Breaking Free by Hope Bennett

Chapter 1: Matty

There I was, sitting against the wall on the cold stone floor, shackled with actual iron shackles like I was in some medieval torture chamber.  To be fair, the dungeons were medieval.  That’s because I lived in a genuine monastery, long since abandoned by the monks and bought by my priest.  He said the land had power and that there was magic in the walls.  Probably, most of the other witches believed him, but I knew better.  I could see magic as clearly as I could see my own hand in front of my face, and the only magic in the stones was what the priest put there.

Three things about that:

The first being that the other witches in the coven weren’t as gifted as I was, so I was probably the only one who knew that the priest had bought us here because he liked the aesthetic of living in an ancient monastery.  He probably thought it looked impressive.

The second being that the magic he’d layered up over the place over the years was pretty impressive, so by now it wasn’t really a lie to say it was a magical hot-spot.

The third being that I couldn’t, in fact, see my own hand in front of my face.  It was dark in the cell and usually there was a light outside in the passageway, left there so whoever wanted to check on me could see.  Today (this morning or yesterday, I really wasn’t sure how much time had passed) that light had gone out and my whole world had been plunged into darkness.

Still, my initial point was valid: I could see magic as well as I could see anything else, and it was that talent which had got me into trouble.

It was hard to be grateful for my abilities when they had led me directly here.  Sitting in a cell, in an old, draughty monastery, in the middle of nowhere, with nobody in the world who gave a single shit about me.

Yes, I was having a pity-party.

No, I didn’t think it was overly dramatic.

I’d earned this pity-party and it wasn’t like there was anything else to do but slowly freeze to death.

I don’t know how long I sat there, my body bordering that line between numbness and pain.  I wasn’t sure which way I wanted it to go – pain was painful, so I wasn’t exactly rooting for it, but on the other hand, I was fairly sure that numbness would be the beginning of the end for me.  I’d been here a long time, and my chances of survival were going down each day.

At the first sound of footsteps, I tensed up.  Footsteps could mean food.  Not to pimp out my talents for stale bread or anything but I was starving by now – and the priest knew it.

The footsteps were slow and precise, echoing along the stone corridor and through the little window in my cell door.  I would know them anywhere.

A light came with the footsteps and I could suddenly see a gloomy outline of my cell.  Just a bare room with muck staining the floor.  I didn’t want to think about what that was.  My stomach turned at the thought and I focused on the footsteps instead.

Sure enough, the door opened and the priest stood framed in the doorway.  I nearly snorted.  He liked to make an entrance, did our priest.  He was tall and elegant, I had to reluctantly admit, but his features were too cold and pinched to be handsome.  White skin, mousy hair close-cropped, and amber eyes.  He wore robes which billowed around him as he walked, which is exactly the reason he wore them.  He was a vain asshole.

“Matthew, how are you feeling?”

I didn’t answer.  Whatever I said, it would be wrong anyway.

“Have you given any more thought to my offer?”

“You mean the one where I work magic for you and you don’t beat the shit out of me as thanks?”

The priest’s lips pursed ever so slight.  “I see you’re not in an agreeable mood.”

“Funny that,” I said, agreeing with him that I was in a shit mood.  See, look how agreeable I could be!

“I was hoping you’d reconsider,” said the priest.  His tone was almost flat.  He very rarely added any real inflection to his voice and I found it creepy what he could say in that dead tone.  He never seemed to get worked up about anything, though I’d seen him in his off-moments, or the moments he thought he was alone and he let loose then.  I didn’t think anyone but me knew what he was like in private.

I sounded as sarcastic as I could when I said, “I was hoping you’d let me out of these and take me to a nice warm bed.”

“I don’t want to keep you here like this, Matthew, but you leave me no choice.  If I could trust you…”

That was the priest’s talent, that was.  Twisting words.  Making people think he was doing them a favour when they sold their soul to be in his coven.  Making people feel guilty because they were letting him down.

Well, I had news for him: I was going to take great joy in doing just that.

“Fuck off.”

His eyes widened just a fraction in shock and then he recovered, his face as blank as ever.  But I’d seen.  I’d seen the look.  He’d thought I’d give in if he just kept me cold and hungry and aching enough.

“Matthew.”  He was using his reasonable tone.  That meant everything about to come out of his mouth was a lie.  “Don’t you want to see Anthony again?”

I knew I’d twitched at his name, but I couldn’t help it.  My brother Ant was the one thing the priest had always been able to blackmail me with.

My beautiful, sweet brother, who was too good to live in this coven, such a generous, giving soul even after everything we’d survived on the streets.  How Ant had stayed so damned innocent even after all these years was beyond me.  I had long since lost all innocence.

A nagging voice in the back of my head whispered because he never harmed anyone, that’s how he stayed so innocent.  His soul is pure.

Damned internal voices.  Always right.

The priest took a step into the cell and the light came with him.  He was holding an orb which radiated a soft glow.  It looked more like a crystal ball than anything but I knew it was just a cheap trick, like the rest of the priest’s magic.  He was all showmanship and manipulation – the real power came from other things.

I swallowed compulsively, trying to swallow down the bile that always rose in my throat at the thought of all those… other things.

“All you have to do is work one more night and then I’ll take you to Anthony’s room.”

He was still using that reasonable tone.  Lie.

“And will Anthony be there?”

“Where else would he be?”

“Interesting.  Answering a question with a question.  Do you think I’m that stupid?”

There was a pause, which indicated I’d caught him off guard.  Clearly, he had thought I was that stupid.

“He’ll be there.”

I tilted my head to the side a little, considering.  The last time I’d seen Ant was… three days ago?  It was hard to tell down here, in the dungeons.  No natural light to tell the time by and no regular meals to keep track of, either.  I’d been reluctantly fed by one of the other witches when they realised that starving me was not going to increase my power.  But, by the empty feeling in my belly, that was at least a day ago.  Time had no meaning down here.

I’d take a guess that I’d seen Ant three days ago.  I hadn’t seen him since.  Hadn’t heard him.  Hadn’t heard anyone talk about him, either.

And he hadn’t been in his room.

The priest didn’t know I knew that.  I wasn’t going to tell him.  At least not yet.

Instead, I asked, “Bring him here and show me he is unharmed.”

He couldn’t do that, for two reasons: he didn’t know where Ant was and, wherever he was, he was black and blue with bruises.  I knew that for a fact, since I was the same.  The priest’s right-hand man, Hunter, had taken particular vindictive delight in beating us both up when I wouldn’t do what he wanted.

My stomach lurched at the memory.  Poor Ant had looked so… hurt.  I’d heard every one of his cries and gasps of pain, each crunch as Hunter stuck his boot into Ant’s ribs.  I’d seen the blood.  I’d seen the swell of his eye as it closed up after Hunter used his fist.

My sweet brother had been beaten because I had—

The priest’s voice was still reasonable, and it interrupted my thoughts.

“I’ll bring Anthony to you when you do as you’re told.”

I smiled.  It wasn’t a big smile, just a little pull of my lips at the corners, but it was enough to make the priest’s face tighten.

“Go fuck yourself.”

Luckily for me, the priest wasn’t a man who went in for violence.  Not doing it himself, that is.  He was very keen on it as long as someone else did the hard work of actually kicking, punching, stabbing or smacking.  But since his little pet, Hunter, wasn’t here, the priest just turned and swept out of the room.

It wasn’t a victory, not by a long way.  I was still sitting in a dungeon, all chained up, cold and hungry, but my smile stayed on my face for a few minutes anyway.

Ant was safe.  He’d got out of the monastery and had gone to find his boyfriend.  And his boyfriend was a dragon shifter.

Yeah, I was pretty confident that the priest and his minions couldn’t get to him right now.  Ant was safe.  And that was all that mattered.