The screams echoed off the stone walls and faded away. A large fire pit sent dancing shadows through the room. Another scream sounded as a dark-haired dwarf in blood begrimed clothes pushed a finger into a wound in a human’s chest. The dwarf withdrew his finger, wiped it on a rust brown rag and picked up a quill pen. Dipping it into an inkwell, he made a few notations and blotted the parchment.
He gestured and a pair of orcs turned large cranks, rotating the table with the prisoner until it was flat. Taking up a thin bladed knife, he sliced a line from the man’s left shoulder, across his chest to his right. Then, he did the same at the human’s waist, from hip to hip, ignoring the wails of pain. A line was cut down the center of his torso, connecting the other two. The prison shrieked even louder than he had before. Blood gushed from the new wound. The dwarf placed the blade next to other sharp instruments and picked up a wooden bowl. Gathering some of the contents in his bloody hand, he sprinkled it over the human while chanting.
The orcs watched the black powder begin to glow and change color as it liquefied. Wherever the magic liquid touched, the blood withdrew into the man. The two looked at each other, and then back to the dwarf. He pulled the wound wide, eliciting a scream that sounded like it tore the human’s throat. To the amazement of the orcs, no further blood flowed. They stepped closer to better see, drawing the dwarf’s attention.
“You appear puzzled, my friends.” His voice was smooth, powerful. They nodded. “Allow me to hypothesize. You desire to know why the human’s lifeblood no longer flows.” Another nod. “The conjuration is named ‘Prohibere Sanguinem.’ It maintains life while I conduct my experimentations.”
The orc to the left spoke. “Why do you experiment, Master?”
“I seek knowledge of better interrogation techniques.”
The one on the right tilted his head. “What information do you seek?”
Drago stared at him, stone faced. “You’re joking.”
“I meant that you would need better interrogation techniques for.”
The Dark Dwarf’s countenance brightened. “Oh. It is for when the demons bring me Keeper Dearbhaile. She has the most delicious secrets, I’m sure.”
A door at the far end of the room opened. Moving with a swiftness that belied their bulk, the orcs slipped between their master and the opened door. One orc drew a hammer from his hip and muttered a command word. Seconds later, the small tool has expanded into a huge Warhammer with a wicked looking spike at the opposite end of the blunt one. The other unhooked a coiled chain and stretched it out, spinning the large spiked ball at the end. The two prepared themselves to fight to their deaths to protect their lord from the intruder. None were allowed to disturb him in his laboratory.
When the human dressed in deer skin, with shoulder length, curly brown hair entered, the orcs dropped to a knee and placed their left hands over their right chest, covering their hearts and offering their fealty. She flicked her gaze over them and walked past, ignoring the orcs’ salutes. She didn’t care for the ugly creatures, always cringing in the face of a superior foe, and then plotting behind its back. . Like the demons, but mortal. Drago continued his experiments, unconcerned with who might have entered. The orcen warriors would have given him enough time to prepare for any enemy. Though she hadn’t seen him in battle, she knew enough about his training regimen to believe he’d be a formidable enemy.
She curled her thick fingers into fists at the thought and then reluctantly opened them. This was not the time to challenge him. For now, his enemies provided enough of a challenge to keep her satisfied with being his second. ‘I wonder how Bjorn and Fenrisúlfr are doing? Do they miss me?’ The twins had been her friends and self-appointed guardians for as long as she could remember. She gave herself a mental shake. ‘Focus on the present. Leave the past where it belongs.’
She clapped her fist over her heart. The deer hide muffled the sound, but she knew the keen ears of Drago picked it up. “Belial has captured Dearbhaile.”
“Of course he did, my friend.” He glanced over his shoulder. “Did you doubt me?”
“No. Just the half-demon. He’s constantly coming up short against Carter.”
Picking up a rag, he surprised her with a laugh as he cleaned his hands. “Belial has a twisted sense of humor.”
“What do you mean?”
“He enjoys setting up his opponents to think they’ve bested him only to later strike them down.”
Her eyebrows went up. “He enjoys being cut down with his own sword?”
“The pure white broadsword?”
“Razorwing cannot harm him. It’s made from his own essence.”
“But, I’ve seen him both decapitated and run through with it.”
“Do not trust your eyes where the Prince is concerned. Or any of your other senses for that matter.”
“Are you trying to tell me he is invincible?”
“Of course not. You just have to know how.”
She walked over to the dangling human. Dried blood covered the areas of his flesh that remained whole. His remaining eye was fogged, whether from pain, or blindness, she didn’t know. With the speed of a striking snake, she punched her fist through his heart, putting him out of his misery.
“Why did you do that, dear Sera?” The dwarf’s voice held only curiosity.
“You can’t learn anything from the tortured.”
“On the contrary. I’ve learned quite a bit from this one.”
“But was it true, or was it a lie to get the pain to stop?”
Drago scratched his smooth cheek, sending scales of dried blood to float through the air. “What do you mean?”
“Back in my world, torture is banned because you cannot gain reliable intel from your victim. People will say anything they think you want to know, just to get the pain to end. It is a sadistic war crime to torture.”
He raised his hand. “Your people try to uphold laws in war?”
“Not during, but after. And only some laws. Usually moral ones.”
He leaned his hip on this table. “Even though morals are subjective?” She nodded. “Humans are odd creatures.”
“We’re odd because we have figured out what works and what doesn’t?”
“No, because of the war crimes. Who decides what the crime was versus what was acceptable in war?”
He laughed, his head thrown back. “Perfect.”
Sera snorted. “I had a feeling you would approve of that.”
He sobered. “Where is Dearbhaile now?”
“Belial is awaiting her delivery to him, and then he will bring her directly to you.”
“Excellent.” A bell tolled once and then went silent. “Excuse me, my dear. I must see to this.”
She clapped her fist to her chest. “I will go prepare the troops for the invasion.”
Drago dipped his head in acknowledgement and hurried off. The young woman watched him go. ‘I will find out what the hurry is all about soon.’