Blood had long-stained the walls of the bedroom that had become the unhallowed tomb for Tara’s parents and siblings. Her mother and father lay upon a canopied bed–they would have been immaculate in their finery had it not been for the fact that their heads had been severed, the sheets now drenched in various shades of crimson. They had been left to rot by the Minmatar rebels, the putrid stench of rotting flesh engulfing anyone and everything in the chamber.
She curled against her binds–chains that had been affixed to the bedposts–as she choked on the air again. She didn’t know how long she had been asleep, only that the acrid reek of her dead family and the darkness of the room had become her world. She turned her head weakly to her sister, who had been chained similarly. Her sister’s eyes were milky, the expression empty, much like that of a doll’s. She wore a blue dress bedecked with lace, though a bib of blood had darkened the priceless clothing. They had moved to behead her as well, though they had made jokes about it as they sliced through her neck–that Tara should have at least one family member to converse with. And so they left her sister’s head attached, slightly off-center, allowing blood to encrust around the incision, serving as mortar to keep it in place. Flies had long since found roost in her neck, tiny wriggling maggots feasting on her flesh.
Sometimes, Tara would try to say something to her. But there was never a response from her companion, only the macabre dance of maggots seeking nourishment.
That’s when she heard the sound of fresh voices, though they were muffled from traveling through floorboards and doors. They weren’t the accusatory tones of the Minmatar, which were rich in hatred and contempt, nor were they the faint whispers of shadows at the edges of the room–echoes of her siblings and parents. Rather, they were the sound of two newcomers–one had a full voice, the accent of one that could speak the Amarrian court language. She picked up on it instantly, a male voice, the shrewd and conniving mind hidden behind the polite inflections of the role of a guest. The other was a woman’s voice and though Tara couldn’t quite grasp the reason–she could feel the thin string of a connection to her. Perhaps it was her guarded tone or how it was obvious she was only suffering the noble out of necessity–Tara could always tell when someone sweetened their voice, a necessary skill her parents had told her, otherwise flatterers and sycophants could ruin a Holding. But these new voices gave her an emotion she had not felt since her parents had been brutally executed in front of her: Hope.
A new flicker of courage surged through her as she opened her mouth again, her voice hoarse and barely louder than a whisper, “Help!”
Tara could scarcely recognize her own voice, hope beginning to fade away as quickly as it had reinvigorated her broken mind. She slumped back against the bed, kicking away the metal plate the former slaves had thrown to her several days before. She had consumed what little they had given her with gusto despite the strange taste of the meat.
The door handle then creaked open and a Civire woman appeared through the opening, quickly shutting the door quietly behind her. Tara watched with immense trepidation as the woman gagged on the smell, their watered eyes meeting briefly. The woman raised a finger to her lips after she became acclimated to the stench, indicating for Tara to remain quiet. She shouldn’t have bothered–Tara could barely squeak, let alone scream, her throat dry from lack of water.
“Reginald, are you alone?” The woman asked. Tara recognized it as a communications link, her breathing becoming more rapid as the possibility of escape seemed within her reach.
A voice–the noble’s voice–responded, “Yes, for now. Gotfrik is speaking with several staff members. They might be sent to look for you. Have you found anything?”
Gotfrik. Tara stiffened at the name of the man who had betrayed her family, had left her to rot in a room amidst the unburied dead. He had once been their butler, her brothers and sisters trusting them with secrets and sweets, but in the end, he had been the one who let the rebels into the manor–the one who plunged the knife into her father’s heart.
The woman’s voice wavered slightly, “Reginald, they’ve slaughtered the Amarrian nobles. There is one girl left up here, chained and barely alive. We need to leave.”
The voices in the distant corners of the room suddenly coalesced in Tara’s mind, whispering out a single word in unison.