Miles under Sakura’s room, in the dungeon below the glittering palace, Rormic sat in chains. Kiru had to lead him out of the office before he realized what was happening. Rormic immediately began to fight. He twisted his shoulders this way and that so that Kiru could not hold them properly. He faked to the left and sprinted towards the archway. The armed men that had been there earlier appeared again but Rormic made a sharp turn to avoid them. He was quickly moving towards the window.
“STOP!” Kiru’s voice boomed across the lobby but Rormic paid it no mind. He braced his hands against the window frame and prepared to jump out. Rormic’s feet left the ground and he felt freedom in his grasp. The feeling of freedom was quickly followed by alarm. Gloved hands grabbed Rormic’s clothing and hair before his feet were able to touch the ground.
“You’ve made another mistake, boy,” Kiru swore as Rormic continued to struggle and he yelled to the men to get irons. The iron shackles were tightened to secure Rormic’s wrists behind his back. “Stop struggling. It won’t help you now.”
Rormic knew that Kiru was saying the truth but he could not will his body to be still. Adrenaline coursed through his veins and yelled for him to move and struggle. It took four guards to force Rormic into the dungeon. What he saw surprised him.
Rormic had imagined the dungeon as row after row of tiny cells but palace dungeon was one big room. He breathed a sigh of relief. Small spaces scared all the members of the Elk Clan and Rormic was no exception. Rormic was disappointed that he could not move around the room but he was still glad that the prison was not small. The guards chained Rormic's arms to the wall and made the shackles as tight as they could.
Rormic was forced to sit where they had left him with his arms above his head. His arms were tired of staying up and his back ached from rubbing against the course wall. Rormic tried to remember more comfortable places – and even tried to imagine that he was there – but thinking of anything was getting harder and harder with the constant sound of dripping water ringing throughout the large chamber.
“Garrahg!!!!” Rormic cried out in his frustration. He was ready to kick at anything he could when a voice surprised him into stillness.
“Don’t worry. After awhile all the little noises don’t bother you.”
“Wh-who’s there?” Rormic’s voice trembled as he asked. He silently prayed that it was not one of the councilor’s men.
“My name is Brad Pilletera. I am not really anyone important. I don’t even really belong in this world.”
“You’re Sakura’s father! She is here, looking for you!” Rormic assumed that this news would please the father but he was very wrong.
Brad’s face changed color from red to white and finally to purple. “Sakura should not be here. She is supposed to be at home where she will be safe.” He stopped and breathed deeply for a few moments to calm him and compose his words. “She has no idea what she is getting into. I have to get out of here… I have to warn her!”
“She seemed to be doing a great job to me,” Rormic explained. “Sakura traveled across the forest and tamed beasts. She even met the Great Warrior. She has been a messenger and a spy and everything in between. She can handle the counselor just fine.”
“The counselor will be the least of her worries,” Rormic swore he could see tears streaming down the man’s face in the dark of the dungeon.
“What do you mean? What is this really about?”
“Sakura does not know the real story and I fear that she will not recognize the enemy,” Brad spoke in a loud whisper as if he did not notice that Rormic was there at all.
“Sakura is smart. She’ll know when they try to trick her.” Rormic tried to comfort the crying man.
“You have no idea what they are capable of!”
“Maybe we can warn her…” Rormic knew that it was unlikely that either of them would be able to see Sakura but he wanted her father to calm down so that they could come up with a new plan. “I need to know who the real enemies are. Sakura needs to know who to watch out for.”
“Poor Ann has so many enemies. I hoped that she had warned Sakura but now I am sure. If Sakura knew what type of people really lived here, she would have never agreed to come.”
“Brad,” Rormic began in the slowest, calmest tone he could muster. He took a breath before plunging into the hard part of the conversation – only to be interrupted by Kiru walking into the dungeon.
“The counselor still wants answers,” Kiru stated this with a blank, expressionless face that chilled Rormic to the bone. “Come on,” Kiru turned to face Brad Pilletera. “The counselor has more questions for you, Old Man.”
Brad shook his head. “I already told him everything that I know.”
“The counselor has met the girl and seen the heirloom. He has some new questions. You would do well to answer all of them.” Kiru unlocked the chains that secured Brad’s wrists to the wall and forcibly pulled the older man to his feet. Kiru pulled the stumbling man after him as he made his way to the stairs that led out of the dungeon.
“He’s confused,” Rormic tried to explain to Kiru. “He won’t be able to answer anything.”
“I’ll be coming back down to get you shortly,” Kiru replied curtly.
“Don’t waste the councilor’s time with the old man. Take me up now and just get it over with.” Rormic knew that he should be more respectful but he could not help but let his frustration show.
“You’ll get your turn,” Kiru yelled down before Rormic heard the lock bang securely behind Kiru.
Sakura had no idea any of this was taking place. She did not know that Rormic had met her father or that the counselor was questioning them both. She only knew that she needed information – Timazaki had sent both she and Rormic to the palace to get information – Still, Sakura’s first priority was to free Rormic and find her father.
Sakura walked out of her room with her goal in mind. She needed information and this palace was the place to get it. Sakura did not really know her way around the palace. Her first thought was to move from room to room. Sakura’s hand turned the first door handle but the door only clicked. It would not open.
Sakura sighed. She should have known that the counselor would not let her go just anywhere. She could feel frustration wrack her tired mind. Everything was catching up with her. She needed information but the counselor controlled the information she could get and she doubted that he would allow her to find a way to get out. She wanted to scream but then a sudden idea came to her.
Sakura needed a way to get information without being restricted by the counselor. Sakura would have gone to a library or information center if she was in her own hometown but she did not know what to do here… No one could hide all the information even if they were an emperor. There was information somewhere in this palace. All she had to do now was find it. She walked down the hall aimlessly hoping for some kind of clue.
“This is official business!” Someone yelled in a room to Sakura’s right. She walked closer and placed her ear to the door. She strained to hear the quieter words. “You treat this office as a place to play your own game. Do you not see that the decisions you make affect thousands of people?”
“You are not looking at the bigger picture,” the muffled but familiar voice of the counselor chided. “This new move may seem risky now but it will help the city and even the whole empire in the long run.”
“The people are forming mobs now!” The first voice was yelling again and his voice was getting stiller and stiller with each syllable. “There is even talk of rebellion! If your master plan takes too long the whole empire – and all of us as well – will be gone before the project is finished. No one will be helped.”
“You worry too much… and overstep your station from time to time as well.” The councilor’s voice took on an air of warning and danger. The dangerous silk covered the man’s words and Sakura hoped that the other speaker had the sense to be stopping talking because he could be an ally…
“I-I-I meant no disrespect, your grace.” Sakura imagined that the man bowed as he spoke. She breathed a sigh of relief. The man was smart enough to know when to shut-up… Hopefully, he was brave enough to help.
Sakura heard the men’s steps moving toward the door. She ran to get out of the way. She hid at a corner and prayed that the counselor did not walk in her direction. The door opened as the councilor stepped into the doorway and turned to face the other man again.
“Remember what I said, Aiko. You have dreams of grandeur and some good ideas but none of them will come to pass if I do not will them to. The Emperor will see no one but me. Without my approval, your dreams will never come true.”
The other man, Aiko, nodded. “Thank you for your time, counselor.” With that, the counselor left and Aiko bowed again.
Sakura stepped into the room and Aiko looked up from where he was still bowing. Surprise shown wide in Aiko’s eyes when he saw her small figure step boldly into the room but the bright light of recognition quickly followed the surprise. “You must be the councilor’s new guest.”
“I’m afraid I don’t know much about the counselor,” Sakura was hoping she could hint at a plan and not give anything away. If Aiko shied away from the possibility of danger than she could walk away and Aiko would not know enough to stop her but if Aiko showed interest than she could ease him into the full plan.
“No one really knows that councilor well. He seems to change the way he does things with the seasons. He cannot seem to make up his mind.”
“Changes must make it hard to get things done. It sounds like the councilor’s methods frustrate you.”
Aiko’s face visibly whitened after Sakura had spoken. “The counselor is knowledgeable and his methods are effective. It should not come as a surprise that an uneducated man like does not understand the councilor’s methods.”
“You know that I was never asked to be a guest here?”
“Alliances change quickly here, Lady.” Aiko bowed low and placed his warm hand on her own. Sakura felt him press something into her hand. She sucked in a breath and pulled her hand back, clinching the note in her hand.
Aiko left and Sakura noticed how young he was – around the same age as she was – but Aiko was very tall. He looked competent. She had only had a short conversation with him but she felt like she could trust him. The facts that the trust came so easily made Sakura instantly mistrust it.
Rormic felt his gut turn. Kiru had just left with Brad and Rormic had let the guards take the harmless man. Rormic swore that he could hear Brad moan. He told himself that it would be impossible for him to hear anything through the layers of thick walls but he could not shake the feeling. He jumped when the dungeon door banged open.
Rormic expected to see guards dragging Brad to the dungeon to chain him up. Rormic jumped when he only saw one figure walk down the steps. It was Kiru.
“I told you it would be your turn soon,” Kiru spoke as he walked down the steps. Rormic glared daggers at Kiru’s head until the uniformed man stopped in front of Rormic.
“Where’s Brad?” Rormic asked Kiru as the locks that encircled his wrists were being unlocked.
“You’ll be seeing him soon, Boy. Just behave and follow me. The counselor is ready to see you now.”
Kiru never glanced behind him as he led Rormic up the stairs. Four guards surrounded Rormic but Kiru remained at the head of the group. The guards watched Rormic closely. He knew that there was no way he could escape from all those close watchers. It seemed like seconds later that Kiru opened the door to the councilor’s office yet again.
The counselor sat at a large mahogany desk. Brad sat in a chair on the left side of the room. His head lulled to one side. Rormic moved into the room quickly once he laid eyes on Brad.
“What happened to him?” Rormic asked in a whispered voice. The question was directed at the counselor but it was Kiru, who answered,
“We only want to know about the girl. Your friend here will not answer even the simplest question.”
“I told you already: he is sick. Brad won’t answer anything.” Rormic stopped talking suddenly because his mind overwhelmed him with questions. “I doubt he has any information, really.” How do these men know that Brad is Sakura’s father – do they know?
“I know that this man is from the same place as the girl. I also know that she is more than just a girl.” The counselor smiled as he spoke these words. The councilor’s smile grew from a smile grin into a cruel snare as he talked. “You may as well tell me the specifics, Elk boy. I may even let the man go if you do.”
“There is nothing to tell,” Rormic spoke solely and softly. He knew what he wanted to say but not how to say it. “You want there to be some great secret but there really isn’t anything to say.”
“Don’t play games with me, Boy! I am not guessing that the girl is special – I know that she is not from this world.” The councilor’s face was turning red with anger. “Tell me what you know about her world!”
Rormic stayed silent. He looked at the counselor in the eye and used all his strength to keep his face blank.
“You seem to enjoy doing things the hard way,” the councilor commented as he motioned to Kiru. Rormic let Kiru come towards him. Kiru assumed that the boy had given up and was allowing the inevitable to take place. He was in for a shock when Rormic kneed Kiru in the stomach as soon as he was in range.
Kiru cursed. He drove at the boy but Rormic was already on the move. Kiru almost reached Rormic’s legs but Rormic jumped just in time.
“Guards!” The counselor called out in a loud voice. The door exploded as man and man entered the room. Every single guard who entered charged directly at Rormic. He tried to avoid them but they were everywhere. Rormic tried to fight them but there were so many. It did not take long for the guards to overwhelm him.
One man twisted his arms behind his back while another two men held his legs still. Kiru came from behind Rormic’s now still body. He grabbed a fistful of Rormic’s hair and forced him to look at where the councilor stood. He was right next to the chair where Brad sat.
“I was hoping that you would see sense and be more helpful.” The counselor walked slowly to his desk, pulled open a drawer and withdrew a jagged-edged knife. He walked back to the chair in which Brad sat very slowly.
“Leave him alo--!” Tried to yell out but Kiru’s hand quickly covered his mouth.
“Be quiet, Boy! You missed your chance to be helpful,” Kiru’s voice hissed close to his ear.
Brad’s head was still lulled to the side when the knife went in. Rormic expected him to scream but the only said that Brad made was a small moan. The counselor lets go of the knife’s handle and left it in the man’s thigh as he turned to where the men held Rormic.
“I chose this knife for a special reason. The jagged edges allow the knife to cause more pain going out of the body than going in.” The councilor’s hand quickly gripped the handle now. He pulled it out with the flourish of a fighter. Brad’s mouth opened and closed as if he was gasping for air.
Now Rormic renewed his struggling. Rormic knew in his head that there were too many guards in the room and that struggling would not really make a difference but his instincts screamed at him to do something.
“Now, now,” the councilor cooed, standing near Rormic, “you can make it all stop.”
Kiru tightened his hold on Rormic’s hair and pulled the boy’s head back. “Just tell the counselor what he wants to know and no more harm will come to your friend…or the girl.”
Rormic stopped struggling at the mention of Sakura. Kiru removed his hand from Rormic’s mouth. “You can’t hurt her,” Rormic’s voice got softer as he spoke. He was still out of breath from the earlier struggle. “You need her.”
“No one wants to hurt her,” the councilor spoke to Rormic as if he was speaking to a small child, “but we need information; if the only way to get it is to hurt her then we will.”