“Okay,” the Almighty Z muttered to herself, wiggling the paper clip around in the lock. “That should just about do it...” The padlock holding the sliding metal bars to the wall sprung open and chains clanked to the ground, sending an echo all throughout the rocky room. “So now we just need to slide it,” she said, referring to the entire panel of metal bars blocking them off from the rest of the room. She pushed on them. They didn’t budge. She pushed on them again, harder, again to no avail.
“It can’t be that hard,” Jake said, walking over from the other side to try for himself. He strained hard against the cold, dark metal until his muscles were shaking under his black t-shirt but it didn’t move for him either. “Never mind.” He turned to Z. “Why did you have to make the door to this cell so heavy?”
She crossed her arms. “Oh, I don’t know, maybe so any ordinary idiot with a paperclip couldn’t escape?”
“Are you calling us idiots?”
“No...yes...kind of.” Z shook her head, eyeing the bars. “It’s useless to try more, may as well save strength.”
“For what?” Jake asked, sitting back down and leaning his head back against the wall.
“I don’t know, dying?” she said, lying down on the floor, flat on her back, and staring up at the ceiling. Jake laughed a little. Z looked over at him. “Is something funny?”
Jake shook his head. “No, just the thought of you dying. And here, of all places.”
She sat up, glad the pain from earlier was mostly gone, leaving only an ignorable amount of soreness and an impressive amount of exhaustion. “What do you mean?”
He shrugged. “You seem kind of invincible. Like, you’d think you would die in an explosion or something. Definitely not as a prisoner in your own castle.”
Z smiled, even though it probably wasn’t a time at which she should probably be smiling. “It’s probably just my title,” she said. “The ‘Almighty’ part.”
Jake looked her over. “I don’t know, you’re pretty threatening for someone so small, and that has nothing to do with your name.”
She glared at him playfully. “Title and name are different, you know.”
“Does that mean ‘Almighty Z’ isn’t your name?” His forehead crinkled in apparent confusion. Z only smiled mysteriously. “Come on, we might die in this cell, you have nothing to lose,” he said, trying to be persuasive. “I mean, you may as well tell me if you have anything to say.”
“Who said I had anything to tell?” The queen asked coyly, laying back down. Her eyes resumed their position of staring upwards. She could practically hear Jake shaking his head, but he didn’t say anything. She resisted the urge to turn her head and see the expression on his face. This turned out to be a good instinct, because after a few seconds, his face appeared in front of hers as he knelt beside her head, looking down. One of his eyebrows was raised and his blue eyes burned down into her own.
“You’re really not going to tell?” He asked softly, maintaining eye contact. Their faces were mere inches apart, but neither of them made any effort to move.
“Nope,” Z said, making a popping sound at the end of the word and giving a sly smile. “If I have anything to say, which I’m not saying I do, I’m sure I’ll take it to the grave.”
“Well then, Z,” Jake said, unmoving. “I sincerely hope we don’t die here tonight.”
“Mm,” she replied agreeably. “One question,” Jake raised his eyebrows. “Is it night? I’ve lost track of time.”
Jake sat up, moving to her peripheral vision, and checked his watch. “It is...exactly three oh two.”
“AM or PM?”
His head reappeared. “No idea.”
“Mm,” she said again. Their eyes locked. “Well, I’m pretty tired.”
“Yeah, me too,” he supplied unhelpfully.
She blinked. “Should we sleep then?”
“If you like. You are in charge, as the queen and everything.”
Z wondered what “everything” meant. “We don’t really have anything else to do. I mean, unless you have any more ideas on how to get us out of here. Preferably more helpful than the paper clip.”
He looked up with his eyes and stroked his chin for a few seconds before putting his hand back down on the rock barely an inch from the top of her head. “No, no more ideas.”
“You’re sure? Absolutely no more ideas whatsoever?”
He shook his head. “Nope,” he said, popping the ‘p’ in an imitation of her.
“Well, crap,” she said. “Looks like it’s sleep then.” She rolled over so her back was to him and curled up in a ball, closing her eyes. She heard some shuffling and assumed that was Jake lying down and getting comfortable. As comfortable as solid rock gets, at least.
After a few minutes of silence, she rolled over to face him. “Wait, so does that mean I can blame you if I die here tonight? Or this afternoon, or whatever?”
“If you die here tonight or this afternoon or whatever yes, you can blame me,” he said with no hesitation whatsoever.
“Really,” Z said, narrowing her eyes in suspicious surprise. She’d expected him to argue. “Just like that?”
“Yeah.” He gave half a shrug. “It is my job to protect you, remember?”
“Ohh,” she said like this was a new revelation. “So that’s why you’re around. I thought it was just so I’d have someone to be left for dead with in a dungeon while all hell probably breaks loose in my castle above.”
He nodded, pursing his lips. “Yeah, actually, that sounds familiar. I think that’s it, actually. My job description.”
“Well, you’ve done outstanding work, then,” Z said sarcastically, rolling back over.
With this, they fell into silence. Z watched the flickering fire of one of the two torches lighting up the place until she couldn’t keep her eyes open any longer and fell into a dreamless sleep until she was woken about three hours later by the loud screech of metal moving against rock.