Outsider Within: Face of Evil - Part Eleven
Mr. Aimes’ swordsmen squelched the attack before it began. Barnes, his sons, and their Darigani companions were bound and brought to the center of the room, around the sofa D.A. and Draezen sat on.
D.A. examined the proceedings carefully; the whole thing smacked of the theatrical. Mr. Aimes was proving himself a showman.
Barnes Rother looked over D.A. and Draezen as swordsmen forced him to the floor along with his men. “I see the traitors are being paid their dues,” he said with a fiendish grin.
Draezen began to speak, but D.A. shook her head to remain silent. Any attempts to redeem himself would only enrage Barnes, and there were enough factors at work for her to worry about.
Anna paced around the captives with unnatural eyes, like an impatient wild cat observing her prey. D.A.’s ears picked up a faint growl from the Kougress’ chest. She glanced at Draezen; by the look he gave Anna, he must have heard the unnatural growl as well.
Jason charged into the room followed by more Darigani swordsmen with three captives. “These were found around the perimeter,” he said to Anna.
“They are from the Blake family?” she asked.
He nodded and grinned, flashing his teeth. “Almost all of their swordsmen, it looks like. Their cell of the Guild will suffer tonight.”
“Mr. Aimes will be pleased at the turnout,” she said.
“Yes. He will be here to inspect his prisoners in only a few minutes.”
D.A.’s ears shot back at Jason’s words—Mr. Aimes was here, in this very mansion. She tested the bonds around her wrist again, but they held fast.
Draezen noticed her movement and whispered without moving his lips, “Can you get out of them?”
“If I dislocate my thumbs, perhaps.”
His eyes widened ever so slightly before looking away from her.
Jason barked at the captives sitting on the floor. “Silence. Mr. Aimes has come to hear your pleas.”
D.A. strained her neck to turn around and face the staircase.
At the top of the stairs, smoke from extinguished candles wafted around a cloaked figure. The figure raised its arms, and Anna and Jason kneeled before it.
“Barnes Rother,” said Mr. Aimes’ calm, aged voice. “For your insolence against me, you will not leave this mansion. However, your sons may have a better fate, and I strongly encourage you to urge them to accept my terms.”
D.A. wondered at the spectacle Mr. Aimes was producing—why smoke and darkness? The kneeling of Anna and Jason? All of his captives bound and sitting on the floor to look up at him? His previous tactics had spoken of calculated decisions, never self-importance.
“I hereby offer the Rother sons, William and Tony, as well as the swordsmen of the Blake family who are present, the following terms: you may retain your current positions as smugglers on the Citadel, running things as you see fit. You will maintain the lifestyle to which you have become accustomed. However, I will dictate what is sold and for how much. I will also be paid fifty percent of all profits—a dramatically lower percentage than that I offer to my current employees. I offer you this out of respect for the organization that the Smugglers’ Guild has maintained on the Citadel for years.” Mr. Aimes raised a single finger. “Do not mistake me, gentlemen. If you refuse, you will not be permitted to leave this place alive.”
D.A. glanced down at the faces of William and Tony. Their features spoke of resolution; their eyes were hard and cold. They would refuse, and D.A. closed her eyes in pity. Barnes’s eyes shone with defiance, but he must know that Mr. Aimes would not go back on his verdict. Not after what he had seen happen to the Cohens.
William, the eldest son, struggled to stand on his own two feet. “Mr. Aimes,” he declared. “I speak for my brother and myself.”
William spat on the floor before Mr. Aimes.
Anna leapt up and hissed. Jason unsheathed his sword.
“Quiet,” commanded Mr. Aimes. “Before the execution of judgment, we will hear from the Blake swordsmen. The boy does not speak for them.”
A Techo, presumably a son of the Blake family, stood. “Mr. Aimes, we greatly appreciate your offer. But I must protest your terms—we cannot live on a mere fifty percent of the gross profit—we have many responsibilities! Will you consider altering the terms?”
And D.A. watched carefully. She saw—there it was, the signal. And only then did Mr. Aimes speak.
“The terms are non-negotiable. Do you accept?”
And D.A. knew who Mr. Aimes was. Only now she would not be able to tell Henka, would not be able to save the Guild or even the Citadel itself.
And D.A. saw a slender form in the shadows, near the ceiling. A pale blue gem glinted in the darkness. D.A. smiled.
Victory was hers.
“I have a question for you, Mr. Aimes,” she called in a loud, clear voice.
All eyes turned to her.
Mr. Aimes addressed her. “Ah yes, the tools of my victory, D.A. the swordswoman and Draezen the traitor. Do you intend to beg for your lives?”
“No. You may do as you wish with the traitor, my only concern is that he pay. And seeing as you will never be able to trust him, I doubt he will leave you alive. As for me, my fate is less certain. I did not betray the Rothers, but neither have you offered me an alternative to judgment.”
“Your work with the sword is noteworthy. Even my trusted Anna and Jason acknowledge it. But you are not to be trusted, I think.”
“At least tell me what you intend to do now that the Rother family is out of your way. I am not suited to any work other than that with the sword, and the Guild will soon be out of business.”
“My plans will unfold for your observation soon enough.” Mr. Aimes turned to walk up the stairs.
And the wall behind them exploded.
D.A. was hurled behind the sofa. Jason was thrown against the stone wall. Anna fell to the floor. D.A. coughed from the stone dust and smoke, but looked for the source of the explosion.
Soldiers of Lord Darigan charged in, their swords unsheathed. Chief Henka and General Galgaroth came in following the first wave, trailed by dozens more.
D.A. smiled. “Thank you, Skye.”
Jason ran to protect the figure in the shadows.
“Get Mr. Aimes, in the shadows!” commanded Galgaroth.
D.A. saw Henka’s eyes find her, but she was already headed down another corridor, where Anna had run.
As D.A. charged down the hall after Anna, she looked down at the sword she had lifted out of Jason’ belt. She had never used a heavy Darigani sword before.
The pink Kougress darted around corners and through entries with purpose, clearly familiar with the building. D.A. could only follow blindly, running around one corner to spot the tip of a pink tail flying around the next.
D.A. came round one last corner, and faced Anna standing in the center of a large room with a banquet table, her sword drawn.
“So you are a spy of Lord Darigan,” said Anna.
“If that is the word you wish to use.”
“And you are not satisfied with Mr. Aimes only?”
“On the contrary, Mr. Aimes is my sole object at the moment. But I know something the soldiers do not.”
D.A. nodded. “You may not be aware that I am the only servant of Lord Darigan who also held a position under Lord Kass.”
Anna raised an eyebrow.
“And when Lord Kass was ruling, one of his spies in Meridell captured the daughter of a Knight in an effort to blackmail him into supporting Kass. After Lord Darigan took power again, every effort was made to locate the girl, but no trace of her could be found, not in Meridell, not in the Citadel. Do you recall the girl’s name, Anna?”
The Kougress said nothing.
D.A. felt in her collar and retrieved her only remaining throwing star. She hurled the metal disc at the Kougress, who flinched but did not move. She appeared unscathed, and then the leather band around her wrist fell to the ground, cut open.
On the pink fur of her wrist, one stripe was different from the others. It was dark pink, rather than blue like the rest.
D.A. continued. “She was a pink Kougra, with a dark pink birthmark on her right wrist. Her name was Jenna DeRaimes. Miss DeRaimes—Mr. Aimes.” She drew her sword out of its sheath. “Mr. Aimes,” she repeated as if tasting the phrase. “It is a truly ingenious organization you have here, with almost perfect protection for yourself and unparalleled control.”
The Kougress’ eyes narrowed to slits.
“I am most impressed,” continued D.A. “Your signal to that fake Mr. Aimes to reject that Blake child’s proposition? I almost missed it. I would have, as I did the first time we met, but I was looking for it this time. If only you had chosen a different name, perhaps I would never have noticed.”
Miss DeRaimes raised her sword. “Well then Miss D.A., it appears you know too much. I will not fail now, not when I am this close.” She assumed an offensive stance. “I am the most dangerous woman in the world right now, for I have everything to lose.”
D.A. raised her own sword. “Then I am at a disadvantage, for I have little to lose for myself.”
Their swords clashed, and D.A.’s wrists cracked with pain. This sword weighed much more than her own, and did not respond as quickly.
Anna, on the other hand, was skilled with the two-edged broadsword. Although she was not powerfully built, Anna knew how to use the weight and strength of the sword to her advantage.
Their swords scraped together, and Anna leapt up to the top of the banquet table. D.A. darted to the entrance of the room, well out of sword’s reach, blocking the exit, waiting for the Kougress to come off the table.
Anna smiled and leapt much farther than D.A. had anticipated—she lifted the heavy sword to protect her face, and Anna leaned in on her sword, trying to force D.A. to the ground.
D.A. felt her knees buckling. She twisted her arms, sliding Anna’s sword off of her own, and sidestepped out of the way. Almost instantly, Anna was swiping at her torso. D.A. leapt back, heading around the table.
D.A. saw a flutter out of the corner of her eye, but she dared not turn her attention to it.
D.A. listened for the sound of the object twirling in the air and caught it in her hand, never taking her eyes off Anna. A smile crept across her face as she instantly recognized the weight of her own sword. “You’re a good man, Henka. Here’s one for you.” She tossed Jason’s sword in his direction; heard him catch it.
“D.A., we have Mr. Aimes,” he said.
“You do not have Mr. Aimes.” D.A.’s eyes were afire with victory, while Anna’s were smoldering with rage and determination. “Chief Henka, I would like to introduce you to Miss Jenna DeRaimes, better known as Mr. Aimes. Now leave us, bring back soldiers to take her away in shackles, but do not interfere. They will only be in the way.”
She heard Henka rush away to gather soldiers. She appreciated him for many reasons; one being that he never asked ill-timed questions.
D.A. slid her blade out of its sheath. “Now, Miss DeRaimes, I can assure you that you are at a disadvantage, for I doubt you have ever come across a sword quite like mine.”
Anna raised an eyebrow at the thin, one-sided blade, and then smiled. “That little thing? It suits you.” She raised her broadsword and charged.
D.A. ran towards Anna, but leapt to the left and hit the Kougress’ back with the dull side of her blade.
Anna gasped and stumbled, but did not fall. D.A. charged her back, but Anna turned her sword up to block.
D.A. jumped back, knowing her sword to be less strong than Anna’s. She jumped onto the table, awaiting Anna’s next move. Now that D.A. had her own sword, she was far more maneuverable, but Anna was still stronger. One false step for either of them would spell defeat.
D.A. hunched down on her powerful legs, ready to jump into a ferocious attack, or defend herself against one. Anna smiled and stood beside the door with her arms crossed. “Didn’t we already decide that’s not a move that works?”
“You forget, Miss DeRaimes. I have friends.”
Anna jumped away from the open doorway as soldiers’ feet clanged down the hall toward them.
D.A. leapt on Anna’s break in concentration. The Kougress lifted her sword, but too slowly, and D.A.’s lighter sword met the broadsword’s thin tip, pushing Anna’s arms down in a painful twist.
“Come no closer, soldiers of Lord Darigan,” commanded D.A. “This is a one-on-one fight, do not interfere.”
Anna gasped with pain as D.A. inflicted more pressure against the sword. “Miss DeRaimes, you may come with us in peace, or I can defeat you. It is your choice.”
“I have one more,” she said with strained breath, “I can rid myself of you, and fight past those juveniles who call themselves soldiers.” Anna pushed D.A. off of her sword and resumed an attack position, her shoulders heaving. She looked around at the soldiers surrounding her.
“Stop this, Jenna,” D.A. said. “Someone will get hurt and it will have no point. You are as good as captured.”
“It’s not over until it’s over,” she growled. D.A. could see in her eyes that she would take down as many as she could before her defeat. Someone would get killed.
D.A. sighed and let her sword taper down. “There is a fourth alternative, although it is no guarantee.”
To be continued...