(Photo by Radina Valova @RadinaValova, #photostorychallenge host)
((For this challenge, I used two of the main characters from my YA/NA dark fantasy book, currently titled “The Weeping City”, that I will be writing next year. I’m still pretty new to writing YA/NA but if you enjoy African lore and high fantasy, this may be something to look out for in the near future.))
“Are you certain this is the right way?”
Imari’s words were barely a whisper yet they crowded the stone hallway, his wariness filling the space between him and the girl he followed like a foul odor.
“Yes, I am certain. Just as I was certain the seven other times you have asked that question.”
Half-hearted flames from the wall torches guided their steps although Safara could have navigated those halls blind.
They came to the end of the corridor and paused, side by side, both staring down a set of stairs that were almost completely swallowed up by a cold, black abyss.
“The witch’s bones are down there,” Safara said, hissing the words through clenched teeth.
She reached out to take a torch from the wall but Imari stopped her.
“Hold on,” he whispered, crouching down and running his fingertips across several strange marks engraved into the floor stones. “Light isn’t enough, princess. Watch.”
He tugged off his stolen guard’s cloak and, with a flick of his wrist, tossed it down the stairs. Instantly, the darkness came alive, surging and swelling like viscous liquid. A writhing mob of tar-black hands shot out from the living shadow and into the air, all rending and clawing the garment into scraps of cloth that disappeared into the depths of the stairwell.
“The shadows are ensorcelled. We won’t make it two steps without gettin’ ripped apart.”
Imari rifled through one of the pouches hanging from his belt, adding with a fox-sly grin, “A thief, however, is always prepared. I can remove these sigils in the blink of an e—“
His sentence broke off into open-mouthed silence as the air suddenly thinned and crackled, the hairs on the back of his neck tingling. A streak of white-hot lightning leapt from Safara’s hands, hurtling down the dark stairs in a violent burst of energy and light.
Surrounded by a cloud of mineral dust shaken loose from the ceiling, Imari coughed and managed to wheeze out a mouthful of curses, eyes watering even as the shadowy void before them sizzled and smoldered. Illumination glyphs winked into glowing brilliance along the walls of the stairwell, continuing down the winding spiral and beyond their line of sight.
“Have you never heard of the word ‘finesse’?” Imari asked sourly, rising to his feet and dusting himself off. “Every guard in the kingdom must have felt that.”
Sparks still dancing between her fingers, Safara turned to him with storms in her eyes.
“If that is the cost of finishing this once and for all, then so be it. I refuse to bear this curse any longer. I will cleave the sky open with these hands and bring down the heavens until that vile witch’s bones are nothing but ashes.”
She moved forward and placed her foot on the first step, lingering on the stairway’s edge for just a moment.
“And my father will be next.”
Then, without any further words, she began her descent into the twinkling darkness.