Previous Challenge Entry (Level 2 – Intermediate)
Topic: Write for the FANTASY and/or SCI FI Genre (10/16/14)
By Jeanette OHagan
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Ruhanna fled up the long spiral of stairs even though there was no escape. Behind her boots tolled against the worn stone steps. Shouts echoed and re-echoed, ricocheting in swirling reverberations, closing in on her like the relentless pounding of the tide. The flare of torches sent her shadow dancing on the dark walls. The smell of smoke singed her nostrils. She would not let them take her for she did not want to die. Her breath came in bursts, strangled and besieged. She stumbled onward in a tight spiral, tripping over her long skirt, bruising knees and shins, stubbing toes. She grabbed hold of the narrow railing and pulled herself upwards.
Her magnificent hair – her undoing, her curse and her gift – unraveled in sliding coils and flew out behind her in a veil of flame red strands.
She reached the end of the stairs, her chest heaving. A trapdoor cut a square outline in the white paneled wood above her. She shoved upwards and pulled herself into the top room. Kicking the trapdoor shut, she bolted it.
She was surrounded by light. Translucent glass, streaked with green bubbles curved around her in a circle, blurring the fathomless stretch of wild, wintry sky. Grey clouds, clotted liked furrowed fields, raced in a wild wind. Silvery gulls wheeled and screamed above the stormy sea of white capped green. Far below the tower and the sheer cliff it perched on, lay jagged stones laced in the white foamed breath of the sea. There was nowhere else to go but into the abyss.
She sucked in the salt tinged air and pulled her gaze back to the room she stood in. A flameless light partially enclosed by burnished mirrors stood on a stand in the center of the room otherwise empty except for a chest and some tools. She dragged the heavy chest over the trapdoor and collapsed against the wall, panting and waiting for the inevitable.
It had been a couple of weeks since the messenger had ridden in haste from Silantas with news of her father’s sudden death. In her grief she had spurned food and avoided sleep racked with strange dreams. Worse, she had failed to dye her hair to blend in with the dark hues of her keepers. She had ignored the sidelong glances of Mariam, Teema or Zobar, who had cared for her since childhood, or the mutterings of the guards. One of them must have betrayed her for today the soldiers had come to drag her away, accused of being a mortal threat to the royal house of Beltoris. Who would help her?
The battering below reached a crescendo. The trapdoor shuddered but did not move.
Someone thumped the trapdoor.
‘Accursed girl, we will get you, yet.’
‘Maybe we should smoke the changeling out.’
‘Don’t be a fool. Go get an axe.’
Ruhanna’s heart raced in a staccato rhythm. Pulling her long legs towards her chin, she wrapped her arms round her knees. She was no different from anyone else…except for her tell-tale hair hanging like a red curtain about her face, inherited it seems from some distant changeling ancestor.
Child, don’t despair. Embrace my gift. Don’t spurn it. Ruhanna’s head jerked up at the drumming on the glass. An albatross, outstretched wings thrumming on the wind, brushed up against the curved window. A shaft of light broke through the roiling clouds, bathing feathers in dazzling white.
She stood up and placed a slender hand against the greenish glass, her skin the silver of sea-wrack. Believe. The voice from her dreams. The bird dipped its long narrow wings, pivoted, and disappeared into the east.
The solid thwack of the axe against the floorboards and the sound of splintering wood.
‘We've got you now, redhead.’
Ruhanna pushed the window open and crawled out onto the narrow ledge. Her fingers were tight on the window frame, her blood pounding in her ears. She didn't want to die, but if the old tales were true there might be a way to live.
She let go, spreading her arms to embrace the air currents, and plummeted. The rocks in the sea wrack yawned like teeth below her. She shivered as arms and legs, muscle, sinew, heart and bones molded into a new shapes. A gust of wind took her, lifting her up. Flight feathers fingered the wind. She banked and flew to the east and freedom.
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