“So what’s your plan? Tie me to a Tecken and send me in? Because that won’t draw any attention!”
Her hands struggled against the restraints behind her back as she spat the words at Tazmin. She had come to on the floor of the high priestess’s own hut with her hands and feet bound by ropes. Sid was getting really tired of the charades the Al’iil wanted to play. She wasn’t going to help them, no matter what they threatened to do to her.
“You will help us one way or the other, Stardaughter. I am certain of that,” Tazmin cooed from the hide covered bed on the opposite end of the hut. Her legs draped over the edge where a young Al’iil girl was rubbing oils into her skin. Sid averted her gaze, disgusted that the priestess could relax at a time like this.
She strained harder, twisting her wrists in opposite directions. For a moment, she felt as if the rope might give way but the hope was short-lived; no matter how hard she tried, the restraints stayed strong and true. There was no way out, at least not on her own. Behind the loosely drawn fabrics that covered the entrance to the hut, she could see Dalrak’s back turned to her. Another warrior stood beside him, both of them watching for something in the far beyond; guarding her. Escape was a futile task, even if she could manage to get rid of the ropes, she couldn’t get rid of the two warriors outside. Let alone the high priestess herself and who knows how many more on guard beyond the hut’s walls.
“Dee,” she whispered in his direction, “Dalrak! Help!”
If he heard her, he chose not to acknowledge it.
“Dee, please,” she begged.
The muscles in his back tensed but he refused to budge.
“He will not answer you, Stardaughter. Dalrak is a loyal servant of Kartega.”
“Don’t you mean a loyal servant of you?”
“I,” the priestess said, “am by extension Kartega itself.”
Sid rolled her eyes and pulled her arms apart again, “Who decided that? Let me guess, you?”
“These conversations will lead you nowhere. All you are doing is postponing the inevitable. I know you, Stardaughter. You want to help your people; this is how you do that.”
“You don’t know the first thing about me!” Sid spat. Literally. As far out as she could to make a point. “You said it yourself, I’m a ghost. Neither here nor there. I want nothing to do with this star or anyone on it.”
“Lies will also lead you nowhere,” Tazmin noted and popped a fresh green berry into her plump mouth. “We will wait until you make your choice, the right choice.”
“Dalrak,” she cried again. When the warrior did nothing to respond again so Sid did the only thing she could think of, she planted her palms to the ground and sent a wave of electricity in his direction. The jolt zapped at his bare feet and he jumped from the shock. “Got you.”
The warrior grumbled something under his breath, gave her a nasty side glance and returned to his statuesque form.
Stardamned stubborn fool!
“You’re wasting your breath,” Tazmin chirped.
Hope drained from her pores like liquid escaping a cracked glass and she pressed her back into the wall behind her. She wasn’t just wasting her breath; she was wasting time that she no longer thought she had.
* * *
“Aaaaah!” Sid clenched her teeth to keep the pain from spreading to the rest of her body.
The high priestess dug her knees into her chest, pressing her charged palms to Sid’s temples. She shot a pulse of magic into Sid’s temporal lobes and sent her into yet another spiral of pain. Sid could feel the energy push its way into her cortex. Her head felt like it was lit on fire as the magic scratched its way into every crevice. She didn’t want to cry, didn’t want to give Tazmin the satisfaction, but the electricity must have hit a nerve and tears ran down her cheeks uncontrollably.
Above her, the priestess moved her lips but all Sid could hear were jumbled sounds. It sounded like someone had shoved an engine cleaning rag in both her ears. She shook her head, urging for Tazmin’s magic to leave her system but it was of no use. It would be hours before she felt strong enough to even move, let alone gain her hearing back. This she had gathered from experience.
Tazmin eased off her chest and said something else Sid couldn’t hear before leaving her alone in the hut.
Her eyes burned and for the first time since the torture started, she was grateful that her hands were bound. Otherwise, Sid might be tempted to pull her eyes right out of her skull. When she was sure that the priestess was gone, she let herself take her first full breath that morning. The air filled her, relaxing every muscle until her body curled into a ball on the rough floor.
The sobs came shortly after. They always did.
The high priestess had been using her magic on Sid for two days and one night, taking only short breaks in between to let her gain a small amount of strength. Enough so that she didn’t die, but not enough that she could use her own magic to fight back. Sid tried at first but those attempts left her even more drained and she settled on taking the beatings to her system without confrontation. Tazmin wanted her to fight, she could see it in her eyes when she unleashed the jolts of electricity into Sid. Each time it was as though she was begging her to get angry. Which was exactly the reason Sid chose to stay calm instead.
The high priestess wanted to break her, make her so angry and afraid that she would have no choice but to do as the priestess bid. Sid wasn’t going to let that happen. She needed to stay strong long enough. Long enough for what, she didn’t know. There was no chance of escaping, she was too weak and her only ally had turned his back on her. Quite literally, in fact.
A loud ringing sounded in her ears and she breathed through it knowing that soon her ears would pop and she’d be able to hear again. At this point, her pain was systematic. An organized process of symptoms that she checked off until the magic left her body and she felt semi-normal again. Then, like clockwork, Tazmin would return and the process started all over again.
“What do you think, Dee? Think I should just do it?” She slurred in the warrior’s direction. “I know you’re there. You’re always there, aren’t you?”
She listened until she heard the slight rustle of his muscled legs digging into the ground beneath.
“Why won’t you help me? I thought we were friends.”
Every day was like this now. Tazmin trying to break her, her resisting, begging Dalrak for help, then silence. She hated how repetitive it was, it was enough to drive her completely mad, if she hadn’t gotten there already. There were moments when Sid wondered if Tazmin had succeeded; if she had actually lost touch with reality and was on her way into the city to destroy the ring and kill everyone in sight. Or worse, if she had already gone through with it.
In those dark moments, she would try to remember Colton’s face, trace every crinkled line of his eyes when he smiled until her heart started beating again. She tried to picture what her parents must have looked like, kicking herself for not asking more about them when she had a chance. She thought she had so much more time to find out the details of their life before her, so much more time to get to know them; to get to know herself. The girl that landed on the star was long gone, if she even existed in the first place.
Sid didn’t know that girl anymore; didn’t understand her wants and needs. Her childish dreams that seemed so far away now that she couldn’t even remember what they meant.
This girl, the girl tied on the floor of a cold hut with a million volts of electricity running through her veins is who she was now. The girl that refused to choose who lives and who dies. The girl who wouldn’t pick a side even if it killed her. This was the girl that she wanted to be if not simply for the fact that she was real. No one invented her from lies and deceptions. She wasn’t hidden from view or used for her power. This girl was the only truth Sid knew.
“I’m not giving up on you, Dee. You hear me?” She whispered. Her tongue was starting to gain mobility but she could still feel saliva dripping from the side of her lips when she spoke. “I’m not giving up on any of you.”
The warrior shifted his weight outside and grunted. It was faint and likely nothing more than a guttural reaction to tell her to keep quiet but Sid could swear it meant something more. For a moment, she thought she heard him say something.
“What? Dee, what?” She beckoned, raising her voice with a desperate plea.
Another low growl followed by a grunt and then a deafening silence.
“Dee! Please! Dee, talk to me!” She cried.
She could hear light footsteps outside that seemed to be getting closer. The heavy fabrics that covered the hut’s entrance whooshed and parted. Her heart leaped into her throat and she kicked her feet furiously to turn her sweat soaked body toward the sound. He’d listened! He’d listened and he’d come to free her!
She tried to sit up, sliding her back against the wall to find a suitable position. Her head still felt like it might explode and her hearing had not yet fully returned to but she could move. She could move and she could run. She could fight.
Fists tightened, she waited as the figure emerged from behind the fabrics one slow step at a time and her world crashed around her.
“Are you ready to stand by us, Stardaughter?” Tazmin asked.
Sid shook her head and looked away, stifling a cry.
“Very well, let’s try this again.”