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Shay Sheridan - Reality

Chapter 3 - Round Trip

Wolf kissed Tony on the cheek, and took Virginia's hand. Just as he stepped with her through the mirror, he said, "Goodbye, Grandpa!" and had the wicked satisfaction of watching the startled expression on his mate's father's face, just as the room began to twist and swirl.

He'd been through the mirror twice already, and knew to brace himself for the feeling of lightheadedness it caused. He grasped Virginia's hand tightly as the force of the vortex dragged him forward. There was the unpleasant feeling of lurching through nothingness as he felt himself-- --slam into the ground. Stunned, eyes closed, he tried to get his bearings, but why was the ground so cold, so hard, why was he lying down, where was –

"Virginia?" His voice was so faint it surprised him. He started to open his eyes and a torrent of cold water suddenly hit him in the face. Coughing, choking, he rolled to one side, spitting out foul water. He wiped his mouth and opened his eyes. He was lying on a stone floor in a place that smelled of filth, rot, blood. He became aware, slowly, of tremendous pain throughout his body.

"Get up!" Before the guttural voice died away a wooden bucket hit him in the back and a heavy boot kicked him brutally in the side. His ribs caught fire with the sudden pain, and he rolled across the filthy floor to escape, unable to speak, barely able to catch his breath. "Get up!" the voice screamed again, and he reached out and felt a damp stone wall, pulling himself up more by feel than by sight. He leaned, hunched over, against the wall, his mind trying to encompass where he was, what had happened, why they weren't in the Tenth Kingdom.

Virginia! He spun around. He had to protect her from whoever was trying to kill them–

Virginia was nowhere in sight.

But with that look his heart fell. He knew exactly where he was, even before the guard with the heavy boots and the whip struck again.

He was in Snow White Memorial Prison. In the punishment cell.

Just as the realization formed itself fully in his mind, the guard cracked the whip, catching him across the chest. He yelped with the shock of the blow. He saw that his shirt was shredded, and red welts were visible through the rips in the fabric.

"Stand still, prisoner!" Wolf struggled to stand perfectly still, though his limbs were quivering with the blow's aftermath. He looked up. The guard was a beefy, sandy-haired brute, with too few teeth and too many muscles. He was the one who had tortured him the most, when he first came to the prison, before he'd learned how to stay low, stay out of sight, stay, for the most part, out of trouble.

Why was he here again? What couldn't he remember? And WHERE WAS VIRGINIA?? He wanted to howl out her name, but the look in the guard's eye convinced him to keep his mouth shut.

A door squeaked open behind him and another guard entered, "Brins, we got another three to go. You finished with him?"

"Yeah. He got his punishment!" Brins leaned into Wolf's face, his vile breath and sour sweat making Wolf want to gag. He kept his eyes down, focusing on the floor, trying not to wince as the guard poked him where he'd just whipped him. "Dint'cha, prisoner? So I guess you won't be stealing food anymore, will ya?" He didn't wait for an answer, which was fortunate, as Wolf was in too much pain and confusion to answer. "Take 'im back, Root."

The other guard grabbed hold of one of Wolf's arms and hurried him down the dank corridor towards his cell. Wolf knew the way--incredibly they were returning him to the same cell he'd languished in for seven horrible months. Had he only left here a few weeks ago? So much had happened--he'd been released, found a new kingdom, met his mate -

And lost her, apparently.

The door slammed shut behind him and Wolf fell onto the pallet that passed for a bed. He needed to think. They'd gone through the mirror, they should have been in that big park near Virginia's house... For the life of him he couldn't imagine what had gone wrong. Clearly some time must have passed, he must have done something in the missing time that caused him to end up here, but what?

It was too much to wrap his mind around. His entire body ached; his back, in particular, was aflame, and he knew he must've been whipped at least two dozen times to be in so much pain. He wanted to get up, to go find Virginia, but he was locked in, and he was so tired, so very tired...

Despite himself he fell into a troubled sleep.

The commotion in the hall woke him.

Wolf managed to sit up, though his limbs had stiffened in sleep. The acute pain had changed into a miserable throbbing everywhere. He was thirsty--the bowl of water that served as his daily ration was across the tiny cell by the door, and with a grunt he stood up and retrieved it, trying, despite his thirst, not to drain it. If he emptied it too early, too bad--he'd just be thirsty the rest of the day.

It amused the guards to give him his water in a bowl instead of a cup like everyone else got. "Beast," they'd called him, and "animal," and while the names and their "special" treatment of him pained him, he took some comfort in the fact that he, the "animal," possessed far more intelligence and greater skills than they did. Empty comfort, perhaps, but thinking about it had kept him sane the first time he was here.

His shirt was sticking to him. That didn't bode well for the state of his back. He pulled the fabric away gingerly, wondering as he did so why he didn't remember being whipped. Maybe he'd thrown himself into a kind of trance--that had happened before, his mind helping him through the ordeal. What worried him more was why he couldn't remember what had happened between entering the mirror and waking up in the punishment cell.

He found another shirt under the pallet. Odd--but old habits died hard, he supposed. When he'd been here before he'd traded a particularly pungent bowl of beanstalk stew for a second shirt. He must've done it again--lucky, or he'd have been forced to wear the ripped and bloody one for as long as he remained here.

He threw off that thought with an angry shake of his head. He couldn't remain here. He had to get out, get to Virginia, wherever she was. He shuddered to think that she might be incarcerated somewhere else in the prison. He' d never heard of female prisoners here –

He went cold at the thought she might be kept here for some other purpose.

The noise from the corridor was increasing. Prisoners were yelling, clanking on the bars with metal cups--there was a sense of disarray, anarchy, that was alien to the prison. Something was up, something out of the ordinary. He moved to the door, gripping the bars and looking out at his limited view.

"Hey--let me out!"

"C'mon, release me!"

"Who ya lookin' for?"

"Over here! Over here!"

Prisoners down the hall were calling to someone he couldn't see. Maybe, maybe, he thought with a jolt, it was someone looking for him-- could it be one of Wendell's lords, or, or even Wendell himself? If they'd been gone a while, maybe word had gotten out –

His hope died as he realized that everyone probably thought they were safely in the Tenth Kingdom. Unless he could remember, there was no way of telling if anyone knew they were missing, or even how much time had passed. Even he didn't know Virginia's location. She could be miles, or kingdoms, from here.

But someone was coming, someone special enough to cause this sort of commotion, and maybe they'd take a message to Wendell anyway –


He froze. That voice...he looked up and felt his grasp on reality recede, roll back and turn itself inside out.

"What are you?"

It was the queen. Wendell's step-mother. Virginia's--NO! He must be dreaming, this must be a nightmare, she was dead, he'd seen her dead–

"Do not make me ask again." She moved closer to his cell, her all-too-familiar face, a study in cruelty masking as nobility, smiling expectantly at him.

THIS IS NOT POSSIBLE! "This can't be real," he said aloud.

The queen's answering smile was cold, her tone condescending. "I know you are amazed that I would speak with you, a common prisoner. But you are uncommon, too, are you not?"

"I am a half-wolf," he replied, surprised at his own voice.

Her triumphant smile said she was impressed by her own cleverness. "If I let you out, you must serve me without question."

He couldn't answer, but his head nodded almost of its own accord. The instinct for freedom, it seemed, cared little whether this was happening for real or only in his head.

The queen released the door and he stepped into the corridor, dropping his gaze and moving past her quickly. Just walk, think later –

"Give your will to me." Her voice was strange, compelling, and it froze him in his tracks. Wolf felt the hair on the back of his neck stand up. Something was inside his head, whispering to him, and he knew what it was, it had happened before, just this way –

"Your Majesty! We've cornered the dog!" A swarthy man skidded around the corner and the queen whipped around to look at him. Whatever had been inside Wolf's head dissipated, and he came back to himself to hear the queen say, "So, wolf, it seems I won't need you after all." She gave him an appraising look. "Pity." And turned on her heel to follow the man down the hall.

She was gone. He stood alone in the corridor, jeered and screeched at by the other prisoners. He couldn't think--wouldn't let himself think. He turned and moved swiftly down the hall, towards the entrance, towards freedom.

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