Kill me now, Arianna thought.
Her head pounded so much she couldn't open her eyes. Nor did she want to, knowing that any light hitting her pupils would only intensify that pain beyond her mortal body's threshold.
What had happened to her?
Even concentrating on remembering hurt.
Then it all came crashing back; the attack on the men that had been responsible for the Tiger Lord’s death; her own duel with the captain - who turned out to be royal - and losing sight of Aaron.
Where was she?
And where was Aaron? Was he alive? Did he manage to escape?
She risked more of a headache to orientate herself. If this was hell, she needed to know sooner rather than later. If it wasn't, then wherever it was, she was sure it was going to take all her skills of survival to get herself out of it.
But before opening her eyes and relying on sight, she let her other senses gather details of her surroundings.
It was something they'd taught her to do. Most people relied heavily on their eyes. Take that away and they were helpless. Her teachers trained her to learn as much, if not more, from her less used senses. To the point where they were now as sharp as her eyesight. It still helped if she cut off the option of sight though.
First off, sounds. Dripping water, hitting stone. Heavy stone, the drops splashing off in various directions. Splashes echoing in what could only be a cavernous space.
She tasted the dampness, too. Her tongue fizzed with the squalor in the air. A mix of shit, piss, much fear and anxiety. As well as other pains without words.
The smells of desperation filled her nostrils too. It made her want to vomit badly. But she swallowed it back. Her’s would only add to the sickening stench.
For the first few seconds she opened her eyes she saw nothing but darkness, thick, and impenetrable. She blinked a few times, willing her heavy eyes to concentrate on seeing more within the night that enveloped her.
Eventually, shapes assembled in her sights.
She was in a small stone cell, metal bars to her right and solid bricks on all of the other three walls. No windows.
Great, she had wound up in a prison.
Still, it was more easy to manoeuvre an escape from here, than from death. Alebeit it tricky in itself. But she could do it, she just had to learn what she could about the prison she was in; it's structure, the guards and their rotations. Nothing too strenuous.
Except there was no guards in sight. And no proper light either.
When she crawled to look out the bars, her hands cut to shreds and causing her shooting pains every time she pressed them on the moist floor, she only saw more and more cells. With their inhabitants all shrouded in shadows.
“Hello?" she tried to say, but her throat was so dry only a crackled shriek came out.
Silence echoed all around her.
Were none of the other prisoners making a noise? Or, as she let her thoughts wander, was she the only one in here? Or worse, were the other prisoners already too close to the point of death to bother talking?
That last scenario didn’t sit well inside her stomach.
Suddenly, the small, single person sized cell she was in, became even more smaller. The walls pressing up against her. The air on limited supply and her lungs coughing hard in an attempt to rake as much of it in as they could. Her heart beat at lightening pace and slowly, she felt her limbs go all numb with that same sense of panic she always got when she was in enclosed spaces.
Damn her claustrophobia.
No weaknesses, she told herself. The only way to be the best and survive was to show no weakness. So she’d brave herself and get over it.
Get over it, she repeated under her breath.
Until beat by beat, breath by breath, her panic subsided and she returned to a normal state.
She was exhausted by it, and slumped against the damp wall, feeling that dampness seep through her tunic, wetting her back. Shivering, she let herself the peace of sleep.
Hours, days, maybe even weeks went by in this manner. Arianna falling in and out of a restless sleep, stumbling her way through her usual nightmares of blurred shapes and the sense of panic and loss. Along with bursts of flame and smells of burning flesh. Those old nightmares now accompanied by new scenes, of the Tiger Lord’s corpse chasing her, or the Tiger Lord’s brother slitting her throat for not carrying out his revenge. As well as relentless bouts of darkness. The darkness in her dreams had fangs, large, dripping, yellow dripping that chewed her up over and over again.
The more she woke up screaming, the more responsive sounds she would hear around the prison. There was some uncomfortable shuffling, some murmurs in languages she couldn't catch, and even rats squealing for her to stop. An even though she had no way of measuring the time, the nightmares always ended with a bleak unconsciousness.
For which she was thankful.
"Am I going to have to throw this water to wake you up?"
Arianna scowled. She wasn’t sleeping, not really. Nor did she consider herself awake. A lengthy lethargy existed inside of her. She didn’t want to have to move at all.
"Try it and see what I do to you,” she warned whoever had arrived at her cell.
"He did say you had quite the mouth on you."
"I have more than a violent mouth. Come closer and find out?”
She had no idea who she was verbally sparing with, but after an indeterminable amount of time in sheer darkness and with no conversation but her own screams, she was both tired and in a foul mood. Whoever they were, they were just making it worse.
"Eat up, girl."
Arianna exploded. She thrashed herself against the bars. "Where am I?" She demanded to know. To her annoyance, the silhouette did not step back in fear of her. He remained stood in front of her cell, staring her down. Although she couldn't pick out individual features, she felt his expressionless face on her.
"Why would I tell you that?" he asked blankly.
Her brain erupted in more aching, still at the mercy of that head wound. Something not totally mortal told her that he was the one who’d hit her.
"Because if you don't, when I get out of here, you will be the first person I come looking for."
The man did not move. He quietly set the water down where she could reach it with extended arms through her cell and then slid a tray of food under the very, very thin gap beneath the bars. Then he walked away.
So he hadn't taken her bait.
He was well trained.
But the next guard, well, she hoped he wasn't as experienced.
Arianna kept track of the minutes from the man's first visit to the next visit, which was from him again, and it was a whole twenty four hours. So at least she had some semblance of life ticking away. Except that it was the same man who returned and who would now not engage with her in any conversation, no matter how hard she goaded him And she said some awful things to get him to talk back to her. She knew it was necessary for to glean any information she could about where she was, but Goddess above, he gave her absolutely nothing.
She got so frustrated she crushed one of the water cups he gave her, until it was completely flattened. It wasn't a weapon as such, but more to grab his attention. For at every return visit, he collected the cup and tray as part of his protocol with her. So when she didn't give the water cup back, he'd have to come into her cell.
Then she'd strike.
"Where is your cup?” he asked.
Arianna shrugged loudly.
"I don't have time for this," he growled.
"Why?"Arianna asked innocently.
"Because I-" he stopped short, regaining that steal composure of his. "Fine. Die of thirst tonight, I don't care."
And with that he walked away without giving her any fresh water, or food.
Well that backfired, she thought angrily. And what's worse was her stomach was already howling it's demands for a meal. So she had to try to sleep that night with an empty stomach, moaning at her the entire time.
The next morning, or what she guessed was morning, her empty stomach had formulated another plan to get her out of here.
"Hey!" She screamed. "Hello? Hey! Hellooo? Hey!"
She'd been screaming this way for about an hour now and although she'd heard movement from upstairs - which told her there was an upper level - no one had come down yet. The other prisoners were starting to join in now too. Although their moans were no-where near as loud or as strong as hers. They were much more beaten, but not beaten to the point where they’d given up. And they joined in to give her a chorus.
Eventually, doors slammed open somewhere in the distance.
Three pairs of feet stamped on the ground, coming to stop in front of her cell. With them, they carried a torch. After so long in the dark, her eyes were dazzled by the light and she was forced to close them, missing out on vital details. But she still screamed to keep her guards there for when her eyes adjusted.
"Quiet!" shouted that now familiar flat tone.
"No." The chorus continued to ring around the stone walls, making it seem like there were thousands of them trapped down there. Which might have been an accurate number of course, except she had no way of knowing.
"If you do not stop screaming,” the man warned. “I will stop you myself."
She grinned like an all too-clever cat at him. "I would welcome that very much," and she levelled the loudest scream at him she could generate.
Some spit even hit his face.
At that, she saw a little of that composure melt away before he unlocked her cell, stormed in and grabbed her by the hair. Arianna screamed, in pain this time, as he yanked her out of the cell.
He threw her at the other two guards.
"See to it that she looses that attitude."