by Susan EE
The dungeons of Midnight Castle were as bad as Ruby had heard. It was far below the sunshine and flowers of her grandmother’s garden. Far below the decency of ordinary people. She had never heard of anyone escaping from here.
The only light came from the light of the moon. It slipped in between the slats on the ceiling of the corridor that split the rows of cells.
The walls were damp and the air was chilly. The dungeons were overcrowded, and they didn’t care who they threw in together. A murderer could be thrown into the same cell with a child. A monster could be thrown in together with a victim of the Midnight Hunt.
It had been years since Ruby had been one of the human prey for the hunt, but she still considered herself one of the victims. That hunt had shaped her as much as her grandmother had.
She missed her family the most during the worst of times. She used to always be able to count on her grandmother to comfort and advise her. There had been far too many hard times for Ruby since she’d been taken from her family. And of all the nights she’d had to endure since the Midnight Hunt, this was likely going to be the worst.
Ruby was sure that the man in her cell was a monster.
They had thrown both of them in the dungeon on the night of the full moon. The entire castle was tense on the full moon, especially the survivors of the hunt. For them, there were always new surprises on those moonlit nights.
Guards had grabbed her out of her cot just after the moon rose and dragged her down the narrow corridors of Midnight Castle. No one ever explained what was about to happen on the full moon. She just had to brace herself for the worst.
They tossed her into the dungeon, along with the fresh crop of victims from last month’s Midnight Hunt. Each of them were in their own cells. Like the others, Ruby held on to the bars of her cell to see if she could get a look at what she might have to face this night.
The cells were damp from the puddles of rain that had collected beneath the slats in the ceiling. Those openings let the rain and wind in, along with the beams of moonlight spearing the darkness. The dungeons had a particularly eerie feel with the sound of the anxious breathing of the prisoners as they all waited to see their fate.
Down the corridor, metal doors clanked, making Ruby clamp her hands tighter around the bars. Footsteps came down the stairs. A lot of them. Were they bringing in another group of prisoners?
The group walked through the beams of moonlight, breaking and warping the light as they strode down the corridor. These were no prisoners.
These men towered over the guards. At least, the ones in the front did. Those were the ones who strutted with their bulging muscles. Some of them were naked. All of them were hairy, with tufts in the oddest places.
There was something strange about their lips, as though their mouths had been stuffed with bear traps. The moon lit only strips of them as they passed, so she couldn’t get a good look. She could swear something glinted in their mouths, though. Whatever it was, it added to her unease.
Behind the first strutting giants, the others were shorter. No, not shorter. Stooped. Some of them were bent almost double so that their hands grazed the floor as they walked. Their heads jerked back and forth as if they heard noises that startled them.
One by one, the guards opened the cell doors, and one of these strange men walked into each cell.
Ruby backed away from the corridor. There was nowhere to hide in her small cell, but her instincts had her backing into the shadows anyway. Down the hall, the cell doors squeaked and clanked. Some of the prisoners began to cry in terrified, torn sobs that echoed down the hall.
Ruby’s cell was one of the last. She squeezed as far away from the door as she could, trying to remember to breathe.
When her cell door opened, a stooped man walked into the cell without any shoving or threats from the guards. He wasn’t chained, despite the fact that he was large and powerfully muscular.
He had cuts all over him. What really convinced her that he was a monster, though, was the blood.
There was blood all over his face. He had it on his chest and hands too.
Ruby knew a little about the ways that blood could splatter on a person. She’d learned them on her grandmother’s lap as a little girl. This was an odd kind of blood pattern.
It told her that he had been the attacker and not the victim. But it hadn’t been an ordinary fight.
An ordinary person would rarely use his mouth to attack.