Dysmas’ jaw was broken, a shattered mess of pain. And his ankles were itching with the particular irritation that suggested hawthorn. He was blindfolded, his hands bound, and he was stuck – well, he didn’t know where he was stuck, but the chains tethering his ankles had very little give.
He wondered how Leofric had caught him – or if the dumb cy’Luca even had bothered looking for actual offenses. Either way, he’d been ready for Dysmas. The blindfold, the broken jaw… the kid might not have even been able to handle being Kept for a year, but Luke’s lessons must have done some good.
And now – now what? Dysmas squirmed. He couldn’t get out of the bindings, couldn’t Work anything. He tried to speak, only to find that he couldn’t even properly shape a Word soundlessly right now.
He had been in jails before. He had been bound in hawthorn before, tied up and gagged before. He’d even been blindfolded a couple times.
Dysmas could not remember a time before this that he had been frightened.
Certainly, when the gods had returned and the world had come crashing down, he’d been a little worried. When his first Hell Night had triggered his Change, when Delaney had been having a particularly bad day – then he’d been concerned.
He hadn’t thought about being under Delaney’s collar in decades. The hunger, the constant, gnawing hunger – even now, it made his stomach twist.
“She Kept me,” he’d said to Cynara. “Like I Kept Rowan, and Nydia, and you. It’s the way things happened.”
A broken fang dug into the side of his mouth, and Dysmas found himself wondering why it was so important to her.
He had no sense of the passage of time, only washes of pain and the gnawing of hunger he shouldn’t be feeling yet, not this soon after feeding. He found himself thinking about Cynara and Leofric. About the way they’d looked at each other; about they way they’d both looked at him.
“You tricked me into a collar you could have gotten on me willingly.”
Cynara had looked at him with complete and utter devotion. Of course she had. Nydia had, too. Rowan – Rowan had fought him the whole year. After that, he’d gotten smarter with his tactics. But Cynara… Cynara had adored Leofric, right from the start, the dumb piece of cy’Luca. She’d obeyed Dysmas, she’d been devoted to him, but he’d never been able to elicit that look in her eyes, the one she lavished on Leofric without the dumb lug ever noticing.
And now they had a city. Boom had a city, and Boom was them. How in hell had those useless, weepy rags of first-year kids become part of one of the most infamous crews in the post-war era? When Dysmas had heard of Boom, he’d made note of their major locations and stayed far clear. Nobody had told him the “explosion waiting to happen” had built a city.
The door opened. Dysmas looked up, despite the blindfold. Appearance was 9/10 of the show, after all.
“Well.” Somehow, she sounded older. She still sounded like Cynara, but she sounded… more dangerous. More cy’Drake. ”That took longer than expected. “
A chair scraped across the cement floor. He could feel her presence, just out of reach.
“I’m going to heal your jaw enough for you to speak. Understand this. If you begin a Working, any Working, you will die before you can get out more than Tem. This is my city, Dysmas, and I will not tolerate one iota more bullshit from you.”
Dysmas’s arm twitched as he tried to lift a hand to rub his jaw. The bindings stopped him — probably a good thing, considering what rubbing his jaw would do to him right now. He nodded, enough to show he understood.
It was probably the pain or the blindfold or the hawthorn, but Dysmas found himself wondering if he did understand. Would she really kill him? Cynara, who had stared at him so dotingly?
No. But he had no idea about sa’Doomsday.
Her hand lingered on the broken mess of his jaw. Pain shot through him where every finger settled; she had found exactly where his broken fang was digging into him, and was pressing into it with the pad of her finger.
“These have never been remotely my strongest Words. But I can heal you enough to allow speech.” She murmured the Working. Her fingers seemed to heat up. The pain seemed only to increase.
Not her strongest Words. Dysmas wondered what her words were at all. She’d been his Kept when she’d been tested… no, he’d asked, but told her not to use them on him and then forgotten all about it.
“There.” The pain seemed less, as if his jaw was half-healed. ”I’d be careful if I were you. But you should be able to talk.”
“Thank you.” His words sounded like mush, and something still hurt, somewhere about where Leofric’s fist had landed. But he could make words. ”I-”
“Don’t.” He had never heard her be so short, sound so angry. ”This isn’t for you. None of this has been for you.”
He couldn’t see her, couldn’t make a guess at her expression or her body language, and he couldn’t exactly do anything with his own. He nodded his head, the best he could do.
“Look. You know your broke our laws and I’m betting you don’t care. The thing is, I do. And I care more, Dysmas, because it’s you. Because you’re my fault.”
She paused. Dysmas didn’t presume to interrupt. ”You’re here because I wanted to know.” She hesitated, and for the first time, Dysmas got the feeling someone else was in the room with them. ”I wanted to know if you could see, given the opportunity.”
Dysmas ran through his Words in his head and, rather more cautiously than he’d spoken in decades, asked, “see?” At the moment, he couldn’t see anything.
“Luke…” Another pause, and this time Dysmas was sure he heard someone shifting. ”He had a hard time seeing who we were now. And I figured, when you showed up at the gate, that you were a pretty good test case. If you could see me, then… well.”
Who we were now. He wanted to say something. His jaw and the implicit threat limited his options. He cleared his throat.
She laughed. It wasn’t a pleasant sound, or an amused one. ”Eriko — sorry — Eriko said I was insane. I think that’s the closest anyone from there, anyone who wasn’t Leo and sometimes Howard and Zita, has really seen me. But you probably don’t remember them. Howard and Zita, I mean.”
He remembered a tiny terror full of venomous teeth and a large bull who’d tamed Magnolia. He cleared his throat. ”Leo’s always seen you.” No wonder Eriko’d had so much trouble with Leo.
There was another pause. ”Yes. Maybe I should have broken your jaw when you showed up. It seems to make you much more attentive.”
“The threat of death will do that, too.” He aimed his blindfolded eyes where he was fairly certain she was. ”What happens now?”
“Can you swear to honesty and tell me you’re sorry you broke the law? It’s the question,” she added, and he was fairly certain that part wasn’t to him. ”It’s a question I need to ask.”
“…No, no I can’t.” It grated on him to admit it, but she’d left him no easy out. She’d been cy’Drake, too.
“Then you leave. You get twenty-four hours to pack up your belongings, and then you leave Cloverleaf and never return. And I would suggest being highly grateful that we don’t kill you.”
“How do you know I won’t come back with an army?” It was a stupid question, but he was certain that leaving him alive was a choice, and it was not one he understood.
This time, when she laughed, she was amused. Laughing at him, and it grated. ”An army? This is my city Dysmas, it’s built by Boom and run by Boom. I don’t fear any army you could round up. Not one bit.”
Dysmas cleared his throat uncomfortably. He should just leave. Take the out. There was a lot of world out there, and most of it would never even notice he’d used mind control, much less break his jaw for it. “You can’t just kick me out.”
“Dictator, remember? Technically, constitutional monarch, president-for-life with an elected council, but it comes down to the same thing.” She clucked softly. “You don’t seem to understand, Dysmas. This is my city. I built it.”
“You can’t have built it all by yourself. That’s insane.”
“Oh, no.” She was chuckling now. Dysmas didn’t know whether to be worried or not. “Maihallr helped me.”
“Our daughter.” She was laughing now. “She was five at the time, I believe.”
Our daughter. No wonder Leofric had broken his jaw. Dysmas swallowed. “It’s your city.” He wondered if Eriko had been right. Was Cynara insane? “I’ll leave.”
“Yes, you will. Your word on it, Dysams, that you will have left my city within twenty-four hours and that you will refrain from any mind-control and from emotion-controlling Workings in that time period.”
He had options, but none of them were comfortable. “I so swear,” it hurt more and more to talk, so he kept it short. “I will leave Cloverleaf within twenty-four hours. In that time period, I will use no mind control, nor will I use emotion-controlling Workings.”
“Very good.” She stood up; he could hear the chair scrape. “I hope I never see you again, Dymas. This was very educational, thank you.”
There was nothing to say to that, so he chose to remain silent. The door shutting behind him sounded far too final.
A guard released him, and a guard – three guards – escorted him to his apartment to gather his belongings. Within two hours, Dysmas found himself staring at the outside of Cloverleaf’s walls.
He’d been in worse situations, although possibly no more humbling ones. He rubbed his sore jaw carefully and started walking. The sun would be unpleasant, but he had a parasol. The walking would not be fun, but twenty-two hours from now, he could find a ride somewhere pleasant.
The road was dusty and long, not too busy this time of day but clearly well-travelled. Dysmas passed a few wagons; none of them gave him a second glance.
His feet were sore and he had found new worlds of pain in his back and his jaw by the time he was an hour outside of Cloverleaf. He could still see the tower, jabbing into the sky like a giant middle finger. Had Cynara done that on purpose?
He was beginning to think she did everything on purpose.
“Pardon me.” He had not heard an accent like that in many years, thick with Slavic sounds. He turned away from the tower to see who was talking to him.
A chill ran through him, although he could not say why. The figure was hooded, their face shadowed, their body – a tall body, well over six feet – completely encompassed by the folds of cloth. They were, Dysmas could assume, bowing their head to speak to him.
“Yes?” He was not at his most charming at the moment.
“Might you know the way to… Cloverleaf?”
Dysmas suppressed a laugh. “Just go towards the tower. Just… go that way. You can’t miss it.”
His feet seemed to hurt less and his pack seemed less heavy as he continued on, away from Cloverleaf and away from Cynara.
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