Jennalee Evavold, the amazing artist behind StoryReeler Art, did an awesome sketch of Hadir that can be seen here.
They locked the doors.
The darkness remained outside his window but it seeped in through hers.
He inhaled, She choked.
She tensed, He relaxed.
They sank into a seat on the bed, She facing the East, He the West.
It couldn’t end now.
Thank God, it was.
She raised a hand to her mouth—He raised a gun to his.
Trembling and steady.
Hands clenched on the sheets, tendons straining beneath the skin.
Pain and preparation.
Two deep breaths, a single exhalation.
Thunder and silence.
They fell back to the bed, prone and lifeless.
Two hearts stopped at the exact same moment.
They hand nothing in common in life but what they shared in death would forge a bond between the worlds of mind and matter.
The Nightmare Queen
They did not bother to wake Hadir before they dragged him from his bed. The rough grip around his arms startled him out of slumber, but coherent thoughts was not fast following. He blinked insistently to clear the blur from his vision and his feet fumbled to match the pace of the steps on either side of him. He felt clumsy and out of sync against the militant rhythm of each footfall.
He rolled his head to look to one side of him, but the answer to the identity of his captors only drew more questions.
Not soldiers. Guards. His guards.
“What’s going on?” It was a noble effort at sounding in control but even a prince will have a hard time appearing composed when still half asleep and wearing his bed-clothes.
Neither guard answered nor acknowledged him. The way they continued on had a stiff, clockwork-toy quality.
“I demand an explanation,” Hadir tried to yank himself away, but their grip was like iron shackles. “Answer me! I order you, as the crowned prince of Terra Mirum. You have no right to—”
It was then he noticed the others. The rest of the castle had also been taken from their beds and were guided—or moved, depending on their level of cooperation—in the same direction by other palace guards.
Hadir planted his feet and locked his stance and held his ground for a few precious seconds before he was jerked forward once more. Their forcefulness knocked him off his feet and they slid behind him.
Boots on either side of him marched in perfect time down the stairs and into the main hall.
All the people wrested from their beds were gathered into the hall. Everyone filed in alongside each other: maids, lords, even other guards; there was no discrimination of status, profession or gender.
He couldn’t decipher the purpose of it all. No one appeared injured; in fact, he saw no sign of violence at all. While a relief, it was perhaps the most confusing aspect of it all. Hadir knew war and revolution and they were never bloodless. Nobles were kept alive to be later used as bargaining chips, and anyone considered politically useless was killed or neutralized by other means. They weren’t hauled from their beds to be put in a line up... so why had the servants been spared?
Moonlight glowed through the great windows, a pale light on hundreds of frightened faces lined up like prisoners awaiting execution.
The last marching foot stopped and all sound died as if a scream of silence echoed through the room.
The air grew stiff and settled into a kind of rigor mortis, cold and lifeless. It was a deathly kind of stillness, so sudden and haunting it startled the breath back into people.
Hadir struggled to inhale.
The guards’ grip on his arms became so tight he could feel the pulse of each one and for a moment his mind considered a strange phenomenon. Were their pulses in unison?
The silence shattered, a strange sound echoed down the hallway.
And then another.
And another, and another, and another until it became a continuous, steady rhythm. A strange, mechanical heart-beat. A heartbeat that filled the room and kept the time.
The guards at Hadir’s side shoved him down. Hisknees made hard contact with the cold floor. He attempted to raise his head to look toward the heartbeat, but his head was forced downward by a guard’s hand. He stared at his own reflection on the marble. His eyes met their likeness in the floor and he saw something in them he hadn’t even realized was there: fear.
The heartbeat was getting louder—no, not louder—closer. It was some kind of footstep. And it was coming right towards him.
Doom-tek. Doom-Tek. Doom-Tek. Doom-Tek.
He watched the toes of two high-heeled boots square with him, a train of ebony fabric pooling on either side and behind them. His eyes drew up, taking in the rigid figure that stood before him.
She was more sculpture than creature. Her components suggested human features, yet they were far too hard and chiseled to believe she was actually made of flesh. Her skin was a stark pale contrast against the black garment that clung to her. However, nothing unnerved him as much as the eyes locked onto his. Two black pools—endless—as dark and unending as The Nothing itself. There was no question in Hadir’s mind, what stood before him now was no less than Nightmare.
“Hello, rabbit,” she cooed.
“Who are you?” He spat out the demand before his mind had much time to think about it. His eyes widened as he looked further into hers, straining to find even a hint of light in them. “What are you doing here?”
Black-painted lips parted into the smallest of smiles but his question went unanswered.
“You won’t get away this.” He grasped onto any defense his mind could muster. “The Queen will stop you—you will…” Hadir’s eyes focused on something even more terrible than those of the Nightmare: an object far too familiar that rested atop her head as if it belonged there. The white gold frame glistened even in the dim light, twisting and curling around pearl and diamond insets. He knew that crown’s intricate construction since his infancy. Hadir spoke again, softer. “Where is my mother?”
Her head tilted to the side ever so slightly with a satisfied exhalation. Her breath chilled the room like the winter frost. "What is his name, my dear?"
A shadow of a creature limped to her side. It was hard to make out at first, bent over and quivering as it was, but Hadir realized that it was also something he recognized. “Father?”
King Bastion had once been a tower of strength, both great in physical stature and presence. That man was now unrecognizable. He cowered at the Nightmare’s feet like a beaten dog. He looked weak and hollowed out. As if drained of life, his body had aged well beyond the years it was designed to live. With a great but careful effort, as if the mere weight of his own head could snap his neck, he turned his gaze, craning it upwards toward the Nightmare. “Hadir.”
His name was like a forgotten melody to the Nightmare and the subtlest undulation rolled down her body, starting from her ear and slithering down to her toes. “Hadir.”
His heartbeat faltered in its rhythm and his breath caught. He struggled, a wave of panic washed through him, but the grip on his arms only tightened. He felt their nails dig into his skin through the thin fabric of his shirt.
“Hadir,” the Nightmare said once more, firmer this time.
Again he his heartbeat stumbled, almost stopping long enough to match a new rhythm. He gritted his teeth and his heart pounded at a pace he could not control—like a drug running through his veins to coax him to sleep. He could hear the sound in his ears and his body grew rigid with each thump. His eyes snapped open at the Nightmare’s behest and again he found himself staring into the unblinking abyss of her eyes.
“Now that you’re listening.” Her smile broadened.
Hadir felt sick but unable to move.
The Nightmare’s hand reached out her fingertips and stroked the top of Bastion’s head like a pet. “Elan Vital is now in my control. Tomorrow I will bring your kingdom’s fall. Starting with your public execution.”
Hadir’s own terror could not shake his heart out of the rhythm dictated by Nightmare.
“Leave the rest but lock him up. Heart and all.”