Kali sat still and quiet in the traveler’s sitting room, her black gown spread out around her, while the traveler himself paced across the room in front of her.
“I keep telling you to leave,” Kali said. “You can avoid the mental anguish if you would just leave.”
Seth turned flashing blue-gray eyes on her. “I can’t.”
She leapt up and grabbed his arm. “Seth. You have to tell me. Now.”
He shook his head and laughed. “Oh, you don’t understand it anymore, Kali. I’ve been here for months, torturing those poor men day after day. I’m getting quite good at it. Enjoying it, even.”
Kali released his arm and recoiled from him. “What?” she whispered.
He faced her fully. “The power I feel over them, Kali, it’s like nothing else. Sure, I rule Galida Gate, but I spent my whole life living under my brothers Damian and Christian. Now it’s my turn to rule over others, even if it is through torture. I feel powerful because those men are helpless to escape me, just as I was helpless to escape my brothers.”
“Christian?” she whispered. “Your brother was Christian? Ebony’s first husband?”
Seth smiled at her. “Yes.”
“Is that why you’re here? Because she killed Christian?”
He didn’t answer this time, merely smiled.
She rushed forward to him and grabbed his hands. She stared searchingly into his blue-gray eyes. “Tell me why you came here in the first place. Tell me!”
He sighed. “I came to avenge Christian’s murder. I will torture Ebony and break her and then tell her who I am. This is merely practice for the real thing.”
“You’re practicing on real men,” she hissed.
He grinned. “And it makes me feel powerful.”
A knock came at his door, interrupting them, and she pulled away. The door opened and a silver haired page slipped in. He bowed to Traveler and the queen’s sister.
“My lady, sir,” he said uncertainly. “Queen Ebony requests your presence on the High Tower, sir. I am to take you there.”
“I’ll take him,” Kali said. “Return to your duties.”
The page bowed and slid back out the door. Kali grabbed Traveler’s hand and they left his chambers together.
“Your hand is cold,” he remarked calmly as they walked along a black draped hallway.
“The High Tower is Ebony’s execution site,” she said quietly. “She must be demanding your presence at someone’s execution. It is on the High Tower because all executions have been private ones for a millennia. It is a tradition we all must follow.”
They were silent as she led him higher until they were walking up a spiral staircase. At the end was a black door and Kali pushed it open. They stepped out onto the top of the High Tower and saw a semicircle of nobles already gathered. They were dressed in black robes and each held a golden rod topped with a golden spider.
Traveler looked out over past the gathered people and saw a man’s head against the backdrop of the mountains just south of Arachnia.
Kali dragged him to the crowd and they parted for the princess and the torture-master. The couple stopped beside a red gowned Ebony, who stood staring up at the dark haired man on the dais.
Traveler recognized the man as Albert, Ebony’s latest husband, the man he had just tortured the day before. He stood with chains tying his wrists and ankles together and more chains tying him to the platform. His eyes looked dead and his face was haggard. He knew what was coming and didn’t fear it.
“Kali, so good of you to come this time,” Ebony said, smiling at her younger sister. “It’s been a few days since I last saw you.”
“It’s good to see you, too, sister,” Kali said, releasing Traveler’s hand. She moved to her sister and the two kissed each other’s cheek. “Is it time for another execution?”
“It is. And this time we have a very special guest. I assume you have already met Traveler, considering you arrived together.”
Kali turned her head slightly to look at the black cloaked man, his hat pulled as low as ever. “I have met him. I hear he’s a wonderful torturer.”
“He is. I am very pleased with him. And now I wish him to go a step further.”
“Public torture, Ebony?” Kali asked, raising an eyebrow.
Ebony smiled, her violet eyes alight with glee. “No, my dear. Execution.”
Traveler’s head snapped up and he saw Kali quickly cut her glance over at him.
“Execution?” Traveler asked, taking a step towards the two sisters. “You command me to kill this man?”
“Of course. Every great torture-master ever employed here has also become the executioner. You will kill him, Traveler.”
Traveler clenched his hands into fists. Torture he could handle; killing a man whose only offense had been to be seduced into marriage by the Black Widow was too much.
“I don’t remember the role of executioner in our agreement.”
Ebony frowned. “Nonsense, Traveler. Even if it’s not, it should have been. And you are here to serve me. I command you to kill this man, and you shall.”
“I won’t, Ebony,” Traveler said firmly.
Her chin tilted up. “Do as I command, Traveler.”
Traveler pulled off his hat and, for the first time, Ebony gazed into blue-gray eyes that she had seen only once before, on a man she had known four years previous.
She gasped and drew back a step. “It can’t be…I killed you four years ago,” she whispered, her hands clutching at her chest, believing she was staring at a ghost.
“I am not Christian, Ebony, your first husband. I am his younger brother, Seth, here to avenge his death.”
She shook her head. “No. You’re not. You can’t be.”
“I am,” Seth said coldly. “This isn’t how I wanted to do it, but it’ll work well enough.”
Seth lifted out his arms and called to Ebony’s one thousand and eighty late husbands, his brother Christian leading them out of the after world.
“I salute you, brother,” Christian said. “I never thought you could do it.”
“No!” Ebony screamed as hundreds of spirits descended on her and filled her head, clearly remembering all those times Traveler had done the same to her prisoners.
Kali, sensing the nobles watching all this had started moving to protect their queen, threw up a wall of fire and the people drew back again. She also threw up a fire wall before the door, so none could escape.
Christian grasped Ebony’s wrists. “Looks like my brother got his revenge after all. Pleased to see me, my dear? It’s good to see you again.”
“Please don’t do this,” Ebony begged, fighting against the spirits. “Traveler, stop them!”
Seth shook his head and stepped back to grasp Kali’s hand. They watched wordlessly as nearly two thousand spirits pushed the black widow back and over the edge of the tower. She screamed as she fell, and it was abruptly cut off a moment later. They waited a few moments as the spirits streamed over the side of the tower. Then they saw Ebony’s screaming spirit dragged up and into the after world by one thousand and eighty deceased husbands, making Albert the first widower.
* * *
The sun shone brightly and shafted through the branches of the tree Kali and Seth stood under, dappling their bodies. Seth was back in his traveler’s brown cloak and hat and Kali wore a silver gown. Their hands were clasped together and they stared at each other intently.
“Why did you release all those spirits on her?” Kali asked.
“With all those vengeful spirits of her dead husbands, I knew that the combined strength of them would be enough to drag her unwilling soul into the after world and do a much better job of revenge than I could do. Ebony was no match for them. She was a seductress, not a sorceress like you are. By the way, congratulations at being named Arachnia’s queen.”
Kali shook her head. “It’ll be hard ruling here, but the remaining prisoners and the people of Arachnia are grateful they don’t have to live fearfully under her rule anymore. They won’t have to wonder which man would be taken from them next.”
“You’ll be a good queen, Kali. Just don’t succumb to the dark ways as Ebony did.”
She shook her head. “You won’t stay?”
“I can’t, Kali. Not after what I did here. I hated the torture at first, but then I came to enjoy it to some degree. I don’t want to risk that again.”
“But you gave up your magic. You’re a regular person now. You don’t have to fear torturing people again.”
“You’re wrong, Kali. I spent some time in Nyrma. The Nyrmans are renown for their torture skills. There are ways of using physical weapons and ways of using magic. I may have lost my magic, but the physical ways remain clear in my mind. I need to return to Galida Gate and recover myself and my mind.” He lifted her hands and kissed them gently. “I’ll return, Kali, and we’ll rule Arachnia and Galida Gate together and in peace. But I need to go now.”
She nodded and released his hands. He stepped away from her.
“I’ll return one day, Kali.”
“I know. I’ll be waiting.”
He nodded and turned. She watched as he vanished into the shadows.