Somewhere in the distance, I hear a strange pulsing sound. Almost like the beat of a heart. I listen, and slowly the beat quickens. Then my eyes flutter open.
I am lying on my back on the stone floor. I am weak and exhausted, but I am alive.
How? How did this happen?
A voice speaks from somewhere near my head.
I obey without question, reaching out to take a canister that is being offered to me. But as I lift my hands, I see that they are bound by two strong links of metal.
“What… why?” I whisper.
The voice responds. “I’m sorry. I only did what I had to do to protect myself. Can you hold it?”
I try to grip the canister, but it slips out of my hands. It falls towards the floor, and I see a pale hand reach out and catch it just before it hits the ground.
“Easy,” the voice murmurs. “I’ll hold it for you. Just drink.”
I open my mouth, and whoever is speaking to me pours the water into my mouth. Then they pull it away. I hear footsteps, and then something else is offered to me. I eat it, and a strange fresh taste fills my mouth. It is like nothing I’ve ever tasted before, and I have no name for it.
“It’s called a peach,” the voice explains. “They only grow in warmer climates, so you wouldn’t find them here. But the townspeople do occasional favors for me, and this is one of them.”
I begin to speak, but I feel a hand go over my mouth, gently cutting the words off.
“Shh. Easy now. The poison would have killed you, given a few more minutes. But you’re safe now. The antidote will help. You will live. Are you still thirsty?”
I shake my head. The hand comes away, and I feel a hand beneath my shoulder blades, propping me up into a sitting position. I mutter a soft protest, but fall silent as I sit face to face with my captor for the first time.
“Kane…?” I whisper. It must be him. But at the same time, it cannot be him. Kane was supposed to be a man. Perhaps in his thirties or forties- or so we assumed. No one else could have that kind of crafting experience.
He nods, and I stare at him in shock. The inventor who we have heard so much about is no more than a boy. He studies me with dark brown eyes, which are framed by nearly white blond hair. He can’t be older than 15. This can’t be him.
“Yes,” he sighs. “Congratulations. You are the first Devia to meet me face to face. Not what you were expecting?”
“No...” I whisper softly. “You’re so…”
He sighs. “I see. Now, rest. The poison left you weak. If you need anything else to eat or drink, just tell me.”
He turns to go, but I call him back.
He turns again.
“Why?” I ask softly. “Why did you save me? You could have let me die. You could have protected yourself. You could have set the Queen back again. No one would find you.”
He considers that, before sitting back down. “Because no other girl has done what you did. Oh yes, some of them made it this far,” he adds, seeing my expression, “but they died like you were about to. They were arrogant, most of them, and made demands. They tried to trick me. But you… you put your life in my hands. And no one else did what you did. You reminded me of all the lost lives that were my fault. You called me out on it, and you made me feel ashamed. You called me a monster and murderer… and I understood. You weakened me. And so I saved you. You can call it guilt if you like.”
I nod slowly. “Kane, I- Thank you.”
“Don’t thank me,” he says softly. “Sleep. Survive. I don’t deserve anyone’s thanks.”
I hesitate, and go to speak again. “Kane-”
“Easy,” he murmurs back. “Just relax. We’ll talk when you wake.”
There’s not much else I can do, so I lean my head back, and sigh, letting darkness fill my vision yet again. This time I fall into a deep unbroken sleep.