Outer Flower, 57

Rizal the Red Witch

“Let’s start again.” she looked at him with guileless candor. A babe in arms would have appeared more dangerous. “”My name is Rizla the Red Witch.”

“Rizla the Red Witch,” he repeated.

Elymas didn’t look up. His head was swimming. At that moment, had he been given a choice, he would have welcomed the awful shadows, embraced the women with the boar’s heads, plunged willingly into the serpent-filled waters. The evening, which had begun so promisingly, was turning into a nightmare. If this woman was who she said she was, and he had no choice but to believe her, pitting his power against hers was like carrying a candle in the wind. He cleared his throat.

“What interest could one of your exalted position have in me?”

“None personally. You are a worm.”

“I am,” he agreed.

“But your plans interest the Master.”

“The Master?” Elymas examined his arms, relieved to see there were no cuts on his skin. “I know no master; I have no plans.”

Suddenly her demeanor changed. “I’ve said you are a worm. Do not become a fool as well.”

Elymas considered. “Very well. I have plans but they center around the city of Casoria and are so humble that–“

Suddenly, he was caught in a vise so tight he couldn’t breathe. Elymas got the horrifying impression that he was collapsing inward without the ability to scream. If he’d had one small doubt concerning her identity, he had none now.

“Admit the truth or die. The choice is yours.”

He heard her voice from afar, garbled as though it were coming through water, yet somehow managed to nod. The pain left him shaking, and he collapsed on the floor. Even if she ordered him to rise, he wouldn’t be able.

“It is true I’ve poisoned the King, but only for the sake of Casoria. William was foolish enough to listen to a filthy messenger sent by some old fool in the hills and I–“

“If I put the vise to you again,” observed Rizla thoughtfully, “it would probably kill you. Even so, I am tempted. Now, listen. The Shautu is not the only one who reads the stars; the Tuel reads them, too. The Hunter spoke the truth. A new earth skyll has been born, and as for the Axis–“

“I am the Axis!” interrupted Elymas, unable to stop himself. “My star was misread at birth!”

“I sent a lie so large that I told my servant, Suga, It may be impossible for him to swallow, but we both watched as you did.” She snapped her fingers. “It is no longer useful for that delusion to continue. You are not, nor were you ever, the Axis.” Anger and contempt flared in his eyes; he wondered how he’d ever likened her to a child. “I won’t bother convincing you of that. If you whine or blunder, I’ll use the homunculus in your stead.”

Elymas closed his mouth with a snap.

“These things you would have learned in an orderly fashion, with the Master in perfect control, had you not tried to murder the King. For that presumption, there will be consequences.” Rizla darted a quick tongue over her lips. “The Tuel will exact a price.”

“The Tuel?” he asked weakly. “The Tuel is the Master?”

“Of course. Who else would I be referring to? Elyon?” She seemed ready to strike him for making her say the word. “Yes, the Tuel will exact a price.”

“But I am innocent!”

“Innocence.” Rizla lifted on perfectly arched brow. “Tell me of innocence. I have forgotten.”

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