Masks and Roses: Part Nine
Rose was right where the Mynci had said she’d be, in a lonely cell at the end of a long, winding corridor. Fortunately for Kat and Eira, there were no guards milling about the basement cellblock, and they arrived at Kat’s mum’s cell without any incident.
Eira swiped a ring of keys from a hook on the stone wall, and the Shoyru cycled through them, trying to find the one that would open the thick metal door that Rose was behind. It took a while, but eventually the lock clicked, and Eira pushed open the door.
Kat’s mum was standing up against the back wall, staring at the doorway. Her clothes were tattered, and her icy blue eyes were full of fear. When she saw Kat, the Wocky inhaled sharply and, almost accusingly, she said, “What are you doing here?”
“I’ve come to get you, Mum,” Kat replied, stepping inside. She gestured back towards Eira. “My... friend’s... been helping me.”
Rose shook her head back and forth frantically. “No,” she breathed. “No, Katalynn, this isn’t right.”
“What do you mean, Mum?” Kat inquired.
“They told me that... that...” Her voice broke. “Katalynn, they let you go, right? They let you go, and then you came to get me?”
Kat furrowed her brow. “No, Mum. We escaped. We knocked the wind out of a minion and escaped.”
Rose slipped down the ground, groaning miserably. Tears slowly began to trickle down her cheeks, and she said, “Oh, Katalynn...”
“Did they tell you they’d let Kat go?” Eira timidly questioned, taking a few steps in. Her lilac stripes gleamed in the dim cell light, and sweat trickled down her face; the Shoyru was just a ghost of the sly, cheerful personality she’d been just minutes ago.
“I-I made a deal with them,” Rose stuttered, her paws pressed to her forehead.
“What kind of deal?” Kat asked, although part of her didn’t want to know.
“A few hours ago, Gwendolyn came to see me. She said if I’d stay here as a... servant... for the rest of my natural life, she’d let you go. That you’d be free.” Rose shook her head. “How could I be so foolish, Katalynn? She’s a villain. A fiend.”
“It doesn’t matter what promise you made, Mum,” Kat said. “We can get you out of here. My friend Eira and I will get you out of here.”
“Such a wonderful plan, and yet, so impossible.”
Kat’s heart went cold, and she numbly turned her head. It wasn’t she who had spoken, and the voice didn’t match Rose or Eira, either...
Standing in the doorway of the cell, with a hoof slapped over Eira’s mouth to prevent the Shoyru from speaking, was a blue Kau with brilliant gold eyes. She wore a thick black cloak and a mask to match, with narrow eyeholes and a slit for her mouth.
“Gwendolyn,” Kat said. She’d never seen the criminal before, but there was no need for introduction.
Gwendolyn laughed, so high and shrilly that it was almost a screech. “And you must be Rose’s lovely daughter, Katalynn.”
“You need to let my mum go, Gwendolyn,” Kat said. She was crumbling inside, but the Wocky wouldn’t let herself act cowardly.
“And why, Katalynn, would I do that?” Gwendolyn asked. She took her hoof off of Eira’s mouth, and the Shoyru spluttered but didn’t say anything.
“I... because...” Kat’s voice caught in her throat, as if it had been snagged by an invisible thread.
Gwendolyn took a step toward the Wocky, a sinister smile between her lips. “Now, in fact, Katalynn, my idea seems even better. I have your mum, and you, too. It’s a win-win situation. Dear girl, you really should have stopped while you were ahead.” She glanced towards Eira. “And you, too. Your escape... from what I’ve heard, it was pure luck. Your plan was terrible, full of holes, but you got out, anyway. Coming here was ludicrous. Sort of defeats the purpose, don’t you think?”
“I couldn’t let her rot,” Kat whispered.
“Courage is an overrated trait. You were free, Katalynn. There was no need to come back for your imbecile mother.” Gwendolyn’s tiny smile grew into a full-out grin, and the Kau added, “Although I do say, for me, your blind valiance is a blessing.”
“Let her go,” Rose murmured, still crumpled on the ground. “You can’t renege on your deal now, Gwendolyn.”
“I can do whatever I want,” Gwendolyn said sharply. “Katalynn can join you in your servitude. It can be a mother-daughter bonding experience.”
“You’re pathetic, Gwendolyn,” Rose said.
“And your daughter tries to be a hero. But take a close look, Rose. Who has the power? Me or her?”
“No one respects you, Gwendolyn. They fear you. Is that a way to rule?”
“It seems to be working.”
“They’d hate you if they saw you, Gwendolyn,” Rose continued on, her voice calm and cool.
Gwendolyn paused; her eyes went from laughing to empty. “How dare you,” she hissed, stepping forward. “You have no right to speak to me like that, Rose. You’re the prisoner. I’m the ruler.”
Rose didn’t let the villain scare her. She said, “You say you wear the mask to hide your identity. But that’s not why, Gwendolyn. That’s not why.”
“Shut up,” Gwendolyn spat. She crouched down in front of Rose and stared her prisoner straight in the eye.
“I’ve seen you, Gwendolyn,” Rose said, returning the stare. “No one has except me. You told your minions that you hunted me out of fear, because you thought I could expose your face, get you captured. But Gwendolyn, you didn’t care about that. You cared that I had seen your face, sure. But for different reasons.”
“Don’t you dare say another word.”
“Katalynn.” Rose looked at her daughter. “Katalynn, I need you to do something for me.”
“What?” Kat squeaked.
“Don’t you dare –”
Rose interrupted Gwendolyn. “Take her mask off, Kat. Take it off.”
Gwendolyn lunged at Rose then, but with all her remaining strength, the Wocky pushed her off. Gwendolyn went flying backward, almost knocking into Kat. The Kau lay on the stone floor, staring up at the mouldy stone ceiling, the wind knocked out of her.
“Katalynn!” yelled Rose. “Now, Katalynn!”
Fueled solely by adrenaline, Kat leapt down next to Gwendolyn. The Kau waved her hooves around, trying to fight the girl off. She struck Kat squarely in the nose, and the Wocky was disorientated but not deterred.
With a sharp influx of air, Kat pinned Gwendolyn to the ground and yelled, “Eira! Get her mask off! Quick!”
Eira had been standing immobile, but the Shoyru quickly leapt into action. She dived forward and grabbed Gwendolyn’s mask, yanking it from her face. The Kau howled and sat up brusquely, flinging Kat from her body as if the Wocky was a rag doll. She brought one of her hooves up to her face, trying to shield it from the onlookers, and with her other hoof, she groped blindly for her mask.
“Give it back to me!” Gwendolyn screamed at Eira, but the Shoyru failed to comply.
“Show us your face, Gwendolyn,” Rose hissed. “Show us!”
“Give my mask back to me, you wretched thief.”
“Show us your face,” Eira echoed.
“Give me back my mask!” the villain shrieked.
“Show us your face, and then I will,” Eira said coolly.
Slowly, Gwendolyn brought her arm away from her face and turned towards Kat and Eira. When the two saw it, they did not speak. They could only stare.
She was disfigured. Her blue fur was burnt away, and her skin was scarred and mottled. The villain’s only saving grace was her brilliant gold eyes, but against the crude deformities, they were hardly noticeable.
“She’s hideous,” Rose said. “I never told you, Katalynn, because I thought there were some secrets better left untold. But if she’s going to force you to spend the rest of your life in forced servitude, I thought you had the right to know. The right to know why you’re here. It’s because she’s a coward, Katalynn. Because she won’t show anyone her face.”
“Who did that to you, Gwendolyn?” Kat whispered in awe.
“You don’t need to know.”
“You were created, weren’t you?” Kat pressed on. “You were never given a chance, Gwendolyn. Someone made you like that. Someone made you wicked.”
“I made my own choices.”
“Someone raised you.”
“What They did has no relevance.”
“But it does. They engineered you, Gwendolyn, didn’t they? They marred your face. They groomed you.”
“They created you, Gwendolyn. They wanted you to be like this.”
“No.” Gwendolyn shrunk down, tears sliding down her blemished cheeks. “I... I made my own choices...”
“Just let us go, Gwendolyn,” Kat whispered.
Gwendolyn looked back at Kat and shook her head. “I cannot do that, Katalynn. You know too much.”
“You’re despicable,” Kat spat.
Gwendolyn staggered to her feet and wiped the tears away. Anger replaced the misery in her eyes, and she ripped her mask from Eira’s hands and slipped it back over her face. “You’re going to stay here the rest of your lives.”
“No,” Kat said.
“Yes. You have no choice in the matter. I’m going to get some guards now, to separate you three. You’ll be locked in here while I’m gone. If you even think to tell any of the guards what you saw, then –”
“Gwendolyn,” Rose interrupted.
Gwendolyn irately turned towards the Wocky. “What?” she snapped.
And before the villain knew what had happened, Rose leapt to her paws. Surging forward, she tackled Gwendolyn to the ground.
“Mum!” Kat screamed. “Mum! What are you doing?”
As Gwendolyn tried to fight Rose off, the Wocky said, “Run, you two! Now! Get out of here, as fast you can!”
“I’m not leaving you, Mum!”
“Kat... it’s either all of us spend eternity here, or just me! Now go!”
Kat began to protest again, but before she could, Eira grabbed onto her paw and began pulling her towards the corridor. “Kat... listen to your mother. Kat, we have no chance. We –”
“No!” Kat wailed.
From the ground, Gwendolyn struck Rose with a sudden burst of strength. The Wocky recoiled slightly but did not give in.
“Please, Katalynn... please leave,” Rose groaned, obviously in a great deal of pain.
“Mum, please –”
But Eira overpowered the Wocky then, pulling her sharply out into the hall. Kat shrunk down, unable to resist any longer, and she numbly let Eira drag her away. And as the two came to the staircase then, and Eira began up it, only one voice echoed in Kat’s head. Her mum’s voice.
“Run, Kat!” it was calling. “Run, Katalynn, and don’t ever look back!”
To be continued...