The cell doors shut with a clang, the escorting guard’s footsteps fading down the hallway. Four of their company remained with Kearney and I. Two stood in front of my cell, two across in front of Kearney’s cell, holding spears in hand. One glance gave me the indication that these were of the smarter variety of guards, and would brook no outburst from their captives. I let my gaze drift down from the cell guards to the cell’s occupant. Kearney sat against the wall, her knees drawn up and her head bent forward, eyes closed. I lowered my own head, racking my head for any idea of escape. Nothing came to mind, even with the soft reassurance of my gift.
We’ll get out of this somehow. We’ve been through worse. Though at the moment, I can’t think of when…
A single set of footsteps interrupted my thoughts, and I looked up. The guards snapped to attention at the figure’s approach; at Set’s approach. I bit back a curse that rose in my throat and looked down once more, forcing my expression to remain clear. I watched the floor of the passageway through the bars of my cell. Set’s boots came into view as he paced by and stopped opposite of where I was. For a moment silence reigned.
“So, Dana. Your little plan failed, hm? Looks as if it’s going to be another long rot in prison for you. As for the rest of your precious order, well… I expect they’ll all be ticked off, one by one.”
I ground my teeth together in an attempt to bite back any reaction, even as he continued to speak.
“I am rather glad you were able to join them. Having you out who knows where would be so annoying to track down again.”
“Do you ever shut up?”
Kearney’s murmur came loud enough for both Set and I to hear it. I glanced up sharply, meeting Set’s gaze for a moment. His face twitched in a smile, and he turned away, toward Kearney’s cell.
Blast it! It’s bad enough with his attention on me.
I watched, helpless, as Set stalked forward toward Kearney’s cell. The guards shied away from his advance, visibly blanching when he drew closer.
“The pious Lady Kearney deems us worthy of her speech. How touching. I do hope you’re thinking of the many ways your brothers could die. Lord Ross is… skilled, in the art of dispatching his enemies slowly.”
Following his comment, Set stepped forward and snatched the keys from the guard’s belt. He turned to the cell door and opened it, stepping into the cell. Kearney’s head rose, her eyes open, and she glared up at Set’s entrance. Set took another step toward her, and with no prior warning, struck her across the face with a clenched fist. I stood in an instant, even as Kearney was knocked on her side. Her face was tight in a restrained cry, and her gaze wandered, dazed at the blow. Set stepped out of the cell, locked the door and handed the keys back to the guard, who merely accepted them without saying a word. He turned back to face me, and smiled.
“Now that we’ve removed any interruptions, shall we go on?”
I stared back into Set’s eyes, allowing my fury to show plain in my expression. Had the bars not been made of cast iron, I felt they would have been riven from the ground, so fiercely did I grip them. Set stared back for a moment before his eyes narrowed. His voice lowered, taunting.
“Go on; do it. Whatever you do to me, she receives twice-fold. "
It took all the restraint I had not to reach for his throat, but I managed it. With a sudden intensity, Set punched my stomach with a rounded fist. I nearly doubled over at the blow, but he followed up with a back-handed strike to me chin, knocking me back onto the cell floor with such force that any breath remaining in my lungs was knocked out. I lay for several seconds attempting to recover. Set gave a short laugh before he said,
“Rest there awhile. You, too, can try to imagine what wonderful things will happen to your companions. And I’ll be right there to keep you company. Lovely, hm?”
I managed to lift my head to catch a grin from Set’s face before he turned and walked down the passageway. When his footsteps faded, the guards relaxed somewhat, though they kept their eyes forward. With a groan, I slid back against the wall to prop my back up. I held my midsection gently and grimaced. “Wasn’t expecting that…”
One of my cell guards glared at me from his position before resuming his stance. I glanced at Kearney, trying to gauge her situation. She had sat up, and at my notice, gave me a long look before scooting to the shrouded corner of her cell, limply propping herself up against it. Taking the cue, I leaned back against the wall behind me and closed my eyes. As much as I felt like it, sleep was the last thing on my mind.
“What else haven’t you told us?” She said, her voice clearer than it had been the first time she’d contacted this way.
“What do you mean?”
“You didn’t tell us about you and Set. What else is there?”
A whole lot more than you’d think…
“Nothing I can think of at the moment, though I could ask you the same question.”
I groaned and shifted my position. The ache in my midsection was getting better gradually, but it was still an ache nonetheless.
“What happened between you and Ross?” I asked. When her reply came, it was laced with anger.
“Nothing happened between me and Ross. Seph and Percy were away, I needed help dealing ith a gang of outlaws that had banded together in our realm. Ross’s brother agreed to assist me, we burst into the camp, took down some of the leaders, sabotaged some of their larger weapons and called the order to fall back. Ross’s brother never showed up at the rendezvous point.”
“And I take it Ross didn’t handle the news well.”
“No, he didn’t. The body turned up a few days later. Ross blamed us, but not because he loved his brother.”
The answer seemed obvious, but I stated it anyways. “He wanted a reason to strike us.”
“He wanted a reason to strike at anyone. Ross is a greedy, vindictive man, and a born conqueror. He’s not happy unless he’s suppressing and stealing.” Her tone was still tense.
“I’m sorry I asked the question the way I did. I didn’t mean it that way.”
I smiled slightly from my position. “Well, I was a touch surprised. I had thought he’d been fighting us for no reason. Now he almost has one.”
“He only uses that excuse to keep his followers from knowing what he really is.”
I waited a few moments before asking the next question.
“Are you angry I hadn’t mentioned Set to you all?”
For nearly a full minute, and indeed maybe longer, Kearney did not reply. When she did, a measure of tension had drained from her tone.
“I just don’t want you dead, Dana. That’s all.”
Her comment, despite my intentions, flared up my previous thoughts on her interference.
“At what cost? If he was gone, none of us would be in the position we’re in.”
A trace of bitterness entered my voice. “Our warriors wouldn’t be dead either. It’s because I was gone you were all ambushed, waiting for me to get back.”
“I will not condemn you!”
Kearney’s last statement was audible, and quite loud for the current situation. The guards glanced at Kearney in confusion. One of her guards spoke up. “Uh… quiet, prisoner!”
She did not follow her statement, and the shadows of her cell concealed her face from my gaze. I let the silence spread for some time before speaking again, albeit with a gentler tone.
“I’m not asking you to. It’s just… being a leader. If Set is gone, any leverage on me is lost, and Set can’t predict your movements. You can’t deny the fact so many have died already because of Set. And he’s only here because of me.”
After a short moment, Kearney answered. Her voice was shaky, detectable even over this connection.
“Either Percy or Seph is as good as dead. You’re asking me to kill you too.”
“No, you’re not going to. I choose to. Something has to change in this, Ross constantly has the advantage.”
She did not reply. I pursued the topic, attempting to get my reasoning across.
“You exchanged your life for mine not a day ago, why can’t I do the same for you all?”
Again, no reply came. I fought back frustration as I said,
“I have to do something, aside from continuing to do more harm than good by merely assisting you all.”
Even as I finished the last phrase, I felt the connection cut off. I sighed, and slumped against the wall. My gift still urged patience. That, I had no desire for, but I had little choice, for what else could I do?