Apricum (Apricum Kingdom #1)

Orphaned and in charge of keeping her young brother alive, Helga survives by using her powers to kill for hire. But, when she is kidnapped by people wanting to exploit her, Helga's life changes drastically. No longer sure who to trust, she escapes and goes looking for her brother Finn. But she's been keeping secrets even from those closest to her, and secrets have a way of finding you, in the end... [PG-15 for violence and language - keep in mind that the protagonist kills for a living. Some references to sex.]


2. One


One month later


Looking out the little window, Helga tried to make out where she was. The little she could see of outside looked out on to a rock ledge, protected by a lip of rough stone, so that she could only just discern the clouds floating by lazily above. The rock lip above her window would stop all sunlight from filtering into her cell, which she knew was intentional. Her captors had done their homework, then, and knew that she relied on sunlight much more than normal humans.

The dungeon she was in could have been anywhere. The rock walls seemed to suggest she was underground, but what she saw out of the window bars told her that wasn’t the case. As there was nothing else at the same height as the window, she thought she might be high up somewhere; probably a cave on a mountain.

As she pondered this, the realisation that there was no way out struck her. Without the sun, she couldn’t use her powers to free herself. Instead of feeling scared, however, Helga felt anger rise within her. How dare they take her? How dare they separate her from her little brother Finn, who depended so wholly on her for survival? He’d be so scared. She allowed herself to briefly wonder what would happen to him if she stayed here for much longer. Already, she wasn’t sure how long she’d been away, having been knocked out in the woods while she was hunting.

But she couldn’t worry too much about him right now, not if she wanted to get back to him anytime soon. Worrying did no one any good, and wouldn’t get her back to him. She just hoped that, at age seven, he’d have the presence of mind to go to Freyja for help when Helga didn’t return. Frey would take care of him until Helga got back.

So she concentrated on her anger, letting it wash over her, promising a bloody retribution to those who had taken her from her brother. Their mistake was in assuming she was powerless without her powers.

Grey. All she could see was grey.

Even the stuff they apparently called food in these dungeons was grey. It was a wonder none of the guards had despaired yet, Helga mused.

Almost a week, she estimated, had passed since she’d woken up in this blasted cage. The bars on her little cell window did little to stop the cold gusts of wind from coming through, and her jailers had little pity for her, choosing to ignore her blue lips and trembling, staying instead near their little campfire.

That had been their first mistake, really.

About a day after she’d come to, the wind had started howling. She guessed it was a cold front moving in. Regardless, while it definitely made her uncomfortably cold and numb, it had the same effect on her guards.

And apparently, while giving an extra blanket to the prisoner was against the rules, building themselves a fire wasn’t. If they ever noticed that perhaps the fire was letting off less heat than it probably should have, she hadn’t heard them comment on it. They probably just assumed the cold was so overwhelming, the fire did little to stop it.

And while that was partly true, the fire’s lack of efficiency for the guards was mostly due to the fact that, if she stretched just right in the corner of her cell, she could sit down for the night and have a clear view of the fire - none of the men wanted to risk having their backs turned to the demon in the cell, as they called her, so she had an unobstructed view of the warm light.

Stupid, so stupid.

And she had really believed that it would be harder. She snorted quietly to herself. For all their talk and fear over her, they hardly ever looked in her direction, especially not at night; none of them knew that, when they gathered around the meagre warmth of the fire to swap stories, she lay quietly in her cell, slowly absorbing the warmth of the fire. She wondered how long it would have taken for them to notice she was gone; if she didn’t have to kill them to get out, she guessed it might take them until the morning, when they brought her her pathetic excuse for a breakfast.

This night, she took care to act no differently than she usually did. With five full nights’ worth of fire in her, she was certain she could do plenty of damage. Really, a little campfire like that wasn’t ideal - the sun would have been much more effective and much faster, but really it all came down to the same: her powers came from flame, from heat; and through their carelessness, her guards had just ensured her freedom.

Helga tried not to think that, while seven days was much less than she had originally envisioned when she woke up in such a cleverly located cell, it was still too long for Finn to have gone without food or help. 

She tried to focus on the good feeling of finally being able to feel alive again, as she settled down in her corner of the cell, where she could see the fire from.

Tonight, she’d be back with Finn, and this time she would make damn sure they never got separated again.


Dark had fallen a long time before Helga decided to act. Pushing up from the floor, she concentrated on the chains keeping her tied to the back wall of the cell. They burned a bright orange at the connecting point to the manacles around her wrists, and then fell with a clang back against the wall, leaving her free.

She paused for a minute, listening to make sure that the noise hadn't woken the guards at the end of the hall. When she didn’t hear any footsteps headed her way, she took a deep breath and made her way to the door of the cell quietly, careful to avoid her plate and cup on the ground by the door. 

She steadied her breathing and focused her energy on the lock, covering it with her hand. Once again, the metal glowed a bright orange as it melted inside, and the cell door swung open - thankfully silently. Peering out of her cell, Helga took a moment to thank the gods that everything had gone well so far. It had been unlikely, she knew, but there was always the chance that the clanging chains or the open door would attract undue attention.

She knew, however, that this was the easy part; what came next was the hard portion of her escape, and she had two choices. She could go out blazing fire everywhere. It would be a massacre, and she would be forced to use up every ounce of fire energy she had, leaving her vulnerable on the outside. Or she could tiptoe out, using fire only when needed, and knocking out guards the old-fashioned way along her way. The problem was, she didn’t know the way out, and with guards still alive, she’d be hunted through their territory; she’d have to take a hostage to show her the way.

It was doable, but much riskier than option one.

It wasn’t, she reflected, as if she was against murder. Being an assassin for hire, murder was as much part of her life as air. Still, she couldn’t quite justify killing who only knew how many people  who were, after all, only following orders. If she had been payed to do it, it would have been different. She needed the money to look after Finn, and there really was nothing she wouldn’t do for her brother; keeping him alive was her main goal, and her only hope to escape her life of death and destruction.

The corridor outside her cell flickered in the feeble light from a fire, and as she approached the lone soldier, who looked way too young for such a job - sitting in front of the flame, she felt her soul reach hungrily towards the flame, taking its’ heat into herself, giving her a boost of energy. This was the closest she had been to an open flame since she had been kidnapped, and the feeling was almost heady.

Forcing herself  to concentrate, she guided the fire so that it jumped high in the direction of the soldier, distracting him from anything but the flames in front of him.

“Shit!” he exclaimed, jumping back as the flames licked a the air directly in front of him, missing his face by inches.

As he was busy avoiding the heat, Helga crept up behind him and nimbly swiped his knife from where it sat in the sheath at his waist. 

He stopped cursing when he felt the tip of the blade press against his neck, and wet deathly still. For one highly amusing moment, Helga almost thought he had stopped breathing altogether.

She grabbed his right shoulder with one hand, using the other to keep the knife pressed against the left side of his neck.

“You’re going to take me out of here,” she told him softly, not daring to raise her voice too much in case there were other guards nearby. “And you’re going to do it in the least used way possible, because if we do run into others, it won’t be good for your friends. Understand?”

“H… How did…?”

“Never mind that! Do you understand me?”

“Y-yes, my lady.”

She frowned at his words, but shrugged it off as a delusional man trying to get on her good side. Sadly for him, she didn’t have one.

“Well get moving then,” she growled, poking him in the neck with the tip of his knife.

Trembling, he started shuffling ahead, with her still holding on to him. 

“Where are the other guards stationed?”

“T-there’s two m-more at the t-top of the stairs,” he stuttered, nearly tripping over his own feet. He gave out a faint squeak when his almost-trip caused her to involuntarily clutch him tighter, and the knife slipped, slicing a thing cut on his shoulder.

“Stop squealing like a pig,” she snapped. “If you give me away, I’ll have no use for you.”

As they came to the top of the stone spiral staircase, Helga spotted another campfire, this one much bigger than the one her hostage had had downstairs. So maybe they weren’t entirely clueless, then, she mused.

She pulled her guide back down a few steps until the glow of the fire disappeared again. “How often do they rotate guards up here?”

“E-every f-five hours.”

“When did these guys’ shift start?”

He shrugged. “About an hour ago?”

She nodded, took a deep breath and pulled the knife from his throat. The without warning, she flipped her hand and hit him over the head with the hilt of the blade. He crumpled, and she caught him before he could collapse to the floor. Laying him down quietly, Helga crept back up the stairs, stopping just at the edge of the warm glow from the campfire. She could hear four male voices and one female one; five guards seemed a little overkill to her, but she didn’t question it.

She took a second to use the heat from the fire to create a mirage around her, bending the light to obscure her from view as she stepped out of the stairwell. Her mirage wouldn’t work for very long; they’d notice the waves of heat were all concentrated in one place and get suspicious, but it gave her enough time to do what she needed.

Quick as an arrow, she shot out from the stairwell, and jumped on the closest guard, hitting him over the head like she had with her guide. Then, as the other four turned around, looking for the attacker, she dropped the mirage, simultaneously pulling two knives from the fallen guard, and throwing the knife she’d already had. It sunk into the woman’s leg, and she let out an enraged scream.

One of the men, the one closest to her, pulled out a knife, but she used the unconscious guard as shield, threw him at her attacker, momentarily taking him out of the equation, as he tried to catch his friend and keep him from falling face-first on the ground. Whirling, she saw that the woman had pulled a gun.

Not fair, she thought incredulously. She flicked a thought in the woman’s direction, and her adversary dropped the object with a yell, as it glowed orange. At the same time, she threw her two other knives, landing them in the shoulders of the two other guards that had been rushing toward her. They went down with a thud, and she leapt at them.

She relieved them of their knives, threw one at the woman who was trying to walk on her injured leg towards another corridor - to get help, Helga supposed - whirled and swept her feet as she went, toppling the second guard. When all five guards were down, she went around knocking the four conscious ones out, and taking knives from their still forms.

She hesitated for a second before swiping the gun off the floor too. 

She did’t much care for them, preferring blades, but she also didn’t want these guys using it against her.

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