This story is by Iris Marsh and was part of our 2019 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
She knew, from the moment she saw his diabolical smile, that it was over; there was no way he would let her live. She tried stretching her arms and flinched when the roots tied around her body, wrapped themselves even tighter.
He laughed at her. “You didn’t think it would be that easy, do you?”
She spat on the floor and looked at him. “Look, whatever it is you want to do, just get it over with already.”
He took a step towards her and put up his finger. “Now, now, why so hasty, Vena?” He smiled again and turned around to walk over to the large desk.
She squinted to try and see what he was doing, but the room was too dark.
He turned around again and showed her what he was holding: a vile filled with a blue substance.
She swallowed and stared at him with wide eyes. “Why?”
He laughed. “I thought that might make you less cocky. As for why I think you already know.”
She stared at him with a blank expression. “I didn’t choose to lead our people. They chose me.”
He rolled his eyes. “Exactly. They chose you. You! Over me! I have decades more experience with leading a tribe than you do, I’m a skilled magician, devoted to our God and Goddess, well-versed on our history and the politics of the other tribes. Choosing you made no sense at all.”
Vena raised an eyebrow. “Yes, you sure are the whole package.”
He nodded, unable to detect her sarcasm. “I am! So there is only one logical explanation for all the tribe elders to choose you. You rigged the election yesterday.”
“I did what?” She shook her head, letting out a nervous laugh. “I didn’t think you were such a sore loser, Balthazar.”
He suddenly came close; his head only inches from hers. “I’m not a loser. I’ve simply worked too long and too hard to let a spoiled brat, such as yourself, take it all away from me.”
Vena could feel the splatter of his saliva on her face as he turned away from her again.
He held the vial up in his hand, staring at the blue substance. “It will be over soon, don’t worry,” he whispered. She wasn’t sure if he was talking to her or himself.
She started to squirm within her bonds again; it was no use. She closed her eyes and started praying to the Goddess, to anyone who would hear, for a miracle. She looked around the dark room, but other than the desk, it was difficult to see anything.
Vena squirmed again when he came closer and opened the vile. “No, please, Balthazar. Just kill me, please, anything but that.” Her eyes grew wider when she looked at the determined look on his face.
He grinned as he took her face in his hand and squeezed hard as he pushed the vile with so much force that she had no choice but to open her mouth and swallow the substance. She coughed when he let her go, the sour and bitter taste of the potion penetrating her tongue.
“There, there. Good girl,” he said with a broad smile, showing his crooked teeth. “While I know this isn’t the nicest place to spend your time,” he said, spreading his arms, “I think it’s exactly what you deserve.”
Vena felt her heart racing as the panic started to spread through her body. “Please, just let me go. If I’m going to die anyway, just let me go.”
He laughed at her again. “You’re so ludicrous sometimes. Why would I let you go? Letting you go would not suit me at all. I simply want to stay here and watch you die in the most painful way possible. I estimate it will be about two hours when the poison takes its effect, slowly deteriorating your organs, your muscles and your bones. You’ll be screaming in agony,” he paused to stare to a space in front om him and smiled as he was picturing Vena’s pain. “And then, when you’re gone, I can take over the leadership, and all is as it should be.”
She let her head hang. “You’re sick,” she murmured. A tear escaped her eye and rolled over her cheek. He laughed in response.
Vena closed her eyes and imagined the faces of her people. They had all cheered for her when she walked up to the stairs to the platform where the previous leader handed her the ceremonial spear. She remembered the face of Todd. Sweet, precious, and handsome Todd; he had lifted her and swirled her around when she got down from the platform. He told her she deserved it and that she would make an outstanding leader, right before he kissed her. Another tear rolled across her cheek with the knowledge that she would never again taste his lips.
She looked up at Balthazar, who was now sitting on a chair across from her; the maniacal smile still on his face. “Fight me,” she said.
He looked at her with surprise. “Fight you? Now, why would I do that?”
“You said it yourself: you’re a skilled magician. Probably a better fighter than I am. Prove it,” she said, looking him straight in the eye.
A smile played around his lips. “Don’t think I will kill you when we’re fighting. I’m not going to end your misery prematurely,” he said.
She shook her head. “I know. I just think that if you claim to be better than me, you need to prove it. Unless you’re afraid…”
He stood up out of his chair. “Me, afraid? Preposterous. Of course I’m not afraid. And especially not of you.” He looked at her for a moment and then nodded. “Okay, very well then. I guess humiliating you even further by thrashing you can add to the fun.”
He held his hands in front of him. “Gurgi.”
Vena felt the roots around her body loosen, and her blood-flow returned. She stretched her hands, arms, and legs for a bit and stared at Balthazar, lowering herself into a crouch.
For a moment, they stared at each other. She grounded herself and felt the magic starting to pulse through her body.
Suddenly Balthazars’ hands were up: “Durara!”
She ducked and jumped to the side just in time as the blast hit the spot where she was standing, shattering the wooden floor. She quickly focused her attention on the table behind him.
“Gura.” The table flew over to Balthazar, knocking him off his feet.
In his confusion and struggle to get up, she ran to the opposite side of the room, stumbling over some nails that stuck out of the floor here and there. She felt her adrenaline pumping through her veins when she spotted a door. She shook the handle: locked.
“Bamaraadbang,” she murmured, keeping her hands on the door handle. She tried it again; it wouldn’t budge.
“It’s no use.”
Vena jumped as she heard his voice coming from behind her.
“The room is sealed off with magic by my accomplice. I instructed him to come back after three days. Extra safety measure.”
She turned around to face him; his wicked smile still on his lips. She let herself fall on her knees. His laugh echoed in her ears. She started breathing fast; the panic was setting in. She tried her best to slow her breathing and re-focus. She looked Balthazar in the eye, his broad smile still on his face.
“Then neither of us are going to get out of this alive,” she whispered.
He let out a scream of surprise as she jumped at him, taking him down as they fell to the floor.
“Danagal,” Vena said as she sat on top of him, immobilizing him. The wide eyes staring back at her were frozen.
With all her remaining strength, she grounded herself. She focused on the earth below her, praying to the Goddess to give her the strength she needed. She felt the accumulated magic pulsing through her body, getting stronger and stronger.
She stretched out her hands to the side. “Guwiyang!” She screamed as the fire came out of her fingertips, setting every inch of the walls around her on fire.
She collapsed next to Balthazar and smiled as she turned her head toward him. The compiled smoke from the fire made her cough; the smell was penetrating her nose.
“Now neither of us will get to rule,” she whispered in his ear as he still lay frozen next to her.
Vena closed her eyes, thinking of Todd. She saw his image clear before her as she slowly drifted off to unconsciousness, still with a smile on her face.