Just Because an Evil Cult Leader Is Tacky, Doesn’t Mean You Shouldn’t Take Him Seriously
“Mads,” said Crow’s cracked voice, quieter than it sounded in the dark.
Mads shook himself, sitting straighter. Shit. “Did I fall asleep?”
“Yeah,” Crow whispered, foot touching Mads’s shoulder. “You seemed like you needed it.”
“I’m sorry,” said Mads, reaching up and stroking Crow’s leg. His chains clinked a little bit as he tried to move into the touch. Mads didn’t even want to think about how long it had been since he’d been touched for reasons other than torture. “I didn’t mean to leave you alone.”
“You didn’t. You were still here. Your friend is waking up.”
Mads looked over to where Juniper was, even though he couldn’t see. He could hear rustling, shifting. Then a groan. “Ow,” Juniper complained. “Ow, what the fuck did you do to me now?”
“The Clan of Kozna kidnapped us,” Mads said. He knew Juniper was talking to his spirit, but there wasn’t time for that. Spirits were going to do whatever they wanted, and nobody could stop them. “They took us to their dungeon under Ogwen’s Tower.” Well, he had to assume that was where they were. Mads couldn’t be sure about…anything, anymore.
“Shit,” Juniper said, shifting in the dark. “Great. Did you know this was going to happen?”
“No,” Mads said. “Crow thinks something’s changed about the future.”
“Who the fuck is Crow?”
“Hi,” Crow’s voice said quietly.
“Fuck!” Juniper got farther away. “Hi. Sorry. I didn’t realize there was someone else here.”
“It’s okay.” Crow didn’t sound unhappy. Mads rubbed his leg. “It’s nice to meet you, Juniper.”
Juniper just kind of sighed, went quiet for a minute.
Mads stood up, put a hand to Crow’s neck, felt his pulse racing. “The pack is going to be coming to get us soon,” he promised. “They know where we are, or at least they have an idea. If they have to burn the whole tower down, they’ll get us.” Though, Mads thought as he said that, hopefully they didn’t burn the tower down with the three of them underneath it.
“Yeah,” Crow said with a sigh. “Mads, I’m really sorry.”
“It’s not your fault,” Mads assured him, leaning closer. “None of this is your fault, Crow.”
“It is, but that’s not what I mean. I had a dream while you were sleeping. We’re not under the big square tower.”
Oh, shit. Mads took in a breath, letting it fall on Crow. “Where are we?”
“I don’t know.” Crow choked as he said it, shaking a little on the wall. “I’m sorry.”
“Shh, it’s okay,” Mads promised, touching his face, finding tears there, which made his chest ache. “You don’t have to cry. It’s not your job to know everything.”
“I think it is.”
He was just a little boy. “You’re wrong.”
“Okay,” Juniper said, standing up behind Mads. “He’s chained to the wall, right?”
“Yeah,” Mads said, keeping his hand on Crow. “By his arms here and also his ankles.”
“Right. Kid, this is going to be really cold for a second, okay?”
“That’s okay. It’s always cold down here,” Crow said quietly.
“Yeah.” Juniper came up beside them, crouched. “Seems like hell, and I’ve fucking been to hell. I’ll get your legs first. Get ready.”
A chill filled the air, and there was a snap. A chain clinked to the ground. Then there was another one. Crow whimpered. “So you got your powers back?” Mads asked, rubbing Crow’s belly to tell him he was okay.
“Yeah, seeing as it’s apparently an existential emergency,” Juniper muttered. “Make sure you’re ready to take his weight, okay? I can only do one arm at a time.”
“Okay.” Crow barely weighed anything at all, and when the first chain clinked open, Mads lifted him on one hip like the baby he definitely wasn’t. As soon as his second chain was broken, Mads pulled him away from the walls. “There you go,” he said, holding him. Crow’s arms latched around him like a vice, holding him tight. “You’re free now. How do you feel?”
“Hurts,” Crow said, face buried in Mads’s chest. “Not that bad.”
Mads wondered what his idea of ‘not that bad’ was. He could only imagine the pins and needles, the soreness, that came from being chained to a wall for… how long had he even been there? “We’ll make it stop hurting,” he promised. “Juniper, can you make a light? Not one that will hurt Crow’s eyes.”
“Uh, sure,” Juniper said. A light about the strength of a lantern appeared near his waist, faintly blue, too bright. Crow kept his face hidden. He had scraggly black hair and was really skinny and that was about all Mads could see. Mads had already felt that he wasn’t wearing any clothes, and his skin was pressed against Mads’s now. He even wormed his arms under Mads’s coat, touching him as fully as possible. “There’s a door over there.”
“It won’t open,” Crow muttered. “The Joining is going to happen soon.”
“How soon?” Mads asked.
The door burst open, flooding the room with light. Several people in robes started to come down the stairs.
Crow nodded. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s not your fault,” Mads promised him, holding him up. “We’re not going to let them summon their god.”
“You have no choice,” said one of the robed figures, a man. “The Joining is upon us, whether we want it to be or not.”
“And you do,” Juniper said, holding out his hands. A wave of cold air swept over them all as ice grew from his feet, knocking several of the Clan members over. And then stopping. “What the fuck?”
“Your power is no match for that of the Kozna’s,” said the man, holding his head high. “Take the boy.”
Mads held Crow tightly, but Crow looked up for the first time since they’d freed him. “It’s okay,” he whispered to Mads. The creature he called the Something was hovering just beside them.
“It’s not okay,” Mads said. “I’m not going to let them torture you anymore.”
He kissed Mads on the chin. “It’s okay,” he promised.
And as he did that, three cultists were on top of Mads, kicking and hitting him, pulling Crow away from him. “Don’t hurt the soothsayer,” said the leader. “We require his participation in the ritual.”
“Oh, fuck you,” Mads spat. “I’m not going to participate in your fucking ritual. You can just kill me.”
“But it is indeed a fucking ritual, which you will no doubt enjoy.” The man paused. “Until Kozna uses you as a conduit through which to enter his vessel, destroying your soul in the process, but that’s what you get for trying to alter a future that has already been recorded in the history books.”
“Is all you can do give tacky speeches?” Juniper asked. “Because you’re not nearly correct enough to get away with that.”
“Kozna doesn’t require the invader,” the man said, waving a hand. “Kill him.”
“No!” Mads said, reaching out as two Clan members drew knives and advanced on Juniper, who started to back up. One of them tripped and fell into the other.
“And bring the collateral here,” the man added, sounding like an afterthought.
Two more Clan members came down the stairs, with a kicking, spitting, swearing Nuka held firmly between them. Behind them were two more robed people, holding Dream Fox, who was unconscious. Nuka saw Mads, started to fight harder. One of them hit him. “Nuka!”
Nuka died, Crow had told him in his dream. Which he never should have and he didn’t have to.
He didn’t have to. He wouldn’t. Mads couldn’t let that happen.
But he wasn’t going to let them hurt anyone else, either.
“Now,” said the leader, pulling back his hood to reveal a full-faced man with a thin beard. The ground underneath them shook. “Mads Marlonson. Are you going to cooperate with this critical ritual, or do you require further convincing?”