Even though her feet were dragging, and all she wanted to do was get into bed, she didn’t go there straight away.
Night had spread it’s cloak over the sky. The temperature had dropped, making her long sleeved tunic more appropriate. Arianna was lost in her thoughts, so the slight chill didn’t bother her at all. The air just flew over and around her as she stalked her way to her destination.
The prisons were manned in shifts. Arianna knew the shift patterns and used this, as well as the shadow of the night, to slip in without anyone seeing her.
They didn't have the materials in the ship to build a proper building to house criminals, so they had decided to construct it within what was already there; someone, long ago had discovered a series of tunnels that had naturally formed underground. It hadn't taken much to modify those tunnels into cells.
Which meant that to access the prisons, you had to descend a set of uneven stairs until the path split off into several dark tunnels.
Tunnels closest to the surface were for the pits. They were filled with heavy sand packed tightly together that was also a naturally occurring phenomenon within the earth beneath the forest.
A person could be shackled and placed into the sand. Slowly, they would sink, until the sand came up to just below their noses. It was a cycle; if you thrashed about the sand would suck you in quicker, if you remained calm, you could manage to tread the sand with your nose above the surface.
If you feared enclosed spaces you were done for. Some prisoners had died because of this fear. Others struggled so much they slipped in further and were dead by the time they were pulled back out. The trick was to wait patiently. Of course in that time the only thing you could do was reflect on was your crime. This was the tiger lords way, a weird trial of rehabilitation.
Arianna had been placed in the pits several times in her life and each time she used it to meditate. It was actually nice to be alone and not have to train as well. She wasn't one to apologise for her crimes because she felt she never did anything without a valid reason. Mostly she was sent there for her insolence to orders or her stubborn behaviour, which drove the tiger lord and other trainers mad.
But the pits to her were not the worst punishment you could endure down here. No, there were worse goings on.
She dove down to where she knew the woman would be kept.
It was easy for Arianna to find her cell. There was a call to her that she couldn't explain, directing her without her seeing or hearing a thing.
When she arrived she almost didn't see the woman, due to how very little light they afforded the prisoners. But as Arianna reached the cell door the woman jumped forth from the shadow.
Arianna took a shocked step back and the woman cackled.
The brother had made sure she'd had the cell deepest into the ground and far away from any other human being. In fact, without that strange call to her, she would probably have turned back after seeing a whole row of empty cells, of which the woman's was the last.
Whilst the tiger lord's brother portrayed to everyone, mostly through violent demonstrations, that he wasn't scared of anything, this just showed he wasn't above a fear of magic. Or perceived magic at least.
Because Arianna stuck by her assessment that this woman could not possibly wield magic. Or there was no way she'd be locked up in a dank underground cell right now. Magic was power, and power could rarely be contained. It was why the current king was now king of the entire southern realm. The other kingdoms had been unable to defend against his onslaught of power. It also helped that he had the largest army the southern continent had ever seen.
"You came," the woman crooned.
Arianna didnt have a response for this so she just stared at the woman.
In the minimal light she looked even more haggered than this morning. Her withered and scarred hands on the metal bars made Arianna feel ashamed slightly. Whatever this woman was, she was not at all concerned with her appearance. Arianna could only speculate that the explanation was because her life had not contained other people for quite some time. Anyone living around people would never let their personal hygiene slip so spectacularly.
The woman started chanting words that Arianna had never heard. She'd had an affinity for languages and spoke, or could at least get by, with many of the languages on their continent. This was a result of the many refugees that converged on the ship, all seeking asylum from the southern king who had destroyed their homes. But this one sounded unlike anything that currently existed on the southern continent at least. It was filled with harsh sounds, the vowels hard and lots of hissing.
"What are you saying?" Arianna asked.
The woman kept chanting. Her pace was building. Words swirled around Arianna the way bees swarmed. They were completely unreadable to her.
“Tell me!” Arianna demanded.
The chanting stopped abruptly, though the words lingered for a short while after, as if the woman were slowly sucking them back inside of her.
“You are a strong girl,” the woman blinked back at her, unaware of Arianna’s disgust and frustration.
“If that’s your way of thanking me, you need to work on how you show your appreciation."
There was a ring in the distance that made Arianna look away. She didn’t have long before the guards would be doing their nightly patrols and she needed to be well away from here when that began. Visiting this woman was something she wouldn't be able to explain, not after today. It was too much hassle to deal with those associations.
Yet she’d come here for something, something she couldn’t put into thoughts. All she knew was she hadn’t found it yet, and she needed to stay.
When Arianna faced the woman again she was studying her intensely. It seemed like the woman was analysing every feature of her face. She suddenly felt self conscious, then cursed herself for feeling that way, since she was the one on the free side of the bars and the woman was probably going to be in the dark for an indefinite period of time. Especially if The tiger lords brother had anything to do with it.
The woman shook her head, disappointedly. “You don’t know who you are yet. Strong, but lost.”
“Excuse me?” Arianna was flabbergasted.
“You’ll never realise your full potential without understanding where you have come from. All that power, hidden away. Such a shame. A shame for this world.”
Who was she to judge her this way? They’d only met today and now she was claiming to know about her past, as well as her future. How dare she, Arianna thought.
“Listen here, woman. I saved your life today because you had been falsely accused of being a witch. But if I’d known you were a liar I would have let the brother get his way.”
The woman only stared back at her with those eyes wide with disappointment. Disappointed for what, she had no idea.
“This world is wounded. It needs to be healed. You must be the one to heal it, but you have much to learn."
The woman just continued. "Though it must be learnt soon, for time is running out. There will be no more sand left in the glass if you don't act now."
The pressure of her words hit Arianna like she imagined a tidal wave would break over the shore. Arianna was suddenly drowning under the weight of her sentence, containing things that stirred within her the questions she had been pushing down into deep enough places that they would never be able to surface.
"It's time for you to go home, Velektra."
"What did you call me?"
"You must go home."
"You are mad, old woman," Arianna insisted while backing away from the cell. The more she stepped back the further the woman faded into the shadows of the cell, becoming nothing more than two unblinking eyes.
"Your journey is only just beginning!" She called out to her.
That was it. Arianna ran.
She was hard on her heels, pounding the ground to get away as fast as she could. When she was out of the dense air within the prisons, and the freshness of the night met her, she fell against a tree and retched up everything she had eaten that day.
Until she was empty. And then she wretched up nothing.
Her emptiness had kept her safe from these kinds of feeling until now.
Yet this woman had somehow managed to turn that protection into a poison. The effects of which she was already starting to feel.
So Arianna resolved herself never to think of this woman again. Push the questions back into the box. They were valid questions and ones she had tortured herself over as a young child. But she was on the verge of womanhood and realised a long time ago that looking backwards only served to provide you with more hurt. It also prevented you looking forward to the person you could be. Despite what that old fool said, Arianna knew what and where she needed to be in the future.
Damned if some waste of a life who knew absolutely nothing about who she was or where she had come from, would tell her otherwise.