I slid from my bed, pulling the comforter around me. I glanced around at my prison of a nursery, in case there were any guards watching. Daddy sometimes did that. No guards. Only my five year old brother, Maein, asleep in his own bed, and our empty shelf. Arabia told me it had once held torture devices. It was true, our room was a converted prison cell. The floor and walls were bare stone, and I shivered. I hated the damp, cold air of underground.
I slipped softly from the room, careful not to let the heavy iron door bang shut. I was only just strong enough to open it. I passed four actual prison cells before reaching the stairs. My bare feet were freezing by this point. I almost turned back to our room, but then remembered my sister Arabia's room. I kept going, up the half mile of staircase. I was remarkably fast, especially for a seven-year-old. It was almost as though I could fly.
At the top of the stairs, I turned into a passage. I passed three empty rooms, then reached Arabia's. Arabia's room was empty, too. I tucked myself into her bed, waiting for her to return. Where she had gone, I could only begin to guess. Arabia sneaked around a lot at night. I was beginning to fall asleep when I heard shouts from Mommy and Daddy's room. Leaping from the bed, I ran across the hall to their door. I slid up to the door, and began to eavesdrop in the way only I could. I looked through the solid hardwood door at the scene.
Daddy was holding his fist out in front of him, clasping something I couldn't see. Mommy was backed against the wall, crying.
“Why would you do this?” Daddy screeched, obviously at Mommy. “Even after everything?” His voice held hints of tears. He flung his arm to the side. I now saw he was holding a sword.
“No!” I screamed, running back for Arabia's room, where she had a sword of her own. Finding it upon entry, I ran back into the room, wild with rage.
Daddy wasn't there. Neither was Arabia. Mommy was. She lay on the floor, eyes closed.
“Why?” I whispered. “Why would you do this?”
I dropped Arabia's sword on the floor and ran down the hall, tears stinging in my eyes. Maein had to know about this! I sprinted downstairs. Our door was ajar when I got there. I heard voices coming from inside.
“...she was killed by Hazernian rioters. She died defending your sisters and I.”
No. You killed her. I wasn't supposed to have seen that. Even as young as I was, I knew when a deed should have gone unnoticed.
I covered my mouth to muffle my sobs. I ducked into an empty prison cell until their footsteps couldn't be heard. Then I returned to Maein. He wasn't there.
I gasped. Feeling for every other Shadow in the palace, I sensed only Father, Arabia, and the Guards. If I couldn't sense him in the castle, there was only one place he could be: the tunnels. I suddenly wished I hadn't left Arabia's sword beside Mommy.
Yet again, I almost turned around. Countless monsters waited in the endless labyrinth below my feet. I could hardly survive down there, much less rescue someone. But Maein's magic was weaker than mine. And -I came close to tears as I thought of this- he was the only person I cared about enough to rescue.
“I'm coming,” I whispered, sprinting down the hallway to a door at the very end. It looked like another prison cell. I knew from experience that it was much more. If anything, it was a death cell. Anyone without sufficient weapons or magic to defend themselves would never make it out. I shuddered as I pulled the door open. But then, if Maein died, he wouldn't die alone. That was better than nothing.
The passage behind the door was even colder than the castle itself. It almost froze the lingering tears on my face. I rubbed my right palm with fingers of my left hand. When I pulled them away, a beautiful, flickering orange flame sat in their place. The warmth licked my face, warming my whole body and casting shadows onto the dirt floor.
Only when my echoing footsteps had reached a bend in the tunnel did I dare speak.
My voice bounced off the walls, returning to me many times. I took another step, being as quiet as I could. I held my breath, straining my ears for Maein's voice. There was only silence.
I called again, louder. “Maein?”
I heard something hit the wall. I looked down to see that I had kicked a sword. My eyes lit up. I bent quietly to pick it up. It was tarnished silver with a gold hilt, heavier than Arabia's. Though I could barely support it with both hands, it could save my life.
I set the sword carefully on my shoulder. I had to be especially careful not to cut myself. One bitten lip and I would be dead. The monsters were always hungry, drawn to the scent of blood.
I froze as I heard something hit the wall of the passage. A grotesque, red-eyed serpent stared up at me. When I had picked up the sword, I had never anticipated using it. The serpent slithered towards my right side, as though daring me to strike. I lunged with the sword. The monster dodged it easily, its red eyes flickering dangerously. The serpent lunged for my foot. I swung. Two serpent halves lay on the floor, oozing green. One half had fangs in my leg. I jerked the jaws from my leg.
I suddenly realized that had been a big mistake. The once-silent tunnels were alive with sound. My stomach filled with terror. There was only one thing to do now. Run. I sprinted, leaving a trail of blood behind me. I didn't know where I was going, just that I wanted to get out. If I could make it back into the castle, I would be safe.
From somewhere deeper into the tunnels, I heard a scream. Maein's voice refreshed my energy, and I sprinted harder down the passage. I found Maein crying in a dead end. I threw my arms around him.
“We'll be alright,” I whispered in his ear. “It's okay.”
I clasped his hand, using our combined magic to create a bubble around us. Maein laid his head on my shoulder as I pulled him into my lap. After a few minutes I felt his grip on my hand soften. I joined him in sleep not long afterward.