Vena knew, from the moment she saw his diabolical smile, that it was over. She closed her eyes, trying to stretch her arms and flinched when the roots tied around her body wrapped themselves even tighter.
“You didn’t think it would be that easy, do you?” Balthazar looked at her and laughed.
“Look, whatever it is you want to do, just get it over with already.”
He took a step towards her and put up his finger. “Now, now, why so hasty, Vena?” He turned away and burst out in laughter.
The room was too dark to see what was going on. Vena could barely make out the shapes of the wooden boards that made up the walls and floor. She knew she was in a hut of sorts, but there were no windows, no source of light other than a small burner Balthazar had on a large, wooden desk. Vena felt her gut tighten, thinking about all the different possibilities Balthazar had to torture and kill her.
Balthazar turned around again, his eyes twinkling, and showed her what he was holding: a vial filled with a blue substance.
She swallowed, biting her lip to stop it from trembling. “Why?”
“I thought that might make you less cocky. As for why I think you already know.”
She frowned. “What?” He couldn’t possibly mean…
“They chose you. You! Over me! I have decades more experience with leading a tribe than you do, I’m a skilled magician, devoted to our God and Goddess, well-versed on our history and our relations with the other tribes. Choosing you made no sense at all.” Balthazars’ nostrils were flaring while he spoke.
Vena gave him a blank stare. “Yes, you seem like the most stable choice, indeed.”
He nodded, unable to detect her sarcasm. “I am! So there is only one logical explanation for all the tribe elders to choose you. You rigged the election yesterday.”
“I did what?” She shook her head, clenching her jaw. “I didn’t think you were such a sore loser, Balthazar.”
Balthazar stepped closer, his head only inches from hers, baring his teeth. “I’m not a loser. I’ve simply worked too long and too hard to let a spoiled brat, such as yourself, take it all away from me.”
The splatter of his saliva was all over Vena’s face as he turned away from her again.
He held the vial up in his hand, staring at the blue substance. “It will be over soon, don’t worry,” he whispered. She wasn’t sure if he was talking to her or himself.
Please, Goddess… Anyone… she thought with eyes closed, struggling against her bonds: it was no use.
Sweat was dripping down her forehead when he came closer and opened the vile. “No, please, Balthazar. Just kill me, please, anything but that.” Vena tried to swallow but found her mouth too dry.
He laughed uncontrollably as he took her face in his hand and squeezed hard. He pushed the vile with so much force that she had no choice but to open her mouth and swallow the substance. She coughed when he let her go, the sour and bitter taste of the potion penetrating her tongue.
“There, there. Good girl,” he said, still giggling. “While I know this isn’t the nicest place to spend your time,” he said, spreading his arms, “I think it’s exactly what you deserve.”
Vena’s eyes were wide. “Please, just let me go. If I’m going to die anyway, just let me go,” she said with a higher voice than usual.
Balthazar slapped his leg, letting out a loud laugh. “You’re so ludicrous sometimes. Why would I let you go? Letting you go would not suit me at all. I simply want to stay here and watch you die in the most painful way possible. I estimate it will be about two hours when the poison takes its effect, slowly deteriorating your organs, your muscles, and your bones. You’ll be screaming in agony,” he paused to stare to a space in front of him, a smile creeping over his face. “And then, after I’ve watched you slowly wither away, I can take over the leadership, and all is as it should be.”
“You’re sick,” Vena murmured. Dizziness overcame her as Balthazar kept laughing.
Vena closed her eyes and tried to steady her shallow breathing. She needed to focus on something else; or anyone else for that matter. Her mind went straight to Devin. Sweet, precious, and handsome Devin; he smiled at her.
“I’m so proud of you,” he said, lifting her up and swirling her around. She still held the ceremonial spear in her hand, given to her by their previous elder. All around her, the people were cheering. Then he kissed her. A tear rolled across her cheek with the knowledge that she would never again taste his lips. Her breath was steady.
She looked up at Balthazar, who was now sitting on a chair across from her holding on to the side as if he would fall down otherwise. “Fight me,” she said.
“Fight you? Now, why would I do that?” Balthazar said, cocking his head.
“You said it yourself: you’re a skilled magician. Probably a better fighter than I am. Prove it,” she said, looking him straight in the eye.
A smile played around his lips. “Don’t think I will kill you when we’re fighting. I’m not going to end your misery prematurely.”
“I know. I just think that if you claim to be better than me, you need to prove it. Unless you’re afraid…”
The chair fell back as Balthazar stood. “Me, afraid? Preposterous. Of course I’m not afraid. And especially not of you.” He looked at her for a moment and then nodded. “Okay, very well then. I guess humiliating you even further by thrashing you can add to the fun.”
He held his hands in front of him. “Gurgi.”
The roots around Vena’s body loosened, and her blood-flow returned. She stretched her hands, arms, and legs for a bit and stared at Balthazar, lowering herself into a crouch.
For a moment, they stared at each other, both grounding themselves to feel the magic flowing.
Suddenly Balthazars’ hands were up: “Durara!”
Vena ducked and jumped to the side just in time as the blast hit the spot where she was standing, shattering the wooden floor. She quickly focused her attention on the desk behind him. “Gura.” The desk flew over to Balthazar, knocking him off his feet.
In his confusion and struggle to get up, she ran to the opposite side of the room, stumbling over some nails that stuck out of the floor here and there. She felt her adrenaline pumping through her veins when she spotted a door. She shook the handle: locked.
“Bamaraadbang,” she murmured, keeping her hands on the door handle. She tried it again; it wouldn’t budge.
“It’s no use.”
Vena jumped as she heard his voice coming from behind her.
“The room is sealed off with magic by my accomplice. I instructed him to come back after three days. Extra safety measure.”
The sound of Vena’s heartbeat was trashing in her ears as she turned around to face Balthazar, his wicked smile still on his lips. Her legs gave out from under her, and she fell to the floor, clutching her chest. His laugh echoed in her ears.
No, no, no… This can’t be happening.
Her thoughts were racing, but she couldn’t see a way out. There was no escape.
I’m going to die here.
“Then neither of us are going to get out of this alive,” she whispered.
Balthazar screamed as she jumped at him, taking him down as they fell to the floor.
“Danagal,” Vena said as she sat on top of him, immobilizing him. The wide eyes staring back at her were frozen.
With all her remaining strength, she grounded herself. She focused on the earth below her, praying to the Goddess to give her the strength she needed. She felt the accumulated magic pulsing through her body, getting stronger and stronger.
She stretched her hands out to the side. “Guwiyang!” she screamed as the fire came out of her fingertips, setting every inch of the walls around her on fire.
When the fire stopped, she collapsed next to Balthazar, letting out a large breath. Vena coughed, the compiled smoke beginning to cover every inch of the room, the smell penetrating her nose, yet somehow her chest felt lighter.
“Now neither of us will get to rule,” she whispered in his ear as he still lay frozen next to her, the smile growing on her face. Vena closed her eyes, thinking of Devin. She saw his image clear before her as she slowly drifted off to unconsciousness, still with a smile on her face.