“Nexus, wake up!” said the woman’s voice, quivering with excitement. “This is important!”
“Kratia? What is it?” asked Nexus, shaking himself awake. “Is there another attack?” He reached out with his magically enhanced senses, found only Kratia and Crow in the room with him.
Crow had awakened before him, and now fluttered up to the bedside table to await his master’s orders. Stretching his mind farther he found Billy still asleep in the adjoining chamber; Nexus delivered a mental jolt to awaken him.
“No. Something far better! We have captured a Rep! Alive!” Kratia practically bound into the room, grinning from ear to ear. “Well? What do you think of that?” The joy in Kratia’s voice was infectious. She continued to dance about the room as Nexus arose, dressed in his long nightshirt.
“Come on! We need to study it, Nexus! This could be the break we need!”
Nexus made a clucking noise and Crow leaped upon his shoulder. The mental rapport was instant, and Crow squawked out directions for Nexus to pick up his scattered clothing.
“Nexus, hurry up. I’m incredibly anxious for you to study the creature.”
“I suspect you’re anxious to study it yourself!”
“I’ve made a cursory examination only. Enough to make me cautious and ask for your help. The Rep is telepathic, Nexus. Its mind is very powerful; like the old Elves. Perhaps even more powerful. It can broadcast subliminal commands and virtually paralyze its prey.”
“By the Desolation! How did you capture it?”
“Drake,” she answered. “He’s a genius! He and his men rigged up a net over the Moen. Stretched out between the castle on the one side and some trees on the other. Some Reps were out on the prowl tonight, and one of them got fouled in it!”
Kratia smiled, her white teeth almost glowing in the dimly lit room.
“I’d like to see it, too,” said Billy, entering the room.
Kratia whirled around. “Impossible! The Rep is too powerful, even as a prisoner. For your own safety, I don’t want you near it. At least until Nexus and I know more about its powers and its limitations.”
Billy turned to Nexus, irritated. Crow began to say something, but Nexus hushed it. Nexus knew Billy had a good mind and was quickly growing stronger in his abilities. But Billy’s battle with the Rauder could have gone very badly if Nexus had not been there. Here the danger was potentially more acute. And what good was training if even Lords of the Circle didn’t know what was being faced?
“Kratia, what range does the Rep’s mind have? I can’t sense it from here. Where is it being kept?”
“The beast is in a cell at the lowest level of the castle. I am unsure of its range, but I suspect it to be about ten to twenty yards. That’s about how close my men got to it before they began to act strangely; eventually they had to sedate the creature with tranquilizers delivered by arrows.”
Nexus sighed. “Billy, best you wait here. Kratia and I will examine the Rep and determine how best to proceed.”
Billy stepped back as Nexus and Kratia passed out through the door. Kratia flashed him a bright smile, eyes gleaming like shining daggers in moonlight.
“Don’t worry, Billy. I’m sure you’ll get to see some action very soon!” she whispered, then closed the door behind her.
Nexus guessed they descended at least a hundred feet and were now well below ground level. The corridor here was barely four feet wide and six feet high. Floor, walls, ceiling were all constructed of massive stone blocks that formed the foundation of the castle.
They paused at an iron gate, padlocked and guarded by two soldiers who snapped to attention as the master of the castle approached. Crow shifted closer to Nexus ear and informed him of the situation.
“Is it wise to have these two here, Kratia? How far away is the creature?”
Kratia smiled as the guards unlocked the gate and swung it wide for them. It creaked loudly. “Of course it’s safe. At least, I think it is. The creature is another eighty feet down this corridor; beyond the range to do my people harm. And since I don’t want anyone wandering around near this thing, the guards are absolutely necessary.”
Nexus casually reached out a tiny spell to analyze the bars: normal iron. He entered Crow’s mind, and noted the weapons of the men were limited to swords. “Not even a crossbow to worry about, old buddy,” the wizard thought to his animal friend. “And we haven’t seen a hint of any new weapons Kratia has been working on!”
“Nexus, there is one more thing,” said Kratia.
“What about him?”
“I want you to block his telepathy.”
Nexus stiffened but said nothing.
“I’ve known for some time that your bird is telepathic,” said Kratia. “I have told no one, since it was obvious that you didn’t want anyone to know. But Crow’s abilities, so near to the Rep and its telepathy; well, you can understand why it would be safer for Crow to be shielded from all reception and broadcast.”
Nexus grunted. “I agree.” He stood still, uncomfortable. He coughed. “And,” he said, “I thank you for keeping my secret.”
“Don’t mention it. After all, we are fellow Lords of the Circle.”
He cast the necessary spell and Crow’s mind was suddenly cut off from his. He petted Crow softly, soothing the nervous bird. There was no cause for alarm but Nexus felt vulnerable and threatened. He chalked it up the concern about Crow and the Rep. They walked through the gate.
Nexus knew that the guards didn’t close the gate after they went through; he would have heard it easily. Far from making him feel better, it added to his apprehension.
Ten feet later the corridor made a right angle turn; Crow cawed out the word “Right” and Nexus made the turn and was two strides beyond when he felt the wrongness. The magic was gone!
“Kratia! I can’t feel…” then suddenly he was sprawling over her out-thrust leg. He slammed hard against the stone floor, pain burning across his face. He heard footsteps running towards them. He grabbed his wand and began crawling backward, trying to get out from the white crystal barrier.
Kratia laughed, high and cruel. Pain flared again as she kicked him in the ribs. “Sorry, old man. The magic’s over. Here you’re just a stupid, ugly, old, blind man. And I’m going to make you pay for all the fucking mistakes you made!”
Nexus felt strong arms grab him and haul him to his feet. “Crow!” he shouted. “Fly! Fly! Escape! Warn Billy!”
He felt a hand slap viciously across his mouth. “Shut up!” hissed Kratia. She shouted at the guards, “Stop the bird you idiots!”
They let him go, and Nexus swung his arms wide in an arc that crashed into one of them. There was a cry and a curse, then Nexus was knocked to the floor in a volley of blows to the head and back.
“Idiots! Fools! You – Jacob, let go your nose and grab Nexus. I want him secured in those chains NOW! Yogg, go after that damn bird!”
Kratia instinctively tried to reach out and grab the bird with her magic before realizing that she was as impotent as Nexus within the walls of the white crystal cell. Well, Crow would be found and dealt with soon enough. Nexus was the important catch and she must first assure that he was completely secured.
Jacob, a strong but mentally challenged palace guard, kicked Nexus in the face, breaking two of the wizard’s front teeth and bringing forth a grunt of pain. Jacob smiled broadly at the display of pain, and had pulled back his leg for another kick when Kratia stopped him.
“I need him alive, Jacob. And I will administer all pain and pleasure unless I tell you otherwise. Understand? Good. Bring him here and secure the manacles. Both hands and feet. Hoist him up by the arms; I don’t want him lying on the floor. He might catch some disease!”
The guard stared at her for a moment wondering if she was serious. Then she broke into peals of hysterical laughter, and he smiled. Kratia was so beautiful when she smiled. Especially when they shared the joy of hurting someone.
He dragged Nexus over and sat on his chest as he fitted the wrist pieces on and secured them with tiny padlocks. He shifted around to do the same to the wizard’s ankles, then moved over to a set of cranks and pulleys to which the manacle chains were attached.
He cranked on one wheel, laughing as it lifted Nexus’s feet into the air. He released a lever, letting the foot chains drop him back to the floor. He cranked away on the other wheel, raising Nexus up by the arms until his feet dangled with only the tips of his sandals touching the floor.
“Good job, Jacob. You may leave,” she said curtly. When the guard was out of sight she walked over to Nexus. Nexus felt her lips touch his ear as she whispered, “I will make you pay, Nexus. I will make the whole world pay!”
“For what, Kratia? I have done no harm to you. Nor has the Circle.”
“No deeper hurt was ever done than what you did to me. And your lack of remembrance just adds to the insult of the injury. Oh yes, you will pay.”
“Let me go, Kratia. I will see that you get help.”
“Me? Get help?” She started laughing. “You really are blind, Nexus. You are the one in need of help. It’s you in my dungeon, not the other way around.”
“You’re mad,” said Nexus.
Kratia slapped him hard, turned and left him alone.