Yagher grips my upper arm, forcing me down the courtyard steps. I don’t resist; my attention is directed inwards, desperately organizing my harried thoughts. I’m hardly aware of the barren gardens surrounding me or the cold bite of autumn on my bare arms. My introversion is so great that I cannot even hear Yagher’s conversation with his father. I do note Marle’s smug smile as he limps ahead of us, leaning heavily on his cane. He gestures for us to wait and opens a large, metal door with a keypad to its right. It seems entirely out of place in the comfortable, wood-panelled room. He steps inside and the door closes with a sonorous click behind him.
Yagher says something to me and I ignore him. He looks annoyed, but doesn’t press me further. I make a point of looking around the room, mentally mapping out possible escape routes and counting the number of people present. Thankfully the family seems scarce today and the only person I can see is a middle-aged woman milling about from room to room.
After several minutes, Marle reappears and gestures us into the room behind him. We enter what is obviously intended to be a prison cell – secure, barren and sterile. Mirena is the only occupant – she sits on a metal bed extending from the wall. I surface from my thoughts long enough to look at her properly. Though she seems unharmed I can see a fear and wildness in her eyes where there was once only a calm sort of cruelty. She looks every bit the animal in a cage despite her fashionable clothes. Her mouth shapes into a hungry-looking smile when she sees me, and I know Marle has made a deal with her. The kind of deal Hunter had assured me Merlin House was above making.
Yagher disappears and returns with a couple of plain-looking card chairs. He makes me sit in one and handcuffs my hands around the back. Marle sits beside me, clearly enjoying his place in the audience. Yagher stands by my side, looking solemn and uncomfortably stiff.
“Miss Mirena,” Marle nods at her to begin.
“My pleasure,” her grin is wider now, showing her glistening white teeth. I almost expect them to be sharp and animal-like.
“Be gentle on her,” Yagher warns, but her fingers are already digging into my forearms.
Vertigo overtakes me, but my experiences with both Mirena and Hunter have prepared me for this. Before she settles on a memory I cling to the series of thoughts that I have rehearsed, meditative repetition urging them forward. Things I know about Yagher and Marle. My conversations with Mr. Harris. Hunter. The truths I’ve witnessed myself. I try to mould them into an idea, an image I can present Mirena as she competes for control over my memories.
“You can’t trust them,” I’m saying, “They will betray you, use you. Once they have Hunter they’ll see you as a risk, regardless of what they’ve promised you.”
I show her Hunter and she stops fighting me, thinking that she’s stumbled onto the information she seeks. I show her everything he’s told me, everything he wants to do. I show her how much I trust him. Again, I try to form the discrete thoughts into one united idea.
“We can trust him,” I tell her, “He’ll help us escape. Both of us.”
I can sense her hesitation as she considers the possibility of trusting me. Now I take the biggest risk of all, betting everything on the few details I know about Mirena. If I lose none of it will matter anyway – I will have given her everything she needs.
I show her Caelen. Caelen talking to me, to Hunter. I know she will be furious, that she will feel betrayed by her seemingly silent confidant, but I have to count on there being something else. Curiosity. A desire to connect with this creature that she trusts. Something. Something that will never be fulfilled if she hands Hunter over to Merlin House.
I drop back into my body and have to take several deep breaths to avoid vomiting. Mirena looks winded too; she is wavering back and forth like she’s going to pass out. She falls towards Yagher and he instinctively reaches out to catch her. As she falls she grabs his neck and he tumbles silently to the ground. She neatly twists her body towards Marle but stops suddenly, her fingers inches away from his hand. For the first time I notice that her arms and legs are attached to the wall by thin, steel cords. She can’t reach him.
His face is frozen in a look of pure astonishment, but when he realizes she cannot touch him he laughs. “I’m impressed,” he says, reaching into his jacket, “But I think I’ve had enough of the both of you.”
Something metal glints inside of his silver dress jacket and I don’t wait to find out what it is. I throw myself as hard as I can towards him, tipping my chair onto his lap and knocking him forward into Mirena’s waiting arms. In a moment, he is unconscious beside his son.
With my arms trapped behind my back, I am forced to use my feet to push Yagher close enough for Mirena to rifle through his pockets. She finds the key for my cuffs and releases me.
“What about yours?” I ask, glancing towards the door as if it were a clock counting down the time until we’re caught.
She reaches her wrists out toward me, turning them so I can see all sides of the dainty silver cuffs. There is no key hole or catch.
My eyes flicker to the door again. I’m sure she knows what I’m considering although her face remains impassive. I wonder what she would do if our positions were reversed. But they aren’t, I realize, and I know what I will do.
I return to my examination of the constraints, finally finding a strange crystal embedded in each cuff. Her ankles have them as well – a tiny chip of what could be diamond. I show them to Mirena.
“They’re probably designed to resist magic. I can’t manipulate the metal even though I should be able to melt it or bend it at least a little.”
I look around the room quickly and grab the keys used for my cuffs from where they’ve fallen on the floor. I give Mirena the key ring.
“Can you bend this? Make it sharp, kinda like a pick?”
She doesn’t answer, but immediately does what I ask. She passes what was once the key ring back to me. I set to work, prodding around each crystal and eventually popping them out of their sockets. I shudder whenever I accidentally touch Mirena’s hand or wrist.
“Okay, done. Try doing something to the metal.”
The cuffs visually heat up and begin to melt, but not enough for her to wiggle her hands and feet out.
She makes an exasperated noise, “I can’t do it on my own. I need your help.”
“What can I do?” I gesture to myself, reminding her that I’m just a useless human.
“Let me use some of your energy. Hold my right hand and I’ll do the rest,” she holds her hand out to me. I stare at it, unmoving.
“I’m not happy about this situation either,” she urges, “but I’ve trusted you up to this point. Now it’s your turn. Unless you want someone to find us here like this?”
I grab her hand, half expecting to be pulled under again. I watch the metal melt and warp until there’s enough space for her to escape. When she lets go of my hand I feel light-headed and weak, like I haven’t slept in days. The dark circles under her eyes and the colour of her skin suggest that she’s not feeling much better. She immediately walks over to Marle and kicks him in the gut.
“Mirena, that’s enough. We don’t have time for this,” I say, cringing at the impact. She glowers at me, but she doesn’t hit him again. Instead she picks up his cane and breaks it. When she does, hundreds of tiny white runes appear along its surface.
“What was that about?” I ask.
“We don’t have time, remember? Let’s go.” She gestures towards the door.
The outer room is empty and the woman nowhere to be seen. When we make it to the courtyard stairs the officers from earlier are coming down them, now wearing plain clothes. Mr. Harris isn’t with them. Mirena quickly takes advantage of their surprise and suppresses them without a sound. When we reach the top of the stairs, being careful to duck beneath windows and press ourselves against walls until we’re sure no one will see us, I notice that her colour has improved.
When we reach the furthest wall of the house we make a break for it and sprint into the surrounding fields. We don’t stop until we reach the protective cover of a nearby wood.
Leaning against the rough bark of a tree, trying to catch my breath, I ask, “Where do we go from here? I don’t have a cell phone or any money. Or any idea where we are actually.”
Mirena bends over, resting her hands on her knees and shaking her head. She stands back up, sweat pouring down her ivory skin and opens her mouth to speak. Before she can there is a crunch of leaves and forest debris.
Barely visible in the dark shade of the trees stands a tall black cat, the white patch on its chest the only identifying feature.
“And here we thought we’d be breaking you out. Well, that’s one less thing we have to worry about,” Caelen’s voice is as sarcastic as ever.
Mirena’s expression is confused and strained. Blood rushes to her face, leaving it red and patchy. It seems as if she’s about to yelI at him, but instead she continues to stare, her brows slowly furrowing. She swallows hard.
Is she holding back tears?
“Come on,” Caelen tosses his head to the side and starts trotting away, “I’ll take you to Hunter.”