King Shaytan left us in the meranium box with a small barrel of water and the promise that we would be looked after. As if that made any difference.
Caia and I were prisoners, trapped, at the mercy of the king of daemons. My blood boiled as I paced the small box, while Caia leaned her back against one of the walls. Our reflections were blurry on the shiny metal surface, and my steps echoed in the small tunnel through which Shaytan had pushed our water. The box was approximately three by three meters, its walls at least ten meters thick, completely sealed and with nothing but that little tunnel connecting us to the outside world—even Caia couldn’t fit through it.
We didn’t even know if Harper, Caspian, Hansa, and Jax had made it out alive.
“What do we do?” Caia murmured, her gaze fixed on the floor.
It wasn’t the first time she had asked that question. She seemed lost, and it tore me apart on the inside to see her so distraught and vulnerable.
“For now, all we can do is get a little bit of rest,” I replied. “Just to clear our heads and get ready for what comes next.”
“What exactly is coming next?” Caia asked. “I mean, we are stuck here. We cannot use our fire to get out. Whatever this meranium metal does, it includes stifling our only weapon against these daemons. On top of that, we have no idea where the others are, if they even made it out, if they’re okay… and let’s not forget that if you try to go full dragon, I’m going to get crushed in the process. So what comes next?”
She was frustrated, and I couldn’t exactly blame her—I felt the same. But I wasn’t going to let her fall prey to whatever the daemons had in store for us, and I certainly wasn’t going to let her succumb to any kind of panic or, worse, hopelessness.
I stopped, then turned to face her, and I felt my heart swell painfully with the need to hold her. She looked up at me, her teal eyes wide and glazed with tears.
“Let’s take it one step at a time, Caia,” I said. “We won’t be in here forever. If the others are out there, they will come for us.”
“But do they know where we are?”
“I’m sure they will find out, one way or another,” I replied, feeling the confidence return to my voice. “Besides, we are most likely inside the palace. They will figure it out. Harper’s relentless, you know that. She will stop at nothing to get you back.”
“To get us back.” She gave me a weak smile.
“Sure.” I shrugged, feigning disinterest. “To get us back. But we both know I’m not the one she’s besties with.”
At least she still had the strength to smile, and even chuckle. It meant that there was still hope, not just for her, but for the both of us, because she was my anchor and I was hers.
“And what if…” Her expression changed from a mild half-smile to a deep, shadowy frown as she choked up. “What if they didn’t make it? What if… What if we are stuck here? At Shaytan’s mercy… What are we going to do then?”
I let a long and heavy sigh roll out of my chest, my shoulders dropping. I struggled to find a positive outcome in all of this. There was no way I was going to rot in here, and there certainly wasn’t any way that I would let Caia spend the rest of her life in a meranium box.
“Still, they won’t keep us in here forever,” I replied. “They will have to let us out at some point, whether it’ll be to put me in chains, or to transfer us to some other larger, equally charmed box. We both know by now that they probably possess enough swamp witch magic to restrain my dragon abilities in the long term. I can’t be sure, at this point, but given what we’ve seen so far, I can speculate.”
“So, what? We just wait for a good opening?” she asked, and I didn’t miss that tinge of sarcasm in her tone.
However, we were suddenly interrupted. The latch at the end of the small tunnel opened with a loud clang. Both Caia and I immediately moved to the opening to see who was out there.
“Oh, hello, pets.” The daemon sneered, narrowing his red eyes at us. He wasn’t a regular grunt, judging by his heavy leather tunic and the gold thread woven around his horns, which stretched down and backward. His long black hair was smooth and tightly braided on the sides, each lock ending in a cluster of beads. He was royalty, and he looked familiar.
“Who are you?” I asked, my tone rough, my anger audible.
He chuckled, carefully analyzing Caia and me, as if we were zoo exhibits.
“I suppose it’s only fair that you know the name of your… caretaker,” the daemon replied. “I am Mammon, son of Shaytan.”
“Our caretaker?” Caia shot back, raising an eyebrow, unable to hide her contempt.
“Well, yes,” Mammon replied, then pushed a small wooden tray through the tunnel. It didn’t go all the way to the end, where we stood, so I had to reach out and pull it toward us. It held two warm steel dishes. They had actually made an effort to provide us with food. “As you can see, I am taking care of you. Therefore, I am your caretaker. Although, to be fair, I would much rather eat your souls than feed you, but Father says you are not to be touched yet.”
He didn’t seem happy with that decision, but I couldn’t say I was bothered. On the contrary, it meant that Shaytan needed us alive and in one piece, for whatever reason.
“So what are we doing here?” I asked.
Mammon rolled his eyes, as if he couldn’t be bothered to answer such basic questions.
“You two have no idea what you’ve gotten yourselves into,” he scoffed. “You don’t even know half of what is really going on, but you sure are keen to ask the most unnecessary questions. Do you really think it matters why you are here? Because, frankly, you should both know that this is where you end. So is it even worth it to ask why?”
“Okay, smartass,” Caia retorted, “how about we try another question? Such as, what is really going on here?”
Mammon chuckled, slowly shaking his head. My only wish was that my arms were long enough for me to reach out and snap his neck like a chicken’s. Fire raged through me, fueled by my inability to get myself and Caia out of this mess.
“Now that is a question that I would love to answer, but I can’t,” he said.
“Then why did you mention it?” She scowled at him.