The city of Waelyngar, located in the northern portion of the Kingdom of the Southlands (more specifically in the region known as Magramland), is most recognizable by its ancient and famous marble citadel, which sits atop a high, grassy bluff. It is a beautiful old structure, and in the evening, just before sunset, it catches the light just so, and it shines like a majestic beacon framed in pure, white light. It is said to be the most famed and identifiable castle in the entire world, and Waelyngar itself consistently ranks as one of the prime destination points for wealthy travelers.
Fewer people know of what lies five hundred feet below, carved into the base of the cliff. There is only one entrance, to Waelyngar Institution for the Criminally Insane (WICI), and it is well hidden and well guarded. Those who know of its existence seldom speak of it, for it is a terrible place. I don’t know exactly why I was sent here, for I am neither a criminal nor insane—I’m just emotionally unstable. I am not dangerous. I have a short temper, but I’m not violent. I do not understand how anyone might find me the least bit intimidating.
My cellmate, Simon, is from a noble family, or so he claims. He’s schizophrenic, so I have to take everything he says with a grain of salt. He is a year older than me, short-statured, although not as short as I am, and a bit chubby—not fat, just childlike. He has wavy blond hair past his jaw-line, and his eyes are somewhere between grey and indigo. It is hard to tell in the dim light, so I’ll have to settle with blue. He arrived here around the same time as I did, but the place has physically affected him more than it has affected me. I learned quickly to do as I am told to avoid punishment; Simon, however, seems incapable of following orders. Nearly every day the guards lash or beat him, yet it is plain he never understands why they are hurting him. I feel strangely protective of him, as if he is somehow my responsibility.
We have been here nearly four weeks now. The changing of the guard wakes me in the early morning, and I crawl out of my bunk to escape the bedbugs. There is not a part of me that doesn’t itch or hurt. My skin is speckled with bites, my head aches from lack of sleep, and my gut is twisted in painful knots from bad food and inadequate nutrition.
Simon lets out a moan of discomfort and sits up gingerly, his legs hanging over the edge of his bed. “You woke me up. I was having a good dream.”
“Sorry. What was it about?”
“Not being here.” He slides from his bunk and alights crookedly upon the floor. “I’m too hungry enough to drown a mollusk.”
“I see,” I lie, trying to decode his statement.
“No, it isn’t. It’s quite warm.”
“It isn’t icy.”
I rub my forehead. “Dammit, Simon. You’re making my brain hurt.”
Ignoring me, he approaches the door of our cell and squints out into the corridor, gripping the bars in his filthy fingers. “TheyshouldhurryuptheyshouldhurryuptheyshouldhurryupI’mdyinghere,” he mutters, his words running together.
I lean against the cold, stone wall and close my eyes. I am hungry too, but I don’t think I will be able to keep anything down. I haven’t been able to eat much at all here; my stomach is too sensitive. When breakfast does finally arrive through the slot in the door, I drink the lukewarm water, swallow a few mouthfuls of stale bread, and leave the rest. Simon happily helps himself to the remainder of my portion. Then the little pig climbs back into his bunk and is out faster than a candle in a windstorm, a look of contentment upon his babyish face. Sometimes I wonder why I worry about him.