The head of security closes the door, leaving me gawking and blinking. His words soon sink in, and my heart rejoices – Vivien might yet be alive, and the Marquis might indeed requite my passion, like Lauren said. With the duvet wrapped around me I pace around the room, chewing on my fingernails and struggling to switch on my wits to silence the guilty desires that attack me.
My best bet regarding Basarab’s identity is Ronald Lord Barkley, the head of the lunatic asylum. He’s despicable enough. I need to talk to Vivien’s mother very soon, and for that I need to see the Marquis right away.
I take a quick shower to get rid of the soot, wash my hair –to save time I apply no conditioner – so when I bang on the door my hair resembles messy straw that goes perfectly with the aerial dress, making me seem a lunatic myself. I’m aware of the effect golden eyes have without make-up when staring out of a thin and pale face with rather delicate bone structure, so I expect the security guard to back away a couple of steps at the mere sight of me.
Only that no one answers my knocks. I realize that after Zed left I didn’t hear the locks. I pull the door and find it indeed open. Standing on the landing before the stairs spiralling downward, I close my eyes and take a deep breath – my first breath of freedom in what feels like an eternity. There’s no trace of the men usually guarding me. Remembering Zed’s tense demeanour, what’s happening with the Marquis tonight must have the whole staff tending to him.
A crazy idea leaks into my mind – all are busy with the Marquis; there must be little to no security down in the catacombs that I now know lead to the lunatic asylum, so I can use them as a way out too.
With a candle in my hand – the only portable illumination item I found in my chamber – I descend the spiral stairs, at first watching my every step. But soon I panic under the delusion that insects crawl from their cracks towards me. I’m aware it’s only paranoia, but I’m unable to control it and increase pace until I take two stairs at a time, stumbling and bumping between wall and banister. I spin out of the small exit into the corridor on the ground floor, relieved at the haze of moonlight that seeps in through the high arched windows, revealing the contours of baroque-framed mirrors.
The corridor is empty and obscure, the sound of my steps rebounding against stone and glass. The many mirrors make it creepy, but anything’s better than the dark tower – the place I’m coming from – and the catacombs – the place I’m going to.
The candle drips hot on my hand and will soon burn out, making me desperate for an alternative. There’s no way I’ll make it through the catacombs without sustained illumination, so I venture to the Marquis’ study at the end of the main corridor.
The double doors are the tallest I’ve ever seen – double my height – as well as heavy and creaky. Still, I feel no fear – should anybody discover me, I’ll just say with my chin up I’m searching for the Marquis, my fiancé. But when I find the study empty as well, only a faint beam of silver from the moon seeping between the heavy drawn curtains, my heart picks up a crazy pace. This is indeed a fantastic chance at escape. I don’t even know if it’s the right decision, but the temptation is too great. I’ve never thought freedom was of such importance to me until I lost it.
I decide not to run to Jeremy. I’ll go to my parents’ house, enter through the back, get money from Father’s safe in a few minutes and take the next train to London. I’m sure that, as soon as he’ll discover my escape, the Marquis will search for me at Jeremy’s, and only afterwards at my parents’. London will be last on his list.
With wobbling legs and trembling hands I grope through the Marquis’ study and find a hand lantern in the upper drawer of his mahogany desk. My imagination hits with a scene of Pretty Lauren’s skinny backside on it, her high-heeled legs wrapped around his hips.
I shake it violently out of my head. I know it never happened, but jealousy stings my heart, and the next thought is even more unpleasant – if I do pull out the escape, I’ll never see him again. I stand still, exploring the feeling – the Marquis’ beautiful face, his warm lips on mine, his velvety fingers sliding down my back, giving me goose bumps; it will never happen again.
I slap myself twice, cursing the monster’s power over me. If I stay, it will only grow until I become his slave body and soul. With a jolt of will I decide in favour of freedom and hurry out the doors, the round stain of light from the lantern darting its way before my feet that run seemingly of their own accord.
The opening in the wall that leads down to the catacombs is hidden behind a foyer – where I ran into Virgin Vivien at the engagement banquet – and then down another corridor, chilly, very narrow and smelling of wet stone.
Down in the catacombs cells roll by me like rusty landscape by a lazy train, and I wish I were faster, much faster. I take a turn, my legs flexing in a desperate attempt to pick up yet more pace, but after the second turn I slow down, my eyes widening. My heart stops.
Dry snakeskin stretches before me, thick and crumpled and trailing around the next elbow-shaped corner like a dead mega-python. I understand where it’s coming from, and dread makes my skin crawl. Still, compelled by a hypnotic pull I walk slowly along the dry serpent coating around the curve, where a mind-blowing scene unfolds.
Enjoyed this? Stay tuned for a new episode on Friday and check out the prequel, Saphira, in the Christmas Story Book for Adults, available here and, if you’re in for a whole novel in the same genre, help yourself to The Executioner (Part I).
Also please don’t forget about the weekly Meet and Greet day. If you have blogs you admire and consider relevant for the world (or run such a blog yourself), please leave a few words about it and a link in a comment. I’ll be very happy to read from you, and know that I always, always, always check out the recommended blogs and followers’ blogs. Can’t wait to read from you!