Chapter 1 – Unedited / Work in Progress …. Enjoy!
Chapter 1: Ashton
Ashton sat up and squeezed his hands over his ears. Head throbbing, mouth dry, surrounded by darkness. Where am I? Pressing his palms to his eyes, he tried to clear his vision. It was still dark. From somewhere in the distance came the sound of dripping water. The ground was cold stone.
He tried to ignite his fire and the flames would not come. Since he’d learned to use his powers as a child, he’d never failed to call to fire. Panic rose up inside him. Without his magic, how would he get out of here? On hands and knees, he felt his way forward. An outstretched hand felt something smooth. A bar. He was in a cell somewhere. Gripping a bar in each hand, he pressed his face into the gap between them, trying to make out anything that might tell him where he was. Everything was black.
He slumped down, leaning against the wall next to the bars. Resting his elbows on his knees, he held his head with his hands. The last thing he remembered was running toward Saffron, then a cloud of black rising around him. Saffron. Was she here?
“Saffron?” he whispered.
“Saffron?” he spoke louder this time.
After a moment, he heard a small reply. “Ashton? Is that you?”
He turned and gripped the bars again, squinting into the black. “I’m in a cell.”
“Me too,” she said. “Are you hurt?”
He looked down but couldn’t even see his own hands in front of his face. “I don’t think so. But I don’t have my magic.”
There was a long pause. “Saffron?”
“I’m here, Ashton.”
Ashton tried again to call to his flames, hoping that the first failure had been a mistake. Again, nothing. He let out a frustrated cry and slammed his palm agains the bar. Pain shot through his hand to his wrist and through his arm. He shook his hand. That was stupid.
“You alright?” Saffron asked.
“Fine.” He rubbed his wrist. “Where are we?”
“I’m not sure. I woke up a few minutes ago.”
Footsteps sounded from somewhere beyond his cell. Ashton glanced into the darkness and saw the light of a torch headed his way. It illuminated a figure he didn’t recognize. As it drew closer, she came into view. He squeezed the bars in his hands. Nora.
A long black dress trailed across the ground as she walked. She stopped in front of Ashton and held up her torch to illuminate his face. She was inches from him. He stared at her. She looked so different from how she had looked on the battlefield. Her hair was piled on top of her head in a mess of ringlets. Her mouth was set in a line, eyes hard. How long had he been passed out here?
Her lips curled into a smile. “Hello Ashton, nice to see you again.”
Heat rose in his chest and he pressed his face further into the bars. “What am I doing here?”
“You’re here as my guest,” she said.
“Is this how you treat all of your guests?” Ashton asked.
“Until I know you can behave yourself, you’ll stay down here.”
“What do you want with us?” Ashton asked.
Nora glanced behind her then looked back at Ashton. “So she’s awake, too?” The smile faded from her lips. “You’re here because you were always Max’s favorite. I don’t think he’d be happy with me if I didn’t give you one last chance to join us.”
Ashton squeezed the bars harder. “Max is dead.”
She lifted an eyebrow. “If he were dead, I’d have no reason to keep you.”
That didn’t make any sense. Why would Max want Ashton around? Especially after he’d driven a sword through his chest. He couldn’t be alive, could he?
“Did you make your father raise him from the dead?” Ashton’s voice came out defiant. No matter what Max had done to him, nobody deserved to be made into a slave after death.
“I’m not my father,” she sneered.
“Where are we?” he asked. “And what did you do to me?”
“If you’re referring to your loss of magic, it’s because you’re in the dungeon at the Order of the Dragon. The cells were specially made to keep fire sorcerers from using their powers.” She raised her hand. “See? Even I can’t make any fire down here.” She lifted the torch. “Only reason any self-respecting fire sorcerer would be carrying one of these things.”
“Let Saffron go,” Ashton said. “There’s no reason for her to be here. Max wouldn’t want her locked up.”
The smile returned to her face. “That’s true. Max seems to have a soft spot for his first love. She’s not here for him. She’s here for me. I’m not sure how I’ll get rid of her yet, but you can bet it will be slow and painful.”
“What is wrong with you?” Ashton asked.
“Wrong question, Ashton.” Her eyes flashed and she bared her teeth. “The question you should be asking is: how long can a fire sorcerer stay down here before he loses his powers completely?”
Before Ashton could respond, she turned and walked away from the cell, boot heels clicking over the stone hallway as she left. The door slammed behind her and they were again immersed in darkness.
Ashton felt like the walls were closing in on him and his breathing was rapid. Pacing in a small circle, he ran his hands through his hair. She has to be bluffing. This cell can’t make me lose my powers forever. Can it?
Saffron’s voice drifted through the darkness. “Ashton?”
He swallowed his fear and felt his way to the front of the cell. “I’m here.”
“Was that the king’s daughter?” Her voice was strained. Ashton rarely heard her lose composure. Should he lie to her? Tell her something that would be more comforting? No, she’d want the truth.
“It was,” he said.
Ashton stood in the empty black cell, waiting for her to speak. The silence was suffocating. After several moments, he realized she wasn’t going to say anything. He should say something to her. How many times had Saffron been there for him? She’d patched up his skinned knees and battled against him with wooden swords.
“Don’t worry,” he said. “We’re going to get out of here. Somehow.”
“No,” she said. “We’re going to die in here.”
Ashton felt like he’d been punched in the gut. Saffron had never given up before. “Don’t say that,” he said. “I’m going to get us both out of here.”
“Ashton,” her voice was soft. “I’ve lost a lot of blood. I can’t tell if it’s stopped or not. Even if it has, infection is going to set in without proper care. I’m not going to be leaving this cell.”
“Don’t say things like that,” Ashton grabbed the bars and tried to shake them. “Don’t you dare give up on me. I’m getting us out of here.”
“Saffron,” Ashton yelled. “Do you hear me? Don’t you dare give up on me.”
Silence greeted Ashton. He lowered his voice. “You can’t leave me.”
After what felt like minutes, Saffron whispered her reply. “I’ll do my best, Ashton, but I can’t make any promises.”
He no longer felt tired. A rush of energy flowed through him and he began circling the cell, hands on the walls. He felt every inch, trying to find a weakness, anything. With a yell of frustration, he sunk back onto the floor. There wasn’t any way out of here. Without his magic, he felt useless. He’d been reliant on it for so long. Leaning his head against the wall, he closed his eyes. He remembered it like it was yesterday.
It was a week before his tenth birthday and he was playing in the woods with some of the other kids from the Raven camp. One of the older boys had pushed him, knocking him down. When he stood, the older boy knocked him down again. Ashton tried to laugh it off, but the boy kept pushing him. He’d felt heat rising in his body but thought it was nothing more than frustration. Using the anger that was driven by the heat, he lunged at the other boy before he realized that his hands were on fire. The other boy nearly died from the burns.
After that incident, none of the other kids wanted to play with him anymore. A few days later, he decided he had to leave. The night he packed up a bag to run away, Max was standing outside his tent. From that night on, he’d been Ashton’s mentor. He was the only person that Ashton felt really understood him. How had things changed so much from that day? What had happened to the Max he knew? It was like he wasn’t even the same person anymore. Max had always been arrogant, but somewhere along the way, he’d turned into a monster.
Monster or no, Max had been there for Ashton and guilt pressed in on his chest making it difficult to breathe. How had Ashton put a sword through his teacher’s chest? Didn’t that make him just as bad as Max? Ashton tried to shake the memory of Max’s shocked expression. It was the look of betrayal. Maybe Ashton deserved to be in this cell. He ran his hands through his hair and tried to collect himself. He’d done it to save Etta. The Max he’d known as a child would never have tried to kill his own sister. The old Max was dead, one way or another.