I’ve woken up disoriented before, but waking surprised to be alive was a new experience. It took me a minute or more to drag myself out of the bleary half sleep I was stuck in. From there it was easy to determine that I was still alive. I hurt too much to be dead and I was bound in shackles.
“I have the worst luck.” I grumbled and forced my eyes open.
The good news was that I wasn’t alone. The better news was that Darius was with me. The wretchedly horrible news was that he was strung up in shackles the same way I was.
Whatever had hit us had done more damage to him than to me. I could feel strength coming back into my limbs while he was knocked out completely. My magic was recovering as well but I had only a tiny fraction of it back and all of the extra power I’d been carrying was gone. I was surprised at first that I wasn’t in another anima suppression chamber, but those things are extremely expensive and, even without the chains holding me to the wall, I was in no condition to put up a fight.
I was pondering how bad our situation was when Makkis walked into our cell.
“Good. You’re awake. I don’t have to use this.” he said, gesturing with an electric stun stick in his hand.
Which he then zapped me with.
“I don’t have to but I will.” he said when I stopped convulsing.
“What do you want?” I asked. I wanted to sound dangerous and threatening but my breath was too uneven and raspy. I hadn’t been able to get a shield in place to protect myself from the electric charge. Looking up at Makkis from where I hung slumped against the wall, I knew I wasn’t going to get the chance to recover that much. The moment I became a danger to him, he would kill me.
In response to my question, he zapped me again.
“What do I want? Juvenile revenge for you breaking my nose.” he said after waiting for me to recover again. “I also require answers, though I don’t expect you are inclined to give me any at the moment.”
He stepped away from me and over to Darius. The shock stick crackled with a fresh charge and Makkis glanced over to me. His meaning was clear.
“No. Don’t hurt him. Ask your questions.” I said. I knew it was stupid. I was giving Makkis power and probably putting Darius in even greater danger. I couldn’t see a lot of better options that were open to me though.
“What is your relationship with your mentor?” Makkis asked.
“My relationship?” I asked, confused by the sudden jump in contexts.
“How important are you to her? What connection does she have to you? How long have you been her apprentice?” he said. I could see an anima glow around his eyes. A truth seeing spell. Lying to him would be suicidal. And pointless since I couldn’t figure out what answer he expected or what could trip up his game plan.
“Two months now.” I said, answering the easiest question first.
“Two months? Who were you apprenticed to before that?” he asked.
“No one.” I said. Part of me wanted to cheer, but that was easy to suppress given how much pain I was in.
Makkis was smart, probably brilliant, but he was also poor at interrogating people. With his mental prowess and political clout, he was used to telling the people around him what they should think truth was. Asking for their opinion on the subject was a foreign concept to him. He obviously thought that his magic would solve that issue. Magic would let him find what he needed in an instant, because his spells would tell him when I was lying. The poor jerk didn’t understand that a well chosen truth is far dangerous of a weapon than even the best lie.
Throwing a bunch of questions at me let me pick and choose where the conversation went. It was a bad interrogation technique, the kind only the junior Sisters of Water’s Mercy would use on us. The old ones, the Sister’s who knew how to deal with the lowlifes that were in their care, they knew to hit us with one question as a time and to hammer on it relentlessly from different angles until our inevitable lies tripped us up.
“Why was she wasting her time with you then?” he asked.
Another interrogation blunder. I could say almost anything in response to that question and it would be true to some degree. What was worse (from Makkis’ point of view) is that it told me that he was invested in the notion that I was important to Master Raychelle. That told me how I needed to answer that question.
“I killed the Karr Khan.” I said.
“Who?” he asked, adding confusion to his simmering anger.
I forget how big the galaxy is sometimes. The Karr Khan had been an enormous threat. His forces had killed almost everyone in the capital of Belstarius, my homeworld. It had taken the combined power of two Crystal Guardians, two of his Scions, myself, Fari, a Jewel of Endless Night and millions of ghosts to defeat the Khan. As far as the Exxion system was concerned though, he was an unimportant news blip from an inconsequential border world.
“One of the old Warlords. Immortal. More powerful than ten thousand casters.” I said.
Makkis blinked and shook his head. His truth spell told him I wasn’t lying but he still couldn’t believe his ears.
“And you killed him?” he said.
“Yes.” I said. I didn’t elaborate. Elaboration is for people trying to sell a lie. I was telling the truth, just not the whole truth. It had been my choice, my will, that guided the strike that killed the Karr Kahn. If his ghost came seeking revenge, I was top on the list. I wasn’t haunted by that decision because I would make it again in a heartbeat and I wasn’t haunted by him because I would eat his ghost if he ever came back to mess with me.
“So you are precious to the Empire then. But not as powerful as Hellsreach. Good.” Makkis said. I could see the wheels turning in his head. He could use me for whatever he had in mind. That would keep me alive for a short while at least. It would probably keep Darius alive too, since he could use Darius to control me.
“What do you mean I’m not as powerful as Hellsreach?” I asked. I braced for the next shock strike. It was bad form for the interrogator to let the prisoner interrogate them back, but Makkis had never been trained to handle prisoners, or recalcitrant children, the way the Sisters had.
“What do you think brought you down?” he asked but continued speaking before I could answer his question. “This isn’t a natural world we are on. It’s a weapon.”
“I don’t understand what you mean?” I said. It was true, but only in the barest of senses. I didn’t understand specifically how Hellsreach was a weapon, but the pieces were falling into place as I thought about them.
“This isn’t a planet. It’s a battle station.” Makkis said.
“So, the changes in the rotational speed and the orbital path…” I said. I coudn’t even phrase it as a question. The implications were unbelievable.
“Yes. The first system we gained control of was the astro-navigation.” Makkis said.
“Why move the planet though?” I asked. None of this seemed real. The idea of a planet sized battle station was…I stopped. It was exactly the kind of thing Fari’s Jewel of Endless Night had been designed to fight. When the ancient powers went to war, this was the sort of weapon they fought with.
“Exxion II and IV are on the far side of the sun from us and in alignment with each other at the present. It’s the perfect time to put them both within our weapon’s range at once.” Makkis said.
“You’re going to destroy them?” I guessed. It didn’t sound right but I couldn’t think of what else they had in mind.
“No. We’re going to steal them.” he said.
“Steal them?” I said.
“The planetary drives within Hellsreach are capable of moving more than just this world. We’re going to take our sister planets and then jump to a new system and take the worlds there as well. Over and over, trillions of hostages against the Empire’s intervention.” Makkis said.
“That’s why you weren’t afraid of declaring war on the Crystal Guardians.” I said.
“Yes. There’s no one who can oppose us.” he said. He gestured and the shackles snapped off my wrists and ankles.
I was weak enough that I collapsed to the ground in a heap before I could stop myself.
“See.” Makkis said. “You could rise. Assault me. Maybe even kill me. But you won’t.”
He turned his back on me and strolled idly around the small cell.
“You won’t because you know it’s futile.” he said. “You held the power of Breeg’s fire elemental. I hold the power of the planet itself. The weapons I control can tear the life from a world or from a single individual, no matter how well defended they are. If you don’t believe me, then try your luck.”
He stood facing away from me, arms outstretched. It was as good a shot at him as I could imagine getting.
I slumped down against the cold stone of the cell. He was right. I couldn’t fight someone with that much power. Not on the terms he was offering me at least.
“No physical attacks? You’re not trying a mental assault are you?” Makkis asked. “But, no, that wasn’t you who disturbed me before was it? That was your little friend.”
Fari. He knew about Fari!
“What did you do to her?” I asked, pushing myself back to a seating position. I felt the strength that had left me kindling back to life. Rage and adrenaline don’t directly fuel magic but they tend to accompany your spirit getting riled up.
“It. That wasn’t a girl, it was a spell, and a potent one at that.” Makkis said.
“What did you do to her.” It wasn’t a question. It was a demand.
“I’m not one to waste potential.” Makkis said. “I fed it to the spell furnace that powers the local weapons array. It was quite potent. We’re well ahead of schedule thanks to the infusion of anima you brought us.”
I was going to kill him.
Not arrest him. Not defeat him in battle.
I was going to murder him.
The only thing that held me back was that I knew he was ready for me. I’m not stupid. He thought I was beaten, and I was. I couldn’t fight a planet. But I could make sure he wouldn’t be on it. Whether that took an hour, a day, or a year, he would be distracted at some point and then I would end him.
“Perhaps you’d like a momento?” Makkis said. He tossed a jewel on a chain over his shoulder to where I was laying.
It was Fari’s jewel and it was empty. I felt hot tears streaming down my cheeks as I clutched the jewel in my hand.
“Not even an attack for that?” he asked. He was smirking as he turned back to face me. “Perhaps it didn’t really mean that much to you?”
He wasn’t testing me. He was so confident that I wasn’t a threat that he didn’t need to test where my breaking point was. He was trying to show me that I was already past it. That on some level I knew the situation was hopeless.
He’d taken Fari from me. He’d taken my power from me and taken away my connection to the Empire. He would have killed Darius too except that he needed a carrot to dangle in front of me. Something to ensure that I would act when he needed me too, when all I wanted to do was collapse and die.
I was quiet. I looked beaten. There weren’t many other ways I could look. My eyes were closed and I was defenseless.
My eyes had to be closed though. I couldn’t let him get a look inside me. I couldn’t let him see the wheels that were turning in my head.
He needed me. There was only one reason he would need me still and he’d all but screamed it out with his questions.
They’d brought the astro-navigation system online first and had only gotten the weapon systems online later, just as we busted into the base I guessed. If they’d been online earlier, Makkis wouldn’t have needed to send the troops of soldiers at us to delay us when we’d arrived. So what had prevented them from activating the weapons sooner?
I’d left her trapped in the Deep Run prison, but she’d been searching for someone who knew the real story of Hellsreach. Someone who must have known that it was actually a war world.
If I knew my mentor, she’d prioritize stopping a planet killing super weapon from coming online over a manageable threat to me any day of the week.
The only thing that Makkis needed me for was to use as bait against her. She wouldn’t let a planet die for me, we weren’t that close, but she might leave herself open and that would be all Makkis would need.
“I’ll leave you free I think.” Makkis said. “I want to see you try to escape.”
I lay there, unmoving, but very certain that he was going to regret those words.