Ferez tried not to glare. “An astute assessment…”
“Bill,” he replied around a wad of pungent chewing tobacco.
“Right. Bill,” Ferez said, trying to keep his nose from crinkling at the sickly sweet, earthy smell. “Thank you for heading that miscreant off, but as you can see, my party is a little worse for wear. We need medical attention.”
Bill scratched his stubbly chin, a thoughtful look on his face. “I’d say you’re right there, mate. I’ve got some medics in my Wing, but I doubt they’d be much help to you or your lady friend,” he said, inclining his head towards Ingrid.
“You’re the Griffon Riders, right? Surely you have an Aetherial mage on retainer?” He tried to sit up, but the scrap of flesh holding onto his arm emphatically protested the movement and he fell back to the ground. If the pitiful sight moved Bill, he didn’t show it.
“Aye, we do. He doesn’t live with us though, works out of a city on the Calandor side of the mountains. We send for him when needed.”
“Then please! Send for him! And quickly!” Ferez tried to keep the desperation from his voice, but he didn’t know how long Ingrid had. It could be days, hours or minutes, and this oaf was just standing there, wagging his jaws.
“Now, why would I do that?”
The blood drained from Ferez’s face as he stared into the uncaring eyes. This was no rescue, after all.
“We are no enemies of yours. Please, my companion, she doesn’t have long,” he said, trying to keep the tremor from his voice.
“I can see that, she’s proper fucked up. But look at things from my perspective; it’s my job to keep this pass safe for Calandor. It’s pretty quiet most of the time. Occasionally some Aderathian duke with delusions of grandeur will try to march a merc company through. Wins them brownie points at court, you see? But beyond that, most everyone knows well enough to avoid causing trouble. So, imagine my surprise when we hear the thunderclap of giants coming from the mouth of the valley. Imagine my further surprise when we rock up to find four fucking mages having at it! Look around mate, you damn near caved in the fucking pass!”
Ferez followed Bill’s gaze and had to admit, he was right. Even before they dropped the massive rock slab, the ravine had been ravaged. The cliff faces were pitted, charred and cracked from Ferez’s fire, and the ground itself was a broken field of jagged stone from Ingrid and Fahroul’s battle. He turned back to Bill’s hard eyes.
“As far as I’m concerned, the fewer of you mages survive, the easier my job is,” the rider stated, spitting a gob of viscous brown juice on the floor by Ferez’s face. He tried not to gag as the full force of the smell hit him.
“I’ve already told you, we aren’t a threat to you.”
Bill snorted. “Oh, but you are. Look, don’t take this personally. You may very well be telling the truth. But I’ve got no way of knowing. Although…” he trailed off, chewing thoughtfully, “if you were to tell me what you were doing here and who that fuck head was, I might be more inclined to believe you.”
Ferez sighed internally. He barely knew what the Pit had just happened. One minute they were discussing Leo losing a barroom bet, the next they were fighting for their lives against a hit squad led by the most powerful mage he had ever met. Where did he even begin?
“We were on our way to a wedding- “
“You’re fucking kidding me? I throw you the rope and you can’t help but hang yourself with it.”
“It’s true!” Ferez said, the pitch of his voice rising in panic as Bill stood up and made a series of rapid hand gestures to the riders circling overhead.
“Shut up, mate. We’ll call the healer, get you and the lady patched up. But then we’re gonna sit down with a rag and a bucket of water, and you and I are gonna have a long, hard chat.”
Bill ignored Ferez’s protests as he climbed back atop Windshear, the creature kicking off and taking to the skies with a piercing screech as other riders landed by the mage. More bolas’ came out, and they bound his hands and feet before hauling him towards a griffon. Up close, he recognised the brassy sheen of Resonance weapons. He struggled when he saw another group trussing up Ingrid’s unconscious form.
“You leave her alone, or I swear to Val’Pyria I’ll- “ a metal gauntlet crashed against the side of his head and he went limp, eyes rolling back in his skull as a spool of saliva dribbled from his slack jaw.
“Shut up, arsehole. There’s no such thing as ‘too safe’ with mages,” the nameless owner of the fist muttered to his companion. Ferez’s head lolled to the side as they strapped him into a sling under the beast’s belly. Through watery eyes, he saw Leo facing off against a squad of soldiers.
He had his shield out in front of him, ready to fight, but after a bolas shattered it to a thousand pieces, the fight was over quickly. He was restrained and dragged off as well. Ferez fought to stay conscious as the Wing lifted off, despite the terror of dangling precariously below the massive predator, but he was exhausted. Physically, mentally, and emotionally. As the air thinned, he drifted off into merciful oblivion.
Ferez came too when a blast of icy water slapped him in the face. His head snapped up as he coughed and spluttered. He moved to wipe his face and realised three things.
One, his hands were bound behind him.
Two, he was seated in a hard wooden chair.
Three, his head was covered in a thick canvas sack.
He could vaguely make out a light in front of him, maybe a window? It was hard to tell. Judging from the periodic dimming of the light, and the sound of shuffling feet, someone was pacing back and forth in front of him.
“Who’s there?” he demanded, twisting and testing his bonds. The rope was thick and well knotted. More importantly, as he experimentally curled a few strands of Talent around his hands, he realised he was wearing some form of Resonance Ore laced gloves.
Bloody special forces. Why couldn’t he have been captured by a company of marines? There was no way they’d have this much Resonance Ore.
A blow thundered into the side of his head, knocking him off his chair. He groaned as rough hands grabbed him under the arm pits, lifting and then dumping him back in the chair.
“I’ll be asking the questions,” the man before him said. The voice was familiar.
“Bill, I know who you are. What’s the point of the sack? Can’t you take this off and let’s talk like gentlemen?”
This time, the fist found his stomach. He doubled over in the seat, spitting bile against the inside of the hood.
“The hood is for something else. Cooperate, and you won’t have to find out.”
“Alright,” Ferez said, spitting to clear the last of the gunk out of his mouth. “What do you want to know?”
“Why were four mages in my valley? Is this an invasion vanguard? And why were you trying to kill each other? Who’re you working for?”
“Look, that shadow mage is after the water mage. The air mage and I were just caught up in it.”
“Uh huh. And why is a death mage hunting a water mage?”
“He lost a game of pinfinger.”
Crack. Another one across the face. He felt the inside of his cheek rupture, warm coppery blood seeping out and pooling under his tongue.
“It’s my job to keep the border safe. Four mages rampaging through the pass is the opposite of safe in my book, so tell me what is really going on here?”
“I’m telling the truth!”
“The pass is ruined! The destructive forces you lot unleashed could have disintegrated an entire army, and you expect me to believe it’s over a barroom bet?”
“Right, and what were you and the woman doing again?”
“We were en route to a wedding!”
Ferez braced, expecting another blow, but Bill just sighed.
“Alright, if that’s how you want to play it. You two, give him a shower.”
“Yessir,” someone drawled from beside Ferez. He heard Bill’s footsteps retreating, the open and close of a heavy door, and then rough hands seized him, dragging both him and the chair over backwards.
“By the Pantheon, why won’t you dullards believe me?” Ferez cried as his shoulders twisted painfully in their sockets. Overall, this was a positive though, since it meant the wound to his shoulder had been healed while he was unconscious. At least Bill had been good to his word. It was still a shame about the torture, though.
“Not my place to say, mate,” a different voice to the first replied. “Just my place to do this.”
Through the sack, Ferez could barely see the outline of a man hoisting something heavy into the air. He braced for impact, but instead of something heavy crashing down on his face, a steady stream of water splashed over the canvas sack.
And it was so much worse.
The shock of the cold water caused him to gasp, but to his horror, no air came into his lungs. As water trickled into his nose and throat, he thrashed, the bindings cutting into his ankles and wrists as the primal terror of drowning gripped him. He tried to scream, but all that came out was a ragged, hacking gurgle. The water splashing over his face lasted an eternity, before, mercifully, one of his tormentors stripped the mask from his head. Ferez went limp, gasping and sucking air into his lungs with such force that his chest hurt. He looked up, wild-eyed, into the stony faces of the Calandorian soldiers.
“Please, I’m telling you the truth,” he said, barely able to keep the whimper from his voice.
One man shook his head. “That was ten seconds, mate. Tell us what the boss wants to know, or the next bath’ll be fifteen. And up and up and up until you confess or die.”
Ferez looked up, imploring them with his eyes, but with a shake of his head, the speaker bent down and replaced the sack. Ferez tried to shout ‘no!’ but the water was already being poured.
It went on like this for a few more cycles, each longer and more torturous than the last. Ferez tried to come up with a lie that would satisfy the soldiers, but his mind was fractured by the ordeal. There was no room for conscious thought, squeezed out by his internal scream.
And then it stopped.
He felt something akin to a breeze over his face and the stream of water disappeared. There was no sound, nothing, until a hand grabbed a fistful of hair through the sack and used it to drag the chair and Ferez upright. After the torture, the purely physical pain was almost a relief.
Someone ripped the sack from his head, and Ferez blinked into the suddenly blinding light, looking around to get his bearings. He was in a cell, the floor covered in dirty straw. The walls and ceiling were bare rock, the same colour as the cliffs back in the ravine, and it was dark, illuminated only by a small circular window in the heavy wooden door before him. Two pairs of boots sat on either side of him, the feet still inside, though there was nothing from the ankles up. Slowly, Ferez looked at the figure standing in front of him.
“Hello again, fire mage,” Fahroul said, his intense gaze travelling over Ferez’s battered body. “I don’t believe we were properly introduced.”
- Townsville, Australia
Bio: Serving member of the military who writes in his free time. Current project is a full length fantasy novel and short story spin offs that I'll be publishing here! Aim is for weekly uploads for as long as I can keep it up, though I may be forced to drop down to fortnightly or take a brief hiatus to replenish the backlog. If necessary, I'll make sure it's communicated to everyone reading!