Part 7: Revolution 9
I notice two things when I wake. I can breathe again, and my neck really hurts. I'm very, very relieved to be breathing. So very relieved I'm not dead. I could even move, if I had a mind to. Of course, I don't really want to as I’m already being moved. My neck and shoulders hurt because someone has my arms and is pulling me across the floor.
“Sodding ash-sucking fires of fate,” comes a growl from above my left shoulder. My clothes slide against the smooth tiles of the floor, slightly warm from the speed. “Of all the cells to pop open in the rumble why'd it have to be this sack of shit?”
“I can't say, Gotz,” says a voice to my right. So two people are hauling me, then. “Maybe it's just that poor luck you complain about all the time. Maybe the Shadows did it to spite you. Punishment for your sins.”
“My sins ain't the ones they should be feedin' on,” says the grumbler. “He killed Cobb. He ought to die a thousand tiny deaths for that. I still can't believe Lord Dythanus won't let me do what's proper and stick the gully bastard.”
Bullyboys. Great. Just what I needed right now. I briefly consider leaping up and knocking them around because I'm still lightheaded and stupid from whatever Aelia did to me, but blessed merciful sanity stops me before the idea gets me killed.
They haven't searched me - I can still feel my pouch of chipped fireglass bits flapping against my leg - but I have no weapons and I ache too much to really want to give attacking them a go. Mostly I just want to sleep. Put this whole night behind me. Refresh my brain and plan things out better without the Dreamlily to mess everything up.
I don't think that's much of an option, though. The Shadows can get at me anywhere. I'm sure Despair hasn't forgotten about me, and The Hangman might be lurking around any corner, ready to make me swing...
If they catch me in an enclosed space, I'm probably done for. And the bullyboys are dragging me right back to where I started.
I let out a sigh slow enough that the bullyboys don't notice I'm awake. As poorly as I'm feeling, I'm going to have to try and escape anyway.
I crack an eye open and do my best to stifle my flinch at the sudden light. I let the eye adjust before carefully opening the other, then wait for that flare to die down as well. I look about as best I can without raising my head. The Bullyboys seem too engrossed in their conversation about how much I deserve to be stabbed to pay much attention to me.
The bullyboy to my left has thick legs shoved into thick boots. He has a long, heavy stride. He's probably the larger of the two. I recognize his voice as the bodyguard who threatened to pull my guts out and feed them to me earlier.
The other one, to my right, has thin legs and soft, well-made shoes. He moves with effort, digging his heels into the ground to heft my weight. I'm guessing he hasn't had to pull much deadweight in his life. He's probably a manservant from his fine shoes. He might be an elf, I can't tell from down here, but he doesn't sound like one. I got the impression from Aelia that all the elves in Miir are nobles, and even a minor lordling wouldn't put up with the way the guard on my left is speaking to him.
“-collecting debtors, chasing escaped Dreamers all over the Lair...this is dog's work, Udo! Kostjak or Chevin should be doing this, not me!”
“Maybe Lord Jereth is giving you a reward for your loyal service by ordering you about personally, Gotz. Or maybe you should consider these last few days the next time you think of playing jack and trump while on duty. Be that as it may-”
Dreamers. Plural. I'm not the only one out of their cell. That means I might have an enemy of my enemy to work with, or at least someone else to cause a distraction to cover an escape. Either way, it's something.
I risk raising my head to catch a glimpse of where we're heading. I catch sight of a stairwell heading down into darkness. This isn't the way I came. There were no stairs I can recall between my cell and the infirmary Aelia patched me up in. If they're taking me to a cell, it's not the one I was stuck in before.
The bullyboys aren't gentle pulling me down the stairs, but I don't wait for them to bang my shins on every step down. As soon as I feel the first drop I tense, drawing my knees in and pushing against the steps while yanking my arms in to break the grips holding me.
It half works. The skinny guy in the poofy clothes screams like a little girl and drops my arm the instant I start thrashing about. The burly one on my left, however, has a grip like a vice. My sudden leap into the unknown unbalances him, and as he tries to keep me from squirming away he takes a step backward. Into empty air. We go tumbling.
We bounce down the stairwell. I feel a dozen steps slap against my spine. We collapse in a heap at the bottom. Somewhere in the tumble the big guy let me go, so I spring to my feet...and instantly regret it as a wave of dizziness crashes over me. I see spots and my stomach lurches, doubling me over. I don't have anything to throw up though so the retch just hurts. By the time my dizziness is gone so is the element of surprise.
The burly bullyoby finds his feet. From up top I hear the patter of coward's feet, so it's just us right now in the gloomy hall. He snorts like a ram and gives me a bloodshot death glare.
“So...Gotz, is it?” I say. “Good name. Fits your smell.” Then I slap his face with my good hand and try to duck back up the stair.
“GRAGH!” he bellows and charges, which is just what I had in mind. Angry fighters are stupid fighters. I duck away from his lurching grabs, sticking my foot out to trip him up as I do. He goes crashing into a heavy metal door and I realize we're in a hallway full of cells. Great. I don't see any way out except the way we just came, and there isn't much for me to work with. It's also hard to move quickly with just one boot on.
So I solve both my problems by stripping off my remaining shoe to use as a weapon.
Gotz gives another inarticulate roar and rushes me again, so I duck him again and start smacking at him with the hardened heel of my makeshift club. I can't tell if I'm doing more than raising welts, but he's certainly not thinking straight enough to get a good grab on me. I spy an open cell door...perhaps I can lure him there, shut him in. Then I can head upstairs and deal with his friend before he brings half the mansion down here.
Another rush. This one silent, determined. I shove my hand into the boot for better leverage and whack the heel across his face, sending him stumbling back. Blood pours out of his nose, and he rubs his jaw. I half expect him to spit a tooth out. He glares at me, but I think he's wised up. I step back towards the open door. He doesn't follow immediately.
“There's nowhere for you to go, Exile.” He says, moving toward me slowly. “Give up now, and I won't have to break you into pieces. Personally, though, I hope you resist and give me the excuse.”
“You and what army?” I say, matching his steps, backing toward the cell. “You aren't so tough when you can't sneak up and brain someone from behind, are you? Just another dumb bullyboy caught without his stick.”
He lunges again, and I dance to the side, but this time he moves with me and I realize he was feinting. His thick hands close on my wrist. He lurches, and I'm raised off my feet and into the opposite wall with a BANG!
“Thieves!” Someone screams from inside the cell. “Killers! Assassins! You'll never get me! I'll cut out your eyes with a spoon!”
Like a spreading plague, the screams spawn other screams, yells, and curses from the cells around us.
“No! Can't stop here! This is bat country!”
“...in my broken chair, my wings are broken and so is my hair...”
“Merciful Saints! What are all these goddamn animals?”
“...like being naked...”
“...number nine, number nine, number nine, number nine...”
“There's no earthly way of knowing which direction we are going...”
“...if you become naked...”
“...the girl! The girl with empty eyes! Follow her!”
“Is it raining? Is it snowing? Is old Mount Morrine a-blowing?”
All the screams and singing and weeping of a dozen Dreamers pouring into the air...it's suffocating. I hardly feel the next couple of blows, so lost am I in the madness, tugging at me like a foul tide, sweeping me away...I roll on my side, sucking back sobs...
I come back to myself after the third punch to my kidney knocks my face into the wall, splitting my lip open. I'm curled on the floor, gasping for air, with the huge bullyboy crouched over me, one hand shoving my head down while the other slams me to paste. I try to kick him in the dangles but he shifts his leg in time to catch my foot against his thigh.
So I do the next best thing I can think of to get out of his hold. I bite his thumb.
His bellows aren't much louder than the racket surrounding us, but he loosens his grip enough for me to wiggle free. My guts ache and I think I'm going to be pissing blood tomorrow but I'm free, scrambling toward the empty cell. I pull myself up on the door. I can still win this. I just need to get him there...
And then he's in my face again, all bloody-faced and wild-eyed, snarling like a street dog, and I swing the door between us to keep him at bay. He doesn't slow down, just uses his momentum to turn the door into a weapon against me, slamming me off my feet. I go skidding across the floor, and he's right behind me as I flop around. He grabs me, hauls me into the air...everything seems to slow...my hands clutch at his arms, desperate to get purchase...and then he drives me front first into the stone tiles. I see stars.
By the time the stars clear, he's rolled me onto my back and gathered me up in a painful pin, and he's counting. “...two...THREE.” He begins to laugh. “It's all over, whorespawn.” He twists my arm and I can't help but shriek. “Give me any more trouble and I'll break it off. Got that, cocksucker?”
“YES!” I cry as he twists again. “Please! Anything! Just stop!”
He gives the arm another yank just to hear me squeal again, then drops me out of the pin, grabs my shirt, and heaves me into the open cell. The door clanks shut behind me, and he laughs again as he locks it. The other madmen in the cells along the corridor echo his noise with babbling, cackling, hooting mockery, echoing my shame throughout the hall.