by Rob Steiner
“Your daughter is very beautiful, Zervakan,” Kumar Ladak said, glancing back at Mara. “A little young for my tastes, but still…”
Taran stared at Kumar Ladak. A harrower? Him? How had he exited the shield without disintegrating? But as Taran thought back, he could not remember seeing Ladak since before the harrower attack began on the Heiron. Perhaps he had slipped away in the ensuing chaos. Taran had been so preoccupied with the attack, and then Wielding, that he had not even thought of Ladak since then.
However he had slipped away, he was here now, and he was threatening Mara.
Taran snarled, “I’ll rip your heart out if you touch her.”
Ladak laughed. “Now that is the reaction I wanted. Your anger feels good, doesn’t it?” Ladak turned and started toward Mara.
“Good” was not what Taran felt at the moment. At the moment, there was nothing he wanted to do but kill Kumar Ladak.
“Ladak!” Taran screamed. “I swear, if you touch her—”
“You’ll what?” Ladak said, standing before Mara and looking up at her. She struggled in her bindings, her glances shifting fearfully between Ladak and Taran.
“You’ll what? Wield a peaceful little rain shower at me, like you did in the library? If you haven’t noticed, we’re quite wet as it is.”
He reached up and began to stroke Mara’s ankle.
“Daddy,” Mara moaned. She tried jerking her ankle away from Ladak’s touch, but the harrower grabbed the ankle with his other hand to hold it steady. Mara kicked him in the face with her other foot, and Ladak snarled at her. He grabbed the other foot, and then yanked her down from the vines that had bound her. She fell to the ground behind the stump on which she had been sitting when Taran found her. He could not see her, but he heard her scream, “Daddy, help!”
With a terrible laugh, Ladak jumped on top of her, and Taran could no longer see either of them. But he still heard Mara’s screams.
The rage and frustration exploding from Taran was more than he had ever felt in his life. In desperation, he raised his right hand to the rings, screamed with all his hatred for the power to kill Ladak, to save Mara…and then he felt a power surge through him that made his boiling anger as weak as the breath of a butterfly. It was a cold heat and a dark flame that filled his soul. And he reveled in it.
Taran looked at the vine that had wrapped itself around his feet, and it seemed to wither at his gaze, bowing to its master. The vine eased him to the ground, and then released him.
Taran scrambled to his feet. He looked to the branches above where Ladak and Mara were struggling. The branches twisted and shrieked—shrieks only Taran could hear—but he did not care, as long as they did what they were told. The branches gave in, and turned into tentacles with brown scales and barbs that flailed about for a moment, adjusting to the pain of their new forms, and then shot down toward where Ladak had disappeared behind the stump. The tentacles pulled him up into the air. He screamed as the barbs embedded themselves into his legs and torso. The tentacles hung Ladak upside down, just as Ladak had done to Taran.
“Now what should I do with you?” Taran growled up at the struggling Ladak.
“Please, Taran,” Ladak said, blood pouring down over his face from the wounds on his legs and torso. “Please don’t kill me. Your daughter is safe, she’s not really here. Look, look!”
Taran snarled, and then peered around the corner of the stump where he had last seen her.
She was not there.
“What did you do with her?” Taran roared.
Ladak flinched and began to whimper. “Nothing, I swear to you, Taran, it wasn’t really her, it was just an illusion to get you here, oh, please, it hurts, please release me.”
Ladak’s cowardly cries sickened Taran. “Why did you create an illusion of my daughter? Why did you bring me here?”
“Please, I can’t talk, he’ll kill me, please…”
“Answer me or I will kill you!”
Taran told the vine wrapped around Ladak’s leg to tighten. The deeper the barbs went, the louder Ladak’s shrieking grew.
“I don’t know his name, please, I swear to you, please…”
“Why did you to bring me here? Tell me!”
The rage coursing through Taran’s soul made him want to end this interrogation quickly so he could make Ladak suffer pain that would make talking impossible.
“I don’t know!” Ladak screamed. “I only do what he tells me!”
Impatience finally conquered Taran’s curiosity—or rather the rage burning in his veins. He told the vines to rip Ladak apart.
And they did.
Different parts of Ladak’s body fell in different places throughout the clearing. And Taran felt a satisfaction that he had never felt before—the satisfaction of watching a hated enemy get what he deserved. And the satisfaction of being the instrument of that justice.
But as he watched the body fall to the ground, Taran realized that he had just killed a man. The rage flowing through him ebbed as more and more horror at what he had just done began to leak through.
And then the rage turned off as if it was a wiretype, and all Taran felt was disgust. He looked down at the bloody remains of Kumar Ladak, a man he had just tortured and then torn to pieces.
Taran sat down, ignoring the rain, staring at what he did.