His words rebounded over and over in my head. I knew it. Cassava was not dead. Which mean she could be out there plotting against Lark, yet again.
Raven went on. “It’s a game I enjoy greatly. And there are more players in this game than even I realized. Maybe more than you realized.” He grinned and his blue eyes sparkled as though he had a great joke going. “But I’ve found I can’t just go into the different families and take over things the way I’d planned. They are on the lookout for me now, thanks to Lark. Between the mother goddess and my sister—well, she’s not my sister, but that’s semantics—my plans keep getting twisted.”
It hit me what he was saying, the undertone of it all. “You don’t want to be seen as a monster. You want the people to love you.”
Raven pointed a finger at me. “See, I knew you would understand. You get me, Ash. Another reason I don’t want to kill you. I think we could be friends one day. I think we could understand one another. You are not the only one in a dungeon, you know.” His eyes softened, and there was a glimmer of pain there.
He was mad, that was the only answer I had for his reasoning that he and I could possibly ever be friends.
“I really want to help our world,” he went on, “I do. Just not the way anyone can see right now. It’s going to take a cleansing before we can make things right again, even I can see that. Mother doesn’t agree with me. Neither of she nor the mother goddess actually agree with me. But I am right. I just need Lark to see it.”
“So you leave me to rot,” I said.
He nodded. “Until you agree to serve me, and by serving me, we will help Lark.”
“Fuck off.” The words were out of my mouth and he laughed.
“Potty mouth, yeah, my mother would love to have you in her bed. Perhaps I should be threatening you with that . . . but wait, you already spent time there. How was it? Did she tie you up?”
I gritted my teeth, keeping my words to myself. They would have only inflamed him further anyway, and I didn’t need that.
He took a few steps back so the shadows partially swallowed him. “Let’s see if you are singing the same tune after a few years in here.”
Years. Cut off from my connection to the earth. Would it be the same as banishment? Would I lose my mind? For the first time, fear for myself coursed through me. I’d been punished like this before.
Tight spaces and I did not get on well together.
His footsteps faded and I found myself alone the cell. Hours later, Dreg brought me food and a single cup of water. The routine continued the same the next day, minus Raven.
And the next and the next. I fought the growing anxiety that spooled around my belly, looping tighter and tighter within me.
Dreg was always the one who brought me my food and water, and he spoke not a word. No matter what I said, or how I pleaded, he kept his mouth shut. As though he couldn’t hear me. Maybe that’s what Raven had imprinted in his mind, that Dreg would be deaf to me. I wouldn’t put it past the bastard.
A week passed by in a blur of tediousness and growing agitation. Because I was given so little food and water, I knew I could not even push my body with exercise to pass the time. I would dehydrate too quickly, leaving me weak and vulnerable. Which left me one option. Either I stared at the walls and slowly went mad, or I did as Lark had when she was cast into the oubliette.
She’d told me what she’d pulled off, letting her mind float, and in that state she’d been able to see things that went on in the world outside her prison. It might have been because of her connection to Spirit, but perhaps I could make it work for me, too. If nothing else, it was worth a try and would keep me busy for a period of time that would otherwise leave me staring at the walls as my mind slowly cracked.
I sat in the center of the small room and slowed my breathing, counting each inhale and exhale until the scrambling fear in my mind slowed its spread, until my body sunk into a space where there was nothing but the sound of my own heart and the calm of not seeing the walls around me.
Like a fog rolling over my head, the cell faded, and when I opened my eyes I was left sitting in a place of calm. Empty, the place was nothing but gray and white. I stood and thought about the Rim, and slowly trees grew around me, reaching to the sky. The ground was warm beneath my feet. The place was the Rim . . . and yet not. There were no people, no homes, nothing moved, not even birds or the breeze that always flowed between the massive tree trunks. Almost as if I’d stepped into a picture painted so lifelike, yet without any actual life to it.
“What is this place?” I spoke the words out loud to see how they sounded as much as anything. What I didn’t expect was an answer.
“A place between the Veil, yeah?” Griffin strolled out from behind a redwood on my right. I turned to face him. He was a bit taller than me with black hair and eyes just as dark. A wolfy grin stretched across his face and I almost expected his tongue to loll out. He was a shapeshifter, though I wasn’t sure I’d call him a werewolf. Griffin was something more than a mere werewolf. More like the father of all wolves, the Great Wolf. He had been a friend to Lark, so I did not fear him.
“How do you mean it is between the Veil? I know there are seven levels; how is this different?”
Griffin squinted up at the branches over our heads. “You see, the Veil is set up in layers like you said. This is a place between them, like what you’d see if you stopped in mid-stride as you crossed over them, yeah?”