Chapter Seventeen

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Lorn sat up in the pitch blackness and gasped.

Something had brushed his face as he slouched in a half-doze against the wall. A warm hand. Gentle fingers. A hushed voice speaking his name...

Lorn remained perfectly still, holding his breath and listening as his eyes adjusted to the dark. The faintest of illumination drifted in through the grate on his cell door, and showed him that he was alone.

Had it been a dream? An illusion brought on by anxiety, or perhaps a side-effect of the unknown drug he'd ingested?

Lorn licked his dry lips. The goblet of water still sat by the door. How likely was it that the drink was poisoned?

I'm in Alavard. It's most likely poisoned--though probably not with anything lethal. If I'm still alive, they want me that way. It'll be something just toxic enough to make me go mad, or soil myself...

Still, Lorn's thirst was beginning to border on a torture all its own. His head and neck ached terribly. The rest of his body was either numb or sore. The foul odor of his decomposing sick in the bucket was making him ill. Still, he had to keep it at arm's length, so he could reach it when the time came. A paltry excuse for a weapon, but better than nothing. 

The goblet of water sat there, in the dark, and taunted him.

Maybe just one sip...

He mentally slapped himself. Don't be an idiot! They put it there for a reason, and it wasn't to make you more comfortable!

Lorn's hand clenched into fists on his knees and he took several long, controlled breaths.

He wondered where Guin was, and what she was doing. Had Thesul spoken to her yet? What had he offered? Alavard was rich, but Lorn knew Guin had no real interest in money. Guin's only real weakness was her compassion, and her love for her family. Thesul wasn't a fool, and he was skilled at manipulating people to his own ends--he would quickly realize that gold and gems, even power, weren't enough.

With a twinge of guilt, Lorn thought, Just as I did, when I first brought her to Dwoll. I knew immediately that the only way to reach her was through what she loved most.

Her sister. Did Thesul know? Because if he did...

Lorn's gut contracted sickeningly, and he pressed a hand over his mouth. The fountain. Thesul would use the fountain. The one lie Guin might actually fall for.

Oh stars, I never told her--it never even occurred to me. 

But it should have. Oh, it should have. Because what was Thesul if not their greatest enemy? Guin should have been prepared for Alavard from the moment he'd brought her to this land. Yet another thing added to the list of 'should have's. But Matta hadn't trusted her--the council had feared her. She was an outsider, a threat, a possible second Sorcerer. Nobody had trusted her.  And so, neither had he, even with the basics of her own survival.

All desire to drink had fled. The very idea of any liquid supplied by Alavard passing his lips made Lorn feel he might vomit all over again. He reached out to grasp the lip of the bucket, ready to aim whatever thin bile he could still produce into it--but nothing came up. 

He hoped that his folly wouldn't be Guin's downfall; that she would be able to free herself, if not the rest of them; that Ther wouldn't crumble around him while he lay wasting in this hole. He hoped--he hoped--he hoped...

Lorn growled and punched the floor, sending a bolt of pain through his arm. Soul-suckers. Flesh-consuming monsters. They were at the mercy of the empty, the deathless, the damned. 

Hope had no place here. 

_____

As the moon rose high over the mountains, the killing began. It was silent, and swift, and selective. It started with the off-duty soldiers. Their throats were slit as they lay asleep in their barracks.

As Orven had instructed, they were careful to make as little mess as possible.

_____

Varyn's eyes opened in the dark. Her hand shot out and caught the man's wrist an instant before he slid the curved blade across her jugular.

With a sharp jerk, she snapped his wrist and sent the knife skidding across the floor of her room.

The man would have howled in pain, but before he could draw breath to scream he found himself on the ground with her knee in his throat.

"Scream and you die slowly," Varyn hissed.

The man lay still. In the shaft of moonlight from her open window, Varyn saw he was handsome and young, with sharp cheekbones and pale, arrogant eyes. She knew what he was even before she glanced at the crest on his breastplate.

"Where are the others?" she demanded.

He didn't reply. Blood trickled from his nose.

Veryn began to twist his broken wrist.

He gasped, eyes widening with pain. "The barracks!" he gagged.

"How many?"

"More than you can fight," he hissed. "Your guards are already dead."

"Thank you," Varyn said, and punched him in the face—once, twice, thrice, until he lay still.

Next, she stood, crossed the floor and picked up the curved blade.

She kept her word. He died quickly.

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