This is the twenty-third chapter in a continuing fictional series. To see past chapters please check my older posts.
I hefted the bronze from its pedestal, strode up to the glass case illuminated in the center of the room and threw the bust as hard as I could at the crystal.
The crash was ear-splitting and shards of glass exploded in every direction. The crystal wobbled on its stand then toppled into my out-stretched hand. In the split second before the alarms began to blast, I had the crystal and had begun to run. It was cold and hard in my hand.
The alarms were deafening but I had expected that. Soon every soul in the Compound would be looking for me. I followed the same path I’d taken eight days ago, down the second hallway, and into the kitchens. I was no longer trying to be quiet. There was no point with the cacophonous ringing of the alarms, and anyway, I needed to be chased. It was not the time for hiding.
But there was a second part of my plan. I’d probably be caught. And to be caught with the Crystal would mean certain death, but if I could get rid of it first, if I could hide it somewhere the Queen would never think to look, she’d need me. She would need the knowledge only I had. If I could hide the Crystal, I would have the advantage over Queen Morgan.
The kitchens were dark and deserted just as they had been last time I was here. I may not have long until I was spotted and the Crystal had to be hidden by then. Where could I put it? I slowed down enough to glance around me searching for the perfect hiding place. The construction I had noticed a week ago was almost done now. The wall had been re-wired, re-built, and re-painted. Perhaps tomorrow they’d push the freezer unit back into place. I smiled as the perfect hiding place came to my mind. Quickly I dropped the Crystal in its new home and moved away from it.
Maybe someday I’d come to retrieve it again.
Now I stopped. It had been about five minutes since I took the Crystal. I could still try to get away. Pierre should be making his move. The Compound should be swarming now. I’d likely run into guards any second, but maybe I could make it to an exit and get out too. But Pierre couldn’t move as quickly as me. If the guards didn’t see me, they’d be looking everywhere and they were likely to find him. He stood no chance if he was spotted. I needed to concentrate the guards’ pursuit into an area far away from Pierre. I needed to be seen.
But I might as well throw them off the Crystal’s new home while I was at it. And, hey, it was always possible I could be chased and still get away from every single one of the Queen’s men and escape to freedom myself. It never hurts to hope. That’s what Ben says.
I headed back toward the cafeteria, and then out into the halls. This time I turned and ran toward the military wing of the Compound. This led me straight back toward the Queen’s rooms and toward the prison, but it led away from Pierre. I passed the storage closet that provided my access to the Queen’s suite, and kept going deeper and deeper away from freedom. I was running as fast as I could with no concern for noise or subtly. The sirens had stopped, which meant—I assumed—that everyone had already heard them and been activated. Still, I was just beginning to worry that something was wrong, and I should have encountered the enemy by now, when I heard running footsteps coming from ahead.
Instinct kicked in, and I spun around and sprinted the other way, dashing around a corner without being noticed. Although I knew I needed to be seen and chased, I couldn’t bring myself to actually stand and wait for the Queen’s men to apprehend me. I didn’t need to worry. The swarms were beginning to spread. I ran further into the Military section. As I sprinted by a corridor I heard shouts. I had been spotted. Now I had their attention. I let fear drive me, trying to find an escape. It was time to try for my own freedom now.
Last time I had run, I’d been surprised by my attackers, but I had been healthy. This time I knew what was coming, and this drove me to go faster, but I was also much weaker. The footsteps running behind me were getting closer. Then up ahead a posse of Queen’s men turned a corner heading my way. It only took an instant and they too were sprinting to catch me. I glanced behind and was startled by how close the men were. From in front and behind, I was trapped, unless I could get to the corner up ahead on my right. I had no idea where it led, but it was my only hope. I charged towards it, not slowing down at all, and flung myself around it, right into Raymond’s chest.
I practically bounced off him, while he didn’t move an inch. Then he grabbed my good arm and pulled it behind my back painfully. The two contingents of guards I’d been trapped between crowded in front of me and I squirmed against my capture.
“Go tell the Queen we caught her,” Raymond commanded, and two of the guards scurried off quickly. “Fall in.” At Raymond’s command, the rest of the guards created a box around Raymond and me, blocking any possible escape in the off chance if I could extract myself from Raymond’s grasp. I wriggled anyway, and he yanked my arm back harder. Then he leaned in and spoke in my ear. “Don’t think I won’t break your other arm. Cooperate or you will regret it,” he said quietly through clenched teeth. I’d seen him annoyed before, but tonight Raymond was angry.
I stopped struggling. Raymond and the guards headed through the halls quickly. Raymond never released his hold on me and the position I was in was awkward. I had no arm free for balance and this caused me to stumble. Raymond yanked me up each time, pushing me forward without ever slowing. The guards surrounding us were on edge.
We turned a disorienting number of times, and finally stepped through a door into a plush, carpeted hallway. Although this was not one of the halls I had previously traveled, I knew where we were. I was about to see the Queen.
She was in the Crystal room, pacing along a wall. The room was filling with her men, standing nervously around its perimeter. More were arriving from other directions as we entered. I didn’t see Pierre, which was a good sign. The Queen was wearing a deep red rob and her hair was slightly disheveled, as if I had indeed awoken her from sleep with my actions, but it was only when she turned and saw me that I knew true fear.
“You,” she hissed and strode toward me in rage. I’d never seen her angry before. I’d never seen her out of control. I hadn’t known a person’s face could twist and color and writhe like that. It was hideous and all the warmth in my body drained away. I wondered now, if I’d made the right choice.
Without even thinking I tried to stop my advance into the room, but Raymond pushed me ahead, and the guards in front of us scattered to the edges. The Queen arrived and slapped me in the face as hard as she could. She wears rings. I never knew that fact was important until this moment. She then stepped back and kicked me in the stomach. My body doubled over, but Raymond was there to yank me back up again. I gasped for air.
“Give it to me!” the Queen screamed at me. She kicked me again. “Give it to me now!”
I coughed and sputtered, genuinely trying to speak, but unable to. Sensing this Raymond released me. It’s not like I was going to escape. I bent down trying to breathe and when I looked up, the blackness in the Queen’s eyes was like looking at your own death. “I can’t,” I whispered honestly. She is the one who told me not to lie.
“What?” she hissed. “What did you say?” She grabbed a fist full of my hair and yanked my eyes level with hers. I had caused this. I had destroyed her perfectly controlled power. Now I would suffer.
“I can’t,” I said again, more calmly than I felt. “I don’t have it.”
“Lier!” She screamed and threw me back into Raymond.
Now Egil materialized from behind her. He was possibly the only one in the room not terrified or psychotically angry. Egil appeared calm, perhaps even happy. “My Queen,” he said, and the Queen spun to face him. Most men could not have stood under her glare, but Egil acted as if nothing was amiss. “Allow me to search her. If she has your Crystal, I will find it for you.”
The Queen looked as if she would slap him too, but then took as step back and nodded. A portion of her cool demeanor seemed to return. Egil waved his hand and Raymond marched me further into the room. Glass crunched under our feet. Then Raymond released me and stepped away.
My fear of the Queen was greater than anything I’d ever known. She was an invincible, cruel, and intelligent foe. My fear of Egil was more laced with disgust. Still, it didn’t really matter what motivated the feeling, I was engulfed in it now. Egil approached calmly and smoothly, but then as quick as a snake, he lashed out, throwing me onto the ground with tremendous force.
In the short time I’d had to imagine my meeting with the Queen after taking her most prized possession, I’d imagined myself stoic, and calm. I’d known there’d be hell to pay for what I had done, but I imagined my knowledge of her Crystal would give me the upper hand and also give me the strength to bravely endure whatever they threw my way. I had told myself I’d be silent, further proving to her that my will was far from broken. But when Egil threw me to the ground, there was a bed of broken glass waiting. It felt as if a thousand knives had just been pounded into my back, and I screamed.