Somehow I always manage to get myself into trouble. If Alistair was here he’d tell me I went looking for it, and the fact that I’m bound and gagged in this dirty, dug-out tunnel is my fault. Perhaps worst of all, my dress is completely ruined! Blood stains will never be in fashion, not for a high-class noble like myself anyway. I ached to incinerate the filthy, krait-loving bandits who did this to me!
It all started when I heard from sources that there was something untoward planned for the Minister’s Ball. I had spent the whole week trying to convince the head servant, Alistair, to dress up as a nobleman and go undercover with me. Of course I didn’t need him to go undercover, I wanted him to dress up more out of curiosity. Lately I had noticed many of the female servants blushing and giggling as he passed, a clear sign that in the servant world Alistair was quite attractive, a notion I had never entertained before. However, my interest was still piqued and I ordered for him one of the finest suits I could find. I was careful to make sure papa didn’t attend the party and wouldn’t find out. He would say the same thing as he says every time he catches wind of my schemes.
‘Kaysee, the servants are not your personal lackeys. If you treat them badly they will leave. Then who will help you into your elaborate dresses? Not me! I’ll let you suffer by yourself!’ My father’s words were empty of course, but it was oh so tiresome to have to hear them for the thousandth time. Even a quaggan would get impatient with one of my father’s lectures. Despite this, the notion of Alistair leaving amused me. It was as likely as Lord Caudecus falling head over heels in love with our dear Queen Jennah. In my mind, the gods had made only one spot for Alistair in the entire world, and that was by our side at the manor, in a strange way, he was practically family.
‘Alistair! What kind of person refuses the opportunity to dress up?’ I cried as Alistair flitted around the kitchen, checking the chef’s handiwork. The chef and assistant smiled at my outburst, though they kept their eyes firmly downcast on their work. Alistair sighed deeply.
‘Some one who doesn’t have their head in the clouds,’ he murmured, then gave a final order to the chef before striding out of the kitchen into the main hall. I growled and followed after him. He was checking the family portrait of our family when I stamped my foot and folded my arm. He turned and smiled at the sight of me.
‘There is no need for you to throw a tantrum,’ he started, an amused chuckle in his voice, but when I continued to glare at him he changed tact. ‘I’m sorry Lady Kaysee, but I respectfully decline your offer,’ he said, giving me a short bow and striding off once again.
‘Stop mocking me with your excessive formality Alistair!’ I growled stomping after him. ‘You must do what I ask! It’s an order!’
That stopped him in his tracks. His eyebrow quirked upwards and his lips spread into an amused smile.
‘Oh is that right, my lady?’ I’m sure you wont mind me confirming this order with your father?’
Oh the cheek of him! Now I was absolutely fuming.
‘Fine! You do what you want!’ I growled. ‘I’ll go to the Minister’s Ball without you and investigate it myself!’ I snapped and strode off.
I avoided Alistair for the rest of the day. What irked me more was that Alistair made no attempt to appease me. Normally after a disagreement he would come and try to make me laugh, or put a bow on King Doric (my adorable orange cat) just to make me smile. It felt lonely without him. Later that night, as I stood at the Minister’s Ball sipping my champagne, I wondered if I had been wrong to demand such a thing. I gave a deep sigh.
‘Kaysee, you look distressed,’ Clarence a friend and daughter of a local minister chided. ‘It does nothing for your beautiful countenance. I see Alistair is not by your side.’
‘I don’t need him anyway!’ I snapped. Then I bit my lip, regretful of my outburst. ‘Thank you Clarence. I assure you I’m well, just distracted.’
‘That is obvious. You were so fired up to investigate the rumors of ill-doing at this ball, yet you have barely mentioned it!’ she said.
I had completely forgotten! If I came back to Alistair empty handed it would be humiliating.
‘Of course! Please excuse me Clarence,’ I said distractedly. I wandered into the crowd and scanned around looking for suspicious sorts. So many people looked dubious (of course it was a ball for ministers) but I couldn’t go from minister to minister accusing and questioning them. It was Alistair who had keen eyes, not me. When his eyes locked onto some one it was like he was seeing through them and into their very core. He had done it to me once, when we first met three years ago. He had been a lot harder then, his face set in a permanent scowl. Thankfully the work at the manor seemed to lighten his features over the last few years.
‘My Lady,’ I heard from a voice behind me. Before I even turned, my face erupted into a smile. It was Alistair. He was standing there, dressed up in the fine suit, his usually curly hair had been combed and he looked positively noble, even with the sour look on his face. He pulled at his collar, and looked away awkwardly.
‘It’s stiff and uncomfortable. The other servants are practically laughing at me.’
I grabbed his arms happily.
‘Oh ignore them! You look like a proper noble! I knew the clothes I picked would make anyone look handsome.’
Alistair’s face turned even more sour, but I ignored him. I hooked my arm in his and turned us to face the crowd.
‘Now Alistair, we have a job to do. Tell me who looks suspicious. That charr in the corner looks broody and dangerous.’
‘He is probably broody because everyone is shunning him,’ Alistair said with a light sigh.
‘Any invitation to Charr are extended only as pleasantries. What did he expect in Divinity’s Reach? A fan-fare?’
‘We are hardly in Ebonhawke,’ Alistair chided.
‘Oh stop lecturing me and tell me what you see with those hawk eyes.’
Alistair gave me another exasperated sigh, but did as I asked.
‘I see nothing my lady. Once again, you have listened to idle gossip.’
‘Idle gossip must come from somewhere, Alistair,’ I snapped. ‘If you’re not going to help, you might as well get me a drink!’
Alistair clicked his tongue and strode off, many ladies’ heads turning after him. I bit my lip and played with the tassel on my silk purse. I was too rude. I must of really annoyed him. the last time he clicked his tongue at me is when I accidentally scorched the floor with my fire magic, and the time before that was when I tried to sneak out of the manor to meet with a boy in the royal gardens. He was pretty livid then.
I watched him approach a servant girl, obviously enquiring for a drink. The servant smile, and then giggled. Alistair blushed back and pulled awkwardly at his cuffs. They were getting along well, too well. I felt the heat flush through me and I pushed the anger down and looked away.
A strange movement caught my eye. A stray hand was pouring a green liquid into an unattended goblet. I moved forward, trying to get a look at the mysterious owner of the hand. The figure fled and I saw the minister reach for his goblet. My heart stopped. Could that liquid be poison? I jumped forward, and as the minister lifted the cup to his lips I let a gust of wind fly from my fingertips. It knocked the goblet from his hand and sent it clattering onto the floor. There was a soft hiss as the wine seeped out into a red puddle. The group of nobles and ministers looked affronted, but thankfully the noise didn’t disturb the rest of the ball and string orchestra.
‘Young Lady! What’s the meaning of this!
‘I’m sorry Ministers. It was for your own good!’ I said, desperately scanning the room for the mysterious figure. I spotted him, but unfortunately my actions had alerted him to my presence. He fled from the hall. I picked up my dress and hurried after him, letting my air magic carry my feet with haste. He scurried through the crowd and into the back rooms.
‘Stop you!’ I cried.
The figure didn’t even hesitate, instead he flew downstairs into the basement. I scurried in after him, the large oak door slamming closed behind me. I stopped to catch my bearings. I was in a large basement, the walls stacked high with massive barrels of wine and persevered foods. Only a few candles flickered sporadically, casting a dull light over the room. You couldn’t even hear the general clamor from the party or the string orchestra down here.
‘I know you’re in here!’ I growled, moving forward, the sound of my heels clattering against the hard floor and echoing around me. My heart thundered and I let the fire surge through my body and crackle in my palm, illuminating the room.
‘What do we have here then?’ I whirled around to look behind me to see a man. He had black tangled hair and wore light leather, smeared with dirt and grime. His cold, bloodthirsty stare and penny bag attached to his hip made him quite obviously a bandit, and judging by the size of engorged penny bag he must be a bandit of importance (or at least a bandit compensating for something.)
‘It’s over scumbag,’ I sneered, my flame flaring up in my hand. ‘Give yourself up to the Seraph before I have the pleasure of messing you up.’
‘So feisty,’ he replied carelessly, a lazy grin spanning his features but stopping dead at his cold eyes. ‘Almost as feisty as you, don’t you think so Kat.’
Another figure emerged from the shadows. A tall slim lady with messy red hair stood before me and behind her was three of her bandit lackeys.
‘Oh yes, Nick,’ he purred. ‘So full of fight!’
‘You see precious,’ the male’s voice was closer now, and I turned to see he had taken a step towards me. ‘I’m not alone, so I don’t think we’ll be giving ourselves up to the Seraph today.’
He paused and looked me up and down.
‘But judging by your clothing, you’ll make a nice little ransom. Tie her up boys!’ He yelled.
So it was a fight they wanted? I was more than happy to give it to them. I whirled around, summoning a fire shield to encompass my body. A bandit who had already thrown himself at me fumbled back, yelling as hot angry red skin spread over his body. I tripped him, sending him sprawling as I pulled my daggers from a hidden fold in my dress. My fire-shield dissipated and another bandit lunged at me. I felt the air surge beneath my heels and I tumbled back into a graceful roll. The gathering tempest surged from behind me and sent the bandit flying across the room and slamming him into the wall.
‘She’s only a girly! 10 silver to the one who downs her!’ Nick yelled.
I saw the female bandit’s eyes glitter and she lunged at me with her sword. I blasted a cone of freezing air into her face, expecting her to dive away. However, she pushed through, slicing at me. I slipped sidewards, and as she recovered from her swing I leapt into the air, summoning the power of earth within me, and slamming it into the ground with my heels, sending shockwaves around me. She tumbled backwards and for a moment I thought I had knocked her off her feet, but she recovered with a roll and pulled the pistols off her belt. She let loose a volley of bullets at me, and I threw myself into the ground, just in time not to get hit.
However, as I tried to recover a figure leant over me. I struggled to my feet but a large foot smacked me across the face. I reeled back, dazed, as I felt blood trickling down my temple. The foot pressed into my back and pushed me painfully against the floor.
‘Tie her wrists,’ the bandit barked. ‘And make sure it’s fireproof rope!’
As the bandits recovered, and Kat stalked towards us, Nick’s voice turned smug. ‘Well dear, it looks like I won the 10 silver.’
‘Nick, you know that 10 silver is mine,’ she hissed back.
‘Too slow sweetie,’ he said with a cold smile. He grabbed my now bound arms and pulled me up. ‘Get moving,’ he barked and pushed me towards the otherside of the basement. the bandit lackeys pushed a barrel from its spot, exposing a large recently dug hole in the wall.
‘Impressive isn’t it,’ Nick said proudly. ‘The Seraph guard the front door, while we enter from beneath their very noses.’
‘You tunneled this whole way? No wonder you smell like a dredge’s armpit.’ I snapped. ‘Why do you want to poison the minister so badly anyway?’
‘The ministers have been causing us a lot of grief lately. We have to send a message, if you mess with us bandits, there is no place safe from our vengeance.’
I was lead into a small dirt room, carved out of the dirt. The structure was crudely made and looked as if it was in danger of collapsing at any moment. The bandit threw me into the corner, and without my hands for balance, I stumbled into the dirt, smearing it across my fine dress. I looked down and almost swore as I realized blood from my head wound was also dripping down onto my warm colored silks.
Nick and Kat leaned over a make-shift table (which was actually just two barrels and a splintering piece of wood on the top), conversing in low tones.
‘The girl knocked the goblet from the fat minister’s hands before he could drink the poison,’ Kat said.
I summoned a small blue flame around my hand, praying to the six gods the bandits wouldn’t notice.
‘Better try again then. Did they suspect foul-play?’ Nick asked.
Blast it! The rope was truly fireproof. My blue flame didn’t even singe it.
‘No, I doubt it,’ she replied.
I began using brute force against my bindings, but with no luck. Nick noticed me.
‘Give it up,’ he growled. ‘If you’re a good girl, and your daddy pays your ransom, you’ll be home in no time. I’ll get my best boys to escort you back to our hideout and I’m sure they’ll treat you like a proper noblewoman.’
Their raucous laugh made me expect just the opposite.
‘My father won’t need to pay the ransom because when I’m done with you, you’ll be no more than a wispy pile of ash on the floor,’ I growled back.
‘Give it up,’ Kat said, rolling her eyes. ‘We’ve heard it all before, yet it always happens the same way. We get our money, you go back home and you’ll remember never to mess with us bandits again. Of course it could go another way, if your father doesn’t pay we could sell you to the centaurs.’
I fixed them with a glare.
‘Foul, despicable, wretched slimes,’ I growled. ‘I hope a grawl eats you and uses your bones as furniture, you vile, puss-filled…’
‘That’s enough of you,’ Nick barked, stuffing a dirty rag into my throat. I almost gagged out of revulsion.
So I sat on my knees, in the dirt tunnel, thinking about my fate. Surely someone would come for me, but no one even knew where I was. Even if they noticed I was missing, I doubt they’d check the basement in any case. Would they even find me in time before the bandits took me back to their hideout?
The bandits would take me and no one would ever find me. My heart lifted as I thought of one person who could possibly find me. That person was Alistair. I suspected that even if somehow I ended up in Elona, he would be able to find me. When he first became the head servant at the manor I use to test his abilities. On the weekends I would try to lose him in the bustling thoroughfares of the markets, but somehow he would always appear by my side with the same exasperated expression, as if I was a troublesome child. I saw his expression in my mind’s eye and it irritated me. In fact, the more I thought about it the more I realized that sometimes he acted more as if he was my bodyguard. Even though he was a servant I had never really treated him like one. He was a friend and I had treated him poorly.
‘Alright Kat, let’s try to poison the fat man upstairs again,’ Nick said, jerking me away from my somber thoughts. He looked over at me. ‘Try not to bring anymore entitled princesses with you, this one has the fire in her eyes. I think she may be more trouble than she’s worth.’
Kat smiled and directed one of her bandit lackeys to grab me.
‘Take her through the back tunnels, to the hideout, and this time don’t forget to put a bag over her head. We had to kill the last one because you forgot to,’ she hissed.
Kat and Nick left the room and resealed it by pushing the barrel over the entrance, leaving me with the bandit.
They were already taking me back to their hideout? This was spiraling out of control, if I didn’t do something now I wouldn’t have another chance to escape.
The bandit pulled a dirty sack from the table and started approaching me with it. I could smell it from here.
‘Touch me with that thing and I’ll choke you with it,’ I tried to sneer, but it only came out as a muffled mess through the gag. Still the bandit seemed deterred, or at least hesitated momentarily, and that was all I needed. I felt the electricity charge up around me, and I caught him in my shocking aura. The bandit swayed, stunned, and I kicked him in the stomach and finished him with an elbow to the face, knocking him out cold. My heart was pounding. I had to be quick before the other bandits returned. I saw my daggers on the table and I clumsily managed to cut the ropes against them and pull the disgusting gag from my mouth. Now I had to get out of here. I looked down the black hole that the bandits had tunneled through. Where ever it lead, there was most certainly bandits on the other side. My only real option was through the basement. I inspected the hole that was covered by the enormous barrel and tried to push it. I didn’t want to make too much noise and alert any of the bandits who remained behind, but the barrel was stupendously heavy. I doubted I could even move it, but I had to try!
I stopped for a moment to catch my breath when I heard a commotion from behind the barrel. The sound of steel clanging and the raucous battle cries of the bandits. I prayed it was the Ministry Guard or the Seraph, but normally they’d shout ‘Freeze, in the name of the Seraph,’ or ‘Ministry Guard, drop your weapons,’ or something like that. Perhaps the bandits were fighting among themselves. Either way, I didn’t want to miss out on the opportunity. I put my entire weight behind the barrel, groaning with the strain. the barrel didn’t move an inch. Suddenly it had gone silent from beyond the barrel, and I wondered if they had left. I pushed even harder knowing that if I couldn’t move the barrel I would be trapped down here.
As I was about to give up hope, something gave way and the barrel slipped, but instead of moving forward, it moved to the side. I blinked in surprise as my misplaced weight caused me to tumble forward.
Strong arms caught me and the scent of mixed spices enveloped me. I looked up to see Alistair, a look of heavy relief on his face.
‘Kaysee,’ he breathed. ‘How do you always get mixed up in these things?’
I reflexively threw my arms around him, my face pressing into his firm neck. Alistair held my back comfortingly.
‘I’m sorry I took so long. You are safe now,’ he said softly. The tone of his voice was that of an adult reassuring a child, and it severely irked me. I pulled myself from him and folded my arms. His hand still remained on my hip.
‘I was right though, wasn’t I,’ I said smartly. ‘There was something shady going on.’
Alistair smiled affectionately.
‘Yes, you were right. Did they hurt you?’ he asked. My hand impulsively move to my forehead and he reached up to push aside my hair, exposing what would have been a red bloody gash. He frowned a deep, troubled frown
‘I’m sorry,’ he said, brushing it lightly with his fingers. I blushed and looked up into his eyes.
The clatter of heavy armor burst through the basement door, and Alistair and I flew apart.
‘Ministry Guard! Lay down….’ the Ministry Guard Commander’s word fell flat as he saw Alistair and I standing among the bloodied bandit bodies, looking sheepish.