Saturday, March 26, 2011

Chapter 61 - THE INTERROGATION

Thanks to my magic, I was able to do as Haines asked the next afternoon. The doctor told me to remain as quiet as I could and he kept my arm in a sling because my shoulder was still tender, but my chest was clear so he let me go on light duty. He also said I wasn’t to eat anything hard or crunchy yet, but at the rate I was recovering, I could probably eat anything I wanted by the next evening or the morning after.

The interrogation room was barely big enough for the small table and the four of us. Brian was there with us today. Creg had died instantly from a four-inch nail in his temple.

Haines had questioned this man every day since he was taken into custody and sometimes more than once during a day. The man looked tired, so they were probably pressuring him in other ways too, though he didn’t look abused. As per my briefing before this meeting, Haines began the questioning much the same as all the other times, and still the man had yet to say a word; I was to do some sort of intimidating after a few minutes.

On impulse, I stepped forward and rested a hand on the man’s neck. He jumped and tried to flinch away, but I let him feel my magic retain him. His fear and confusion was evident and Haines took advantage of this and questioned him harder, but I held up a hand to forestall him for a moment.

My voice was horse and raspy, but I had to tell Haines why he hadn’t said anything. “He can’t talk. He doesn’t have the right nerve endings to make sound. Wait a moment.”

I knew what to do; I knew what he needed. It was probably because of what I had learned about my own injury (who knows when I learned it, certainly not while I was awake), but under my hand, things began to change between this man’s throat and his brain. Just like what Colin used to do, he quickly fell asleep.

I woke him with a shake about a half hour later and he was babbling before he was awake enough to stop himself.

Within a few hours there were several arrests and within the next few days, there were many more. Haines felt confident that the backbone of this group had been broken even though the man named Ronok had yet to be found or even identified.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Chapter 60 - PAINFUL WAKENING

As ordered, it was the captain’s voice that woke me, but it was a moment before memory kicked in. I turned my head toward his voice, which was a mistake, and then I groaned, or at least I tried to, which was another, bigger mistake. It snowballed from there.

“Stop the pain. Come on, make the pain go away.”

It took some effort to make sense out of the words I was hearing, but they carried a very desirable concept. ‘Make the pain go away’. The relief was like a cool wave of ocean water washing over my body, but the voice was still there. What was it saying this time?

“Come on, Liam, you have to breathe. Breathe Liam.”

No, I really didn’t have to breathe, but instinct being what it was, reinforced by orders, I sucked in a painful breath and then sought refuge in the ocean wave again. This all hurt too much. I remember opening my eyes and looking at the faces that swam above me before just going away again.

The doctor told me later that he had never had a patient who responded to a voice better than to his medicine. Apparently, I didn’t take another breath for two days. By then, the swelling in my throat had subsided so that the air and feeding tubes could be removed. I don’t remember any of that either. Frankly, I’m glad.

I woke on my own feeling very hungry, but they had been feeding me all along so it wasn’t too bad. The doctor came in and, seeing me awake, he raised the head of my bed.

“Don’t talk. That nail only just missed your larynx and it’s healing well. Would you like something to eat?”

I nodded and mimed a heaping plate.

He just smiled and said, “Well perhaps, let’s start with some ice cream first.”

That sounded good--inadequate, but good. After the ice cream came an assortment of baby food with more ice cream on the side. It was indeed painful to eat and the ice cream helped numb the pain a little. I soon combined my need for food with the idea of ice cream by freezing the little jars of baby food. I like ice cream but it wasn’t satisfying my hunger much.

Haines came in then and saw me eating. “You must be hungry. That’s a good sign. The doctor says you’re doing well. Are you doing well enough to write me up a report about what happened?”

I tested my memory of those frantic events and figured they were clear enough. I nodded. My throat was getting sore and the cold wasn’t helping so much any more, but the worst edge of my hunger was satisfied.

I made the remains of my meal go away and then created paper and pencil.

“You don’t have to do it right now,” said Haines.

I shook my head and wrote my question. Tell me what happened to me. The doctor mentioned nails.

He told me the attacker had used a nail gun to shoot at us; so that’s what that thing was. The doctor had removed five nails from me. I had a collapsed lung and some torn muscles in my shoulder from me ignoring the nail buried there when I was using my sword. He also told me he had never seen someone tied up with pipes; they had been force to cut him free. The man had been wrapped very tightly. Haines liked that part. Then his face grew serious. “Liam, I would like you to come and help question him.”

I wrote again. What do you mean? I can’t talk yet. The doctor said I shouldn’t.

“Not today. Perhaps tomorrow or the next day, whenever you’re ready, and all I want you to do is use some of your magic and convince him to answer my questions. He refuses to speak.”

I nodded. I didn’t see how using my magic would make much difference other than perhaps scaring the living daylights out of him, but I’d give it a try.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Chapter 59 - CHINK

The attacks came, often, but my routine prevented them from getting to the emperor. There was no way to tell where the attacks were coming from, but with me running interference, Haines could devote more time and manpower to the investigation.

Months passed and some arrests were made, but they didn’t seem to be making a difference; even the name of Ronok, which surfaced a couple times during interrogation, didn’t pan out to anything useful.

I had another birthday, but aside a letter from my parents, there was little in the way of a celebration. I was twenty years old now and a cocky little shit, if I do say so myself. I was confident in my guard over the emperor and so cock-sure that I could stop any attack that I made a mistake. It was fortunate that my magic did not make the same mistake.

I know, I speak of my magic as if it had it’s own identity. In fact, I believe that to be true. I was just the host. It had to be my magic that caused Creg and me to stumble at the same moment and bump shoulders behind the emperor. It also had to be the reason that the emperor tripped and almost went to his knees. There could be no other explanation for three such occurrences to happen in that place at that moment. There was nothing there to trip over.

We had just passed a workman on a scaffold; only he wasn’t there just to work on whatever might be there to work on. I hadn’t given him a second thought. For him to be this close to the emperor’s quarters, he had to pass a dozen security measures. He wasn’t my concern at the moment. My mistake.

As soon as we were past, almost like a machine gun going off, he fired some kind of silenced gun at us. Two or three projectiles screamed passed Creg’s ear causing him to begin to turn. The next one took him in the head, dropping him to the floor instantly. The next got me in the neck effectively silencing any warning I would have uttered, then another one slammed into my shoulder. By now, I managed to complete my turn to see where the projectiles were coming from, but not before three more embedded themselves in my chest.

Ignoring my wounds, I drew my sword and let my magic roar. I sliced the scaffolding out from under him and the gun went careening from his hand to embed itself in the wall. Then I pulled him into a hold he could not escape from. After he was tightly wrapped with the remains of the scaffolding, I took the emperor’s arm and escorted him quickly to his quarters. It was the safest room I could think of, and it was close.

With the chaos behind a closed door, the emperor could see the blood running all down my front, but I wouldn’t let him touch me. I didn’t have time for wounds. I still had to protect him from any other attacks; I refused to believe the man had been alone. Creg had been left behind; I didn’t know if he was dead or alive, but from the way he dropped, I figured he was dead.

The emperor made several phone calls, but I didn’t pay any attention to what he said. A few minutes later, Haines was pounding on the door I was still leaning on. The hard vibrations reminded me that I was badly wounded, but he was here now. I slid the heavy weight of my body aside leaving a trail of blood on the door.

When he entered and saw it, he said, “Liam, my god man, what happened?”

I opened my mouth to answer but my throat wouldn’t work.

“Forget it. The evidence is clear enough. The doctor is here now. You’re going to the infirmary.”

Another man, the doctor, entered the room with others who had a gurney. My captain had dismissed me and trusted reinforcements swarmed just outside. I pulled in my magic and with it went my strength. The medics caught me before my knees hit the floor and helped me onto the gurney.

The doctor had a needle out but I stopped his hand and shook my head. Haines supplied the words I couldn’t. He remembered one of the things I had said before. “Drugs won’t help him. They don’t work.” He stepped forward and laid a hand on my forehead. “Liam, trust us, you need to sleep. I’ll tell you when you can wake up again.”

An order from my captain - I could do an order. I don’t remember ever leaving the room.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Chapter 58 - ON GUARD

I was now a member of the High Guard and I was guarding the emperor. It’s amazing the number of things one man can come in contact with during the course of a day.

The papers he was constantly being presented with was probably the most difficult for me since I needed to read them before I could remake them, but I learned a different way after a little experimentation; it wasn’t appropriate for a guard to read the emperor’s correspondence. Ultimately, I learned to filter out just the impurities from all the papers that came to the emperor’s desk; that was after I remade the desk and the contents of all of its drawers every morning.

I wasn’t here a full week before I diverted my first attack against the emperor. It didn’t reach the emperor though. A young woman succumbed to a poison that had been dusted onto a sheaf of papers she was bringing to the emperor. I was able to extract the poison from her system before it killed her, but she was very ill for several days. The emperor and the other people in the room only saw that she had collapsed and the doctor was summoned. The emperor didn’t know what I had done until he read my report, something I submitted to him at the end of every day. He was impressed that I had been able to save her. I was disappointed that I couldn’t do more; she was newly pregnant and she lost the baby.

The next attack came in his private chambers a couple days later. It was my job to escort him to his apartments at the end of the day and then ‘clean’ the place before he touched anything. I could tell by the way he paced the floor while I did this that he resented that such measures had to be taken, but it was fortunate that I did this because his sheets had been dusted with the same poison that had almost taken the young secretary.

The next attack occurred nearly a week later also in his private apartments. I had just finished cleaning and clearing the apartment and had barely closed the door on my way out of the room when an explosion occurred inside. I rushed back in to find the emperor had been knocked to the floor, fortunately with only a few minor cuts. Someone had flown a small remote control plane up to his window where it detonated against the screening. He had just passed that window; if he had paused there for just a moment, the explosion could have killed him. As it is, I had to remove a small bit of glass that was embedded in his face all too close to his eye.

After that, I stayed in the emperor’s room with him. I usually sat leaning in a corner where I could allow my body to rest while I expanded a guard perimeter of awareness around us both. The first time I did this (the first night), the emperor asked, “Liam, are you awake?”

“Partly,” I replied, as I pulled myself back to full wakefulness. “Do you need anything?”

“No. I’m just not accustomed to seeing my guards dozing in a corner.”

“I need some rest. You’re still guarded. Creg is starting to snore and Lucas is just passing your door. There are . . . three swallow nests in the eves above your window and . . . two guards in the yard below . . . one of them is smoking a cigarette.”

The emperor got out of bed to look out the window. He craned his neck to spot the nests and even found the glowing ember of the cigarette in the dark, he didn’t comment on my method of rest again.

Many evenings, I would end up telling him stories about some of the things my friends and I had done. The stories were many and varied. The ones he liked best had to do with my magic. He especially liked the one about my taming my basilisk and would ask to hear it time and again.

He had a room redesigned especially where we could go and exercise. He prompted me to flex my magic in whatever way he could devise, and then he would watch me attempt what he described. In the process, I tried to teach him how it might be possible to counter what I was doing. After that, we would enjoy a large breakfast. With the almost constant drain on my magic, I was eating a lot.