The bells toll and Kayla stirs in her glass coffin. Her fingers twitch where they lay across her chest, her eyelashes flutter against her cheeks as the sound pulls her from her slumber. Her head lolls groggily to the side, then her eyes snap open as her heart leaps up to her throat. She sits upright, body half frozen in fear and indecision between all the things she needs to be doing. Alarms are sounding in her mind, telling her that she must rush to the castle’s sanctum, no, find and grab her cats first and then go join the rest of her family and the servants in the innermost sealed area, the only one that can hope to withstand the attack.
Then, she feels the cold metal of the chain wrapped around her shoulder and arm, the glass orb resting at the crook of her elbow and the key pressed against the side of her wrist. A wave of burning anxiety washes over her body as she remembers where she is, now, what she is.
All hesitation is drained from her body in a moment and she tosses her unnecessary covers, only present for comfort and not for keeping the chill she doesn’t feel at bay, aside. She steps out of the coffin, bare feet careful as they move down the stepladder leading down from it. The darkness in her room is complete, no moon or stars hang high in the sky, their light filtering in to illuminate her surroundings. But Kayla moves with a certainty that comes from practice, from the same movements repeated until her body knows what to do without any input from her mind.
Not bothering with putting on proper clothes, or even with finding shoes in the gloom, she bolts as soon as her feet hit the rug covered floor, towards the always locked and bolted door of her chambers. Her mind is too feverish for mundane worries, her chest exploding with the ecstasy of hope fulfilled and renewed horror.
The mournful sound of the bells no longer brings the fear of death that it once did, for her. They herald only one thing, now, in her new unlife: freedom, for a few moments, and for a price.
Kayla grabs the doorknob, throws all her weight back to pull the door to her room open and the heavy oak and iron, despite not having been open from this side in so long, gives way easily, without a sound.
Hastily stepping forward, Kayla almost collides with who’s at the other side of door and her blood runs cold, her body recoils instinctively with an inner hiss of the animal part of her.
On the landing, waiting as silent and still as statues made of flesh, illuminated by the light of the lanterns hanging from their waists and towering several heads above her, are a doll and an automaton. A maid and a soldier, a mound of white linens and a tower of black iron, united by the red of their House, the red of roses, the red of blood. Her escort, to make sure she performs her task after the door to her prison at the top of the tower is open, rather than run and leave the city of Lothurst to its horrifying fate.
Their visages, expressionless and hidden behind the metal grid of a helm, send a chill throughout her body as she faces the giants, blinking uncomfortably in the pool of brightness created by their lamps. She wants to slowly step away from them, to lock herself back in her room, in the fake safety it offers, away from their stares. But the desperate need to take what she can, grab at it with tooth and claw, is stronger. And they can’t keep her caged, not when the bells have tolled, not when she’s needed for the one and only purpose she’s been allowed ever since she’s crawled back up from her grave.
Without a word, they part for her and Kayla pushes out the doorway and past them. A jolt of pleasure runs through her body as she crosses the forbidden threshold, right foot stepping onto the landing. She turns left, headed for the spiral staircase and runs down it. If they follow her, even as she rushes towards the small scraps of liberty she’s allowed, she can at least indulge in forcing them to give chase.
The rest of the rooms are eerily silent behind their closed doors as she passes them. The entire tower is empty and devoid of all life, except for her and her jailers, and even they can’t claim to be quite alive themselves. Through the narrow windows, no sound or sign of movement comes from the corridors surrounding the tower or the courtyard, either. The entire abbey is abandoned and left for the dead, for the Scions imprisoned in it and the creatures that so dutifully guard them.
Whether it’s just her imagination playing tricks on her, Kayla thinks she can feel the other Scions stirring, dots of death and magic across the walled city, each group of six in their own abbey. Maybe, they were awakened by the bells, instinctively rousing from sleep when the sound that spelled their release reverberated through the cobbled streets.
But it’s not their turn to be free for a little while. Only one abbey’s dwellers receive that blessing at a time and it is hers turn. And, even if she laments the fact that they can’t all be liberated from their prisons, there’s a selfish part of her that revels in the fact that it’s her, her companions being granted that boon, tonight.
Her heart seizes as her thoughts turn to the friends who will now be undertaking the same path as her, their feet taking the steps down as eagerly as hers are, bare soles slapping against the battered stone. Can she even dare to call them that anymore? The medallion bumping against her chest as she runs, the only thing she’s wearing besides her thin, white nightgown, is a grim reminder of the fact that she might not, that they might all hate her even more than she hates herself.
But there’s no time to dwell on these thoughts. The door that leads to the outside of the tower comes into view as she turns the last twist of the staircase, and Kayla’s escort is catching up to her as she stops on the landing, hand reaching out to grasp at the brass of the doorknob as the mechanism for the lock clicks open.
She’ll have time to mourn the past later, as she always does after she’s brushed against the oldest, dearest friends she once led into death and damnation. For now, she’ll have to stay focused on their one and only duty: fighting the demon that has invaded the city before it can start to feast on its inhabitants and sink it into its own realm.
Bracing herself for what’s to come, Kayla grabs the second door keeping her from the outside world and pulls it open.
The door at the end of the staircase opens just as easily as her bedroom's and a gush of cold air hits her flushed cheeks. Two soldiers stand guard to both sides of it, pillars of black armor wrapped in banners of red threaded with brass. They seem perfectly at home in the scene of pointed arches, iron and glass windows, needle-like towers, dull dark grey rock and flying buttresses surrounding them. Somber and sinister.
Kayla ignores them and steps out into the abbey’s courtyard, pauses for a moment, trying not to breathe in too greedily the outside air she’s been denied for so long. But her moment of respite is cut short as her escort catches up to her, spills through the open door of the tower.
Again, Kayla runs. She sets out towards the wall of the abbey, trying to put as much distance as she can between herself and the doll and automaton, even if it means stepping away from the light of their lamps and into the darkness.
They fall in line behind her, a grim procession of grating sound and soundless stalking that set her teeth on edge. Their gazes bore into the back of her head and a shiver runs down her spine that makes her want to straighten her shoulders, stand taller; an instinctive attempt to make herself look bigger and stronger before the giants.
The maze of paths lined with rose bushes that she follows gives way to a clearing and the wall finally comes into view. The gate is closed, as always, its shape not even made to be open. There are no hinges on it, rather the sides are bolted solidly to the stone. The wrought metal curls and curves not around any kind of lock, but a tall mirror, its frame etched with the intricate designs of God’s alphabet. An old spell to keep their enemies out, but one that also keeps the Scions locked in.
The surface of the mirror is dark, a black born of a mix of deep jewel tones. It seems to pulse and undulate, like the surface of a lake when something stirs deep within it, rather than anything made of glass and silver and, used as she is to the doors to the demons’ distortions, it makes Kayla feel sick to her stomach.
She looks away from it, searching for the person he most wants to see. Standing close enough to the mirror that his eagerness to go through it is obvious, but not so much that his apprehension towards it isn’t, is Joshua. Kayla’s heart jumps at the sight of him, deep affection serving only as kindling for the guilt roaring in her chest.
Holding her head high, Kayla runs towards him, ready to face one of the friends she killed.