The light was so intense it knocked her down the spiraling stairwell. She landed on her back, but she barely registered the impact. It hurt as much as a lash on the wrist. Using the stone wall for support, she lifted herself to her feet. Her dainty blue slippers made timid sounds as she climbed the tower stairs towards the light.
There was something familiar about this place. The stone was gritty and crumbled like a soft cookie when she touched it, but overall the wall was smooth, as if she had run her hand over it a million times before. She tried to access the memory. When had she been here before? There weren’t many tall towers in the palace, due to the height restrictions of the Dome. What was at the top of the staircase? Why was she here now? Glancing over her shoulder, she saw only darkness. There was nowhere to go but up.
Time passed, but how many minutes or hours she spent climbing the stairway, she didn’t know. Hope rose through her chest as she glimpsed the end of the stairs. There was a large wooden door with a brass handle on the right. The light was strongest here. She shielded her eyes with her arm. It could have been her squinted vision, but she thought she saw the light wink, as if acknowledging her presence. This would have brought calm to her fluttering nerves if it weren’t for the swirling gold mist creeping out from beneath the door.
The light dimmed slightly as she approached the door. The mist licked at her legs, wrapping around her ankles as if taking her prisoner for whoever was in the room beyond. She gritted her teeth, fighting the urge to wave the mist away. It was a test of some sort. Each second was agony as she concentrated on not scratching her legs as the mist lifted her silky nightdress and brushed her skin.
Just when she thought she could take no more, the mist crawled back down her body like an airy snake and slid beneath the door. She breathed a sigh of relief, not noticing that she had been holding her breath the entire time. Her lungs thanked her for the air.
The light was dimmer now, and it pulsed in time with her quickened heartbeat. What was behind the door? Her hand reached for the brass handle slowly, as if she was no longer in control of her body. She gripped the cold metal tightly, as if she held Death’s hand, and turned the handle. With a nasty creaking sound that echoed down the staircase, the door inched forward.
Inside the circular room, the strobe light pulsed fast enough to make her dizzy. She shut her eyes to block it out but it hammered on her temples. When she opened her eyes again, the yellow mist created a waist-deep fog, half-burying a lit lantern sitting on the table to her left. She hadn’t seen a lantern in a long time, not since she’d visited the history museums back on Earth. Wading her way through the mist, she picked up the lantern and held it to eye-level. Her vision came in waves of still images because of the strobe light.
More yellow mist.
A long, cylindrical pole sticking up at an angle in the air, attached to a sharp edge…
Shackles suddenly clamped around her wrists and ankles. She couldn’t move; it was like she had been cemented to the ground. The shackles burned her skin as if they had been there for weeks instead of seconds.
Two men suddenly appeared before her, their pupils wide and animalistic in the blinking light. One of them ripped the lantern from her hand and returned it to the table. The other dug his yellow-stained fingernails into her arm and yanked her forward. She screamed as her face dove into the mist, afraid she would drown. Instead her forehead hit a wooden block. Her eyelashes brushed against shiny, sharp metal that sank into the wood. An ax.
She felt the two men lord over her while the mist flirted with her bare skin. Her throat held a scream captive; all she could do was breathe and whimper, and pray. What had she done to deserve this?
One of the men pulled the ax from the block. She squeezed her eyes shut.
“Her majesty, Queen Skyla, High Ruler of Earth’s moon, has been sentenced to death under the charge of…”
But she never heard the rest. Her brain only registered the axe as it ripped through the air towards her neck, bringing her end with it.