Where there's a Weewoo, there's a way Circulation: 175,033,999 Issue: 413 | 9th day of Collecting, Y11
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Outsider Within: The Betrayed


by tashni

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He could still hear the soft padding of her steps as she had followed him, could still see the sun nearing the edge of Darigan Citadel, still feel the unrelenting necessity of what he was doing. His legs had felt stiff that evening, as if moving not quite of his own accord. He said nothing and looked at nothing other than the road before him. The blue Zafara woman did not question him as she followed.

     He felt her silence more sickening than any self-condemning accusations that swirled in his own mind.

      A biting wind began to sweep around them as they arrived in the barren fields of East Side, and people grew scarce. D.A. must recognize the danger. She was trained to know better than to follow him; he knew she was. Any minute now she would whip her sword against his throat and demand an explanation.

      At last he heard her uneasy voice. “Draezen, would you care to tell me where we are going?”

      “I can’t.”

      “That is hardly a satisfactory answer.”

      He turned to look at her—his eyes startled her into stopping. He could hear his voice shake as he spoke. “Do you not trust me?” You never have before. You know better.

      “I didn’t say that.”

      “Then come with me just a few meters more. That shed over there, that’s where we’re going.” Please don’t follow. But I have to.

      She narrowed her eyes skeptically, but nodded and continued following him.

      They came to a sun-bleached shed in the tall yellow grass. He saw D.A. glance over at him, questioning.

      He stopped just in front of the door. His fingers trembled against the handle.

      “Draezen?” DA said, drawing near to him. “Something is very wrong.”

      He clenched his eyes shut. “I’m sorry,” he gasped, and pushed in the door.

      A dart shot into her throat before she could react. He could feel her breath knocked out of her body as she fell to the ground. Her blue eyes grappled for her attacker, and a pink Kougress stepped out of the door.

      D.A.’s eyes fell silent into unconsciousness

      “Draezen,” greeted the Kougress. “You are at last learning to follow instructions.”

      “Don’t patronize me, Anna,” he said as he brushed past her into the shed. The touch of her elbow against his made him shudder....

***

     The sound of metal scraping across the stone floor called him out of his memories. A guard had slid dinner into the cell beneath the bars. The red Zafara stood up from the bench and retrieved his food. His cellmate, a massive Darigan Lupe, grunted.

      “Too good to bring me my bowl, Draezen?” the Lupe scoffed.

      “Hardly, Jason,” he replied, handing him a plate.

      “You forget, Jason Dear,” called Anna from the cell across from them, “that our Draezen is still punishing us for ‘blackmailing’ him into betraying his little friend.”

      Draezen shot a look across the bars at her. “Snarking Kougra ears,” he mumbled.

      “Don’t be angry with me, Draezen; you’re the one who did it.”

      “Stop calling me that.”

      “What, Draezen? Why?” She chuckled the last word.

      “That’s not my name anymore.”

      “Then what is it?”

      He shifted his weight. “I’m not sure.”

      She laughed. “Well you’d better pick one soon, Dear. What kind of name are you looking for, exactly?”

      He plopped down onto his cot and leaned his head against the cold wall. “It depends on what I make of myself, I suppose.”

     “Oh dear, if that’s the case, then whatever kind of name could you make for yourself down here?”

     He looked up at the mildewed ceiling and shut out Anna’s falsely playful voice, remembering. Remembering what she’d said the day after he’d handed D.A. over to her. He remembered the fierce fire in D.A.’s blue eyes, filled with anger and hate and pain.

      “Draezen,” she’d called him, “or whatever his real name was.” She’d sworn to see to it that he ended up in this dungeon, which she had. But that wasn’t what really hurt. She’d said she didn’t know him at all, that he’d been hiding himself from her all along—but it wasn’t true. He hadn’t known that she would be involved when they’d met.

      He’d watched her sleep under the watch of Anna’s guards that night. As the sun finally rose again, he saw her breathing grow shallow, and her body stir to life.

      “It’s Adler,” he’d said.

      She did not speak, but he knew she heard him.

     “Last night you called me ‘whatever your name is,’” he said. “Draezen is my sword name, but Adler is the name my father gave me.”

     “You do not get to choose your name,” she said with an indifference that made him ache. “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’d said, and sat with his back facing her. Oh, how he hurt.

     Draezen heard footsteps coming down the dungeon corridor, accompanied by the jangle of keys on a ring; Vex was coming with the mail. He could hear him stop at a cell a few meters before them, and then continue down. Vex stopped at Anna’s cell, and the pink Kougress jumped up to snatch a letter from his hands. The Warden said nothing as she squealed with delight, and he headed on down to the next cells.

      The pink Kougress disappeared into the darkness of the back of her cell. The day’s mail having passed him by uneventfully, Draezen dropped down onto his cot, hoping to serve a few hours of his sentence dozing. A minute had not passed when Anna leapt up to the bars and flashed the letter at her neighbors.

      “You see, Jason?” she called in her sing-song way, waving the letter before his eyes. “I told you Dear Daddy would be delighted to hear from his long-lost daughter.”

      Draezen sat up straight.

     Jason’s face looked frozen, distorted between happiness and horror. “Delighted?”

      She nodded. “Oh yes. You know he’s been looking for me these last, what, ten years or so? He was delighted to hear from me. Doesn’t seem to much care that I’ve been convicted of smuggling and organizing crime and all that. He’s fully convinced that I am a victim of circumstance and a difficult adolescence, up here on this desolate Citadel all by myself.” She giggled.

      “And he is still a knight?” Jason asked, his voice returning.

      “Oh no,” she said carelessly. “Apparently he hasn’t been a knight for many years. He’s a duke now.” A self-satisfied giggle overtook her.

      Draezen narrowed his eyes at her. Where was she going with this? Anna could seem so sickeningly harmless—but he could still smell the blood on her hands.

      “Can he help you?” Jason asked.

      She tucked the corner of the envelope between her lips. “Perhaps. He carries quite a lot of weight in Meridell, apparently. And he of course would want his long-lost daughter transferred down to Meridell.” She swung her body around in a graceful sweep. “Or perhaps even house arrest in his mansion.”

      Jason’s face grew pale.

     Draezen felt his fingers trembling. “House arrest?’ he heard himself say.

      She turned to face him. “Yes. Don’t you suppose that’s the kind of treatment the long-lost daughter of a duke deserves?”

      By this time Draezen could hear the jangling of the keys on Vex’s belt as he came back up from the bottom of the dungeon. “Treatment?” he repeated, his voice sharpening with venom.

      “Why, of course.” She’d turned on her innocent face, soft and sparkling, hiding the calculated killer beneath.

      “But if you go to Meridell,” stammered Jason, “then what of...?” He could not finish.

      She batted her eyelashes at him. “Oh, don’t fret so, Jason. I can assure you I will be taken good care of.”

      Jason staggered backwards into his cot, looking like a child lost from his mom.

      “Anna, you monster,” snarled Draezen. “You monster! How can you put up this act, after what you did? The lives you ruined—the lives you took?”

      Her eyes turned eerily cold on him. “The lives I ruined? What about you, Draezen Dear? You are the one who betrayed so many. The family that took you in as a son. You physically handed over D.A. to me. And you dare raise your voice in disgust at me? You are all the more ridiculous for it.” She turned her eyes away from him, and brightened at Jason. “Do not worry, my Dear. You’ll be fine.” With that, she sauntered back into the darkness of her cell.

      The jangling of Vex’s keys drew closer.

      Draezen stood shell-shocked for a moment. He felt a tingling feet rise up from his toes into his throat. “Monster,” he cried and flung himself against the cell bars, clawing at her through them. “You murderer, you—”

      Warden Vex ducked just in front of Draezen, and his face contorted with anger at the outburst. “Quiet, you!” He banged his key ring against the cell bars.

      Draezen leapt back like a pained animal. “She deserves worse than this,” he cried.

      Anna reappeared into the light, smirking at him.

      Draezen jumped back up the bars. “She does not even feel!”

      “Quiet,” ordered Vex. “James, get down here now,” he called up the stairs.

      The guard came, and dragged Draezen up the stairs, to a cell in the higher security block.

     Draezen’s new cellmate kept to himself: a faded, peculiar old Lupe whom the guards addressed as Five. The creature had looked briefly over at Draezen as he was brought in, but since then had done little more than sit on his cot in the back corner and scribble in a notebook that never left his grasp. Sometimes Draezen thought he heard Five mumble words as he wrote, and once thought he heard him speak of Kass, but Draezen had no desire to become better acquainted with him.

      On the third morning, as Draezen woke, he looked over to see Five still asleep, his arms holding his notebook to his chest. He gazed at the faded figure for a moment, and the Lupe’s yellowish-green eyes opened.

      Draezen blinked and looked away. “So what’s in the book, anyway?” he asked.

      Five’s eyes narrowed skeptically.

      Draezen shrugged. “Look, we’re going to be in this cell together for a few months at least. Won’t kill us to be civil.”

      “It’s a journal,” Five replied in a voice commanding more sense than Draezen had expected.

      “Of what?” Draezen asked.

      The Lupe looked back down at his book. “Of what I have seen. What I am in here for.”

      “What are you in here for?”

      Five gazed up into space. “For selling secrets that were not mine.”

      “Ah. Whose secrets, then?”

      He shrugged. “Many. The General was less understanding than Lord Darigan, though.”

      “The General? You mean Kass?”

      Five nodded and scribbled in his book.

      Draezen frowned. This Lupe must have held some position of power at some point, even under the brief rule of General Kass, who took the throne of Lord Darigan and started the second war with Meridell. Darigan now sat on his throne again, where he belonged, but when had this Five been imprisoned? During Kass’ rule, or Darigan’s? “I suppose it doesn’t matter,” Draezen said aloud.

      Five did not look up from his work.

     With no one to distract him, other than the mostly mute lump of flesh in the corner, Draezen’s thoughts stewed within him, swinging from hatred of Anna to self-loathing and self-pity, and then over to anger at D.A.

     “She betrayed me too, after all,” he heard himself mumbling aloud one afternoon over a bowl empty of lunch.

     “Betrayed?” Five looked up as if in response to a trigger word.

     “D.A. was really working with the police,” Draezen said, more to himself than in response to Five. “She’s the one who put me down here. So why should I feel guilty?”

      Five’s yellow eyes seemed to sharpen and grow distant at the same time. “The Double Agent?”

      “Huh?”

      He turned his eerie eyes on Draezen. “The Double Agent betrayed you?”

      “No, no,” Draezen replied, shaking his head at the inmate’s increasingly obvious inability to discern past from present. “Her name is D.A. Well, at least that’s the only name she gave. Pretty obvious it’s not her real name, but who am I to judge? I’ve gone through three in the last few months.”

      “You call her D.A.,” said Five in a distant, but entirely sane voice, “the Double Agent with blue eyes of truth.”

      Draezen’s thoughts stopped in their tracks. He looked directly at Five.

      “The Double Agent sent to learn Skarl’s secrets,” Five whispered, “The Double Agent who betrayed General Kass to Lord Darigan.”

      Draezen felt his limbs turning cold and weak. “No, she can’t be. My D.A. is . . . what did the Double Agent look like? That will show you they are not the same.”

      Five looked down to his book and flipped through the pages, searching, as if he could not remember—though Draezen had no idea how he could read in such poor light. He found the page he was looking for and fingered it, reading, “The Double Agent, hired by General Kass on the 12th Gathering, Year 5. Female blue Zafara with blue eyes and black hair; race unknown. Carries a long, thin sword.”

      Draezen touched his head against the wall. “D.A. . . . the Double Agent, betrayer of Lord Kass? Oh no...” Her words echoed in his head.

     “Your name is proved by your actions. . . . D.A. is the only name I have any right right to, as Draezen is the only name you have proved yourself to be worthy of.”

      “Hypocrite,” he hissed and slammed his fist against the wall. “She scorns me as a liar? She is the Double Agent rumored to have betrayed Kass to Lord Darigan’s forces! And she also sold Skarl’s secrets to Kass? A triple agent, now. All for gold is my guess, too.”

      “No,” said Five.

     He slammed his fist into the stone. “Then why?”

      Five wrote in his book. “She is the betrayer. Always. But also the betrayed. General Kass promised her many things, but instead brought war and debasement. He heaped blood upon his hands in those days, and in so doing heaped it on her conscience. But then, at last, she saw he was insane.”

      And then the pieces flooded into place around him. She had been betrayed by Kass, and to undo it, she’d betrayed him. Who could she have trusted in those days of treachery? Who could she trust now? Who knew of her now that Lord Darigan ruled again?

      He remember her so clearly, those cold, untrusting, piercing eyes. He remembered she’d trusted him—just once. And he’d sold her to her enemy. Anna had once asked her why; why she’d trusted Draezen that time, when she should have known better. Draezen had seen in her eyes she’d known better.

      “People like us,” Anna had said to D.A., “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.”

      He remembered the look on D.A.’s face when Anna said that. The words had cut down to her soul. He’d seen it in her eyes.

     Draezen felt his stomach twist, and he hunched over. His entire mind and body suddenly felt so very tired.

     Weeks later, (he wasn’t quite sure how many without the sun to go by,) he heard voices coming down the steps into the cellblocks. Curious, he looked up through the bars. The sound of Vex’s voice reached him first, and then one that sounded almost familiar.

      Vex and his guest passed his cell.

      “D.A.?” Draezen called.

      Her cold blue eyes turned on him.

     He jumped up to the bars.

     “Draezen,” she said.

      “I have to talk to you,” he said, not knowing exactly what he wanted to talk to her about. He knew he should feel something, but could feel nothing—not hate, not anger. Nothing.

      “You may find me when your sentence is up,” she said and turned to go ahead with Vex, when Draezen thrust his arm out of the bars after her.

     “Wait!” he demanded.

      She stopped, but kept her eyes forward.

      “Hey,” called Vex, “one more word out of you and I’ll put you downstairs.”

     “It’s alright,” D.A. interceded. “I do not fear him.”

      He looked to her with desperation. “Let me talk to you for five minutes, and I promise to never bother you again.”

      She paused for a moment. “I will speak to him,” she said to Vex.

      Vex’s eyebrows twitched in surprise, but unlocked Draezen’s cell and led them both to a locked but clean and well-lit visiting room. Once Vex had gone, she remained silent.

     Draezen became acutely aware that he had no idea why he’d insisted on seeing her in private. Every aspect of her countenance seemed on edge, ready to devour him whole. “You’re still angry, aren’t you?” he asked.

      “You lied to me and betrayed me.”

      “Please understand, I don’t expect you to forgive me,” he said. And he meant it, he realized. “But that you do not even doubt your self-righteous fury is what gets me.” He could hear himself becoming angry. “I was blackmailed into doing what I did, and when I had the chance, I helped you. But you made up your mind in one instant that I was never to be forgiven. That says something about you, D.A. Do you have any friends? I mean clearly you must ‘have friends’ in the Chambers, but do you have one friend? I doubt it, because we all make mistakes, Miss D.A., and you are a very unforgiving person.”

      As the anger flooded out of him, relief washed over him, but he could feel exasperation taking its place.

      “I will not sit here and be lectured by you,” she retorted. “You want to know the truth? That you sold me out to Mr. Aimes is not what bothers me. You lied to my face for two weeks, you accepted my sword, you made me believe something you are not. That is what I cannot forgive.”

      “So you don’t like me because you can’t read me like a book? Well, that’s something you’re going to have to learn eventually, D.A. You can’t expect to be able to read every person you meet. What makes you mad is not that I lied to you, but that you didn’t suspect me of lying. That’s what really gets to you.”

      D.A. stood up from the table. “Now that I have heard you out, Draezen, I expect to never be bothered by you again.” She headed for the door.

      Suddenly he remembered something. “I had almost completed your sword before I left,” he said softly. “It’s still in my shop if you want to go get it.”

      “Goodbye, Draezen.”

      “That is not my name. My father named me Adler.”

      “Draezen is your name until you prove otherwise.”

      His voice was a whisper. “And you are the Double Agent until you prove otherwise.”

      Her back cracked straight, and her eyes flashed vulnerable before they narrowed, incensed.

      “There are lots of people in these cells who worked with you under Lord Kass,” he said. “And now you are condemning yourself for what you were. Earn a new name, D.A.”

      She stalked out of the room.

      His whole body trembled.

     Four months later...

     Draezen heard a pair of footsteps coming up the stairs from the lower floor. He sat up straight on his cot; only Vex had gone down. He stood up to the bars to see who would come.

      The steps drew close, and Draezen strained to see down the hallway. “Anna?” he exclaimed on seeing her in handcuffs. “You’re not scheduled to be released for years.”

      She shrugged and stopped in front of his cell. To Vex she said, “Just a moment with my old chum, if you don’t mind? Not more than a minute, I promise.”

      Vex frowned and grumbled.

      She beamed one of her deceptively sincere smiles and turned to Draezen. “You remember, don’t you? My dear old Duke of a dad in Meridell? I’m being transferred to house arrest on his estate—Duke DeRaimes’ estate. And I’ll be Jenna DeRaimes, the Duke’s daughter. I’ve been separated from him for almost a decade, you know, and it’s being considered a gesture of good will on the part of Darigan to Meridell. All works out very well for me, you know.”

      His stomach felt pangs. “So your dad just decided to have you down there? On his estate?”

      “Uh-huh.”

      Draezen frowned.

      Warden Vex began tapping his foot, but seemed reluctant to rush the prisoner who had recently been upgraded to political pawn.

     “Oh hey,” she said, “have you decided on a name yet?”

     Draezen shifted his weight “My father named me Adler. It’s an old name for the Vaeolus bird. He used to say that they’re mythical creatures of loyalty, courage, and wisdom.”

     She laughed. “Oh my Dear, you are no more Adler than I am Jenna DeRaimes, the Duke’s daughter.”

      “And yet you go to Meridell to live as her.”

      She shrugged. “Hey, we all gotta do what we gotta do, right?” She turned to leave. “Thank you for your patience, Warden Vex. I am ready.”

      Draezen stared at the floor as they walked away. “You have to do what you have to do,” he repeated to himself.

     After the last weeks of Draezen’s sentence were spent, Vex brought Draezen to a room where he could collect his sword and some clothes.

      “Afraid of those who will seek revenge on you?” Vex asked him.

      Draezen smiled weakly as he slid his sword into his belt. “If they kill me, they have every right to.”

      Vex shrugged and led him out to the entrance of the dungeon. Draezen blinked against the sunlight, and as the white light in his eyes softened back into shapes and color, he saw the big, open—endlessly open sky. He breathed in the cold dry air, feeling it surge through his lungs and into his veins. His eyes roved over the grounds, which looked just as before, only now the shrubs were bleak and dark, with only a few green buds breaking through. Winter was ending, and spring prepared to break through the frost.

      But no one waited to greet him back into the world.

      “Expecting someone?” Vex asked.

      Draezen looked at him, and saw that Vex knew who he was looking for. He chuckled sadly. “No. Just hoping.”

      Vex sniffed and pulled up his belt. “If world events are of interest to you, there’s a Darigani delegation in Meridell. That includes D.A. There’s been an assassination attempt on Skarl.”

      “What?”

      “Just happened yesterday.”

      Draezen looked up at the sky. “The delegation’s in Meridell, is it?”

      Vex nodded. “Y’know, kid, you really ought to get down there.”

      Draezen looked back at him, surprised.

      “I think the Darigani delegation really deserves an apology.”

      He laughed. “The whole delegation. Of course.”

      “Well, I was thinking more a specific cold-eyed lady we know.”

      The Zafara nodded with a smile, stuck his hands in his pockets, and headed down the street, staring up at the endlessly open, endlessly hopeful sky.

A New Beginning...

 
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