The prison cart rumbled along the road, making my teeth knock and clang together. I curled into the corner, trying to find a comfortable position with the shackles rubbing my wrists and ankles raw. I'd been trapped in there for three days. After the first day, they removed the hood over my head and replaced the rope with metal cuffs attached to the floor of the cart.
I recognized none of my captors, but I knew they were under the king's orders. The man who was supposed to be my father-in-law.
They refused to answer questions or even talk to me. Instead, they preferred to yank me about in menacing silence. I'd waited for my chance to run, but so far the opportunity hadn't presented itself.
Wherever they were taking me, I needed to make a break for it soon. Why hadn't they killed me? It made the most sense if the king didn't want me paired with his son. What game was he playing?
Was he hoping to make it look like I ran away and left my kindreds behind, hoping they wouldn't look for me? This way, there wouldn't be a dead body for them to find if they drove me days away and killed me in the middle of nowhere.
I returned to digging at the screws twisted into the wood, holding the shackles in place. The skin and nails on my fingers tore away, but I kept at it, ignoring the pain and blood. I'd always been so careful of my fingers and hands so I wouldn't have trouble playing my ukulele, but I'd never play again if I let them kill me either.
I couldn't wait for my kindreds to rescue me, I couldn't afford to count on it. I knew they'd try, but they what if they didn't make it in time?
Besides, I was no damsel, waiting on my guys to come and save the day. I'd save my own damn self. I'd spent my entire life taking care of myself. Just because they were in my life didn't change that.
But damn, I missed them. I missed their touch, their voices, their laughter, Whist's cooking. The guards hadn't fed me more than a few scraps since they abducted me from the prince's rooms. My stomach gnawed at itself in emptiness, so painful I dreamed of food. I'd been hungry like this before, but meeting my kindreds had spoiled me. They had spoiled me.
Now I was back to hunger and fear and loneliness.
Whist's intensity, Sky's mischief, Saber's sweetness, Aster's charm, all gone. What I had come to rely on, gone. What I had come to cherish, gone.
I had to get it back, get them back. I didn't think I had much time left.
I peeked between the slats in the boards, trying to figure out where I was. I'd traveled all over Faligrey, but nothing struck me as familiar. It was rockier, mountainous. My breath caught as realization hit. They were taking me to the dragon lands.
Fear clogged my throat, and I scraped harder at the screws, panic and desperation trembling through my hands. I didn't even feel the pain in my ragged fingers anymore, everything but the terror and determination went numb.
They were so tight and the shackles on my wrists made it awkward, but it finally paid off. One of the screws came loose, dropping from my hands, and rolling across the floor. I grabbed at it, but it ended up in the corner too far for me to reach. It wouldn't matter if I freed the rest. Three more to go.
Blood stained the boards, dripping from my fingers, making them slippery. I searched the cart and the pockets of my torn and filthy cloak yet again, hoping every time before I'd missed something.
But there was nothing. Nothing but lint and stray strings.
The cloak was ruined, Saber's sweet, thoughtful gift nothing but a rag. I clutched it around me, wishing I could still smell him on it, his scent of fire and brandy. But all I smelled was my own sour stench.
My ruined fingers brushed up against one of the buttons on my shirt and an idea stampeded through me. The button. I ripped it off my shirt, the thin metal the perfect fit inside the grooves of the screws.
My heart pounded so loud it drowned out everything else as I wrenched the button inside the screw, putting every ounce of strength I had left into it. The first one I tried refused to budge, so with a blown out breath of frustration, I tried another one.
And it worked. It scraped loose and with a final twist, it came out. My legs were free.
I checked outside again, making sure they weren't getting suspicious, they weren't stopping. The sun dipped in the sky, the day on its last couple hours. Once darkness fell, they'd stop. I had to hurry.
I left the stubborn one for last and turned my attention to the next one. It loosened easily and my heart-rate sped up, hope unfurling in my chest. It was working. I was going to get the hell out of here.
And somehow find my way back to my kindreds.
The king didn't get to win. He didn't get to take anything else from me. It was time for me to help take things from him. Possibly everything.
And a little bit of rust on a screw would not stop me.
My entire body shook as I fought with the button and screw. I spared a prayer of gratitude that the button was metal or it would have snapped in half. My bloody hands slipped off the button, and I barely caught the thing before it joined the screw in the corner.
The cart lurched to a halt. Shit. I was out of time.
A loud groan reverberated from my throat as I poured every bit of desperation into the screw.
And it didn't work. It wouldn't budge.