This story is by A.R. Harlow and was part of our 2018 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The palace was like a maze. From every hallway, there was a series of twists and turns that led to winding passageways and corridors that seemed to lead nowhere. Instead of portraits adorning the palace walls, there were shattered swords, grotesque depictions of violent slayings that moved and repeated like a video, obscene acts featured on risqué murals, framed undergarments, and thousands of swirling designs. It was nearly impossible to distinguish one hallway from another, which added to the danger the two young girls faced. The only indication for direction was the door that they had blasted through.
“Allee.” The girl stopped and placed a hand on her brunette friend. “I am scared.” Her voice fell almost mute in the corridors.
Allee’s emerald eyes studied her friends face, she reached over and brushed a stray curl back. “Karica… I am too. We blasted down the door… because for the first time.. we have people to go back to… who care about us.” There was a quiet determination in her voice. For all they knew, they might never make it out of there. But they had to try. Daveed, a main source of their pain, was a master of illusions and cruelty, and in a palace of his own creation, it left them limited in how to escape. His magical wards prevented them snapping their fingers to disappear from there, and in a battle of magic, their level of skill and knowledge would be nothing compared his years of experience and overwhelming amount of power. Too often, they experienced the sick old man who dressed them up and made them perform for his pleasures. It was not happening again, no matter the cost of it.
They stood in the stuffy corridor, they would have to make a good choice because their first choice may be the only one they got. Allee rubbed her hands over her bare arms, cold seizing her momentarily before passing. Suddenly, Allee grabbed Karica’s arm and started running down a corridor to their left as quickly as she could “I felt fresh air.”. It meant there was an accessible outside.
Out of nowhere the rush of another person running resounded. “Stop!” Came his thick accented voice. “I will not let you go!” His long legs gave him an advantage. His hand reached for the thin fabric that was flying behind Allee. She slid on the floor to avoid his hand, hitting the source of the wind suddenly; a large window that oversaw the gardens and the woodland behind it. The window flickered into view as his concentration faltered when he lost his footing.
Karica slammed hands first into the frame, and peered out the window, clearly seeing the grounds below them and realizing that their only way out was… not ideal. Sure, there was magic and in theory they could use it and land safely, but with distractions, there was little chance of landing successfully. The magic that flowed on Torieia was a strong magic, but the pitfall to it was it required extra concentration to perform, the slightest distractions and a flying charm would just become a slowing charm. But if they stayed…
There was one moments hesitation between them. Daveed had gotten to his feet, mere inches away from them, and the window began to distort as his illusions struggled to take hold of the corridor. There was no time left. Allee took one look out the window and to the grounds far below them and then back to him. Something in his face gave her the courage to jump. They both clambered into the window and locked arms, his hands grasping the air directly behind them. Despite her fear of heights, Allee managed to bite back her screams as they plummeted and tried to use a simple levitation spell, the glow of magic surrounded them and slowed their fall. Her concentration faltered and the spell failed because of his brief, but loud, agonized yells above them. The seconds seemed to go in a fast-forward motion with the ground rapidly approaching underneath them.
Karica let her grip go and she made a swift sweeping motion with both her arms, her magic flowing around them before it sank to the ground and left a silver glow where they would land, casting a strong cushioning charm on the ground to lessen the impact. Karica’s focus remained strong even as the whooshing above them began, signaling that they would have but moments to spare to get away from him, his leisurely descent not buying them much time, if any after they landed.
Allee had to force her eyes open, the pain she felt radiating down her lower back and into her legs was debilitating and the pins and needles sensations sent her mind spiraling with all the possibilities, none of them sounding any better than the last in terms of recovery. Her panic settled in as she realized she didn’t immediately see Karica and Daveed was quickly approaching. It was only when she was pulled upright and given a crutch set that was configured out of the branches that lay around the vast gardens they were in, that she knew Karica was alright as much as she could be, though she too, was using crutches made from the nature around them.
Their scrape with death was nothing compared to the threat of him catching them after the daring escape they had managed. With little strength left in them, they started toward the thickest bushes, it guaranteed the way toward the edge of his magical wards which were designed to stop anyone from going in or out freely. Each step they made through the gardens thickest brush was one they paid the penalty for, it served only to weaken them and increase the damage that had already been done in the fall they had emerged from.
The thick undergrowth served to slow Daveed down, he was not aware of the lay outside of his palace. The heavy black vines of the trees, the tall and thick stalks of the flowers that were blooming in every color imaginable impeded and served to distract him, each movement of the flowers made him snap his head back and forth to perceive their movements and discern if it was Karica or Allee.
As exhaustion crept into both girls and the pain from their wounds subsided to numbness, the bush behind them blew apart. They had nowhere left to hide, the thick brush around them was partially on fire and he stood barring any other escape, his hands glowing with magic and a thick aura around him. Allee took Karica’s hand in hers, and she let the crutches drop. She envisioned a picturesque village cafe and called up magic between her thumb and index fingers, before snapping them together, his horrendous screech echoing even as the scene faded before them and they landed in the middle of a warm, good-smelling cafe that held the people they cared for.
Immediately, the village healer was called to help tend one of the girls, though she didn’t know either of them. Elesa did however, she was not just their healing professor at Lyestone, the school they attended, but she had become a friend and akin to a mother especially to Allee. Mesu, the village healer decided to tend Karica, whose wounds were less severe. She was precise, her magic flowing around each wound, helping to close it or knit back together bones, but she was detached. Elesa tended Allee, ensuring each wound was carefully tended, her emotions written all over her face. Elesa looked at Allee, she knew she would be unable to receive answers to her burning questions
When the healing stabilized both girls, the tables they were on were transfigured into beds for the girls to rest in. The people in the room, Jackle, Elesa, Mesu, and Hattie gathered around a table a few feet away and settled in to talk.
Jackle glanced over at the girls. “Will they be alright?” His voice laced with concern.
There was a pause. “With time… Allee might regain the ability to walk. I doubt she can even feel below the waist now.” Elesa stated cautiously.
“That is..” Jackle stumbled over his words as he looked at her. “Not good… It means she can’t afford to go through more of this…?” He questioned lightly, trying not to arouse too much curiosity from Mesu.
Elesa made a small hand motion which meant to save the rest of his own questions until later. “In short. No. Her body cannot handle it. There are signs of severe trauma, she has to be free from all of that in order to heal.”
“The other girl will have a limp and occasional pain. Otherwise, she will be fit as a fiddle in a couple months.” Mesu seemed to understand there was more to the conversation then meets the eye and she dropped the conversation, ducking out shortly after.