There's a traitor, or at least someone who came back and doesn't wish
me success in the Mergence War. That was my last thought, just before the
lights went out on my consciousness...
Archimedes, and Vain, and the newly dubbed Dakota, were
constructing a little dome with a framework of saplings, covered by hides,
down by the river. Beauty and I were beginning a long, dark ritual that
would, by midnight, quash the major portions of the armies of both the na
siogai and the puca. Victory was about to be mine again -- a mere
formality of victory at this point, since I'd already lived through it all
Beauty and I were just about to bind the trees into an
impenetrable circle when I got that old familiar feeling -- that feeling
that lets you know you're being watched from either the Dexter or the
Sinistre. The skin on my back was literally crawling. I looked at Beauty
and drew Sequence, just in time to feel the shift across -- the remnants
of a chant lingered in the air, and I remembered one of the things I
failed to do this time. I haven't killed the wizards yet.
Shit, shit --
I didn't think it would be necessary --
We weren't attacked first by na si, of course, but by a ravening
pack of cwn annwn. And where were my dogs, I wondered? Back in the
house, being lazy with the little ones. Which was OK, good even, it
answered the whole question of if they had enough protection. But Beauty
and I, we were on our own. I cast a glance over at the little lodge that
currently housed three people who *could* have turned the tide of the
battle, if they weren't all stoned out of their minds.
Beauty wasn't wearing a sword, so all I could do was protect us.
No dog managed to hook a tooth in us, before their tall, thin,
pointy-eared bastards of masters came through the shift behind the dogs,
and made the whole fight kind of moot from that point on....
* * *
When I woke up, it was dark, and I recognized the place I was in
-- for no torture chamber looks all that different from its sisters. No
one was around me, I was chained to a wall, and my hand and head ached in
that way that I have learned means they've been broken or badly damaged
and are healing faster than I can think. My throat was dry. I tasted
blood in my mouth. I thought, "I've been through worse. So far."
I tried a spell. It failed. As did the next three. The room was
warded to magic. Next, I tested my chains. Too strong. Shit...
Time passed, and I barely noticed it did so, and this was not a
good sign. A door opened, and light streamed into the darkness, and a
tall, slender shape stepped in.
"So, you're awake, Laughter," a male voice said. "Do you know
where you are?"
"I can guess," I answered.
"Of course you can. You're right where you deserve to be. In
chains. My only heartbreak is that you cannot appreciate the torment of
cold iron. But having you here, that's worth my heartbreak..." He came
closer to me, and I saw from his coloring all that I needed to know of his
rank in Dexter.
"Quit trifling with me, Faerie, and fetch your overlord."
His blue eyes widened, and he hissed a little through his
carefully filed teeth. "I bow to none, Hellbitch."
"Right. You're as pale as a night-lily. Fetch your master -- run
to him, like a good little lap-dog."
"The Seelie Court is no more, Hellbitch. You're rather behind the
times. The days when the Dark Lords were supreme are over. Your war saw
to that. There aren't enough to rule over the rest."
I filed that piece of intelligence away as extremely useful.
"So, an *elf* rules in Dexter, or just your little dungeon?"
I think that's when he broke my jaw. The pale na siogai cannot
stand being called "elf." Everything was a little dark for a moment, and
then, suddenly, quite a bit brighter. At first I thought this was an
interesting side effect of being hit as hard as he had smacked me, but as
I clutched my jaw and shoved it into place before it could heal crooked, I
saw that he had lighted torches.
I attempted to focus on the face of my captor, and was determined
the light was playing tricks on me. No one should look *that* much like
"Where's the woman who was with me?"
"Don't worry. She's too valuable to kill just yet." He continued
around the room, lighting torches.
So, they had Beauty, or they wanted me to think they had her. I
figured as much. Bloody bastards.
I breathed deep and concentrated on being strong.
He didn't say much to me for a moment. He was too busy calling in
about seven henchmen and moving me to the cozy little rack set up in the
I didn't feel any sort of terror, or anything debilitating, as I
was dragged to the rack. I've done my stint as interrogation expert, so I
know how much pain can be given on that particular device, and yes, it's
bad, and yes, you can die... but I didn't think I was going to be killed,
and I was fairly certain I could bear the pain. The only thing I was
worried about was Chance... But there was nothing I could do for him. Or
her. Elves aren't big on mercy.
The resemblance was uncanny, though. The way the elf looked like
Cal, I mean. He leaned close to me, and I could smell... something, I
don't know what, on his breath, and said, "Now, human, you'll give us all
the information you have."
I raised an eyebrow with as much aplomb as I could, lying flat on
my back with my limbs splayed out and ropes cutting into my wrists and
ankles. "What do you need my information for, if you knew when and where
to get a hold of me? Just go back to your informant and get what you need
out of him. He obviously knows enough about me, he must be able to guess
The elf snarled a little at me. "Your whereabouts were hardly a
"Uh-huh. I just wish I knew which of my disgruntled relatives it
"You're very sure there was an informant," he said, opening a small
chest. He pulled out a very wicked looking instrument called the fork,
and began examining it in the light.
"I'm quite positive. There was already one informant. And I
killed him. So there must be another."
A sort of a jolt went through him. "You killed him."
"Yes. I killed my own brother."
"Foster brother, human. He was *my* own brother."
Elation at the victory of figuring out the connection, dread at
realizing this man actually felt some fraternity with Calamus.
"Half brother, then," I said. "You're far too ugly to be one of
He almost hit me again, but realized he could do better. He
beckoned to one of his men, and the na si brought over a lighted brazier.
He stuck the fork in amongst the coals and said, "Half brother, yes. We
shared the same father."
"From the same bad seed, then."
"If you like, you can insult my father 'til Doomsday. I never knew
him, so it bothers me not. Now," he said, holding up the glowing red
fork, "you have some information, I believe?"
* * *
I'm amazed I didn't grind my teeth down to the pulp, but I didn't,
and I was able to sleep fitfully in my chains as I healed, after my captor
finished up with me. "It's fine that you didn't break yet, Laughter," he
said, with heavy ironic emphasis on my name. "You'll break sooner or
later. I'm going to go have dinner. You just rest. I'll be back." He
patted my cheek, and it was then that it truly sank in that he had neither
touched me except to hit me, nor made eye contact with me once in the
whole time he'd been there. He knew... And he hadn't seemed phased by my
wounds healing up faster than I could stop them... He knew way too
But when his hand touched my cheek, I caught a name, barely, on
the edge of his mind: Ashtolat.
I heard the keening of the bean sidhe, and wondered who they were
singing for, just as they were suddenly and completely cut off.
Then I heard the distant sounds of fighting. I think I fainted
then, because the next thing I knew, Ulysses was next to me. He had keys.
I thought that was neat. Faint again.
Back in my bedroom in Foil, I saw Archimedes wearing pointed ears
and a rather longer, narrower elven face, looking down at me. He said
something. I couldn't quite tell if it was a nightmare or truth. "You
might want to get that fixed," I said drowsily. "So I don't hit you."
He nodded, and left.
Distantly, I felt my body continue to knit tight those things that
my captor had torn loose. Ashtolat... What kind of name is that?
I turned onto my side slowly, curling around Chance, and
determinedly tried to stay awake 'til Archimedes came back. I lost that
fight as well...
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