Outsider Within: Face of Evil - Part Eight
“Draezen?” she said, approaching him. “Something is very wrong.”
He clenched his eyes shut. “I’m sorry,” he gasped and opened the door.
A dart shot into her throat before she could respond, and she felt her body falling to the ground. Just as grey stars completely shut out her field of vision, she saw a pink Kougress come out the door.
The first sense D.A. recognized was a mixture of sound and motion, rocking and clacking. No sunlight shone against her eyelids, but slowly she opened them to her dim surroundings. Her eyes rolled back as she commanded her body to attention, to alertness, but the drug in her blood clouded her commands so that her body could not respond. She could only open her eyes at first, and she met the smile of a pink Kougress: Anna.
D.A. rolled her eyes around the space; it was dim, rocking. A covered wagon. Two Darigani with swords sat on each side of her, and she saw Draezen sitting next to Anna, his eyes glued to the floor.
She tried to push words out, but her tongue would not obey. Her attempts to command her body to attention were useless, she knew, and so she clenched her eyes shut, trying to regain perception of her other senses.
How long had she been unconscious? Not long; ten to twenty minutes at most. Where were they going? Who was here? Anna and her two swordsmen, and Draezen, and the driver. Her sword was not at her hip, and even at her best, taking down such a force would be difficult. No, now was the time to regain strength and focus the mind.
The wagon stopped and D.A. opened her eyes. Anna still wore her grin, Draezen still looked away. D.A. did not attempt to speak. The tarp at the end of the wagon was lifted by a figure drenched in the red light of sunset.
She was directed out of the wagon with swords, and met outside with several more. She stumbled as she stepped down to the ground, but fell to the ground without a helping hand.
Her misstep had not been intentional, but she recognized their experience in not exposing themselves to help her. Draezen disappeared, and Jason along with four swordsmen conducted D.A. inside a tremendous mansion.
She remained as alert as she could be to the details of her surroundings; it was an old manor, long abandoned by its original builders. The stone was in disrepair, and as she was escorted inside, she saw that the entire right wall had fallen, and assumed that the left side of the building was enough for Mr. Aimes’ purposes.
Was this the headquarters of Mr. Aimes’ organization? The idea was startling but possible, and if true it meant one of two things: Mr. Aimes was poised to attack the Rother family and so did not care if D.A. saw the mansion, or she would never leave the mansion alive.
The entire party was wordless until Jason met a massive Elephante and whispered instructions to him. The guards led D.A. into the mansion’s cellar, which appeared to have recently been modified with iron into a dungeon. Three small cells lined the far wall, each with a small ventilating slit in the wall, barred with iron.
One of the swordsmen tied her wrists with rope and patted her down in search of hidden weapons. Out of her boot he drew a small dagger. As he gripped her arms, he pulled back a sleeve and found two small jagged metal discs in the leather of her wrist guards. He raised an eyebrow at the vicious look of them, and carefully took out two more from her other wrist. From around her neck he pulled off a thin leather cord with a small whistle at the end. He blew through it without sound.
“Ha, what’s this? A whistle that doesn’t work?”
“It is a good luck charm.”
He threw it back over her head. “You’re gonna need all the luck you can get, Missy.”
She bowed and followed him into her cell. He locked the door behind her. “Give me your hands. Jason said that a lady shouldn’t have to sleep bound with rope.”
D.A. obeyed and he cut the ropes with her dagger. She sat against the back wall and closed her eyes.
* * *
Draezen waited with Anna in what she called the office, a spacious room with a big wood table and big wood chairs. She wore her usual smirk, and he sat with head in his hands.
In a few minutes, Jason walked in.
“You should not look so depressed, Draezen,” Jason said.
The Zafara looked up and sat against the back of his chair.
“Indeed, Draezen, this should be a joyous day for you,” said Anna in a careless tone. “You are but a few steps away from saving Samantha and her sons from great pain, and you are about to earn greater trust than ever from Barnes.”
Draezen stared intently at the floor. “What else do you want of me?”
Jason sat in a chair next to Anna. “Go tell Barnes that you followed D.A., and that she had a meeting with Anna and me. Tell him that it is obvious to you that she is giving us information on the inner workings of his business. In short, tell Barnes that you saw her doing what you have been doing.” A wicked smile spread across his lupine face. “And then, tell him that D.A. saw you and that you barely escaped with your life, and that you ran to him immediately to warn him of the danger.”
Draezen locked eyes with Jason. “You know he will want her taken care of. Permanently.”
“Of course. And when he has given you such instructions, you will return here.”
Draezen stood. “I’ll go, but hear this: if you do not keep Mr. Aimes’ word, I will hunt you both down myself.” He stalked out of the office.
* * *
The haze of the drug-tipped dart rose from D.A.’s mind, and she began processing the events. She cursed herself for her stupidity in following Draezen after his strange behavior. Immediately she pushed such self-punishing thoughts out of her consciousness; they would only cloud her analysis of the situation.
In truth, her imprisonment provided a golden opportunity for learning more about the workings of Mr. Aimes’ organization. Unfortunately, she might never get the chance to send the intelligence to Chief Henka, much less in time to make any difference in how things played out. And events could play out very badly if she didn’t get out of this cell.
Her abduction was bold, even for Mr. Aimes. Barnes would no doubt notice her absence immediately—regardless of whatever Draezen told him. What was he going to tell Barnes?
Henka would notice her absence within a few days at most. He could possibly receive word of her abduction sooner from one of his spies, but it was unlikely.
She believed the mansion to be in East Side, partly because abandoned buildings spotted the unused farmland. The mansion also appeared to have been in a fire, and some of the eastern farmland had burned in a fire a few years ago.
She turned her mind to the more important matter: Mr. Aimes. Who was he? Was he here? Did he intend to take matters into his own hands now, after working so long behind Anna and Jason? And why did his name continue to sound familiar to her? That above all things nagged at her mind, often pulling her focus away from the other questions.
D.A. heard footsteps above the ceiling and turned to look at the stairs before her guard stood to salute the visitor. Anna strolled down the steps with childish buoyancy in her step. She smiled at D.A. and waved the guard away.
“Well, Miss D.A., we meet again.”
“I am sure you have questions. I am surprised you were such a good girl on the way over. To be sure, I had intended the poison to keep you unconscious longer.”
“My blood has endured many poisons and is now more resistant.”
“I’ll remember that next time.”
“Don’t expect a next time, Anna. I certainly do not.”
“If you have it your way, I will not leave this mansion alive. If I have it my way, you will never have the opportunity to poison me again.”
The pink Kougress giggled. “Of course. But do tell me one thing, it’s something that’s been bothering me. Where did you get this lovely sword from?” Anna pulled D.A.’s sword out from underneath the guard’s desk. “I have never seen anything like it, and in truth, it looks frail.”
“And yet you did not easily escape it the first time we met.”
Anna giggled again. “Yes, that is why I said it only looks frail. Where is it from?”
“And where is that?”
“A place you have never heard of.”
“I think not.”
Anna pouted and put the sword back out of view.
D.A. felt a hint of a smirk grow on her lips. “Tell me Anna, is that a Meridellian accent I hear?”
Anna blinked at D.A. before responding. “How interesting. You are the first to hear it in many years.”
“I am observant.”
“You must have been young when you came to the Citadel to have so little of your accent left. When was that? During Kass’ rule, perhaps?”
“Perhaps.” Anna’s eyes gleamed, delighting in the withholding of information, much as D.A. enjoyed playing with Henka in the Chambers.
“It would seem neither of us is willing to divulge much of our youth, Anna,” said D.A. “Perhaps you will tell me a little of your present. How long have you worked for Mr. Aimes?”
“Since the beginning.”
“When was that?”
“Long before the Chambers or even the Guild was aware of him. Mr. Aimes is very shrewd, and very patient. He knows when and how to strike.”
“And is that time now?”
Anna smirked and straightened her back into a mock salute. “Until we meet again, Miss D.A.” The Kougress clicked her heels and walked up out of the cellar. The guard trotted back down to his post, and D.A. dwelt alone with him once more.
* * *
Barnes stared intently at Draezen as he related what had happened with D.A. When the Zafara was finished, Barnes sank back into his chair and closed his eyes.
“I really wanted to trust her, you know,” said Barnes. “She would have been a tremendous asset. And I liked her.”
“So did I, Barnes,” said Draezen, his voice drained of emotion.
“You look tired. You alright?”
“I’ll be fine. But if you don’t act now, your family might not be. D.A.’s probably told Anna and Jason almost everything Mr. Aimes needs to know to strike.”
“You said she was really trying to take you down? Not just scare you?”
“I don’t think so. She meant business—and believe it or not, she’s actually fiercer than we thought.”
Barnes raised an eyebrow. “This betrayal . . . it hurts, especially now, after what Mr. Aimes did the Cohens. And D.A. saw what happened, and yet she continues to work for that monster. Against us!” He shook his head. “Don’t tell Samantha, Draezen. I’d rather she not know at all. Already she’s so anxious over everything.”
“Forgive me, Barnes, but you can’t risk not telling Samantha and the boys about D.A.! They need to protect themselves.”
“D.A. will assume that I’ve told them, so she won’t try to trick them into anything. Besides, I don’t intend to give her the chance to hurt them.” Barnes leaned forward. “Take care of D.A., Draezen. I don’t want her to ever have another chance at hurting my family.”
A bitter fire roared in the Bruce’s eyes, and Draezen saw for the first time how weary the patriarch was growing.
“I promise you she will not have the chance to hurt you, Barnes. I’ll take care of it.”
Barnes shook his head. “So much distrust in the Citadel in these days. Even the Guild families can’t trust each other anymore.”
“It’s a shame.”
“Go, Draezen. Go now. I don’t want to have to worry about her tonight.”
The Zafara stood and bowed before leaving.
* * *
Chief Henka found General Galgaroth performing the first drill of the morning with his lieutenants. One look at the Darigan Hissi, and Galgaroth directed him to his office.
“What’s happened?” asked the orange Grarrl.
“D.A. has been exposed—but not as a spy for Darigan. As a spy for Mr. Aimes.”
“I just got a report from an operative in deep cover. One of Rother’s most trusted swordsmen told him that D.A. is a spy for Mr. Aimes. Rother, naturally, ordered her taken care of. She was last seen yesterday before sunset.”
Galgaroth leaned back, his leather armor squealing against the back of his chair. “You’re positive?”
“He’s never been wrong.”
“Why would the swordsman believe D.A. to be working for Mr. Aimes?”
“There are lots of reasons. D.A. didn’t tell me a word of her plan. The swordsman—Draezen he’s called in the Guild—could be jealous of her; she is good. Maybe he saw evidence that she’s working for Darigan, but assumed that she’s actually working with Mr. Aimes. The whole Guild is on the verge of total paranoia anyway. Maybe D.A. really is working for Mr. Aimes; maybe she’s trying to gain his trust that way.”
“Do you honestly believe she’d work for Mr. Aimes to destroy the Rother family?”
“I would like to think she’s not that cold, but she’s surprised me before.”
“What can you do for her?”
“Not a thing. I have no idea where she is. And even if I did, what could I do then? If she’s working with Mr. Aimes, my interference would destroy everything she’s worked for. If she’s not working for Mr. Aimes, she’s probably in hiding and I would be exposing her to the wrath of the Rother family.” Henka shook his head. “I just don’t know. Dangit! This is why we make organized plans and channels of communication.”
“Why tell me all this?”
He looked up at Galgaroth. “Because something’s coming, General. Something big. And when it strikes, there will be little more than a moment’s notice, and you’ll need a team of your best, fastest, and most closed-mouthed soldiers to take care of it.”
“I’ll be ready, Henka. I always am.”
He nodded, unsure.
“Have you told Lord Darigan?” Galgaroth asked.
“No. I don’t want him to worry. He already does.”
“And the less he knows about the whole thing the better, right?”
Henka nodded. “Yeah. He needs to be able to honestly deny any knowledge of this whole thing if it becomes necessary.”
“If the public finds out that a Chambers official is involved in working with the Guild, what happens to you?”
Henka chuckled dryly. “I’ll take the fall, obviously. And one of those squirrelly report analysts will get my job and have to figure out their own way of dealing with D.A.”
To be continued...