The story begins at the start of Poison Study, when Yelena is brought to Valek to confess her crimes.
I shuffled along the corridor, using the weight of the chains binding my arms and legs to slow my pace. The rough arms of the guards pushed me forward, barking at me to hurry up. I stumbled more than once on the stone steps leading up from the dungeon, smashing my face onto the hard floor. So much for having a pretty face when I die; not that is mattered anyway. These last few seasons in the dungeons have ruined any beauty I held before.
It's hard to image that these are the last few moments of my life. All the pain, sorrow and suffering has only led to death; the hangman's noose in my case. My endless fight, against both General Brazell and his son, ends with my death. But I am not sorry for what I did. I, like so many other of their "pathetic subjects" suffered from physical, emotional and mental abuse, fighting to stay alive through their torturous tasks. But after I found Reyad's journal, describing horrible things he did to all those girls, and what he planned to do to me, I decided I wouldn't be his toy any longer. Even though the penalty of murder is death, I will take it with pride, knowing I have freed the world of one more offensive rat. My only regret is not killing General Brazell too. But nothing could be done now. At least I'm free to die by my actions than from some experiment gone wrong. I'd take the noose any day rather than die by their foul hands.
I snapped back to reality when light from outside momentarily blinded me. We had just broken the lower levels of the castle and entered into the servant's corridors. The windows allow streams of beautiful light into the stark passageway, evoking an urge within me to curl up and relax in the sunlight. I momentarily pause to stare out the window, taking in the trees swaying the breeze; the flowers blossoming in the warm weather. The wind runs through my greased hair, tickling my face and calming my nerves. But a sudden jerk from the guards drags me be back inside my personal hell and I continue walking.
We reach a small office, piled sky high with books, maps and papers; leaving only a small path to a large wooden desk at the back wall. Candles are sprinkled throughout the stacks, carefully placed as to not burn the books, and many strange bottles lay upon the ground. Seated at the desk is a man in black clothes, with two red diamonds stitched to his collar; The Commander's Advisor. He is very high up in the rankings and very powerful too. His dark shoulder length hair covered his face until he looked up from his book. A breeze ruffled his hair and uncovered his sapphire- blue eyes
"Here is the prisoner," one of the guards stated, pushing me forward until I fell to my knees. "Her name is Yelena, tried for killing the son of General Brazell, Military District 5. She stabbed him until he bled to death." I kept my head down, calling upon my past experiences in the orphanage and dungeon that sometimes it was better to wait until I was called upon before asserting my presence.
"A women, huh?" the Advisor chuckled as he rose from his chair and walked around the desk. "This should be interesting. You may leave now" His boots came closer to my body as I heard the guards exit and close the door. Then he stopped. His shoes were scuffed up badly, covered in scratches and scars from battle; this man was not only important, but dangerous as well.
"Well, let's take a look at you," he muttered as he lifted my chin. I hated being in a submissive position, even if it would keep me alive, so I stared into this man's eyes and gave him the most loathing and hate-filled look I have ever given anyone. I would not be weak anymore. I would be strong in these last moments of life.
"Quite a pretty one aren't you?" he stated, more to himself than me, as he turned my head side to side. "And obedient. I think I might actually like having you work for me." He pulled me up and examined me head to toe, taking in my tattered red prison gown and bare feet covered in calluses and grime. My hair was messy at best, and tangled into rat's nests with gunk and dirt completing the image. I felt terrible. It was one thing to be disgusting from lack of hygiene, but it was downright degrading the way he was taking me in. If felt dirty both inside and out; like a slave at the auction, waiting to hear if they were sold or not.
"But first things first," he said, walking to a stack of books and scanning the titles. "Did you kill General Brazell's son, Reyad?" He looked up at the end of his question, piercing my soul with those beautiful eyes. I was frozen, momentarily lost in his gaze that could read my being inside and out. But thankfully he looked away and returned to his search for a specific book among the piles, returning me to my senses.
"Yes. I killed him." I answered quietly as I stared straight ahead. I would not meet his gaze and fall prey to a pretty face. I need all my wits about me now, and cannot afford to be distracted. After a couple moments of silence, he looked up at me again and cocked an eyebrow. I coughed once and repeated "Yes I did." a little louder, with more confidence in my voice.
"Honest, I like that." He purred quietly as he swiftly pulled a book from a large tower. It swayed gently, but righted itself again before anything could fall. "Now here's the deal. Our poison tester recently died and we need someone else to fill the position. If you refuse, you will be executed." He marched back to his desk and fiddled around in his drawers, looking for yet another missing article.
Life! A second chance at life! But at what cost? How much of my freedom must I give; how much of my life is on the line? "And what does the poison tester do?" I wheezed, coughing yet again.
"He or she trains under my guidance until all the basic poison identification techniques are learned, a final test is given, and then they are official hired by the Commander." He slammed the drawers shut and strode over to the cabinets on the western wall. "There are no holidays, no family or husbands, and no official working hours; the tester is on call twenty four-seven." Many bottles and jars fell to the ground and clanked against one another as he sorted through the messy contents. "Payment is given in advance, as life is especially valuable to those who have none left." He pulled out a small ink bottle and quill and closed the doors, leaving the mess on the floor, and sauntered back to the desk.
"However, many dangers await someone of this position. You will never know if the next bite will be your last. No securities, no certainties. The only real certain thing is that if you accept, you belong to me. Your life is mine and I control whether you live or die. If any poison gets to the Commander, you bet your ass that your life ends there." He finished this statement at his desk, the book laid open, quill in hand, and ready to write my decision.
It was then that I realized that book was an account of the death toll. Everyone who walked into this room had been in a similar, if not the exact position as me. Every death, every hanging, every criminal was recorded down for future reference. And now was my turn to make an impression on history. I could say yes, like everyone else before, and once again be under the control of yet another master. I would die under oppression, as if my fight was meaningless. I would have killed a man and survived a mucky dungeon only to end up back where I started. My life would be worthless. After everything I suffered, I would not allow my pain to be in vain. I would finally be free, even if it meant death.
"No." I said, "NO! I will not continue to live a life that has no life in it at all. I would rather die." I stared down the man, as if daring him to condemn me to death. Courage and adrenaline raced through my veins. I stood taller, proudly accepting my decision.
The Advisor showed no signs of emotion, other than the slight constriction of his eyes that he cared about my decision. He bent down and scrawled a small note onto the paper, writing in a foreign language. The guards came in and grabbed me by the arms; with such good timing it was obvious that they were listening. They forced me around and started pulling me away from the man. I struggled to retain my dignity and walked proudly from the room with my escorts. He only said one thing in return.
"Pity." And slammed the book closed.
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