Galcon almost regretted regaining consciousness. The raiders had finally captured him last night, and they’d taken great relish in beating him. He wasn’t surprised. He’d eluded them for… How long had it been? He’d searched the forest for Kynacoba since the beginning of the raider attack on Phantasya, and that seemed an eternity ago. Soon, however, his time might come to an end now that the raiders had him… Where was he?
Lifting his head off the grimy floor, Galcon’s vision blurred. It was dark. Cold. Clammy.
I’m underground, he thought. What is that smell?
Then his eyes focused, and he remembered everything.
The raiders had dragged him to a subterranean level of the Phantasyan city’s palace tower and thrown him in a dank, torch-lit prison. Here now, Galcon watched from his cage as raider laborers molded corpses of their fallen comrades into the walls. This prison was also a catacomb, and raider bodies were encased in the walls for as far as the torchlight allowed Galcon to see.
Ky’s killed a lot of them, he thought with a weak grin. Good for her.
A severed arm fell just outside Galcon’s cage, not far from his face.
He knew he couldn’t block out the stench of the raiders’ work, but he rolled to lie on his other side. This movement took great effort. He’d grown weak and malnourished while living alone in the forest, and the beating from last night didn’t help. Too weak to stand, he inspected himself as he lay on the floor. He was bruised all over. His clothes were tattered and stiff with dirt and dried blood. The raiders had burned some of the corpses before encasing them in the walls, and the sooty smell stuck in his long hair and beard.
The smell overpowered him suddenly, and his body retched as he dry heaved into the floor. He hadn’t eaten anything to vomit in days.
Why don’t they just kill me? he wondered. What do they want?
Too weak and sore to think, Galcon lay on the floor and slept restlessly.
When at last the raiders dragged him out of his cage, Galcon was so glad to be out that he hardly cared where they took him. His care returned, however, as they reached the ground level of the tower. He’d been too beaten to notice his surrounds when they brought him in, but now he saw the macabre renovations the raiders had made to the Phantasyan tower. The skylight window above was covered with plaster, and torches now dotted the balconies. The troughs which had once carried water now held burning oil, adding light to the sweaty room.
The raiders carried Galcon across the ground floor, and their path went by a crowd of chained natives. Someone spit at Galcon. He looked back and saw Pradem, one of the former Phantasyan elders, glaring at him from his chains.
The raiders at last stopped at their destination – the throne area. Now, the back wall was painted with blood, and spears were pinned into the wall, each with the head of a Phantasyan Galcon recognized. Torches lined the platform, and piles of furs and skins cluttered the area. On Elder Quar’s former throne sat the giant raider leader, Pernicious, who was appropriately wearing his executioner’s hood. Skulls, each cut like bowls and holding questionable contents, sat on the arms of Pernicious’s throne. Galcon felt a chill as he realized that the bowls were not only ornamental – they were dinner.
Wait, thought Galcon. Pernicious isn’t allowed to kill the Phantasyans because of the deal he made with Vedanleé. They could only kill these people if Vedanleé got her daughter. Since Ky hasn’t come to Vedanleé, who’s killed these Phantasyans?
Galcon looked back to where Pradem and the other slaves were working.
They killed their own people for the raiders, he realized. Pernicious must’ve promised them Vedanleé’s magic in exchange-
“Have you made him talk?” barked Pernicious.
Galcon tried to remember if he’d been questioned. He hadn’t, as far as he knew.
A raider holding Galcon answered, “He refuses to give us Kynacoba’s location.”
Oh, thought Galcon. That’s what they want.
“I don’t know where she is,” he said hoarsely. “I haven’t seen here since-”
A raider helped Galcon obey by swatting his face with the back of a gloved hand, slicing Galcon’s cheekbone. He winced from the fresh pain, but it revived him a bit as well. He shook his head and blinked away the pain.
Pernicious turned to a form that lay on a bed of furs beside him. “Am I allowed to kill this one? He’s an Earthborn and not a Phantasyan. Is he under your magic’s protection?”
Galcon looked in surprise to see Vedanleé sit up on the pile of furs. He’d assumed the form on the bed to be part of the gruesome décor – maybe she was. Her long, golden hair hung long and scraggly over her chest. The witch was barely clothed, but where she was it was with someone else’s skin.
What’s happened to her? he thought.
Vedanleé obediently lifted her gaze to Pernicious and then looked over at his prisoner. Galcon felt a chill as he met eyes with the witch. When Vedanleé recognized him, a puzzled look replaced her expression of resigned loathing. She examined him for a long time, shivering as she did so.
She thought she drove me off with the others, Galcon realized. She didn’t know I stayed to find Ky when the others escaped. Little good it’s done–
“Kill him.” Vedanleé looked back to Pernicious. “You’re free to do it.”
Pernicious needed no further encouragement. He rose from his throne, drew a machete, and stepped forward.
This was it. Even as Galcon struggled against the raiders holding him, he knew there was no escape. Pernicious was crazed with bloodlust and would show no mercy. If Galcon was lucky, maybe they wouldn’t eat him.
Goodbye, Ky, he thought.
Pernicious sneered and raised his machete. He swung, and Galcon closed his eyes as he heard the blade slicing through the air.