Part XVII -- Account by Penny Kearney
“I told your friend….”I began, resolve slowly settling. “Everone has a weakness.”
He stared at me dully, though his brows drew lower. “Aye. What of it.”
“I need you to help me find Set’s. For the sake of your fellow comrades, will you help me?”
His whole being gave a tremor, as if some invisible tendril of terror curled around him like the ropes still holding him to the tree, and tightened.
“It won’t do no good. We’re all afraid of that dark one…”
“I’m afraid of him, too.” My hearbeat skipped. “But we have to try.”
His voice resonated with panic. “I don’t know him at all, this was my first assignment under him! I don’t know what you want, I can’t help you…”
I placed my hands on his shoulders, near his neck, looking into his eyes. His skin was hot against my touch, and I could feel the throb of his pulse under my fingers, but he stilled under my gaze.
“Just think, and let me watch.”
I knew he wouldn’t be able to help thinking. I’d be able to see whether he wanted it or not, even if it was only the few seconds in which his thoughts rose to consciousness before he could hide them again. With sharp focus, I located the sensation of the connection to him, and held fast to it. His erratic thought patterns tumbled through my head, flashes of images and feelings of cold, darkness, and fear.
Set. Angry, like when he’d burst into my cell after I’d contacted Dana. Out of control, furious, and….afraid. Somewhere, Dana. And danger… death?
The image of Set became clearer, and he turned, the same, piercing gaze coming upon me again.
No longer just memories.
I severed the connection before he could reach the clarity he had before in the other messenger, realizing how fast my heart was racing and breathing shallowly as the strange sensations of the relived memories fade and leave my mind free to its own identity. I refocused my gaze on the man before me.
He stared back, his expression blank for a long moment. Lost. Surrendered. Then, his features changed, taking on the form of a grim smile. His voice, now confident and teasing.
“This is only getting easier, Kearney.”
I pulled my hands back as he jerked forward, the ropes creaking in warning, and the numbing smile still on his face. My hand went to the hilt of my sword, and I glared back defiantly.
“Keep coming, Set.” My tone was hard. “We may tremble, but in the end, it is the proud who fall.”
Before he could give an answer, Dana appeared at my side. The messenger’s – or rather, Set’s – gaze shifted to him, and he froze. Dana stepped forward and pressed the man’s shoulders back against the tree, gently, his expression one of pity more than anything else.
I watched him, uncertain as to what he was doing. But as Dana held the man’s gaze, Set’s control seemed to recede, replaced by the man’s terrified expression.
“Help me, please, get him out, help me!” His words came as a blur, barely intelligible.
Dana sighed deeply, and placed his hand on the man’s forehead, shutting his eyes.
What are you doing?
“You won’t have this one!” Set suddenly returned, jerking his victim in spasms. “He’s mine, like the others. You cannot save them, you cannot—“
A cry tore from the messenger’s throat, flying upwards, piercing the treetops towards the sky. Dana opened his eyes as the man sank back against the trunk, now with his own features again evident, all trace of Set’s influence erased.
I let a moment pass before asking. “What did you do?”
Dana stepped back, his appearance somewhat tired. “Our gifts; they’re not meant for us only.”
Frowning, I waited for him to continue.
He gave me a slight smile, rubbing his hand. “I learned, early on, reading the scripts we kept in our libraries. What I read, I used after Set and I met. Our gifts can help those touched by shadow.” He gestured to the messenger, whose face was just beginning to regain its color. “I helped him find his way.”
My brow smoothed in understanding. The implications of Dana’s words were enormous.
“You’ll learn eventually.” He continued, drawing his longknife to cut the messenger free from the tree. “Already your gift is waxing stronger, isn’t it?”
“It’s getting easier to use. But for all the ability I seem to have connecting to others thoughts, so far the only thing I’ve managed to do is give Set our location. I think next time I had better leave interrogations to you.” I glanced at the cliff face visible through the trees. “It will take him just under a day to reach this location, aye?”
Dana’s knifeblade sliced through the ropes, one cord at a time, with ease. “Aye, if they were on foot. Mounted, less than two hours.”
“Then we had best go.” Looking down, I realized I had drawn my sword. I knew not when, but I sheathed it, going over the directions I’d garnered from the other man that would lead us to the prison.
One of Dana’s men cut through the bonds of the third messenger, who had gone mostly ignored over the course of the interrogation, and the moment he was free, he took off into the trees. I watched him go, ignoring the instinct to run after him. He could do no harm, now. No more than was already done.
Dana sighed. “A wasted life is never worth the effort. Mayhap Set will let him live….or not.”
The first, however, once freed, dropped to one knee before Dana and I.
“Thank you, both of you, so much for what you’ve done. Thank you!”
I blinked in surprise. The drastic and sudden swap in his demeanor towards us left me at a loss for whether to believe him or not, so Dana responded, leaning over and pulling him to his feet.
“Easy there; I’m certainly no king, and she’s not your queen. Will you help us?”
The man nodded eagerly. “Aye, that I will. I’ve been there before, and will gladly show the way for you.”
“Then let’s go.”
He glanced at me, and I nodded, allowing both him and our new scout to lead the way. I fell into step behind them, replaying the flashes of Set I’d found in our ex-captive’s memories. But I shook my head, unable to sort out the confusing twist of feelings that had accompanied the images themselves.
First things first. My brothers. Soon, we would reach the prison, and we would rescue them, because by some mercy of the Creator’s, Set’s order for execution had not arrived before us.