“Diseased god?” Thorn muttered and shook his head.
The first-sworn studied Avril in silence for long seconds. Eventually, he spoke in a flat voice, “Anything else?”
Thorn was trying to hide it, but incredibly, Avril saw his words had an impact. He decided to twist the knife as hard as he could. “You’re the first-sworn and responsible for your cadre. That means you lie to yourself and pretend you’re doing the things you do for your cadre to protect them from a god that doesn’t give a fuck about you or anybody else on this god-cursed world.”
“And?” Thorn asked, trying to keep his tone even but not quite succeeding.
Avril saw the tightening at the corner of the bondsan’s eyes and wondered, Does he have a choice? He pushed the question down. Of course he does.
Avril said, “Coward covers it. You know what you are, what you’ve done. Do what you need to do. You and everything you represent makes me ill.”
“What are you, twenty-two, twenty-three?” Thorn asked.
Avril didn’t answer. He knew this game, everybody his age did. He’d said something somebody older than him didn’t like, so they’d use his age to diminish him and his words.
Thorn continued, “You’re tough, but it doesn’t matter how tough you are, or what you say, it ends the same. Being tough won’t set you free. The only thing it can do is make things worse for you.”
“How can things be worse than this?” Avril asked the obvious question in defiance of the facts.
Thorn’s expression softened, and he said, “We’ll play our parts then.”
“These aren’t parts. They’re our lives,” Avril said.
“You’re young, and you already know everything, huh?” Thorn took a breath and stood.
“I know the gods don’t give a fuck about us, but you and the lord you serve spend your lives trying to appease them.”
Thorn took four steps away from Avril.
“Lord Mikkel has many alliances across Rasa. Often he works with people he’d rather not work with, but,” Thorn turned and shrugged, “politics. Lord Mikkel doesn’t want you; one of his strategic partners does.”
“Why are you telling me this?” Avril demanded.
“You’re not one for the easy road, huh?” the bondsan asked.
“There’s no easy road for me. You think I had something to do with the deaths of your cadre-mates in Taral. You know I’m a jammer and will do what I can to get away from you. The only thing I don’t understand is why you’re talking to me. Why not just knock me out and ship me off to where ever it is I’m going?”
The bondsan nodded and looked down at his feet. When he looked up again, he said, “You’re wrong. There is an easy road. Well, easier, if not exactly easy. The person who wants you hasn’t told Lord Mikkel why they want you. They gave a reason, but Lord Mikkel doesn’t believe them. He thinks you’re important, and if that’s true, he’d like to make you his guest instead of handing you over.”
“That’s the easy way, become the guest of a god’s chosen?” Avril asked, but he thought, He wants me to tell him where the others are. Zin and Laurill. Maxian and the rest.
“No. Tell me why you’re so important, and I won’t torture it out of you. That’s the easy road.”
“It’s like you said, they want me because I know everything,” Avril shot back.
A smile twitched the corner of Thorn’s mouth, and he said, “I wish I were your age again, I miss that naïve confidence and grit.”
Avril hoped Zin and Laurill were running as fast as they could to get away from these people. If the bondsan planned to torture him to find out where the others were, they’d do it regardless of anything Avril said. He leaned to the right to see if he could catch sight of a scar behind Thorn’s left ear.
The angle wasn’t right, but he asked, “What did they put inside your head?”
Thorn reached automatically toward his left ear, and Avril took that as confirmation there was a scar there. Thorn caught the action and forced his hand to his side.
“Was it just you and her or the whole cadre?” Avril asked.
Thorn ignored the question.
Avril said, “I’ve already said too much for this to make a difference, but I didn’t know it was in there. I was trying to jam comms gear in the helmets so they’d run back to the rest of the cadre, I didn’t kill your people in Taral, and I don’t know why people are looking for me.”
“If you had known there was equipment inside our heads, would that have stopped you?” Thorn asked.
“No, but I didn’t. I also don’t know why you’re chasing me, where you’re taking me, or who’s looking for me. What was I supposed to do?”
Thorn grimaced. “I’ll be back soon. Be ready to talk.”
“When it’s time, do it yourself, don’t send one of your slaves back in here, you fucking coward.” Avril spat the words with forced defiance.
Thorn walked to the back of the vehicle, but his back tensed at the word slaves. He said, “You will tell me why people are looking for you, and where your friends are. Got it?”
Still wanting to hurt Thorn and provoke him into ending it, Avril demanded, “How could you let them cut your cadre open and put whatever that is inside their heads?”
Thorn stopped and turned a horrified look on Avril.
It was only after he’d gone that Avril realized the full extent of his final question to Thorn. If he was to believe what Thorn had said about the cadre, then every member of the cadre had also heard the question.