of the Last God
(Book II of the Oerth Cycle)
(C) 2000 BY
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Shazad D'Zhin, Lord and Emperor of all the cat clans, regarded the prisoner, his tail flicking slowly in irritation. Stroking his ebon whiskers, he considered the problem. She would not be broken.
Oh, certainly, she had screamed under the whip until the blood matted her back and pooled at her foot-paws. And yes, she begged for mercy as the Royal Torturer applied the hot iron to various tender spots of her skin until the air of the throne-room was foul with the smell of burnt fur and flesh. She had sobbed and wept, and wailed her innocence - yet he knew it was a lie.
"Mrowr... She has fainted again, my lord. Shall I wake her?" R'Mang, the Royal Torturer asked, already lifting the iron from the brazier. The smoke-gray tabby smiled - he enjoyed his duties to the fullest, particularly at this moment, when his skills were called upon to interrogate one as lovely as L'Valin was. Or perhaps it was better to say, 'as she had once been.' Her once-lovely tan, seal-pointed pelt was now cris-crossed with bleeding whip-cuts and speckled with dark burns from the iron. Even if she somehow lived, D'Zhin seriously doubted she would ever again attract the attention of any male who wasn't stone blind. No, the nude, bloody thing that dangled limply from the chains that were clipped to the ceiling of the throneroom was hardly even recognizable as the delectable she-cat who was dragged in here four hours ago.
"Mrr... No, let the Mentalt witch hang there for a moment while I consider," D'Zhin rumbled, and resumed thinking.
The Mentalts were renowned for their self control. D'Zhin had hoped that the truth of the matter might be wrested from their muzzles by simple torture, but with this one close to death, it seemed this was not to be. One was the most he estimated he could spare - the other four, he would need to maintain his leverage against the nuns of T'Masa Keep. He gazed upon the others as they cowered in the corner. They knelt, trembling, in chains and blindfolds. The blindfolds would insure that they would only hear the screams, the crack of the whip and the sizzle of the iron, yet not see. They would only smell the blood and the burnt flesh, yet not know. No, they would not know what was done until it was their turn - and this would heighten their fear.
D'Zhin sighed quietly. Even with them trembling in fear, he could tell it was wasted effort. No, they would not be broken, either. They would make a lovely show of it, of course, but they would not talk this way. No true Mentalt would could be broken this way. They were not ordinary females, after all. There remained, however, the possibility that they could be weakened, and perhaps would slip.
Finally, he came to a decision. "Mrrr... Wake her."
"Mrowr... Yes, my lord."
L'Valin awoke from her faint with a howling shriek as she felt the hot iron applied to the aureole of her left nipple. R'Mang slipped the iron back into the glowing coals of the brazier as L'Valin broke down into sobbing again. "Mrowrrrrr! Please, my lord! I am innocent! I know nothing of this conspiracy you speak of! Everything I have told you about L'Sala and the mission to capture the Little Ones is true!"
"Mrr... No, L'Valin. I know it is not. I can see it in your eyes, I can hear it in your voice. You lie. It is too pat. 'Everything will be fine in a few weeks,' you said to me this morning. Yes, it was a lovely image you wove in my mind this morning, dear. The great technology of the Little Ones will be ours, and you are already looking forward to a wonderful future," he replied, then smiled.
L'Valin saw his smile, and shuddered.
D'Zhin stepped close, gazing into her eyes. "Mrr... Yes, my dear, you are looking forward to the future, a future of your own Manipulation - or perhaps the Grand Manipulation of the Mother Superior of T'Masa, herself. Well, I deny that future!" he snarled, and cuffed her muzzle sharply.
L'Valin gasped with the pain, but did not reply.
"Fsst! It is all a lie! Do you take me for a fool?! I am not Shazad by mere right of birth, some noble kit who barely fills his father's footprints! No, I earned this! I dominated the lords of the other clans, and those that would not be dominated I defeated either in duels or on the battlefield! You think me to be like any other tom that you can sweetly lie to and I will see nothing but your beauty, hear nothing but the sweet sounds of your voice! Ffft! I am not so easily Manipulated!" he snarled, then brought his face in close to hers, their muzzles nearly touching.
"Fsst! Didn't you think I would remember L'Sala said the Little Ones only might be there?! You thought to sweeten my heart this morning with dreams of wondrous technology to defeat the mus - and all the while you have forgotten that L'Sala never promised anything but that they might exist!"
The other four Mentalts, chained and blindfolded in the corner, gasped in realization. L'Valin said nothing, but her eyes widened.
"Mrowrrr... An ordinary female might have made a mistake like that, hope against unlikely possibility transforming into grand expectations over the course of these last few months. Anyone might - even I had begun to think of the things that might be possible. But not a Mentalt! You would know what she said! You would remember! And you would not lead me down the sweet garden path of happy dreams unless you planned a Manipulation which required me to be distracted by thoughts of what might be instead of the here and now! No, you thought me to be a fool, but it was you who were the fool, not I!" D'Zhin snarled, his fangs bared.
"Fsst! By sundown in three days, T'Masa Keep will be no more! I shall put an end to your Grand Manipulation, whatever it is, or at least prevent any of you from ever seeing the outcome! All of you shall be put to the sword, the Great Library burned, the keep brought to ruin, and the ground sown with salt! Every Mentalt in all the empire shall be put to death within a fortnight thereafter! You will be gone! I will expunge you from the face of Oerth, never to blight our kind with your scheming and plotting again!" he snarled, his tail lashing in anger.
D'Zhin then turned his back to her, that she might not see his face. The Mentalts were skilled at reading the smallest twitch of expression, the shift of gaze, the twitch of a whisker, an intake of breath... And it was a bluff, of course. T'Masa was too valuable - not merely to him, but to all the noble lords of his empire. Its value as a place of learning and it's tradition of inviting those warriors of noble birth and good breeding to take their Warriors Rest there... No, tradition and history ran too deep to simply wipe it out, and if he tried, he would have an open revolt in his paws. Still, he was hoping that they would not see through it. He hoped that they would believe he was furious with anger, raging with the knowledge that he had seen through their deceit, and would act upon his anger and destroy T'Masa. He hoped that they would grow desperate, seeing how casually he tortured them, and realize he just might do it, at that.
After a long moment, one of the blindfolded Mentalts in the corner spoke up, her chains rattling quietly as she trembled. "Mrooowwwwwlllll... You must tell him, L'Valin. T'Masa must survive. Even if we die, T'Masa Keep must survive."
D'Zhin controlled his reactions fiercely, and simply continued to flick his tail back and forth in mock-anger, and hold his ears flat against his skull. They had fallen for it.
Slowly, haltingly, L'Valin began to speak.
D'Zhin listened quietly, and as the story unfolded, he snarled. Now his tail flicked with real anger.
Finally, L'Valin fell silent. D'Zhin remained silent as well, struggling to control his rage. He had to think carefully - not merely the empire rested on his next moves, but his own life, as well. When he finally had his emotions in check again, he spoke. "Mrr... So that is the way the wind blows, is it? All a lie, to end the war with the mus, which the Mentalts of T'Masa see as counter-productive, and possibly even self-destructive. I am to be overthrown and killed, and that old fool R'Narr is to take my place. Yes, you thought I would be pleasantly occupied with these fantasies, while two thirds of my armies were in the paws of R'Narr - even if he had to fight those who would not follow his banner, he still would likely end up in command of a host that outnumbered what remains at my command by nearly two to one when he finally came to take my head."
"Mrowrrrrrr... Yes, my lord," L'Valin replied, and began to weep quietly.
"Mrr... And R'Narr lied to, as well, never to know the real truth. How deliciously ironic."
"Mrowrrrrr... L'Sala will try to convince him she is his grand-daughter, my lord. He will never know."
"Fsst! I know R'Narr. He will not believe that."
"Miao... Then she will think of another lie, my lord. He will not be told the truth of the matter," L'Valin replied weakly, her remaining strength ebbing, her will finally, completely broken.
D'Zhin stood silently, thinking. Finally, he came to a decision. "Mrr... R'Mang, take her to the healers. If she lives, she is to be taken back to T'Masa as a warning to them that I am not so easily Manipulated. If she dies, toss her corpse on the nearest dung-heap for the scavengers. As for the others, take them to my harem - and leave them in their chains. Their minds are of no more use to me, as they can no longer be trusted. Even so, I shall have a use for them yet," D'Zhin said, and chuckled. "Mrr... And send in the Captain of the Guards. We must act quickly to thwart this Manipulation, or all is lost."
R'Mang bowed. "Mrowr...
It shall be as you command, Shazad D'Zhin."
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