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Sunday, 8 April 2012

Dark Decisions (Part 1) - Fiction

Apart from Six Sentence Sunday, I don't usually post fiction on my blog. I made an exception in the A to Z Blogging Challenge, and so far this month I have posted the first half of a short story. I have chosen to repeat it here for those of you who missed it. 

If you're interested in following my progress on the A to Z Blogging Challenge, you can find it on Somebody Has To Say It.

The second part of this story will be posted here next Sunday, or on Somebody Has To Say It throughout the coming week. 

~

A siren screeched in the bowels of the prison. Colonel Drada furrowed his aching forehead against the sound. The prison guard escorting him looked to the steel door, a few yards ahead, and back towards the stairs spiralling down into the dungeon depths. 

 ‘You can find your way out, sir? I really should…’ The guard glanced towards the stairs again and shuffled his feet.

 Drada flicked thick-knuckled fingers. ‘Go, man. The door’s right there and I’ve been this way dozens of times. I’m sure I’ll be fine.’

The guard snapped off a hasty salute and disappeared into the dank recesses of the dungeon. The flames of the sparse torches flickered in the breeze of his passing. 

The siren wailed unabated in the distance. Drada combed fingers through greying black hair and stepped towards the door.
‘Psst!’ A hand beckoned from a door to his left, cracked barely wide enough to reveal a bloodshot blue eye. The crack widened, exposing a hooked nose and creased face.  

Drada hesitated. One finger flicked the gold braid on the opposite sleeve. Noticing, he forced both hands to his sides, jerking the jacket of his uniform straight and squaring his shoulders militantly. ‘Gan? Sergeant Gan?’

‘Shhh! Don’t be telling everyone I’m here.’

‘I haven’t seen you in months.’

‘We’re not allowed to see anyone.’ The eye rolled wildly in each direction. 

Drada glanced up and down the hall; there was no one to see.  ‘Not allowed?’ Drawn on by fascination, he drifted closer to the door and its eye. ‘By whom? What’s the siren?’

Gan swung the door open wider. He wore chain mail over the prison guard uniform, but no weapon hung from his belt. ‘Keep your voice down. It’s the escaped prisoner alert.’ The sergeant waved his hands as Drada reached for his sword. ‘There’s no escaped prisoner. I set it off to get you alone.’  He pulled Drada through the door, ignoring the colonel’s raised eyebrows. Closing the door, he leaned against the wood, barrel chest rising and falling rapidly. In another man, Drada would have said it was panic, but Gan didn’t panic. Drada looked closer. Gan’s skin was grey with exhaustion, his hair lank and tangled; more white now than iron-grey. He had aged years in the months since Drada saw him last. 

‘What’s going on?’ Drada’s voice firmed, the voice of a colonel expecting an answer and no longer that of a man talking to a long-absent friend. In the distance, the siren cut off mid-shriek. Drada shivered in the sudden, ominous silence. 

‘People are disappearing. Prisoners, mostly. Some guards. The ones who ask the wrong questions.’ Gan’s blue eyes flickered left, right, and left again. They were in a long, unlit service tunnel. Dust and debris littered the floor. It was dark, except for a solitary candle fixed in a puddle of melted wax on the floor. ‘Amlay. Sawsey. Randlin.’ He rattled off a list of prisoners, some Drada knew, some he didn’t. 

‘Sawsey was transferred. I signed the papers myself.’

‘Of course, there has to be a legitimate reason for absent prisoners. But he didn’t get on the wagon; I was there. There’ll be an ‘accident’ en route to the new prison, a body provided, and he’ll be marked down as dead on arrival. He might be dead, but it weren’t en route.’

Drada’s mouth worked but no words came. Gan was a stalwart soldier, a man formerly of his own command, reliable to a fault, but this… If it was true, it must encompass a huge number of people, not only here, but on the transport wagons, in other cities... too many to tally. ‘This is a lot to take in.’

‘You have to believe me!’ Gan thrust his face into Drada’s, his breath hot on the colonel’s skin. ‘I can show you. I know where the prisoners go.  I know what they do with them.’ A shudder wracked his big frame, and a haunted look flashed through his eyes. ‘I wish to the gods I didn’t.’ 

Drada’s thoughts raced. ‘You set off the alert. You planned this. You planned me. Why me?’  Beneath the thick, dark wool of his coat, goosebumps ran down his arms. 

Gan’s eyes darted away, dark with the shadow of memories. ‘I know what they do with the prisoners,' he repeated. His words sounded as though they were dragged from him. ‘They’re taken to a sorcerer.’

Drada’s breath caught. His chest felt as if it were crushed until he couldn’t breathe. ‘A… sorcerer?’ 

Gan hunched impressive shoulders, appearing small despite his bulk. ‘Yeah.’ Blue eyes held Drada’s grey ones, but the sergeant looked like he’d rather be elsewhere. ‘You still got that chain?’

The colonel’s hand dropped to his belt pouch. ‘It’s…’ His throat seized on his son’s name. ‘It’s for Phaeton.’

‘I know.’

Drada’s mouth worked soundlessly. Gan’s face drooped in a frown and he patted the colonel’s shoulder awkwardly. Drada clutched the pouch and its precious cargo. He’d known this day would come, but it had always been tomorrow. Tomorrow didn’t need thinking about. Everyone knew tomorrow never came. 

‘You’re sure?’ Drada hadn’t seen his son for nearly three years, not since charges were brought for  practising illegal, experimental sorcery on humans. 

‘I was virtually an uncle to that boy, Drada. I’m sure it’s him.’

Drada trembled, battered by a hurricane of emotion. When the storm passed, he found himself leaning against the wall and gasping for breath. Gan offered a hand, but Drada brushed him aside. His hand switched between the hilt of his sword and the pouch. Which? Neither option bore contemplation. One would put an end to it now, one would pass responsibility to others. One would offer irrevocable finality, the other the possibility of no closure at all. Neither should be for a father to execute. 

‘Where?’ His voice rasped, so hoarse it was barely audible over the stamp of his boots on the prison’s bare stone floor. 

Grabbing the candle, Gan hurried to catch up, his mail jingling. ‘Phaeton?’

‘Who else?’

Gan waved his hands to signal his helplessness. ‘The prison warden? The lord governor?’ His voice hushed. ‘Duke Alcon? Many are involved, you could want…’ He trailed off under the baleful, grey, glare. ‘This way.’

They took a narrow stairwell, spiralling deep underground. Drada counted the floors. They passed the prison’s upper levels and into the lower, forgotten levels; levels the king had ordered bricked up, levels heavy with the dark secrets of the past. He saw the broken brickwork where sealed doorways had burst asunder. No man with a hammer had wrought that damage. The edges of the bricks gleamed, melted and glassy in the weak candle flame; evidence a sorcerer had been this way.

They trod through the darkness of the horrific past, and deeper into ancient history; a time of whispered fear and half-formed legends. Finally, the stairs spilled out deep in the bowels of the prison. This was a place Drada had never stood, not even before the king’s edict. The walls here were rough, unformed by human hands. He stared into a vast cavern, stalactites and stalagmites spearing the empty space. In the distance, a red glow burned. Rumour spoke of a lake of magma, fuelling the worst and darkest of the ancient sorceries. Drada’s gut clenched. 

Voices echoed out of the glowing darkness, distorted and twisted by the confining stone. It was impossible to tell how many men or where. Drada shrank backwards into the cold, rough wall.

Extinguishing the candle, Gan pushed him forward. ‘Prison guards,’ he whispered. ‘Making a delivery.’ He nudged Drada into a shallow hollow in the wall. 

Drada pressed himself hard against the stone, but the depression was too shallow to offer any real cover. His heart thudded inside his ribcage as the voices drew nearer. Gan dug his fingers into Drada’s arm. He froze. Sweat trickled down his nose as together they peered into the red shadows.

Don't forget to check back next Sunday for Part 2. 

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Author's Note: Due to the time constraints of the A to Z Challenge, this piece of fiction has not undergone my usual rigorous editing process and is essentially a first draft. 

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