Outsider Within: Face of Evil - Part Nine
A bitter taste hung on Draezen’s tongue as he faced Jason’s scowl and Anna’s smirk.
“What took you so long?” said Jason.
“I needed some sleep, alright?” Draezen retorted.
“You mean you can actually sleep at night?” Anna taunted.
“I talked to Barnes last night,” Draezen said. “He wants D.A. terminated.”
“Excellent,” said Jason. “Here, give him this and take credit for the completion of the task.” He handed Draezen a thin sword in its sheath.
He took it, but was repulsed by its coldness. “This is D.A.’s sword.”
“Proof that you completed the task assigned to you,” said Anna.
“You want me to tell him she’s dead?”
“That is not your concern, Draezen,” said Anna.
He clenched his fists around the sheath. “You said you wouldn’t hurt her!”
“Do you threaten us, Draezen?” Anna challenged. “We have kept the word of Mr. Aimes, and we expect you to keep yours, or else see Samantha Rother and her sons suffer the consequences.”
The red Zafara clenched his teeth, tied the sheath to his belt, and walked out.
They heard the door close, and Jason turned to Anna. “You ready?”
“She’s already in the wagon.”
“Good. Mr. Aimes stressed that timing is critical for maximum impact.”
Anna smiled and swaggered her hips as she walked toward the back door of the store room. “I heard him as well as you, Jason, and you have nothing to worry about. Just get back to the mansion and take care of your end.”
Jason opened the door for her, and at once she darted off into the street, concealed under a brown cloak. He strode across the street to a covered wagon, nodded to the driver, and jumped into the back. The wagon immediately lurched forward, and the Darigan Lupe surveyed his companions.
Four swordsmen huddled inside, their eyes watching every muscle of the bound Zafara woman. Her cold eyes met his.
“Why is she not gagged?” he asked the head guard.
“She hasn’t said a word since last night, Sir,” the Darigani replied.
Jason nodded and looked back at D.A.
“I will not scream for help, if that is your concern,” she said.
Jason said nothing.
“You look Darigani,” she continued, “but that is an easy feat to accomplish. You say little, however. Is that on purpose?”
“Your companion, Anna. She is Meridellian. Her accent gives her away. I am not sure of you.”
The Lupe sneered. “I am not as chatty as Anna.”
“Obviously. I do not detect an accent in you, but that is not definitive. Is Mr. Aimes Meridellian? Is that why he has only recently started his campaign of smuggling domination on the Citadel?”
“Gag her,” ordered Jason. And it was done.
* * *
Draezen met Barnes on a quiet corner of a street under his protection. The Darigan Bruce was agitated, fidgety. Draezen had never seen the patriarch so uncomfortable anywhere—much less on one of his own streets.
“Well?” asked Barnes as soon as he was in earshot.
Draezen handed over D.A.’s sword. “It was done last night.”
Barnes paled, hesitated slightly before accepting the evidence. “It is a sad thing to be betrayed by someone you liked very much, Draezen. I hope you never experience it. I suppose you are now, but not in the same way I am.” He hung his head and stared at the street, perspiration glistening on his head. “I very much liked her.”
Draezen had to force the words out of his cold chest. “Yes Sir, I liked her too.”
Barnes forcibly relaxed his body and smiled. “Best get going, Draezen. There may be agents of Mr. Aimes about.”
“On one of your streets?”
“I can’t rule anyone out these days, Draezen. Anyone other than my family—which includes you.” Barnes raised his eyebrows as he saw Draezen’s calmness begin to crumble. He laid his hand on Draezen’s shoulder. “Oh, don’t let tears fall for her, Draezen. Today’s been hard, but the D.A. we knew was no more than an illusion. There was only the traitor.” He patted his shoulder. “Go on now, this evening get some rest. Big things are ahead of us. I’ll send word for you.”
Barnes walked away, but Draezen stood frozen on the street corner. His whole body trembled, and he could not command mastery over it.
* * *
Vendors and shoppers all nodded and smiled at Barnes as he walked down the street, and he forced smiles back to them. These people must not feel his alarm; it was his responsibility to keep them safe and cared for. How little they knew that their existence under his protection was in jeopardy.
He felt a person walk up beside him and match his gait. He looked over and tried to hide his suspicion behind a nod and smile. “Hello, how are you today.”
“I am well, Barnes Rother. In fact, I have something that is very important for you to see.”
The Bruce stopped and turned to look at the woman. He could not see her face, for she kept it covered in the shadows of her hooded cloak. “Who are you?” he asked.
“Someone who will speak the first truth you have heard in quite some time. Come, turn this next corner with me. I am not here to hurt you, Mr. Rother, or I would already have done so.”
Barnes followed the woman around the corner, but rested his hand on the hilt of his sword. She led him to a covered wagon parked in the quiet alley.
“Are you ready to see the truth exposed to you, Mr. Rother?” she asked.
He narrowed his eyes. “Get on with it, and I’ll judge whether or not it’s truth.”
The woman lifted a flap of the tarp and revealed a figure, bound, sitting upright, surrounded by four armed Darigani.
Rother took a step back, aghast. D.A. lay there, alive and staring back at him.
The woman dropped the tarp, cutting off his view. “You see, Mr. Rother? I did not even need to say anything. It is your trusted swordsman who did the talking.”
Rother looked down at D.A.’s sword tied to his belt. With a howl, he turned and ran back around the corner, back to the spot where he’d left Draezen mourning the betrayal of a dead woman.
The Bruce barreled to the corner where he’d left Draezen, whipping his eyes from side to side looking for the Zafara. He caught a glimpse of his red pelt in the street down the left. Barnes charged after him, roaring for him to stop.
The pedestrians parted at hearing their patron, and Draezen turned to face him. The red Zafara stopped in his tracks, his face growing pale.
Barnes caught Draezen’s collar in his hands. “What have you done?” Barnes spat.
Draezen’s eyes widened. “What? What are you talking about?”
“She is alive! D.A. is alive, I saw her with my own eyes just minutes after you gave me her sword as proof that she wasn’t.” He reached for the sword at his belt, only to find it wasn’t there. He drew Draezen’s face closer to his. “And I learned this at the hands of a stranger. What have you done? Are you working for Mr. Aimes? How long? How long!”
Draezen’s eyes glazed over as Rother screamed. “Oh, oh no, no,” he whispered and shook his head, his eyes unfocused.
“Answer me, Draezen! My friend, my son!” Barnes threw him down to the ground. “What have you done to my wife and sons? What have you done to me?”
“Where did you see her?”
“That is your answer to me? How did I learn of your betrayal of me? If that is your answer you may give no explanation.” Barnes drew his sword above Draezen.
Draezen gasped and leapt to his feet, staggering backwards. His eyes focused for the first time on Barnes’ fury. “Oh, what have they done?” he whispered. “They are so beyond me, Barnes—” and the Zafara’s eyes widened once more before he turned and ran away.
Barnes charged after him, yelling for the crowd gathering around to stop him, but Draezen was quick and wielding a sword, and he escaped into the alleyways before he could be stopped.
Rother fell to his knees on the ground and clenched his teeth, feeling the sweat drop down his cheeks. He became aware of the eyes on him—the shopkeepers, the mothers with their children. He put his weight on his sword and pulled himself up. “I apologize, my friends,” he murmured as he sheathed his sword. “All will be well soon.”
* * *
D.A. commanded her heart to stop racing after she had been exposed to Barnes Rother. She looked up at Jason to read his looks; the Lupe’s eyes shone. He was not worried. This had been planned far ahead of time. D.A. felt herself only beginning to see the scope of Mr. Aimes’ plans for the Citadel, and his orchestration of these events was flawless.
Moments later the wagon began rolling again, and a hooded figure leapt into the wagon from the street. Anna swept the hood off her head and smirked at Jason. “He was mad.”
“He did not make trouble for you?”
“In cases such as this, the betrayed will always be preoccupied with the one who betrayed him. Rother will figure out soon enough that you and I had a hand in this whole affair, but it’s Draezen who personally betrayed him. Rother will be busy with him for a while yet.” Anna looked over at D.A.’s piercing blue eyes. “I have something that may interest you, Miss D.A.” She pulled D.A.’s thin sword out of her cloak and grinned. “It’s too unique for the likes of him, you know. You wish to say something, Miss D.A.? Speak.” She nodded for one of the guards to remove the Zafara’s gag.
D.A. moistened her lips as the gag dropped from her mouth. “Rother is not stupid. He knows you are not doing this out of the goodness of your heart.”
Anna laughed. “My dear Miss D.A., it does not matter. The Rother family cell of the Guild will tear itself apart in a vicious bout of fear, suspicion, and rage. With its destruction, the Guild will be resting on a cracked foundation. Easy prey for Mr. Aimes.”
D.A. did not take her eyes away from Anna or Jason the rest of the trip. She studied them closely for any cracks in their character, any weaknesses that might be exposed. She had underestimated Mr. Aimes, and she could not afford to make the same mistake with Anna and Jason.
* * *
Draezen tore through the yellow grass, his chest heaving cold breath. Panic forced his legs back and forth, back and forth, away from Barnes Rother. Blue sky domed the abandoned farmland around him, and his body aimed for a lone mansion, black against the blue horizon.
The mansion’s three stories of blackened stone walls gave further evidence of the fire that had destroyed the building’s right wall. Armed guards doubtless used the flat roof to stand watch day and night.
Draezen’s fists slammed into the wood-and-iron doors. “Tell me what you’ve done! Anna, Jason, you will tell me!”
His vision was growing faint from the pounding in his head and he began to slide down to the ground. The door opened and he almost fell into it before catching his weight. He forced himself onto his feet and faced the guard. “Where are they?”
“Anna and Jason have been expecting you,” the guard replied and escorted him across the main hallway—a large room, once furnished with great finery, and now empty and lifeless. The guard ushered Draezen into a room at the far side and closed the door behind him.
Draezen stood alone in the little room, facing Anna and Jason; she sat on the floor and he stood.
“What have you done?” Draezen whispered.
“We have done nothing Mr. Aimes promised not to do,” said Jason. “We have merely exposed you as the traitor you are. You can hardly blame us for it.”
“If you’ll come with us, there is someone downstairs who can doubtless explain it to you,” said Anna as she jumped off her seat on the floor and walked to what looked like a cellar door in the floor.
Jason lifted the door for Anna, and followed only after Draezen headed down the stairs.
It looked like an old wine cellar, but Draezen saw candle light flickering at the bottom of the stairs. Anna reached the bottom first and stepped to the side. Draezen reached the bottom and saw three barred cells, and out of on the cells pierced two cold blue eyes.
“D.A.,” exclaimed Draezen as he turned to Anna and Jason. “Why would she know what’s going on?”
Anna laughed. “Isn’t it obvious, Draezen? She’s much smarter than you are. She would never have come down here voluntarily.”
Jason took a key out of his pocket and opened the cell next to D.A. “Get in without a fuss, Draezen. There’s nothing left for you to do.”
Draezen groaned and stepped forward to catch his teetering weight. “What have I done?”
“At last, he’s asking the right question,” said Anna to Jason. “He is rather slow.”
Draezen stepped into the cell, his eyes on the floor.
The dungeon warden walked in after him and pulled his sword off his belt, as well as the dagger in each of his boots and the blade tucked underneath his shirt. With Draezen’s belongings in his arms, the warden left the cell, and Jason closed and locked it.
“Why are you doing this?” Draezen asked.
“Because you are no longer useful to us,” said Jason, “and you are a liability. You could have come to your senses and told Barnes everything if we let you be. And besides, Barnes had you followed here, and he will come for you. Mr. Aimes doesn’t want you leaving until that happens.”
Draezen frowned as Anna and Jason left the cellar and the warden sat at his desk with his back facing the cells. Draezen turned and saw D.A.’s eyes pierce through him. He took a step back, sinking against the wall to the floor. “D.A., I didn’t want this to happen.”
She looked away.
She said nothing to Draezen.
“D.A., I’m sorry. I didn’t know when we met that you were going to be part of this.”
“Listen D.A., I didn’t have a choice. . . . Mr. Aimes swore that if I warned Barnes and Samantha and they tried to escape, he would destroy them all—William and Tony too. After what he did to the Cohens, I couldn’t doubt him. I had no choice!”
“Of course you had a choice,” replied her perfectly monotone voice. Her back remained turned to him. “There is always a choice, only you made the wrong one, as I have made wrong decisions. I suffer the consequences, and so will you.”
“What are you talking about?”
“I knew better than to trust you, but I did anyway. That was a bad choice. Not the worst I’ve made, but still a bad one. I suffer the consequences. Now you will suffer the consequences of trusting Mr. Aimes to keep his word.”
“D.A., I didn’t think they would take you. I thought you could get out of it. I’m sorry.”
“Draezen, or whatever your real name is, I will get out of this dungeon. But not simply to escape. I will see that you stand trial as the criminal that you are. And then I will see to it that you get out in only a few years, so that the Guild may have its turn at your flesh.”
He opened his mouth to speak, but stopped when she flashed her eyes of blue fire at him. He leaned against the stone wall and stared at her back as the little barred windows overhead shed increasingly red light into the cellar.
To be continued...