From his position against the back wall, Wyth could see everyone in the room. And they were all there, from Ace to Neuf to Tera. Zes, he noticed, had not escaped his questioning unharmed, but Wyth was sharp, and he could tell even from a distance that something else was wrong. The boy’s eyes were unfocused, his shoulders ever so slightly hunched.
Maybe Bara prescribed him something for the pain.
Not that it really mattered anyway, though Wyth would have loved to get his hands on the meds. Things like that made compromise easier. And he knew he would need it soon.
The numbers were arrayed half-hazardly, each standing, sitting, laying or leaning wherever they wanted. Except for Ace and his constant shadow, Deuce, they had no particular order, no designated place.
Vijf was the one who’d called them together, so the honor of first words was hers. The room stood in tense, expectant silence, and Wyth could feel the tension building with each second, each breath, each heartbeat.
What the hell is this about, Wyth wanted to ask. Of course, he’d have done it with much more care, using empty words and useless pleasantries, but the result would have meant the same. But he couldn’t, because Vijf had to speak first.
“We have been deceived,” she finally intoned, breaking the stillness. Wyth took a relieved breath while she paused dramatically. Vijf shouldn’t have done that, he knew. He wouldn’t have. He’d studied the room, knew the feelings coursing through it, and patience was not one of them.
“No shit, Sherlock,” Saith called back and Wyth laughed at his twin. He wasn’t the only one. “There’s a damn traitor here, if you somehow managed to forget that!”
Vijf didn’t laugh. “Not by a traitor. We have been deceived by those who seek to control us though ignorance.”
Ignorance. Now there was a word. Make someone feel stupid, they would turn against you out of pride. But make them feel ignorant, they turn to you for help. A fine line, a narrow beam on which to balance, but doable. Certainly doable.
“Ace has decided to conceal the truth from us, sharing it only with his closest friends.” The woman smiled victoriously, and Wyth wondered yet again how she ever managed to do her job. What man would want an aging, vicious bitch like her in his bed? Perhaps some. Maybe those who liked to wrestle bears or skin lions in their free time.
Ace, on his part, didn’t respond in the slightest. He didn’t react. To the others, he must have seemed like the picture of calm, composed coolness. But Wyth knew better. He knew that their leader was trembling on the inside, crying and screaming and begging whatever god he dared believe in.
Wyth had given up on divine intervention a long time ago.
“So, my dear nephew, when were you planning on telling us all that Vier hadn’t returned yet?” She was practically screaming at him, her face turning red. Disgusting whore, Wyth thought derisively.
Ace met her head on. “When he comes back. My brother will find his way home eventually.” Their leader cocked his head to the side, clearly curious. Too curious. “I simply felt it best not to worry you all unduly.”
Unduly. Another good word, one with the salty-sweet taste of fresh tears, the lamentation of new widows. Unduly. Unnecessary pain. Worthless waste.
No, no, Wyth reminded himself, this isn’t time to appreciate the words. I will simply save them for late. Already some of the others were relaxing. Even Saith looked appeased. Vijf just stood there, spluttering uselessly. Another poor fool without the gift of words.
“Ace, if I might request of you one boon?” The older boy nodded and Wyth smiled pleasantly at him. None but his brother would understand that it was a sneer. “Please, enlighten me as to the exact purpose behind this farce? You lie through your teeth, weaving a complex web of deceits and lies. Why not simply accept the truth?”
They were all looking at him, mouths agape. Except for Drei, who was shaking her head frantically back and forth, though no one else noticed. “No no no. There is no truth!”
“So please, Ace of Spades, enlighten us all. Tell us where Vier is. Or are you the traitor? Did you kill your own brother?”
Wyth smiled darkly as Ace’s face clouded over, as dark hatred filled his eyes and he started toward the boy, hands forming fists at his sides.