Some kind of coupling or welding had come loose.
Arianna groaned softly. The sound brought her body back to life from what felt like death itself.
There was not a section of muscle tissue that didn’t protest in fiery agony at her insistence on movement. She was in tatters from head to toe, her mental state no better. Her fingers twitched and the joints popped softly.
Drip. Drip. Drip.
“If a Rivet doesn’t fix that soon, the wrench will touch their temple before it touches the pipe.” Using her voice—what there was of it—was enough to make her head feel as though it was splitting open.
A loud clang shot between her ears as metal met cement. The aforementioned tool slid across the ground with all the cacophony of an industrial machine gone awry, and came to a stop at her toes.
Arianna’s eyes cracked open.
The room came into focus slowly, very, very slowly. Hazy orbs formed into the cold glow of electric lighting, two sconces illuminating the weeping condensation that poured down the wall she faced. A skeleton of piping ran across the ceiling. Arianna’s eyes followed the lead lines to the corner where one usually found such imperfections and sure enough . . .
“Convenient for me. It seems I have a Rivet right here who could perform the fix.”
Her lolling eyes stilled. Arianna could only muster the strength to move so much of her body at one time. Refocusing, she tilted her head forward off the cold metal. She drew her shoulders in, only to be arrested by the restraints strapped across her entire body.
A crimson face loomed before her.
Yveun’Dono, the Dragon King.
Arianna snapped her eyes shut and used the darkness to drop a curtain on the memory of the last time she was so confined. The last time someone had held her captive.
“I’ll need more than a wrench for that . . .” she mumbled. No matter how broken her body was, the machinations of her mind ground to life around numbers. She had to keep herself moving, couldn’t allow herself to freeze. The pipes were lead construction, likely fifty years old based on the jointing techniques. “I’d need a welding tool.”
She shifted her vision from the ceiling to look at the speaker. A corpse lounged in a chair pressed flush against the door and stared back at her. He was lanky, all knobby bones and translucent skin. His black hair was pulled back tightly, stretching the skin of his face and turning his beady eyes to near slits.
She had traded being the captive of one king for another.
“Not so much a king anymore.” The man grinned wide enough to show teeth yellowed with age. “Kings need kingdoms.”
She put a pin in that statement. It was too early to ask questions. So Arianna said nothing, and let Louie continue in the face of her silence.
“It’s well past time we met face-to-face, my dear White Wraith.”
A single sentence had never said more. He knew who she was. She knew who he was. “Glad there’s no need for pretense.” Arianna continued to take stock of her situation. “And I am not ‘your dear.’”
“You’re not? And here I was hopeful that the White Wraith would be fond of me.”
“Not in this lifetime,” she muttered, wishing her voice sounded stronger. Her head ached, but Arianna didn’t allow the pain to betray as anything more than a narrowing of her eyes. How did she get here?
Arianna quickly assessed herself. She was likely underground, judging from the condensation on the walls and the heavy stillness that often came from such locations. Louie was here, a man she’d never interacted with before and certainly wouldn’t have gone to for help. And she’d been right to avoid him, evidenced by the restraints holding her against an organ harvesting table—a tilted contraption that propped her at an angle, bound her down so she couldn’t escape or struggle as someone, theoretically, cut her flesh from her body.
Yes, she knew where she was as it pertained to this singular room. But none of it indicated how she had arrived here. For that, she needed to go back further.
She’d escaped the Dragon King’s prison with Cvareh’s help. Cvareh. The name brought on a deluge of emotions, none of which she was equipped to handle under the circumstances. Arianna pushed the onslaught from her mind. Just another item to put a pin in, for now. Tackle one problem at a time.
She’d stolen a glider. Yveun’s voice rattled through her mind again. “Let go.” Her memories after that numbered three snapshots: Nova shrinking above her. The glider’s metal handles just under her fingertips. Her body slamming against the contraption as she hit the clouds that separated the two worlds.
She must have fallen down to somewhere in Dortam, close enough to Mercury Town for Louie to get his grubby little hands on her.
“How did you know who I am?” Arianna willed her voice to sound the slightest bit more stable. Maybe it would, if she weren’t diverting so much focus to merely keeping screams of pain and frustration dormant. Her mind was moving too slowly for her to tolerate. “I always sent someone else to meet with you.”
“Your coat—among other factors—was a giveaway.” Arianna desperately wanted to know what these “other factors” were. “And ‘someone else’? Let’s call her by name, shall we? Florence.”
If she were more in her right mind, she never would have given him the chance to say the name. Nor would she have risked giving away how much that single utterance meant to her with her traitorous face. Horror and heartache swept across her like a burst steam pipe, no doubt altering the landscape before she could patch the rupture. In a matter of moments she mastered herself once more—but Louie watched her closely, and the scalding emotion had left its mark.