61 A.D.

David McAfee


She enjoyed this part the most. The part where they started to scream. It didn’t matter how old or how strong they were, when she started to work her particular brand of magic, they all screamed. Even the tough ones; the ones who thought they could hold out and be strong. The ones who thought they were stronger than she was. Those types usually screamed loudest of all. Of course, that could be because she was harder on them than the ones who cooperated, but it didn’t matter.

In the end, she thought, all Bachiyr are cowards. They all had their breaking point.

This particular Bachiyr hadn’t lasted long at all. His screams sounded long and loud, echoing off the walls of the keep and traveling the length of the hallways and through the chambers beyond. She couldn’t hide her smile as she realized that the humans in the valley below probably heard them, too. Good. It would give them yet another reason to stay away from her home, as if they needed further warning.

She watched her prisoner squirm, enjoying the burnt smell of his flesh while her fire scorched his toes. She controlled the flames with a simple psalm, but she had to constantly monitor it to make sure it maintained just the right temperature. If she allowed it to get too hot the fire burned away the nerves and the prisoner would feel nothing. If she allowed the fire to get too cool it lost its effectiveness. After several millennia of practice she had mastered the ability, much to her prisoner’s dismay.

He’d tried to resist her, even going so far as to tell her to go to the Abyss and calling her all manner of filthy names. He even spat at her, but he missed. She had seen it all before. In four thousand years she’d seen just about everything there was to see. Not much surprised her these nights.

After two minutes she cooled the flames-not out of any sense of mercy, but because she needed information. A prisoner who is screaming can’t speak.

The Bachiyr’s feet were little more than charred stumps. Even if she let him go-which she had no intention of doing-he would never walk again. But at times like these few prisoners ever seemed to think that far ahead. Mostly they just wanted the pain to stop. It made getting information much easier.

“There, Agnor,” she said when he stopped screaming, “is that better?”

Agnor whimpered something in reply, but she couldn’t make it out.

“You’d better speak more clearly, Agnor.” She reached over and touched his cheek, running her nails along his jawline with enough force to break the skin. Blood dripped from a thin red wound, and he shivered in his bonds. It reminded her that she had not yet fed this evening. She would have to remedy that soon. “You don’t want to displease me. Your feet were just the beginning.”

“It is better,” he said, his teeth clenched against the pain.

“Good. I am glad you can talk. We have much to discuss, you and I.”

“I already told you, I don’t know where he is.” His voice had taken on a whiny tone. Not good. He already knew he would never leave her keep alive. Damn. It made it harder to get what she wanted, but the difficulty often made the getting more entertaining.

“Agnor,” she cooed, “You are a clerk to the Halls of the Bachiyr. No, no. Don’t try to deny it, I know it’s true. You have access to information that few others can get. If anyone outside the Council of Thirteen would know of his location, it would be you.”

“I don’t-”

“Spare me,” she said. “You are a terrible liar.”

“And you are going to kill me no matter what I tell you,” Agnor said.

“True enough,” she admitted. “You’ve seen my face. I can’t very well let you leave. But whether your death takes ten seconds or ten days is up to you. Tell me where he is and you will die like this.” She snapped her fingers. “Or keep stalling. You are only dragging the pain along further.”

Without waiting for an answer, she turned the flames on again. This time she started at his fingertips, charring away the skin and flesh as slow as she could, marveling at how his skin crackled and curled upward as it turned black. The acrid odor reached her nostrils and she covered her nose with a damp cloth. Despite her pleasure at the smell’s source, she could only stand it for so long. Agnor screamed again, shaking his head violently back and forth. Amidst the screams were words which she barely understood. Another denial. He was really playing out the lie. Excellent.

When his hands were gone, she cooled the flames again. This time she had to wait several minutes for Agnor’s screams to subside. When at last he quieted, he lay on the stone altar whimpering. Several small red trails leaked from the corners of his eyes. Blood. The coppery smell mixed with the scents of moss, stone, and burned flesh. She sighed, pleased with herself. She had another card to play.

“Do you think they will save you?” she asked. “They don’t even know you are here. When you failed to report to the Council this evening, how much time do you think they wasted looking for you? None, I’ll wager. You are nothing to them, Agnor. Nothing. They will replace you without a moment’s thought on where you might be. That bastard Herris has probably already seen to it. You owe him nothing, and The Father even less. Why suffer longer than you must? Tell me what I need to know. Where is Ramah? Where did they send him last?”

Agnor quieted and turned to look at her. His eyes hardened, and the set of his jaw firmed. She didn’t like the expression on his face at all, and she already knew what his response would be. Damn it.

“It’s Headcouncil Herris,” he said.

She nodded. She’d expected as much. “Very well, Agnor, clerk of Herris. Have it your way. I will enjoy making you talk.”

Agnor closed his eyes. She was just trying to decide where next to burn him-perhaps his manhood-when her thoughts were interrupted by a loud knock on the wooden door. Only one person would disturb her at a time like this.

“Come in, Feyo,” she called.

The door opened and her pet human entered the room. Feyo was large by human standards, and muscular, which is why she kept him around. She had taken him from the lands just south of the sea as a child and raised him at her keep, biting him every month or so to keep him healthy and stronger than normal. He bore the black hair, dark skin, and deep brown eyes of his people. He kept his tight curly hair cut short so that it resembled a small black rug on his head. Today he wore little more than a loincloth, leaving his lean chest and abdomen bare and shiny with sweat.

Had she any such desires she might have mated with him. But fond as she was of her servant, he was still human. She might as well mate with the dogs or horses.

“Mistress Baella,” Feyo said. “I have good news.”

“Speak it.”

“Your runners have found one of the renegades from Jerusalem.”

Baella turned to face him. That was good news. “Where?”


“Britannia? Why would Theron go there?”

“Not Theron, Mistress,” Feyo replied. “The other one. The tall one. The one who looks like a northerner but acts like a Roman.”

“Taras,” she said, not even trying to hide her disappointment.

On the table, Agnor snorted. He knew which one she wanted, too. Smarmy bastard. She turned to him and set his crotch on fire. His screams made her feel a little better, but not much.

“The Roman is of no use to me,” she said, raising her voice to be heard above Agnor’s screams.

“Ramah will not come looking for him?” Feyo asked.

“Ramah cares nothing for him. Neither does the Council.”

“But he has eluded them for decades. Surely they-”

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