Chapter Eighteen

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Screams echoed through the narrow stone hallways, greeting those that ventured into the dungeons with a chilling embrace.  Footsteps crunched on broken stone and bone alike as they made their way through the darkness. The man walked at a brisk, comfortable place. My advisors will not follow me here—no one will follow me here, he thought. He pushed a hand through his hair as he moved closer to his destination. The stench was putrid and stale, and the dungeons reeked of death, of the abandonment of hope. The screams grew louder as he moved, emanating from the back room, he knew. The first time he had visited the dungeons when he was but a teenager he had felt as though the screams would permeate his soul, infect him for all time. He was disturbed, sickened even, by the sights he saw. A small smile crept across his face. How the times have changed, he thought.

His visits to the dungeon, though sparse over the last decade, were always a source of an odd form of pleasure that even he could not explain. Most of the time the interrogations were for naught, producing little that could be used, but providing at least some sort of primal satisfaction for himself. A guard standing outside of the door stiffened at his approach.

“Sire,” he said with a nod as he fumbled through opening the door.

The room was fairly large, at least larger than most under the keep, and bare save for a large stone tablet placed in the middle of the room displaying a bloodied, half naked figure sprawled on top of it. Sir Lyle, the dungeon master and newly appointed Justice of the King, leaned casually against the wall, drawing deep from a small pipe. He was not a large man, but not necessarily small either, with cropped black hair and a long, fox-like face. The sleeves of his once white shirt were rolled up past his elbows, and his hands were covered in dried blood. He nodded and pulled the pipe from his mouth.

“Morning, Your Grace,” he said, his voice a raspy, malevolent window into his deep black soul.

King Maras nodded his brow slightly. “What have you found out?” His voice was not much better. The croak he had acquired so long ago, courtesy of the late Lord Narris, was still present upon his lips.

Sir Lyle frowned slightly. “He sold her to a traveling man, though he cannot be sure that it was him. I had him describe the man, but by his tongue it would be half the men in the empire.” He shrugged and pushed himself from the wall. “Her name was Selene. She is a serving wench, nothing more, or so he says.”

“It seems Sir Veran had more luck interrogating him in the field,” King Maras said, disappointment clear on his voice. He moved to the stone slab and looked down upon the fat, or at least once fat, broken man that lay gurgling on his own spit and blood, barely coherent. “This Selene, where did you get her from?”

The man’s eyes rolled around his head and he coughed a guttural sound that may or may not have been an answer. King Maras raised an eyebrow to Sir Lyle, and took a step back as the knight pulled out a blade—a filet knife, Maras knew—and moved to the man without a twitch of emotion upon his face. He put the blade just under the man’s skin, separating it from the rest of his body, and began flaying him. The screams began again, this time as bone-chilling as the darkest form of an evil embrace.

“My king asked you a question,” Lyle said, calm as a morning breeze. When the man did not immediately answer, he dug the knife in farther and pulled off more skin.

The words came in a flood then, sputtered through blood and muck and vomit. “A troupe, a traveling troupe I say. They knew her name. Selene they told me. She was no more than a small child then, not even old enough to carry a tray.” The man whimpered at the knife in his side. “The child is nothing, nobody,” he insisted.

“And the man who bid you to tell Sir Veran the wrong room, what about him?” It was the king who spoke this time.

The man winced, the loose skin from his face shaking with his every movement. “He was a traveling man, comely and unassuming. He did not give his name, only a bag of coins and a request of silence.”

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