Kieran Slate – a.k.a. the Marquis of Vandenesse – is a dangerous though honourable man. His people would give their lives for him, and I would as well. My skin is still all pebbles from the story of how he saved Joyous, and what the ever-present grin on the young man’s face actually stands for.
I can’t stop thinking about it as we make our way towards poor Vivien’s cell down the sickly-lit asylum corridors – Yvette made sure the route is safe. She leads the way, her head bobbing as she glances in all directions, while Zed Stone Mask tails behind me.
I’m only wearing a white gown specific for patients, and I feel as light as the feather coating of a hen, even doubting that my body still has the same consistency from before. Whatever Joyous did with me, it’s downright not of this world. The only familiar sensations are the nervous sweating of my palms, and the bite of the cold floor on the soles of my feet, but considering everything I went through since the night the Marquis entered my life hardly anything surprises me anymore.
Yvette stretches her arm behind her to stop us as she peeks around a corner. I come to a halt and Zed bumps into me, since his eyes have been scanning the place from above my head for potential spotters.
“There’s a guard at her door,” Yvette whispers. “I’ll distract him, and you get in. It should be unlocked, this is a wing that hasn’t seen the slightest investment in many years, and it’s where they keep the weakest patients that don’t stand a chance of escape.”
I shudder as I realize what this means for Vivien’s state, and I barely refrain from rushing Yvette.
“Then why do they need a guard?” Zed says.
“There may be no danger of escape from the inside, but Inspector Simmons imagined that Vivien Grant might get saved.” She throws a meaningful glance at Zed. “He foresaw a scenario such as this one. But he didn’t foresee my part in it.”
Yvette doesn’t wait for a reaction from either Zed or me before she dashes around the corner and stalks toward the guard. The clicking of her high heels on the floor draws the man’s attention immediately. There’s something domineering and intimidating about “Plump Morticia” that has the men in this place tremble. This must’ve pushed Zed’s buttons, I imagine. He’d probably never go for girlish, sweet or vulnerable. I’ve said it before – I’d thought him emotionally crippled until not long ago, or gay in the best-case scenario – but it turns out he’s just darn hard to impress.
“Get back,” he whispers, placing a large hand on my shoulder and drawing me backwards. He takes my place by the corner and peeks around it, his skill allowing perfect stealth. He moves indeed like a serpent, and I doubt any human could pick up being followed or observed by him.
“Let’s go, Guardian Angel,” Yvette’s voice echoes across the corridor as she addresses the guard at Vivien’s door. “We have a situation at the main entrance. The guys need back-up.”
“But Miss Danes,” the man replies shyly, “I’m forbidden to leave my position.”
“You’ll be forbidden your pay check if you go smart-ass on me.”
“Miss Danes, I have orders from Lord Barkley.”
“Barkley’s out of town, which means I am ‘Orders’ now. Get moving, there’s crazy asses at the door making your peers’ life difficult.”
My heart races, I’m nervous to a sweat and taken aback by Yvette’s approach. She’d proved there’s a ghetto matron behind the warm accommodating lady when she kicked Lauren’s butt, but still. Intimidated, the guard follows her – I can tell by the fading echo of their steps.
“Now,” Zed says and dashes around the corner towards Vivien’s cell. I follow on my tiptoes, my heart beating fast in anticipation of the moment when I’d lay eyes on her.
A bitter moment it is. Zed opens the door, and as it peels off my field of vision it reveals my good Virgin Vivien lying on a dirty mattress by the grated window. She’s skeletal-thin, the skin glued to her bones, and paper-white. She lies straight like a wooden board, wearing only the sack-like gown that she’s had on as I witnessed her being subjected to electroshocks. She seems dead.
I hurry over and drop on my knees by her side, caressing her forehead with trembling fingers. Her eyes are closed and her mouth half open, her lips cracked and there’s white foam at the corners. Despite the wretched condition she’s in her features are still smooth and noble, the face of a true princess.
She mumbles something very low, as if she’s delirious. I barely manage to keep hysteria at bay as I grab her around her waist with both arms and try to lift her off the bed.
“Zed, please help me!”
“Take it easy, Saphira, and keep it low,” he warns in his usual cold, detached voice.
“Please, do something! She’s in great suffering!”
“And your pulling and dragging doesn’t make it any better. Step aside.”
I obey, allowing him to scoop Vivien up from the bed and take a few long strides to the door, which I open wide, completely forgetting to check the area. I bump into a guard in white blocking our way, glaring over my head at Zed. But before I even get to shriek Zed leans Vivien on me – I instinctively support her weight – then twists and breaks the man’s neck right before my eyes. The guard drops dead on the floor, and all I can do is stare in shock at his still open, blank eyes. A second later the alarm starts screaming.
“Let’s move,” Zed calls over the sharp, maddening sound as he picks Vivien up again. Not a muscle moves on his face, as if taking a life is nothing more than shaving for him. I register what he says but I can’t react, staring at his back taking distance from me on the corridor, Vivien’s bony legs dangling from the cradle of his arms.
“Now, Saphira!” He urges, spinning around to look at me. The lights go out frame by frame, turning the corridor into a tunnel of black closing toward Zed. It stirs me from the grip of stun and gets my limbs moving.
Soon I’m running to Zed, who gets out of the way to allow that I take the lead, then follows close behind me at a jog, telling me when to turn left or right along a labyrinth of corridors. The place grows more ruinous and desolate as we reach deeper into the old maze of the asylum, the doors we run by rusty, the light bulbs hanging by bare threads and flickering. This part of the asylum is a dangerous place, humidity having permeated the ceiling and touching the electricity lines. A part of it where patients are left to die. A living grave.
“Turn right,” Zed calls again, but the moment I take the turn I realize we’re heading toward a dead-end.
“We’re trapped!” I shriek.
“The hatch, lift the hatch!”
I skid and drop on the floor where I see a rusty trap door indeed, and clasp the grip with both hands. I pull once, twice, three times, but it’s not fast enough. By the time I manage to open it, allowing Zed to jump into the dark abyss beneath it with Vivien in his arms and without a second thought, the sound of running men chasing us already reaches my ears.
Scared, I don’t waste another moment and jump after Zed. I sprain my ankle upon landing, but my brain releases endorphins immediately. I’m aware that pain will strike with a vengeance if we get out of this alive, but right now I’m grateful I can keep moving, even though with difficulty.
A gunshot rips through the dark catacombs and through the sound of my breathing. I stop in place.
“Keep running!” Zed calls, and for the first time ever he truly sounds desperate. His command gets me back in a strained limp, while he waits with Vivien in his arms and starts moving only after I’ve taken the lead. I realize he wants to protect me and that he won’t run any faster than I do, which spurs me on to try yet harder.
I stumble and fall over something hard and edgy, and as I pat around in the darkness to save myself my hands find what feels like dry hay. The smell is foul, and as I begin to make out the contours of corpses I start to scream like crazy. The dry hay was someone’s hair.
Zed grabs my wrist and lifts me up from the pile of bodies, but I can’t stop screaming. I’m forced to step on them to move forward, stumbling, falling, crying.
“You’re gonna get us killed!” Zed growls. He doesn’t try to keep it low anymore either.
As we escape the foul-smelling grave and reach what resembles flat terrain again it feels like being released from shackles. With a yell of effort I force myself to run, focused only on one spot before me – a white circle, literally the light at the end of the tunnel.
I ignore everything else as I hurry toward it with all I’ve got, and when the light begins to take clear shape my heart rejoices like I didn’t think it still could after everything I’ve been through in this cursed place.
Kieran steps out of the light to meet me, and I fly right into his open arms. I cry uncontrollably, caressing his marble statue of a face, so beautiful as he kisses my forehead and my hands, his pitch-black eyes searching mine with hunger and pain.
Another gunshot tears through the background. Then another. Kieran lifts his face to look behind me, and his expression goes steel-sharp. I turn around to see Zed falling to the ground with Vivien in his arms as Kieran’s men pour behind him to shield him from further bullets before the metal high-tech doors close. I realize they must be marking the borders from where Kieran had secured the catacombs that link to his manor. Still, for Zed, it’s too late.
To be continued on Friday.
Stay tuned for a new chapter of The Executioner on Tuesday! Until then, enjoy the previous episodes here. If you don’t feel like waiting for the episodes, buy the whole book here, and enjoy a ride of suspense, mystery and love. Looking forward to reading from you! Love, Ana.