Today's entry was written by Elizabeth Liberty Lewis (and you can read the full chapter here on Goodreads.)
“He’s been in there how long?” Iri squinted, eyes still bleary from lack of sleep. Vague pre-dawn light filled the dungeon courtyard. From outside the walls, the throbbing march of soldiers’ feet seeped into his bones.
“Since…afternoon, yesterday?” The officer-turned-jailer swung his ring of keys with a nervous jangle.
“And no one’s been with him.”
“We’ve kept ‘em all in solitary, sir, on your orders.”
Iri’s lips tightened. “Take me there.”
The jailer lit a torch and led the way to one of the metal-lined doors around the courtyard. Once unbarred, it swung open into a sloping stone passageway. Pockmarked steps led down from the eager blaze of the torch into darkness.
The warden bit his lips. “Come on, then.”
Iri grimaced and forced his sore legs down the stairs. The battle yesterday had taxed him more than he thought.
They descended into a passage hollowed from the very foundations of the city, crawling with mold and weeping fetid streams of water. Iri covered his mouth and nose with a corner of his cloak.
They reached the bottom. The jailer edged against the wall. Iri pushed past, his spine scraping stone. At the end of the tunnel, iron barred the entrance to a single cell.
Iri stepped up to the bars, squinting. He could just make out a pair of stooped shoulders and the outline of silver hair in the dark.
Iri took the torch and dismissed the jailer with a flick of his fingers. The human’s tromping footsteps faded away.
Iri knew the Dragonrider could see him; not even long confinement in darkness could dull a Haethor’s eyes. He held the flame closer to the bars. Scorching oil and smoke wafted across the odors of mildew and old sweat.
The prisoner lifted his head; Iri caught a flash in the darkness like two silver scales. “So,” a deep voice rasped. “Iri. You really were in Andun all those years.”
“Where is she?” Iri demanded. He had no time to waste reminiscing. He sent a mind-probe licking around the prisoner’s consciousness. Fatigue and pain had worn the Haethor’s defenses down, but they still stood firm against him.
A coughing laugh. “Who?”
“You know who. You were assigned to guard her. Don’t try my patience, old man.”
“If I am as old as you think…” The prisoner wedged rough, bloodied fingers into the gap between two stones, pulling himself upright. Chains rattled. “If I am, what if I have…forgotten?”
Iri’s fingers tightened around the wood, cold and hard like his anger. The Rider was his last lead, the last possible link in a line of desperate disappointments. He *must* cooperate.
He would cooperate. Eventually. “Have you forgotten we also have your dragon?”
The torch snapped and crackled in the silence. It warmed one side of Iri’s head; he felt his right cheek flushing.
“He will understand,” came the answer, soft and broken.
Iri smiled. His hot cheek crinkled. “Oh, he will understand.” He ran his thumb along a knot in the wood. “He will understand your screams, and he will understand that he needs to tell us where she is if you will not.”
“Faithful forsake you, *traitor!*” The Rider moved out of his crouch, the surface of his mind roiling with hatred.
Iri straightened his shoulders, forcing out a laugh. “Swear all you wish! You saw the city fall. You saw the army scatter. And this very moment, in the streets above” – he swept an arm at the ceiling – “the Queen is making the land her own. My patrols brought in three more Riders last night. I’ll soon have you all.” Iri lowered his voice almost to a whisper, satisfied as the broad shoulders sank once again. The defensive mental wall thinned, shimmering with despair. “There is nothing left for you, old fool. You have already lost.”
The Rider was silent.
“So tell me,” Iri murmured, “where is the princess?”
Hazy and fragmented, the old Rider’s memories drifted close to the surface – masked terror on a beautiful face, a last trembling squeeze of her hand in his, crumbling columns, ancient trees…
Iri pressed closer. The Rider drew deeper into himself where Iri could not see. Iri swore under his breath.
“You were so promising.” The quiet words threw him back fifteen years to lectures in that same rumbling, concerned voice about duty and honor and potential. His cursed potential. He hated the word.
Iri gripped the bars with his free hand. Clammy rust flaked under his fingers. “Promising,” he spat into the darkness. “You held me back. I’m Head of her Majesty’s Riders now. Did it ever get past your thick skull that *I* was meant for something greater?”
“You don’t understand.” A disappointed sigh. “You never did.”
“See how wrong you think I am,” Iri snarled, “when you are in chains in Andun and I am a free man.” He wished he could get in there and take out his anger with his fists. He would have to settle for words, words long nights of seething anger had taught him to use.
He unclenched his fingers with great effort. The Head of the Andunian Riders shouldn’t allow someone so far below him to snap his control. He stepped back, twisting his expression under restraint. “Elyse,” he said, piecing together the clues and tossing his dice into the darkness for one last gamble. “She’s on the Third Level, isn’t she?”
The chains jerked taut as the Rider lunged forward like a mad dog on a leash. “You wouldn’t *dare.*”
Iri grinned. He had his answer. “You knew me once,” he said, jerking his chin. “Ask yourself if I would.”
He whirled, the edges of his cloak swirling against the walls, and strode back toward the daylight, followed by the old Rider’s broken sobs.
What our judges thought:
Here's another one that takes an idea that's done a lot, but this author has found an unusual way to approach the topic. I think the author has great command of convention and dialogue and I enjoyed it and wanted to read more.
This was one of my favorite entries. I really enjoyed the premise.