Outsider Within: Face of Evil - Part Ten
D.A. stared into the bars ahead of her for many hours. Draezen tried to speak with her again numerous times, but eventually he gave in to sleep. As he slept, D.A.’s breathing became labored and her face red with anger. She thrust her palm into her forehead and allowed a single tear to roll down her cheek.
After sitting in silence, she looked over to see the guard sleeping. She stood quietly and put her whistle into her mouth. Standing on her toes to get close to the window, she blew into the whistle that was silent even to her ears. Content with her efforts, D.A. slipped into an untroubled sleep.
A nudge to her arm woke her. She smiled and sat up. “Hello, Skye,” she said to the thin dragon floating in front of her. “I am glad you came so quickly. Here,” she pulled her right foot up into her lap and slid open a secret compartment in the heel of her boot. A small pocketknife was retrieved and put in the tiny claw of the dragon. “You take that to Chief Henka. When he figures out it’s from me, you lead him and the soldiers—plenty of soldiers—here. Understood?”
The lavender dragon nodded and slipped between the bars guarding the ventilating window. D.A. quickly fell back asleep.
She slowly drifted into consciousness the next morning, relishing the warm contentment of a good night’s sleep. She breathed deeply the dank air of the former cellar and scratched an itch on her cheek, not wanting to open her eyes.
She opened one eye.
“Last night you called me ‘whatever your name is,’” he said. “Draezen is my sword name, and Auric is another name I’ve gone by for many years, but Adler is the name my father gave me.”
“You do not get to choose your name,” she said. “Your name is proved by your actions. Draezen is who you are, because that is how you have acted. As a hired sword.”
“So what does that philosophy of names mean to you, D.A.?”
“It means that D.A. is the only name I have any right to, as Draezen is the only name you have proved yourself to be worthy of.”
“Sure.” He sat with his back facing her.
D.A. pushed him out of her mind to pursue of the truth behind Mr. Aimes. Mr. Aimes, Mr. Aimes, Mr. Aimes . . . why does that sound so familiar?
“Don’t you ever wonder who Mr. Aimes really is?” she said aloud.
Draezen spoke with his back to her. “Not really. Although I suppose we’ll be meeting him soon enough.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean Mr. Aimes is the type who will handle a full-on first strike by the Guild personally. Jason wouldn’t even accept the terms of our agreement without Mr. Aimes’ approval.”
“Then you have seen him?”
“Then how do you know he is a real person?”
“When Jason picked me up to make a deal, I was blind-folded, taken into a room, and allowed to sit about five meters from Mr. Aimes. I couldn’t see anyone, but Jason conducted the terms of the agreement, and Mr. Aimes spoke his approval before Jason shook on it.”
“Was anyone else there?”
“The Kougress, Anna. She didn’t say much, though.” He turned around to look D.A. in the eye. “Why so interested?”
Both of their eyes darted to the doors as they heard the latch unlocked. Anna stepped down the stairs with a loaf of bread in her hand. “Good morning.”
The Zafaras stood to face her.
“I am glad to see you are still in such good spirits,” Anna continued. “I have brought you breakfast and news. Breakfast or news first?”
“What are you planning, Anna?” demanded Draezen.
Anna broke the loaf in her hands and handed a piece to each prisoner. “It is not my plan, Draezen; it is Mr. Aimes’ plan. And seeing as neither of you appear to be in the mood for polite conversation, you may listen. Mr. Aimes is most pleased with this whole affair, and he is waiting for the Rother family to come over today in search of you two.”
“Clever,” said D.A.
Draezen and Anna both looked to her with curiosity.
“Why do you say that?” asked Anna, taking a step closer, amusement on her face.
“To put it simply, Mr. Aimes could not have orchestrated a better position to be in. You’ve managed to enrage Barnes. He’s emotionally involved now. You know he had Draezen followed here; that’s the only possible reason he escaped so easily. Now Barnes will attack, soon, without proper preparation. An emotional response. He will come into an ambush as easy prey.”
Anna smiled. “What do you think, Draezen? Is she on to something?”
Draezen said nothing.
D.A. examined her, and noticed a thick leather bracelet on her left wrist, but no other ornaments anywhere else on her body. If a swordsman wore leather gloves to protect his hands, it was always on both hands, and Anna’s leather band did not even reach to her fingers.
Anna crossed her arms and walked directly in front of D.A. “You examine me. You know, I did not expect Rother to have a swordswoman as good as you. Not to mention so very different. You’re obviously not Darigani.”
“Obviously you proved your worth. You are on a different playing field than the Guild. I admit I am curious.”
“Do you have questions for me?”
“Not particularly. I doubt you’d answer much. Except for one thing. That man over there, Draezen. You know better than to trust a swordsman. Why did you follow him here?”
D.A. looked over at him with venom. “I met him under very normal circumstances. Then, he struck me as . . . honest. I have never been so easily fooled.”
Draezen looked away.
“That I’ll believe,” said Anna. “Still, you must have realized when it came down to life or death that trusting him was the foolish choice.”
“But then again, D.A., people like us are surrounded by disloyal, self-interested people all the time. We fear trusting anyone, and yet there is a fear deeper than that: not being able to trust anyone. Once in a while, we have to make the choice to trust, or sacrifice a little piece of our soul.”
For a moment the understanding spark in Anna’s eyes seemed to link her with D.A., but just as quickly the feeling passed. Anna walked up out of the cellar, leaving D.A. feeling exposed to the stare of her fellow prisoner.
Draezen looked over at D.A. “On my life, D.A., I am so sorry.”
She hunched over, leaving only her back in his view. Her eyes clenched shut, barricading in her rebel tears.
* * *
White morning light still filtered in from the windows when D.A. heard footsteps coming down to the cellar. She pushed herself off the ground and straightened the crick in her back before the visitors arrived.
Jason came in, accompanied by three guards.
Draezen woke at the clamor of swords against boots and stood up.
Jason unlocked their cells and allowed guards in to bind the prisoners’ hands. “Mr. Aimes says you are to be guests at today’s triumph,” he said. “Mr. Rother is expected in less than an hour.”
“How could you know that?” asked Draezen.
“Mr. Aimes has an acute understanding of the nature of a Guild patriarch, Draezen. Barnes Rother is not an exceptionally complicated man.”
Draezen glanced over at D.A., and she looked back, unafraid. She remained silent as she observed every action around her.
They were escorted to the main hallway; it was a cavernous room, its ceiling reaching all the way to the roof three stories above. At one end stood the dual doors, four meters tall and three wide. At the other end of the hall rose a grand staircase, still black with scorch marks where a carpet had once laid. It led up to the second floor, where a balcony wrapped around the walls above the hall.
Scorch marks left rings where furniture had been burned up and tapestries had once hung. A red velvet sofa stood in the exact center of the main hall, atop an intricate Brightvalian tapestry. These two garish items sat alone in the stone grey room.
D.A. and Draezen were directed to sit on the velvet sofa, and they obeyed silently with their bound hands resting on their laps. D.A. wondered at Mr. Aimes’ boldness. This was perhaps the most ingenious, confusing, simple distraction she’d ever seen prepared to entrap someone. She glanced at Draezen; his eyes were not confused, he too could see that they were being placed on the sofa as a distraction for Barnes’ entrance into the mansion.
“Mr. Aimes is rather theatrical,” D.A. commented.
Anna sat on the back of the sofa above them. “Theatrical? Oh yes, I like that metaphor. Tonight the curtain will rise on Mr. Aimes’ greatest orchestration, when Barnes Rother will act just as Mr. Aimes scripted.”
“If Barnes Rother is the star, what does that make us? The supporting cast?”
“Oh no, nothing more than plot devices—catalysts to achieve a desired finale. But do not underestimate your privilege. You are to witness the beginning of the end for the Guild. Once the Rother family falls, the rest of the Guild will crumble under the strain, and Mr. Aimes will be there to pick the families off one at a time.” She raised her closed eyes to the ceiling. “It will be glorious. And so simple it’s terrifying.” She looked down at Draezen. “Don’t you agree?”
He turned away from her, his eyes sharp with anger and humiliation.
The Kougress perked her ears. “Do you hear it?”
D.A. focused her attention on her ears, on the sounds around the mansion. She heard the shifting weight of at least six swordsmen around the inside of the building, but could hear nothing outside. Then, a scratch at the door followed by a hissing noise. She watched the door, saw no movement.
Anna bared her teeth in glee. “It begins!”
The door splintered inward in an explosion of wood and dust. Barnes Rother charged into the main hall, sword barreling before him. His sons followed with six Darigani.
Barnes’ eyes widened on seeing D.A. and Draezen sitting on that velvet couch in the middle of the battlefield, and he hesitated. In that instant, Darigani rappelled down from the second floor balcony; twenty trained swordsmen to Rother’s nine.
William clashed swords with two of Mr. Aimes’ men. The bulky Bruce fought them off at first, but within seconds three more of Mr. Aimes’ men surrounded him, and brought him to the ground.
Tony’s sword darted in flashes of steel, back and forth between the two men attacking him. He turned to parry a third a swordsman, but the greater number of his opponents prevailed. A swordsman caught Tony from behind and kicked him to the ground.
Anna cackled behind D.A.’s ears, reveling in the clash of swords and fists. Draezen leaned forward, intent, pale.
Barnes Rother proved more agile than his bulky figure let on, and sparred with two swordsmen before a third leapt in and knocked Barnes’ sword the floor. Barnes jumped back and balled his hands into fists.
A swordsman thrust his blade forward, but Barnes flamed his fist down on the flat side of the blade and swung at the swordsman’s head. The swordsman staggered back, but three others took his place and wrestled Barnes to the floor. The defeated patriarch turned his eyes on Draezen.
Draezen shrank back underneath Barnes’ gaze.
“Are you squeamish at the sight of your handiwork?” D.A. said.
“I didn’t have a choice,” he murmured.
“There is always a choice,” she snapped, “and do not grow faint-hearted at it now.”
To be continued...