Avril groped for his weapons, but his hands, his vision, or both were out of alignment, and he couldn’t conquer the distance to the dropped blasters.
Something jabbed his ribs, and he fell onto his side, and the sudden movement sent a wave of vertigo washing through him. The floor swayed like a raft bobbing on a gentle tide and his vision slid in and out of focus.
One bondsan, no two, no one again, stood over him, and he realized his mistake. Distracted by the enemies outside and concerned for Laurill, he’d rushed into the bar without first checking it was clear.
It was a simple mistake, but it would cost them everything.
The bondsan brandished a club and said, “He’s right. This is better.”
The voice transported Avril to the assault vehicle where he’d been beaten and shocked, and in angry defiance, he’d advised the bondsan to use a baton when they beat prisoners. He squinted to focus his gaze on his captor. Their features were familiar but slightly different. The bondsan standing over him was a man with an almost healed bullet wound at his left temple, the bondsan who’d beaten him in the assault vehicle had been a woman.
Avril realized the distinction made no difference.
This cadre was as one. They shared their experiences as one. What one bondsan felt, they all felt. If one of them did something, they all did it.
“He did a good job with the vultures outside.”
“He thought they were us,” the same voice responded from a different mouth.
“Still talking to yourself?” Avril muttered through his pain.
The blow came out of nowhere and sent his mind spinning.
Avril threw up his arms to defend himself but shadows crowded him, and he couldn’t predict the attacks.
Far away, somebody screamed a protest that punctuated the whacking thuds that blossomed at random against his body. Somebody else roared with angry satisfaction, and the explosions of pain continued.
Avril withdrew within to protect his innermost self from the violence, but his mind twisted and shattered, and he saw the world reflected through a broken mirror with individual shards of glass angled to reveal different aspects of the world around him.
One shard showed Avril on his side, battered and spitting blood. In another, he woke up in the back of his car, surprised to be in Taral and wondering why he was alone. Another shard reflected blinding light into his eyes whether he kept them open or closed, and no matter how he turned to get away, the light continued to blind him. Some shards were dark, and others revealed unfamiliar scenes that came from a battered and delirious mind.
Eventually, there was silence and darkness. Avril opened his eyes and the room spun slowly, and he wasn’t being hit anymore.
He squeezed his eyes shut to force his vision back to a single point of view. Rough hands lifted him into a sitting position and left him against a wall beneath a window overlooking the street.
When he looked, his vision still swam and repeated itself, but at least his mind had returned to the here and now of the real world.
Across from him, the angry black man he’d first met outside this building watched him. Avril’s mind replayed the massive black dragon swooping toward him. For an instant, Avril’s fragile hold on reality slipped, and he forgot when he was and everything that had happened since that encounter.
He watched again as the dualist transformed, shifting from a dragon into his still formidable human self.
Go south. Don’t come back to Damar.
I will, Avril thought, but the intervening time between then and now unfurled in his mind and it was too late.
I should have listened. He warned me to leave, and I didn’t, Avril thought in his confusion and pain as if his decision not to flee had inevitably led to this moment and this pain.
Avril’s head throbbed, and he thought, My fault.
Some distant part of himself protested, but rather than argue with it; he studied the man opposite him.
Maxian sat on the floor with his hands behind his back. A device that was part stock, part guillotine was attached to his legs just above the ankles. A curved wooden beam pressed against the backs of his legs and held a blade against his shins. The edge of the blade was red with Maxian’s blood where it had cut through his fatigues and into his skin, and Avril understood if the dualist shifted into his dragon form, he’d sever his own feet.
A bondsan stood from their crouch in front of Avril. Avril glanced down and saw an oversized plastic sleeve covered his forearms, holding them together. Unlike the device the cadre had used on him previously, electricity didn’t tickle his forearms, but he knew the device would stop him from sensing electrical networks.
Laurill sat next to Maxian. She was also bound, and she’d been fitted with a device that directed light into her eyes.
At least she didn’t look like she’d taken a beating.
“They got me,” Laurill said.
“Silence,” a bondsan snapped.
“They got all of us,” Avril said to draw the bondsan’s ire away from Laurill, and he hoped, to convince the cadre they’d captured all of them and there was nobody else to look for.
Perhaps Gabe can pull off another rescue, Avril thought. He wanted to tell Laurill that Gabe hadn’t left them, that it was a trick, but he couldn’t say anything without giving the sniper away.
“You’ll be quiet, even if I have to beat your mouth shut,” the bondsan brandishing the club told Avril.
The door slammed open, and Avril’s breath caught in his throat. Don’t be Zin.
He’d been so desperate to get to Laurill he hadn’t issued a command to the car’s AI to protect Zin.
I should have told it to take her as far away as it could.
A bondsan dragged a body through the door and across the room.