Gasten walked with purpose. He strode through the tunnels with the ease of ownership. He was looking forward to tonight. Keeping the peace in Alloy City just happened to benefit his cause. With his metal army, he would charge through new dimensions and steal their power for his own. Once he had the machine, of course.
“Damn her.” He remembered the visions he’d seen of her. Getting her apartment, stopping the fight for that guy… He wished he could have seen Fale defeat his best men. She was a mystery to him. But as much as she fascinated him, like a beetle-on-a-pin, he hated everything she stood for. And he wouldn’t stop until she was dead.
Caverns in the lowest levels of the industrial plant glowed dimly yellow. Furnaces vomited their heat in shivering plumes that chased the whirling shadows. The heat was repugnant to the Source Wizard as he wore his ceremonial robes for this induction. Tonight’s agenda was a man who had aided Fale’s group and could not escape punishment. He had worked for the Control Agency under Gasten’s own influence, and yet helped the mages’ cause by sheltering the group and proving himself a traitor.
“Good evenin’ Sir.” One of his cronies appeared as he found the right cave. He knew by the pleading.
“Please, have mercy. I didn’t mean any harm. Where’s my wife and child?” The man lay on a silver table, his body naked and bound by his wrists and ankles. By the time they were done he would be one of Gasten’s elite army. A soldier with human insides, a human face, but the rest made of a valezsan alloy, the strongest metal on the planet. He would be taller, broader, heavier and a great addition to the guards in Garrith.
“Ah, Teague. You know very well that they await you. Your wife is already recuperating, and you will be sent to Garrith together. I will induct you myself. Don’t feel too bad if you don’t recognize each other, though.”
“What of my daughter?” Teague’s eyes were wide with fear, like a horse in a storm. It gave Gasten a little thrill to be the source of his fright.
“The girl didn’t survive the transfer.”
A sob hiccupped through the man’s body. “You are a cruel, heartless … monster.” Teague spat the words at him but couldn’t stop the tears from running down his temples to pool in his ears.
Throwing his head back, Gasten laughed heartily and then wiped his eye. “Why yes, I am.”
He was already beginning to have fun. This transfer would be the highlight of his week. The woman, Teague’s wife, had only lasted through the removal of the first few strips of skin before passing out, and she remained silent throughout the procedure, apart from some whimpering. No fun at all.
One of the men rolled in a cart. Gasten checked over the tools. Knives mostly, and metal parts that would be grafted to Teague’s muscles, a planer for the skin, and the glass enclosure for his heart that would be visible in the chest of his new mechanical body. Teague looked at the cart and started to cry.
“I can help you. I can contact the mages and tell you where Fale is,” Teague said, his voice jerking—nostrils flaring—with each panicked breath.
The man with the cart raised his hand to strike Teague, but Gasten held his hand out. His robe was suffocating him in the feverish cavern. He pulled back the hood, running his hand through long black hair that brushed his shoulders, his thick rings glinting silver in the flickering light.
“Where is she?”
“I-I-don’t know right now. The m-mages have her I … I could find out, but I’d have to do it tomorrow. I c-can call someone. Yeah, I know just who to call.” Teague’s head was raised, and he nodded in encouragement.
The Source Wizard Gasten tilted his head in thought. If he knew where she’d gone, he could go after the machine. The power he would have. He would visit every dimension in existence and dominate them. I alone will steal their power. His army was growing, and he would need them all. Keeping slaves in so many places would require a master with ultimate power.
But surely, she’d already found the machine. It had been months since he’d seen her vision. She’d never leave him a clue, of course, she would burst in with the machine and capture the slaves in Garrith … then she would come for him. He’d know when she appeared. He had men out hunting for her. If they found her, they’d find the machine and bring it back to him. He had to have faith in his men. He almost snorted then.
He’d found his men in a dimension of idiots. He was surprised some of them even knew how to procreate. But they were loyal, and they were afraid, and that’s all he needed. They did all the manual labor in the wizard compound, and anything else he told them to. They knew the alternative; it wasn’t a difficult choice.
“No,” he said lightly. “I don’t think so. We’re here now and you will help me by becoming the next captain of my army … You have betrayed your last human.”
“No—” Teague dropped his head back to the table and it made a thud.
“Please save your strength.” Gasten whispered a few words and ran his ringed finger across Teague’s forehead.
“Why can’t I move?” Teague’s panicked eyes were wide. He could speak, but his body lay paralyzed.
Gasten chuckled. “It makes working easier if you can’t move on your own.”
“No. No, please. Please, you can’t—” Teague screamed as they sheared off the first six-inch-wide ribbon of his skin.