“My, my, my, little one, how far you have fallen.”
The voice was somewhere between a croak and a hiss, but there was more than a hint of pain in the sibilant sound, as the owner of said voice,
the old man who rested his arms on the bars of his cell, gazed out at the now-pitiful woman before him .
He did not glance even for a second toward the unbolted door. He knew that the brute standing there wore a leer.
How far indeed, he thought, his rheumy eyes traveling slowly up from her bare feet, toes caked with mud from her flight which peeked shyly out from the ragged hem of her gown,
past the supple legs, so athletic and strong at which the thin fabric hinted, and on upward.
His surprise fought with pity as he took in the tattered remains of the once-fine clothing, filthy yet still clinging to her figure like a serpent.
That figure had once tantalized hundreds in the court so far above, but no longer.
Never more would she move so gracefully to the sound of harps and lutes as the courtesans stared, some enviously and others leering.
Her hair hung limp, devoid now of the ringlets that had danced in the light of the oil lamps to the delight of the men who stomped and whistled their approval.
No longer was it adorned and coiffed to perfection in order to arouse the imagination and jealousy of the young women that served the queen.
The old man turned silently away as she lifted her chin.
They both knew what would happen next, and he had no desire to witness the final stages of her debasement at the hands of the burly guard whose few remaining brown teeth jutted out from the wide
rictus that split his face. How far she had fallen, and all because of him.
A single tear seeped from each eye and rolled tracks down his grimy cheeks. It was his fault.
Delving into the dark arts was forbidden, as they both knew well.
Forbidden and punishable by death; a long, slow, horrible death of the greatest agony that could be devised by the twisted imagination of the guards.
The old man felt the pain of regret that it had been him who taught her, now she would pay for his folly.
Her chin lifted in silent defiance as she turned to face the brute who had approached to within a pace, knowing that there were seven more waiting in the hallway outside the chamber.
He would not hear her scream nor cry. She was ready to pay the price of her choice, the price of seeking the ancient knowledge, but would not give the men a moment’s satisfaction.
Her own mouth, make-up smeared in her desperate flight, opened in a hushed chant as she clutched her last remaining artifact, carefully secreted inside a hidden pocket of the skirt.
She uttered words that many thought long forgotten; words that caused the guard to hesitate, then take a step back, sudden fear painting his features.
Mist rose from the cold stone of the floor, swirling upward to her knees, then to her waist as the eyes of the man, whose back now pressed the rough wall, felt his eyes widen in terror.
She did not unleash the mist on him, though. Instead she turned it to the bars on her former mentor’s cell, which melted like wax, dripping down the dark wood of the door.
He had abandoned her once, frightened of the power growing within her, and so deserved her scorn. She could not find it in her.
Instead, as her form was swallowed by the mist, disappearing from the dungeon, she freed him.
. At the last, when hate should have consumed her, she found that she pitied him instead, and granted him life. His freedom would up to him, but she at least gave him a chance.