Chapter 28

||TW: torture, manipulation, involuntary restraint, gore||

Nirin’s wrists hurt. Whatever his back was against was so cold it cut through his tunic and chilled him to his core. But he couldn’t move, his arms were stuck above his head and his knees on the ground. He opened his eyes. The only light was a flickering candle on a table. Waiting until his eyes adjusted, he first looked around to see if anyone else was there, but the room was empty. He couldn’t feel any presence either. He looked up at the handcuffs trapping him. It was a familiar sensation, cold metal chafing his skin, the hard edge digging into his wrist. But the end of the chains weren’t attached to the wall. They extended up, through metal loops in the stone that forced Nirin’s arms to stay pressed back against the wall. The chain’s ringed ends, high above his head, were held in place with hooks; no matter how Nirin shifted or pulled, which he couldn’t do much in the first place with the metal loops holding the chains down, they wouldn’t come off. Not that he bothered struggling much at all.

He wasn’t there long when a door on the side wall opened and a figure stepped inside. They were calm, at ease, even their steps unhurried as they walked to the table. But anger and hatred radiated off them like heat from a fire.

“I’ll make this easy for you,” Ruadhan said. He used the candle to light a lamp and the room illuminated. Patches of moss covered the dreary stone walls and floor. The wooden table looked to be in its last days of life, but it held up the instruments on its surface. From his position on the ground Nirin couldn’t see what they were. Ruadhan passed his hand over them, contemplating, before he lifted a simple knife.

“You know I can’t kill you.” He brought the knife and a porcelain bowl, kneeling in front of Nirin. “You know I won’t kill you.” Nirin met his eyes, staring into the depths of contempt that was there. He didn’t flinch when Ruadhan cut a line across his arm and raised the bowl to catch the blood that poured out. “And I know you can withstand quite a lot of pain. I will turn to torture, though, if it becomes necessary. Keep that in mind.” Ruadhan tapped the tip of the knife just below Nirin’s right eye. “It would be a pity to mutilate this nice face of yours.”

He took the filled bowl back to the table and set it aside, wiping the knife clean. “Tell me where the remnant is.” Ruadhan came back over, hands empty, and crouched again in front of Nirin, resting his arms on his knees. “Tell me her location and if she’s truly there, I won’t kill Kiol.”

Nirin’s eyes widened and his mouth dried in an instant. Ruadhan was not lying. He would murder Kiol. Even with all the affection he held for the boy. Nirin didn’t understand it—couldn’t understand it. How a person could so willingly and so brutally hurt someone they loved.

“Yes, you know I will.” Ruadhan smiled, and it was slightly rueful but mostly it was terrifyingly cold. And Nirin caught a glimpse of something else. He concentrated harder, digging deeper into Ruadhan’s psyche, but the man noticed. His eyebrows twitched, and his emotions were overridden again with loathing. “Don’t study me,” he said. “You won’t like what you find.” Nirin hadn’t been expecting to like it. But the opportunity was dashed.

Ruadhan stood and Nirin’s hands were crushed between the handcuffs and metal loops as Ruadhan unhooked the chains. Then the tension loosened and his arms dropped down, but it was no relief. His shoulder muscles had been stuck in that position too long. The stiffness ached. Nirin rolled his shoulders and rubbed his wrists, eyeing Ruadhan as the man crouched again.

“Don’t try anything,” he warned. “Tell me the location.”

“I don’t know it,” Nirin signed.

Ruadhan’s eyes narrowed to slits. “Tell me where she is.”

“I don’t know.”

“Do you want Kiol to die?”

“Do you?”

“It doesn’t matter what I want. Your actions matter now. You’re the one who can save him. Or are you sick of saving people, Nirin?” The way he said his name, so sickly sweet, so derisively cynical, sent shivers down Nirin’s spine. He looked away but still felt Ruadhan’s smile, the same unfeeling one. “I did my own studying,” the man continued. “I know a lot about you. More than you could ever know yourself.” Nirin looked back to him at that but the smile didn’t fade and Nirin could feel nothing but hate. “You can try, but you won’t read me.”

Even Serul couldn’t hide her intentions from Nirin. He furrowed his brows and signed, “How?”

“Oh,” Ruadhan sighed, standing again. “Centuries of practice. And knowing you better than you know me.”

“What do you know?”

Ruadhan went back to the table and looked over the instruments there. Debating on whether to resort to torture, thinking about the options he had if he decided to. “I know you care too much. It’s a weakness you’ve always had. But one you won’t get rid of. You refuse to even try.”

“You’re wrong,” Nirin signed. Ruadhan glanced at him.

“I’m not,” he said. “You just think I am because you don’t know. As I said, I know you better than yourself.”

“Why do you want to awaken Envier?”

Ruadhan actually gave a huff of laugh at that. He dipped a finger in the bowl of Nirin’s blood and began painting on a cloth, not responding.

“Do you know why my blood is so potent?” Nirin asked instead.

Ruadhan thought about it, though he didn’t pause in his writing. He decided on an answer before deciding to respond. “Because you’re god-gifted.”

“It was like that before my sacrifice.”

“I know.” A flare of impatience. He’d told Nirin multiple times now that he knew. But his face didn’t change. “That’s the lie they’re all living. That one can better themselves, that through study and training and cultivating you can become worthy. It’s all a lie. The truth is, it’s already decided at birth. Either you’re born worthy or you’re not.” He looked pointedly at Nirin. “Aren’t you lucky.”

Nirin returned his gaze with flat amusement. The man lifted the cloth and brought it over, dangling it before Nirin. Even sideways, he recognized the sigil.

“Will you tell me? Or will you make me do this? I hate this, you know.” Nirin did know. He stared up at Ruadhan blankly. Ruadhan wrapped the cloth around Nirin’s eyes.

A weight crushed him to the ground. His limbs were held down and exposed and sliced and sliced and sliced. He struggled uselessly, the more he struggled the more he realized it was futile and the more panic welled up inside him. It bubbled out of his mouth but it didn’t matter how loud he screamed, no one would listen. No one would help.

The weight vanished and he was sitting against cold stone, panting. A sigil to live through your worst memories. As though Nirin didn’t already do that every night. Ruadhan was in front of him again, holding the cloth and contemplating.

“Do you know how Kiol will die?” Ruadhan asked. Nirin glared at him. “First, I’ll slice off his skin. Slowly, of course, in small pieces. Then I’ll pull out his teeth, one by one. I’ll split his tongue in two, right down to his throat.” Ruadhan’s heart was racing now, almost in time with Nirin’s. Ruadhan was disgusted, horrified. And he was telling the truth. “I’ll peel off his eyelids—”

The chains rattled as Nirin lashed out and Ruadhan stepped away, but Nirin didn’t follow through on the hit. “Stop,” he signed, standing up on his knees and glowering at the man.

Ruadhan crouched again so they were almost eye-level. “I told you. You care too much. You have no reason to care about Kiol and if you stay with him, he’ll ruin your life.”

“So I should let you kill him?”

“So you should tell me where the remnant is.”

“I don’t know.”

Nirin shifted his head out of the way as Ruadhan slammed his palm where his face had just been. Then the man’s fingers tucked into Nirin’s hair. He tried to move away but his motion was limited, so he glared instead as Ruadhan brushed a gentle thumb along Nirin’s jawline. Sorrow. Hatred. Love. Nirin couldn’t understand his emotions and he closed his eyes but of course it did nothing to abate the feeling. “I know you know,” Ruadhan whispered. “Tell me. Please.” Nirin kept his eyes closed and his face turned away. Ruadhan stood and re-hooked the chains, then his presence retreated. Only then did Nirin open his eyes and breathe in. Without his hovering body the air seemed fresher, though it was still choked with the smell of dampness and mold.

“Well then,” Ruadhan said, his voice back to sharp disinterest. “I’ll be back.” He shut the door tightly as he left and Nirin heard the click of a lock.

After another few seconds of sitting there, he tested the chains again. He could go up on his knees, which bent his elbows and alleviated the strain on his shoulders, but he couldn’t stand without breaking his wrists. Holding himself away from the wall was an effort as well, but being so close against it was like sitting against ice. The air was cold enough to make him shiver as it was.

He studied the cuffs and chains and surroundings, but there was no solution. Limited movement, limited resources, and thick iron did not give many options for escape.

He changed between sitting and kneeling and kept track of time as best he could. He was sure Kiol would be looking for him. He didn’t know whether he wanted the boy to find him or not. It was hard to discern the level of danger he’d face here. Nirin estimated about six hours before the door opened. Ruadhan returned with another porcelain bowl, and bled him again. He didn’t speak and Nirin wouldn’t have signed even if he’d been able to. With Nirin’s blood, Ruadhan painted another sigil on another cloth. This one Nirin couldn’t see when he brought it over.

“I don’t know if this will work,” he said. “You’ll have to tell me after.” And he tied it around Nirin’s eyes.

Kiol lay alone in a dark room, naked, shivering, and twitching in pain. Patches of his flesh were shorn off. One of his eyes was punctured and his hair was sticky with its blood and fluids. Nothing Nirin did could stop it; he could see it clear as day even with his eyes closed, and he could feel it.

The scene vanished, replaced with dark stone and Ruadhan’s face. “Good, it worked,” he said, though without an ounce of satisfaction. “What do you think?”

Nirin swallowed his nausea and struggled against the handcuffs.

“Will you tell me now?” Ruadhan asked. “Or must I hurt Kiol some more? Next time I will make you watch. The noises are horrific.” Nirin bit his lips together and closed his eyes. Ruadhan unhooked the chains and Nirin hugged his legs to his chest, shivering. “Well?” Ruadhan asked.

“Near the village of River Pastures,” Nirin signed. “Beyond the Cut River, in a dried up well. It must be dug out.”

Ruadhan rubbed his chin. “We’ll see,” he finally said, and Nirin’s arms were yanked up once again as he hooked the chains and left.

Nirin gave up counting after the tenth hour. Somehow he even managed to fall asleep in such an uncomfortable position. He woke to the sound of slamming. After coming to it still took him a few seconds to recognize that it was someone outside the door. He sat up on his knees, ignoring the strain of his shoulders, and watched as the door vibrated again with a loud thud. After the fourth one it crashed open and Kiol stumbled inside.

Nirin perked up even more. The boy was frantic and disheveled, but upon seeing Nirin every ringing nerve of panic in Kiol fell to dizzy relief and he rushed forward.

“You’re alive, you’re alive,” he panted, as though he couldn’t believe it. Warm, strong hands brushed down Nirin’s arms and legs. “But he hurt you.” Kiol grabbed his arm above the cuts, fury replacing relief and gritting his jaw to painful tension, a marked contrast to the tender way he held Nirin’s arm. Nirin shook his head and gestured with his chin. Kiol’s gaze followed up the chains and he stood and unhooked them.

“He may be back soon,” Nirin signed. “And he’ll be angry. If he used an instant transportation sigil…”

“What? Ruadhan?” Kiol asked, baffled. Nirin nodded, but he didn’t have time to explain.

“Is there a way to break the chains?” he asked. Kiol inspected one, but from the sinking disappointment Nirin already knew the answer. “No mind,” he signed, reaching up and taking Kiol’s hand from the chain. He never could tell if the small thrill from connecting their palms was him or Kiol. He tugged him back down. “You need to go. Ruadhan will hurt you— he’ll kill you. Go somewhere far away.”

“I don’t care!” Kiol hissed, pulling his hand from Nirin’s and standing. He began looking through the stuff on the table, under the table, around the room. Looking for keys.

“There are no keys,” Nirin signed, several times until Kiol looked at him and read it. “Just go.”

“I’m not leaving you,” Kiol said stubbornly. “He’ll kill me? I don’t give a shit. He gave me his word that he wouldn’t touch you. I’ll kill him for hurting you.”

Nirin paused, his heart suddenly pounding like crazy. It took him a second to get his bearings back. “Go, please go,” he pleaded. But Kiol wasn’t looking again. He grabbed a long metal rod from the table. Nirin sighed silently and moved aside before Kiol asked him to. The boy stuck the rod through one of the metal loops in the wall, braced his foot against the stone, and heaved.

“Don’t hurt yourself,” Nirin cautioned. Kiol clenched his jaw, tucked his shoulder under the rod, and used his entire body to push up on it. After several minutes of this the metal loop actually came loose from the stone, and with one more push it clanged to the floor. Then Kiol did the same with the other. He threw the rod onto the ground and the sound of metal on stone echoed throughout the room.

“Is it bad?” Kiol asked, taking one of Nirin’s arms and moving the handcuff aside to see the chafed skin on his wrists. Nirin pushed him away only to reach up and take Kiol’s face in his palms. The boy met his gaze, shocked, breath hitched, face instantly growing hot. In the dim candlelight Nirin could almost see Kiol’s stormy gray eyes and adorable splash of freckles across his nose.

“Thank you,” Nirin mouthed. Kiol’s eyes widened and for a second he wondered if Nirin wasn’t mute. But Nirin had already taken up the ends of the chains and pulled Kiol from the room.

Chapter 27<< >>Chapter 29

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