It was dark down here in the dungeons, but my eyes were bright. The eyes of a hunter. My prey didn’t roam the fields or hide beneath the waves. No. My prey was bred behind iron bars and culled in great droves – such was the law. I could see the scratches on the brickwork, the small pools of congealed blood and rusted flakes sprinkles from the rotting bars of their cages, and their dank, terrible eyes, just watching the air above them. Or the floor beneath them. But never me. No, never me. They knew better.
I was a prince … of sorts.
Son and heir to Her Secret Highness, Emelia Envoy, Mistress of the Pale Bloods and Keeper of the Shore, Commander of the White Shadows and Centre of the Web. The last being most important of all.
I hated doing these tours of the castles. Skirting around the haunting reminders of our forgotten power. We had been a kingdom once, a proud and prosperous nation along the Atafuil Coast but now? Whipped spies, no better than bloodbitches, for the Child Queen and her filthy race of magic throwers. Revolting Thair. It made my fangs clatter as I snapped my jaw shut in irritation. I would bring us back to prominence. In these cracked castles, stretched along a vulnerable coastline, amongst the ruins of our greatness I would birth a new kingdom. My Kingdom. But that wasn’t for today. And until I sat on the Webbed Throne I would have to do as Mother says. And she wanted me to see the farms.
Arhnkill, a great muscled man, with leather straps straining around his biceps and a square jaw that, had his nose not been so obviously broken a hundred more times or so, could have made him quite handsome, guarded me. I only needed on guard; Pale Bloods were not allowed to show fear. He was here only as a torchbearer, for show at least. My mother worried. She shouldn’t have. I was almost fifteen now. Much too old to be watched by this bumbling oaf. He may be strong, but I knew I was quicker. Even with our senses so increased, he couldn’t catch me if he tried. So what chance did a Finite have?
“You must look into the cages, sire,” Arhnkill spoke in a voice that could make glass shatter if he held a note for too long. Luckily, he didn’t know a word long enough and so he had never tried. A relief to us all.
“Yes, yes,” I said quietly as I realized I hadn’t been shying away from my responsibilities. My neck didn’t want to comply. Their eyes, that’s what it was. They looked like ghosts. I didn’t like it. “I’m not scared,” I said to the oaf.
“No one said you were,” he looked at me knowingly, with large dull eyes that would be dangerous, were they in the head of a man with more wits.
A hand grasped beyond the iron bars. It took Arhnkill not a second to react. With a squelch that meant dinner time under normal circumstances, and a sickening wail, Arhnkill began to chew happily on the snack he never knew he would get.
The Finites all moved. I had almost thought of them as deaf, dumb and mute statutes, just hovering between the line of life and death, but such a brutal response to such a simple action, had them all scurrying for the side of the cage we were not strolling along beside.
I’m scared, I thought to myself. I had tried not to admit it, but I was. I didn’t like these dungeons. These farms as they were called. They were horrible places of terrible acts. A genocide against a race that did nothing other than taste good. We were hunters, and yet because of that bitch, the Child Queen, and her ilk, we were forced to grow Finites like corn in a field, instead of hunt them through the forests.
We had been revered once, legends like any other monster. Now the Finites beyond The Limit’s Gate only feared the Thair, and their great magic. Barely any remembered us. Forgotten parasites amongst our ruined castles.
“You, boy,” I had to get out of my own head, “Why are you in there alone?”
His cage was as large as any other, yet only his wiry body sat within the bars, framed with the moonlight that poured through a hole in the tower this dungeon sat beneath, a hundred stories up. He looked like an angel.
“This one was killing his own kind,” Arhnkill said deeply.
“I wasn’t, they were trying to kill me,” the boy spat back. Arhnkill’s meaty fist was about to fire through the bars and break the boy before my hands grasped his own and his reflexes took over. You never disobeyed a royal.
“Have we so much food that you can waste this one?” I asked the oaf as he tossed aside the arm he had been devouring lazily. “You aren’t scared of us?” I asked the boy who looked no older than me.
“I can’t be scared of monsters that can’t see I’m not in here alone,” was his smart alec reply. But he was right. I hadn’t noticed because of the pillar of light, but a woman sat hunched over her small child, barely a babe, and let it suckle at her exposed breast.
“You know he would have killed you had I not been here?”
“He will kill me whether you are here or not, one day, at least. We aren’t in these cells because we have done anything wrong.”
“Tell me, why were your own kind trying to kill you?” I asked, my voice a snake amongst the flickering light.
“The same reason your body guard there was,” he grinned a grin that made my brow furrow. Here he was, a lamb amongst the wolves, and yet he laughed at our fur and sniggered at our teeth.
“A smart tongue?”
“A loose tongue and a smart mind,” he wagged his tongue cheekily and I had to hold Arhnkill back once again.
“Have you no concern for your own well-being? What made you so bold?”
“What made you hate us, so?” he asked back, his tone suddenly serious.
“We don’t hate you, no more than the owl hates the mice he hunts,” I said back. Hoping to my voice came across as smart arsey as his.
“The owls don’t talk to the mice either, yet here you are.” He won.
Just then, the babe at his mother’s breast began to cry. A loud wailing that made the stone throw the sound back twice as hard.
“Shut him up,” Arhnkill ran his icy fingers along the bars. “Now woman!”
He pulled open the gate and began to walk in. I knew he would kill it if it didn’t stop crying and I found myself conflicted, why did I not want him too? The wiry boy. The stupid, brave wiry boy leapt from the damp floor he sat on with grace and tried to stop my torchbearer. With a backhand, the oaf smacked the boy back down and shattered his left arm in the process.
I let out a few moans and sighs as I tried to think, in my mind that could think a hundred poems all at once, of an excuse to stop this murdering fool from killing a baby for doing no more than all babies do.
“I SAID SHUT HIM UP!” he bellowed at the woman, who didn’t move an inch.
“Arhnkill,” I reached out, not wanting to step inside the cage, but the dawning realization was sickening and made my frozen heart bleed for the poor mite.
For only he was still alive.