the woman imprisoned - short story, Wildwood universe
I posted this on tumblr too. Sorry for the double post to anyone who checks both places. I was watching Sherlock Holmes today and was inspired by a scene to write this. I've been wanting to write short stories since I suuuuuuck at them. This one is set in the Wildwood Rising universe but you don’t need to know anything about (or have read) Incarnations to read this. I wanted to keep it 1000 words or less, if possible. It came to 1320 words. Not bad, for me!

I didn’t edit it because I don’t want to right now tbh.. My goal is to make myself more okay with imperfection by doing short, rough pieces and releasing them immediately. Enjoy! 


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Tap. Tap. Tap.

The sound echoed down the halls, bouncing off the empty cells.

Tap. Tap. Tap.

A rebuttal of noise; a rock clattering between two walls and falling to the floor.

Tap. Tap. Tap.

Silence that deafened around it.

Tap. Tap.

Pause.

A snap of fingers over a rock, angles cold against the skin. 

The visitor was here.

She turned slowly.

“Ah.” A soft smile. “You’ve arrived.”

He looked away, eyes pinching. He stood back from the bars, far enough that she could not reach, close enough so their voices would not carry. A precise distance carefully calculated to reduce risks that remained just the same.

“Hmm.” She settled back against the wall, stretching her legs in front of her. The stone slab they provided her as a bed was pleasant on heated skin. 

Tap. Tap. Tap.

This time, fingernail to stone.

“You’re afraid.” She tipped her chin up, her gaze lowering to the bottom of him and rising back up to his eyes. The details crowded together, an orchestrated madness. She pointed. “You won’t make it to the end, you know.”

That got him. A flash of fear in his eyes, quickly stifled by resentment. He shifted forward imperceptibly; a natural reaction, it seemed, and yet.

“You don’t know that.”

Heat in his voice, but it would never be enough.

She grinned, a slow burn. “Don’t I?”

Doubt, fluctuating the minute muscles around his eyes, lending a skip to his gaze right and left and back again. 

Searching.

Searching.

“Mm.” She heard the satisfaction in her own voice and dragged one knee upright, resting her arm cockeyed against it. “I don’t have it.”

Relief, then, overcome almost immediately by anger. “Then you don’t—”

“Ah-ah.” She ticked one finger back and forth, her face down-turned but eyes locking into him from up through her eyebrows. Her witch’s smile, they called it back home. “Don’t get cocky.”

His lip bared itself briefly, just on the edge. A flash of teeth. 

A short return to an animal nature.

She drew in a deep breath and let it out, delaying the time, engaging his dilemma. She ran her palm along the stone walls at her side, skip-kip-catching on the edges of the rocks laid atop one another to build this fortress. 

“Here’s an interesting tidbit,” she said, not looking away from her fingers dancing along the wall. “She calls you Neum, in her mind.” She looked at him sidelong. “Because she can’t remember your name.”

He glared, then. “Why should I care?”

“Hmm. Why, indeed?” Tip-tap-fingertip along the wall. “Does it matter, do you suppose, whether she humanizes you or not? Considering, of course, you believe her to be a demon?”

“I never said—”

“You didn’t have to, friend.” She closed her eyes and tipped her head backward, feeling the catch of her hair on the wall, letting her hands rise to her sides palm upward. “The witch knows all.”

“I don’t believe that.”

She dropped her hands to her side and shrugged, spearing him with her gaze. “I don’t care what you believe.” She stood, not quickly but for him still too swift a movement. He startled back a step, hands raising in claws. She quirked an eyebrow and padded to the edge of the cell, watching the tension rise in him every soft step forward. Until her fingers curled around the cool bars, and she pressed her face to them, watching him watch her. 

“Tell me,” she said, “what do you seek?”

He swallowed. Debated internally— go closer to prove he wasn’t afraid? Or stay there where it’s safe and risk losing face? She didn’t need to be a mind-reader to understand this, and yet her knowing smile made him blanch.

Fear.

Everywhere fear, for her kind.

How dull.

“I was asked—” His voice caught in the middle, rising higher than intended. He stopped. Cleared his throat, trying to be casual, and started again. Straightening his cuffs with short and sharp movements to hide that pause.

Not enough, sweet child.

Never enough.

“I was asked to check on you.”

“Mm.” She closed her eyes and pressed her temple to a bar. “And what, may I ask, for? You have me imprisoned. I could not possibly leave.”

“Yes, but he wished for me to check.”

“Interesting.” She rubbed her cheek against the metal. “Isn’t it?”

“Why?”

She opened her eyes, affecting an innocent expression. “Why, because he sees all, does he not? Surely in his own city, he must.”

“He does.”

“Yes. He does. And so, why must he need a minion such as yourself to check on me, if he should know without effort that I am as I was and have been all this time, since you captured me? Do you suppose,” she said interestedly, “he’s testing you?”

Doubt, again, flickering in his eyes. Except this time, he’d had it all along; he had only been trying to hide it in front of her.

Tap. Tap. Tap.

Finger to metal bar.

“What if he led you here to instill doubt in you? To see how you might respond?” She spread one hand to the side, indicating the prison and everything above and around it. “He owns it all, does he not? He sees all. Perhaps, even now, he sees you. Perhaps he will watch you closely, to ensure your loyalty.” Her stare tightened on him. “Perhaps the danger you should fear is not from me, but from your liege.”

His chest shuttered ever so faintly; a breath that caught and continued nearly imperceptibly. A fear he refused to show.

Tap. Tap. Tap.

“Interesting,” she said, because he would not say the words aloud himself. “I wonder what he plans.”

“That is not for me to know.” He stepped back, arms smartly crossing behind him. A clip of his heel to heel; an inadvertent indication of his training.

Nervousness, then.

Fear.

Falling back on what he was taught because he was afraid of the answers he now didn’t know.

“Well then. I’ve done what I was told to do. Good day.”

He tried to walk away, and so she chuckled low in her throat. He tried to ignore her, too, but he failed on both parts.

A pause. A turn. A dark stare.

“Why do you laugh?”

“Because. You don’t know what’s coming.”

Bristling, now. A straightened back, a haughty tip of chin. “And you do?”

“My boy, I’ve known from the moment I stepped foot here and felt the power surge beneath my feet.” She grinned, hoping the light flickering from their magic-made bulbs would terrify him awake tonight with the memory of it reflecting, burning, in her eyes.

He sucked in a breath but still tried. “Yeah? And what’s that?”

“Death, child. Your world will burn. I wonder, will you burn, too? Or will you merely die?”

His mouth worked, but no sound could come. He snapped his jaw shut, swallowed visibly, and with a sharp pivot, he strode away. She listened to his footsteps recede, and tapped her fingernail to the metal bar in time.

Tap. Tap. Tap.

“How much time do you have?” she called out after him, unsurprised to hear no reply. “How much time until the monsters come to play?”

A door slammed shut distantly, the staccato clap echoing around her.

Once again she was alone, but then, she never was fully. She waited a heartbeat then pushed away from the bars and meandered back to her bed. She dropped down onto it and leaned forward, head tipped downward, one arm resting on her knees and the other hand pressed to the fading warmth of her favored rib, thrumming beneath her skin.

She closed her eyes.

“I’ll be home someday. Wait for me.”

She felt the bone pulse, and she smiled sadly. Curled over it protectively, and released a breath that trembled. “I love you, too.”