Nyx was almost a different person. He strolled confidently into the next chamber, spinning around and beckoning us to follow quicker.
Biadet took her time, not one to be hurried by anyone. I kept close to her pace and walked behind her, which made it look like I was using her as a human shield, which I wasn’t. You couldn’t really call her human, for a start.
Laney, on the other hand, was dawdling for an entirely different reason. She strolled to the open door and then stopped to inspect the guardians, looking them up and down with her sword resting on her shoulder.
“Think you’re pretty tough, huh? Ooh, is that your death stare?”
The cloths covering their faces had no eyeholes so I had no idea what she was seeing. Neither of the ratmen moved, their gigantic muscles at full bulge, their halberds a flick of the wrist away from slicing Laney’s head off.
To her, they looked like normal-sized men, which meant she would see them as taller than herself, but didn’t explain why she had her neck craned all the way back to look up at their heads, which were way above average height. Magic made no sense if you thought about it too much.
I grabbed her by the elbow as I passed. Better to have her where I could keep an eye on her rather than leave her out here to start trouble.
“This isn’t over, short stuff,” she said as I dragged her away.
There were stairs directly through the door, broad, from wall to wall. At the top, there was a square platform with a throne on it. Sitting on the throne was a woman in a white gown and a cloth covering her face similar to the guardians at the door, only with a jewel-encrusted tiara holding it in place.
Her body looked feminine enough, curves in the right places, only two breasts rather than six. No tail that I could see.
Nyx ran to the throne and knelt in front of it. “Ma’ma, I bring guests.”
“Nyx,” her voice sounded tired, “why do you never do as I command, you impossible boy?”
“But they were coming here anyway. No need to delay the inevitable, Ma’ma.”
The Queen reached her hand out like she was offering it to him to kiss, but Nyx fell on his side, curled up and shook like he’d been electrocuted. Having been electrocuted myself, I sympathised. Having been electrocuted myself, I stayed well out of the way.
She flicked her fingers and Nyx stopped shaking, but remained sprawled where he was.
“Princess, a pleasure as always.”
Laney bowed. “Ma’am. You are as beautiful as ever.” She was talking to a hankie, but I assumed she was seeing something else.
“Thank you, Princess. I hope to see your father free and ruling Fengarad again.”
“As do I,” said Laney. They spoke to each other in a strange, formal manner.
“Biadet,” said the Queen, “how is your Master?”
“She is well, Your Majesty.”
She? What the fuck? Who was her master?
Before I had a chance to question the midget ninja, the Queen had turned her attention to me. “So, you’re Colin. You aren’t at all what I expected.”
“I get that a lot,” I said.
“It seems Peter was right about you. Surprisingly persistent and hard to kill. Like a cockroach.”
Nice. At least she didn’t pretend to be friendly and then turn on you, which was sort of a plus, I guess. “You work for Peter, then?”
There was an amused scoff from behind her veil. “We sometimes work together, when it is mutually beneficial. And sometimes we don’t. He asked me to deliver you to him, but I decided to keep you safe and protected here. You had other ideas, it seems.”
“Peter wanted you to capture me? Why?”
“Who knows?” said the Queen. “That man is alway plotting something or other. A plan to change the world, yet he never manages more than a little temporary chaos. If he stopped to think things through once in a while he might get better results. And not lead me to detaining the wrong person.”
“The wrong person?” I wasn’t sure what she was talking about.
“The other Visitor. He said a Visitor of great power was about to arrive on our doorstep, so naturally we thought it was him.”
“Sonny? You thought he was me?” It did make sense, kind of. If you were expecting someone to lead the charge, it would more likely be a tall, blond stick of shite like Sonny than someone like me.
“He escaped and so did I. What kind of a dictatorship are you running here?”
“Dictatorship?” she sounded offended. “I don’t force people to do anything against their will. I only put you in a cell for your own safety. It’s just very difficult communicating clearly when you’re on top of a pyramid and orders have to be passed down. Something always gets lost on the way.”
She was blaming her poor success rate on Chinese whispers. It was an interesting excuse for incompetence.
“If you never force anyone, what about Jenny?”
“The One-eyed Devil? She volunteered.”
“Like hell she did. Why would she want you to take away her memory?”
“I offered her something she wanted, she agreed, but asked for her memories to be restricted so she wouldn’t struggle with her conscience. All her idea, I assure you.”
I didn’t want to believe her, but it had an awful ring of truth to it. “What did you offer her?”
“The chance to have a child.”
I felt sick. There was no way to know for certain if the Queen was lying, but if there was one thing I knew Jenny wanted…
No, I refused to accept she would make that deal, no matter how plausible it sounded. I would at least wait until I could ask her.
“You have a way to get into the spires in Fengarad.” I was being curt because I was annoyed. “Give it to me and I’ll deal with Peter.”
“I apologise for angering you,” said the Queen. I couldn’t see her face but I’d bet there was a very unapologetic smile on it.
“I don’t care. Just give me the key or whatever it is.”
“You don’t like it when your woman makes decisions without your permission.” There was a very thick layer of smugness coating her words.
“I don’t like it when anyone makes decisions that involve me.” There were so many things I wanted to ask her—about Peter, about how she became Queen, about how she controlled everyone’s menstrual cycle—but I was too tilted by what she’d claimed. For Jenny to willingly give up her free will… there had to be a reason. A better reason. One that had nothing to do with having a child. I refused to believe it and, at the same time, couldn’t stop myself.
“It is difficult to accept that a woman can do more than cook, clean, sew and serve,” said the Queen, taking my silence as some sort of indication I wanted to hear her bullshit. Like she had ever done the things expected of an average woman. “While men are unreliable, sly and dirty, we are expected to keep to our allotted place in the bed and the scullery, and do as we are told.”
Somewhere in there was the reason she was up here while the other rats were down below. I didn’t know how she’d managed to climb to this throne, something to do with magic no doubt, but I didn’t care. I was sweating, my knees were weak and my arms heavy. I could do with sitting down, but there was only one chair in the room and you’re supposed to always give up your seat for a lady, for no fucking reason that makes any sense.
“I’m sure you have a wonderful tale to tell about how you overcame the terrible disadvantages of being married to a king, and how you rose to rule the city while routinely spreading your legs for him, to produce seven litters, but I’m not interested in your life story.”
The room had suddenly gone very quiet.
“Clearly, you allowed me up here because you want to use me for your own purposes, most likely to deal with Peter which you are unable to do yourself. Apparently, a woman’s touch is not enough in this particular situation, so why don’t you stop wasting my time and give me the key I need to enter the spires. After I take care of him, you can do what you want. Go to war, build a statue of yourself, go take a flying fuck for all I care. Just stop talking. I find it tedious.”
It was kind of an odd demand since she wasn’t talking, I was. It was also pretty stupid. She was up here alone with no guards, which probably meant she was more than capable of dealing with us on her own. I’d already seen what she’d done to her own son. I doubted she’d be any more lenient with me.
It didn’t bother me in the least. I felt no fear. People think to overcome fear you need to be brave. You don’t. You need to stop caring about yourself. Either through delusion or despair or anger. If you’re mad enough, it really doesn’t matter what the consequences might be, you’ll punch a grizzly on the nose and hurl abuse at it as it tears you open and eats your liver.
Laney turned to her nemesis. “He’s upset.”
“Yes,” said Biadet. “It’s like that when you’re in love.”
“How would you know?” said Laney. “I bet that boy never even diddled you. Not even with his little finger.” She held up her pinkie and wiggled it. “He didn’t, did he?”
Biadet’s left eyebrow twitched, ever so slightly. “You are, and always have been, a filthy slut, Your Royal Highness.”
I could tell they were about to kick off again. I wasn’t in the mood. “Both of you, shut the fuck up.” the good thing about being too ambivalent to get mad at people is that when you do blow your stack, it stuns them into silence. Laney and Biadet glanced at each other but said nothing. I held out my hand towards the Queen. “Give.”
The Queen just sat there, probably considering various painful deaths for me.
“I know you could kill me where I stand, but then Peter would win, wouldn’t he? You can’t beat him yourself, but I can.” I put my hand out again. “Give.”
She rose from the throne. I couldn’t see her face, but I assumed she wasn’t pleased by my attitude. I could give a fuck.
“Either you want my help or you don’t, it doesn’t really matter to me.”
She took out a gem, similar to the one Primus Lenda had used outside, and handed it to Nyx. He scurried over to me and put it in my hand. “Well done,” he whispered, like we were on the same team.
I turned and walked away. Biadet and Laney followed, as did Nyx.
“Where do you think you’re going?” I said to Nyx, stopping to confront him.
“I can still be useful to you, I—”
“I don’t need spies. Stay here. If I catch you following me, I’ll have the dragon eat you.”
Nyx backed away from me. He could tell I meant it, because I did.
I was being an arse, obviously. I wasn’t just angry, I was livid. Clearly, I could use someone like Nyx, both as a spy and as a source of information, not least about his mother, who I would probably have to deal with once I had taken care of Peter.
It might also be worth pointing out that I had complete confidence that I would be able to overcome Peter, even though I didn’t even have the first idea how to go about it. I hadn’t even bothered to ask how the gem worked.
Anger doesn’t just make you fearless, it also makes you incredibly dumb. The two are not unrelated.
I stopped at the bottom of the stairs, took a breath, and walked back up, past Laney and Biadet who just watched me with blank faces, waiting to see what I would do next.
“I changed my mind,” I said to Nyx who was standing by his mother looking crestfallen. His face lit up and he came running. He needn’t look so happy. I planned to squeeze every last drop of information out of him by means more terrible than any man deserved. I was going to set Claire on him.
But before that, there was another matter to take care of. Someone I needed to have a very frank talk with.
“You two,” I said to Laney and Biadet as I walked back down the steps again. “Whatever issues you have, I don’t want them fucking things up. Save it until after we retake Fengarad. If you want to act like children, fuck off now.” I stormed towards the elevator.
I stepped inside and turned to watch Biadet and Laney walk calmly towards me, no sign of animosity between them.
“He’s kind of cute when he’s mad,” said Laney.
“Slut,” said Biadet.