Hank stopped on the top landing and opened the door directly in front of him. “Preyuna? I’m coming in.” He walked through the doorway into a book-lined reading nook. The vinegar-like scent of book bindings and leather filled the air.
Preyuna sat straight ahead of him in a bay window. Her dress was draped decorously around her. The daylight made her silver hairs shine like new metal. She was, unsurprisingly, reading a small hardbacked book.
If Dave were here, I’d place a bet that’s a poetry book.
He cleared his throat. “Preyuna. Caten wants you.”
She turned a page. “Tell him I’m too busy at the moment. Try again later.”
“If I tell him that, he’ll hurt Dave.”
“I don’t see why that would be any of my affair,” She glanced up at him. “guard.”
“Aren’t you curious about what he wants?”
She turned another page. “Oh, there was a time when I had such curiosity. Not any more. He’s terribly predictable about what he wants. So, go away. This book is far more interesting than his demands.”
Hank thought things over. “So, you aren’t coming with me.”
She didn’t even bother with a response.
“Caten is a hrrad en keh. I will not come. I am a queen and I am relaxing right now.” She turned the next page. “I’ve earned my relaxation.”
Hank shrugged. He didn’t see any way around it. He grabbed the book out of her hand and ran out the door.
He ran down the staircase as fast as he could before she could melt it, explode it, turn it into slime, or do any number of unimaginable things to it.
Or to him.
He reached the last step.
He raced to the door to the whole room.
The door promptly melded into the wall and disappeared.
He stopped and turned around.
Preyuna strolled down the staircase as if she had all the time in the world.
And time stood still.
She wouldn’t kill me over a book. But who knows? Maybe she would.
He glanced around at the other staircases.
Hank shook his head. “Not enough time. Dave.” He closed his eyes. “Dave. My silly fluffy Dave.” He kept his eyes closed and listened to the tack of her heels on the marble floor. “Dave…”
Preyuna stopped before him.
He tightened his unoccupied hand into a fist.
What do I say? What can I say?
She snatched the book out of his hand.
He knelt and bowed his head.
He stood and opened his eyes. “Please come with me. I know we guards don’t matter to you. But Dave matters to me. I don’t want Caten to do anything to him.If he hurts him…If he mutilates him…I can’t. I don’t…Preyuna, he is everything to me. Please. Please come.”
She regarded with cold disdain. “And what do I get in return?” She reached forward and removed his mask.
The gesture unnerved him, but he held his ground.
“What will you give me in return?”
Hank shook his head. “There’s nothing I can do to help you. Don’t forget: Dave and I are trapped here too.”
“So? Break the trap.”
He shook his head again. “I can’t. I will not do anything that might endanger Dave.”
She narrowed her eyes at him.
“I love him. He’s exuberant and hyper and needy and…and I can’t help it. I love him. He gives me love and joy. I can only hope I give enough of it back to him. Because he deserves it. He deserves it all.”
“I suppose I should feel all sentimental and soppy about that.”
Preyuna looked at the wall.
Hank startled as the door reappeared. “What? What—-”
“I don’t need to explain myself. So, don’t bother asking.” She handed the mask back to him. “But know this, guard: I will break this trap with or without your help. It will be more than broken. It will be utterly destroyed.”
He frowned. “Are you threatening to kill Caten?”
She opened the door. “Interpret it however you will.” She strolled through.
Hank hurried after her.