Poison Study Page 91

“What about Butterfly’s Dust?” I asked.

“Doesn’t exist. I made it up. It sounded good. I needed some threat to keep the food tasters from running away without using guards or locked doors.”

An unwelcome thought popped into my head. “Does the Commander know it’s a ruse?” If he did, Mogkan would also know.

“No. He believes you’ve been poisoned.”

During the night, it was hard for me to remember that I had not been poisoned. Torturous cramps refused to release me. I crawled around the cell, retching and screaming.

I was vaguely aware, at one point, of Brazell and Mogkan gloating over me. I didn’t care that they watched. I didn’t care that they laughed. All I cared about was finding a position that would alleviate the pain.

Finally, I fell into an exhausted sleep.

I woke lying on the muck-covered floor of the cell. My right arm stretched through the bars. I marveled more over the fact that I clutched Valek’s hand than the fact that I was alive.

“Yelena, are you all right?” The concern in Valek’s voice was evident.

“I think so,” I replied with a rasp. My throat burned with thirst.

A clank rang out as someone unlocked the prison door.

“Play dead,” Valek whispered, releasing my hand. “Try to get them close to my cell,” he instructed as two guards came into the dungeon. I yanked my Valek-warmed hand into the cell, and poked my ice-cold left hand out just as the men descended the stairs.

“Damn! The stench down here’s worse than the latrine after a brew party,” said the guard holding the lantern.

“You think she’s dead?” the second guard asked.

With my face to the wall, I closed my eyes and held my breath as the yellow light swept my body.

The guard touched my hand. “Cold as snow-cat piss. Let’s drag her out before she starts to rot. You think it smells bad now…” The snap of the lock was followed by a squeak of metal as the cell door opened.

I concentrated on being a dead weight while the guard dragged me out by my feet. When the light moved away from me, I risked a peek. The guard with the lantern walked ahead to light the way, leaving my upper body in darkness. As we passed Valek’s cell, I seized the bars with both hands.

“Ugh. Hold up, she’s stuck.”

“On what?” the lantern guard asked.

“I don’t know. Come back here with that bloody light.”

I released my grip, hooking my arm inside the cell.

“Back off,” the lantern guard warned Valek.

His meaty hand tugged at my elbow. Then he grunted softly. I opened my eyes in time to see the lantern’s light extinguish as it toppled to the ground.

“What the hell?” the other man exclaimed. He was still holding my feet. He backed away from Valek’s bars.

I bent my legs, pulling my body close to his boots. He yelped with surprise when I grabbed his ankles. He tripped and fell back.

The sickening crunch of bone striking stone wasn’t what I expected. His body went limp. I stood on shaky legs.

Hearing a thud and the jingle of keys, I turned back in time to see Valek lighting the lantern. The other guard was propped against the bars, his head cocked at an unnatural angle.

In the weak glow, I gazed at the prone form at my feet. The soldier’s head had struck the edge of the bottom step. A black liquid began to pool around my boots. I had just killed another man. I began to tremble. A fourth man had died because of me. Had the robbing of my soul reduced me to a heartless killer? Did Valek feel any remorse or guilt when he took a life? I watched him through a veil of blood.

Efficient as always, Valek stripped the dead guards of their weapons.

“Wait here,” he instructed. Unlocking the main door of the prison, he sprang through the entrance to the guardroom.

Shouts, grunts and the sound of flesh striking flesh reached my ears as I waited on the stairway. No remorse, no guilt, Valek did what he had to for his side to win.

When Valek motioned me to join him, I saw that blood had splattered on his face, chest and arms. Three guards, either unconscious or dead, were strewn about the room.

My backpack sat on a table, its contents scattered about. I stuffed everything back in while Valek tried to open the remaining locked door between freedom and us. Although meager, I wanted my possessions, including my butterfly and amulet, back. Once I wrapped the chain around my neck, I felt strangely optimistic.

“Damn,” Valek said.


“The Captain has the only key to this door. He will open it when it’s time to change the guards.”

“Try these.” I handed Valek my picks.

He grinned.

While he worked on the lock, I found a pitcher of water and a wash barrel. The fear of being caught couldn’t override the desire to rinse off my face and hands. But that was not enough. The need to rid myself of the stench of vomit and blood overpowered me. Soon, I was dumping buckets of water over my head until I was soaked through. I drained half the water pitcher before I thought to offer some to Valek. He stopped to drink, then continued to pick the lock.

Finally, it popped open. Valek peered out into the hallway. “Perfect. No guards.” He pulled the door wide. “Let’s go.”

Taking my hand and a lantern, Valek turned away from our only escape, and led me back down into the prison, pausing to leave the door to the cells wide open as well.

“Are you insane?” I whispered as he dragged me toward the last cell. “Freedom’s that way.” I pointed.

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