The Last Stand (The Eleven Years War: Book One)

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Chapter Forty

Elise slowly emerged from the dungeon, her entire body numb. She was light-headed from using so much fire, to the point where she couldn’t quite walk straight, and every place the Giskens had hit her was throbbing painfully.

She could hardly believe everything that had happened to her in the past few hours. The Giskens had arrested her and beaten her for information. Olrick had just rescued her, but not without a price; she’d had to kill people for the first just to get out of the dungeon, and Olrick was still down there, likely stalling for her until she could get away. It felt like her entire world was falling apart around her.

As Elise began walking towards the servants’ quarters and her comfortable bed, she heard soft footfalls coming from behind her. When she looked over her shoulder, praying to the gods that she wasn’t being chased by more Giskens, she saw that it wasn’t an enemy soldier: it was a very unhappy-looking Eza.

“What’s going on?” Elise asked as she began walking toward her.

“I should be asking you that,” Eza said. She took her by the shoulder and began leading her across the hall, towards one of the private dining rooms. “Let’s get you somewhere safe, first; wouldn’t want the Giskens finding you, again.”

Once they were in the dining room, Elise saw that Eza wasn’t the only person that had been waiting for her to come back. Silas was also in the dining room, picking something out of his teeth with a dagger. He’d unbuttoned his suit jacket, revealing a dirty white shirt underneath his now slightly wrinkled suit.

Silas put the dagger back in its sheathe and stood up. “Well, where have you been, you little sh-“ Eza smacked him on the back of the head, hard, before he could finish his sentence.

“Everything’s gone to hell, and that’s what you ask?” Eza asked. “By the saints, Silas, try and focus on what’s important!” Silas whistled.

“Ooookay,” he said. “I see that you’re nice and on edge this evening.” He looked over at Elise. “What exactly happened, tonight? Did someone walk in on you?”

Elise shook her head. “There were soldiers waiting for me in Raul’s room when I got there. They knew that I was going to be there.” Silas cursed, while Eza just got an even angrier look on her face.

“How long have they known about this?” he asked himself.

“It’s been at least two weeks,” Eza said. “That information about the small eastern force must have been planted for things to go as horribly wrong as they did.”

“And what happened to Olrick?” Silas said.

Elise could feel her blood run cold as she looked down at her feet. It wasn’t until that moment that the pieces began to fit together.

“It was a trap,” she said to herself, shocked.

“What?” Elise looked back up.

“During my interrogation, they kept asking me who put me up to this, and they didn’t starve me when I didn’t say anything.” she said. “They didn’t want me; they wanted one of you.” Once again, Silas cursed as Eza began pacing back and forth, running a hand through her hair.

“Looks like the Giskens know more about counter intelligence than we thought,” Silas said. He began walking towards the door. “My turn to break someone out. If I don’t come back, you’ll be getting control of the intelligence service, Eza.”

Eza took her staff and whacked it against his chest. “No, you aren’t. Not yet, anyway.” Silas sighed and folded his arms over his chest.

“And what do you suggest?” he asked.

“Obviously, that strategy doesn’t work,” Eza said. “We need information on what’s going on, or else this cycle of getting caught and getting rescued is just going to continue until those Giskens take one of us away to die.”

“And let me guess,” Silas said. “You’ll be the one to get that information.”

“Seeing as I’m the only one between the two of us that can fit in the assassin’s hole, yes,” Eza said. “Unless you want to cram yourself into it, then by all means, go ahead.”

So, there is an assassin’s hole in Raul’s room. Elise had been wondering about that ever since Raul had mentioned it weeks ago.

Silas sighed, exasperated. It seemed that he knew that there wouldn’t be any winning this argument. “Fine. Take a few hours to spy on Raul, then get your ass back here. We don’t want another incident like tonight’s, got it?” Eza nodded and walked out the door.

“Is she going to kill Raul?” Elise asked once the door had shut behind Eza.

Silas snorted. “Sadly, no. She’ll just be hanging out in the hole to do some spying. As far as we know, Raul doesn’t know where that is, yet.” He sat down at the table, running a hand through his hair and pulling a flask out from his uniform’s inside pocket.

“By the way, your boyfriend came by right before Olrick left,” he said. “He was a little upset; you may want to find him in the morning.”

“What do you mean, upset?” She asked as her stomach began to twist itself into knots. With everything that had happened to her over the past few hours, she’d forgotten about Finn. She couldn’t even imagine the things that must have run through his head when he found out about what had happened to her and why.

Silas shrugged. “Olrick was the one who talked to him. Whatever it was, it was big enough that Finn looked like he was on the verge of tears.”

Elise sat down and put her head in her hands. Her gut told her that it had to do with her spying on Raul.

“What was I thinking?” she asked no one in particular. “I shouldn’t have done any of this. What in the world made me think that I was at all capable of spying on someone like Raul?”

“Don’t beat yourself up so much,” Silas said. “Believe me, you did a lot better than I ever thought you would.” Elise looked over at him confused.

“You’re doing a horrible job of making me feel better,” she said. Silas began to scratch his beard.

“I never was that good at it,” he said. “What I was trying to say was that you’ve done a better job than that prostitute I was going to hire would have.” Elise could feel her cheeks beginning to burn red.

“You were going to hire a prostitute for that, too?” she asked. How many of those could he possibly know?

“First of all, Lira is an escort; there’s a huge difference,” Silas said. “And yes, I was going to hire a prostitute to come in and spy on Raul, but Eza didn’t think it would be a good thing if she were to – well – use her feminine charms on the general to get us information, and that kind of person’s loyalty only goes as deep as their pockets. We knew that you were loyal beyond coin and your means of getting information wouldn’t be so scandalous.”

“So, you decided to recruit me because I’m not a prostitute?” she asked. Silas sighed, leaning back in his chair.

“If you want to take it that way, sure,” Silas said with a shrug. “What I’m trying to say is that there’s some damned good reasons why we wanted you to do this. Believe me, we didn’t pick you because you were the most convenient choice.” Elise found herself smiling, if just slightly. Unlike the rest of the pep talk, that part had managed to make her feel a little better.

“Now, you need to get yourself to bed,” Silas said. “Don’t worry about getting up early to do servant stuff; I think you’ve earned yourself some time to sleep in, tonight.”

Eza sat in the assassin’s hole, watching Raul as he sat at his desk, reading some military reports that evening. Even with how small she was, the hole still managed to be a little cramped: after all, it was meant for quick assassinations, not long spying efforts. She didn’t mind, though. By far, the assassin’s hole was one of the more comfortable places she’d had to spy on people from.

The hole was actually accessed through the servant’s passage, next to the door that gave the servants access to the room. Unlike that door, though, the one to this room (if it was big enough to be called that) was more concealed; the only people who knew how to access it were Polain, Silas, Olrick, herself, and all the past rulers, generals, and intelligence officers who’ve been stationed there. Even Marion didn’t know about the various hidden rooms in her own castle, and she wouldn’t know until her coronation next month. Once inside, a normal-sized person had to sit with their legs up against their chest as they looked into the room through a peephole, hidden from the view of whoever was staying in the room. If needed, there was a second, larger hole that could be used for assassinations. It did limit methods of death to poison darts, but not many cared; as a member of the military intelligence core, she’d been trained in most every type of weapon, though she certainly preferred her trusty staff. It wasn’t the kind of place that people would want to spend much time in, but anyone who knew about it wouldn’t care; there were worse places spies and assassins could spend time in.

Since Eza was a lot smaller than the average Watchmen or Rook, she could manage to sit down with her legs crossed and her staff leaning against the wall next to her. It made the job of spying on Raul a little easier, but she still found herself getting antsy. She’d been sitting there for a good half hour, and all she’d done was watch him read military report after military report. While it did give her an appreciation of how Polain’s army ran (if she had to write a report on every single thing she did, she would probably go traitor, herself), it was getting her pretty annoyed. If it had been General Polain who had just caught someone spying on him, he’d be a busy bee. He certainly wouldn’t spend half an hour reading intelligence reports and sipping Vercourian wine.

Finally, just as Eza was starting to fall asleep, there was a knock at Raul’s door.

Raul put down the wine and the intelligence report he was reading and stood up. “Enter.”

On command, the door opened and a Gisken soldier walked in, holding yet another report in his hand. He was young, perhaps fifteen or sixteen years old, and was a private, judging by his white armband.

He saluted Raul. “General Raul, sir.”

“At ease,” Raul said with a wave of his hand. The Gisken put his hand down and offered him the letter.

“Message from Kurzh, sir,” he said.

That snatched Eza’s attention. Kurzh, her birthplace, had been an intelligence black hole for ten years. It was rare to hear about anything of importance that was going on, there.

Raul took the letter, opened it, and began reading it. Apparently, whatever was in the letter was interesting; his frown grew deeper and deeper the more of it he read.

“Is something wrong, sir?” the private asked as Raul sat back down at his desk.

“Do you know who General Mitrius of Kurzh is, private?” Raul said. “Or are you a little young for that?”

Eza found herself leaning forward as her heart shot up into her throat. Mitrius had taken her in after she’d tried to pick his pockets. She, along with the rest of the world, hadn’t seen or heard from him since she left Kurzh.

“Of course, sir,” the private said. “He was the general of the Kurzhian army before we liberated Kurzh; why?”

“It seems that he’s been arrested,” Raul said. “They caught him trying to steal food from our boys’ food supplies.”

Eza felt like she’d been punched in the gut. If it had been anyone else, she would have had some hope that they would live, but not Mitrius. In fact, she was shocked they kept him alive long enough to arrest him. The closest man she’d had to a father was going to be executed, and there wasn’t a thing she could do about it.

Actually, no; there was something she could do about it. She would do something about it.

She didn’t even hear the rest of the conversation. Eza silently left the assassin’s hole, already trying to come up with some way she could get back to the country she’d tried so hard to escape from.

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