Someone kicks me. I groan at the sharp flare of pain.
“Leave me alone…” I mutter. “I don’t need another torture session.”
“Well fine then, I’ll leave you to your own matters then. But if you don’t want to get tortured, then I suggest you open your eyes and stand up for me.”
My eyes fly open, and I look up, meeting two dark orbs staring at me. The face above me splits into a smile.
“Tallima!” I reply, leaping to my feet. I barely manage to stand, before my legs give out under me again. I collapse with a little gasp of surprise- Tallima barely catches me before I hit the floor.
“Please tell me I’m not hallucinating…” I whisper. “Please tell me it’s really you.”
“It’s really me,” she promises. “Not a hallucination.”
“Are you sure?”
“Could I do this if I was a hallucination?” she lets go with one hand, then brings it sharply across my face in a vicious slap.
“Ow!” I protest. “Tallima! That hurt! Mental torture is bad enough, why did you have to slap me?!”
She grins mischievously. “To prove that I’m real, stupid.”
I laugh slightly. “Good enough for me.” The laugh fades as I look beside me. Kane lies there- still and silent. His breathing is faint.
“I think Kane’s dying,” I say softly. “We need to find help for him.”
Tallima sighs. “Dirty enchantress. I hate that kind of magic.”
Tallima meets my eyes, and I see the fear there. “Natalia… magic did this to him. Only magic can reverse this. And… well… there aren’t many magic uses left in the world. A sorcerer or sorceress could help him… a wizard would be the best, but they’re all dead. I don’t know what else we could do. For now, we need to get him out of here.”
I sigh. “I hate magic.”
“So do I. Now hurry.”
“How did you get in here?”
“Just hurry. Can you walk?”
“I… I think so.”
Slowly, I get to my feet. My legs are unsteady, but they hold me well enough. I drop to one knee beside Kane, and scoop him up into my arms. Then I follow Tallima.
She reaches the side of the cell, to where a rope is hanging. She gives it several sharp tugs, then steps into a loop that is tied at the bottom. She gestures for me to do the same, and I do, holding on with one arm, keeping the other wrapped around Kane. A moment later, the rope begins to rise.
“How?” I ask in disbelief.
She just smiles. “You have to know the right people.”
We reach the top of the long shaft, and I find myself face to face with a tall man- the one Tallima described for me before. He barely spares me a glance, turning to look at Tallima instead. The men around him, however, watch me with wary glances, as if they expect me to attack them at any second.
She kisses him lightly on the cheek. “Yes. I’m fine. Thank you.” She turns to look at me and grins. “Natalia, my father.”
“Nice to… meet you,” I manage. I back away slightly, pulling Kane a little closer to me.
He smirks. “Likewise, Devia.” He turns to look at Tallima. “You have a few minutes to get out of here. After that… you promise you’ll come home? Your mother’s been wanting to see you, and your brothers are there as well. And you have a little sister now.”
Tallima’s eyes light up. “I’ll come home soon, dad. I need to help my friend first.”
He nods, and I wonder if he is tearing up. “Then… be safe. I love you.”
“I love you too.”
He calls out to the men around him, and they quickly disappear down the stone hallway before us. Tallima glances back at me and smiles slightly, a blush rising on her cheeks. “I’ve missed him.”
I feel a twinge of jealousy. I never knew my family. And then I think of Kane. I think of the cruel voice of the girl- the Devia- one of us- who murdered his family. I think of how he watched the people he loved get stabbed- and killed- trying to defend him.
I try not to show it, but the visions hurt me. Reminding me of how the Devias looked up to me- that hurt. I had been like a good luck charm to them. If we ever were treated unfairly in the training- beaten too much, driven too hard, whatever happened- the others expected me to leap to the defense of whoever was punished. I never let them down. I always stood up for those that were too weak.
What happened to me? The Natalia that took a beating for younger, weaker Devias is not the same Natalia that lied to Kane, and ruined his life. They’re two different people. So which one is me?
Part of me knows that this was the enchantress’s plan- she wishes to hurt me. I shouldn’t listen. But it still hurts.
Tallima glances back at me, and I see concern flash across her face. “Natalia? Are you alright?”
I nod hurriedly. “I am. Let’s just… get out of here.”
Faint impressions press against my senses. None of them make much sense. Cold, then heat. Wind… wind? Why is there wind? Warmth, then a blinding brightness, extinguished just as quickly by a terrible blackness. None of them make sense to me. At some point I’m sure I hear a voice. It’s familiar. Natalia? I hear my name, but the rest is gibberish. Nothing makes any sense. I try to grasp the reality around me, but it is hopeless, and I slip into darkness again.
Time passes in a fluid way. It could be days, it could be hours, it could be minutes. All I know is that I am trapped in this semiconscious state. And there is nothing I can do about it.
At one point, I hear Natalia’s voice, and I feel a surge of hope. She is here. I try to speak. To call her name, but the words only come out jumbled. I give up, and let the blackness take me yet again.