Story Arc Three: Chapter Twelve
After a moment the pain, which had his body jerking in response, eased and he was able to catch his breath and open his eyes to look at his tormentor. Emperor Marus stood in front of him and simply watched him, watched the way his body reacted to the pain he inflicted with nothing more than a smooth rod he held in his hand.
“Are you ready to talk yet, Pirate?”
For a moment Dalziel wasn’t certain where exactly he was, but with the easing of the pain memory came flooding back. He was in Pallantia. He had come here looking for information on Doctor Revier’s nefarious intentions, what he was seeking, what he was doing, what sort of a threat he was to his friend, Riva, who also happened to be Emperor Marus’ younger sister. He’d been working quietly, or so he thought. He shouldn’t have attracted the attention of Riva’s overprotective brother, but somehow he had.
Marus’ loyal soldier, the soon-to-be General Gabriel, had walked up on Dalziel in a tavern and caught his arm in the strongest grip he’d ever felt. He probably still had the bruises to prove it. Dalziel hoped that Renna had been able to get away, but he wasn’t certain. He hadn’t seen her when he had been forcibly walked out of the tavern and taken under guard to the Palace.
That was where he was now, hidden away somewhere in the bowels of the Palace, in Marus’ private torture chamber while the twisted man tried to force information from him. Dalziel wasn’t certain how long he had been here, or how much longer he could hold out, but it was quite a while, and not that long, respectively. Still, he was still himself enough to work up the energy to glare at Marus. “Go to Hell, Emperor.”
Marus’ response was to strike him with the rod again and all Dalziel knew was pain.
The pain eased again and Marus tried again. “I know that you stole a prototype skyship from the facility run by Doctor Revier. I know that you were in Castellan with my sister when she was attacked by that gang. I want to know what was said in that alley. I want to know how you managed to steal that vessel from Doctor Revier. I want to know everything that you know or even suspect about my sister, who now calls herself Riva.” He paused to lift Dalziel’s head by grabbing hold of his hair. “And you are going to tell me.”
Dalziel coughed to clear his throat, not caring that it was in Marus’ face. Anything to get some of his back from this bastard. “She didn’t tell me she was your sister… when we left Pallantia. I don’t blame her. I wouldn’t want to claim you, either.”
Marus released his hold on Dalziel’s hair and his head dropped. He didn’t have the strength to hold it up. Then Marus hit him with the pain again and every muscle in his body seized up. When he pulled the rod away again, Marus glared at Dalziel. “My sister means more to me than you know. I will have answers and I will have them now.”
“Yeah, right. You love your sister so much that you were going to hand her over to Revier and he was going to torture her like he did my sister, like you’re doing right now.” Dalziel waited for the pain, and was astonished when it didn’t come.
“What do you mean?” Marus’ voice was deceptively calm. If Dalziel hadn’t been able to see the paleness in his face, and the white lines around his mouth, he wouldn’t have known that the Emperor was furiously angry.
“I mean that Revier was making plans to turn your sister into another one of his experiments, and you were going to hand her over to him.” Dalziel couldn’t keep the anger out of his voice.
“You know this how?”
“We found documents on Revier’s desk when we went in to get my sister out. The bastard had almost killed Renna while he used her like some child’s toy! I gave them to her when I was in Castellan. I’d thought you’d actually put her in the Tower and was going to get help to steal her out again. Didn’t know that Riva was the Princess.”
Marus was silent for a moment. “I will deal with Doctor Revier at my next opportunity. For now, however, I want to know what my sister said in that alleyway. I want to know how she killed those men, what was said to her. Did they touch her, taunting her Captain? What happened?”
Dalziel was about to retort when there was a flash of light and the crack of a blow. When his eyes cleared he saw Dramsol standing over Marus’ unconscious body and Dramsol was breathing deeply, as if from exertion. Then he turned to Dalziel and began unfastening the chains that held him in this torture chamber below the Northern Palace. “Sorry that took so long. He had a forcefield up around the Palace and that took some working to get around.”
Dalziel sagged in relief. “Oh God, I have never been so glad to see your know-it-all face. Where’s Renna?”
“Safe. She’s got the Windborne waiting for you. I told her that I’d get you to her and then she could get you to Castellan. Riva needs you whole, my young friend.”
“He knows. The Emperor, he knows that she’s Riva. I’ve got to warn her. He knows where she is and who she is. He can kidnap her away from the Captain.”
“If he were going to kidnap her he’d have done it already. No, he’s got other plans and I can’t figure out what they are. Something’s blocking the Loom and neither Mother nor I can read it clearly for any amount of time.” Dramsol had Dalziel down and supported him. “Hold on, I’m going to jump out of here. It’s going to feel strange.”
Strange was one way to describe the sensation as light surrounded them and the prison faded away. After a moment the light cleared away and they were standing in the midst of trees with the Windborne waiting in a clearing a short distance away. Renna ran towards them, her arms outstretched.
“Careful, Renna, he’s been roughed up some.” Dramsol handed Dalziel over to his sister. “Get out of here now, it’s a trap.”
As if to confirm his words, soldiers appeared around the clearing even as Renna helped her brother stagger to the open hatch of the Windborne. Dramsol hung behind and whistled a song, calling a lick of fire to his hand. The last thing Renna saw before she closed the hatch behind them and ran to lift off was Dramsol surrounded by soldiers, fighting back with fire and song in a strange use of magic that she had never seen.
Then a winged wolf appeared, with fur as black as night and a single streak of white on its brow, and Dramsol seemed to panic and vanished, even as the Windborne streaked away in the sky towards Castellan.
The lupine howl of frustration followed them.
— — —
Riva smiled and blinked rapidly to keep from bursting into tears as the streetlings surrounded her to sing in honor of her birthday. How had they learned Earth Prime’s “Happy Birthday”? She glanced at Bastion and he flushed slightly. Ahh, so she had her culprit. She smiled at him and mouthed a gratitude.
Kodran had gone all out for the party, and it showed. For some reason it made everything brighter, even though she was terribly worried about Dalziel. He should have been back already. She couldn’t imagine that he would have missed this celebration unless matters were dire indeed. She straightened her shoulders and started helping to see that each streetling had a chance to enjoy the sweets that were provided.
Kodran even managed to talk her into singing, not that it took much convincing.
Riva was just bringing her song to a close when Renna stumbled through the door of the shop, a wreck of Dalziel leaning against her, his face an expression of fear and pain. There were startled cries and Riva ran to help Renna get Dalziel into a chair. He grabbed her hand as she did so, looking up into her face.
“He knows, sweet Riva. Run quickly, my friend, Emperor Marus knows that you are here. He knows your name and he knows how to find you.” Dalziel struggled to force the words out. “He didn’t know, I think, what Revier planned to do with you, but he knows where you are now.”
Riva glanced at Bastion in concern, and he immediately moved closer to her as she turned her attention to Kodran. “Kodran-da, we need someplace quiet and secure.”
Kodran nodded. “Aye, Riva-girl. I’ll see to it.”
She turned back to Dalziel. “Rest, my friend. How did you escape?”
He sighed. “Dramsol. Jumped us free. I don’t know what happened to him.”
Renna broke in. “Soldiers were waiting for him. He said that it was a trap, but he stayed behind to fight our way free. A great black wolf with wings appeared as we left. I think he vanished, but I couldn’t tell for certain.”
Riva started to tremble and closed her eyes in concern. “Oh God, Lukan, Wolf Eyes. He was after Dramsol.”
Kodran had the door open and they managed to get Dalziel through and to a room where he could rest. “The one who hunts you?” He kept his voice low so as not to startle the children who were handily distracted by several other dwarves who helped Kodran on special occasions.
She nodded. “He’s a shapeshifter, of sorts. It’s complicated and it’s communicable, but only when he wants it to be. He was the wolf. Oh God, I hope Dramsol didn’t get caught.”
Kodran nodded quietly. “My friend Riordan is canny. If he knew that it was a trap going in, I cannot imagine that he would not have had an escape plan.”
“I hope you’re right, Kodran-da. I dearly hope so.”