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The Inquisitor (chapter 27)

The princess waited until all echoes of her master had died away, and she stood for moments more in silence, forcing calm and direction upon her mind. From her pillow she tore many wads of batting, stretching them into long strips and winding them 'round her wrist. When at last she was ready, key in hand, she strode across the room to the other door in her chamber.

In all the time she had spent in these rooms, playing with Chrysanthemum, being administered her lessons, obeying her chimes... all of this time, this great door had remained solidly locked. The door held not handle, only a small, irregularly shaped keyhole. With a slightly trembling hand, she slid the key within it and turned.

For an eternal moment, nothing happened. Then a deep groan, and click of metal, and the lock sprung deep within the door. Pushing with all her might, she wrestled the heavy door open just enough for her small frame to squeak through. Beyond was the deepest blackness she had ever beheld.

Retreating from it, she hastened to the bathing chamber, and retrieved a lantern with a long candlewick, lighting it upon one of the smaller candles within her bedchamber. Taking a deep breath, she slid through the door, holding the lantern before her.

From outside her chambers, she found the massive door swung easily closed. In the dim light, she found a large handle and locking mechanism, which she tried once or twice, reassuring herself the great door would open upon her return.

Satisfied, she turned from the door and peered into the darkness. By the lantern light, she could make out an unlit torch mounted on an ornate sconce set into the wall. Using a bit of batting, she took a small flame from her lantern, it sputtered and finally caught, throwing a bit more light throughout the new chamber. She found herself on a stone landing connecting two wide staircases. One led upward; some faint light filtering down from above. The other led downward into utter darkness. Though her heart yearned to dash upwards out of the dark, her mind recalled the words of the old man who'd given her the key.

"Deep below the keep lies the ancient dragon-hold." Down his words said, down into the depths. Steeling herself, she raised her lantern and began to descend, lighting torch after torch as she made her way down.

- - -

The door to the Chamber of Delights burst open with such a force that it slammed hard against the stone walls; a deep boom echoing throughout the chamber. The Queen's voice thundered loud, calling out for the Inquisitor, raspy and harsh.

"I am here, my mistress." Said He, straightening up from behind one of the many contraptions throughout the chamber. In a flash she was on him. She grasped him by the throat, lifting him easily and pressing his back hard against a heavy beam supporting one of the nearby devices.

Her eyes blazed and her breath was rapid and heavy. Her skin had taken on the strange other-worldly glow and it shone in the dim light of the chamber. All at once, she seemed to lessen, and her grip slackened as he dropped to his unsteady feet.

"Where have you been!?" she ranted, releasing him and pacing about the stone floor. "I sent for you... Do you not heed my summons when I call?" She turned to him, eyes wild and angry.

Calmly he replied. "Of course, my mistress. I am at your command, You know this!"

Turning from her, he tinkered with some of the gears of a nearby device. "I did not disobey your calls. I knew you would soon appear in these rooms momentarily, my Queen. I too heard the strange music and heard the wails and revelry in the castle. I came to prepare the machines, as I thought you might require them."

Turning back, he was momentarily surprised at how close the Queen had drawn to him in just an instant. Her fiery eyes met his, searching them for lies.

"Do not deign to tell half truths, my dear judge. I can sniff out your deception if I please. Do you stand here now before me, and proclaim the music before was not of your making!?"

"No, my mistress." Said He. "I heard the tolling; I saw the frenzy they caused. I myself was nearly dragged down by three of your minions just moments ago, so fierce was their lust."

"Truly this is some strange magick, my mistress. I believed it came from you, so incensed were the ladies of this castle. Such wanton desire. This music of lust we all witnessed was far greater than the clever chimes I made for your ward. I only wish I could command such power."

The Queen struck him with a blow that sent him reeling.

"How dare you speak of power! Mine is the only power in this castle, do you hear!? Your only thought should be to find new sources for my pleasure, and new lessons and tortures for my prisoners! Do you hear!?"

Her anger and frustration grew as she spoke, and she struck him again and again. Again, she seemed to catch herself, reigning in her fury. She seemed to abandon her suspicion of him, though her eyes watched him regaining his feet with slight distrust.

"Forgive me, my mistress." Said the Inquisitor, adjusting the mask about his face. Her blows had knocked it askew, but had not uncovered the face beneath. "I only meant to allay your fears. I did not wish you to think I had caused this strange music,"

"Ha." Chuckled She. "My fears, you say." She drew close to his face, close enough to feel her breath on his eyes. "I have no fears, my dear judge. Should I find you have defied me, t'is you who shall know fear."

End of Story