by Erin Zarro
a free serial story in the Fey Touched universe
I woke up in filth.
A dirty, cold floor. Two mice chased each other along one equally dirty wall. It was stained with who-knew-what. Musty, sweat-filled air surrounded me. And, I could smell blood.
I looked down. All I wore was a simple cotton shift that opened in the back. I had a bad feeling I knew what that was for. A pool of blood surrounded my leg, so I must have gotten injured somehow. I couldn’t remember what had happened.
I was in a small prison cell. A filthy cot sat in one corner, no blankets. A bucket sat in the opposite corner, and apparently, someone had emptied it recently, because I did not smell the stink of human waste. Thank Artemis for that.
My prison was in a dark, large room.
All I remembered was fighting the rogues with my tribe. I’d spun around to stake one. Then, a punch to my gut, and nothing else.
Where were the others? Had they been captured, too?
I shivered, curling up into a little ball
Was anyone around?
I licked my dry lips. “Hello? Anyone there?”
“I see you’ve woken up,” a male voice said from the shadows. He stepped forward, and I saw that he was outside of my cell. And that he was one of the rogues.
I uncurled and stood, not wanting to seem submissive. I was anything but. “Where am I?”
“You are where you need to be,” the rogue said. He came closer, and I got a better look at him. His long blond hair hung past his shoulders. His eyes, red-ringed, were so brown they were almost black. He was tall, and wore all leather. His fingernails were long.
“That’s not really an answer,” I said.
“Well, I can tell you that you’re in my stronghold, far away from your people,” the rogue said, his eyes drifting from my face to my exposed toes. “And I can also tell you that we’ve done what we had to.”
“You had to do this to me?” I spread my hands out and indicated my lack of dress. “Surely you could have left me my shoes at least. It’s freaking cold in here!” I smoothed my shift down over my hips. The fabric wasn’t very forgiving, and I wondered how much of my body he could actually see.
I was no prude, but I didn’t know this guy. And he was rogue, for Artemis’s sake.
He smiled. “Well, the less you have on, the easier to feed.”
I blinked. “You would need access to my spinal cord. Not anything else. Not that I would let you get that close,” I added. “So how does one get out of here? You can’t expect me to stay.”
“Actually, that’s precisely what we require of you,” he said as he stepped up to the bars, his eyes focused on me. It was like being under a microscope. “So, I suggest you make yourself comfortable.”
I went to the bars and flipped him off. “Hell, no!”
He shrugged, and it looked elegant with that muscled body of his. What was I thinking? This guy was the enemy! “That’s a shame, because we really could use someone like you.”
“What does that mean?” I asked, my mind racing. What did a rogue need with a Hunter? Besides a stake to the heart?
“I’m not supposed to tell you this, but why not? Your name is Ivy, and we heard that you had some interesting abilities.”
“You were lied to,” I said through clenched teeth. “I have no abilities other than what Artemis herself bestowed upon me as a Hunter.”
The rogue’s eyes widened slightly. “Our intel was very specific. You can heal rogues.”
I shook my head. “Hell, no. Besides, you chose to turn rogue. No one can fix that.”
The rogue smiled. “We’ll see about that.”
As soon as he was gone, I tried to figure out how to escape.
I looked for windows. There were none.
Surely there had to be a hole somewhere, a large one, where maybe someone could slip through – no, there weren’t any. My heart dropped.
Was there a lock on my cell door? No, there was nothing except bars.
After what felt like hours of searching, food was slid through the space between the floor and the bars. It was thoroughly unappetizing, some kind of gruel, but I didn’t complain. By the time it came, I was woozy from lack of nourishment.
Voices. I perked up. They came from the other end of the room, but couldn’t tell what they were saying, or even if they were real.
I thought about my tribe. Surely, they’d be trying to find me. We were kin, and we didn’t leave kin behind.
Thinking of them brought tears to my eyes.
Normally, I’d be in my quarters at the compound, kicking back and relaxing, maybe sparring with someone. Or watching TV, or hell, sleeping. I glanced at my pitiful cot. I doubted that I’d be able to sleep in that thing.
But try as I might, I couldn’t stop sleep from taking me. My head dropped and all was silent.
The next morning, a commotion woke me. I gasped, my head popping up and my eyes opening.
There were several rogues near my prison.
They were arguing.
“This is the best shot you have,” a woman said, her voice kind. Kind? Rogues weren’t kind. “If it continues…well, let’s just hope that it doesn’t.”
“Yes, but she says she is no healer,” the rogue who I’d talked to yesterday replied, his voice soft. “So we’re basically back to square one.”
“I think she’s lying,” another male said, glancing at me. I pointedly looked away.
My heart raced. Were they going to discover my secret after all?
No, I couldn’t let them.
My bloodline was too rare, too revered. We were to be protected always. And the secret had to be kept no matter what the cost.
“Hey, you,” the female rogue said, stepping up to the bars. “Is it true ––”
“No,” I said. “Just an exaggeration. You know the Fey Touched can heal most wounds. That’s all it is.”
“Yes, but Ry here seems to believe otherwise.” Her gaze flicked to Ry, who was the rogue who’d talked to me last night. His gaze landed on me, and it was intense. Like he was daring me to lie again.
“Well, Ry is wrong,” I snapped. “Now, how about you let me go? This isn’t the Hunter you’re looking for.”
The female laughed. “Funny. No, we have to keep you here for at least three nights.”
I was too curious to let that slip by. “Why three nights?”
Ry shifted on his feet and moved into the light. I caught sight of his hands before he quickly put them behind his back.
Red lines swirled across them, almost beautiful in their intricate designs.
But what it meant wasn’t beautiful.
It was deadly. A curse.
It had no name, but it affected Fey that went rogue. Some kind of blood infection. It was said that once the lines appeared, you had three days.
And then the fun truly began. Madness. Fever. Pain. Itchy, painful skin. And then, when you were ready to slash your wrists to end it all, you’d finally be granted death.
But they said even that was horrible, that you didn’t go quietly and peacefully.
“I see,” I murmured.
“You see my predicament,” Ry said. “I need a healer, and it’s been whispered that you are one.”
I looked away. “I can’t help you, Ry. Best to just set me free.”
Ry took hold of the bars. “I’m afraid I cannot do that. You are truly my only hope. No one else has your ability.”
Yes, the ability. I tasted bile in the back of my throat. “Even if I had it, I wouldn’t go through the agony of healing you. You’re a rogue. My enemy. So again, I ask you. Will you please let me go?”
Ry just smiled. “Before the three days are over, you will help me, Ivy. You will.”
I folded my hands over my chest, where my shift was falling down a bit. “There’s nothing you can do or say to me that will change my mind.” I glared at him. “Besides, I am not a healer.”
“I say you are,” the female rogue said. “I can feel it. It’s not something you can hide.”
Was she for real or was she just baiting me? “What you feel is wrong. I don’t know how many times I have to tell you people! I. Am. Not. A. Healer! Got it? Now let me go!”
Ry and the female exchanged a look.
“I cannot let you go. You must stay for the three nights. Then, we evaluate,” Ry said softly. “Healer or not, you are my only chance at being healed.”
I looked into his eyes, and I saw desperation there. He was telling the truth about that, at least. I nodded. “Fine. Three nights. That’s all.”
“Agreed,” Ry said. His eyes were hopeful. Almost…reverent.
Did he know my secret for sure?
Sweet Artemis, it was going to be a long three days.