In the Hands of the Enemy (Book Excerpt) * Trigger Warning

The following book excerpt contains scenes of graphic violence and torture.  Discretion is advised.

A door opened.  Shaundar tried to get a grip on himself at once; the last thing their captors needed to see was weakness.  His eyes blinked against the sudden brightness of the lantern in the corridor, but it was quickly blocked by an enormous silhouette.  Its owner was a scro; gray-skinned and huge, with arms like tree trunks.

“Ah, good, you’re awake,” the scro rumbled in a voice that sounded almost like a lion purring.  His unconscious echo of Yathar’s earlier remark was a little disturbing.  It was odd to hear the Espruar tongue in such a rough baritone voice.  “Maybe you’ll be more forthcoming than your friends.”  He grabbed Shaundar’s shirt and with one hand lifted him to his feet.  Shaundar was too weak to stand, however, and his leg startled him with the blinding jolt of pain it reported when his weight was put on it.  He made a noise that sounded to his own ears like the bleat of a goat.

Yathar was on his feet as well.  “He just came to a minute ago,” he was saying.  “He’s still not quite aware.  You should give him some time.”

The scro backhanded Yathar in the face as casually as one might swat an insect.  He crumpled backwards against the wall.  Shaundar noticed now a purple bruise all the way around Sylria’s left eye.  He imagined this scro punching her in the face the way he had just punched Yathar and his fists involuntarily tightened.

The gray scro chuckled.  “Looks lively enough to me,” he snickered.  “Want to kill me, elf?  Good luck.”  He pushed Shaundar before him and made him stagger down the corridor into another, smaller room as he closed and barred the brig door behind him.  He was not alone.  Two more burly scro awaited him in the passageway, just in case.

It gave Shaundar a small degree of satisfaction to see that the wall of the corridor was dented inwards, where one of their catapult stones had made contact.  Obviously they had not had opportunity to fix it yet, which meant they had been burdened with more pressing repairs.  It was a bitter and metallic pleasure, if short-lived.

They fastened his wrists to a hard-backed mess hall chair and shone a bullseye lantern directly into his eyes.  The gray scro grabbed another chair and spun it around backwards to squat upon it, in a manner that reminded Shaundar of Madrimlian.  “What’s your name, elf?” he inquired conversationally, leaning on the back of the chair.

Shaundar’s instincts told him keenly that this orc was as different from Champion Dorin Bloodfist as night was from day.  He also knew that once these scro heard the name “Sunfall,” all the Hells would break loose, and either he would end up dead or his father would be forced into a horrible choice that could result in betrayal of the Fleet.  His father was, after all, the Vice Admiral; the Realmspace Fleet’s military leader.  So he said nothing.  The effort of sitting up was already forcing sweat from his skin in a slick coat.

The scro frowned.  “Come now, lad, what harm could it be to give me your name?” he asked in an I’m-so-hurt tone of voice.

Shaundar knew the answer to that perfectly well and had no intention of telling his captors.  He continued to say nothing.

The scro curled his lip.  He stood up and grabbed Shaundar’s injured leg in one hand.  Shaundar could now see that it was splinted with a piece of metal that might have been a railing piece or a light support bar, and that his uniform trousers had been cut away on that side.  The scro gripped the point just above his knee with his massive gray clawed hand and twisted as though he were turning on a faucet.  Electric agony blasted lightning bolts through Shaundar’s body.  He cried out.

“Your name!” demanded the scro furiously.  His eyes seemed to glow faintly green.

Shaundar spat out the first thing he could think of.  “Oakheart!” he gasped.  “Garan Oakheart!”

The scro released his leg.  The relief was overwhelming.  “That’s better, Lieutenant Oakheart,” he said in a much calmer tone.  Shaundar couldn’t tell if he was grinning or bearing his tusks.  “Now, let’s discuss what you know about the forces of Realmspace.”

“I don’t really know anything,” Shaundar lied.  “I’m just a Lieutenant.”

“Oh, I doubt that very much,” the scro grinned.  “I’m sure you must have seen something.  Space stations, other ships, bases; something.”

Shaundar again fell silent.

“Perhaps you’d like me to pull your leg again,” the scro threatened mildly, and he sniggered.

Shaundar, who did not appreciate the joke, was pretty sure that would only be the beginning, but he had no intention of betraying the Fleet.  He chose to hold his tongue.

The scro began to gently and patiently unwrap the bandages from his wounded leg.  Shaundar tried to flinch away but there was nowhere for him to go.  His captor grinned again and leaned on his upper thigh to hold it in place.  The pressure made Shaundar’s eyes water.  He continued methodically unfurling bloody rags.  When the metal splint came free he actually eased it to the deck rather than allowing it to just fall, and eventually Shaundar’s wound was exposed.  There was still a rather large oozing hole in his right thigh.  It seeped both blood and pus and it smelled foul.  The area around it was a blotchy, angry red and it was swollen grotesquely.  That’s going to leave a nasty scar, Shaundar found himself reflecting, and then the scro extended his enormous claw-tipped thumb and drove it directly into the still open wound.

Shaundar’s vision went white with the pain and though he tried to bite it back, the scream burst out of him anyway, just as bloody pus burst out of the wound at the place where the scro pressed his thumb with sadistic glee.

“Tell me,” his tormentor demanded in the same disturbing dulcet tones.

“I don’t know what you want to know!” Shaundar cried as his vision blurred and swam.

The scro released the pressure on Shaundar’s wound and he gasped with relief.  “Anything you can tell me,” he encouraged gently.  “Ship names, locations, commanding officers, anything.”

Shaundar considered what he could tell them without revealing anything significant; how he could convince them that he was telling them all he knew without actually telling them.  The truth was, if he thought about it, being in the Navy and having an Admiral for a father meant that he probably knew a lot of things that were otherwise privileged information, picked up by osmosis if nothing else.  “I probably can’t give you ship positions,” he said slowly.  “We’ve been out too long.  Anything I did know before we hit the Flow is useless now.”

“You’re stalling,” the scro pointed out; which was, of course, exactly what he was doing.  His leg had degenerated into an angry throb that twitched with fresh pain that seemed to stretch tendrils from his toes to his bowels every time his pounding heart beat.  It was hard to think.  He knew that lying outright was not likely to be sufficiently convincing, but if he somehow managed to include just enough of the truth to be credible .  .  .  and then the solution hit him between the eyes like a spitball.

“I’ve just recently been transferred,” he told the scro jailer.  “The Queen’s Dirk took on a bunch of replacements just before this mission.  I really don’t know much, just like I said.”  He certainly was young enough for this to be convincing.

“In that case,” the scro pounced, “why don’t you tell me about the state of things at Aces High?”

Shaundar blinked, bewildered.  Where had that come from?  “What?” he blurted.

The gray-skinned orc leaned forward like a cat eying a terrified mouse it had cornered.  “We took you off the helm, Lieutenant Oakheart.  We know you were the one flying your ship when you rammed us.  If your ship hadn’t been so damaged, that might have been very effective, and it certainly has caused us a headache.”  He nodded once, almost in approval.  “But that was far too well done for a replacement .  .  .  unless he just came from that flight school that you elves are so proud of.  Care to change your story?”

Shaundar said nothing.  He couldn’t very well tell them everything he knew about Aces High!  They would penetrate its defences and destroy it; and what then?

The scro’s gaze narrowed as he realized that Shaundar was not as placid and obedient as he had initially appeared.  He nodded to one of the other scro, who brought forth a small wooden cask with a plug in it and a hose of some kind.  As Shaundar watched with horrified fascination, wondering what in the worlds they were going to do with it, the scro leading the interrogation plucked the plug from the cask and the other inserted the hose into the opening, then put the other end in his mouth and drew back on it, forming a siphon.  Some of the liquid dribbled out when he pulled back from it, swallowing what had run into his mouth.  It was a strange red-purple colour and it was acrid and peppery enough to make Shaundar’s eyes water.

Still grinning, the great gray scro took the dripping end from his compatriot and clasped it upward to form a U shape with the hose.  “Do you know what this is, Lieutenant Oakheart?” he asked almost rhetorically.  Without waiting for an answer, he continued, “This is Dukagsh pepper ale.  Not suited to the pallid elven palate, I think.”  This remark produced chuckles from all three scro in the room.

With a nod from the leader, the other two came over to where Shaundar was.  One grabbed his chair and flipped it over on its left side, so that Shaundar was lying, still fastened to the chair, with his back to the leader.  He was suddenly desperate to see what was going on behind him so Shaundar tried to peer over his shoulder at that bizarre angle, and his left leg kicked out almost involuntarily to try to straighten him around.  The other scro – the one who had yet to say or do anything – promptly sat on that leg and locked the right one in a death grip at the calf.  The leader then clasped his exposed right thigh on the inside in a grasp uncomfortably like that of a possessive and overeager lover.  With the other hand he turned the end of the hose and poured the contents of the cask directly into Shaundar’s leg wound.

That translucent reddish purple liquid might as well have been the contents of a Greek fire projector or raw acid dripping from the jaws of a black dragon.  It burned every exposed nerve with a searing pain that went on and on and did not stop.  He could see his flesh blistering.  His balls tried to crawl into his belly as red pain spider-webbed through burning synapses and he bucked and kicked helplessly.  Someone was screaming somewhere, a brassy, metallic sound, but there was simply so much pain that he could not process, until it was over, that it was him.

It lasted forever, but eventually it did stop; and as the leader pulled the hose away Shaundar sobbed with relief.

“Now,” spoke the leader calmly, his other hand still resting on the inside of Shaundar’s thigh, “let’s try this again.  Tell me about Aces High.”

Shaundar tried to coalesce his thoughts into something recognizable and useful; tried to formulate a lie that had some convincing elements of what he remembered from his training, but plumbing the depths of his mind resulted in the unearthing of a single word:

NO

That word was a wall through which nothing more would pass.  And with the discovery of that word, Shaundar found that all of his fear was gone.

“No,” he croaked.

The gray scro studied him and blinked.  “No?” he echoed blankly.

“That’s right,” rasped Shaundar, “no.”  He was done performing for their sadistic amusement.  He would tell them nothing.

The scro’s orange eyes flashed green in anger.  He poured more liquid fire into Shaundar’s wound.  He couldn’t help the screaming, or the flailing about as his body tried to get away, but when it stopped again, Shaundar found that his anger was a cold, hard knot in his belly and his resolve was unchanged.

“Go to Baator,” he snarled.

“If you won’t talk to us,” the scro warned, “then you’re of no use to us and we’ll kill you.”

“Go for it,” spat Shaundar.  He was reasonably sure that if they were going to do that, there had been ample opportunity; and even if they did, he was not going to give them the satisfaction of caving in, nor would he tell them anything they could use against his family and friends.  If death was to be his fate, so be it.

The large gray scro saw this in Shaundar’s eyes, and he punched him in the face with all of his frustrated rage.  Shaundar’s head bounced off of the back of the chair with a sharp crack, and then once again, there was nothing.

– from A Few Good Elves (Toy Soldier Saga book 1).

Diane MorrisonDiane Morrison (Sable Aradia) is a non-fiction and speculative fiction author.  Her first National Novel Writing Month project was the Spelljammer novel A Few Good Elves (self-published to e-book format 2012).  Her related short story, “Survivor,” was published in the August 2013 issue of Separate Worlds magazine, and her first non-fiction book, The Witch’s Eight Paths of Power was published by Red Wheel / Weiser on Sept. 1.  Catch up on her ongoing Spelljammer novel series, the Toy Soldier Saga, at her website.

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