With a groan, he rolled into a sitting position, blinking as he looked around. The room was simple, but comfortable, a large mat of reeds covering the floor, warding off most of its chill from his feet when he swung his legs over the bed. Perhaps it was the damp air that did it, but the room seemed gloomier than he thought it ought to be. A small bronze sconce on the wall holding a bundle of lit rush-lights that should have cast away most of the darkness, yet it encroached on him still.
His heart lurched when it dawned on him that he didn’t know where he was or even if his sisters were there with him.
Wherever he was, he was still clear-headed enough to know that Nickolas was behind it. Grinding his teeth, he made to stand and fell flat on his face.
Twisting to look back at what had tripped him, iron shackles bound his feet to the bed. Am I a prisoner?
Grabbing the edge of the bed, he pushed himself back up with care not to reach the end of his chains again. Flopping down on the end of the bed, he glared at the door. It had no bars, nor was there a window. Just stone all around, including the door itself. If he didn’t know better, he’d think that he’d been swallowed up by a living boulder-man of legend.
Except that when he closed his eyes, he could hear voices and ringing footsteps beyond his stone prison cell. Men, women, and even the light laughter of children. Where am I?
Footsteps drew nearer and Brandon found himself leaning forward, his shoulders tense as he stared at the door.
Then the stone door swung open, with an unexpected swish, like material being pushed back. It even folded as such. Brandon blinked. An illusion?
Stepping in, Nickolas’ eyes flew wide. “You’re awake!”
“Where have you brought me!?” Brandon demanded, his voice low. “And where are my sisters? If you’ve harmed them-”
“I’d cut off my own hands,” Nickolas finished for him. “Your sisters are fine, currently eating with the others in the dining area. They’ll be glad to hear you’re awake, they’ve been worried about you.”
“I’m fine.” Brandon’s vision dimmed at the edges, fluctuating, but he tossed it up to the rush-light’s battle with the shadows.
Nickolas was shaking his head when a sudden scream, distant and piercing and tormented all at once, made Brandon stiffen and spring to his feet, almost losing his balance as his sight wavered on the edge of blackness. “What was that? What’s going on out there?”
“Hmm?” Nickolas turned his head in a questioning sort of tilt, then blinked with understanding. “The screams. I heard them too.”
“Of course you did, how can you not? How can anyone not?” Brandon said, pointing at the door, frustration mounting. Why is he playing games with me?! “Are you torturing people here? Is that it? You’ve gone mad, like the rest of them?!”
Then the ache in his head sharpened and he gritted his teeth, doubling over with eyes squeezed shut.
“Brandon? Brandon can you hear me?”
“Don’t touch me, you daemon!” Brandon hissed between his teeth, putting a hand to his head. Burning, feverish. He shoved Nickolas away when a hand rested on his shoulder.
When he opened his eyes, all was black. He saw nothing, felt nothing, yet remained standing. He shook his head, but his sight didn’t clear. Am I blind?!
Susurrations fluttered around him like the wings of a moth, words that he couldn’t quite hear, raising the hair on the back of his neck. “Nickolas?” No answer. At least, none that was discernible from the whisperings.
He started when something came into view in the void.
A woman clad in rags flashed in and out of his sight, as though illuminated by lightning. Bound in chains that bit into her wrists, she reached for him, her skin covered in cuts and pale scars, her hair long and scraggly.
Brandon stood still as a statue, frozen in place as she neared in flashes of existence.
She opened her mouth in a shrill scream of rage, “Thief!”
He put up his arms in defense as she flew at him, hands outstretched like grasping claws.
“Who are you?!”
She disappeared once again into darkness, her fingers alighting on his brow as her ghastly figure returned.
Her touch burned, yet was cold as ice, and he couldn’t pull away.
What’s happening?! He shuddered uncontrollably, his back suddenly on fire and his eyes roll back as his head felt it would split, a scream dying in his throat.
“The thief will pay!” the woman shrieked, her fingers pressing harder against his forehead.
Brandon choked on his breath, convulsing as it felt like a great raging beast thrashed inside him, goring its way out of his back with its claws.Then the woman lifted her hold on him, winking out of existence as he crumpled to his knees, slumping to the floor.