“What?” Kali burst out. “You can’t!”
Traveler glared over at her. “I have no choice, Kali.”
She paced across the airy sitting room of her palace chambers. Black and red silk billowed out as a breeze wandered in from the balcony. Her black gown trailed on the red carpet as she paced. Traveler, now dressed in black with an equally black cloak and hat, reposed on a black and silver upholstered couch.
Ebony’s younger sister whirled on him, distress clear in her black eyes as she stared at him.
“How could you do this to me?” she whispered. “Those people she has imprisoned are my own agents!”
He bounded to his feet and grasped her wrists in one hand. His free hand forced her chin up and her eyes met his.
“I did nothing to you, Kali,” he whispered harshly. “Nothing. You chose to go after your sister’s throne by your own choice. It’s your price to pay. I have a score to settle, a score that predates our betrothal.”
He pushed away from her and she stepped back several steps to regain her balance. As she recovered, Traveler swiftly exited her chambers and stormed down the hall to the wide front staircase. He paused at the top, looking for the guard Ebony had said would be waiting for him.
“Traveler,” a voice said from behind him.
He turned and saw a guard dressed in black standing behind him, holding a door open. He walked towards the guard and the two vanished down the staircase hidden behind the door.
They wound deeper and deeper into the dark depths of the palace. The winding staircase was lit by torches set every five feet down. Traveler gripped the rail as they spun deeper and deeper. Finally, they reached the bottom level and the guard led Traveler through a dim passageway with stone walls draped in black silk.
As they neared the end of the passage, Traveler could hear low coughs and moans and murmurs. They left the passage and he could see those noises had come from the prisoners locked into small cells with walls dividing each cell. There were cells on only one side of the hall so that the prisoners couldn’t talk to each other. He looked down to the other end of the hall and couldn’t see an end to the row of cells.
“This way, Traveler,” the guard said.
Traveler turned and watched as the guard pushed against one of the gray stones. The wall split apart and Traveler followed the guard through into a narrow passage. The wall behind them closed when they reached the door at the other end. The guard pushed it open and they stepped through.
They stepped into a square room filled with only chains. Ebony stood there in the middle, her red dress clinging to her slender body and her black hair spilling down her back in thick curls. Against the wall opposite the door was a man dressed only in tattered trousers, his arms and legs chained tightly to the gray stone wall. His dark hair was shaggy and tumbled down his neck and veiled his lowered head.
Ebony nodded to the guard. “Wait outside the door.” She smiled. “I’m hoping the necromancer will be so good you won’t want to be in here.”
The guard swallowed, bowed, and left, closing the door after him.
Ebony turned to Traveler, her smile still in place. One black gloved hand waved to the prisoner chained to the wall, drawing his attention to the doomed man. She whipped her head around to look at the prisoner as Traveler lightly stepped across the floor to her side, her hands now resting on her hips.
“You have great confidence in my abilities, my lady,” Traveler murmured.
“Not at all, Traveler. Anyone can do a better job than the guards. Are you well-versed in the art of torture?”
“Indeed I am,” Traveler replied, his lips curling into a small smile. “I’ve had the opportunity to observe the Nyrman torture-masters.”
She turned to him, pleasure glowing on her pale face. “The Nyrmans are extremely well-taught. I look forward to seeing what you have learned from them.”
“I would be happy to show you, madam,” Traveler said, sweeping a courteous bow. “If you would be kind enough to step back…?”
She tipped her head to him and withdrew a few steps. Traveler stepped up to the man and tilted his head up. Black eyes bore into his, full of contempt and defiance.
The traveler didn’t enjoy torture, but working for Ebony would sharpen his skills so he could turn them on her. She had to pay the price for taking his brother’s life.
“Do not fight me,” Traveler whispered to the chained man. “It will be much worse for you if you do. What is your name, man?”
The man only stared defiantly at him. He sneered at the traveler. “Try your best. I will not break.”
“What did this man do?” Traveler asked Ebony as he continued to hold the man’s eyes.
“He tried to kill me. It was fortunate I was in the process of smothering my latest husband and not sleeping as I ought to have been.”
“Fortunate indeed,” Traveler murmured. “An assassin, then. This will be interesting.”
Traveler abruptly released the man’s jaw and stepped back. He pressed the tips of his fingers together and closed his eyes, calling out to the spirits that recognized this man.
Slowly, Traveler smiled and opened his eyes. “Eadgaer Re’Naut, a professional assassin. Who sent you to murder Ebony?”
Eadgaer’s eyes narrowed and he still refused to speak. Traveler had a feeling this was one of Kali’s agents, but he didn’t care to dwell on it. He had come to Arachnia to avenge his brother’s death, not seek out his betrothed.
Traveler’s eyes narrowed under the brim of his hat. He reached out and dragged a finger across the man’s eyes. The irises turned white and Eadgaer gasped as he was slowly blinded.
“Without sight,” Traveler murmured, leaning close to the man’s ear, “your other senses are sharpened. Slowly, you’ll lose them all, and then you’ll lose your mind and you will be at the mercy of Ebony.”
Eadgaer’s breath was coming in quick, sharp gasps now, his mouth hanging open enough for Traveler to slid his finger in. Traveler frowned and touched a fingertip to Eadgaer’s nose and tongue, leaving the man with only touch and hearing. Eadgaer’s hands curled into fists and he jerked against the chains, but was held immobile.
Traveler stepped backwards to the middle of the room. He held out his arms from his sides and silently called to the spirits who had, in some way, known Eadgaer, opening the gateway between the living and the dead. He wasn’t surprised to learn that the first spirits to appear were those of Eadgaer’s victims. The gray spirits eagerly pushed forward and funneled into Eadgaer’s right ear.
“What are you doing?” Ebony asked in wonder. “What are the spirits doing? Who are they?”
Traveler grinned, still holding the gateway open. “They are the spirits of the people Eadgaer knew, particularly the ones of his victims. I have instructed them to tear through his head, whispering words of rage and accusations to torment his poor mind. This will not break him down, but it will destroy some of his defenses. What do you wish me to do?”
She stepped to his side, spirits still swirling around the chamber and through Eadgaer’s head as the man moaned in mental pain and sagged as much as the chains allowed him. Traveler turned to her and saw her smile.
“I want pain,” she said, a dark twinkle in her violet eyes.
“As you command, my lady.”
Traveler lifted a hand and slashed it in a downwards diagonal. Eadgaer screamed in pain as what felt like a steel blade cut across his chest. There was, however, not a mark on his skin, only the sensation of being cut. Eadgaer, though, was convinced, by what he felt and the spirits still tumbling through his head, that he was slowly bleeding to death.
“If you are making me bleed to death, then, for Odea’s sake, stop the voices!” Eadgaer screamed. “Stop them!”
As an answer, Traveler cut across his arms, legs, and cheeks with the razor sharp pain.
“Who sent you?” Traveler demanded. “Who ordered Ebony’s death?”
When the man only continued to scream, Traveler jabbed his invisible sword into the man’s abdomen. “Answer!”
“Allia!” he screamed. “That’s the name she gave me.”
Traveler smiled at the black widow. “We’re getting somewhere now.”
“Indeed. Do continue, Traveler.”
He turned back to the tortured man, who was now gasping with the pain. “Why did Allia order Ebony’s death?”
“I don’t know! I swear I don’t! Stop them! Please, I beg you…”
Traveler turned to Ebony. She shook her head and turned to the door. She opened it and called to the pale-faced guard standing just outside the door as Traveler lowered both arms and called the spirits back into the after world.
“Take him back to his cell,” Ebony commanded.
The guard swallowed. “Yes, my queen.”
Ebony took hold of Traveler’s arm and they left the chamber, the sounds of chains and moans ringing through the passage after them.