I was unsure how much longer the effects of the drug lasted. My best guess was another two hours. I had been floating in the darkness, then suddenly I felt a powerful tugging sensation, like being grabbed by my shirt and yanked backwards. I slammed back against something, my breath taken away by the impact. I gasped. But that was only the beginning. A roaring wave of sound attacked me next, and I tried to shy away from it, only to be granted a new sensation- that of being tied to a concrete block sinking through the waves of sound.
Even as the sound began to fade, the lights hit me. I squeezed my eyes shut, fearing that I would be blinded, but the light pressed insistently through my closed eyelids, forcing me to acknowledge that it existed. I squeezed my eyes shut desperately, though they still began to water, despite my best efforts. I gritted my teeth, waiting for the flow of returning sensations to stop.
There was a sharp sting in my wrists, and I felt the rough texture of rope. Finally, the sensation of falling backwards stopped with a jerk and I was given the sensation of slamming into another wall, taking my breath away for a second time. Then all at once, it was all over. The lights faded. Sound was back to normal. Nothing felt different- except the stinging in my wrists was sharper, somehow.
I tentatively opened my eyes. No blackness this time. No swirling lights. I was back in the room where I had first been interrogated by Karnax. He stood off to my right, along with the Hâfléng leader.
“Greetings,” Karnax said, once my eyes focused on him. “The return from a strong dose of Somnia is never pleasant, is it?”
“It’s… overwhelming…” I said, still trying to regain my breath from an impact that I was sure now had never happened. Yet it had felt so real… I almost wondered if Karnax had punched me as I was regaining consciousness, driving the breath from my lungs. But I got the feeling that had just been another part of the strange hallucinations- vivid though it was. Somnia was a powerful drug.
Now, of course, I had to be prepared to lie to Karnax- and hopefully bring him down before he could destroy everything. Again, I thanked Kivra for allowing me to realize his plan, and Vtira, god of all words, written and unwritten, for my abilities to speak convincingly. I had never considered that I may need it to save my life before.
“Of course it is,” Karnax nodded. “Having every sensation you’ve felt while unconscious returning to you at once is not exactly the most, ah, comfortable of things, is it? You’re lucky- it could have been worse. Much worse. Would you like to know how long you were unconscious for?”
I nodded, my breathing slowly returning to me.
“Fourteen hours,” Karnax said, smiling darkly. “It was a strong dose.”
“You ordered the Hâfléng girl to trick me,” I said darkly.
“Yes, I did,” Karnax smirked. “She is young, but eager to prove herself in any way she can. She was more than willing to aid me. You could learn a lesson from that.”
“We already went over this,” I replied. “Just because you have a Hâfléng as a puppet doesn’t mean that I would instantly agree to do your will.”
“Ah yes. Speaking of that, we are here to discuss the surrender. Tell me, you’ve been given hours to think. Have you made up your mind? Remember the weight of your choices, Sivva.”
I had to tread carefully here. Each word held much weight in the future of this war. I could not afford a single mistake.
“The Sivvas will never agree to your demands, no matter what they are,” I snapped.
“So you refuse?” Karnax smiled darkly. I saw dark mist begin to rise from him, and knew I needed to speak quickly, in order to save my own life.
“I have no choice, do I?” I sighed.
“None,” Karnax’s smile deepened. “So you accept? You will do your best to avert war? You will speak to the Sivva Council?”
I allowed my head to drop in surrender. “I have no choice, as you said. I don’t wish for war. I have learned the cost of it, and know it well enough to believe that it isn’t worth the risk and pain that it brings.”
“Wisely spoken, Sivva. You truly understand, I see. Very well. How much time do you require to prepare your speech? You will be given a maximum of two days. I am sorry, but I cannot provide you longer. Though when you spoke in your defense that was spontaneous, so you should not have any trouble with this if you are given time to prepare, yes?”
Time to prepare would be good. I had to be careful what I said. My goal was to expose Karnax’s plans, and reveal that he only wanted the surrender so that the council would be forced to stand aside while he destroyed Zila, Shivax, and, eventually, the rest of Simar altogether. However, I had to do it carefully. I had no doubt that he would be there, listening and watching, ready to swoop in when the Sivva Council would supposedly offer their surrender, and take control of Simar once and for all. That was worrying- it meant that my words held even more power than I had first thought. I had to warn the council, convince them to believe me, and avoid being stopped by Karnax. It would be complex and difficult, and most likely dangerous. No, it would definitely be dangerous. I was at risk of being killed by both sides. I had to be careful. Very careful.
“It would make things… easier,” I said warily.
Karnax nodded. “Good. You will prepare in your regular quarters- to avoid… complications, if that is indeed your plan. I hope you will remember that it would be incredibly foolish to try and foil my plans.”
I nodded, accepting his words. I was deep into this now- deeper than I had ever wanted to be. But one thing had been made clear constantly throughout the past few days- I had no choice. No matter what I did, I would end up being re-involved in Karnax’s schemes again and again. The only way I would be free of them would be if it ended. And the only way it could end was if somebody stopped it- or at least tried their hardest. My only chance was to defeat Karnax. And he had already proven that I didn’t have the capabilities needed.
Well that would change.
“Are we done here?” I asked. The ropes binding me to the chair were already uncomfortable enough as it was- I didn’t want to spend more time than necessary in this position.
“Almost,” Karnax replied. “I’ll need an oath.”
“An oath?” I asked, raising my eyebrows.
“I need you to swear that you won’t try some form of treachery. If we are allies, I would rather trust you. Therefore, you will swear on the source of magic that you will do as I say, and tell the Sivva Council that they must surrender to me; that it is the only way to avert a war. If you refuse, you have wasted your only chance. If you accept, you will be bound to those terms. Understand?”
My first feeling was of panic. Until I realized that I had room to maneuver. There was still an escape- even if I swore the oath. I still had a way to foil his plans, and bring him down.
“Again, I have no option,” I sighed.
“True. Say it then, and you may begin preparing immediately.”
“I swear on the heart, the source of magic, that I will inform the Sivva Council that they must surrender, and it is their only chance to avert a war.”
Karnax considered it, but seemed to find it good enough. “Sworn and bound, then. Release her.”
The Hâfléng leader, who had been standing silently beside Karnax, came forwards, pulling a knife from his belt. Despite the fact that I knew Karnax would not order my death now that I had agreed to his terms, my pulse still skyrocketed with panic for a moment at the sight of the knife. However, he simply cut through the ropes, and stepped back.
I stood unsteadily, flexing my fingers experimentally. There was no lasting damage, just red lines circling my wrists. I lightly brushed one of them and flinched as it stung. However, the room wasn’t iron, so even as I winced, they began to heal. In moments, the red stinging marks were gone. The magic was small enough that I didn’t feel any high energy drains from using it.
“You’re very wise to have accepted my terms,” Karnax commented. “I knew that you would lose your pride eventually. It is good that you’ve seen some sense now.”
“I’m trying to prevent a war, and this seems to be the only way I have a chance, even if it involves agreeing to… unfavorable terms. There are worse possible outcomes.”
“Yes,” he agreed, “you could have refused. And forced me to have no other option but to kill you slowly and painfully, like I promised.”
“I’d hope to avoid pushing the situation that far,” I sighed.
“Good,” Karnax nodded. He turned to the Hâfléng leader. “Escort her back to her quarters.”
“It’s a cell, not quarters,” I said quietly.
Karnax’s eyebrows shot up. “Call them what you wish. Either way, you will return there now, and prepare. In two days time, we go to Shivax. You had best be prepared by then.”