The Mind’s Armor – Chapter 18

Dae took a long pull of her sugared lemon water and felt the much needed hydration course through her body. Across the table, the summoner Biago glared at her. He’d taught her an impressive array of Inchesso curses already but after the first three hours he’d started repeating himself. Dae took steps to address the problem of his incessant babbling when she grew tired of it and while the gag he wore didn’t look particularly comfortable, even the summoner knew it was preferable to the state he would have been in if he’d been left to the Dawn March’s Chief Interrogator’s care.

“They’re not going to come for him,” Kael said.

“Want to put some gold on that?” Dae asked, taking another long guzzle to finish off her drink.

“You’ve already cost me enough gold with this whole mess,” Kael said. He stalked around the dining room of the “safe house” where they had transferred Biago after Dae dragged him bodily into the barracks and frog marched him through each step of the official arrest processing.

Getting the Inchesso summoner out of the barracks should have been difficult. There were all sorts of forms to fill out and special permissions to obtain to detain prisoners off site, especially prisoners who possessed Pact magics.

Dae had pushed through all of those procedures by the simple expedient of ignoring them and never letting Biago out of her grip. She’d made sure all of the requisite documents were filled and filed, for reasons that escaped each of the clerks she encountered. For similarly inexplicable reasons, she conducted the official interrogation session in the open arena where any of the other Dawn March personnel could participate as well. None had chosen to, but plenty had come to watch.

Biago had been less than forthcoming during the questioning, to the surprise of no one present. Many of the officers present had begun to wonder if Dae had simply dragged in a mute to abuse until she’d instructed Biago to demonstrate his summoning capability for the record. She also instructed him that if the summons attempted any mayhem, she would be displeased.

The summoner refused to display his power at first, but swiftly changed his mind when Dae explained that she was going to cut something in half and left it as Biago’s choice whether that was a summons or himself.

On discovering that Biago was an actual summoner, and was capable of spawning his creations at range, the crowd that was watching the interrogation found hundreds of things it needed to be doing instead. No one liked the idea of entering battle against a deathless foe who could appear anywhere, at any moment. Better to let the barrack’s designated crazy officer deal with that particular headache.

That sentiment was largely responsible for Dae’s success in extracting Biago from the Dawn March barracks. To Kael’s dismay, Commander Ketel had ordered him to accompany Dae to “ensure the safety of Dawn March personnel”. Everyone involved was able to translate that order to its actual meaning of “keep an eye on Dae and report whatever insane thing she’s doing so that no one we care about or have to report to gets caught in the backlash.”

“If you’d just let me squeeze him a bit, we could get out of this dump and spend the evening in more enjoyable locations, specifically ones far away from each other,” Kael said.

“He’s part of a life-bound assassin’s guild,” Dae said. “Failing and being captured is supposed to require their death.”

“Yeah, and?” Kael asked.

“Squeezing him isn’t going to get us any information,” Dae said.

“Doesn’t have to get us information so long as it gets us out of here,” Kael said. “If he’s not going to talk, I don’t see the point in keeping him around like this.”

“So you want to kill the suicidal assassin?” Dae asked. “That’s your idea of a good plan?”

Kael frowned and reached for his rancid malt drink.

“It’s a better plan that wasting a perfectly good night sitting here doing nothing,” Kael said.

“The door’s not locked,” Dae said. ”Nobody’s saying you’ve got to stay.”

“Wrong, the commander’s saying I’ve got to stay,” Kael said. “You’ve got him convinced you’re going to burn the whole city to the ground hunting these guys down.”

Dae was silent at that. Kael didn’t see her flinch at the mention of a burning city, and wouldn’t have understood if he had.

“Of course there’s another option we have here,” Kael said. “This safe house is supposed to only be for endangered witnesses. You and I both know that the barracks are were a scrot like this is supposed to be.”

“The barracks have a few big problems,” Dae said.

“That someone else would be in charge of the prisoner there?” Kael said and took another pull of the rancid malt.

“That’s one,” Dae said. “But there’s a bigger issue with putting this guy in a cell.”

“If he tries to summon anything, we’ll run a sword through his brain,” Kael said. “I hear that kind of thing tends to disrupt summoning spells.”

“Probably wouldn’t break your concentration though would it?” Dae asked.

“Funny Kor,” Kael said. “You know you don’t want to go a round with me.”

“No, no I wouldn’t want to do that,” Dae said, the ghost of a smirk tugging at her lips. “The problems not with our friend summoning things here though.”

“You sure about that?” Kael asked. “It looked like those archers did a number on you.”

“He certainly thought they did,” Dae said. “But look at things from his perspective. He was able to select the best position he could find, split us up to get a one on one fight, throw as many summons at me as he had the magic to power and he still got caught.”

Dae stood up and walked around the table to remove Biago’s gag and untie him from the chair he was strapped too.

“There,” she said. “Now you’re free to take another shot if you want.”

“Seems like he was in this same position for this first two hours we were here,” Kael said. “What’s different now?”

“Nothing,” Dae said. “Except that he’s had a few hours to cool off and consider things.”

“I have nothing to consider, you gallowscut,” Biago said, opting for a more international insult in place of the purely Inchesso ones he’d stuck to previously. Kael kicked Biago’s chair on general principal and the Inchesso summoner tipped over along with it.

Dae’s reflexes were quick enough and her strength sufficient that she caught both the chair and the summoner before they hit the ground. Without a grunt or a groan of strain, she lifted the two back to their normal seated position.

“You’ve got your whole life to consider,” Dae said.

“Which more or less amounts to nothing,” Kael said.

Biago scowled at both of them but remained silent.

“These last few hours you’ve been thinking,” Dae said. “There are certain inescapable facts of your situations that can’t have escaped you.”

“You stand against us,” Biago said. “So you are the one who cannot escape.”

“Do I look like I’m trying to escape?” Dae asked.

Biago glared at her but didn’t respond.

“That’s got to worry you just a little,” Dae said. “Doesn’t it?”

“I have no worries if you’re stupid enough to stay here and die,” Biago said.

“Why’s she going to die?” Kael asked, stepping away a half pace.

“Because Biago knows something,” Dae said. “And that’s the other problem with the barracks jail. They’re too secure aren’t they? You would actually be safe there.”

“Nothing,” Biago said. “You get nothing from me.”

“That’s brave,” Dae said. “It’d be more brave if you kept saying that after the Chief Interrogator got his hands on you, but I think you know you’ve got more to be worried about from me than from him.”

“You don’t scare me, scut,” Biago said.

“That’s good,” Dae said. “You shouldn’t be scared of me. I want you able to think.”

“Thinking’s just going to let him figure out how to get away from us,” Kael said.

“Doesn’t matter,” Dae said. “There’s nothing left for him out there.”

“You don’t know anything about that,” Biago said.

“I know your guildmates aren’t coming to rescue you,” Dae said. “But they are coming, and you know that too.”

“Why would his guildmates come here?” Kael asked.

“Because Biago failed at his assignment, now they’ve got to maintain their reputation,” Dae said.

“By attacking us?” Kael asked. “That seems profoundly stupid.”

“They’re not coming for us,” Dae said. “Although they’ll be happy to kill us in the crossfire if they can.”

“Wait, you said it’s a life bound guild?” Kael asked.

“Yeah, didn’t know that when I tangled with the first one but it’s kind of hard to mistake the effects of a suicide pill,” Dae said. “Had a bit of trouble getting this guy’s pills away from him but we came to an arrangement, didn’t we?”

“Let me guess, you agreed to not break any of his fingers and he agreed to not provoke you into trying?” Kael said.

“Something like that,” Dae said.

“So since you convinced him not to off himself, his buddies are going to swing by and do the deed for him?” Kael asked.

“That’s how it works, right?” Dae said, returning to her side of the table and locking eyes with Biago. He didn’t answer at first but he wasn’t able to meet Dae’s gaze for long either. Eventually he nodded.

“And that his problem,” Dae said. “There’s no good path out of this for him. Even if he killed both of us, he failed and was captured. The guild can’t trust him anymore and their contract rate will drop unless they can prove that any member who fails is terminated.”

“That’s a hell of a club to belong to,” Kael said.

“Hell of a paycheck that comes with it I imagine,” Dae said.

“It’s not about the money,” Biago said. “It’s never about the money.”

“Oh, it’s always about the money,” Dae said. “You’re just at a level where you’re not the one bringing it in.”

“My guild will come for me,” Biago said. “They will restore my honor.”

“No, they’ll come for you and they’ll kill you and then they’ll never speak of you again,” Dae said. “You’ll be forgotten and forsaken, a footnote they erase so that they can go on believing that they’re the best of the best and worth every bit of coin they get.”

“You can’t stop them,” Biago said. “They are the best.”

“I’m afraid not,” Dae said. “There’s around a hundred of assassin guilds in Inchesso, and at least a quarter of them require members to take the death pledge when they join.The best don’t need to take jobs like this though. You’re out of your element, you’re doing the dangerous work yourselves, and you’re understaffed for the task at hand.”

“Seems like having a summoner and a pact warrior ought to be plenty to assassinate one little page?” Kael said.

“They’re not here to assassinate Lorenzo,” Dae said. “Or maybe it’s more accurate to say that’s not the only reason they’re here.”

“You don’t know anything,” Biago said, but worry lines creased his forehead.

“If your contract was only on the boy, you would have left as soon as the killing was done,” Dae said. “If there wasn’t something dangerous in the vampire’s testimony you would have left him alone. And, of course, if you actually knew who you were working for, your employer wouldn’t have sent you against me on your own.”

“What do you mean?” Biago asked.

“You’re a summoner,” Dae said. “That makes you a strategic asset. Only an idiot would send you out unprotected. Of course there’s lot of idiots in the world, but it would take a truly special breed of stupid to send someone to attack me when I’d just beaten a high end warrior type.”

“My skills are different from the ones Sandros possessed,” Biago said. “If you were strong against him, you should have been weak against me.”

“That’s your problem”, Kael said. “She’s weak against everyone, you people just suck.”

“Weak or strong, anyone with an ounce of sense would have sent more than one of you against me the second time,” Dae said. “They just sent you though, which means, however strong you are, they weren’t really trying to win. They left you exposed rather than sending a team that was certain to be able to finish me.”

“We do not waste our lives like that,” Biago said. “I should have been able to kill you both.”

“There’s more of you here,” Dae said. “Is ‘should have’ the level of commitment the Denarius Consortium brings to their work? Or did your employer have a series of tasks that all needed to be executed at the same time and you were all they could spare for the vital function of killing Kael and I?”

Biago was silent, but his mouth was open as he searched for the words to deny Dae’s claim.

“You’re not our killer,” Dae said. “At least not in your employer’s eyes. Sure, he probably would have been delighted if you could have put us down. He might even have expected it was something you could possibly do. A skilled planner doesn’t expend resources on shaky odds though, not unless they can arrange things so that each outcome works out in their favor.”

“So how does it work out for this mystery employer if we catch him?” Kael asked.

“If he killed us, we’d be one less problem to deal with,” Dae said. “If we catch him though, he becomes a messenger.”

“And what kind of message would a guy who wants to eat a suicide pill carry?” Kael asked.

“You know how good the Chief Interrogator is,” Dae said. “No amount of training or devotion to the cause is enough to keep someone’s lips sealed when they fall into his hands. Not forever at any rate.”

“I would never speak,” Biago said.

“You would never give up your guild,” Dae said. “But the employer who betrayed them? The one who was toying with you all along and came to visit to mock you? The Interrogator would make sure those things happened and then you’d definitely turn them in.”

Biago’s dark skin couldn’t drain of color, but his expression spoke of his dismay clearly enough to communicate the same thing.

“I thought we could skip all that unpleasantness though,” Dae said. “You can’t tell me who your employer is, because you don’t actually know. The whole time you’ve been here it’s been secret meeting with people who spoke for your employer and relayed orders to your guild. None of that is interesting to me. What I want to know is who do you think you’re working for?”

Biago glanced over at Kael, and up at Dae.

“You’re life doesn’t need to end here,” Dae said. “The Queen brought Gallagrin close to Paxmer with her marriage. You can go to there, become someone completely new, leave everything you were behind.”

Biago chuckled at that and deflated.

“It will not be so easy,” he said. “It was the Queen who hired us.”

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