By D. C. Ward
She snatched it greedily from his bony fingers. A trifurcated key of white gold, encrusted with smooth black letters and a glass window on its bow. Within the window, gently flowing clouds of both white and grey rotated. Jagged cuts ran down each of the three shafts; so many sharp protrusions it may have made a fine weapon. It was a beautiful key.
All of her most joyful memories, and all of her most torturous nightmares, now lay flat in her palm. She felt a power in it, like that of an approaching storm; hairs she didn’t know existed on the back of her hands stiffened and shivered her skin. Ani stared at the key, and then up at the iron door. Should it not be guarded by more than those spiders?
“I do not understand?” she said.
“My lady,” began Ralk, gazing up and down Ani’s body with his usual look of amorous hunger, “the Thaumaturge have been restless, but have finally found a way for you to forget what happened that night. That is what you want, is it not? You will find on the other side the scene as you remember, of your father as you found him after his murder.”
“How do I use it?”
“It is a key, my lady. It works as all keys do.”
With that her eyes flared and lips pursed. “Lord Ralk, was there no one else to escort and instruct me? Your face is perhaps something else I will look to forget on the other side.”
“You wound me, my lady,” he said, his voice rumbling through a sardonic grin.
“And how do I erase a memory?”
“It will be clear when it needs to be.”
Their eyes were fixed as Ani thrust the key into the lock. Getting rid of Ralk would be one of the first things she’d do when she became Duchess. He had always been that insect who survived no matter how hard you tried to stamp on it. But first thing was first: to rid herself of the memory that had plagued her for months.
She twisted the key. A rattle and a clunk followed. Darkness took her as she passed through the shining frame. The door slammed behind her and she was left in the black. Her feet moved inch by inch, cautiously moving her forward. There were steps, and circumspectly she took them.
As she slowly descended, all she could think of was her father. A great and faultless duke who raised a great and faultless daughter. She had spent so long trying to avenge him, but the trail was as cold as a winterman’s kiss. A thousand men now claimed the Wingwove Throne, and any one of them could have planted that knife in her father’s skull, or at least paid someone to stick it there. Was there a man who wouldn’t kill for a seat raised a step higher than theirs? It didn’t matter. It would be hers after the hearing. She could already feel the crown tilted wryly on her dark hair.
The thirteenth step was the last. Ani pushed her foot forward to find a fourteenth drop, but met a hard flat floor instead. And then it began. Coloured lights swished and flickered, stars glistened and shadows swayed eerily around the peripheral. This is what she had waited for. The core of her mind. Her memories made tangible. Once she had found the memory of that terrible night, she would, she hoped, be able to erase it. It was the only way she could move on.
The colours and shapes tangled and weaved within each other, and swiftly the shadows joined them. Together they presented images of times already passed. Ani’s heart knocked violently against her chest. A croaking noise slipped from her trembling lips. It was memories she saw, yes – but not hers. Memories of rejection and heartache. Memories of depression and torment. She saw herself laughing at the man whose memories she was living. She felt the pain she had caused. She saw a man scream into a mirror, cuts on his wrists never as deep as he had intended.
It was Ralk.
The memories blurred and then sharpened again. It was excitement being felt now, not hers but his – a ferocious hunger soon to be sated. The bursts of colour and swaths of shadow merged into a large oak door. It creaked open and there was her father, alive, a crown like a golden halo rested on his balding pate. His eyes widened as he saw Ralk’s knife. One quick thrust and it was in his skull, outlined by thick, dark blood. It was a while before the bony hands let the knife go.
Behind her she heard muffled laughter, and then a rattle and a clunk.
With one sudden puff, the colours dispersed, the shapes deflated and the shadows crept lazily back into the darkness. And that was where Ani was left. In the Darkness.
By D. C. Ward
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