“Goodness its dark in here.”

“Not to me, not anymore.”

She knew there was no point in explaining that her eyes were big enough, that they saw more, so she let the silence drag.  The walk was very short, but as her companion was far behind she went slowly.  She listened as the girl inhaled as if to begin quite the conservation only to stop as if she was no longer sure how to make the words come out right.  Finally, the girl found her voice.

“I did not mean to offend you,”  the girl began wondering what could seem human and still be able to see clearly down here no matter how long they had lived in this way, “it’s well I just…lets start over.  I’m Llana of Tralia, and…”  When there was no immediate response Llana feared that she had lost the other girl who had been almost completely silent on their descent..

“Odella.”

It was then that the two reached their destination.  A hole through the high rock ceiling allowed an orange-red orb to shine through the hall.  Llana blinked fiercely in the sudden glow as the room started to appear out of the shadows.  It was comfortable without being overly lavish even with the many fine things the room held.  Perhaps the most outstanding piece was the mirror, which encompassed more than half of the stone wall that held it.  In the mirror Llana caught her reflection.  A girl of normal height and build with hair that fell to her shoulders in thick strands of sun gilded brown.  However it was not her mussed appearance or her wide amber eyes that caught her attention, it was the girl standing behind her.  The girl, if you could call her a girl, was not just named Odella. She was Odella.

She inhaled sharply and spun on her heel as if Odella might disappear if she did not hurry.  “This is not where you are from… is it?”  Llana hoped that she had not given too much away, but she had to know.

“No, but sometimes I come here, and you ought to be glad I do or you would still be very lost.  Now enough.”  Odella smiled as the girl was caught confused and unsure, but she had seen the recognition on her face.  It had been a long while since anyone on this side had cared to notice, and Odella stood at the edge of truth.  “you must now continue on your way, and I mine,” she said tersely gesturing towards the dimly lit path to her her right, “you have my best wishes.”  And with those words Odella turned to leave.

Llana stood rooted to the ground, she had never before received such a dismissal; she had been so sure it was a sign.  Then without a thought she replied, “ I am so sorry to impede you on your way, and thank you very much, but I am not leaving.  Not without answers.”  These last words dripped with a disdain that was not lost on Odella.

*******

Out of the quite sounds came a small and rather uncertain voice, “where are your chains?”

If Odellia hadn’t been sitting across the table from the girl child she doubted she would have even heard her but as it was Odellia had very little choice but to answer her. “I am wearing them,” she held out her right arm in such away that the sleeve fell back exposing her wrist and the flash of pale metal in the light, “and where child are yours,” she answered.

“I am no child and I have no chains,” Llana looked confused and sounded offended as she barely suppressed a scoff, “why am I here?”

“I thought you sought answers girl.” As her words hung in the space between the two Odellia took to eating. Llana, however, showed no enthusiasm for the meal before her as she stared unabashed at the wrist and neck bands that she could see spark in the low fire light.

“They make no noise… are they light then,” Llana asked hopefully suddenly meeting Odellia’s piercing gaze.

While she knew that the girl could not help but be curious this was a conversation she wanted no part in, and as her anger got the better of Odellia struck back with a question of her own. “Why would the chains have to be heavy to be heard or better yet light to go unnoticed?”

Llana sat open-mouthed as if struck so much sting had been in the words; dumbfounded she lowered her eyes to her plate. “I…”

Odellia cut her off before she could even begin. “Eat. We start tonight and believe me you you are not ready.”

*******

At the gaping mouth of the cave Odella paused throwing her hood up so as to hide her face in the dark shadows of the folds, but Llana doubted it was necessary as they seemed to be arriving somewhat near twilight.

“Keep your mouth shut and your eyes open child there is much to learn in Candlelight.”

Llana tried to search her memory for any reference to such a place, but came up empty handed. Quickly they came upon the town itself which burned a flickering red against the night due to the immense number of candles burning in store fronts, on corners, and even in the trees. Llana had to admit that the picturesque scene had an ambience she had never encountered before. As her eyes adjusted to the ruddy light, which seemed to shadow as often as it illuminated, it became obvious to Llana that Odella’s hood was necessary. Everywhere she looked there were people going about their business as if it was high noon not midnight, however how they were able to do so remained a mystery to Llana as no sign hung from any of the doors they passed. Though the streets were crowded with people, many of whom went hooded, there was almost no sound.

The quiet was such that she could hear the bee’s wax scorching on the fresh wicks as they passed, unless a door was opened. Along with the tinkle of bells, which alerted the propitors of an indivuals entrance, such a mix of sounds would pour into the night that Llana had no time to process what might be occurring behind the firmly shut doors and shadowy windows. Odder still were the people. Few on the street would meet her gaze, but the shop keeps and venders more than made up for it with eye contact strong enough to make her squirm. Fear of the strangely assessing looks meant that Llana kept her eyes constantly roving sliding from one thing to another without actually focusing on what she was seeing.

However, as they rounded a corner one store front in particular drew Llana’s attention. As she got closer she realized it was because the glass alternated between being filled with opaque smoke and being clear enough to look through. With her fingers resting upon the glass she waited and as the pane emptied she caught a glimpse of the patrons. Llana jumped back as if electrified and turned angrily towards Odella who was a good ten steps ahead of her now, “The Red Light District,” she shrieked distress emanating from her in waves.

A quick right to left head jerk confirmed Odella’s suspicion, if they didn’t move quick they would be alone on the street, not an ideal situation as they were still a ways from Appetence. Without a second to consider how the girl would react Odella grabbed her by her accusatory finger and pulled her into the very building whose window had been such an affront to her delicate sensibilities. Llana blanched as the door slammed shut and the pounding music reverberated up her legs from the floor boards.

“You sit and keep quite no matter what, this time,” Odella said in tones that brooked no argument while pointing to a dark corner booth away from the stage and door.

Hating herself for every step deeper into the debauchery she went Llana sat quickly and focused her attention on the polished black lacquered table top. In what seemed like a very long time Odella returned with a man dressed only in leather straps whose sly eyes and half smile made Llana flush and look away. Odella, however, did not flush nor lower her hood rather she leaned into the man and whispered into his ear and sent him off with a wave of her hand.

“What…”

“I told you to keep you mouth shut.”

The statement wasn’t shouted, but the scold in the words hit her like an open fist.

“We are looking for your answers, are we not? You have chosen at every fork in the road, have you not? So we would only be here if we needed to be, right?” Odella had asked questions but expected no answers as such she had never once paused. “Now do as I said and watch with open eyes and mouth closed we will talk later.”

*******

Llana looked out of their booth with unfocused eyes. She told herself it was like dipping her toe in a tub to avoid plunging into either scalding or icy waters, but really she was stalling. Everything made so much more sense now. Of course there were people about their business in the dead of night at a place like Candlelight, by the light of day someone might recognize them or call them on their various appetites. The thought of all the people who refused to meet her eyes earlier became as frightening as those who had stared. Without meaning to Llana shivered with a chill which ran from the sensitive skin at the nape of her neck down her spine. Her eyes immediately refocused.

The room they were in at the surface was like any other tavern with darkness lending privacy to the booths and candles on the small round tables throwing the patrons faces into eery relief. However, that was where her frame of reference stopped. The men and women who moved between the tables where dressed, a term she was using rather loosely in this instance, in various non-clothing items. A deep blush stole across her cheeks as a woman clad only in shear scarves and tiny bells walked past blowing Llana a kiss and winking her kohl lined eye in the girl’s direction. Stranger still was the scene unfolding upon the stage which was built to resemble an elevated three ring circus. Contortionists undulated in rhythm to the pulsating music sliding from one suggestive pose to the next, but it was dead center that held most everyone’s attention. There a blindfolded woman was tethered to a hoop suspended from the ceiling.

She waited with her head hanging down her body absolutely still.

Llana turned and looked at Odella, “Are we…” but she was cut off by the sound of a gong ringing through the grimy dimness effectively ending all other sound. Odella gestured impatiently toward the stage. Again Llana looked at the center ring which now contained a man dressed all in crimson and the woman who now held her head tilted up, awaiting something, her body straining toward the man. He ran his finger down her jaw line cupping her chin in the palm of his left hand. She quivered at his touch drawn up taunt against her restraints. As the man in red lifted his right arm Llana noticed with a gasp that he held, what appeared to be, a short riding crop.

Wishing she was a stronger person Llana found herself watching with unblinking eyes just like the rest of the room. The man made quite a show of tracing the braided leather over every inch of exposed skin till the poor blindfolded girl vibrated with anticipation. Then in such a swift measured motion, that Llana nearly missed, the red man struck the woman across her curvaceous backside.

Llana’s hands moved of their own accord to her mouth in an attempt to contain her fear for the tethered woman, but to her surprise the girl with the blindfold did not scream in anguish. She moaned with pleasure. A sound which flooded Llana with heat.

Odella touched Llana’s arm nodding over to the same man covered in leather straps with sly eyes she had spoken to earlier, “It’s time to continue on, I hope you learned something.”

Llana’s only response was open mouthed silence, but she followed Odella all the same. The three of them passed within inches of the stage, so close that she could see the fiery passion in the red man’s eyes. Worried questions ran through Llana’s mind so quickly she could not even attempt any answers, but there was one circling her like a vulture which she could not shake. What deeply secret part of her required answers from Candlelight?

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