“The last one’s up next”, Shepard announced, the faintest sliver of nervousness slipping into his voice. “Come on, she’s down the hall.”
“I thought that was all of them,” the new recruit said. “Are there more cells?”
Shepard led the way into the darkness and the two jailers found themselves in a damp tunnel deep beneath the King’s castle, illuminated only by the feeble, flickering light of a torch twenty paces forward. On the other side of it, the shadow of a bronze door — much sturdier than any other cell in the underground jail — was slowly coming into view.
“Talon didn’t brief you on this one?” Shepard asked while they walked. “Where did you say you came from?”
“Ascali,” Axel answered. “Town guard looking for a higher calling; King’s Jailer seemed a good fit.”
He looked nervously at the bronze door as they approached, and added, “Talon didn’t mention any high risk detainees down here. Anything I should know about?”
Shepard grinned toward his new compatriot. “Her name’s Lydia. And you probably want to stand over there, where she can’t see you. It’ll make things easier.” The knight pointed at a dark corner that looked to have been hollowed out of the hall wall recently. Ax tentatively stationed himself there.
“And stay quiet,” Shepard ordered, reaching out to open a small food window in the middle of the door. As he opened it, the ancient metal creaked and groaned, revealing the smiling face of a little girl staring intently from not a fist away from the other side.
The girl had long, bright green hair thanks to the black castor oil for hair growth, darkened with streaks of browns and blacks that matched the stains covering her tattered clothes — or at least what was left of them. She wore a grey cloth robe covered in dirt and sweat, yet only glimpses of it past the threadbare collar were visible through the window as her unrelenting smile swayed side to side, eyes fixed straight ahead.
“Dinner time,” Shepard ordered sternly, staring back at the face in the window. “Back from the door or you get nothing again. Back!”
“Celes has everything,” Lydia sang back through grinning, yellowed teeth. “Celes is watching, always watching!”
And then out of the same leathery lips but in a much deeper, almost masculine voice, Lydia rasped, “And Lucy likes what she sees!”
A sudden gale of wind whirled around the knights and the candle lighting the hallway behind them blew out, leaving the three in complete and utter darkness, with only a bronze door to separate them. Lydia softly snickered from the gloom.
“Lydia,” Shepard repeated angrily, “get back from the door.” He reached in his bag and retrieved some flint to re-light the hallway’s candle. As the spark ignited to illuminate their surroundings again, the little girl’s face glimmered, pressed so tightly against the door’s window that her face had begun turning a deep purple.
“Who’s your friend?” Lydia asked in a curious voice, peering intently at the new guard just barely in view in the corner, standing completely still. “You’re not going to introduce yourself? Lucy would love to meet you.”
“We’re not here to talk,” Shepard interrupted. “Last chance, Lydia: along the far wall or you can starve for another day. What’s it going to be?”
The girl stared blankly through the door’s window, alternating her piercing gaze between the two jailers. Axel visibly fidgeted in the tension. As they stared back, a toothy smile crept slowly onto Lydia’s weathered face.
“Celes sustains me,” Lydia whispered softly. “Life and breath and everything.”
Axel’s eyes widened and he jumped when Lydia quickly stepped away from the door, continuing to speak as her voice drifted further away: “But if it will appease you — and our new friend agrees to step out from the shadows as well — I’ll retreat to my true prison. Levi is, after all, always hungry.”
Shepard glanced at his compatriot and gave a solemn nod, and the two knights stood side by side at the base of the bronze door, looking in through a window that was just barely larger than the sum of two fists.
“Careful,” Shepard muttered to Axel under his breath. “Stand firm, though.”
“I heard that,” Lydia sang out, laughing softly from the shadows. “Food please!”
It wasn’t until the girl had reached the far wall and stood with her thin arms crossed tightly over her flat chest that the new jailer could discern just how frail and malnourished she actually was. Her bare feet were blackened and the dirt floor crept up past her ankles with stains, and her skin wrapped taught with detail around what seemed like every bone in her already-petite build.
“Well?” she asked in a gruff, throaty voice that echoed in the chamber.
“She looks like she could use more than bread,” Ax commented. “How long has it been since she’s eaten?”
“My power is made perfect in weakness,” Lydia whispered, yet was heard as clearly as if her face had still been pressed against the window.
Shepard ignored the girl’s retort and reached into his bag to retrieve a smaller bag as he answered Axel: “Six days. She gets a little more than bread, though.” The stench of death immediately crept into the hallway, emanating outward from the bag Shepard held at the door’s window.
Axel gagged, but managed to regain face and whisper, “What is that?”
“Smells like Goldbill,” the guttural voice echoed from the cell. Lydia licked her lips and added, “Dead this morning.”
“You’ll have to cook it yourself,” Shepard said, then tossed it through the window. It landed with a heavy thud on the dirt floor and the strap loosened enough for the remains of at least one bird to spill out onto the floor.
“My pleasure,” a raspy voice sneered back.
Almost instantaneously, the inside of the entire cell burst into flames and Lydia leaped forward towards the bag of meat. Her long, green hair flowing behind her was the last visible thing Shepard saw before the flames fully engulfed her frail frame and Shepard shut the door’s window.
“What,” Axel stammered, trying to mentally make sense of what had just happened. “Is she — what was — ”
“Don’t worry,” Shepard said. “She does that. Couldn’t used to control it, either, hence the door.” He knocked and the thickness of the door sounded like he might as well be knocking on a cavernous wall instead.
“She’s f — fine?”
“She’s fine,” Shepard reassured his new co-jailer. After a moment, he opened the door’s window again, waited for the waves of heat rushing outward to subside, then peered inside. No flames remained; instead, the cell looked as it did just moments before: a simple dirt floor, sepulchral walls, and dominating shadows.
In the center of the cell, Lydia calmly sat cross-legged on the ground, fresh stains of black and red around her mouth and down her chin and neck. Seeing the window re-open, she brushed her hair out of her face, wiped her chin with a forearm, and smiled sweetly at her jailers, completely silent.