A short while later, I deposited Sleeping Beauty on a cot in my basement and prepared for the next exciting episode entitled Uncle Connor’s Torture Time. Can our hero break the will of Adam’s gun toting moll and find a way to stop the madman before he burns Houston to ground? Yeah, probably. Once she awoke in the “Claw”, technically Acubens Exemplar, it was really a forgone conclusion. She would tell me all she knew, willingly and gratefully. Though I would, if it came to it, wring the truth out of her like water from a wet towel.
Hopefully, it wouldn’t come to that. Waking up chained to the floor was usually enough to put most of my…guests in a sufficiently cooperative state of mind. The thing is, most people, even in a big city like Houston, feel safe. The idea that they could be taken off the street, kidnapped away and held in a remote location, subjected to intensive questioning or even torture is absurd. Something like that could never happen to them. Then it does. And it scares the shit out of them. You’ve just ripped away the illusion of security and most will do anything to get it back. First comes outrage, then realization and despair. Some fight, some cry, eventually they all give up. No one has ever resisted the Claw or the pressure I could bring to bear on them, at least not for long.
Nevada Baylor would be no different. She was still sleeping soundly. Based on her approximate size and age, she should be out for at least another hour or two. Time enough to get everything just right. I stripped out of my civilian attire and into my work clothes, a pair of loose dark silk pants. Silk is conducive to magic flow. Next were the symbols carefully scrawled onto my skin. They helped me channel all my magic and my will into the circle that would connect us and had the added benefit of making me look like a deranged maniac with some unspeakable dark powers.
It was all about ritual. Building the spell, drawing the circle, it all required skill and precision, practice and repetition. In a way it was almost meditative like going through the complicated steps of a kata. At some point, you turned off your conscious mind and relied on muscle memory and recall. This particular circle took two weeks of work. I’d prepared it for a previous problem I had to deal with, but it resolved itself, so I planned to use it for Adam Pierce. Since Adam wasn’t around, his groupie was the next best thing.
Once I’d secured her and taken my place, I closed my eyes and psychically “walked” through the entirety of the elaborate circle. The steps were familiar and had even an inch of it been misdrawn I would have known immediately.
No, it was flawless. It would do its job. With any luck, it wouldn’t have to. I was hoping Miss Baylor would just be sensible. I would prefer not to use my power on her. It would be a lot easier if she just answered my questions and didn’t force me to break her. The circle was the least painful way to extract information, but it wasn’t pleasant. Still, she’d chosen to involve herself with Adam and whether the next few hours went easy or hard was entirely up to her.
While I waited for her to come around, I gradually fed my magic into the Claw. Slow and steady. Too much too fast and I would run dry. It wasn’t a sprint, it was more of a marathon, an airborne shuffle that I could keep up for hours without tiring or slowing down. Even if she resisted, I doubted that I would require more than a fraction of my magic to subdue her.
Even with my eyes closed I knew the moment that she regained consciousness. I waited for her to speak, to figure out where she was and what was happening. Best not to rush these things. We locked eyes and then she tried to get up. Tried and failed.
“You chained me to the floor.” There was a quiver in her voice, fear or anger?
“What gives you the right,” she continued when I didn’t answer, “to grab me off the street and chain me up in your dirty basement?”
Dirty? Nothing in my home was dirty. And I grabbed her out of the park to be precise. What gave me right? I could. That was enough. None of that really mattered. She needed to understand the gravity of the situation. The faster she realized what was happening, the faster I would get my information and we could all go our separate ways.
“Do you know what this is?” I asked.
Of course, she didn’t but then, why should she? Few people outside of powerful houses were familiar with the Claw and few within one could draw it correctly. She seemed to carefully study the elaborate circle she was in the center of. Was that recognition? Surely not.
“Acubens Exemplar requires a telepath. You’re a telekinetic.”
How the hell did she know that? No matter. Enough foreplay, it was time to get down to business. I fed a little more magic into the circle to get her attention and cut to the chase.
“I want to know everything you have on Adam Pierce. His location, his plans, his family’s plans for him. Everything.” Time to sing, little bird.
She crossed her unchained arms across her chest. “No. First, I was hired to find Adam Pierce and my client has an expectation of confidentiality. Second, you attacked me and then chained me to the floor.” She shook her legs as if to emphasize the fact that I had cuffed her ankles to restraints permanently installed in the floor. Which was her own safety. Running into an active circle hurt. If enough power flowed through, it would knock you out cold, and waiting until she came to again would take too long.
She glared at me. Well, she had guts and as much as I might have admired her courage it meant that we weren’t going to do this the nice and easy way. Pity.
“I don’t want to hurt you,” I explained. “I want the information. Forcing you gives me no pleasure.”
It didn’t. I didn’t like torture. I really hadn’t been keen on it when it was done to me. And yet here we were, her chained to the floor and me trying to convince her to talk, to not force my hand.
“If you don’t like forcing me, you should let me go.”
No, I don’t think so. I went to a lot of trouble to track her down and she was my only link to Adam. She knew who I was, she was chained to my floor, and she knew what the spell did, but she was neither hysterical nor crying. She didn’t beg me to let me go. I’d miscalculated. She wasn’t an amateur. She was a professional, and most professionals were pragmatic.
“Tell me what I want to know, and you can walk out of here.” Well, more likely I would drug, blindfold her and drop her off somewhere safe but that didn’t sound as good.
“No. It would be unethical and unprofessional.”
Just my luck, a contractor who stayed bought.
She scooted forward and shot me a defiant look. “Okay, tough guy. Let’s see what you got.”
The hard ass routine. So be it. I fed a little more magic into the circle. Let’s pick up the pace and see if you can keep up. I gave her mind a gentle squeeze, not too much, more like a warning.
She pushed back.
Well, somebody has a little power. Won’t help, won’t be enough.
“Adam Pierce,” I said.
It was like making a fist with your magic. Each time I’s say the name, I would grasp her a little harder. Contract and release. The point was not to crush her mind, that would make her useless, it was safer to wear her down, exhaust her mentally and physically. She would break. They all did eventually.
My magic met the hard wall of her will. She stared back at me. “Eat dirt and die.”
I guess we were going to do it the hard way after all.
Eventually was taking too long. I was getting tired. The basement was hot as hell and though she had stripped down to her bra and sweating profusely, Ms. Baylor showed no other signs of surrender. How was she doing this? She had to be exhausted. I’d broken Significants in less time.
“You’re rich, right?” She sounded worn out. At least it wasn’t just me.
“Yes.” I tried to keep my voice as normal as I could. Don’t let her know you’re near exhausted.
“Couldn’t you spring for air-conditioning in the room?”
“I didn’t expect to sit here for hours. But if you’re too hot, feel free to take the bra off.” Would she? Bribe or distract me with the twins? No, she showed me the finger instead. Alas.
“What are you?” Had I kidnapped an extremely well trained Significant? Or was she an untrained but powerful…no. There were too many benefits to being a Prime. She would’ve used her magic and given herself away. If she were a Prime, she wouldn’t be mortgaging her business to Augustine.
“I’m the woman you chained in your basement. I’m your captive.” She eyed me. “Your victim. Yes, that’s the right word. All that education. How come nobody ever explained to you that you can’t just kidnap people because you feel like it?”
She’d misunderstood the question, but it was a valid one. I could and I had, because no one had taught her not to let herself be kidnapped.
“You had a full second to shoot me.” She’d hesitated though and now I had her. There.
“I don’t just shoot strangers unless my life is clearly in danger. For all I know, you could have been a cop assigned to Pierce’s case. If I fire, I have to be prepared for the possibility of killing my target. Besides, discharging a firearm into a crowd is irresponsible.”
Finally. Adam Pierce came up, but we weren’t talking about him yet.
“A .22 will bounce off wet laundry on the line. Why even carry it?” Someday she might shoot somebody with it and seriously annoy them.
She leaned back and I heard her back pop. Not surprised. It felt like we’d been at this for hours and it was nice to take a little break.
“Because I don’t shoot unless I mean to kill. A large caliber will tear a hole through the target and exit, possible striking innocent bystanders. A .22 will enter the body and bounce around inside it, turning your insides into hamburger. Small caliber gunshots to the chest and skull are nearly always fatal. Had I known you were going to pull a pretty ribbon out of your sleeve like some two-bit magician, tie me up with it, and indulge your mental torture fetish in your basement, I would have shot you many times.”
Is that how she remembered it? Maybe I had damaged her mind.
“Two-bit magician?” Stubborn or stupid?
“Men like you enjoy being flattered.”
Ok, maybe it was both. No more talk. It was time to finish this. Ok, princess, break’s over and you’re really not going to like this next bit. I clamped down on her like a vise, summoning my reserves.
“I’ve broken Significant mages in this trap.” She would be no different. “I will break you.”
“You will try.”
She was still fighting. Damn it. She should have cracked by now.
I flexed and poured all of my remaining will and magic into the circle. No more squeezing, now it was battering, like hitting the heavy bag. I was putting everything into each blow, imaging it breaking and all her resistance spilling out like sand. I was running on empty. I couldn’t keep this up for very long, but neither could she.
“Give up.” I ground out through my teeth.
Her voice shook with strain. “You first.”
Gone was any subtlety, any art. It was all rage and will.
Heavy blow, Adam Pierce.
Heavy blow, Adam Pierce.
My arms grew so heavy, I could barely keep them up. My head was beginning to droop. But she was hurt too. I could feel her defenses crumbling. The walls were coming down.
Almost there. I was so close I could smell blood. It had never taken this long before. My nose bled.
“You first,” she croaked.
Tell me what you’re hiding.
Her defenses snapped. Yes! Yes, there it is.
“When I was fifteen years old, I found the letter from our physician with my father’s diagnosis on it. He caught me and made me promise not to tell anyone. I kept his secret for a year. I’m the reason why my father died when he did. If I had told Mom, we could have started treatment a year earlier. I’m responsible. I didn’t tell. I didn’t tell anyone to this day, because I’m a coward.”
The magic burst and suddenly the circle was bathed in bright light. Then it died, spent and broken.
She’d outplayed me. Instead of Adam Pierce, she fed me a secret, a thing so personal she’d hid it from everyone for years. She sacrificed it to the circle and now it was gone.
Nevada Baylor slumped on the floor.
Did I break her? She looked dead. Shit. I really fucked this up.
I got to my feet. My whole body hurt like it’s been through a grinder. I shuffled over to her through the inert lines of the circle. She didn’t move.
Damn it. “Don’t die, you little moron.”
“Fuck you too,” she muttered.
The relief swept through me. There was a difference between a combat kill and murder and I didn’t care to add murder to my resume.
Sweat drenched her. The room was hot as hell. She had to be dehydrated. I got my old canteen, lifted her head, and tried to tip the contents of into her mouth. Even exhausted as she was resisted. Gods, she never quit, never gave up. She clamped her teeth together tightly. There was no give in her, even now.
“It’s water, you stubborn idiot,” I snarled. Why did she have to make everything so difficult?
I forced her mouth open and poured a little water in, not too much or she’d choke. She managed a little and then drifted out again. No need to sedate her after all. She was exhausted but she would live.
Good show, Major. We’ll just put that in the win column across from our losses which include kidnapping a random woman from public parks in full daylight and in front of several witnesses, taking her home, shackling her in your dungeon and then forcing her deepest, darkest shameful secret from her. One that had absolutely zero to do with Pierce and helped you not at all. Well, the night was young, perhaps after you’ve escorted the young lady home, you can find a nice orphanage and level it dramatically. Maybe you can read the wreckage like tea leaves and look for some clues to Adam’s whereabouts.
I looked down at the woman in my arms, “What are we going to do with you, Ms. Baylor? Perhaps we should chalk it up to the worst first date ever and get you home. Sound good to you?”
She made no protest.
I carried her out and called for a medic.
Half an hour later, after the diagnosis of exhaustion with prescription of fluids and rest, I drove her back to her house. She lay slumped in her seat. We’d managed to redress her. It’s surprisingly hard to dress an unconscious person. Admittedly, the result wasn’t great but it was better than dropping her off topless and passed out. I carried her to the door, lowered her to the ground, rang the bell, and went to my car.
Nevada Baylor, at least a Significant who wasn’t registered, who lived in the warehouse, and who was my best lead to Adam Pierce. I would give her tonight. But tomorrow we had things to discuss.