130 ~ Ghia

Her bones were setting and knitting in their broken positions. She could feel it happening, and knew that surely as she would die by Zardria’s hand, she would die a cripple.

Her hand was the worst of it. She could live with the thought of not being able to walk properly – she’d need a cane – but without her right hand she couldn’t write, couldn’t heal. She was one of the strange Atherians who was right-dominant – which was why she had stupidly tried to punch the Empress with that hand. Tears pricked her eyes at the sight of the claw her hand was becoming.

What did it matter anyway? She’d never get out of this dungeon, except to be executed. She’d received only two meals in her time here, but that didn’t really faze her. She was used to long periods without food. What was the point of caring about anything anymore? With no hope, caring took far too much effort.

She’d not been able to contact Rosa at all in her time imprisoned. At first she’d attributed it to her powers being drained, but then – after some sleep – they’d replenished, and she was able to make tentative contact with Anala, though they’d not chatted much. She could sense conflict in Anala when she’d made contact, but was not able to do anything about it, aside from writing the Admiral off as a lost cause.

Ghia hated the Empress with such a passion, she could not see how anyone – especially sensible Anala! – could feel otherwise. Mayhap it was more understandable for Caelum to cave so easily. She never really expected great things from him, anyway. Lares, she was sure, was just putting on an act – he’d done it in Voco. He was doing it here. She didn’t need to read him anymore to know that. What she’d read in Anala, however, had made her not want to try anymore. What was the point, when everyone was giving up so easily?

Still she’d not been able to reach her Magi teacher.

She was getting worried. She could think of no reason why her teacher was being silent. The Magea couldn’t be dead; Ghia would have felt it. Had Rosa left them, then? Written them all off? The thought made her convulse in physical pain.

Rosa’s disappearance from her mind had ended all hope. If Rosa was gone, Ghia was doomed. The Magea was the only one who could heal Ghia’s hand and leg at this juncture – and the only one who could free her. For the first time, she felt the true limits of her powers and saw what a life-and-death matter it really was. Childishly, she’d thought she could handle anything.

Hubris. Downfall of many great people.

And some not so great, she thought in disgust.

A noise at the stairs made her stir, and she squinted as a bright light came through the doorway, silhouetting a figure Ghia would recognise anywhere.

Loathing surged through her as the Empress came down the steps and stopped in front of Ghia’s cell. Not wanting to face her nemesis on uneven footing, Ghia struggled to stand. With incredible difficulty she righted herself, scrambling up with help of the bars at the side of her cell, on which she then had to then lean to stay upright. Her knee throbbed viciously.

A guard opened the door and Zardria stepped in. Ghia didn’t flinch, just stared at the woman levelly. The Empress smiled.

“It seems you have friends in high places, Healer. I had planned to execute you for treason – a matter of course, really – but Admiral Anala has convinced me otherwise.”

Ghia kept her face blank, though she was surprised Anala would have pleaded on her behalf. The Empress didn’t say the Admiral did just that, she corrected herself. Anala is probably just trying to make things convenient for herself.

The Empress was regarding her steadily, expectantly. Ghia forced herself to speak, moving her words around her twisted lips. “What exactly does that mean, Highness?”

“It means you are reinstated in the hospitalis. Starting now.” Zardria looked almost bored with the proceedings. Ghia forced herself to be grateful.

“Thank you, Highness.” She didn’t bother trying to bow. It would hurt too much.

Zardria’s smile turned feral. “Don’t thank me. I’d rather see you dead. But I’d be a terrible empress if I didn’t trust the words of my advisors.” She turned to go, then stopped. “Oh. Almost forgot.”

Before Ghia could ask, Zardria’s hand was on her forehead, nails digging into the healer’s scalp. She tried to move back, to get away, but found her entire body paralysed, helpless before the Empress. She couldn’t speak; couldn’t think. All she could do was stare into the bottomless depths of Zardria’s dark gray – no, black – eyes.

As suddenly as it had begun it was over, and Ghia found she could move again when the Empress removed her hand. She started to ask what in Tyvian Zardria had done – and stopped, gaping, when she could form no sound.

Zardria still smiled, teeth bared. “Can’t have such a little chatterbox causing me any trouble, can I?” Ghia felt a chill descend over her and make its permanent home on her spine as she realised what had happened. With a last bit of hope she tried to reach out with her mind – to anyone, anywhere, it didn’t matter. Her mental breeze hit a wall, all around her.

Zardria shook her finger admonishingly at the girl. “Ah ah ah. Don’t try. It’ll only hurt you, Magi,” she whispered, and Ghia realised that it had all been over before it began. “Don’t worry,” the Empress continued in a louder voice, “you can still heal. That’s what I need you for, after all.

“Guard, escort her to the hospitalis,” she added as she left.

Ghia felt like crying as the guard helped her out of her cell and down the hallway. She turned to face Jester, to say a silent goodbye, but the woman was asleep.

Choking back tears, she slowly climbed the stairs to start her life again.

She wished she’d died in the dungeons instead.


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