amberdrake: (if you need to crash then crash & burn)
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Snarky Skandranon, Drake with a concussion, and a particular fake kestra’chern doing the villain-gloating-to-the-heroes thing while they’re both trussed up. And he gets called on it, no less.

Hadanelith posed as a kestra’chern in the new city White Gryphon, in order to have access to people to... well, pretty much break. The guy’s a sick bastard; his victims were so screwed up in the head when he was done that they didn’t even need to be tied down. We see his handiwork early on in the book White Gryphon, when Drake and co find him and kick him the hell out of the new city. Ideally to wander off and die.

They should have just killed him, but them’s the breaks.

This chunk of the book takes place in a different land, with which the people of White Gryphon need to either make a truce, or be tossed into another war. As two of the leaders of White Gryphon, Amberdrake and Skandranon (among others) go there to play diplomat, and are summarily drug into this rather nasty murder/framing plot which ends up with Amberdrake feigning madness and able to leave his rooms only under disguise. Yeah. It makes sense in the book.

Anyway, that’s your context. Skan gets kidnaped at one point, and we all know who can’t just sit back and let the fighters do all the rescuing and things, right? Right. Good thing, too.

     His head hurt—
     It throbbed, horribly, with every beat of his heart. His stomach turned over and there was a taste of blood and something bitter in his mouth. His lower lip stung; he tested it with his tongue, finding more blood, finding it swollen and cut.
     His arms were twisted under him and behind his back in an awfully odd pose. He groaned, and tried to roll over. What had he done last night that—
     A tugging at his neck stopped him. He couldn’t roll over. In fact, he couldn’t move at all.
     Amberdrake’s eyes opened, but slowly, slowly, for they were sticky and felt swollen, and hurt too, though not as much as his head. He didn’t learn much of anything, however, for there was nothing more enlightening than a yellow marble wall in front of him. He was lying on his side, but someone had “considerately” propped him up and padded him with cushions placed beneath him in a primitive mattress.
     Why does this not comfort me? Possibly because I have obviously been bludgeoned and am now tied hand and foot?
     Moving even a little woke pain in his arms and neck, but also told him that much. His arms were pinned together by a restraint at the elbows, behind his back, although they had not been tied so tightly as to be uncomfortable.
     Yet. Of course, I’m a kestra’chern, and I can force my muscles to relax, which might help.
     His wrists were also strapped together, and there was a collar around his neck that was fastened to something behind him; that was what had kept him from rolling over.
     So much for rescuing Skan. Whoever has him must have been watching the rooms. Gods, I hope they didn’t get Zhaneel!
     Blinding pain washed a red haze over everything for a moment; when it subsided, he continued to take inventory of his situation. Curiously, though, he began to realize that he wasn’t afraid any longer. Maybe because the worst has already happened, so why be afraid?
     His ankles were tied together, and his knees, although he could bend both. He craned his neck a little and bent at the waist as much as the collar would allow, to get a peek at the bindings on his legs. His head throbbed, but there was enough slack in his bindings for him to think about getting himself loose.
     If I didn’t know better—
     “Awake?” Skan rumbled.
     “Yes,” he said shortly. “What time is it?”
     “Mid-morning I think. Well after dawn. Which means the Ceremony is already underway.” Skan sighed gustily. “Which completes this disaster, as far as we’re concerned.”
     Mid-morning? Oh, sketi. That means Zhaneel couldn’t get the priests to let her in—or else that they let her in, but wouldn’t let her see the others and started her on other purification rites. Oh, hell. Oh, bloody hell. She’s the only one who knows where we are! Or where I thought we’d be—but we may not even be there.
     Not just fear rose up in him—but a hint of panic. This was not just a disaster, this was a catastrophe!
     He rolled, this time in the direction of the pull on his collar, and managed to get himself faced away from the wall. There was a leash fastened to a ring in the floor to which he’d been tethered, which answered that question, at least.
     Skandranon was indeed trussed up like a bird waiting for the spit. He looked very much the worse for the wear, but not really visibly damaged—certainly not as damaged as Amberdrake himself was. Another moment of the blinding pain held him breathless for a few heartbeats. Then Amberdrake sat up, but slowly, for he had to inch his way over to the tether point of his leash before he could get the slack to sit.
     His head protested every move with throbs of pain, reminding him sharply of why it had been a very stupid idea to go rushing off to Skan’s rescue without additional help. As if he needed reminding.
     “I suppose you rushed off to my rescue without any additional help, right? Skan said with resignation. “Of course—everyone was being prepared for the Ceremony, but you’re supposed to be mad and guarding yourself in the persona of Hawkwind, so you were excused as Amberdrake and Hawkwind both.”
     “So that’s where the extra Kalad’a’in came from!” said a delighted voice. “I wondered. There were ten new bodies from White Gryphon, but eleven new bodies parading about!”
     Amberdrake looked up at the grinning madman in the doorway, and his stomach turned over again, sending sour bile into the back of his throat. “Hadanelith,” he said tonelessly, his head echoing painfully. “I won’t say it’s a pleasure to see you again. I suppose you’ve come to gloat? That’s trite enough to be in your style.”
     Hadanelith strolled over to Amberdrake in a leisurely fashion, and stood just out of range of a kick, frowning down at him. “You know, Amberdrake, you should never have dyed your hair. It’s just not a good look for you.”
     Amberdrake raised an eyebrow at Hadanelith, and his battered mind finally took in the lunatic’s costume. He blinked, certain he was seeing things. Why would Hadanelith be wearing a copy of one of Amberdrake’s formal outfits?
     “At least you’ve gotten some sense of fashion,” he replied, his mind searching frantically for some guess at what the madman was about to do. His stomach lurched again, and his skin crawled. He’d seen Hadanelith’s handiwork....
     “Oh, this little thing?” Hadanelith smoothed down the beaded placket at the neck of his tunic. “It’s part of the plan, you see.”
     “Which you are going to tell us in excruciating detail,” Skan moaned, as if he at least was not the slightest bit afraid of Hadanelith’s plans, as if being bored was the worst of all possible tortures. “Oh spare us, will you? Good gods, does every half-baked villain have to boast about what he’s going to do before he does it? Can’t you just kill us so we don’t have to endure your boring speech?”
     Hadanelith turned to glare at the gryphon, and crossed his arms angrily over his chest. “Yes I do ‘have to boast about it.’ I want you to know how and why and the means. I want you to know everything, because there isn’t anything you can do to stop it all, and I want you to lie there in agony because you’re both helpless.”
     Skan groaned, but it was the groan of someone who was in dread of having to endure an after-dinner speech, not someone in fear of death. “You haven’t come up with anything new, you know,” he complained. “Whatever you think you’ve invented, some other idiot has tried before you. And Ma’ar was better and more imaginative at gloating than you. Trust me, I know.”
     Amberdrake clenched his muscles to keep from trembling; he knew exactly what the gryphon was up to, and he feigned an equal boredom as Hadanelith turned his back to the gryphon, his spine straight with indignation.
     Listen to what he says, pretend to be interested, and he’ll shut up. Tell him to get lost and take his little speech elsewhere, and he’ll babble like a brook.
     “You and all your friends are finished, kestra’chern,” Hadanelith spat, turning back to Amberdrake.
     Amberdrake yawned stiffly. His lip split and bled a little more. “Yes?” he replied indifferently. “And?”
     Hadanelith’s face grew red with rage. “You think you’re all so clever,” he snarled, flecks of spittle forming at the corners of his mouth. “You think you have everything taken care of. But you hadn’t planned on magic, had you? We have magic, magic that works, blood-magic from those foolish women, and a few slaves and scum we took off the streets. We have magic enough to overcome anything; even if a mage-storm came right this moment, we have power enough to push through whatever we want.”
     Oh, gods. That explains everything. Amberdrake went very, very cold, and struggled not to show it. That was indeed one of the things no one had counted on—that someone was using the power of blood-born magic to push through spells that no longer worked in ordinary circumstances. He began to shake.
     “We have a little surprise planned for the Eclipse Ceremony,” Hadanelith continued, smiling now. “My friends have a job they want me to do. Now normally, I wouldn’t handle a job like this, but we’re such good friends I thought I’d do them the favor.” He raised an eyebrow archly. “Don’t you want to know what it is?”
     “Find the mind you lost?” Skan suggested. “Or could it be the virility you misplaced?”
     Hadanelith flushed again, and ground his teeth together with rage. Amberdrake was fascinated, despite his screaming nerves. He’d never actually seen anyone grind his teeth with rage before. It was something you could actually hear—and all this time he’d thought it was just a cliche. “We are going to kill the King,” Hadanelith got out from between his clenched jaws. “Publicly. At the height of the Ceremony.”
     He got himself back under control again, with a speed that would have been impressive if he hadn’t been insane. He smiled sweetly at Amberdrake, a smile that struck the kestra’chern like a blow and stopped even his shivering. “And as a little present to you, dear Amberdrake,” he said in a caressing tone, “we are going to kill Winterhart as well.”
     Amberdrake felt his face and body freezing into stone, along with his mind. His vision misted, and there was a roaring in his ears.
     Hadanelith saw his reaction, and his smile widened. “My friends have more than enough power to whisk me away as soon as I finish the job,” he continued with satisfaction. “Everyone will blame you Kalad’a’in, of course. The Black Gryphon will be proclaimed a coward and traitor to his own people, since he disappeared before the King’s disposal. One of my friends has positioned himself to take advantage of all this, since the King hasn’t yet declared an heir. He’ll see to it that the rest of your contingent is rounded up and executed, and that war is declared on White Gryphon. At the end of it all, he’ll be the great hero, and they’ll probably demand that he take the Lion Throne before he can even claim it himself.”
     Amberdrake closed his eyes, fighting off a faint. Winterhart—oh, gods— He had to think, had to keep Hadanelith talking so he could get the time to think.
     “Why should the Kalad’a’in take the blame?” he asked thickly, opening his eyes again. “The Haighlei aren’t fools, you know—they don’t think all Outlanders look alike! You aren’t going to fool them by dressing up in one of my outfits.”
     “Oh, my very dear Amberdrake,” Hadanelith said with a laugh that sent chills down his spine. “My dear, dear kestra’chern! They won’t see me when they see the murderer!”
     His features blurred, and for a moment Amberdrake wondered frantically if the blow to his head had done something to his eyes as well. But nothing else was blurring, and in a moment, Hadanelith’s face sharpened into focus again.
     Except now it wasn’t Hadanelith’s face.
     It was a face Amberdrake knew only too well, for he looked at it in mirrors several times every day. It was the face that Winterhart knew as her own beloved’s.
     “You see?” said Hadanelith. “These people so abhor magic that they’ll never dream someone might be wearing an illusion! That is the gift I have given these people—my originality. They would never have thought of this. They won’t see me when they see a Kaled’a’in murdering their King and his Consort-To-Be. They’ll see you.”
     He laughed—or rather, giggled—a high-pitched whining sound that set Amberdrake even further on edge. I’d have banished him for that laugh alone, he thought irrelevantly.
     “And the last thing, the very last thing that your dear, faithless lady will see,” Hadanelith continued gleefully, “is her former lover gutting her with a smile on his face. No one will doubt that you are completely capable of killing her and her betrothed; you made that perfectly clear with your dramatic scene in front of the entire Court.”
     With a sickening wrench, Amberdrake realized that he himself had set the pattern for all of this. And it wasn’t the King that Hadanelith wanted—it was Winterhart. He was murdering the King because that was the only way he could get at Winterhart.
     “She should have been mine,” Hadanelith said softly, as if he didn’t realize that he was speaking aloud. Amberdrake sensed the depth of obsession there, and shuddered. How long had Hadanelith been like this? How long had he wanted Winterhart? He must have known he could never have her!
     All those women back at White Gryphon—they were in Winterhart’s pattern. Lean, elegant, strong-willed until he broke their will—why didn’t I see that before?
     “If I cannot have her for my own, then I shall make sure no one else has a chance to carve her into another image,” Hadanelith whispered, confirming what Amberdrake had been thinking. Then he shook himself, and looked down at Amberdrake again with that odd, foam-flecked smile.
     “A gut-stroke, I think,” he said meditatively. “In at the navel, to the left, and up. She will linger quite agonizingly, but not long enough for a Healer to get to her in time to save her. Treasure that image in your mind, Amberdrake. Hold it until I come back. Then Skandranon and I will play some charming little games, until I decide whether I’m going to teach you some of my arts, or let you go.”
     “Let me go?” Amberdrake asked, blinking stupidly, struggling against the multiple blows to his soul.
     “Of course!” Hadanelith giggled again. “Why not? No one would ever believe you, and it would be such a major help to my friends if they were the ones to ‘capture’ you and bring you to justice! I understand that Haighlei executions are terribly entertaining.”
     As Amberdrake stared at him, Hadanelith raised his right hand and wiggled the fingers at him in a childish gesture of leavetaking. “Fare, but not well, dear Amberdrake.”
     Amberdrake expected him to walk out of the room in a normal fashion, but evidently that was not dramatic enough for him. He pirouetted in place—stepped to one side—and vanished.
     “Kechara has all of this,” Skan said hoarsely as soon as he disappeared. “That’s why I wasn’t talking much. She’s relaying it to the others now.”
     Which was, of course, one thing that Hadanelith hadn’t counted on.
     “The problem is that everyone except Winterhart is too far back in the crowd to do any good,” Skan continued desperately. “And Winterhart isn’t a Mindspeaker, so they can’t warn her. They’ve decked Aubri out with a ceremonial drape that’s strapped down over his wings—he can’t fly—”
     “Never mind,” Amberdrake said fiercely, as he willed his muscles to relax here and contract down hard there, and wriggled carefully in place. Got to get the strap around my elbows down first— His muscles protested sharply as he tried to squeeze his elbows together even tighter. Got to get some slack in the ropes— “There’s something else Hadanelith forgot—”
     They were silk ropes, very impressive to look at and very strong, but also very slick. If you know what you were doing, silk was the worst of all possible bindings, though the most ostentatious.
     The elbow ties dropped down past the joints. Now he could ease them further down.
     By squirming and shaking, he managed to inch the bindings around his elbows down to his wrists.
     Thank the gods he didn’t tether the elbow bindings to the back of the collar. Inexperienced binders work along the spine only, without thinking diagonally. The way he bound me, it looks nice, but it isn’t hard to get out of—something a real kestra’chern would know.
     He curled over backward until he got his wrists passed under his buttocks, then curled forward and passed his legs through the arch of his arms. A moment later, he had his wrists in front of him and was untying the bindings on them with his teeth.
     “I’m—a kestra’chern—Skan,” he said around the mouthful of slick cord. “A real—kestra’chern. I’ve probably—forgotten—more about knots—and restraints—than that imposter—ever learned. There!”
     The cords fell away from his wrists, and the ones that had held his elbows followed them. He unfastened the collar—which was looped through but not even locked!—and crawled over to Skandranon. He could get his legs free later. Now it was important to get Skandranon out of here and into the air!
     Skan’s restraints were artistic, but not particularly clever or difficult to undo, either. “Dilettante!” he muttered, as he untied more silk cords and undid buckles. He had to mutter, to keep the fear at bay a little longer, or it would paralyze him. “Rank amateur!”
     Damn knots! Damn Hadanelith! Damn all these people to the coldest hells! I swear, if I had a knife—if Winterhart—oh, gods, if Winterhart—

     He blinked, and shook his head as the light took on a thin quality. “Is it me, or is the light fading—”
     “It’s not you,” Skan said, his own voice rasping and frantic. “It’s the eclipse! That idiot Hadanelith has to be dramatic, he would never strike at any time but the height of the Eclipse! Hurry!”
     “I’m hurrying,” Amberdrake snarled, doubtful if the red haze he saw was due to the Eclipse. “I’m hurrying!”

–The White Gryphon, pages 342–352.


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