2016 Fiction Literary Maneuvers Challenge Winner January 2016
Kassandra hung limp against her chains, arms pulled taut in a V above her head. Her hair draped down across her face, covering her eyes. All the better, she thought, as there was nothing worth seeing—just bare, stone walls and cold shadows. Her knees scraped the rough tile beneath her, but the aching in her body had long since numbed. She tried pushing herself to her feet, to alleviate the strain on her shoulders, failing easily.
In her tomb, she drifted through the darkness of time like a hollow log caught within a mudslide. Minutes, hours, moments trudged by, listless and forgotten. The few memories she clung to must have been hallucinations, she guessed, as she watched the image of herself scratching at smooth, white walls unlike those which surrounded her.
Without warning, the heavy door to her room creaked open, a sudden burst of torchlight slicing at her eyes. “My dear,” a man’s voice greeted as the painful glare approached her, “the king has requested your service. He’s putting together a battle plan and would like your advice as to the best course of action.” As he drew closer and circled her, she recognized the hideous smirk behind his words—the clammy grip of his fingers as they slid down her neck, across her breasts.
“Your king can rot,” she seethed. “You all can rot, the lot of you.”
“Such malice!” he grinned. “A beautiful voice wasted on such hateful words.” The man dropped a sack from his shoulder to the ground in front of her. He poured its contents—a heap of dried leaves and flowers—into a bronze bowl situated between them. “Not that it matters much. The offering will bring you ’round shortly.”
As he arranged the gift, a strong scent of spice and ash wafted up, filling Kassandra’s nose and throat. “Please,” she coughed, “don’t do this! The dreams mean nothing. Don’t you see that?”
“On the contrary, my sweet,” he said, lighting a sprig off his torch, dropping it into the kindling. “Your visions have brought the king much wisdom, as cryptic as your words may sometimes seem.” His task finished, he traced his hand up her jawline, clenching the hair at the back of her head in his fist. She yelped as he pulled her toward him, “Do not squander your gift, dear. Without that, there’s really only one use left for you.” He laughed, tossing her back against her restraints. “I’ll be back for your wisdom when the smoke has cleared.” She dangled helplessly as he and the firelight faded into the darkness. The sound of a door slammed shut somewhere beyond her.
Tears rolled down her cheeks as the offering caught fire. She struggled against the irons at her wrists, turning her head as best she could away from the smoke as it billowed forth, slowly filling the room. Stray embers bit into bare flesh as the choking fumes consumed her. In her mind, she once again watched herself clawing desperately at strange, slick walls which now yellowed and rotted the more she dug into them.
With each slow moment, she faded more deeply into the haze between æther and reality. Her hands scrambled, grasping for something solid, as the light of Olympus fell upon her. In its wake, the inward image of herself quietly dissolved.
“Gods!” she gasped, her eyes bright and widened, enamored by the flashing, insane tumult of infinity.