Ghostly Scream

Ghostly Scream Michelle Louring coverChapter 1

“—and the horse you rode in on!” 

Selissa’s string of obscenities was cut short when her captors threw her in a cell, locking the door behind her. Stumbling back on her feet, she grabbed the bars of the door and called out to the retreating guards.

“A dungeon? Really, you’re leaving me in a dungeon?” When she didn’t get an answer, she raised her voice and shouted down the hall, “At least tell me you don’t keep a dragon down here!”

The echo of her voice died down and Selissa finally realized they had left her all alone. Shoulders heaving — partly from being manhandled, partly from screaming herself hoarse — she sunk to the floor of the cell, glaring into the empty hall outside. A small part of her considered blowing the door off its hinges, but she figured Var’nori probably safeguarded their prisons against volatile magic.

Besides, that’s how she got into this mess to begin with. 

By the time she heard someone coming down the stairs, Selissa was just about ready to throw caution to the wind and see how far brute force would get her. But the sound of robes dragging across the stone floor made her jerk away from her examination of the cell door, a new curse springing to her lips. It quickly died once her visitor came into view. 

“I hardly believed it when the guards told me who they arrested today. But here you are.” The words were spoken with a soft melodious voice that should have belonged to a bard, not the powerful archmage who stepped into the halls of the prison at that moment. 

Just like on her first visit to Var’nori years prior, Selissa was stuck by Serendia’s beauty. But it no longer filled her with the same awe it once had. She had learned too much about both magic and women to believe the mage’s appearance was entirely real.

“Please tell me you’re here to let me out,” Selissa said, refusing to acknowledge the history between them. The scared and confused young woman Serendia had met years earlier had been deeply buried, and Selissa felt reluctant to ask for help from someone who would still see that girl when they looked at her standing in that cell. 

Still, it wasn’t like anyone else was coming to save her. 

Serendia raised one thin blonde eyebrow and gave the other woman an unimpressed look. “Do you think I can just let you out of here?” 

Stubbornly, Selissa crossed her arms over her chest. “I didn’t do anything.” 

“You set a man on fire,” the archmage said flatly. 

Selissa grimaced. “Okay, so I did something.”

Another blonde eyebrow joined the first and Serendia watched her for a few terse seconds before asking, “Why did you set a man on fire?” 

Selissa let her arms fall to her side in exasperation and started pacing the cell. “Why does it matter? Since when is it illegal to set fools on fire?”

“Fool or not, I do not believe it has ever been legal to set people on fire,” Serendia said while she watched Selissa walk back and forth inside the small cell. “But speaking of foolish… Using untrained magic to assault someone in front of Var’nori guards might not have been the wisest course of action.” 

Remembering the spell that had paralyzed her, Selissa winced and rubbed her chest. “I didn’t know they were Var’nori guards.” 

On second thought, she probably should have recognized the pristine white and silver robes before she started throwing around fireballs. 

She wasn’t about to tell the archmage that the man she had turned into a bonfire was a bounty hunter. A rather tenacious one at that. Lighting him on fire had seemed like a suitable distraction, giving her enough time to lose him while he was flailing around. Selissa was quite confident it would have been, if the guards had been ordinary soldiers and not trained mages. 

As it was, she doubted having bounty hunters on her heels would make her seem much more innocent in the eyes of Serendia.

“You should not take this lightly,” the archmage said quietly. “They have not forgotten, you know.” 

“Who has not forgotten? Forgotten what?” Selissa asked, uncomfortable with the sudden shift in the conversation. 

“The Council of Var’nori,” Serendia said. “A display of untrained magic such as the one you demonstrated today would never have reached my ears if it had come from an ordinary sorceress.”

Realization dawned on Selissa. “The angelic magic. Their detection spells sensed it the last time.” 

“Word didn’t have time to reach the Council last time, and the clergy’s protection of you kept them from acting later on. But if what I hear is true,” Serendia pursed her lips, “you no longer enjoy said protection.”

“Don’t believe everything you hear,” Selissa said with a wry smile, even though she could tell from the look in the archmage’s eyes that the other woman saw through her bluff. 

Letting out a humorless laugh, Selissa stepped back and regarded the bars of her cage. “I’m not getting out of here anytime soon, am I?” 

Serendia’s voice betrayed no emotions, “I’m afraid not.” 

“So you’re going to keep me down here in your prison forever?” Selissa asked with a smile that showed just a few too many teeth. “I should have stayed in Ver’dohna. At least an execution would be more merciful.” 

“Do not be so melodramatic,” Serendia said. “The Council will decide what to do with you.”

“So my fate will be decided by a group of self-righteous mages with their heads so far up their asses they won’t be able to hear a word I might say to my defense?” Selissa tilted her head at the archmage, smiling tightly. “No offense.” 

Serendia watched her thoughtfully, as if she was trying to see behind the anger and the scathing words. Selissa really wished she would stop.

“You have changed,” the older woman said finally. 

Selissa took a step closer and glared at the mage through the bars of the cell door. “Oh, really? Maybe it’s because you’re not the first person to stand before me and claim to have the right to decide over my life.” 

The words struck a nerve, but the uncertainty in Serendia’s eyes fled as the archmage stepped back and composed herself. Lifting her chin, the beautiful mage met Selissa’s eyes, and when she spoke, it was with the authority of a person who was on the right side of a prison door.

“No one is interested in keeping you a prisoner. If, when you’re brought before the Council, you show a bit of willingness, we might just reach a conclusion that suits everyone.” The mage smiled wryly, then added, “Provided you don’t set anyone on fire.”

Selissa’s lips twisted. “I can’t promise anything.”

Recognizing a lost cause when she saw it, the archmage sighed and turned to leave. Stopping at the foot of the stairs, Serendia paused with a hand on the banister and looked over her shoulder. “We only want to help you,” she said softly. 

Selissa chuckled darkly. “I highly doubt that.” 

The words hung in the air as the mage disappeared from view and Selissa sunk to the floor, cursing both bounty hunters and angels with every fiber of her being.