprawled out among the others. Enforcer Gerard lay next to him, one half of his face battered and swollen to half again its normal size. Another young man, also from the Verdant Stag, had badly broken his lower leg. Blood had seeped through the makeshift bandage around his calf and pooled on the floor.

The enemy didn’t just go after the Nightmare Pack,’ **she realized. And if their motivation held true, they had wanted Theo and Miles specifically, with everyone else being collateral damage.

The sensory deprivation spell seemed to be an artifact laid into the floor and pre-charged. There was no obvious way to turn it off, at least not from inside the room. Breaking the Circle might have been possible if she had something to write with, but she didn’t know what effect that might have. The side effects could be worse than the original problem.

But Siobhan could reach a man who was close to the edge. She didn’t recognize him by name, but she had seen him in Verdant Stag territory, wearing a jacket sporting bright green antlers made of peeling paint.

Her free hand went quite numb as it crossed the bounds of the Circle, but she was still able to get a solid grip on his hair. Slowly, her aching body protesting against the effort, she dragged him the foot or so necessary for his head to cross the Circle. He gasped, eyes opening wide and then slamming shut, his face contorting painfully.

She pulled a little farther, getting his arms out, and that was all he needed to scramble the rest of the way himself.

He stayed on his hands and knees, stealing a couple glances at her through squinting, watering eyes. “The Raven Queen?” he croaked. “I mean—my lady, my queen? You came to save us?”

“Help the others. Get them out of the Circle,” she ordered, limping quickly toward the metal door, which was solid except for a barred window at head height. “And be prepared for a fight.”

The guard outside, wearing the uniform of a Pendragon operative, had stopped shrieking and was pointing one trembling finger at Siobhan as she approached the door and looked through the window. He nearly fell over himself to put some distance between them, retreating down the hallway with his back pressed firmly to the wall.

“Stay back! Stay back!” he screamed, but he was still only pointing with his finger, no battle wand in his hand, so she ignored him.

The Stag enforcer wasted no time complying with her orders, and the cell quickly filled with sounds of relief, distress, and quickly murmured explanations of their situation. “Oh, but she’s answered my prayers!” a woman moaned. “I was in darkness, and I prayed to the Queen of Ravens to walk through the shadows to my side. She’s answered me. We’re saved!”

“Wait, that woman is the Raven Queen?” Miles’s maid, Martha, asked, doing a double-take at Siobhan’s face.

Enforcer Gerard shushed them sharply.

“I’ll pay whatever tribute she requires if she can actually get us out of here,” Jackal muttered.

Siobhan pressed her face close to the barred window, looking down the hall in either direction. The walls were made of white stone, chipped away in relative uniformity to create the hallways, but not smoothed or polished.

A few dozen meters to the left, another hallway cut through the stone in a perpendicular direction. That was where the other guards had disappeared. The lone remaining guard had fallen silent, finally, and she could hear the echoes of his companions running and clanking beyond the corner.

Down their hallway to the right, the light cut out. Siobhan tilted her head to the side, listening. It was too dark to see far in that direction, but the echoes bouncing back became strangely layered and choppy, suggesting that the hallways stretched on for quite a while, maze-like.

A suspicion about their location began to grow in her mind. She breathed deep, tasting the air on her tongue.

With more people working together to free the others, soon, everyone was out of the spell array. Though several captives bore injuries of various severity, all were grim with the realization of their situation and prepared to escape at any cost.

Enforcer Gerard stepped up stiffly beside her, wearing only his underwear and clutching one arm in the other to stabilize it. The scars on his legs were visible, but whatever treatment he’d received for the injuries he sustained at Knave Knoll must have been powerful. “Thank you for coming, my lady. What is the plan?” he asked, his voice slightly slurred by the trauma and swelling marring half of his face.

“Enemy reinforcements are on their way.”

Gerard turned to the others. “Those of you with combat experience, step up on either side of the door. Theo, get into the corner, behind Enforcer Turner. You, too, Mr. Lynwood,” he added, looking at Miles.

The children hurried to shuffle into one of the corners closest to the door, behind the young man with the broken leg. Both were pale and silent with fear, but Miles gave her a tremulous smile, and Theo clenched his fists and scowled around the room.

“I didn’t actually believe in her, you know?” Turner whispered to one of the women. “Does this mean she’s really heard me every time I said her name? She could have appeared out of nowhere, just like this?”

Siobhan ignored them, pressing her face further between the bars to better see. To the side, a circular device was embedded in the wall beside their door—the locking mechanism, no doubt. “Come forward and try to break the window,” she ordered, stepping aside and ignoring the increasingly loud scream of pain from her ankle as it took her weight.

There were no obvious hinges or weak points, as the door seemed to open by sliding into and out of a slot in the stone wall. She doubted they would be able to reach the unlocking device through the small window, but it didn’t hurt to try while she worked on her own solution.

She hobbled back to the Circle covering most of the room’s floor and braced herself before entering it again. She had a moment of vertigo as she once again lost all sensation, but her shadow took over after only a few moments. She swayed but didn’t fall, and then jerkily made her way to the small puddle of mostly coagulated blood from Turner’s leg. She had nothing to carry it in, so scooped as much as she could into her free hand.

She hobbled back to the door as quickly as possible, stumbling once again as her senses returned to her.

The enforcers had failed to break the window and were now bashing themselves against the door with no luck.

“Step aside,” she told Enforcer Fring.

The eyes of those around her focused on her blood-filled hand as she used it to draw out a stone disintegration spell array on the wall behind the opening mechanism.

The reckless cacophony of approaching enemy reinforcements grew louder. But her spell array was simple, requiring only an inner and outer Circle, a pentagon, and two glyphs. The wall began to crumble away from the inner Circle as she split her Will and applied power, but she wasn’t fast enough.

The guard who had been cowering down the hall slapped himself twice in the face. His handprint stood out starkly red against his pale face as he stepped forward again, a thick battle wand that could have passed for a bludgeoning rod in one hand and some other spherical artifact in the other.

He was quickly joined by two others, each kitted out in gold and silver glittering armor worn over their uniforms. They pointed the wands at the door—at her—as they approached.

Siobhan drew her head away from the window, but she could still hear them.

Panting, one said, “The captain is still out in the city with the others. We already set off the alarm and sent a message. There were still some of our men left in the palace, and they should be able to get down here within five minutes.”

“It’s the Raven Queen! We don’t have five minutes!” the previously screaming guard ground out, panting hard. His voice sounded vaguely familiar. Though Siobhan couldn’t be sure, she thought he was the one who had been suspicious of her identity.

“Get yourself together!” another snapped. “We know the protocols, we have the supplies. The shift leader is bringing the Radiant explosive right now. He’ll be here in seconds. All we have to do is subdue her until then!”

“The others pray to her,” the first guard tattled hoarsely. “They’re her devotees! Probably feeding her some kind of dark power. I heard them talking about it.”

No one dignified this with a response, but a quick peek around the edge of the window showed a fourth guard rounding the corner, also in resplendent armor. He carried something large, round, and metallic, the size of a cantaloupe or a human skull.

“Kill them, my queen! Kill them all!” the woman who had been praying to the Raven Queen screamed vengefully.

Though it might not have made it any worse, this did not improve the captives’ situation, as the guards shared wary looks and moved forward together.

Siobhan poured more power into the stone-disintegration spell but was barely a few inches into the wall as two of the guards lunged forward to use the locking mechanism while the other two kept their wands pointed at the door to cover them.

The lock took a password and what seemed to be a thumbprint of saliva from two of the guards at the same time, all entered within the space of a couple seconds.

“Wait!” Siobhan cried, ducking down and desperately trying to buy time. For what, exactly, she didn’t know. After all, the guards were opening the door, which was what she had been trying to do. Her shadow swallowed her up and stretched out to either side in duplicate humanoid shapes to obscure her exact location. The door began to slide to the side.

And then the guards blasted it aside, a fireball spell forcing it the rest of the way open, spilling into the room with enough heat, light, and sheer force to knock the closest captives off their feet and away from the door.

Heat searing the top of her scalp, Siobhan stumbled back, trying to press herself against the corner nearest the door but bumping into people behind her. A second fireball followed, not aimed at anyone in particular but still licking at people’s skin and hair. It smashed against the back wall with enough force and sound to ring deafeningly, sending chunks of smoking stone flying out.

Screams wove in with a high-pitched ringing in Siobhan’s ears, which felt strangely as if they had been plugged. Those who could manage it scrambled further away from the entrance and toward the side walls.

It seemed for a moment that the guards were going to kill them all. One turned his wand on Siobhan.

She raised her free hand instinctively, as if that could ward off an attack, her shadow darkening and expanding further as her mind grasped for a solution and her Will struggled to deliver.

Then the shift leader tossed in the spherical device. It landed on the floor in the center of the room.

A Radiant explosive,’ Siobhan remembered them saying. “Take cover!” she screamed, turning to the wall and crouching with her free hand covering her head. There was no true cover to take.

Her shadow instinctively coalesced behind her like a shield, and she realized too late that she should drop the spell safely while she still could, to avoid being forced to drop it from an attack.

The light and pressure hit simultaneously.

Siobhan was slammed forward, her face crunching her fingers into the wall and forcibly breaking the Circle of her hand.

Power rushed out from between her fingers and bloomed from the collapse of the shield of darkness behind her, suddenly freed.

Her mind crackled like corn in a hot pan, and she yanked her Will away from the freed magic, spooling and condensing it in toward herself, within herself, trying to outrun the backlash before it could hitch a ride inside her. Pieces of her concentration frayed at the edges, and she abandoned them in the space between microseconds.

But this did nothing to stop the physical expression of the magical backlash. And as they had reviewed earlier that term in Professor Gnorrish’s class, every action had an equal and opposite reaction.

The power crashed into her from behind like a wave from an angry sea god. It lifted her body and slammed her again into the wall. She felt something crunching within her abdomen. Light bloomed in her skull like a flower as her cheekbone cracked against stone. She bounced off and slammed into the floor, striking the back of her head.

 

I apologize for awkward wordings and typos. I’ve looked for them and killed some, but I’m pretty sure there are more I’m just too woozy to catch.

I am going to be gone from my home and work computer next Thursday, and will schedule the Thursday post ahead of time. If anything goes wrong, I’ll try to get to Wi-Fi to fix it, but it’s possible there will be some delays.

EDIT 7/14: Slight delay on the most recent chapter. Info here: https://www.patreon.com/posts/86089481?pr=true

OTL

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