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Chapter 325: Painless
Lord Granbehl’s large fist struck my side. His guards stood around me, holding me up by the arms with my hands still shackled. The next blow was to my face, then a series of punches to my ribs again.
The broad-shouldered n.o.ble was sweating, and some of his hair had pulled free of the ponytail that ran down his back, giving him a slightly disheveled look. After a few more swings, he stepped back and straightened his dark suit.
A young man hurried to mop the sweat from Lord Granbehl’s face. The boy had the same fair hair as all the other Granbehls I’d met, but he lacked Kalon and Ezra’s build.
Someone cleared their throat from outside my cell. “Lord t.i.tus?”
My host turned and stepped out into the dingy stone hallway without even a second glance in my direction.
It had been three days since I’d walked out of the portal and right into this political mess. Every day, Kalon’s father had visited me to ask one question: did I kill his sons? And every day, when I told him I hadn’t, he spent a few minutes beating on me before leaving. The rest of my time was spent alone with Regis and my thoughts.
It wasn’t bad, not at all. My new asuran body was more than capable of absorbing a few punches, and so far there hadn’t been any lengthy interrogations either. The worst part was the antic.i.p.ation…not of the trial, but about Ellie.
The relic still hadn’t recharged. I’d been checking it every few minutes, but sometime during the second day Regis pointed out that I looked like a crazy person, so I had been holding myself back to only once an hour.
The old man that had led my arrest, who I’d learned as Lord Granbehl’s steward, appeared in the doorway just long enough to wave for the guards to release me, and in moments I was alone again.
‘As entertaining as it is to watch you pretend to be a punching bag, I’m bored,’ Regis thought the moment the guards closed the door. ‘We really going to do this for three whole weeks?’
Go take a nap then, I snapped.
‘Rude,’ he grumbled back.
After glancing out the barred door to make sure the guard at the end of the hall couldn’t see into my cell, I laid down on the cot and withdrew the hard fruit-toy from my dimension rune. The noise of the seed rattling around inside it immediately took me back to the snowy mountaintop village where I had trained with Three Steps.
Picturing the climbing peaks and plunging valleys, and letting myself slip into the meditative state I’d used while training with the Shadow Claws, I released a small amount of aether from my core and pushed it toward the tip of my index finger.
The purple energy hummed softly as it formed into a thin, slightly curved extension of my finger. I slid the aetheric “claw” into the slot and fished around for the pea-sized seed. Although I could get the seed to the hole, when I tried to pull it through, the aether lost its shape and dissipated.
Taking a deep breath, I conjured the claw a second time and tried again with similar results. I kept at the seed for another hour or two before Regis interrupted my practice.
‘You've been doing this for hours,’ Regis grumbled. ‘Don't you get tired of it?’
Not really. It gives me something to focus on…to occupy my mind, I guess.
‘Oh. So sort of like knitting?’
I rolled my eyes. Yes, Regis. Manipulating aether into a solid, deadly weapon is exactly like knitting. I intended to return to my practice, but footsteps on the stairs told me someone was coming.
Quickly storing the seed, I stood, walked to the cell door, and rested my hand on the bars. A jolt of mana jumped into my hand, running up my arm like a bolt of lightning. I grunted and pulled away, flexing my tingling fingers.
The steward appeared once again. He gave me a snide smirk when he noticed my obvious discomfort. “Oh, I’m sorry, Ascender Grey, did they forget to mention the door? The bars are heavily enchanted against physical contact—to ensure our guests don’t attempt to force their way free, of course.
“Now, if you would please step back to the wall…”
I did as he asked. The elder waved a hand and the wall behind me began to move. Restraints appeared, growing out of the stone and around my legs and arms, pinning me to the wall.
“Don’t bother struggling,” he said confidently. “These manacles were designed by the finest Instillers in Central Dominion. The chains and their moorings are unbreakable.”
I tested their strength, flexing my arms and shoulder until the stone began to quake.
Oops, I thought. Almost broke them.
The golden-haired elder was still smirking, apparently not having noticed. I returned the look with a deadpan, almost bored gaze. “Neat,” I said flatly.
His smirk flickered. “I realize, Ascender Grey, that your time in the Relictombs has likely inoculated you against base fear, and you’ve already shown yourself to be adept at holding out through pain. I’ll admit, Lord t.i.tus has been most frustrated with your lack of expressiveness. He would like to see you squirm, to use his word.”
The elder stood aside so another man could open the door and enter the cell. This man was tall and gangly. He wore dark leather armor with gold studs that smelled strongly of oil, which matched his greasy black hair and the gold ring in his ear.
“Where should I start, Master Matheson?” he asked in a high, simpering voice as his black eyes trailed over my body.
The old man wrinkled his nose at the torturer. “Oh, I wouldn’t presume to tell you how to do your job. Just make him talk.” Matheson met my eyes from behind the torturer. “I’ll be back in, say, twenty minutes for the questioning.”
The torturer grinned, revealing black and rotting teeth. “Yes, Master Matheson.” To me, he said, “Grey, is it? I’m Petras. I’d say it’s a pleasure, but”—his grin widened—“I promise it won’t be.”
‘Ugh, that was so cringey it made my nonexistent toes curl,’ Regis groaned.
I didn’t say anything, but kept my expression level and uninterested.
My lack of a response didn’t seem to bother Petras at all. He produced a wicked-looking dagger with a flourish and, in the same motion, drew the blade across my upper arm. It was so sharp I hardly felt it.
The wound let out a trickle of blood before healing over.
Petras’s grin faded. He regarded me warily before cutting in the same spot, slower and deeper this time. I realized that my extreme healing was going to draw unwanted attention and attempted to close off the trickle of aether from my core. It was only partially successful.
Regis, go to my left foot.
‘If this is about my toes comment earlier, I was just being—’
I need to limit my healing factor. Just do it.
My companion drifted through my body into my foot, and the slow trickle of aether redirected, pulled toward him by whatever gravitational force he had on it.
The second cut was slower to heal. Petras didn’t make a third right away, instead watching with interest as the remaining aether knit my flesh back together. For me, the healing was sluggish, but compared to a normal person, it was still incredibly quick.
He ran a rough finger over where the cut had vanished without even a scar.
He checked my mana-suppression cuffs to make sure they were tightly fastened, then took a step away from me. “How are you doing that?”
“Doing what?” I replied, my face perfectly blank.
Frowning, the torturer held the flat of his blade to the back of my hand. The dagger began to glow red hot, my skin sizzling and popping and filling the cell with the stench of burning flesh.
I let my mind slip away from the pain, meditating on my core and the aether swirling around inside it, which I held onto as tightly as I could. A small stream was leaking out, half pulled toward Regis, but some traveling along my aether channels toward my hand.
When Petras lifted his glowing dagger, the scorch mark it had left behind was a deep scar in my pristine flesh. Instead of hurting, though, I only felt a kind of tingling as aether started repairing the damage, but it was working even more slowly now on the larger wound.
The torturer stuck his thumb into the raw burn and pressed hard, his black eyes absorbing every twitch, every flicker of movement from me, but the pain was nothing. His slack face curved down into an exaggerated frown.
“Minor healing abilities, even with mana choked off,” he muttered to himself. “High pain tolerance, likely due to the same ability. Yes, time to try something else.”
He tossed the dagger, its blade still glowing, into the corner, and cracked his knuckles.
“Usually I save this for later, but…” He gave me a devious smirk. “I can tell you require…special treatment.”
‘Ooh Arthur, special treatment. I think he likes you,’ Regis teased.
A hint of a smile crossed my face. Petras scowled furiously in response.
“Think this is funny, Ascender Grey?” he asked, his voice going even higher. “To the pain, then!”
His bony fingers clamped tightly around my own, and a savage kind of glee came over him. I could tell from the concentration on his face that he was casting a spell, but nothing happened, even as sweat started pouring down his face and each breath became a desperate gasp.
The burn on the back of my hand was still healing, and Petras kept glancing at it, his expression turning more frustrated by the second.
He held my hands like that for another minute before throwing them down in disgust. “That’s not possible!” he shouted, storming back and forth across the small cell. “Entirely impossible!” He rounded on me, glaring fiercely. “What the h.e.l.l are you?”
“Innocent,” I said flatly. “And a bit hungry.”
Hissing, Petras s.n.a.t.c.hed his dagger from the floor, took two quick steps toward me, and drove the weapon into my side, just below my ribs. Though no longer glowing, it was still scorching hot, and I could feel it burning inside me.
I’d had worse.
His beetle-black eyes searched mine for any hint of pain or fear he could console himself with, but I gave him nothing.
He ripped the dagger out and stared at the wound. I let the aether flow freely. Half still filtered downward toward Regis, but the rest went to the deep cut in my side. It slowly began to heal over. Finally, Petras slumped to my cot and fell into it. He stayed like that for a couple of minutes, silently glaring up at the low ceiling.
“I’ve never seen anyone heal as quickly as you, and yet your mana doesn’t react to my crest. My touch should turn every nerve in your body to fire if you have any mana in you at all. I don’t understand it.” He turned his head so he was staring at me. His fury had faded to wary curiosity. “Is it an emblem? A…a regalia? I was told your runes were vague, but nothing unusual.”
I shrugged awkwardly, pinned to the wall like I was.
“A man of mystery…” Petras said under his breath, looking back at the ceiling. “Nothing for it then but to see just how strong this ability is.”
The torturer rolled out of the cot and flourished his dagger with a nasty smile.
By the time the golden-haired elder returned, my clothes were in tatters and stained red with my blood. Petras had taken his time, inflicting wound after wound with slow, deliberate focus. My injuries were closing slightly slower now, so I recalled Regis from my foot, but I hadn’t rewarded the torturer’s efforts with even the flicker of an eyelid.
The old man, Matheson, seemed surprised by my state. He glared at Petras, but the lanky Alacryan only shrugged apologetically. “You can leave us now. Wait in the hall.”
Petras’s shoulders slumped and he sulked out of the cell. Matheson waited until he was gone to begin asking questions.
“Ascender Grey,” he began, “I would like for you to explain to me why you murdered Lord Kalon of Blood Granbehl, Lord Ezra of Blood Granbehl, and Lady Riah of Blood Faline. Please, spare no detail.”
Speaking as calmly and plainly as I could muster, I said, “I didn’t murder anyone. The Relictombs proved much more difficult than Kalon had antic.i.p.ated, and they fell to the monsters inside.”
Matheson’s brows came together in a small frown. “You must understand, Ascender Grey, that we have an eyewitness to these acts. We know what happened. My Lord and Lady Granbehl now wish to understand why.”
He took a step closer to me. “Was this attack political in nature? Are you an a.s.sa.s.sin sent by a rival blood?”
“If I was, I did a pretty lousy job seeing that I left an eyewitness.”
Things didn’t get better from there. Matheson pressed me to explain the details of our ascent, from how I found the Granbehls, to the forms the beasts within the Relictombs took, all the way down to small details like what we all ate while trapped in the mirror room, and what the figures in the mirrors looked like.
I told as much of the truth as I comfortably could, but took careful note of any omissions I made for when they inevitably asked me to repeat everything I’d said.
Finally, Matheson turned to leave the cell, but stopped in the doorway. “Oh, yes. One more thing, Ascender Grey. Where did you hide your dimension ring?”
“I lost it,” I answered with a tone of regret, “along with all my belongings. But I already told the guard that.”
“I see. Very well then.” Matheson left without another word, shutting the cell door with a heavy clang behind him.
Regis, who had been uncharacteristically quiet throughout the torture and following interview, fluttered awake inside of me. ‘You okay?’
Fine, I replied, easing onto the cot. I’d put myself through so much worse when forging my aether channels and training in the Relictombs.
Habit caused me to withdraw the multi-faceted relic from my dimension rune to check, and I felt a jolt of adrenaline and sat back up quickly when I realized the stone was warm to the touch and humming softly with a faint aetheric energy.
‘About time. So what first then?’
There was no question. Clenching the relic in my fist, I thought Ellie’s name. White fog swirled across the surface of the stone, and I wasn’t immediately drawn in as I had been before. Closing my eyes, I focused harder, picturing her face and chanting her name in my mind: Eleanor Leywin, Eleanor Leywin…Ellie…
‘Arthur,’ Regis thought consolingly, ‘I’m sorry—’
Even though my eyes were closed, I felt my perception s.h.i.+ft suddenly. Regis’s presence was gone, as was the feel of cold stone beneath my feet.
Slowly, I opened my eyes.
The first thing I saw was Ellie. My sister, alive and safe.