Silence followed the sounds of battle. For a moment Clio stopped, thinking of those who had lost their lives, but she didn’t have time to grieve for the people she’d become close to. She had to keep moving. That was what she had always been told to do if something happened. It was possible they would kill her, because of who she was, or they might keep her, and she couldn’t work out which was worse. Both were… she shook her head, her hand pressed against the wall as she tried to figure out where she would be safest. Nowhere was the first answer she thought of, but that was pessimism talking.
There were several doors leading out of the building. Clio knew where all of them were, but she didn’t know who else knew where they were. One came to mind as being the most likely door to lead her to some form of safety. Unfortunately it was the furthest away from her and getting to it was going to be the hard part, even though there were shortcuts. Biting hard on her lip she looked up. If no one else looked up then the pathways up there would be much safer than attempting to make her way using the normal route. She didn’t think about what might happen if someone did look up.
Ladders had been created within the walls and the closest one was a corridor away. It seemed a long way, because Clio didn’t have any idea where anyone was. They might even have already left the building. Her shoes made little noise on the floor, but even that seemed too loud compared to the silence everywhere else. Silently she prayed to deities she had never believed in before. All she needed to do was get to the ladder and then she’d be safer. She wouldn’t be truly safe until she got to the door she planned to leave through. The door that very few people knew about. She just had to hope that one of those few people wasn’t a traitor.
Clio’s hand brushed the ladder. If she hadn’t been using her hand to guide her she probably would never have found it. The corridors she was walking through were dark and seeing the world around her was almost impossible. She could just about see the walls, but the details were lost to her. In normal circumstances she would have been able to see every brick that made it. Her teeth bit into her lip again as she felt tears well up in her eyes. Crying wasn’t going to help them, because they were already dead and the building she had started to love would never be the same again. They would want her to get out of the building, so that was what she was going to do. It was the only thing she could do.
Climbing the ladder was easy. Had the invasion happened a couple of months earlier Clio probably wouldn’t even have thought about using one, because she simply hadn’t been able to. Until he’d spent hours with her, helping her learn how to use her hands and feet correctly. She swallowed around the lump in her throat, which was filled with the knowledge that she would never see him again. One stray tear tickled down her cheek as she forced herself to focus once more on what needed to be done. He would want her to get to safety, because that was why he’d spent all that time with her, when he had plenty of other things to be doing.
When Clio reached the top she crawled along the path. Most of them she could walk along but a few were too short for her, even though she was the smallest person in the building. There was a time she would have worried about dirtying her skirt and she was glad that part of her had faded away to nothing. She couldn’t imagine what she would have done if she had still been that person. Skirts didn’t matter when she knew that one of two things would happen if they found her.
The first room Clio passed through was empty. She’d looked down in an attempt to see where the invaders were, because they would be much easier to a avoid if she knew. It was harder to go through the second room. No invaders, but there were dead bodies and she recognised them all. One of the men had helped her when she got lost during her first month. Gritting her teeth she kept going. Thoughts of revenge were entertained as she made her way through the third and fourth rooms to find more bodies of people she knew. A couple of them she had even cared about.
“I want her found and I want her brought to me,” a male voice boomed as Clio got closer to the fifth room. “She has to be here somewhere.”
A shiver of pure fear went down Clio’s spine. The voice was one she recognised and knowing that he was leading the invasion force… breathing shallowly in order to keep the sounds she made to a minimum she crawled into the room, keeping to the shadows as much as she could. When she saw him, and the determination on his face, she knew that she had to get to that door.
“We will find her, sire,” another voice answered, again male. “I have a group searching through the building, checking every room, every corridor, and anywhere else she might have hidden.”
Clio kept crawling, hoping the whisper of her skirt and the sound of her breathing were too quiet for either of them to hear. Part of her wanted to wait for them to leave the room, so she could look at the faces of the dead in the room before moving on, but that was a bad idea. She could hear his voice in her head, telling her that she needed to get to the door. There was a reason he wanted her found and it wasn’t a good one. ‘Death or capture,’ he said. ‘We’re the first line of defence and if something happens to us you need to get out.’ Something had happened to them. They were all dead, because of her. Another tear trickled down her cheek.
“There are people watching all the doors,” the second voice continued, “because her first thought will be to get to safety.”
All Clio could do was tell herself it was unlikely they knew about the door she was aiming for. It was kept hidden from the outside and the inside, so they wouldn’t be able to find it during their search of the building, but she couldn’t stop thinking that someone could have told them about it. Although, she bit her lip thoughtfully and tried to ignore his voice telling her to stop, if they had of been told about the door they would also have been told about the hidden pathways through the building. Feeling more sure of her plan she crawled faster, keeping her body pressed tightly against the wall.
Getting through the next two rooms was easy. Both the paths were against the wall, so Clio didn’t need to worry about someone noticing her skirt hanging over the edge. It was the room following those two that was harder. Crawling would draw attention to her, because the path was so thin her skirt would hang over both sides, so she had to stand and walk. There was every possibility that someone would see her and it was something they had planned for. However the room was empty, so she took her chance.
It was one of the hardest things Clio had done. All she could do was walk, hoping that no one would enter the room, and try not to look down at the bodies below her. They were going to be people she knew, people she cared about, who had given their lives to keep her safe. One unstoppable tear trickled down her cheek. When she’d first arrived she’d hated everyone, feeling as though they were stopping her from living her life because she had to be kept safe, but slowly certain people had made a place for themselves in her heart. Eventually she had come to understand their point of view and did everything she could to make sure she could stay safe if something bad happened.
Of course Clio had never expected that bad thing to happen. She had understood their point of view, but hadn’t realised exactly how much people wanted to own her. An invasion force had entered her home, destroying everyone who had lived there, simply because she had magic. Being the first person with magic in three hundred years was more special to other people that it was to her. She didn’t even know how to use her power properly and she wasn’t sure she would ever be able to. There was no one to teach her, so everything she got right was purely down to luck.
If she’d been able to use her magic Clio might have been useful during the invasion. Instead all she’d been able to do was run for her life, knowing that people were giving their lives for her safety, and it had made her feel utterly useless. Without looking down she kept walking. If she fell, or someone saw her, she would be in even more danger from the invasion force, and that was the last thing she wanted. Getting out of the building was the only thing she could do that would have made him proud of her, so that was what she was going to do.
As Clio made her way through the room she kept telling herself that people rarely looked up. It was one of those things he’d taught her, because he always wanted her to look up. There was no way of knowing what might be up there, although the only things she’d ever found were spiders, but it was something she would try to remind herself to do. Even though she told herself it was impossible she couldn’t stop hoping that he might still be alive. He knew of more of the little hidey holes than she did, so if anyone could have survived the invaders it was going to be him, and he would meet her if she managed to make it all the way to the door he’d told her to leave from if the worst ever happened.
“Where is she?” his voice boomed again, almost making her lose balance and if she did… well, that was something she didn’t want to think about. “Why haven’t you found her yet?”
“It appears, my Lord, that there are ladders everywhere within the building, leading up to walkways that can take you all the way through the castle, and we think she may be up there.”
How had they already found the ladders? Clio bit her lip as she kept walking, hoping they wouldn’t think to look up, even though they knew she might be up there. It had to be luck. She hadn’t even known the ladders were there during her first week there and she’d walked past them every day. Of course she hadn’t been searching for someone within the castle. If she had of been maybe she would have found the ladders, instead of being told about them and their purpose.
“The longer I’m here the more I think it might be worth staying. It may not be the most beautiful castle I have ever seen, but there are some ingenious ideas that have been used to make this the sort of place a mage may hide herself easily and that is exactly what she has done, because she has been taught to fear us. She thinks we want to control her, when really we want to teach her to reach her full potential.”
Clio knew he was talking to her and she sped up, telling herself not to look down, because if she did she may well see him looking up at her and she didn’t want to know if he had seen her or not. Focusing on getting away from him was the most important thing, because they was what she should be doing, even though there was a part of her that couldn’t help wondering if maybe, if it were possibly, that they’d been wrong. Even though it was a voice she remembered for a reason, that reason being his promise that he would have her no matter what, there were always going to be doubts in her mind, as she’d never had a chance to speak to him, to ask what he wanted from her, and it wasn’t long after that she’d left her home behind.
Maybe it was really Clio’s parent’s need to keep control of her that meant she was running from someone who might be able to help her. Of course the men within the castle would have been told that she needed to be taught to fear everyone else, because of her abilities, but then he had killed everyone in the castle. They would never have surrendered, not even if they were given the option, as they’d been told to protect her with their lives and they believed that he was there for one reason only. Yet she couldn’t help wondering if he really was.
Which was exactly the sort of thing she should be wondering while she was crawling across one of the most dangerous parts of her route to safety. Clio reminded herself that she could think about her situation in more detail when she wasn’t high enough above the floor that a fall would lead to her death, because she didn’t want to die. She remembered being told that there were people who wanted her dead because of what she was. Was he one of them? Was he simply saying things in the hope that she would make things easier for him? Nothing was simple… it hadn’t been since she realised what she was and she didn’t know why she’d been unlucky enough to be born with magic. The first in three hundred years.
It didn’t matter how often she reminded herself of that. She still couldn’t quite believe it was possible and Clio remembered waking up after the strangest dream only to find that she was invisible. After wandering around for an hour it finally faded away, because she’d had no idea to make herself visible again, and if she’d experimented it would have been much easier to get around the castle, but her father had made her promise not to. Of course he hadn’t realised that when she made a promise she made it with magic, which made it impossible to break.
Fortunately he had people reading through all the books they had on magic, to see if they could find out how her abilities worked, because obviously there was no one who could teach her.
She should have had someone to teach her, but the last mage had been killed and no one was quite sure how. No one admitted to having done it, so there was a chance he might have died of natural causes, and yet that was something that everyone seemed to think was impossible. Clio didn’t know why, even though she’d asked questions, as her father thought it best she had some time to get used to the idea that she was a mage before she started getting the answers she felt she needed. Maybe that was just his way of controlling her, because it seemed that everyone wanted her one way or another, and he was the lucky one, while she was trapped in a castle full of invaders with no idea what to do next.
“I’ve found her,” a voice called, echoing, and she told herself sternly not to look back. She knew exactly where he was, which was quite bad enough. “Although I have no idea how we’re going to get her down from there safely.”
“Follow her and wait until she climbs down of her own free will,” another voice suggested, sounding fed-up, and she knew exactly why he felt that way. She was beginning to feel the same way too. “It’s too dangerous to grab her while we’re up here. One or other of us might end up with a cracked skull when we fall off the paths. Whoever designed them like this really was only thinking about creating escape routes.”
“Well, wouldn’t you? I know this castle was built at a time when there were more mages, but even then everyone wanted their own and it didn’t matter in the slightest what the mages themselves had in mind, so their answer to the problem was to make certain that they had options, and, if I was in their position, I would have done the same thing.”
“How do you know so much?”
“I read when I get bored, unlike you, and when I found out where we were coming I thought it would be a good idea to learn as much as I could about the castle. None of the books we had mentioned the secret passageways up here, but that’s not really a surprise.”
“They could be a new addition.”
“Possible, but I doubt it.”
As Clio got further away from the two soldiers their conversation got quieter, but she kept listening, because she knew nothing about the castle she had found herself in. She’d been told that it was more important that she learnt her way around than it was for her to learn about the building itself, at least at first, and she didn’t know if that would ever have changed – it seemed unlikely when she thought about it, if she thought of her father as another person who sought to control, which was something she never had before. To think that of someone she believed loved her… until she found herself hunted by another one of the players in the game she hadn’t really stopped to contemplate why she had been hidden away. Everyone she spoke to said it was for her own safety, so that was the truth she had accepted, but what if they’d been lying to her. All she could really do was keep going and wait until she was somewhere safe, preferably alone, and then let herself think of what her future should hold, because she needed to focus on where she was going.
The pathways were dangerous. Each one of them was just small enough for one person to make their way along them and Clio had been close to falling off them before, although that was before she had spent days working out the best routes to get her to the door that she needed, the door she kept hoping would take her to safety and, if the was very lucky, the man who had taught her everything she knew. He was probably dead, like everyone else, because there was no one in the castle who wouldn’t have fought – even the cook – but there was a chance he’d put her future needs first. She knew she was only hoping that he had survived so she wouldn’t be alone, running from someone she wasn’t even certain she should be running from, in nothing more than a pair of slippers.
Getting to the room she needed was a relief. Clio, as silently as she could, started making her way down the ladder, hoping that there was no one down there. If there was… she pushed the thought away. After spending so much time crawling along those pathways she wanted to believe she was safe, even though she had no idea if she’d ever be safe again. The castle was meant to be her sanctuary, somewhere they wouldn’t find her, and yet there they were, having killed all of the people she had come to care about. She blinked away tears, focusing on what her next step was going to be. When her feet touched the ground she allowed herself a moment to come to terms with what had happened and that was when a hand covered her mouth.
“It’s me.” The tension left her body as Quinn took his hand away from her mouth. “Sorry, I couldn’t have you screaming, and after everything that’s happened I wouldn’t have blamed you for reacting that way.”
“How did you survive?”
“Once we realised who it was I was sent here to wait for you. This was always going to be the door you came to, because that was what you were taught to do, so they did everything they could to get me here safely and protect you at the same time.”
“Don’t think about it, Clio. We all knew this was a possibility, although we hoped it would never happen, and we were prepared to die for you. You are special.” She opened her mouth. “Saying that you don’t want to be isn’t going to change what you are.” Quinn took hold of her hand. “I was sent here because you don’t know where to go once you’re out of this door. Had we been able to teach you before I wouldn’t be here, but getting you to safety has become my job.”
“Not your fault.” As Quinn opened the door she couldn’t stop herself from looking over her shoulder, certain that someone must have caught up with her, but fortunately they’d had no idea where she was going, so they’d be searching the pathways one at a time. If they could get out of the door before anyone found them there was a chance they wouldn’t be followed, as they’d hopefully still think she was in the castle somewhere. “There’s a route that we need to follow that will take us from one hideaway to another. You should be able to see them, because of what you are, but I won’t, so all I can do is take you to where it’s supposed to be. At the end we should find another place like this, one that was created centuries ago by mages who actually knew what they were doing, so hopefully we’ll be able to find some books that will teach you how to use your abilities.”
“Why didn’t I go there first?”
“Part of the magic they used means that it can’t be found unless the mage hunting for it is in danger. As far as I’m concerned this is being in danger, so you should be able to find it now, and if you can’t…” He sighed. “We’re going to have to think of something else, but right now that’s not something I’m going to think about.”
Clio nodded. “Come on then.”
Needing to be out of castle that was no longer her sanctuary she tugged Quinn out of the door with her and stopped to let him shut it behind them, as that should make it harder for their attackers to find it. Then she let him lead her in the direction they needed to be going in, because she had no other choice, and all she could do was hope that he really was helping her. Maybe he’d decided that he wanted her to be his mage, for whatever reason, so he was helping her for selfish reasons, but she couldn’t believe that of him. She didn’t want to. He’d become her friend in the time they’d been in the castle and she wanted to trust him, even though she was certain the only way the invaders could have known where she was was if they’d been told by someone.
“There she is!”
Without thinking Clio started running, and Quinn did the same. “If we get separated aim for the river. From what I read you should be able to feel the magic.”
“What about you?”
“I’ll go to your father and tell him what happened. The hideaway should hold everything you need.”
Clio tightened her grip on Quinn’s hand. “We’re not getting separated.”
One of the things she’d been trained to do was run for hours without getting tired, just in case, and as they kept going she was grateful for it. A couple of times she felt like she was going to trip over something, but his grip on her stopped that from happening. If it hadn’t been for him they would have caught her long before she started to feel the magic she’d been told was there. Three times they’d had to change direction slightly, first taking them away from the magic, then towards, and then away again. Finally she realised that she needed to start leading Quinn, otherwise they were going to miss the hideaway entirely, even though that did mean getting closer to the people who were chasing them. He tried to stop her, until she shook her head.
“We have to go that way.”
“Training was so much simpler.”
Clio had to stop herself from laughing at that as they slowed to a jog. “I know.”
Every step they took towards the hideaway was terrifying. She couldn’t stop thinking that they were going to be caught, that he was going to end up dead and she would be in the hands of someone who probably wanted to use her for their own nefarious purposes, even though she couldn’t use her magic. Just as she was starting to feel safe there was a sound behind them, but neither of them turned to see what might have made it.
“Stop.” They kept going. “I have an arrow aimed at his heart, Clio.”
“Go,” Quinn said.
She shook her head, before turning. Her eyes met with those of the one person she didn’t think would be hunting for her and as they stared at each other she felt Quinn turn too. “What do you want with her?”
“Nothing more than she’s willing to give.”
“You’ve already taken more than I’m willing to give,” Clio said, surprised at how calm her voice was. “The people you killed…”
“Casualties of a war that should never have happened. It wouldn’t if your father had kept his word, but then he found out that you had magic and hid you away in a castle that I didn’t even know existed.” He shook his head. “He made the decision that led to their deaths, not me, although I admit that I didn’t have to come after you – I just believe that when you make a promise you should keep it.”
“On your eighteenth birthday you were to be handfasted to my son. That birthday is long past now.”
For a moment she couldn’t say anything. “You killed all those people because you wanted me to handfast your son?” Even though Clio did her best to seem calm it was easy to hear the fury in her voice. “It’s not going to happen.”
“There is no way you can stop it.”
“I’m already handfasted.”
Silence followed her announcement and she could feel two sets of eyes on her, but she didn’t take her eyes off the man who seemed to think she was going to handfast his son. “To who?”
“As if I’m going to tell you that.” She smiled. “I made the decision without my father’s blessing because I knew he would never have accepted it. Fortunately I am of age, so no one could stop me from doing what I wanted to, and it was consummated. Only death can bring an end to it now.”
“Do you really think I’m bothered by the thought of killing one more person?”
“Honestly, no. You come up with excuses as to why you’ve made the choice to kill everyone in the castle when really it was you decision, even though you seem to believe it was my father’s, because you could have walked away. This isn’t something that needed to happen.”
“Your father owes me, Clio.”
“I don’t. Whatever issues are between the two of you are just that – between you. They have nothing to do with me, even though you seem to think they do, and finding out that he sold me, for whatever reason, just makes me even more certain that I’m better off without him.”
The arrow flew, before bouncing off the shield that Clio had managed to create around the two of them. She hadn’t been certain it was going to work until she had, but she didn’t show how relieved she was, and knowing that it did work meant that she could get to the hideaway without having to worry too much, even though she couldn’t be certain how long it was going to last. As she took hold of his hand she started walking backwards. Just three paces more and they would have been behind the wards. Three paces more and she wouldn’t have learnt why he was after her or about the choices that her father had made without consulting her.
Moments later they were behind the wards, and when then happened they disappeared from view. “I know where you are. The time will come when you have to leave. I’m willing to wait for as long as it takes.”
Clio didn’t respond. As she turned away from him, keeping the shield up in case he decided to do something stupid, she found herself looking at a door she hadn’t seen before. The wards were different to the ones she’d learnt to create, as they could do so much more than protect whatever was behind them. Obviously she had plenty more to learn about what she was, but the time would come for that, after they’d grieved for the people they’d both lost, and with Quinn’s hand still in hers she stepped into the sanctuary she desperately needed. All she could do was hope things didn’t go wrong again.