Rei awoke to a clashing noise further down her row; the sound of a cage opening, or closing.
Rubbing her eyes, she glanced up to the small barred window high above her. She rolled over onto her stomach and propped herself up on her elbows, scratching a tiny rut into the floor with a rock fragment. Admiring her handiwork, Rei mentally counted the tally marks; she had been trapped here for two years and one week exactly.
It had been a long two years.
All of a sudden, she heard the clanging sound again; only this time, it was right in front of her.
Rei scrambled to her feet, smoothing her hair and kicking stray rocks as far away from the door as she could. The dim cell was immediately flooded with light, and the imprisoned girl was momentarily blinded. Her vision slowly returned, revealing a harsh and wrinkled face. Blinking, she realized that someone had come for her. But who would summon the murderous girl from cell 3A?
The guard didn't speak, he merely motioned for her to follow him. Wordlessly, she trudges behind him, unused to walking so freely.
As they climbed the winding steps up to the surface, Rei wondered what the world was like now. Where was Thames? Was he still with Arthur and the rest? Was the Empress alive? Secretly, she prayed that Lord Remerez had been overthrown.
Rei and the guard soon reached the main level of the castle. Servants bustled around them, appearing irritated as the guard led Rei into the servant's quarters.
Waiting inside the doorway, a thin old woman held a bundle of soft cloth that appeared to be a dress. "Please, can I have something less...silk?" Rei asked nervously as the guard retreated the way they had come. Smirking, the grey-haired woman replied, "This is customary dress for audience with the king." The king?
"Well, I won't wear it," the younger girl declared bluntly, "I won't wear silk. I don't mean to be rude, but do you have anything else?"
Sighing, the woman turned around and beckoned for Rei to follow her. They walked through the servant's quarters into a room full of tables piled high with clothing. "See anything you like?" the woman asked, remaining close to the door. Noticing a piece of black clothing, Rei quickly pulled it from the pile. Finding it to be leather trousers, they didn't have to hunt long to find a matching sleeveless top, thick socks, and tall black boots. She got dressed quickly, eager to escape the woman's hawkish stare.
But just as she thought she was ready, the servant woman pulled two items from her apron; a knife and a dart gun. "Choose."
"What?" Rei stuttered, caught off guard, "Why?"
"King's orders," she muttered, rolling her eyes, "Just choose."
Confused, Rei quickly picked up the leather-covered knife and attached it to her belt; carrying around a bare knife, especially in the king's presence, might seem threatening. Thames had taught her how to throw knives and though she wasn't the greatest, it was definitely better than the dart gun.
They returned to the servant's quarters to find a guard already waiting to take her away. As she left, Rei turned to say goodbye to the servant woman, but she was gone.
"Ah, you must be Rei Kinsley."
Rei rose from her curtsy and made eye contact with the king, ignoring the opulence surrounding them and the cold girl sitting beside him. Apparently, Lord Ramerez hadn't been over thrown. Rei sighed inwardly.
"Yes, sir. May I ask, sir, why I have caught your attention?" she asked calmly, attempting to hide her curiosity.
"I have a task for you," the king disclosed, his attention on her waist, "I see you chose the knife."
Rei's hand flew to her belt, betraying the nervousness hidden behind her serene face. "Excuse me, sir, why did you make me choose?" she inquired, caught off guard by the king's smirking face.
"Your brother claimed that he trained you to throw a knife," he replied, obviously awaiting her reaction. "If it wasn't true, you would have picked the gun. Is this assumption correct?"
Trembling, she glared up at him unwavering. "How have you spoken to my brother?"
The king raised his eyebrows, and merely replied, "Answer me, girl."
"Yes, he taught me a few things," she said, filled with quiet rage, "How have you spoken to my brother...sir?"
Content with my answer, he seemed willing to elaborate further. "We have been plagued by demons, Rei Kinsley. You're the only female murderer in my prison, and that caught my attention. I set one of my servants in charge of discovering your past; luckily, he seemed to know you." As he said this, a door to the side of the throne room creaked open to reveal a boy dressed in servant's clothes...Arthur?
Arthur, refusing to meet Rei's eye, slowly crossed the room to silently face the king. His hair was cleaner than it was when she last saw him. Chuckling, the king watched her reaction change from rage and confusion to defeat.
"This boy brought me your brother, and your brother claims that you can survive. He insists that you have the skills to keep yourself and others safe. I want you to accompany my other Hunters, and get rid of the creatures that terrorize my people. Should you and your accomplices return safely, I shall grant you and your brother freedom and forgiveness from past wrongs. Do we have an agreement?"
Freedom for both of them? Despite Arthur and Thames's constant betrayals, freedom was something she hungered for. "Yes...sir."
The king nodded in contentment, and motioned for the guards to take her back to the dungeon. "You leave tomorrow morning; someone will be down to fetch you," he informed me as she retreated with her entourage. "And, Rei?"
She turned around reluctantly, ready to escape the room's golden sheen and distrustful occupants.
"I'll take the knife."
Setting the leather-covered blade on the ground where she stood, Rei gave Arthur one last glance. He seemed to be enthralled with the girl sitting beside the king. Sighing, Rei walked out of the throne room and the door closed behind her with a bang.
Rei sank into a corner of her cell as the quickly-closing door sent the room into darkness. Tomorrow she would trade the dullness of this prison for a potentially dangerous mission for her freedom.
She pulled the bare knife from her boots, grateful for the socks protecting her ankles. She rose and held the knife up to the window's piercing moonlight, staring at herself in its reflection.
After a moment, Rei silently knelt down and used the knife to scratch one more tally mark into the floor.
This would be her last night in her cell.