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Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6

For the Love of Deadly Nightshade - REVIEW THIS STORY

Written by CrystalWren
Last updated: 01/02/2007 02:01:11 AM

Chapter 4

Seventeen-year-old Belladonna Boudreaux was running through the tunnel, a stitch in her side and her feet aching with each thudding step. As she ran, a thought drifted into her head: why do I always find myself coming back here, for exactly de same reason? Well- 'always' was a bit of an exaggeration. This was only the second time she had actually been in this particular stretch of tunnel since she was seven, but she had revisited the place in daydreams and nightmares and reminiscences so often it seemed as though she had never really left.

Dis looks like de place.

She slowed down to a jog and then a walk, then stopped entirely. She propped her hands on her knees and leaned over, panting. She had lost Julien half an hour ago, she was sure of it. For some reason he was terrified of the Antiquary. Possibly because the Antiquary was just as crazy as he was. She stood straight again, and wiped her mouth with the back of her hand. She was more than old enough to understand exactly what Juilen wanted from her, which is why two hours ago she had kneed Julien in the privates and bolted after he had tried to kiss her. She turned her head to the side and spat. There was a nasty taste in her mouth, and she felt like she needed a bath inside and out. She continued to breathe deeply for a minute, gradually slowing her breath and consequently her heart rate at the same time. After a while, she judged herself able to continue without being in danger of hyperventilating, and she began to walk slowly down the glowing white corridor. She remembered every detail of her encounter with the strange red-eyed boy so many years ago, every word he had said, and every gesture he had made- and every turn he had taken down the labyrinthine set of corridors. She intended to use the exit-drain at the end to slip into the swamps, and then- well, she would see what happened then. Julien knew where this drain was of course, but it was on land belonging to the Antiquary and if he asked for permission to visit, there would be questions as to why he wanted to go there. Which he wouldn't be able to answer without telling the truth of why Belle had run from him.

She strolled along the corridor at what seemed like a leisurely pace, but in reality she was taking in every single detail. Of which, to be honest, there wasn't much. As she remembered, the stones glowed that same happy glow, no matter how she glared and poked at them. Belle was a fledgling Mage and the presence of so much magic made her skin itch as though she had been out in direct sunlight too long. She hated the sensation. It made her feel as though she wanted to crawl out of her own skin.

Half an hour down the corridor and many evil thoughts later, Belle came to an abrupt halt. There was a strange noise, like a moan she could hear at the verge of her hearing. And that wasn't all- the bloody tunnels have changed! Belle knew that this particular stretch of tunnel wasn't due to fork for another hour's walk. Either her memory was faulty, or somebody had managed to re-rout, remove, rebuild or just plain renovate twenty kilometres or so of tunnel. And since the Antiquary was involved, an ancient sorcerer of unknown power, Belle was willing to bet money that it wasn't her head. After all, what's the point of being a sorcerer if you couldn't change a few stone tunnels, even if they were below the entire city of New Orleans? Or under sea level in the middle of a swamp? Belle snarled. She had two options: either she could take a gamble and pick a tunnel and risk being lost, captured or killed, or she could go back the way she came and hope to God that Julien had picked himself up and staggered home rather than waiting for her. Unlike the last time, common sense won. It would be eminently more logical for her to go back the way she came. Belle sighed. Admit it to yourself, girly. You're just afraid your father will find out dat you were here again. You couldn't sit down for a week when he was finished wit' you de last time. Belle turned to back the way she had came, and got the shock of her life.

What de hell happened to the tunnel?!

It had vanished.



Magic, of course, and Belle hadn't even felt it happening. In the tunnels' place was a wall of the same stone as the floor and walls of all the tunnels were made of. It was even glowing the same obnoxious happy glow, and it obviously didn't mind when Belle kicked it savagely. Belle did mind, however. She dropped to the ground swearing viciously in three different languages as she yanked off her boot. That was a mistake- it only made the pain worse. Waves of it rolled up her leg and into her torso and up to her brain where it turned in to a red haze that turned everything she saw into a bloody-coloured mist. I don' believe dis, she thought dazedly as she bent over the abused portion of her anatomy. Belladonna Boudreaux, a year shy of becoming a full Assassin, has been crippled by an injury to her poor widdle tootsie. I feel like I'm seven again! The pain lessened a bit, to the extent she could actually see again, and she cautiously prodded her toes beneath the concealing fabric of her sock. She flinched and whimpered. Two of them were obviously broken, their shape noticeably distorted to her probing fingers. Oh, come on! I didn' kick de wall dat hard! She touched her foot again and hissed. Well, she must've. Dimly she heard that soft moaning noise again, but she didn't immediately register it. She had her own problems. She loosened the laces on her boot to their widest possible extent, and very slowly and carefully began to ease her foot into it. It hurt like Hades of course, but she didn't really have any choice. In a very short while her foot would swell to the point she couldn't walk on it, but the boot would restrict the swelling somewhat. Enough for her to stagger out of here, at least. She had to grit her teeth to keep from screaming, but the task was finally done and she allowed herself a minute to breathe before she tightened and retied the laces. She rested her forehead on her bent knees and closed her eyes. Her foot hurt. A lot. Belle had bruised muscles, abraded her skin, suffered numerous cuts and shattered bones in her eventful and violent life, but nothing, nothing, hurt worse than these broken toes.

The moaning sound intruded in on her misery again, and for the first time it registered properly. What's dat? Belle lurched to her feet and stood there uncertainly, resting nearly all her weight on her uninjured foot. In her present condition she was barely capable of walking, let alone fighting. There was no chance the sound was due to wind. It had to be a person. And in these tunnels, they had to be hostile. Common sense said that it was best to ignore the noises and just continue down whatever tunnel the mystery person wasn't in. Common sense said that there was no chance of her winning any brawl she got involved in, no matter how sick or injured her opponent might be. Common sense said that anyone and anything in these tunnels was nothing but trouble, and it was best to avoid that trouble.

"Oh, what de hell," said Belladonna, and went down the tunnel from whence the noises came.

Curiosity may have killed the cat, but that had never deterred Belle. After all, if she was stuck here, she may as well see who was making all that racket. She did hope it wouldn't come down to her having to run. In all probability, she'd lose.

Belle crept down a section of tunnel that had deviated from the main route. It was smaller- the ceiling was lower, and it was not as wide as its' parent. Dimmer, too- she had to strain to see, and to make things worse there were dark little alcoves set into the walls at periodic intervals. As she stepped (or staggered, might be the better word) past each one she had to check each thoroughly to make sure that nothing nasty and hostile wasn't going to jump on her once her back was turned. There never was anything; it was strange, but each of the alcoves were of differing sizes. Some of them would barely hold a small religious icon, while others were big enough to be rooms in their own right. There was another moan, and Belle was close enough to the source of it to just make out a large, lumpy shape sprawled across the floor. She started walking slower in order to move a bit more quietly. Her foot was still sore, throbbing in pure agony, but she was distracted enough not to dwell too much on it. There was a faint, foul smell in the air, and it grew stronger as she approached the object. She slipped in a puddle of sticky liquid, and she almost fell. She caught herself just in time, but in the process transferred all her weight to her injured foot- she almost screamed in agony. She leant against the wall and beat at it with her fist until the pain eased, and on some level she was dimly proud that she did all this without shouting out loud. She wiped the tears from her eyes with the back of her hand that was holding her dagger, and tried to slow her breathing. Mary, Mother of God, her foot hurt!

At last the pain dimmed enough for her to see, and she instantly froze. She was close enough to the shape to see it for what it was: a body. And the liquid she had slipped in was blood, and it was probably what she could smell- although it seemed to her that the smell was a lot sharper than pure blood.

Belladonna limped forward until she was almost on top of it- it was a boy, near to her own age. He was definitely dead. Not many people could survive having their head three metres away from their neck, nor having most of their internal organs outside of their actual body cavity. It explained the smell- the intestines were cut in several places and the stench from the stuff in them was foul, even though he had only been dead an hour or two to judge by the blood that was still drying and congealing. Whomever he had gotten into a fight with obviously didn't like him very much. He was dressed in the featureless black that marked him as a Collector. Most children in the Antiquary's Collection were either dead or sold before they were sixteen, but a precious few were trained to be professional thieves like the rest of their Guild. They stole mainly for the Collection, but often did international heists on commission. There were three ranks, each indicated by the metal that their collars were made of. The best or the favourites (not necessarily mutually inclusive) wore gold collars, and the least important wore bronze. This one's collar was silver marking him of middle rank and the metal band was smooth and unmarked, as were all collars. There was a light silver rapier near one outflung hand; aside from the two main hideous injuries that probably killed him, he was covered in many long thin cuts, arguing for a sword fight. Belle leaned closer- that was odd, but he looked to have many small burns as well, and they were fresh. Where could he get burned in a fireless tunnel in the middle of a sword fight? Belladonna clutched her knife harder. Whatever- whoever- had caused those burns must have caused the cuts, and decapitated and eviscerated this unknown boy to boot. Belle was an excellent fighter, a trained killer to be exact, but she was injured and in no condition for a fight. Especially against someone who could do this.

The moan sounded again, somewhere close. Belle almost jumped out of her skin, and she looked wildly around. There was one of those alcoves a few metres away, the size of the opening arguing for one of the ones large enough to be a small room. This was probably where the noise was coming from, and a thought occurred to Belladonna: this mysterious person making the noise was probably the same one who had fought the dead boy. This was obvious, but from the sounds it was easy to assume that they themself was hurt, perhaps very badly. That placed Belle and this unknown on a similar footing. They were both injured, and they both had reduced mobility because of that. They were also both trained killers; in the Collection the border between Thief and Assassin was blurred. Thus reassured Belladonna moved as carefully and as quietly as she could past the body of the boy, towards the alcove. She reached the edge of the opening, and placed her hands on the wall and steadied herself against the brickwork. Now was the moment where she was most vulnerable, while she stuck her neck around the corner to see what was inside. If the killer was waiting for her, all he had to do was make one stroke with his sword and she would be as headless as the corpse that lay in the corridor behind her. Belle closed her eyes, and breathed in and out in preparation. No time like de present, she thought, and carefully edged around the corner, ready to pull back at any time. There was no person standing and waiting for her, but there was one lying in the cubicle.

It was a male, about her own age, dressed in black identically to the dead Collector that he had most probably killed, and there was a similar silver rapier clutched in his right hand. With his left he clutched his other arm just below the shoulder, the fabric of his shirt looking shiny and wet down to his wrist, probably with blood. He looked to be semi-conscious as well, with his eyes closed and the eyelids flickering, and his mouth worked periodically as though he was trying to speak. His leg was caught under his body where he had most probably collapsed on it when he dragged himself into the alcove. Periodically in his delirium he tried to move it, but his full weight was upon the limb and it had probably cramped and was even now hurting him; that's likely why he was groaning. Aside from the injury to his arm, he was covered in those long, thin cuts, and he also had some of those strange burns. What was stranger still was that they seemed to be confined to his hands and wrists. The inspection of his body completed, Belle looked more carefully at his face. And got the shock of her life.

It was Lucien! But no, it couldn't be- Lucien hadn't been that beautiful- had he? That face had the same luminous perfection as a Renaissance painting; the eyes were closed, their absurdly long lashes fanning over the perfect skin at the top of the high cheekbones. The mouth was sensual without being full lipped and feminine. The hair was long and soft and auburn, and Belle itched to run her fingers through it. Without thinking she reached forward- the boy's eyes snapped open, and with a speed that was almost inhuman he punched her in the shoulder hard enough to knock her backwards and sideways into the wall. Her head cracked against the dimly luminescent brickwork, and she was momentarily stunned. As she sat there, slumped against the wall in a half-sitting position and looking at the boy, she thought dazedly, it couldn't be Lucien. Dis boy's eyes are brown, gorgeous velvet brown. The next words out of the boy's mouth made the lie of this, however.

"Belle?" he said in a voice that was as dazed sounding as she felt. "Belladonna? Dat you, little Nightshade?"

Belladonna blinked, and tried to reorder her muddled thoughts. She could be forgiven in her shock and pain that her next words bypassed her brain entirely. "Nightshade?" she said incredulously. "Where do ya get off calling me dat?"


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