The water beaded from stalactites and hammered the stone floor like the ticking of a clock. Elona timed her muted steps to the sounds as she traversed the cave. Shadows danced in the light of the candle gripped between her trembling hands. They twirled on the cave walls and flittered behind stalagmites when she turned to them. She had journeyed into their world and they watched in keen interest the witch who came for the last of her sisters.
Her breath exited in white clouds and her fingers ached from the chill as she descended. The air grew thinner and her candle struggled to breathe. Elona squinted as the world became gray and she struggled to tell floor from wall, hole from stone. The ground was moist, and her feet slid, one stretched out as the other collapsed beneath.
The flame of the candle, snapped in the fall, dwindled and the darkness grew like giants, converging into one hulking beast. Her stomach tightened and she focused on her breathing, forcing herself to exhale and inhale in steady increments. The shadow, faceless though it were, spoke with a grin.
“Witch, why do you waste your time?” Its words crunched like stones rubbing against another.
“I’m going to free her,” she replied, resolute.
The shadow sniffed and a gentle gust blew her hair. “Your time is almost up. You have but one more sunset in you. Leave your sister.”
One day? She thought there was more time… Elona looked to the broken candle and shivered, suddenly aware of the cold. The witch pushed herself to stand. Her ankle screamed and forced her to hobble, one foot flat while the other tiptoeing.
She did not stop until she found the undead beast in the lair he made his home. A dozen candles lit the man seated upon a plush chair, her sister kneeling at his feet with her eyes closed and her head upon his lap. She noted with relief the gentle movements of her sister’s chest and the pink flush of her cheeks.
He brushed her sleeping sister’s hair like she was a doll and smiled when he greeted Elona. She shuddered to hear her name coming from this murderer, this leech of humankind. His teeth gleamed in the yellow light, none more brightly than the two elongated canines that overlapped his thin, bloodless lips.
“Give her back, Henrik.”
He set the brush down on the three-legged table beside him.
“I could give you the girl, but you’ll still die and then she’ll be mine for good.” He cupped her chin in his long fingers and lifted her head, exposing the girl’s neck. “Or you could become my retainer and the girl leaves unharmed. You’ll live as long as I live, your sister will live until she is wrinkled and gray. But you’ll never meet again.”
She looked to her beautiful sister, the girl she loved more than life itself and whom she would never see again, and agreed.